Childhood emotional neglect can have a profound impact on a person, affecting their emotional, psychological, and social well-being in various ways that can last into adulthood.

Emotional neglect occurs when caregivers fail to provide the emotional support, validation, and attention children need during their formative years.

This article examines how emotional neglect can impact a person throughout their lives, including advice on healing.

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Childhood emotional neglect is a form of maltreatment in which caregivers fail to provide the emotional and psychological support, validation, and attention children need during their formative years.

It involves the absence of emotional responsiveness, nurturing, and engagement from the caregivers.

Emotional neglect can be just as harmful as more overt forms of abuse, and it can have long-lasting effects on a child’s emotional and psychological development.

Examples of emotional neglect

Childhood emotional neglect by caregivers may manifest in the following ways:

  • Lack of emotional availability: Caregivers may be emotionally distant, unresponsive, or emotionally unavailable or rejecting, making it difficult for children to connect with them on an emotional level.
  • Ignoring or dismissing feelings: When children express their emotions, caregivers who emotionally neglect them may ignore, minimize, or dismiss their feelings, telling them to “stop crying” or “toughen up.”
  • Absence of affection: Emotional neglect can involve a lack of physical affection, such as hugs, kisses, or comforting touch.
  • Inadequate attention: Neglectful caregivers may not provide the necessary attention to a child’s emotional needs, such as listening to their concerns, offering comfort during times of distress, or celebrating their achievements.
  • Failure to validate: Emotional neglect can also manifest as a failure to validate achild’s experiences and emotions. For example, a child experiencing bullying at school may not receive validation or support from their caregiver.
  • Lack of encouragement: Neglectful caregivers may not encourage a child’s interests, talents, or passions, which can hinder the child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

The following signs may indicate emotional neglect in children:

  • extremes in behavior, including compliance, aggression, or becoming overly passive or demanding
  • acts inappropriately adult, such as by looking after other children
  • acts inappropriately infantile
  • delayed emotional or physical development
  • symptoms of depression
  • suicidal ideation
  • inability to form emotional bonds

Signs of childhood emotional neglect in adults

A 2023 study examined adverse childhood experiences, attachment styles, and depression in Chinese university students.

The authors highlight research that suggests adults who experience childhood emotional neglect may:

  • fear, or be hypersensitive to, perceived signs of rejection
  • overreact to stressful events
  • suppress or avoid negative emotions
  • have difficulty forming and maintaining new relationships
  • experience symptoms of depression
  • have trust issues
  • find it challenging to communicate their feelings effectively
  • develop insecure attachment styles

Emotional neglect in childhood can affect various aspects of someone’s life, including the following ways.

Emotional regulation difficulties

Children who experience emotional neglect may have difficulties with regulating their emotions.

They might have difficulty identifying and expressing their feelings, leading to emotional numbing, emotional outbursts, or difficulty forming healthy emotional connections with others.

Low self-esteem

A lack of emotional validation and support can contribute to low self-esteem. Children may grow up feeling unworthy and unimportant or that their feelings and needs do not matter.

Relationship challenges

Emotional neglect can affect the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. People who experience neglect may have issues with trust, intimacy, and emotional vulnerability, leading to difficulties in both friendships and romantic partnerships.

Insecure attachment styles

Neglected children may develop insecure attachment styles, such as anxious or avoidant attachment, which can affect their relationships throughout their lives.

Depressive symptoms

Childhood emotional neglect may increase the risk of depression in adulthood. The lack of emotional support and validation can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

Anxiety and stress

Neglected individuals may be more prone to anxiety and stress due to their unmet emotional needs and difficulty coping with life’s challenges.

Difficulty expressing emotions

People who experienced childhood emotional neglect may find it difficult to recognize or express emotions. This can hinder their ability to communicate effectively and connect with others.


Some individuals respond to childhood emotional neglect by developing perfectionist tendencies, as they may relate their worth to achieving high standards and meeting others’ expectations.


Emotional neglect can lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation. People may withdraw from social interactions to protect themselves from potential emotional pain or rejection.

Healing from childhood emotional neglect and other types of trauma is a process that requires time, self-awareness, self-compassion, and often, professional support.

After someone acknowledges they experienced childhood emotional neglect, it is important to learn and understand that healing takes time and that having complex emotions is expected.

People’s childhood experiences are not their fault, and it is OK to feel how they do.

People experiencing severe emotional distress, depression, or anxiety that significantly impacts their daily lives may benefit from consulting a mental health professional or doctor.

They can consider working with a therapist or counselor, especially one experienced in childhood trauma and neglect.

These professionals can assess a person’s condition and provide appropriate treatment options, including therapy, medication, or both. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore emotions, past experiences, and coping strategies.

Emotional neglect can occur in various degrees of severity, and for some, may be unintentional. However, even unintentional emotional neglect can significantly affect a child’s emotional and psychological well-being.

People who have experienced childhood emotional neglect may experience emotional dysregulation, feelings of anxiety or depression, and difficulty sustaining relationships.

Recognizing the signs of emotional neglect and seeking appropriate support and intervention is crucial.