Emotional neglect affects your psychological and emotional well-being. It’s different from emotional abuse and therefore often overlooked. “Emotional neglect involves failing to provide emotional support that one should provide, given one’s relationship to the other. …Emotional abuse… involves… doing things to another that can be emotionally hurtful or traumatizing (for example, name-calling, badgering or constantly complaining); whereas emotional neglect involves… omitting to do things that tend to promote emotional well-being” (Cohen, 2013). If you experience any of these five behaviors, it could be a sign that you are suffering from emotional neglect.
You feel empty inside
Those who suffer from emotional neglect often “find themselves feeling disconnected, unfulfilled or empty” (Webb D. J., 2016). This is due to the fact that the “emotional self” of those individuals has been denied. How? Well, emotional neglect happens in various ways. Here are a few common examples you may not even recognize as neglect:
- A child’s parents decide it’s not necessary to talk with her very much about her having tried to skip school since the school already punished her.
- A supervisor sends his crew home at midnight without acknowledging that they have gone far above and beyond the call of duty to help him meet a deadline.
- A husband and wife pretend last night’s argument never happened because they don’t know what else to do.
(Webb J. , 2018).
You feel like you don’t belong
Jonice Webb is a Ph.D. and the author of Running on Empty: Overcoming your Childhood Emotional Neglect. She has spent over 20 years studying and conceptualizing emotional neglect. In her years of research she notes that oftentimes people who suffer from emotional neglect – especially as children – often don’t feel as if they belong, even among close friends and family. If you frequently want to be left alone, feel uncomfortable in social situations or have loved ones that complain you are distant or standoffish, it could be that you are dealing with unresolved emotional neglect. (Webb D. J., 2016)
You pride yourself on independence
Dr. Webb shares that if you experienced childhood emotional neglect (CEN) you “may have difficulty trusting or relying upon others” (Webb D. J., 2017). While independence is a good thing, if you pride yourself on your ability to never rely on anybody, take a step back and ask yourself whether your independence is actually isolation and the fear of asking for help. Honesty is key – the way to overcome emotional neglect is to connect with your feelings and work on your emotional blind spots.
You feel there’s something wrong with you
Whether you fear you haven’t met your potential, feel like a fraud or have a hard time identifying exactly how you’re feeling – people who have experienced emotional neglect often feel like they are the problem. That simply isn’t true. “Never judge yourself for what you’re feeling. It’s what you do with a feeling that matters. Judge yourself only for your actions, not your emotions.” (Webb D. J., 2016)
You have difficulty asking for help
Because of the lack of emotional nourishment, finding it hard to ask for help is also a sign of emotional neglect. If you struggle with any of these thoughts or behaviors, start paying attention to your feelings. Instead of suppressing your emotions, ask yourself these questions when you’re feeling especially vulnerable:
- What’s wrong?
- Why did you do that?
- Why do you say that?
- How do you feel?
- What do you want?
- What are you afraid of?
- What are you worried about?
- What’s making you angry, sad, hurt, etc?
(Webb D. J., 2016)
Be kind to yourself. Be open as you listen to your answers. Additionally, Dr. Jonice Webb created a website offering resources for those who experience emotional neglect. There’s no need to go through it alone.