Starved Love: How Emotional Neglect in Childhood Destroys You as an Adult
Emotional neglect in childhood is a silent form of abuse that no one talks about. The pain of your parents avoiding and overlooking your basic emotional needs or devaluing your emotional experiences can do significant damage to you.
When a parent is not emotionally attached to their child, whether intentionally or not, it becomes difficult for the child to see their self in a positive light. As they get older, they drown in self-doubt, low self-esteem, neediness, and a negative self-image.
But does the failure of an emotionally unavailable partner also make the child a failure in adulthood?
I want Mom!
Let me tell you a little story. A few years ago I met an amazing woman and I knew in my heart that she was “right” for me. She was perfect and our relationship just felt right. That we were made for each other. She was loving, caring, helpful, and selfless, and always put my happiness first before hers. What more could I ask for?
The problem started when I clung to her like a parasite and started sucking her happiness. The problem started when I realized that my happiness was tied only to her. Being a loner my whole life, I saw her as my only solution, my only path to happiness.
So I became greedy for happiness. I became needy, insecure, jealous, doubting, demanding, manipulative, controlling, and anything else I could do to keep her to myself.
But I didn’t realize that she already loved and cared for me of her own free will. But I wanted her all to myself. So I pushed and pushed and pushed until I broke her love for me. I drove away the woman I wanted most to love me, even though she already loved me.
I wanted to fill the huge void in my life left by my mother’s emotional neglect with the love of a woman who just wanted a healthy, loving relationship. I wanted to use my partner’s love to heal all the pain and trauma left by my mother’s neglect.
The poor girl didn’t stand a chance. I failed to be the man, the partner my girl wanted to be because my parents didn’t find my emotional needs as a child.
This is what childhood emotional neglect looks like in adults. Attention-seeking behavior in adults is one of the most common symptoms of childhood emotional neglect.
What does childhood emotional neglect do to you
Growing up as a neglected child, I was always hungry for love, but never spoke openly about my needs. I should still keep my emotional needs to myself and keep my whole life to myself. People called me shy and introverted, but deep down I never felt like I belonged anywhere.
I’ve never felt attached to anyone. Of course, I had friends, but socializing was exhausting, mostly because I wanted to please everyone. I agreed with everything others said because I wanted them to like me. To validate my feelings. And I can tell you that THAT is exhausting.
Then, when I met the girl I fell in love with, the same toxic patterns followed in my romantic relationship. I never said openly what I wanted from the relationship because I was afraid she would leave me.
I’ve never spoken my mind, always hiding my true feelings to avoid arguments, and guiltlessly manipulating them to validate my emotional experiences. I twisted the truth and pretended to be the victim at every opportunity to appeal to her strong compassion. I believed that the weaker I appeared, the more she would love me. But isn’t that the recipe for a healthy, loving relationship?
But that’s not all. I had enormous expectations of her. I was insecure and always wanted her to spoil me. The truth is I wanted her to give me the love my mother never had. My insecure attachment made me even more needy and selfish.
I was more concerned with getting her to meet my needs than meeting her emotional needs in the relationship, even though I was supposed to be constantly rebuking her. But no matter what she did, I was never satisfied with it. I always wanted more—more love, more attention, more validation—to fill the dark void in my heart that my mother left behind.
I just wanted to protect myself from all the pain and trauma I experienced growing up, and in doing so I ruined a perfectly good relationship with a perfectly good woman.
I now know what mistakes I made in my last relationship. But I’m afraid to get involved in a new relationship because I’m afraid I’ll repeat the same toxic patterns in my future relationships.
This is what childhood emotional neglect does to you when you grow up!
How childhood emotional neglect harms you as an adult
If you grew up with emotional neglect and your emotional needs were neglected as a child, then you are probably ill-equipped to deal with your feelings like I was.
Worse still, if you become a parent yourself, you’re likely to repeat the same parenting style and end up not finding your own child’s emotional needs.
But wait, there’s more. There are many more challenges you can face as an adult with childhood emotional neglect. Here are some signs of childhood emotional neglect that you may encounter as an adult –
1. You feel lonely all the time
Even when you’re surrounded by friends and family, you feel alone. Unable to form healthy bonds and genuine relationships, you feel isolated and withdrawn. And people label you as an introvert without realizing the trauma you went through.
2. You are bad at relationships
You don’t know how to develop healthy romantic relationships as an adult. Being needy and insecure, you constantly focus on getting along with your partner and ignoring your own needs. You never share your true feelings, which is supposed to keep you and your partner from emotional closeness.
Although you can be a good boyfriend or girlfriend, you don’t know how to keep a relationship going because you’re afraid of being vulnerable, neglected, or abandoned.
3. You dislike socializing
Because you have limited ability to share your fears and insecurities with others, socializing seems like a chore. You just go through it like you would any other task.
For you, socializing is not a rewarding but a tiring experience. When you pretend to be someone you think other people want you to be, you feel drained.
Wait, I’m not done yet. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but here are some other difficult feelings and issues you might struggle with as an adult who grew up with childhood emotional neglect –
- Low self-esteem
- sensitivity to rejection
- negative self-image
- guilt and shame
- Difficulty trusting others
- Uncertainties about attachment
- Fear of intimacy or neediness
- Being emotionally unavailable
- dependency in a relationship
- Lack of joy or unhappiness
- Difficulty expressing feelings
- Being very critical and judgmental of others and yourself
- Lack of empathy
- philanthropic behavior
- difficulty asking for help
- mood swings
- intrusive thoughts
- nightmares and flashbacks
- Difficulty loving others and yourself
wow buddy That was not all. You should be glad you got off so easily. Emotional neglect as a child is a mess for you, and the best part is that it affects your heart as well as your mind (you can feel the sarcasm).
Psychological effects of emotional neglect in childhood
So how does childhood emotional neglect affect your psyche? Go and take a look at the most common psychological effects you can develop as an adult thanks to your parents’ emotional neglect.
- anxiety states
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Aggressive behaviors
- fears and insecurities
- Lack of emotion regulation
- substance abuse
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- detachment from oneself
- Bad self-discipline
- eating disorder
- Self-harm and suicidality
That sounds obvious. If that doesn’t calm you down, I don’t know what should. Yes, our parents screwed us up. Right? And what now?
Cure. But it’s never easy
Do I blame my parents for how I turned out as an adult? Strangely not. We’re all human beings struggling with our problems and struggling through all the crap life throws at us.
Who are we to judge others when we are not perfect ourselves? Yes, parents are to care for their children, find their needs, love and care for them, support them, and help them grow into sane adults.
Yes, in a just world. But that’s not the world we live in.
We live in a world where we don’t talk about mental health. A world where we don’t realize that our parents were also subjected to abuse and emotional neglect as children.
Their childhood traumas have distorted their attachment and parenting styles, leaving them adults with poor parenting skills. Sure, they should have sought help and given their children a better childhood than they had.
But through abuse and trauma, it’s not always easy to seek help. Nor is it always easy to overcome them. So instead of blaming our parents for what has become of us, we need to take charge of our lives and heal ourselves.
This is our first responsibility to ourselves.
Here’s how you can start healing yourself
Self-healing is the best thing you can do for yourself if you were emotionally neglected in your childhood. But how does an adult heal from childhood emotional neglect?
Let’s look at a few steps that will move you forward on your healing journey.
1. Seek therapy
Let’s face it: no one wants to see a therapist. But if you experienced emotional neglect and abuse in your childhood, you should seek professional help, especially if you are struggling with mental health issues like stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.
Talking to a therapist or psychologist can help you work through the trauma and help you identify, acknowledge, express, and healthily manage your feelings. Therapy can also help you improve your attachment and parenting styles and build better relationships.
2. Be more self-aware
Learn to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When you understand yourself better, you can better respond to your needs.
By practicing mindfulness practices, such as meditation, you can connect with yourself and others in healthy ways. This also helps you to become more aware of your subtle feelings and the triggers to better regulate your emotions.
3. Be your parent
Reparenting is a form of psychotherapy in which a therapist or you take on the role of a new parent figure for your adult self. As a parent to yourself, you give yourself all the things you never got as a child – love, care, support, validation, admiration, appreciation, etc.
Reparenting is an advanced form of self-love and can help you develop a healthier attachment style, overcome insecurities, and deal with other psychological effects of abusive parenting. Simply focus on your unmet emotional needs from childhood and address your problems, fears, and limitations.
There are a few more things you can do to heal yourself. Here are some coping strategies to overcome childhood emotional neglect –
- Learn to be open and honest about your feelings, especially in romantic relationships.
- Acknowledge your feelings and accept them for what they are instead of repressing them.
- Focus on your emotional needs, acknowledge them, and take steps to find them.
- Be compassionate, kind, and loving to yourself. Practice self-care, avoid self-criticism, and forgive yourself.
- Let other people get close to you and try to develop a closer connection with your love partner.
- Be more resilient and develop the mental strength to overcome setbacks.
- Practice self-discipline to break toxic patterns of thought and behavior.
- Make sure you lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid, for example, excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs.
- Ask for help from trusted people and be open to accepting help when they reach out to you.
But most of all, you should remember that it takes time. Healing is a journey, a process that will come with many challenges. Some days it will be easier than others, some days it will feel a lot worse. So be patient. Like a wound on your body, your emotional wounds will take time to heal, but rest assured that they will heal if you want them to.
Accept your broken self. Accept your weak self. Accept your bad self. Accept your feelings, accept your pain, and accept your will to rise from the ashes. Accept your determination to move beyond your trauma.
Emotional neglect, abuse, and negative childhood experiences don’t have to define who you are. It is possible to recover from childhood emotional neglect.
do yourself a favor Not others. And express yourself without fear. If they love you, they will never leave you. If they leave you, they never love you.
Ask for help when you need it. And be your parents.
Step out of the shadow of trauma and step into the light of healing.
you are worthy tell yourself now
Related: How Inner Child Healing Can Help You Have Healthy Relationships as an Adult
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Is Childhood Emotional Neglect Trauma?
Studies have uncovered that childhood abuse and neglect can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adult women. Emotional neglect can be traumatizing for most survivors, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-reproach in victims.
What is the best therapy for childhood trauma?
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is typically considered the most effective treatment for adult PTSD caused by childhood neglect, abuse, and trauma. Family therapy can also help both the parents and the abused child.
How do you treat childhood trauma in adults?
Treatment for childhood trauma in adults includes psychotherapies like cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), as well as medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, which can help you regain control of your life.