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What is emotional neglect?

Ever felt like you're standing in a crowded room, waving your hands, but no one seems to notice you? That's a bit like what emotional neglect feels like. It's when the parents or important people, unintentionally miss the what's going on inside your head and heart. Maybe they're caught up in their own problems, or perhaps they're just not great at recognizing and speaking about emotions. This blog post is all about helping to understand what emotional neglect is and how it can manifest.

mom and child in the shop engaging with the child preventing emotional neglect

Emotional neglect refers to a situation where a child’s emotional needs are not met adequately, often due to a lack of attention, responsiveness, or validation from caregivers or significant others. How it looks like more specifically?

Emotional Unavailability

  • Caregivers may be emotionally distant, preoccupied, uninvolved or disinterested in their child's emotional experiences. They may prioritize tasks over emotional connection

  • Caregivers may be physically present but not invested in quality time with a child and and give them limited attention.

mom at the computer not emotionally available

  • Emotionally unavailable parents respond inappropriately to their child's emotional cues and needs (such as responding with anger or hostility)

This can send a message to the children that they are not valued and important to the parent.

Lack of Emotional Support

  • Failure to provide comfort, empathy, or understanding

  • Judging or interrupting child's stories which shows that parents are not interested in their child's thoughts and feelings.

  • Lack of physical affection, such as hugs, or comforting touch.

women sitting on the couch emotional needs disregarded

Disregarding feelings and needs

  • Parents invalidate and deny their child's feelings and experiences, creating the impression that child's emotions are abnormal and not acceptable.

Communication Neglect:

  • Avoidance and lack of open and honest communication within a family or relationship can contribute to emotional neglect. This involves not discussing feelings, concerns, or important matters. This can prevent the child from developing open communication about their feelings.

  • Failing to create safe and open environment in which child feels comfortable expressing emotions, thoughts, and concerns and without fear of judgment.

two people on their phones communication neglect

Conditional Love:

  • Expressing love and affection inconsistently, depending of a child's behavior or achievements. Conditional love fosters a insecure attachment and a sense of conditional acceptance.

metal heart symbolizing conditional love emotional neglect


  • When a child is forced into a caregiving role for their parent or siblings, their own emotional needs may be neglected.

  • The child may not receive the nurturing and support they require for healthy emotional development.

Intrusion of Privacy:

  • Continuously violating a child's privacy or not respecting their need for personal space

two people standing intrusion of privacy

Failure to Encourage Autonomy:

Overprotective parenting or discouragement of independent thinking and decision-making can hinder the development of a sense of autonomy. It can manifest by:

  • Making Decisions on Behalf of the Child: Some parents may habitually make decisions for their children without involving them in the process. This can include decisions related to school, friendships, and extracurricular activities.

  • Not Allowing Failure: Shielding children from failure by intervening in every challenge they face denies them the opportunity to learn from mistakes.

  • Not Allowing Independence in Tasks: Parents may continue to perform tasks for their children that the children can do for themselves. This can include basic chores, self-care routines, and other age-appropriate responsibilities.

father doing tasks for his son

Boundaries without Warmth

  • Setting and enforcing boundaries is important, but emotionally neglectful parents do so with coldness and rigidity, not explaining the reasons behind the rules

girl trying to brush teeth importance of boundaries set with warmth

If you or someone you know is navigating the dealing with the consequences of childhood emotional neglect, I am here to support you, as a expat psychologist, I provide therapy online and in person in Veldhoven, Netherlands for those experiencing various types of traumas. Let's continue this important conversation together!

authentic therapy netherlands


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