Emotional Neglect in Adult Relationships

Mar 21, 2023

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Emotional neglect is a pattern of behavior in a relationship in which a person’s attachment figure consistently ignores or disrespects a person’s emotional needs. Even in the absence of visible traumatic events, emotional neglect is still a type of abuse. It may be just as detrimental as any other form of abuse, hurting a person’s mental and physical health, self-esteem, future relationships, and general well-being.

Emotional Neglect in Childhood

Young children rely on their parents or caregivers for their fundamental needs, such as food, rest, and safety. We are all shaped by our earliest experiences. If we are loved, safe, and happy as children, we are more likely to grow into well-rounded, confident individuals who can have healthy relationships and feel fulfilled.

However, if our needs are not met when we are young, it may be difficult for us as adults to have healthy self-esteem, connect to others, and realize our full potential. This is especially true if our parents don’t meet our emotional needs correctly.

What Exactly Are Emotional Needs?

Emotional needs are a type of psychological need that must be satisfied in order to maintain our mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being. Psychologists have identified a set of fundamental emotional needs. Every single human requires:

  • Secure attachment
  • Attention
  • Freedom and autonomy
  • Privacy
  • Competence
  • Acceptance and validation
  • A sense of self

Inadequate attention to these needs during childhood might make it difficult for a person to flourish and feel satisfied with who they are.

What are the Implications of Childhood Emotional Neglect?

If a child’s attempts to communicate their feelings are continually dismissed and brushed off by their parents, they may conclude that their emotional needs are insignificant or that no one cares about them. This may result in a variety of adverse outcomes later in life. For example, children whose emotional needs are not adequately met may feel unloved, unwanted, and unworthy.

For instance, if you did not receive enough love and affection as a child, you may have difficulty getting close to others in adult relationships. As a result, you may be afraid of emotional closeness and intimacy.

Similarly, if you don’t get enough attention from your parents or caregivers, you may put a lot of effort into pleasing others since you rely on the approval and appreciation of other people to feel good about yourself.

Also, our need for stability and security is vital for a happy and fulfilling life. If you do not have a stable home as a child, you may feel like the world is dangerous and have problems trusting other people.

If your emotional needs were neglected in childhood, you might struggle with the following:

  • Developmental delays
  • Hyperactivity
  • Low self-esteem
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Guilt and shame
  • Trust issues
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Finally, if you did not receive the emotional support you needed when you were a child, you have a higher risk of becoming a parent who does not meet the emotional requirements of their children.

Emotional Neglect in Adult Relationships

Emotional neglect in adult relationships frequently goes unnoticed because it does not generally entail overt forms of abuse. Still, even when unintentional, emotional abuse can be detrimental to one’s mental health and well-being.

Signs of Emotional Neglect in Adult Relationships

Emotionally satisfying adult relationships are founded on mutual feelings of security, affection, trust, and acceptance. If you believe that your feelings have been repeatedly ignored, rejected, or downplayed, you should listen to your intuition and examine your relationship since this might be a sign that you are being emotionally mistreated.

Here are some other signs of emotional neglect in adult relationships:

  • Being treated disrespectfully
  • A lack of positive interactions and intimacy
  • Feeling empty and lonely
  • Being criticized or judged for opening up and showing vulnerability
  • Being gaslighted
  • Self-blame
  • Having repeatedly been told that your emotional needs are unimportant
  • Being expected to accept responsibility for things that are not your mistake
  • Being expected to take mistreatment without complaints
  • Experiencing a cold rejection to your attempts to connect with your partner.

How to Heal from Emotional Neglect

People who grew up in families where their emotional needs weren’t met might have formed unhealthy behavior patterns that are difficult to break. When these negative patterns show in your everyday life and adult relationships, they can create various problems.

But it is possible to break free from these negative patterns. If emotional neglect negatively impacts your life and relationships, consider talking to a professional. Most people need help from a mental health professional to work through childhood emotional neglect or liberate yourself from emotionally unfulfilling emotional relationships. Counseling can be a safe place to:

  • Identify unmet childhood needs
  • Understand how childhood emotional neglect affects your adult relationships and well-being
  • Learn how to treat yourself with more self-compassion
  • Overcome limiting self-beliefs
  • Prioritize self-care
  • Develop other healthy coping strategies.

As a marital and family therapist, I assist individuals and couples in reconnecting with themselves. We will investigate your past and devise a strategy to help you heal your inner child, and restore control over your emotional well-being. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is a sex and couples therapist in Los Angeles, CA. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented sex and couples psychotherapy to the Los Angeles and Century City community. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.