How Childhood Emotional Neglect May Be Shaping Your Adult Life

As some of you may know, I’m a sucker for podcasts and talks. There’s something so liberating about taking in a wealth of new information, especially when its something you wanted to know so much more about. There is one podcast that I listen to religiously, and it is called Baggage Reclaim. Baggage Reclaim is a platform which provides people with the insight they need to address their emotional baggage. It sounds draining doesn’t it? When I first heard the term, I honestly wanted to run a mile but the truth is that we all have emotional baggage. It’s up to us whether we acknowledge it and act upon tackling and minimizing our own personal load.

In one particular episode where the presenter, Natalie Lue, was talking about how early childhood experiences shape our adult lives. I was one of those people who didn’t think childhood experiences and adulthood had any correlation whatsoever, but sometimes in life, you will find that it is necessary to reflect on what was (the past) in order to understand where you are now (the present). Conditioning myself to just ‘build a bridge and get over it’ became my norm, but it wasn’t until my last relationship ended almost three years ago, that I had to ask myself a few serious questions about my life as a whole.

When I think of neglect, I think of those NSPCC adverts that air on TV. You know the ones where the child actors are looking into the camera with the most sullen faces while the narrator tells viewers about the terrible ordeals of abuse victims? Neglect itself is defined as ‘the state of being uncared for’. I know that I wasn’t uncared for during my childhood: I had clothes, a roof over my head and all basic needs were met by my mother. As a caregiver, she did what she had to do, however something a lot of parents don’t realise is that in addition to meeting your child’s physical needs, their emotional ones need to be tended to as well.

This doesn’t mean that any parents who has failed to meet their child’s emotional needs are bad parents. The truth is that they probably didn’t know any better themselves. In many homes, this isn’t a deliberate act. It’s simply something that just hasn’t happened. For me, growing up in a West African home has had its advantages and disadvantages. I think anybody who has can relate to having some kind of personal struggle with their identity. Your parents say ‘A’ only for you to discover down the line that ‘A’ is actually ‘B’ (if you know, you know). Recognizing that I had experienced childhood emotional neglect (CEN) was hard, but at the same time I am glad I did. It has (and is) helping me to understand myself better.

Childhood emotional neglect is not your fault and the good news is that it doesn’t have to cast a cloud over you. The majority of people who realise they have experienced CEN aren’t even aware of this until they are adults, so you are definitely not alone. Here are some of the signs of childhood emotional neglect:

Feelings of emptiness – Have you ever felt empty for a prolonged period of time? Sometimes it may be for no reason whatsoever? If so, then there’s a good chance that you’ve experienced childhood emotional neglect. Think about a time when you felt empty and why that was. By doing this, you’ll get a better understanding of what your triggers are. When you feel empty, one of the most important things you should do is refuse to blame yourself: practice self acceptance and self love and reclaim the parts of you that have been ignored.

Fear of dependence – Women have always been encouraged to be self sufficient. A lot of us have adopted a ‘Why ask someone to do it when I can just do it myself?’ mantra, but if this has become a way of life, this may be a result of CEN. If the thought of receiving help from anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, you’ll need to ask yourself why. Maybe you’ve been let down by a parent continuously or perhaps you were conditioned to believe that you can’t trust anyone? There is a difference between being cautious and flat out refusing to depend on or even confide in anyone.

Issues with self appraisal – Having a strong sense of self identity is all about knowing your strengths, weaknesses and everything in between. What do you like? What do you dislike? What matters to you? What do you expect from the relationships in your life? If it’s hard to answer these, then you probably don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. I also believe that issues with self appraisal ties in with celebrating your achievements and receiving compliments from others. If the thought of praising yourself makes your skin crawl, it’s time to look within.

No compassion for yourself, plenty for others – If you find it hard to practice compassion with yourself but easy to share it with others, then something isn’t right. If you’re not practicing compassion with yourself, then you are likely to be subjecting yourself to an endless tirade of guilt, shame and fear. You may also hold on to things for longer than you should. Finding it hard to share your problems is also a sign of a lack of compassion. Also, if you find yourself in relationships with emotionally unavailable men, you may be able to relate to this trait. The best way to heal from this is to practice loving kindness to yourself. This meditation is easy to do and will help you visualize what loving yourself looks like to you.

Guilt, shame, anger and blame – If you find it hard to control your emotions whenever something bad happens, then it’s possible that you are prone to guilt, shame, anger or blame. Some people who’ve experienced CEN will have instant feelings of shame. They may be ashamed of things that other people wouldn’t be ashamed about. You may feel like you’ve taken a hit if you’ve made a mistake while others are able to see it as a learning curve and move forward. Also, having feelings may be a challenge in the sense that you may question them or punish yourself internally for even having such thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with having feelings or needs. They allow you to express yourself and set the standard for how you want to be treated. My belief is that life is always easier when thresholds are involved.

Feeling fatally flawed – Do you focus on a particular flaw and allow it to influence how you view yourself? I have suffered with hyperpigmentation for years. There was a brief period in my life where the spots were so stubborn, my doctor thought they were a sign of a serious health problem. Although they are improving now thanks to this serum, they really had a hold on me. Whenever I’d workout, I could never tie my hair up because I was convinced that someone would look at them. If you feel like you have ‘fatal flaws’, you’re most likely crushed by paranoia. We all have moments where we experience paranoia and self doubt, but if they are getting in the way of you living your best life, you’ve got to do something about it.

Difficulty managing emotions – Have you ever felt like the biggest weirdo when you’re not able to express yourself? Others express themselves so easily but the minute it’s time for you to talk about how you feel, your tongue is tied. That feeling of your tongue tying up and your body temperature usually increasing is your inner critics way of keeping you as you are. Stepping outside of your comfort zone will cause discomfort. It’s inevitable. To anyone who has difficulty managing their emotions, I would advise you to do the following: talk (or rant) to someone you can trust because it does help, journal, pray, meditate. Whenever you feel an emotion of any kind, you need to express yourself. You are human and you are allowed to feel things. Never ever forget this.

Overcoming childhood emotional neglect will not be easy. If you did experience it, you’ve got to remember that this is something that has gone unnoticed for years, so don’t expect yourself to be over it in a short space of time. What you need is time. You need time to take it all in and accept what you were deprived of as a child. Grieve. Shout. Cry. Do whatever it is you need to do. Just know that you will overcome. It sounds hard but once you’ve accepted what you didn’t receive, you can work on learning the emotional skills you missed, and this should lead to more open and fulfilled relationships with others.

I’d like to thank the wonderful Dr Jonice Webb for sharing her insight on this topic with the world.

This blog post includes the 7 signs she referred to in this article

Did you experience CEN in your childhood? Has it impacted you in adulthood? How did you manage to overcome it?

As always I love to hear from you all, so please feel free to leave a comment below. Also, don’t forget to like and subscribe. If you’ve subscribed, then tell all your friends to subscribe too! xo








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  • Bekki
    August 9, 2019

    Really interesting blog post! I completely agree with you, too.

    I use to think that neglecting children was on the levels of NSPCC adverts (which off topic, seem to have completely disappeared?).

    This made me realise that actually, you can be neglected as a child on a smaller level. For example, if your parents split up and you suddenly stop seeing one of your parents – you adjust physically but mentally, it may affect you without even realising.

    • itskellesspace
      August 12, 2019

      Thank you so much Bekki! I’m glad you liked the post. I’ve noticed this too, they haven’t been on TV for ages. I agree that there is so much more to neglect than just abuse.

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How Childhood Emotional Neglect May Be Shaping Your Adult Life