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“I don’t really know who I am, what I like, or what I want.”


“I don’t know how to say no without feeling guilty, but then eventually I feel resentful.”


“I know I had a good childhood, I don’t know why I’m not happier.”

These statements are common for individuals with experiences of childhood emotional neglect. In part 1 of the emotional neglect series, the definition and importance of emotional neglect was described. Here are 10 symptoms and signs of childhood emotional neglect:

  • Feelings of Emptiness or Being Fatally Flawed Emptiness feels different for different people. It can be an empty feeling in their belly, chest, or throat that comes and goes. It can also be a numb feeling; as if there’s something missing, but not being sure what it is. Feeling hollow inside. Because an important part of themselves (the emotional self) has been denied, they may find themselves feeling disconnected, unfulfilled. They know that something is wrong in their lives, but they can’t pinpoint what it is.
  • Fear of Being Dependent – This is different than being an independent kind of person. The fear of being dependent is feeling deeply uncomfortable about depending on anyone. Sometimes, they may have trouble asking for or receiving help. This can also come in the form of having difficulty trusting others as well.
  • Low Self-Esteem/Unrealistic Self-AppraisalDo you have difficulty accurately and objectively noting your strengths and/or weaknesses?  Is it hard to know what you are capable of? What do you like or want? Low in confidence, feeling invaluable and unworthy of respect. Sometimes, this can also be in the form of being easily discouraged or overwhelmed in underestimating one’s own ability to cope.
  • Feelings of Shame, Guilt, Self-Directed Anger, and Blame – Automatically going towards feelings of guilt and shame whenever a negative event happens in your life. Often can feel disappointed or angry at yourself, sometimes for small or no reason at all. Do you feel ashamed of things that most people would not be ashamed of? For example, like having needs, making mistakes, or having feelings?
  • Low to No Compassion for Yourself and Having Plenty for Others – Are you harder on yourself than you would ever be on a friend? Do others easily talk to you about their problems, but it’s hard for you to share yours? This can also come in the form of judging yourself harshly, much more so than you would others.
  • Sensitivity to Rejection – Feeling that there is something deeply flawed with you and if others found out, they’d leave you. Sometimes this can also be feeling strongly averse or reactive to rejection.
  • Perfectionism – The need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection.  Brene Brown explains that perfectionism is used by many people as a shield to protect against the pain of blame, judgment or shame
  • Lack of Clarity Regarding Expectations of Themselves and Others – Adults who are exposed to emotional neglect as children often struggle with what they can expect of themselves and what others expect of them. It also comes in struggling with self-discipline, either too much or too little.
  • Difficulty Feeling, Identifying, Managing and/or Expressing Emotions – Do you have difficulty describing your emotions with words? Do you often feel confused about why people (and yourself) feel or act the way they do? Because emotions were not validated as children, they may have difficulty knowing and trusting their own emotions as adults. Often can be hard to discern why and what you are feeling. Can also have difficulty managing your emotions and harder to self-soothe when upset.

It is important to note that many times there are also passive suicidal thoughts that go along with these symptoms but not always. Similar to what was described in defining emotional neglect as this invisible pain, the feelings are also hard to pinpoint when experiencing general emptiness and disconnect. But, there is hope! As we explore more in how childhood emotional neglect effects adulthood, I will also describe ways to cope and overcome them.

These can all feel overwhelming and as if there’s a huge wall and barrier to overcome, but know you are not alone in all of this. If you have found yourself resonating with the symptoms above, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and call or reach out to us in whichever way you feel most comfortable and safest doing!

Written by therapist Tina Choi

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