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Child Development

6 Unhealthy Behaviors Caused by Childhood Emotional Neglect

3. You force yourself to have no needs.

Key points

  • Some families inadvertently teach their kids the wrong ideas about how feelings work, making them prone to harmful choices.
  • Being treated as if one's emotions are trivial throughout childhood leads to a host of inaccurate notions about how to live going forward.
  • One common mistake of emotionally neglected people is that they often don't trust themselves or take risks.
Krakenimages/Adobe Stock Images
Source: Krakenimages/Adobe Stock Images

Julia notices that Joshua shuts down or leaves every time they have a disagreement. She wishes she knew what was going on in his head, but afterward, he brushes it off and tells her to “just forget about it.” It worries her that they can’t seem to talk about deeper issues.

Roberta observes that her sister, Mary, often declines social invitations. When Mary does attend, she secludes herself and is quiet. Roberta wonders if there’s a reason Mary keeps to herself.

Miguel often grows frustrated with his wife, Laura. He notices that she’s seldom able to vocalize exactly what she needs. Miguel helps the best he can, especially around the house, but wishes Laura would speak up for herself.

Can you relate to Julia, Roberta, or Miguel? They clearly see a pattern in their loved one’s life and wish they could help. But unfortunately, they can’t.

Joshua, Mary, and Laura are making mistakes that gravely affect their lives and their relationships. They can’t stop making these mistakes until they notice them for themselves and realize they’re harmful. It’s especially difficult when these mistakes have been made over and over again throughout their entire lives.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Leads to Your Lifelong Mistakes

When you are raised with childhood emotional neglect, you unconsciously learn that your feelings don’t matter. Your parents don’t tell you this directly. Instead, they ignore and dismiss your feelings in moments when you need their attention, validation, and compassion.

And so, you live according to the idea that your feelings don’t matter. When you live by this false truth, perhaps without even realizing it, it directly impacts who you are and what you do in your life today.

The belief that your feelings are unimportant is simply false. Your feelings are meant for good. They live within you to guide you through life. They protect you, motivate you, and connect you to a more whole-hearted self. When you believe that your emotions work against you—that they’re meaningless, useless, or burdensome—you are put in a vulnerable situation.

Discounting, mistrusting, or fearing your feelings holds you back in almost all aspects of your life. Your interests are dimmed, your decisions and opportunities are unclear, and your relationships are unfulfilled. Childhood emotional neglect sets you up to inadvertently make the same, patterned mistakes in your life again and again.

The Six Common Mistakes of the Emotionally Neglected

1. You label yourself as flawed. You may feel that people around you have some indescribable qualities you lack. Perhaps you’re baffled by how others can seem so passionate, joyous, or confident in who they are. The difference you’re seeing between yourself and others is that they are living an emotion-filled life. But here’s the secret: Being emotionally neglected does not mean your emotions no longer exist. They are still inside you, waiting to be acknowledged. The more you get to know and understand them, the less you’ll feel out of place.

The Lifelong Mistake You Make: You tend to keep others at a distance so they won't see your flaw.

2. You feel responsible for other people. Because we are wired to be guided by emotions, and because you don’t listen to yours, you become especially attuned to everyone else’s feelings. If you were to shift some of your attention to your own feelings, you would soon find that you feel less responsible for other people and more confident and aware of yourself.

The Lifelong Mistake You Make: You try to control the uncontrollable by attempting to fix things for everyone else, failing to notice what you feel, want, and need.

3. You force yourself to have no needs. You firmly believe that you can and should do everything on your own. It feels weak for you to ask for help, just as it feels weak to feel your feelings. But once you begin identifying your feelings, you might find that you have needs that are worth addressing.

The Lifelong Mistake You Make: You cater to others’ needs over your own, just as you do with the emotions of others. You seldom express your wishes and needs when it would be in your best interest to do so.

4. You operate as though your emotions burden others. Since you view your feelings as unwanted, you assume others view them as burdensome, too. You believe others will reject you or won’t be able to handle your feelings, just like the emotionally neglectful environment you grew up in. This can cause you to feel lonely or alone because emotions are the very thing that connects us deeply to others.

The Lifelong Mistake You Make: You shove your feelings down, hoping you and others don’t see or feel them. When something hurts or angers you, you act as if you’re okay to protect yourself and the people around you.

5. You don’t speak your truth. Life is full of uncomfortable moments. Maybe your partner hurts your feelings, your boss yells at you, or your friend disagrees with you on something important. When things like this happen, you clam up because these bigger emotions feel scary and unclear.

The Lifelong Mistake You Make: Issues are left unresolved and the people in your life miss out on knowing your true thoughts, feelings, and opinions. You don’t give them a chance to know you on a more meaningful level.

6. You play it safe. When you’re out of touch with your emotions, you’re also out of touch with your passions, interests, likes, and dislikes, or even jobs, hobbies, or activities you might find meaningful. Since you don’t feel certain about who you are, it’s especially difficult for you to trust your gut and take risks. Opportunities that come your way may feel daunting rather than exciting, and so you pass them up.

The Lifelong Mistake You Make: You decline opportunities when you should accept them. You struggle with decision-making skills and miss chances to learn and grow.

Changing the Pattern

As a childhood emotional neglect expert who has worked with hundreds of emotionally neglected people, just like Joshua, Mary, and Laura in my psychology practice, I have seen these six mistakes sprinkled throughout their lives time and time again.

I have also seen many of these folks identify these mistakes as a part of their lives, understand and accept them, and choose something different. To do this, remember that all humans make mistakes. Childhood emotional neglect is not your fault; you’ve simply been living your life according to its faulty lessons.

So, face it we must. Accept you have been living by the mistaken notion that your feelings don’t matter. Begin embracing a newer and truer belief that your own emotions are important, valuable, and necessary. When you embrace this truth and live by it, your more authentic, inspired, connected life can finally follow.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.

LinkedIn/Facebook image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

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