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Child Development

10 False Lessons Childhood Emotional Neglect Teaches You

What you learn about your emotions and how they work sets up later problems.

Key points

  • We all learned our first lessons about feelings from our families while we were growing up.
  • Parents who tend to minimize or ignore their kids' feelings don't teach their children much about emotions.
  • Emotionally ignored children learn some patently false lessons about how emotions work.
Daniel Jędzura/Adobe Stock Images
Daniel Jędzura/Adobe Stock Images

Children learn countless lessons growing up.

They learn how to crawl, how to walk, what’s right or wrong, and what's good or bad, and, as they grow older, they learn all about subjects like mathematics, science, or literature. Children are sponges, taking in as much information as they possibly can. There’s so much to learn about the world, and they absorb it all.

Children learn lessons not just taught in school. In their childhood home, they learn from direct and indirect messages about emotions. And what happens when children learn, from spoken words or subliminal messages, that there’s no place for feelings in their family?

These messages take root. The roots become bigger and stronger as a child grows, influencing their development and growth. Childhood emotional neglect sets children up, in adulthood, to make decisions that don’t align with who they are, to form relationships that aren’t genuine, to feel like something is missing in life, and to feel empty.

It is possible to loosen the grip of these roots. You can learn all about childhood emotional neglect and the lessons it has taught you. Once you understand the entanglement you have with them, the easier it will become to break free.

10 False Lessons You Learned From Childhood Emotional Neglect

1. It's not good to feel deeply.

Do you remember being a child and feeling so excited for Santa Claus to come, or so sad that your sibling ate the last cookie, or so mad that your friend beat you in a game? Children have big emotions, and it’s necessary to have a parent who can teach a child how to manage them. What do these emotions mean? How do you handle them? If you grew up with childhood emotional neglect, you didn’t have parents who helped you answer these questions.

Instead, you learned that these big emotions are unnecessary or even problematic. Because they were not acknowledged, responded to, or validated, you learned to push them down.

2. Your needs don’t matter.

Growing up, you had a lot of needs, as all children do… all humans for that matter. You had certain things you liked, things you didn’t like, passions, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. You didn’t have a parent who noticed these things enough. No one was there to recognize what you needed.

From this, you learned that your needs don’t matter. Perhaps you don’t even recognize that you do have needs simply because they were never highlighted to you.

3. Your voice isn’t important.

Children like to talk. Talking and asking questions is how they learn about the world around them. You didn’t have adults you felt like you could talk to. You didn’t feel listened to, or like what you had to say was taken seriously.

You learned to keep your thoughts, opinions, and feelings to yourself. So you rarely speak up for yourself and tend to take on a passive role.

4. Your feelings or issues are a burden to others.

As you grew up, you inevitably ran into some problems with friends, siblings, teachers, or peers, but you didn’t have a caregiver you could confide in.

You knew that your parents wouldn’t be there to brainstorm through an issue together. You knew they didn’t have the capacity to handle it, and that it was best to keep your problems to yourself. So you learned not to rely on others for help.

5. You are too sensitive, dramatic, or emotional.

Throughout childhood, you naturally had emotions rise to the surface when something was sad or upsetting. When you felt these feelings, you didn’t have a parent there to help soothe you or let you know these feelings were valid.

What you got instead was a message that your feelings were too much or uncalled for. So you learned that your feelings were your weakness, and you learned to judge yourself for having them.

6. Crying is weak and embarrassing.

Crying is your body’s way of processing and releasing emotions. It’s a physiological response all humans have. You didn’t have a parent who cried. You didn’t have a parent to wipe away your tears and tell you it would be OK.

Your parents probably didn’t understand the importance of crying or emotional processing. Your tears went ignored, minimized, or even shamed. So you learned that crying is bad and should be avoided at all costs, especially in front of others.

7. You will be negatively judged by others for expressing feelings.

Most children outwardly express their feelings. When you express your innermost feelings to people who can hold them, you then have access to connection and intimacy. But when your feelings were visible to your parents, there was a clear message that your emotional vulnerability was not an OK thing, and it may have even set you up for potential harm. Your parents didn’t teach you the gifts of vulnerability.

So you learned that showing others your feelings can be or will be perceived as weak. Today, you might feel as though your relationships are lacking in depth.

8. Anger is bad and shouldn’t be outwardly expressed.

Anger is an emotion all children and adults experience. There are critical anger-related skills to learn in childhood: how to name it, understand its message, manage it, release it, and express it. You didn’t have an adult in your life teach you these invaluable skills.

So you learned that anger was bad. Today, you probably live with suppressed anger. Perhaps you notice occasional “blow-ups” that come from attempting to keep it down until you can’t any longer.

9. Do not rely on others; it’ll only end in disappointment.

Children need care and support from the time they enter the world until they are old enough to begin caring for themselves. That’s quite a long time, and some might argue that the care and support from guardians never actually ends. But you didn’t have a caregiver who was there for you enough emotionally. You didn’t have the emotional guidance, direction, or assistance that you needed.

So you learned that you couldn’t rely on other people for help and that to ask for help is to be let down.

10. You are alone.

Your parents may have been preoccupied, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, addicted, or self-absorbed. You didn’t have an adult who had your back no matter what, someone you could count on.

You learned that, at the end of the day, there isn’t someone emotionally protecting you. You learned that you had to protect yourself. You learned that you are all alone in this world.

The Truth: What Childhood Emotional Neglect Failed to Teach You

I realize that living by these false truths for all of these years makes it difficult to know that they are, in fact, false. The lessons you learned were so powerful and felt so true at the time. Perhaps they still feel true to you now. But just because you have lived by these lessons doesn’t mean they’re right. And the good news is that you can unlearn them.

Now is the time to begin living by true lessons, not false lessons plagued by childhood emotional neglect. Here’s the truth:

  1. Feeling deeply is a sign that you are emotionally healthy. Your feelings are there to connect you to yourself and others.
  2. Your needs matter. The easiest way to identify what you need is by identifying what you feel. Your feelings are your compass, and fulfilling your needs is the destination.
  3. What you have to say is important. It’s a good thing to be assertive.
  4. Talking about your feelings and problems with others is a way to find solutions and build relationships.
  5. Being emotional and sensitive is a superpower. Sometimes other people don’t know how to deal with emotions, and that has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you.
  6. Crying is a natural and healthy way of coping.
  7. Showing other people your feelings is a brave thing to do.
  8. Anger is a vital emotion that tells you when something is wrong and gives you the energy you need to respond.
  9. Dependence is not something to fear; it can make you and your relationships stronger by giving and receiving help.
  10. You are not, and will never be, alone.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.


To determine if you might be living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you can take the free Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You'll find the link in my bio.

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