Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs. The effects of CEN can carry on into adulthood as CEN impacts how a child will behave as an adult. CEN often goes unnoticed, both by the parents and by the child, until years later. A parent may fulfill the child’s physical needs such as a home, clothing and food, as well as their educational needs; however fail to support their child emotionally, leading to the child’s inability to develop healthy emotions later in life. The child may believe that since parents ignored emotions such as anger and sadness, this means that their emotions do not matter or are unacceptable.


Some characteristics of adults that experienced CEN include:

  • Lack of emotional awareness
  • Self-blame
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Problems with self-discipline
  • Subjective feeling of “not normal”
  • Inability to have deep emotional relationships


Characteristics of emotionally neglectful parents:

  • Selfish or self-involved parents:
  • Put their own needs first
  • Cannot validate their child’s own personality
  • Expect to be gratified by child
  • Energy taken up by life struggle (divorce, loss, single parent)
  • Suffer from effects of CEN
  • Struggling parents:
  • Parents who were emotionally neglected as children:


Childhood emotional neglect can be treated with cognitive behavior therapy. CBT enables clients to identify unhealthy thoughts, validate their feelings, and adapt their behavior to include self-nurturing and self-compassion.