Sign in

Long-Term Effects of Emotional Neglect in Childhood

Arastou Aminzadeh
Long-Term Effects of Emotional Neglect in Childhood

We usually think of child abuse as involving physical or sexual abuse. However, emotional neglect in childhood can also cause deep and long-lasting scars.

Adults who suffered this form of abuse during childhood are often saddled with some serious mental health challenges, such as attachment disorders, depression, and anxiety. This is why addressing emotional neglect in the teen years is so crucial. Treatment interventions may help the teen avoid long-term problems.

What is Emotional Neglect in Childhood?

Emotional neglect occurs when a child is not having their needs met by the parents. Children require both their physical needs and emotional needs to be met. When a parent neglects the child’s emotional needs, this hobbles the child’s development in many ways.

The affects of this childhood maltreatment are profound. These kids are often taught to stuff their feelings, to not express their emotions. Coupled with a lack of parental affection, this leads to relationship dysfunction later in life.

Being denied emotional nurturing in childhood actually causes a malfunction of cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone. This leads to toxic stress, fear, startling easily, migraines, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Keep reading to learn about the many long-term effects of emotional neglect during childhood.

Symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Other than failure to thrive, children don’t usually show symptoms of emotional neglect at a young age. Over time these symptoms will begin to emerge:

  • Developmental lags.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Apathy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression
  • Emotionally distant.
  • Avoiding closeness with peers.
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)?

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, is one of the largest studies of childhood abuse and neglect. It studied 17,000 participants over a 4-year period. The results showed clear links between adverse events and subsequent negative effects, including mental health and substance use disorders. 

The 10 ACEs studied include:

  • Physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Physical neglect.
  • Emotional neglect.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Mental illness within the home.
  • Parental divorce
  • Incarcerated family member.

In the U.S., half of children have experienced at least one ACE, while 10% of children have had three or more ACE events.

Why Does a Parent Neglect their Child’s Emotional Needs?

Although emotional neglect is a form of child abuse, in some cases the parent is not even aware that they are mistreating their child. Some reasons for this include:

  • A parent may have experienced this same type of parenting in his or her own childhood. They may repeat this with their children because it’s all they know.
  • The parent may be experiencing addiction or mental health challenges.
  • One parent may have passed away, causing the remaining parent to suffer extreme grief. The neglect may stem from the prolonged grief.
  • The parent may be overwhelmed with a large number of children and not enough support.

9 Effects of Emotional Neglect in Childhood

Parental neglect can have long-term and serious effects on a child. Adverse effects impact the psychological, physical, and behavioral realms. These include:

  1. Brain development. Neglect during the formative years can result in areas of the brain not forming properly. This can lead to poor decision making skills, cognitive skills, and emotion regulation, and trouble processing emotions.
  2. Low self-esteem. Children who are deprived of warmth and positive input from a parent often question their self-worth. Low self-esteem causes low self-confidence, and that can affect all aspects of life.
  3. Mental health disorders. Children who are not shown love and affection by their parent often grow up to have mental health issues. These include depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
  4. Substance abuse. Neglected kids grow up to be teens that start to act out. They may engage in risky behaviors like substance abuse. SAMHSA reports that among teens who experienced neglect and abuse in childhood there 70% were involved with substance abuse.
  5. Relationship problems. Children who were deprived of affection have a lack of understanding about how to interact with others. They struggle to connect with others or maintain the relationships they do form. They may be distant, distrustful, and have difficulty dealing with emotions in general.
  6. PTSD. Childhood neglect can be traumatic. PTSD is a type of prolonged response to the trauma, or childhood neglect. Kids who are neglected by a parent may become avoidant, anxious, disconnected, and hyper-reactive to stimuli.
  7. Unhealthy sexual practices. Emotional neglect in childhood can lead to early sexual practices, as well as promiscuity. This may be caused by a desire to form a connection with someone, having been deprived of affection in childhood. In this way, the sexual behaviors become a maladaptive coping mechanism.
  8. Juvenile delinquency. When a child grows up without parental nurturing, they may begin to seek attention in negative ways. Because these kids often have low self-esteem, they may not care about the repercussions they face. This can lead an adolescent into a cycle of delinquency and incarceration.
  9. Increased risk for suicide. Emotional neglect may cause a higher risk for self-harm in the teen years and for suicide in adulthood.

Help for Teens Who Experienced Childhood Neglect

Childhood neglect sets a teen up for any number of problems. The teen years may be the first time that the effects of the neglect are noticed. This is often seen through acting out, such as skipping school, risky sexual behaviors, substance abuse, and other maladaptive behaviors.

A residential program for teens is the appropriate therapeutic setting. Teens will engage in a medley of activities, such as:

  • Psychotherapy sessions. Therapy is useful for helping teens learn how to connect with others and maintain relationships.
  • Group therapy. Group sessions may help teens build connections and learn to relate to each other in a safe, secure setting.
  • Family therapy. Family group offers parents a chance to learn how to connect with and support their teen.

While the long-term effects of emotional neglect are deeply concerning, there is hope. A treatment program designed for teens can put the teen on a healthy new path.

About The Author

Dr. Arastou Aminzadeh has worked in a variety of clinical settings for the last 20 years. Dr. Aminzadeh is a triple board certified physician in psychiatry, and addiction medicine and is also co-founder of BNI Treatment Centers in Agoura Hills, CA. A well respected leader in the field, Dr. Aminzadeh is also a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and also a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Arastou Aminzadeh
Zupyak is the world’s largest content marketing community, with over 400 000 members and 3 million articles. Explore and get your content discovered.
Read more