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24 Signs You Were Emotionally Neglected as a Child

Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

If you experienced emotional neglect as a kid, you may not have initially felt the effects. In fact, you may not have realized you were experiencing any type of neglect at all. Sometimes we don’t realize until we’re older how deeply neglect has impacted our lives. Recognizing this neglect can be a difficult process, continuing to impact our mental health years later.

We wanted to know what “signs” people who grew up emotionally neglected can see today, so we asked our mental health community to share what they’ve recognized. If you see one of these signs when looking back on your childhood, this is your reminder you’re not alone.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

  1. “When someone’s legitimately nice to me, I’m terrified of what they might actually be planning to do to me.” — Toni H.
  2. “Feeling like I don’t exist. I have no value. No matter what I do it’s not good enough. I can’t be loved unless I do everything right. I panic when I get ignored. I’m afraid everyone will leave. I could go on.” — Katina M.
  3. “Being called ‘sensitive’ because they often see me crying about things that aren’t such a big deal. Little did they know I was dealing with bigger things I don’t talk about because I feel like my reasons won’t be validated.” — Emelette S.
  4. “Driving people away because I only reach out when I need emotional support, never when things are good. When things are good, I can do things completely alone. I don’t ask to see or spend time with anyone.” — Erin S.
  5. “I have a very strong startle effect. If someone speaks to me or comes up behind me when I don’t know they are there, I jump and get scared out of my mind. Flight-or-fight adrenaline immediately. It’s from a childhood of not knowing how my father would act when he came home, so we braced ourselves. This caused me to scare and startle easily.” — Jodi M.
  6. “It’s difficult for me to talk about how I’m feeling because I feel like no one cares because growing up no one asked or cared about how I felt, and it’s not something I’m used to.” — Jegan B.
  7. “Major stomach issues. Started going to the doctor for it when I was about 9 years old. Still deal with it. Nausea, vomiting, etc. Nerves are so bad, it’s part of my life.” — Andrea S.
  8. “I’m emotionally unavailable with everything and everyone outside of my inner circle. While I am able to interact with people, I don’t attach myself to anyone for fear of being hurt.” — Lisa S.
  9. I think people who are nice to me have alternate motives. When people try to give me things such as compliments or physical things, I ask what the catch is. I am overly needy and clingy.” — Ashlee S.
  10. “I prefer to be alone now because I don’t know how to emotionally handle having people wanting to be around me. It sucks because mid-hangout, I want to go home or want them to go home because I’m so drained or don’t know how to stay social.” — Sarah S.
  11. “The fear and uneasiness I feel having to depend on anyone for anything. I feel like if I ever ask anyone a favor and they forget, it just revalidates that I am easily forgotten and unimportant.” — Kaitlin M.
  12. “Needing constant reassurance that my husband really loves me as much as he says he does. And obsessing over my birthday, which was always ignored by my parents while my brothers had awesome parties.” — Des S.
  13. I think it’s normal to be treated like I don’t matter at all. You could tell me I have lots of friends and they could tell me they love me all the time but I know they don’t really mean it.” — Nina F.
  14. “Feeling detached from the world around me and having a constant sense of emptiness were all too common for me as a result of experiencing severe emotional childhood neglect.” — Wendy E.
  15. “I find it so hard to make friends or keep friendships because I’m so scared of being hurt/rejected/bullied again.” — Kam S.
  16. “Affection startles me. I don’t like being close to people and don’t like being touched. I didn’t have a loving bond with either parent.” — Lisa B.
  17. I hoard food from watching my mother be depressed and no food shopping. Had to fend for ourselves at a young age. Not enough to go around. So myself and my sisters shop and overbuy everything.” — Maryanne H.
  18. I refuse to emotionally open up to my mom because I feel like I’m going to be criticized if I do. She asks me to open up to her and I refuse because most of the times I have before, she was invalidating and critical of my emotions.” — Raven L.
  19. I could be crying my heart out and someone could try and comfort me and I instantly stop so I don’t inconvenience them. As much as I want the support, I can’t accept it because it just feels like I’m the biggest inconvenience. I tend to try and have my meltdowns when people are sleeping for that reason.” — Ashleigh S.
  20. “One thing that I notice affects my life today the most is that I have an extremely hard time becoming emotionally attached to people; it’s as if from the second I meet someone new, I’ve already said my goodbyes. When I notice that others are finding some kind of emotional attachment to me, I get this sick feeling of just pure unwarranted dread; then grows this strong urge to cut ties off immediately and hide away until I become insignificant to them.” — Lily S.
  21. Fearing that my wants and needs are absurd and worthy of ridicule. Instead of speaking up for myself in any sort of relationship, I have a tendency to keep it all inside for fear of being shamed, laughed at and made fun of by others.” –Alessandra R.
  22. “I have virtually no memory of my mom being present in any of my childhood. I know she was there, but no memory. She would be so depressed all the time and locked in her room crying. I had no parenting when mom was home alone with us…ever.” — Annie A.
  23. “My PTSD from the trauma of my childhood has left me with migraines three to four times a week, that almost always lead to dry heaving for hours. My body is stuck in a loop so much so that even the slightest trigger will lead to this. I wake up several times a week feeling my anxiety so strong that my chest aches. I feel helpless in those times.” — Becca C.
  24. “Needing to have my feelings/fears/thoughts/actions validated by anyone and everyone. Or have small, simple victories celebrated. I think its important to celebrate those small victories because we never know what the other is going through. I just want to create an environment that makes everyone feel OK to be human, so we all can thrive being ourselves and celebrating life for what it is.” — Des S.

Recognizing the signs of childhood emotional neglect can be difficult to process — but you don’t have to go through it on your own. If you still feel the effects of emotional neglect, just know that you are not alone. Remember: you are worth it.

Unsplash via Angel Gonzlez

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