Dismissive Parents : Effects Of Being Largely Ignored As A Child

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After my mother threw me out of her house when I was thirteen, my father and his new wife reluctantly permitted me to live with them; they did not particularly endeavour to conceal this reluctance even from the very first day of my arrival. : ‘When she [my father’s new wife] married me, she didn’t realize you’d be part of the deal’, my father coldly informed me. In other words, my moving in was most unwelcome and I should count myself inordinately fortunate that they were, under sufferance, prepared to tolerate my (implicitly, from their perspective, in some way malignant) presence. I remember my face burning red with shame when my father imparted this invidious piece of information.

Their method of toleration was, essentially, to ignore me for the following several years, the detrimental effect of which was intensified by the sharply contrasting behaviour my step-mother elaborately and ostentatiously displayed towards her own (biological) son (i.e. intensely warm, loving, doting and affectionate, almost to the point of idolatry – the diametric opposite, in fact, of her behaviour towards me).

What Are ‘Dismissive’ Parents?

Dismissive parents are prone to discounting their child’s views, beliefs, opinions, thoughts, needs and feelings as of little or no importance or interest; indeed, some dismissive parents may respond with contempt, disdain or derision in relation to their child’s expression of such views, beliefs, opinions, thoughts, needs and feelings.

Why Are Some Emotionally Neglectful Of Their Children?

According to Lawler and Talbot (2002):

  • they may not understand the child’s emotional needs (e.g. for love and affection)
  • they may have been emotionally neglected by their own parents
  • they may be so overwhelmed by their own lives (outside of their children) they are unable to be consistently emotionally available to their children
  • lack emotionally fulfilling with others themselves
  • they may feel jealousy, anger and resentment towards their children, including resenting having had children in the first place (my own mother – before what I describe happened to me in the opening paragraph above – would frequently give voice to this particular resentment during one of her even more frequent uncontrollable rages as I have referred to elsewhere on this site).

Effects Of Dismissive Parents On Their Children :

As a result, children of such parents tend to feel ignored, unseen and invisible, almost as if they were not physically present at all, but, rather, mere apparitions, banished by some as yet undiscovered law of physics perpetually to inhabit some abstruse spatial dimension.

Such children are constantly receiving tacit and subliminal (or, sometimes, far less subtle) messages from their parents that they are essentially unimportant and valueless.

The long-term, corrosive, ‘drip-drip‘ effect on the child is insidious and the cumulative repercussions upon the child’s emotional development can be quite devastating in terms of their damaging effects on his/her self-esteem, self-belief and confidence (especially social confidence).

‘Acting Out’ In Response To Being Constantly Treated Dismissively :

Children may also externalize their frustrations by acting out‘; such ‘acting out’ may well entail behaviour that is likely to provoke a negative response from the parent – this can occur because the child is driven to behave in such ways by unconscious forces predicated on the principle that negative attention is preferable to no attention whatsoever; after all, at least negative attention is confirmation of the child’s existence.

Driven To ‘Over-Achieve’ :

Another possible response to being made to feel of little or no value by one’s parents is desperately to try to (over)compensate by achieving great ‘success’ (in terms of money, status, power etc). The problem with this, however, is that such a person’s self-esteem is overly reliant upon external validation (which, of course, is never quite enough) so that, when such external validation ceases to be forthcoming, the individual has no internal resources upon which to fall back.

Other Possible Effects :

  • social awkwardness
  • easily frustrated
  • academic difficulties
  • difficulty identifying and articulating one’s own needs
  • self-assertiveness difficulties
  • delinquent behaviour
  • impulsiveness
  • avoidance of confrontation
  • becoming a ‘people-pleaser
  • difficulty forming attachments and maintaining intimate relationships






M.J. Lawler, E.B. Talbot, in Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), 2012

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)