Tag Archives: Child Emotional Neglect

The Effects of Emotionally Distant Parents on the Child.



Clearly, the child has both physical and emotional needs that the parents have a responsibility to meet. Both are obviously of vital importance. Often, however, a child may be well provided for in a material sense, but utterly deprived of emotional nurturance; this can be regarded as a form of child abuse.

This places the child in a state of psychological conflict, even turmoil.  He may be grateful on the one hand (for having his material needs met), but angry and hurt on the other (due to emotional deprivation).

So what are the effects on the child that result from him not having his emotional needs met, or, as occurred in my own particular case, not having one’s emotional needs met AND being expected to meet the emotional needs of the parent (i.e, the child is compelled to act as his parent’s  parent) ?

First, let’s look at some of the child’s most important emotional needs :


needs to receive love/affection and attention

– needs to have personal feelings and emotions respected

– needs to be free of burdensome adult responsibilities / spontaneously enjoy self / play in care-free manner

– needs to be encouraged and helped to develop a sense of self-worth

– needs behaviour to be guided by compassionate discipline which does not cause physical or emotional damage

– needs to be protected, as far as is reasonably possible and desirable (some knocks in childhood are clearly unavoidable and can provide valuable learning experiences)

This is not a definitive list, but, I think, covers the main areas.

Both verbal and tacit (non-verbal) messages from parents are absorbed by the child, as water into a sponge, both consciously and unconsciously, and have an enormous impact on his self-image and identity.


If, however, the child is essentially emotionally abandoned, family roles become confused and blurred ; indeed, if the child is expected to provide for the emotional needs of the parent,   role-reversal can occur. Not only does this place the child under immense psychological strain, it also deprives him of a parental role model. The child is then likely to develop a very shaky and uncertain self-image and low self-esteem as he has learned that his own psychological well-being is of no importance, or, at the very best, comes a poor second to that of the parent.


The adult who has experienced a childhood such as described above is likely to repress, or shut off from, his emotions as he has learned they will be dismissed as unimportant ( due to the fact that they were invalidated by the parent). There can be a sense of emotional numbness, or of being ’emotionally dead’.

Such people are likely to be very poor at expressing, or even identifying, their emotions as they were unable to assimilate an ’emotional language’ as they grew up. The loneliness and emotional deprivation they suffered in youth will frequently lead them to deny their own needs as adults.

If the child was expected to fulfil the parent’s emotional needs in youth,  at the expense of his own, he is also likely to carry a heavy weight of guilt into adulthood, as well as a deep sense of inadequacy. This is because he was given an impossible task which was thus impossible to succeed at : to be his / her  parent’s parent.

Psychological scars inflicted in such ways may be very severe, leading to much anger and pain in adulthood, in which case an appropriate form of therapy should be given serious consideration.

‘Avoidant’ Parenting And Its Possible Effects

We have seen from other posts that I have published on this site that we develop different kinds of attachment styles as we grow up which depend upon how stable and secure our early life relationship with our primary caretaker (usually the mother) was. In simplified terms, if this early life relationship WAS secure and stable we are likely to develop a SECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE as we get older and pass through adolescence to adulthood; however, if it WAS NOT, we are likely to develop an INSECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE which persists throughout our lives (in the absence of effective therapeutic intervention).

There exist three main types of insecure attachment style which are :

You can read more about insecure attachment and how to overcome it here ; however, in this article I want to concentrate on adult individuals who have developed an ‘avoidant attachment style’ and how this is likely to affect their interaction with their own offspring.

Those with an ‘avoidant attachment style’ tend not to regard emotional closeness within their relationships as being of an special kind of importance. They may well eschew close friendships and intimate relationships, and, in general, prefer not to be emotionally dependent on others.

Furthermore, they tend to be cut off from their emotions and mistrustful of others.


How Might An ‘Avoidant Attachment Style’ Affect The Individual’s Interactions With Their Child?

Despite the above considerations, some people who have an ‘avoidant attachment style’ do get married and have children. But how do they treat these children?

In general terms, they may keep their children ‘at arm’s length’, emotionally speaking. Indeed, I remember my own relationship with my father during adolescence and beyond – it was rather as if we were two magnets with similar poles : whenever I tried to get emotionally close to him he backed away and distanced himself, seemingly repelled by forces beyond his control.

Parents with an ‘avoidant attachment style’ may utilize various strategies (consciously or unconsciously) to keep a ‘safe emotional distance’ between themselves and their offspring. For example, they may constantly criticize their child over insignificant, trivial and trifling matters.

I recall such a perpetual torrent of such criticisms emanating from my father : I would, for example, be corrected, with tiresome regularity, for my ‘bad table manners’  (eating too fast, talking with mouth fall, failure to hold fork correctly, failure to hold knife correctly, failure to keep elbows off table, making too much noise swallowing…) ad infinitum. These criticisms represented my father’s only verbal interaction with me at the meal table; he was either criticizing me or there was a tense silence between us. Sometimes the stress of these mealtimes would induce in me the symptoms of mild hyperventilation which would, in turn, provoke the all but inevitable criticism from my father that I was ‘making rather a lot of unnecessary noise with my heavy and laboured breathing.’ (delivered in a witheringly condescending, and mildly disgusted, tone). Of course, there are myriad other petty, critical observations the creative, ‘avoidant’ parent can manufacture.

The ‘avoidant’ parent, too, will tend to express little or no affection towards the child, either physically or verbally. And, any such expressions that they do attempt are likely to come across as stilted, artificial and hollow.

Attachment Disorders Get Passed Down The Generations :

Just as ‘avoidant’ parents have developed their maladaptive attachment style as a result of their early life insecure attachments to their own parents, the children of ‘avoidant’ parents are at risk of themselves developing a maladaptive attachment style which, further down the line, will inevitably adversely affect their own children and so on and on…In this way, insecure / maladaptive attachment styles may be passed down through several generations unless this relentless cycle is broken by effective therapeutic intervention.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


Recommended Link : ABOUT EMOTIONAL NEGLECT : (drjonicewebb.com)



What Are The Effects Of Emotional Neglect Of A Child?


What Are The Effects Of Emotional Neglect / Emotional Deprivation On The Child?

A child who is emotionally neglected / emotionally deprived may be treated with indifference, as if s/he is of no importance, ignored, or almost as if s/he does not exist. It is the absence and withholding of the attention and approval the child expects and needs that does the damage. It may involve the child often being given ‘the silent treatment‘( one of my own mother’s inexhaustible supply of specialities in psychological torture when I was a kid), not being listened to, not having his/her views and feelings acknowledged or validated and frequently experiencing his/her parent/s turning their back on him/her (either literally or metaphorically).

One of the main effects such treatment will often have upon the child is that s/he will start to seek attention through ‘bad’ behaviour (e.g. confrontational behaviour, outbursts of rage and temper etc). The reason for this is often that even negative attention is better than nothing (although frequently this ‘reasoning’ will be operating on an unconscious level). This is because total withdrawal by the parent/s and the complete withholding of any type of relationship, and the consequent feeling of total and utter rejection, would be psychologically catastrophic for the child.

Such neglect / emotional deprivation is particularly confusing for the child when his/her parent/s, despite their emotional neglect of him/her, meet his/her material needs more than adequately or even extravagantly. This is because the child may feel intense guilt criticizing his/her parents when they do so much for him/her in financial terms. Indeed, some parents who are aware that they are emotionally neglecting their child may overcompensate  by materially spoiling the child as a way of diminishing their own feelings of guilt, or, in a sense, in order to ‘buy the child off.’ Such a situation produces intense psychological conflict in the child’s mind. Obviously, the child requires both physical AND emotional nurturing.


Children who are emotionally neglected may be so adversely psychologically affected that they experience developmental delay. They may, too, become so hungry for an emotional attachment that they start to cling to other adults outside of the family. Eating disorders may also occur; food, or the control of the intake of food, becomes a substitute for a proper emotional relationship. Also, the child may start to self-harm – this may take the form of self-biting, cutting, scratching etc.

Sometimes, in adult life, the person who was neglected as a child may become an ‘over-achiever’ and accomplish a great deal in life; it has been theorized that, at the root of this, is an unconscious desire to finally attain the interest, approval and admiration of the parent/s which could not be obtained during their childhood.


Eventually, it may be necessary for us to realize and acknowledge that the person/s who neglected us was a flawed human being with their own psychological difficulties. It may have been the case that, as children, our presence was not sufficient to over-ride these psychological difficulties our parent/s had, especially, for example, if they themselves were mentally unwell or had a serious substance abuse problem. It may be that the person we wanted our parent/s to be, or believed they could be, never existed except as an idealized image in our own minds.


It is extremely common for those who were abused as children to feel responsible for their own ill-treatment and to believe that they must be a ‘bad’ person. Why should this erroneous belief arise so frequently? The main theory that seeks to explain this is that if we can deceive ourselves into believing that the abuse we suffered was our own fault, and not the fault of our parent/s, we can delude ourselves into clinging onto the hope that there is a chance that, if we change, our parent/s will become the person we want them to be, that they are good parents after all. It seems that, on some level, we would prefer to believe we ourselves are bad than to believe that our parents were.

In order to shake off this delusion and rid ourselves of the guilt of believing we are bad and somehow ‘deserved’ our abuse, it may be necessary for us to finally come to the realization that our parent/s will never become the person we want, no matter what we do. In this way we may perhaps finally be able to rid ourselves of guilt and start to rebuild a sense of our own worth as human beings.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).