Tag Archives: Emotional Deprivation

Emotional Neglect And Lack Of Love In Childhood May Switch Off Crucial Genes



Emotional Neglect And Epigenetics.


Studies suggest that emotional neglect / emotional deprivation and a lack of warm, affectionate, loving nurture in childhood can, in effect, switch off crucial genes that help us to regulate stress.

This is thought to be due to a phenomenon known as epigenetic modification.


What Is Meant By The Term ‘EPIGENETICS?’

Epigenetic modification refers to the mechanism whereby the way in which genes express themselves can be altered by external, environmental factors (and such changes are then heritable).


Evidence From The Study Individuals Who Had Committed Suicide :

Poulter, et al., 2008 studied the brains of individuals who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had subsequently committed suicide. He then compared these brains to the brains of healthy individuals (who had died in accidents).

The result of this rather macabre comparison was as follows  :

In the brains of the individuals who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had subsequently committed suicide, the genes responsible for regulating stress had been, effectively, SWITCHED OFF.


This was NOT found to be the case when the brains of the previously healthy individuals were examined.

It was concluded that the genes responsible for regulating stress in the individuals who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had subsequently committed suicide may have shut down as A RESULT OF SEVERE STRESS DURING CHILDHOOD AND RESULTANT EPIGENETIC CHANGES


Another, similar study, was conducted by McGowan et al., 2009 

In this study, the researchers examined :

1) the brains suicide victims WHO HAD SUFFERED CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

and compared them with

2) the brains of deceased, mentally healthy individuals

and with

3) the brains of individuals who had committed suicide BUT HAD NOT SUFFERED FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.



It appeared from the results of these examinations that epigenetic changes had occurred in those who had committed suicide and had suffered childhood trauma, but NOT in those who had been mentally healthy prior to death nor in those who had committed suicide but had NOT suffered childhood trauma.



These results add weight to the hypothesis that epigenetic modifications can be caused by emotional neglect / inadequate protection from stress during childhood which may, in turn, increase the risk of the affected individual developing a mental disorder and, ultimately, of committing suicide.


Evidence From Animal Studies

A study by Bagot et al., 2012 found that stress genes involved in the regulation of stress in newborn rats ARE SWITCHED ON BY THE ATTENTIVE LICKING AND GROOMING OF THEIR MOTHERS. So, this study, too, suggests that epigenetic changes may well be related the quality of parental care during postnatal development (although further research is required to ascertain to what degree the findings of this study can be extrapolated to humans).


Implications For Treatment Of Psychological Conditions Related To Childhood Trauma :

Although such research as described above is in its incipient stages, it is hoped that, as such studies accrue, new, effective and innovative ways of treating adult conditions connected to severe stress during crucial stages of early life, psychological development will be created.



eBook :



Above eBook ‘How Childhood Trauma Can Physically Damage The Developing Brain‘, now available for immediate download from Amazon

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



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).