Individual Counseling: Did I Suffer from Childhood Emotional Neglect, and How to Heal

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Individual counseling is the best way to identify and treat the lasting effects of childhood emotional neglect. Emotional neglect can exist on a spectrum; while some caregivers may be attentive to specific emotional needs of a child but not others, others may entirely neglect the minor’s emotional needs. Individual counseling can address any childhood emotional neglect you may have experience, work on healing it and understanding how it can affect all aspects of your life. 

The brain develops up to 80% of its adult volume in the first three years of life. During childhood, most of the systems and structures that will determine all future emotional, behavioral, social, and physiological functioning are built. These structures are formed by experiences of nurturing, connection and coping provided by caregivers. If those emotional interactions are absent or inadequate in these years, the brain does not form optimally to maintain secure relationships. Recognizing whether you have experienced childhood emotional neglect can be a complex process, as it often involves understanding patterns and dynamics from your early life. Here are some signs that may indicate the presence of childhood emotional neglect:

  • Emotionally numb or disconnected
  • Difficulty with self-care
  • People-pleasing tendencies
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of emotional intimacy
  • Difficulty identifying and communicating emotions
  • Perfectionism or overachievement
  • Self-blame or guilt
  • Sensitivity to rejection or criticism

It is essential to recognize that emotional neglect is different from abuse. It isn’t something a caregiver does to a child, but rather what they fail to do, and it frequently results from the caregiver(s) themselves dealing with heavy emotional struggles, stress, or trauma. Beyond that, it is primarily an issue of education, as most parents don’t even realize when they are neglecting their children, much less how it can affect them for the rest of their lives. Some examples of childhood emotional neglect include

  • Lack of emotional support
  • Lack of emotional support during difficult times or illness -parents not attending or saying things like “kids are resilient” or “they need to get over it”
  • Withholding or not showing affection, even when requested
  • Exposure to domestic violence and other types of abuse including verbal abuse
  • Disregard for a child’s mental well-being
  • Lack of intervention on the child’s behalf (e.g., allowing behavioral problems to go unaddressed)
  • Social isolation
  • And more

Healing from childhood emotional neglect is possible at any age. Things like self-compassion – being kind to yourself and remembering that you’ve done the best you can with the resources at hand may also help you be kinder and more empathetic with yourself. If unconditional love was absent from your childhood, having a pet may help cultivate it. However, getting a pet comes with lots of responsibility, so it’s important to decide once you know you can properly take care of an animal for the long term. It’s important to remember your childhood emotional neglect isn’t permanent. There are answers; and there is a way forward to a more connected, more authentic, and more fulfilling life. You can now gain for yourself what you sadly did not get in childhood—emotional awareness, emotional validation, and emotional support. Individual counseling is another great option for help. 

While everyone’s healing journey is unique, here are some general strategies that may be helpful when healing from your childhood neglect:

  1. Develop emotional awareness and regulation – Focus on building your emotional intelligence by learning to identify and understand your emotions. 
  2. Learn how to validate your emotions – Begin by acknowledging and accepting the emotions that arise from your experiences of neglect. Validate your feelings and understand that they are valid and deserving of attention and care.
  3. Educate yourself about childhood emotional neglect – Learn about this to better understand how it has impacted your life. 
  4. Practice self-compassion – Be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate the healing process: practice self-care, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. 
  5. Seek therapy or individual counseling – Working with a therapist who specializes in childhood neglect or trauma can provide invaluable support. Therapy can help you process emotions, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and build stronger emotional connections.

Childhood emotional neglect results in difficulty understanding emotions and relationships, so healing from it must include developing emotional intelligence, learning appropriate coping skills, and building and maintaining healthy relationships. These skills can be learned in individual counseling with a therapist experienced with attachment, trauma, and neglect. Healing from childhood emotional neglect takes time and work in therapy with a trained mental health professional. A good therapeutic alliance built on trust and mutual respect is crucial for a person to heal. Knowing that their counselor is safe and will not abandon them is one of the most basic needs for someone who has suffered childhood neglect. For more information about individual counseling in Johnson County, KS, contact Take Charge, Inc. at (913) 239-8255. 

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