Emotional Neglect

From a psychological perspective, emotional neglect is the most serious form of neglect, in that the consequences of ongoing emotional neglect are lifelong: An emotionally deprived child becomes an adult who rarely experiences the joy, love, and intimacy that make life worth living. Emotional neglect begins in infancy. If babies cannot establish normal attachments, perhaps because their caregivers are depressed, drug-addicted, emotionally immature, or overwhelmed by their own survival needs, then infants and toddlers become detached from social relationships. The damage occurs within the brain, during formation of synapses and dendrites, and thus is difficult to reverse later on.

Typically, neglectful caregivers continue their emotional distancing throughout early childhood, never teaching the child about love, fear, anger, or sadness. By the time they reach school age, emotionally neglected children cannot regulate their emotions: They are too fearful, too depressed, or too aggressive. They become bullies, or victims, or friendless. They have never learned to distinguish hostile anger from innocent mistakes, genuine warmth from superficial friendliness. As adolescents and adults they befriend people who exploit them or provoke people who will hurt them, often becoming antisocial, bitter, and lonely.

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