Few things can make a difference in your parenting as much as healing your emotional neglect. It’s true! To explain why, we must first take a look at your parents.
Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) happens when your parents, even if they loved and cared about you, failed to validate your emotions enough while they were raising you. This seemingly small failure seems so simple, yet its effects on you, the child, were profound. They still run deep within you to this day.
This fundamental disconnection within you affects your life in many important ways. But none of the effects are as great as the ones in your parenting.
Your CEN, invisible, unmemorable, and not your fault, quietly transfers itself from you to your children. It’s so hard to give your child something you never got yourself.
There are ways for you to heal your emotional neglect, and as you do, you will naturally become a better parent.
Here are 6 ways people who were emotionally neglected as kids can become better parents.
1. Understand how childhood emotional neglect can affect your parenting.
When your parents did not notice, respond to, or validate your feelings enough, they sent you a powerful, subliminal message: Your feelings do not matter. When you receive this message repeatedly, your adaptive child brain knows what to do. It walled off your emotions so they would not burden your parents or yourself.
This may have worked to cope in your childhood home. But as you grew, you needed access to your feelings. Emotions that should be energizing, connecting, directing, and informing you are less accessible than you need.
If your parents didn’t notice, respond to, and validate your feelings enough, it’s hard for you to recognize, respond to, and validate your child’s feelings.
Emotion skills are meant to be learned in childhood. Did your parents teach you to recognize, name, manage, and express your feelings? Are you able to teach your child those skills now?
Did you feel enough empathy and emotional support from your parents as a child? If not, you are probably quite hard on yourself to this day. How does this treatment of yourself affect your parenting?
Did your parents see you clearly as they raised you? Do they now? If your parents have not seen and understood your true nature, you may struggle to understand yourself. And, by extension, your child.
Did you feel accepted and loved when you were growing up? Do you accept and love yourself now? It is not your fault, but this may make it a struggle to accept your child as they need.
Believe it or not, there is a remarkable thing about childhood emotional neglect (CEN). You can treat yourself the opposite way you were treated as a child.
As you give yourself what you never got, you will have it to give to your children.
2. Value and attend to your emotions to attune to your child’s feelings.
When you say, “Are you angry right now?” or “You look sad,” to your child, you teach them about her feelings. They will grow up attuned to themselves.
3. Work to learn emotional skills — and then teach them to your child.
Learning to name your feelings, sit with them, and manage and express them when needed are all skills your child will see and experience in their relationship with you.
4. Treat yourself with more compassion so you can help your child do the same.
As you learn to accept that you are human and that you, like all humans, make mistakes, you will stop being so hard on yourself.
You’ll be able to show and teach your children how to learn from their missteps, forgive themselves, and move forward instead of harshly judging themselves.
5. Pay attention to what you feel, need, like, and dislike.
You will be showing them that you are worth paying attention to, and this will make you better able to see them, too. You will teach them to pay attention to themselves, and they will see themselves reflected in your eyes.
They will grow up knowing themselves and feeling deep down that they matter.
6. Accept yourself and love who you are — be the example so your child learns feel this way about themselves, too.
Armed with healthy self-love and a sense you are good enough, your child will learn self-love too and will grow up feeling strong and knowing, deep down, that they are lovable. You did not choose to grow up with emotional neglect. In fact, as a child, you very likely didn’t even realize it was happening to you.
But now, as an adult, you can choose to heal your emotional neglect. You can set yourself on a clear path to a happier, healthier, and more connected, effective parent to your children.
Deciding to heal your emotional neglect is like saying too many generations going back in your family line: “The buck stops here. I will not deliver this burden to my children.”
And what could be more worthwhile than that?
Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.