Childhood emotional neglect and its link to suicide

As infants, a huge part of the way we see ourselves and the world depends on the kind of interactions we have with our primary caregivers. This relationship forms the base of our experiences and how we expect our life to be as we grow older.

No parent can be perfectly attuned to their child and responsive to all their needs, but what is required is a regular and consistent attunement to their child depending on their age. Childhood emotional neglect occurs when the primary caregiver is inattentive, unavailable, or unresponsive while being unable to provide adequate interaction with the child to grow socially, cognitively, and emotionally. These children are then taught, through experiences in their environment, that their feelings don’t matter and they have to fend for themselves. Emotionally neglected children don’t only build a wall to protect themselves from their own emotions but also learn to despise themselves for having emotions in the first place.

Parents who emotionally neglect their children are more often than not overwhelmed with work or unavailable because of a job aren’t emotionally present because they themselves are struggling with a mental illness or addiction, dealing with stressors such as migration, or may simply be unaware on how to nurture their children.

Unfortunately, most emotionally neglected children don’t even realize the extent to which their childhood has shaped their experiences growing up. It often comes to light when they start feeling empty, like life is meaningless, and often dissatisfied with their existence. It gets worse when they don’t have any single event to point to in their childhood because their past seems so “uneventful”. However, even though neglect is not very apparent, it can have damaging consequences.

Childhood emotional neglect forms the root of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders as it stands at the core of how a person will react to stressors once they grow older. It is also linked to obesity, substance abuse behavior, impairment in emotional clarity, and even strokes. A major consequence of emotional neglect is also having suicidal thoughts and feelings. As children get the message that there is no one to support them growing up, they end up feeling lost and alone because they don’t have anyone to count on. This can manifest in questioning the meaning of life because even reaching out for emotional connection once they grow up seems like a difficult thing to do.

On the bright side, confronting your past will be helpful in identifying and releasing your bottled emotions. Although it will not be an easy task, this will eventually help you to develop a healthy relationship with how you feel, how you can self- soothe, and with everyone around you.

To understand if you have experienced emotional neglect as a child you can take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire here:

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