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Home What is childhood emotional neglect and invalidation? Tips and strategies for adults to cope with their effects.

What is childhood emotional neglect and invalidation? Tips and strategies for adults to cope with their effects.

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What are the basic needs of a child? Aside from their needs for safety and security through shelter, food, and clothes, children also need to be protected from harm. 


Parents and caregivers have both the power and responsibility to provide them these needs because children build upon these needs to become the kind of adult they will be. Chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur gave insight on how to view parental or caregiver and child interaction when he noted, "When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.” 


Protection from harm


Children need to grow up in an environment where their wellbeing is preserved. One of the ways to do this is to provide children with emotional support, attention, love and help. 


When these basic needs are not met, children may experience childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Meanwhile, when parents are dismissive of children’s emotions without addressing underlying issues or when parents are emotionally explosive when dealing with children’s negative emotions, children experience emotional invalidation.


All across the word, parents/caregivers either fail to give enough emotional care, often unintentionally or actively invalidate their children’s emotional needs and cry for help. 


According to a systematic review of studies, worldwide emotional neglect’s prevalence is at 18%. In addition, research has found that CEN is linked to increased risk for mental health struggles in adulthood including anxiety, depression and addiction.


Signs of having been emotionally neglected or invalidated as a child


Because CEN and emotional invalidation are common childhood phenomena, many adults are still living with their impact on their emotional and mental wellbeing. 


  • You have difficulty regulating your emotions. 

As an adult, you find it difficult to identify and express your emotions. You are prone to suppressing emotions, having outbursts, or having a hard time forming relationships. 


In a study of 127 participants, researchers have found that those who were emotionally invalidated as children ( for example,  punished for showing strong emotions, emotions were minimized, and received distressing reactions from parents when they showed emotions) often experience emotional inhibition as adults. 


Emotional inhibition is characterized by thought suppression and avoiding stressful situations. It is a significant factor for mental distress like experiencing anxiety and depression in adults. 


  • Feeling chronically unsafe.

In order to form healthy relationships with others, an adult has to have a solid foundation on trust and validation. In adults who experienced emotional invalidation or neglect, it is difficult to feel safe. They lack the experience of predictable and emotionally regulated interactions with adults in their lives. As a result, events in their adult relationships would trigger their insecurity, making lasting relationships difficult to obtain. 


The foundation of healing from emotional neglect and invalidation


It is encouraging to know that adults worldwide who discover their experience with emotional neglect and invalidation are on their way to healing and recovery. 


  • Consider working with a therapist, a professional counselor, a  mental health practitioner who is specializing in childhood adverse experiences. Healing from CEN or invalidation requires time and skills that a licensed professional can help you build. 

  • Develop emotional awareness. Many who struggle with neglect or invalidation often feel that they are to blame for their childhood experiences, but you need to recognize first that what you experienced was hurtful, and real. Learn to identify what your current needs are as an adult, so that you can do things that make you feel healthy, validated and accepted. Learn strategies to help you understand and give voice to your emotions. These are all skills that take effort to acquire. 

  • Learn to identify and process your triggers. What triggers you now as an adult are often rooted in your past experiences with childhood emotional neglect or invalidation. It is crucial to learn how to process them so that you can understand them and build the emotional skills to manage your feelings. Through this, you remove the shame from being triggered. 

This is also an encouragement to current or future parents and caregivers to do their best in creating an environment that meets their children's need for love and connection. 


“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”   — Frederick Douglas


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What is childhood emotional neglect and invalidation? Tips and strategies for adults to cope with their effects.
Brandon Resasco

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