Symptoms of Emotional Neglect in Family Functioning

“Emotional neglect can be defined as a relationship pattern in which an individual’s affectional needs are consistently disregarded, ignored, invalidated, or unappreciated by a significant other” (Ludwig & Rostain, 2009). People raised in emotionally neglectful families are emotionally disconnected from one another, behaving as if they were living completely different lives.


Neglectful parental figures usually stem from multigenerational neglect. Meaning that adult figures that find it challenging to express emotional support and compassion were likely to have been raised in a similar environment. Recognizing in yourself the ability to show appropriate emotions with others, is the first step to breaking the cycle of emotional neglect.

It is also common that parental figures may lack emotionally satisfying adult relationships. These adult caretakers have trouble understanding their children’s and partners needs for love, affection, closeness, and support. When feeling overwhelmed or powerless to meet the emotional needs of others, parents (and partners) can become anxious and argumentative, or become avoidant and shut down.

“Forced to rely on themselves for support, afraid of their own dependency needs, and reluctant to admit their pain, these parents are highly ambivalent about their children’s needs, particularly when their children are hurting, crying, or looking for emotional support. They may feel jealous or resentful of their children and may perceive them as excessively demanding and impossible to satisfy. They may be so preoccupied with their own needs that they never consider the children’s point of view. Alternatively, they may feel so angry and resentful about having children that they simply ignore them” (Ludwig & Rostain, 2009).


For children, affectional neglect may have devastating consequences, including failure to thrive, developmental delay, hyperactivity, aggression, depression, low self-worth, early substance use, and multiple other emotional disorders. These children feel unloved, and they maladaptive behaviors (acting out, negativity, or avoiding) to receive the attention they crave. 

Emotionally neglected children may withdraw from people and appear uncaring and indifferent. They may be afraid of emotional closeness and may shun intimacy in relationships. They are at high risk for emotional problems throughout the rest of their lives. The degree of neglect and individual vulnerability will likely affect the magnitude of the consequences. 

For more information, click on the link in references.


Stephen Ludwig, Anthony Rostain, in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (Fourth Edition),2009

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