Is Emotional Neglect Abuse?

I think the answer to the question: is emotional neglect abuse, depends on who you ask. Most of my clients are able to recognize abuse in others but can have difficulty expressing (or admitting) the extent of their own abuse (not all clients have been abused).

Clients commonly recognize physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Nonetheless, clients typically do not recognize emotional neglect. Imagine that you grew up in a nice home, you had clean clothes, you were fed, and got medical attention. However, imagine that you were never hugged, told that you were special, or told that you were loved. Imagine that you were the only kid you knew whose parents never came to watch you play sports or act in a play. Imagine that your parents did not teach you life skills, nor paid attention to what time you got home at night.

Emotional neglect can be defined by the absence of the traditionally provided parental emotional supports, such as belonging and encouragement (Bernstein & Fink, 1998). Emotional neglect is when we do not feel loved, nor received emotional attention.

What happens when kids are emotionally neglected? Research shows strong evidence that emotional neglect is strongly connected to problems in social relationships (Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002; Trickett & McBride-Chang, 1995). For example, emotionally neglected individuals feel a sense of independency because the cannot feel like they can rely on anybody. They have difficulty with asking for help or being a support towards others reaching out. They can become self-centered and have difficulty with perspective taking (understanding from another’s point-of-view). They may also have difficulty expressing empathy, therefore affecting their ability to form safe and secure relationships.

As a mental health counselor, it is my job to develop a secure relationship with my clients in a nonjudgmental and compassionate manner. I become the support system they may never have previously experienced. This begins the process of trust and compassion, which eventually develops in the client’s social relationships.

Please contact me, Catherine, for more information and to set up an appointment.


  • Bernstein, D., & Fink, L. (1998). Manual for the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. New York: Psychological Corporation.
  • Hildyard, K. L., & Wolfe, D. A. (2002). Child neglect: Developmental issues and outcomes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 679–695. doi:10.1016/S0145- 2134(02)00341-1
  • Trickett, P. K., & McBride-Chang, C. (1995). The developmental impact of different forms of child abuse and neglect. Developmental Review, 15, 311–337. doi:10.1006/drev.1995.1012

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