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The Effects of Emotional Abuse and Neglect in Adulthood

The Effects of Emotional Abuse and Neglect in Adulthood

Psychology Today asserts that “Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior in which the perpetrator insults, humiliates, and generally instills fear in an individual in order to control them.” Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is a form of psychological maltreatment that occurs when a child’s parent or parents fail to respond adequately to their child’s emotional needs during the early years. Parenting For The Brain explains that with emotional neglect, “children’s emotional needs for affection, support, attention, or competence are ignored.” Emotional neglect is not necessarily childhood emotional abuse, as abuse is a purposeful choice to act in a way that is harmful. Although emotional neglect can be an intentional disregard for a child’s feelings, it can also be a failure to act or notice a child’s emotional needs. Regardless, enduring emotional abuse and childhood emotional neglect can cause long-term effects in adulthood. 

Young people who are emotionally neglected and abused mature into adults who are emotionally crippled, and who often lack the social and emotional development to effectively navigate their emotions. Healthline provides examples of common effects of childhood neglect in adulthood, some of which include but is not limited to the following:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Emotional unavailability
  • The increasing likelihood for an eating disorder
  • Shunning intimacy
  • Feeling deep, personally flawed
  • Feeling empty
  • Poor self-discipline
  • Guilt and shame
  • Anger and aggressive behaviors
  • Difficulty trusting others or relying upon anyone else

Studies show that severe emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse, as, over time, both can contribute to one’s increased propensity for developing low self-esteem and depression. It is not uncommon for adults who experienced childhood emotional neglect and emotional abuse to engage in a cycle of abuse and become parents who neglect or emotionally abuse their children. If adults do not work through the effects of enduring childhood emotional abuse and neglect and learn the importance of their own emotions, it will be incredibly challenging to prioritize and nurture emotions in their own children.

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