NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 9, 2013

What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Adult Romantic Relationships?

Early childhood emotional neglect can lead to many problems later on in adulthood with developing and sustaining relationships.   In an earlier article,  What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?  I defined childhood emotional neglect.  In this article, I will discuss the connection between childhood emotional neglect and problems in adult relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and Adult Romantic Relationships

Cycles of Problems From One Generation to the Next
Very often, parents, whose own emotional needs were unmet when they were children, have problems later on as adults being nurturing with their children.

As children, they didn't have parental role models who showed them how to form healthy, nurturing relationships.  This is especially problematic if there wasn't another nurturing adult, like a family friend, teacher or mentor, to mitigate the effects of parental emotional neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and Adult Romantic Relationships

Aside from not having role models, it's usually the case that, since their emotional needs were unmet as children, they continue to have unmet emotional needs as adults, which gets in the way of their dealing with the emotional needs of their own children.

Under these circumstances, it's not unusual to see cycles of one generation after the next of children with unmet emotional needs who grow up to be adults who cannot meet the needs of their children.  This is especially evident when clinicians do intergenerational family genograms with clients where certain behavioral patterns can be traced from one generation to the next.

Potential Problems Related to Early Childhood Emotional Neglect
There are many potential problems that can develop for children who have unmet emotional needs.

The following list includes many of the most common problems:
  • problems in school, including problems with focusing in class, following the teacher's directives, completing homework assignments, acting out by fighting with other students or being truant from school, and so on
  • problems as a child (and later on as an adult) forming friendships and other relationships
  • problems with alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive gambling or other compulsive behaviors, like overspending or sexual addiction, as a teen or an adult
  • problems with eating disorders, including overeating and obesity, anorexia and bulimia
  • problems with getting and holding down a steady job
  • problems with basic self care, including neglecting one's medical and dental health, getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously and so on
  • problems being compassionate towards oneself and others
  • problems forming healthy romantic relationships
  • problems with loneliness and social isolation
  • problems with self centeredness and narcissism
Potential Problems Related to Early Childhood Emotional Neglect 

The list above is by no means exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of all the potential problems that can develop for a child, who has unmet emotional needs.

Despite a History of Emotional Neglect, Some People Are Inherently Resilient
Of course, there are exceptions.  I've met people, both in my personal life and in my professional life as a psychotherapist, who grew up in families where their emotional needs were unmet and, inexplicably, they grew up to be nurturing adults (see my article:  Resilience: Tips on How You Can Learn to Cope With Life's Ups and Downs).

Despite a History of Emotional Neglect, Some People Are Inherently Resilient

In many cases, especially where there weren't other adults outside their families who made up for the emotional neglect, it's hard to see how, against the odds, they were able to grow up with an ability to be loving and nurturing.  One possible explanation is that these people are inherently resilient.  Resilience is a basic part of their makeup, and it helps them to overcome many of the obstacles that most people, under the same circumstances, encounter.  But, as I've mentioned, these people tend to be the exception.

Emotional Blind Spots: Some Parents Are Unable or Unwilling to See How They Continue the Cycle of Emotional Neglect
Then again, unfortunately, as many of my psychotherapy clients tell me, there are many parents who have emotional blind spots (see my article: Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots).

Emotional Blind Spots:  Some Parents Are Unable or Unwilling to See How They Continue the Cycle of Emotional Neglect

From their perspective, they weren't nurtured as children but they think they were nurturing parents to their own children.  They're often unable or unwilling to see that, as adults with deep unmet needs, they've continued the cycle with their children.

In future blog articles, I'll delve deeper into the different aspects of this topic.

Getting Help in Therapy
If some of these issues are familiar to you, rather than continuing to be unhappy, you can work through these problems with a licensed psychotherapist so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and children.  

I have helped many clients to overcome the effects of childhood emotional neglect and abuse so they could lead happier, more meaningful lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.