What is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?

The definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect, also known as CEN for short, is the negligence of
providing emotional or psychological support to a child. Whether the parents neglect the child’s
emotional needs intentionally or unintentionally, it causes the child to have insecurities that may
continue throughout their lifetime.

Childhood emotional neglect often goes unrecognized and unreported. It is also very difficult to
identify, since it is the ongoing pattern of the absence of critical nurturing interactions. These
interactions are mainly based on connection, adequate responses and support offered in any form
as a response to the distress of the child – whether it would be physically, emotionally or

Here are a few examples of what childhood emotional neglect could look like if these examples are a
repetitive form of interaction with the child:

  • Purposefully ignoring the child
  • Being unavailable or absent in the child’s life
  • Refusing to offer the child any form of affection
  • Demeaning the child for their emotional behaviour or feelings
  • Disregarding the child’s needs
  • Socially isolating the child from his/her peers or loved ones
  • Failing to provide emotional support in difficult situations

Childhood emotional neglect can cause a child to start isolating herself or himself, feeling empty and
having a lack of connection with others. Later on, it can also contribute to how the child, as an adult,
expresses emotions, develops healthy relationships and/or maintains positive self-esteem.

The following points may help identify childhood emotional neglect in a child or even an adult:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Heightened sensitivity to rejection
  • Dissociative tendencies
  • Symptoms of conduct disorder
  • Negativity towards her/his parents
  • Poor relationships with the peer group
  • Struggles academically
  • Throws tantrums more frequently
  • Low self-esteem
  • Aversion to accepting support or affection
  • Developmental and cognitive delays
  • Shame or guilt around emotions
  • Insecure attachments
  • Social withdrawal
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Poor attention span

If as an adult you relate to some of the experiences mentioned above, it is possible to learn healthier
ways of coping with life. Speaking to a therapist to unpack the coping mechanisms you currently use
could be of benefit. As a child those coping skills worked, but now as an adult there is a responsibility
to adapt them to manage the challenges of life differently.