If you were raised by a narcissist, you probably didn't learn healthy ways of coping with your feelings. This can lead to what is called Childhood Emotional Neglect, and it can effect you in adulthood. Your adult relationships may suffer because you didn't learn how to handle your feelings and emotional reactions in childhood.
This can happen because narcissists don't care about other people's feelings. They have what is called a 'lack of empathy' which means that they aren't aware of, or concerned with, the feelings of others.
When a parent is a narcissist, they tend to ignore a child's feelings, or even condemn the child's feelings as being bad or 'too much.'
Children of narcissists learn to bottle up their feelings, and not to show any emotions other than happiness, so that they won't displease the narcissistic parent with their feelings.
Childhood emotional neglect
Put very simply, childhood emotional neglect means that a child's feelings aren't appropriately nurtured. They don't receive the emotional stability that they need, or get validation for their feelings.
According to Healthline,
Childhood emotional neglect occurs when a child’s parent or parents fail to respond adequately to their child’s emotional needs. Emotional neglect is not necessarily childhood emotional abuse. Abuse is often intentional; it’s a purposeful choice to act in a way that is harmful. While emotional neglect can be an intentional disregard for a child’s feelings, it can also be failure to act or notice a child’s emotional needs. Parents who emotionally neglect their children may still provide care and necessities. They just miss out on or mishandle this one key area of support.
Although many well-meaning parents can accidentally neglect their child's feelings, with a narcissist this may be more intentional. In some cases, a narcissist may emotionally abuse or manipulate the child's feelings as well.
This can have many consequences in adulthood for your relationships with friends, partners and at work.
According to Choosing Therapy, some of the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in adulthood include:
Higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders
More frequent negative emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and fear
Higher risk for substance use disorders and addictions
Low self-esteem, high self-doubt, or a lack of confidence
Trust issues and difficulty forming close and healthy relationships
Internalizing or suppressing emotions and difficulty opening up to people
More trouble regulating emotions, having uncontrolled outbursts
Poor boundaries, social skills, and difficulty asking for or accepting help
A negative self-image or high levels of self-criticism or negative self-talk
Increased likelihood of becoming socially isolated or withdrawn
Since there are so many severe consequences of childhood emotional neglect, it is important to try to find healing for these issues in adulthood, once you realize that your parents were narcissists. If you are noticing any of these signs in yourself, you may be suffering from childhood emotional neglect.
Although it may seem difficult to learn how to become more in touch with your feelings as an adult, it is possible to heal from childhood emotional neglect.
In the book Running on Empty, there are several strategies that Dr. Webb outlines including,
Learning to understand and name feelings
Taking time for Self-Care
Giving Your child what you never got
The first step toward learning to understand your feeling is being able to name them. You may want to use feelings faces, or a list of different feelings, to help you learn more about feelings. Before I started focusing on my childhood emotional neglect, the only feelings I could think of off the top of my head were happy, sad and mad. There are so many more feelings than that!
By learning to sit with your feelings, accept them, and name them, you will learn gradually to be more in touch with your feelings. Accept that feelings are neither good or bad. They simply exist. It is only our minds that make a judgement. By suspending judgement and having acceptance, we can allow ourselves to feel a wider range of feelings.
I am also a big proponent of self-care. Just remember, self-care is more than just bubble baths with wine, and treating yourself to a coffee. It is also things like setting boundaries and honoring your own needs. Some of my favorite self-care activities are yoga, meditation and journaling. The important thing is that you do something good for yourself every day.
Finally, you can pay things forward and teach your own children about feelings in ways that you never learned, growing up with a narcissist. You can allow your child to feel all their feelings without judgement, and help them learn to emotionally self-regulate.
Inner Child work
Another way to cope with childhood emotional neglect is through what is called inner child work. This involves visualization, and can be done either on your own or with a therapist.
What you do is visualize your inner child. This is the part of yourself that still feels young and hurt by the past. Then, visualize the child-you being comforted by yourself as an adult. You can love and nurture your inner child, and give them the love that you never received as a child.
When you grow up with a narcissist, you may be suffering from childhood emotional neglect as a result of your narcissistic parent's lack of empathy.
If you feel out of touch with your feelings, or like all of your feelings are bad, then this is likely the case. You may wish to reach out to a therapist to help you through these feelings.
You also can work on:
Naming and accepting your feelings
Parenting your own children differently
Doing inner child work
Any of these strategies can help you to recover from childhood emotional neglect and learn to have a healthier way of relating to your feelings as an adult. Just remember, relearning how to relate to your feelings takes time. You aren't going to feel better overnight.
Be sure to have patience with yourself as you are going through the healing process. Also remember to be extra kind and gentle with yourself. It is hard work undoing the damage done by the narcissistic parent.
If you find these tips helpful, check out my book, "A Narcissist Destroyed My Life: How do I Rebuild?" for more help recovering from narcissistic abuse.