Childhood Emotional Neglect and the Coronavirus

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) impacts individuals in a wide variety of ways. But in this unprecedented time of social distancing, working remotely, and even quarantine, CEN can exacerbate the responses that so many of us already experience in “normal” times.

It’s important for those of us who are having feelings that are more heightened than usual, or which seem disproportionate to the situation, to know that we are not alone. Our reactions, however extreme or confusing, are a natural response to childhood events over which we had little or no control

There are a myriad of effects of growing up with CEN. Some of them can be especially noticeable as we navigate through this coronavirus outbreak:

Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Simple, everyday events can often easily be triggers when suffering from PTSD. During the coronavirus outbreak, there are countless triggers every day, such as scarcity of necessities and lack of control. Breathing, meditation, checking in with ourselves, and seeking professional help can mitigate the fight or flight responses.


When we have experienced neglect by caregivers — the people we should have been able to trust to take care of us and meet our needs when we could not do so as children — we often lose the ability to trust others when we become adults, even those people who have proven to be trustworthy.

As we navigate through uncharted territory, it can be difficult to trust that our community, friends, and family will be there for us when we need them. We might feel this way even when they have told us and/or shown us that they can be counted on. It can also be difficult to trust ourselves to be strong enough to handle this situation and possibly even come out more empowered on the other side.  

Difficulty Relying on Others

For those of us who grew up emotionally neglected, we learned the message that we cannot depend on others to meet our needs, and we might try desperately throughout our lives to get other people to meet those needs. We learned that we need to be emotionally independent, even though we might feel emotionally dependent on others in a codependent way.

We are presently in a situation where many are losing their jobs or receiving a smaller paycheck, or unable to obtain food and other necessities because they cannot get to a store or the store is not stocked, or isolated as a result of working remotely, self quarantine, or shelter in place orders. Consequently, we might have to rely on others for physical and emotional needs. For people with CEN, this can feel like a frightening loss of control and can trigger feelings of inadequacy and fear.

Believing that Our Feelings Are Not Important

One of the devastating consequences of CEN is the message that our feelings are not important. This learned and limiting belief can manifest itself in many ways, such as not expressing our needs in relationships. During this coronavirus crisis, we are bound to have many intense feelings, including fear, insecurity, and loneliness. If we continue to believe that our feelings are not justified or do not matter, we might suppress them and ultimately feel them even more intensely. We might not get our needs met, or we may feel shame over having these needs at all. This crisis can help us learn to turn this limiting belief around and begin to get more comfortable in re-connecting with our feelings and expressing them.

We are living in a historic time with daily uncertainty and unknowns. But this crisis can also provide us with an opportunity to gain personal insights, to begin healing from Childhood Emotional Neglect, and to improve our quality of life.

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