Emotional neglect always leaves a mark on its victims. However, it affects every person differently. In the case of empaths or highly sensitive people, neglect creates a distinct dimension of troubles. In warm and supportive homes, empaths can thrive. But in cases of neglect, they often learn to suppress their emotions instead of learning how to label and process them. And highly sensitive children don’t just buckle under the weight of their own emotions; they feel the emotions of those around them, creating a deeper disconnect and emotional damage.
What is an Empath?
Empaths are naturally sensitive people who are very tuned in to the feelings of those around them. This deep attunement could cause them to be sensitive to large crowds, hectic scenarios, big personalities, and other kinds of excessive stimuli. This is because they take in the emotions of the people around them, the good, the bad, the painful.
Empath comes from the word empathy because they easily comprehend other people’s feelings and experiences, even those they have never experienced themselves. Moreover, empaths feel other people’s emotions as if they were their own feelings. Because of this, they tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed in highly emotional settings. Attempts to make boundaries with other people could lead to more distress as the empaths feel the other person’s hurt. 
However, they do have strong intuition, especially when it comes to telling the truth from lies. Because of this, they are often compelled to try and help people — and are frustrated when they can’t.
Because of this deep sense of emotions and intuition, empaths feel vulnerable and overwhelmed in cases of sensory overload. This could easily lead to burnout. Also, they tend to be the shoulder to cry, the listening ear, the friend to call for help, making them vulnerable to toxic relationships where people take advantage of their empathy and kindness. 
It’s imperative for empaths and highly sensitive people to learn how to manage this empathy, such as setting boundaries, knowing their limits, and find helpful self-care methods. However, when they grow up in an environment of emotional neglect, these important lessons aren’t learned. Instead, the unhealthy tendencies of empaths tend to go to the forefront.
Emotional Neglect During Childhood
The first thing to note, highly sensitive people are born that way. On the scale of the nature vs. nurture debate, empaths resolutely fall on the nature side. However, the way their parents raise them could make all of the difference in their adult life. But are they impacted by emotional neglect differently than children without these tendencies?
According to Jonice Webb, Ph.D., “Based on the thousands of emotionally neglected adults who I have had the privilege to know and/or work with, I would have to answer that question with a resounding yes. In my experience Childhood, Emotional Neglect affects HSP children differently than non-HSP.”
In emotionally neglectful childhood homes, kids feel deeply alone, even when there are others around. Their emotions are ignored and cast away. Rarely does someone check-in and ask how they are doing or prompt any kind of dialogue about their feelings, in cases of neglect, the parent’s error by failing to do vital things like this.
Keep in mind that families with emotional neglect could appear completely normal and healthy on the outside. But on the inside, the children learn that their feelings and needs don’t matter or are a burden. And that asking for help isn’t on the table.
The Effects of Neglect and How to Overcome It
Empathic children tend to need more emotional support since they are deeply affected and often overwhelmed by events around them, from a family tragedy to a scary movie on TV to a crowded restaurant. Instead of encouraging them to process these feelings, neglectful parents brush them aside and view their thoughtful nature as a fault or weakness. This creates a large disconnect between the child and others as they wonder why they are so different.
They may be told they are over-analyzing or overly emotional, or overreacting. This could make them the butt of the joke in their family dynamic, mocked for being the weak or slow or shy one. The other family members could be uncomfortable around emotions and discourage such talk or demonstrations, leaving the highly sensitive child to feel ashamed of their strong feelings. 
For empathic children who grew up this way, there are ways to heal. Firstly, understand what you went through and how your parents errored. This could help you create a more positive association with your emotions and your unique qualities. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help; emotional neglect takes a major toll on a person’s emotional health and self-esteem. The embarrassment around your emotions can run deep and shouldn’t be dismissed.
Therapy is a good way to overcome these negative childhood lessons and learn how to cope with emotions in a healthy and healing way. 
- “15 Signs You Might Be an Empath.” Healthline. Crystal Raypole. November 24, 2019
- “What is an empath?” Medical News Today. Veronica Zambon. October 30, 2020
- “The Highly Sensitive Person In An Emotionally Neglectful Family.” Psych Central. Jonice Webb PhD. October 7, 2018
- “Childhood Emotional Neglect: How It Can Impact You Now and Later.” Healthline. Kimberly Holland. November 25, 2019