Emotional neglect is one of the five sub-types of childhood mistreatment that has been classified by practitioners in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and education. The other four are sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and physical neglect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the least studied area from these five despite being commonly cited by research as being the most likely to occur. Contrary to what one might guess, numerous studies have in fact reported that emotional neglect can have an even greater negative impact upon individuals than the other types of mistreatment, particularly in regards to how individuals view themselves and their place in the world.

Emotional neglect can broadly be defined as repeated and consistent caregiver-child interactions that are characterized by emotional unavailability, withdrawal, lack of reciprocity, disinterest or disengagement which lead to the child feeling that s/he is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another's needs.

Previous research has published findings strongly associating childhood emotional neglect with a range of cognitive and behavioral outcomes including but not limited to; depression, anxiety, low self-compassion, shame, guilt, sexually risky behavior, self-destructive behavior, negative schemas, poor emotional regulation, Machiavellianism and so on. Given what we know in relation to the sheer importance of the interactions between primary caregivers and the child, namely by way of Bowlby's attachment theory, it is unsurprising to find that emotional neglect has many detrimental consequences.

The reasons for emotional neglect can be numerous. One of the more common reasons behind it include it being passed on from generation to generation (as is also often the case with other types of abuse/neglect); indeed, social learning theory would support the idea that we take a lot of our parenting skills and styles directly from our own parents, even if we perceive them to be negative. Another source may be familial adversity, such as poverty, living within a conflict, or living during a time of persecution. Emotional neglect may also ensue due to the sickness of a sibling or parent, as the physically sick family member often can receive all attention and emotional capital of the family unit. Parental drug or alcohol abuse would place a child at risk of experiencing emotional neglect as would the seemingly more benign yet often just as threatening driven parental styles within which all love is contingent upon meeting pre-set academic or, later in life, professional goals. In the context of Qatar, it is also worth noting that emotional neglect often occurs within family units within which material wealth is abundant, however there is physical or psychological distance between the child and the primary caregiver, say due to a large number of siblings, half-siblings or maid/nursing staff being employed to take on child-rearing duties.

Our emotional development, and being raised within a context in which we feel loved and cared for, is vital to the healthy development of the self. Accordingly, I have been looking at how emotional neglect impacts upon the self, that part of us that is believed to be the source of our consciousness and the core of our being. Two specific aspects of the self which I intend to include in my research are self-esteem and memory recall. Both of these areas have not been looked at in the context of emotional neglect research yet both may hold valuable findings that will then allow practitioners to be able to design interventions that will aide individuals in overcoming their emotional neglect. This will also be the first reported study that has used qualitative interviews to assess the impact of emotional neglect. This was also a key for me; through all the research I had reviewed, the emotion in emotional neglect was not being conveyed in the numbers and the statistics. Being a student of science though I know the value of these constructs and it was with both of these ideas in mind that I decided to use mixed methods for this doctorate study.

This Ph.D. is currently being carried out by me at Queen's University Belfast, and is being supervised by, Dr Teresa Rushe.


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