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Childhood neglect is a profound experience that affects many individuals well into their adult years. It is a form of emotional abuse that can stunt the growth of development, which leaves long-term consequences in the psyche of the victim. In many cases, childhood neglect shapes the way these individuals think and act, developing habits that have become part of their coping mechanisms.

In this article, we will discuss 15 habits of people who were neglected as children. Understanding these habits can help us become more sensitive to other people’s experiences and explore our own patterns that may have developed as a result of neglect.

Putting Others’ Needs Before Their Own

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They often develop a sense of responsibility for others, as they may have had to take care of themselves from a young age. They have learned to care for others before their own needs. Even if they are not doing great or feeling 100%, they will attempt to make the other person feel good. This type of person is highly attuned to others and often seen as agreeable, helpful, and kind, but people-pleasers can also have trouble advocating for themselves, which can lead to a harmful pattern of self-sacrifice or self-neglect.

Difficulty Trusting Others

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The lack of parental support as a child can cause mistrust and skepticism in the minds of neglected children. They may have difficulty trusting anyone and may find it challenging to make deep connections. A therapist can often help you understand your experience and develop coping strategies.

With treatment, you can begin to heal the wounds of betrayal and move on with your life. An understanding partner can also help you rebuild your trust.


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Neglected children often develop the habit of overcompensation, where they work hard to prove themselves to others. It stems from the fear of not being wanted or appreciated. Overcompensation happens when a person feels inferior and will go out of his way to feel superior. This leads to the person seeking power, dominance, and increased self-esteem.

This trauma response stems from the belief that in order to get what you need and want, you need to fight, try a lot, and sometimes overcompensate in order to provide yourself with the safety and security that you wanted to feel in your past.


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As an adult who was neglected, you can develop the habit of constantly sensing signs of danger or threats as a way to protect yourself from harm. Hypervigilant behaviors are usually involuntary. They might make you feel on edge, constantly scan your surroundings, startle easily, or have abnormal or disproportionate reactions to normal sounds, sights, or situations.

Take regular breaks throughout the day to help manage hypervigilance. If possible, take a few minutes each day to step away from your work or whatever you are doing and take some deep breaths.


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Children who were neglected often develop a habit of becoming self-sufficient when they become adults. They have learned to rely solely on themselves and find it challenging to ask for help. They have developed the skills to be independent from a young age and do everything needed to survive.

A big part of self-sufficiency is knowing how much is enough and recognizing that it’s ok to ask for help.


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Some adults who were neglected as children develop a habit of people-pleasing or seeking validation from others. They have learned to receive affirmation and approval from others and often find it challenging to find meaning within themselves.

They usually feel overly concerned with pleasing others and earning their approval as a way to maintain relationships. They consistently strive to please others, often sacrificing their own wants or needs in the process.

Fear of Rejection

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People who have experienced rejection most of their lives will develop a fear of it. They tend to avoid situations that can create the possibility of rejection. People who fear rejection may struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, shame, or guilt and spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what others think of them.

They will often neglect their own needs or let people take advantage of them to be liked. They sacrifice their self-worth and self-respect in order to be accepted.


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Neglected children often develop the habit of withdrawing from social situations as they lack the social skills and confidence needed to participate in them. They enjoy being alone and avoid social interactions because it makes them uncomfortable.

In many cases, withdrawal is linked to fear, anxiety, depression, rejection, poor self-esteem, and dysfunctional family dynamics. Social withdrawal has the potential to lead to loneliness and isolation.


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People who are extremely independent, seeking solitary activities or hobbies to help give them a sense of purpose, were usually neglected as children. Children whose parents or caregivers were absent, inconsistently available, or unable to meet their emotional needs grow up believing that people are ultimately unreliable and that they can only rely on themselves.

They need to work through their trust issues. Taking time to do so and accepting help from others are essential.

Emotional Suppression

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These people will often develop the habit of suppressing their emotions or expressing themselves in toxic ways. They have learned to control their emotions early on by hiding them, which is an unhealthy coping mechanism. Some people believe that by not acknowledging their emotions, they can shield themselves from potential hurt or pain.

Showing vulnerability is terrifying for them, as they lack trust in others and are afraid of the implications of honestly expressing their true emotions.

Poor Self-worth

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Often, they develop a sense of poor self-worth as they may not have ever experienced affection, care, or praise. This lack of validation can lead to permanent self-esteem issues. These are ingrained beliefs a person has about themselves. People who struggle with low self-esteem are consistently afraid of making mistakes or letting other people down.

Be kind to them, try to stay positive, and surround them with a support network to help them get through this.

Avoiding Attachment

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They tend to avoid attachment or deep connections as they fear too much attachment will cause them pain. This attachment style can also develop if parents are emotionally unavailable or withdrawn. People with avoidant attachment styles might have difficulty connecting with others, getting into long-term relationships, or expressing emotion.

You can provide a safe space for an avoidant person by listening to them when they open up rather than responding defensively.


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An adult that was neglected when young will often blame themselves for their lack of nurturance, affection, or support, believing that they did something wrong to deserve it. This is a cognitive process in which an individual attributes the occurrence of a stressful event to oneself.

They were raised to believe they were unworthy and unloveable and that everything was their fault.

Difficulty With Intimate Relationships

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If a person were neglected as a child, they would often experience problems with intimate relationships, often withdrawing from physical or emotional intimacy or struggling to communicate their own needs and emotions. Because of their avoidant attachment style, they will struggle with finding a partner who can accept their issues and will need a very supportive partner and support network to help them get through it.

Difficulty With Self-expression

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Neglected children tend to struggle with self-expression as they often internalize their emotions and are unable to articulate them to others. When we don’t express ourselves, we repress important parts of who we are and cause ourselves considerable struggle and lasting mental and emotional pain. Our frustration turns to rage. Our isolation turns to depression. Our restlessness turns to panic.


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Childhood neglect can leave a long-lasting impact on an individual, creating habits that shape the way they think and behave. The habits of those who were neglected as children are often an attempt to cope with a lack of nurture, affection, and support. Understanding these habits can help individuals become more sensitive to other people’s experiences.

It is essential to remember that it is never too late to seek help, and there are resources available for recovery and healing. Neglect is an unhealthy coping mechanism, and breaking these habits requires the effort of a lifetime, but it is worth it to live a healthier, happier life.

15 inner child healing exercises

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The damage wasn’t your fault but the healing is your responsibility. Here are 15 powerful inner child healing exercises to help you get past your childhood trauma.

Iva Ursano
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Iva Ursano is a solo female traveler originally from Canada and currently residing in Guatemala. After hitting rock bottom in 2013, she completely reinvented her life at 52 years old, packed up two suitcases, and bought a one-way ticket to Central America. She runs this website for women over 50 to help them make the rest of their lives the best of their lives while feeding street dogs and helping the less fortunate in the town she now calls home, Panajachel. You can follow her on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram (Street Dogs of Guatemala)

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