The Effects That Emotionally Absent Parents Have on Their Children

These kinds of parents deprive their children of the possibility of building intimate and valuable relationships with others. In addition, they sow sadness and fear of social contact in the little ones.
The Effects That Emotionally Absent Parents Have on Their Children
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 19 July, 2022

Emotionally absent parents cause silent damage. This is no less serious than other forms of abuse and neglect. In fact, these circumstances leave scars that generally remain throughout their children’s lives. On the plus side, affected people can largely overcome this situation, but never completely.

When we talk about emotionally absent parents, we refer to those parents who don’t establish an emotional and affective connection with their children. In effect, they’re physically present but emotionally extremely distant.

It’s expressed in behaviors such as authoritarianism, indolence, lack of availability, irresponsibility, excessive control, or vindictive behavior. This causes various forms of suffering and feelings of need in their children, thus negatively shaping their future.

What is a neglected child? He is a child not planned for, not wanted. Neglect begins, therefore, before he is born.”

-Pearl Buck-

Sad child due to parental neglect
Emotionally absent parents create a sense of hopelessness and disconnection.

The main effects of emotionally absent parents are as follows:

1. Defensive attitude

Emotionally absent parents use the coping mechanisms of defensive attitudes. They usually manifest as mistrust and skepticism. Basically, these parents don’t want to believe in anything or anyone, because they don’t want to be disappointed.

This difficulty in trusting others translates, in their children, into feelings of great insecurity. In addition, it can easily produce feelings of jealousy and envy in them. They’re also extremely vulnerable to feeling ignored. For this reason, they have a really hard time building valuable and genuine relationships.

2. Fear of love and attachment

People who’ve grown up with emotionally absent parents learn to identify love with threats. In fact, they start from the premise that love hurts. While they usually do recognize that love also brings joy, they also know that to express it would mean treading on dangerous territory for them.

It’s extremely common for this absence of love to lead them to become distant people, if not hermetic. They don’t allow anyone to get to know them and view the closeness of others as a risk from which they must stay away if they don’t want to suffer.

3. Narcissism

Often, a lack of self-esteem is compensated for by narcissism. Self-esteem is a feeling of appreciation and acceptance for who we are. Narcissism is an artificial idea by which we believe that we’re superior or better than others.

Narcissism is a compensatory mechanism. That’s because there exists a void of real love which is filled with a form of false self-love (narcissism). This trait can make a person indolent with others, and even cruel.

4. Selfishness

Selfishness manifests itself as the difficulty in accepting that others are fine when they themselves aren’t. It’s not always expressed in obvious ways but often takes subtle forms. Indeed, it’s an extremely common trait in people who grow up with emotionally absent parents.

At the core of selfishness is a feeling of lack or poverty. The person feels that if they give something of themselves, they’ll be left with nothing. It not only refers to material objects but also subjective ones. These people have a hard time giving since they experience it as a loss and not as a way of building common well-being.

5. Addictions

It’s not uncommon for children of emotionally absent parents to engage in avoidance behaviors. Consequently, psychoactive substances often provide them with the apparent well-being that they know they lack.

This means that it’s really easy for them to develop addictions. These provide them with an experience of escape, which is gratifying for them as they’re unable to experience the joy of living. As is widely accepted, it’s the kind of situation that only leads to gradual self-destruction.

Man with addiction problems
Substance use acts as an escape mechanism from a reality that hurts.

6. Identity issues

Parents form the foundation on which a child builds their scale of values. This is important in guiding their actions. However, if an emotional and affective connection with their parents has never been established, they’re often confused about what’s right or wrong.

Distrust of others, selfishness, and fear prevent genuine moral development from taking place. Without this, children lack a defined direction and don’t have clear parameters to guide their behavior.

7. Lack of hope

Emotionally absent parents also leave a mark of hopelessness on their children. Frequently, they give rise to sad children who often feel that life is worthless. Furthermore, they don’t trust their own abilities and see the future as something frightening.

As you can see, emotionally absent parents leave deep marks on their children. As a rule, these types of situations can only be understood and overcome through psychotherapy. With this kind of help, it’s possible to leave the scars behind and defeat the ghosts of the past.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Grunberger, B. (1979). El narcisismo. In El narcisismo (pp. 283-283).
  • Legarreta, E. D. R., Ochoa, D. L. B., & Torres, P. E. R. (2019). Tecnología presente, padres ausentes. RECIE. Revista Electrónica Científica de Investigación Educativa, 4(2), 1201-1208.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.