5 Signs You Were Emotionally Neglected By Your Dad (And It's Affecting You Now)

If your father was never emotionally present when you were a child, it can affect you in your adult years.

Last updated on Jul 18, 2023

girl lying alone Oleg Kozlovskyy / Shutterstock

Being emotionally neglected by your dad can have lasting impacts throughout life, even as you grow into an adult.

As a psychologist, I’ve worked with hundreds of fathers, hundreds of wives of fathers, and hundreds of kids with fathers. And one of the biggest challenges I’ve observed between dads and their children is how feelings are managed in the relationship.

Since men, for generations, have been discouraged from showing emotions other than anger, many fathers are made deeply uncomfortable by their own feelings, and those of others. Also, since they learned to try to hide their emotions instead of expressing and dealing with them, many fathers do not have good emotional skills.


How does this play out in father/child relationships?

When men are emotionally uncomfortable, they seem to gravitate toward two particular coping mechanisms to avoid the feelings involved: humor and activity. Cracking a joke or hammering something is healthy, adaptive, and useful... unless they are continually used as a way to avoid sorting through complex feelings, or feeling them.

And sadly, there is no way around it. If your father has spent your lifetime avoiding your feelings (and his), then he has unintentionally emotionally neglected you. But Emotional Neglect is difficult to spot in a father/child relationship.


RELATED: My Parents Emotionally Stunted Me

Here are 5 signs you were emotionally neglected by your dad:

1. You feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable when you are alone with your father

2. You feel that your dad doesn’t actually know the real you

3. Your relationship with your father is bland or feels empty

4. You struggle to make conversation with your dad

5. You tend to snap (or feel angry) at your father, and then feel guilty or confused about it

Of course, no father is perfect, and no one expects perfection. It’s all a question of whether your father was able to respond to the emotional part of your relationship, and your emotions as his child, enough.

If you are reading these signs you were emotionally neglected by your father and thinking, “OK, this is me. What do I do now?” I understand.


RELATED: Dad Dismantles Popular Statistic Saying Kids Raised By Single Mothers End Up In Jail — 'You Made This Up To Justify Your Feelings'

Here are 3 things you can do about it:

1. Emotional neglect is nobody’s choice

It’s invisible and transmits automatically. Simply put, your father didn’t receive emotional validation and responsiveness from his parents, so he didn’t know how to do that for you. Responding to your feelings, and teaching you how to name, manage, express, and use them simply was not on his radar screen.

2. If Emotional neglect is part of a larger picture of other kinds of mistreatment from your father, like emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, it’s important to focus more on protecting yourself from him

Put yourself and your own emotional safety needs first, and address the effects of the abuse before you address the neglect.

3. Even if your father means well, is/was not abusive, and is probably not to blame for emotionally neglecting you, the effects of the neglect on you are still powerful and important, and it is vital that you take them seriously

In addition to these guidelines, consider these suggestions for healing the relationship with your father.


RELATED: How Absent Fathers Feel About Not Having Been Involved In Their Children's Lives

Here are 3 ways you can heal your relationship with your father:

1. If you think your father is well-meaning but lacks emotional skills, try to improve your emotional connection with him

Simply having this goal in your mind will make a difference.

2. Ask your father questions about his childhood, then listen carefully

You may be able to hear stories about how his parents were out of tune with him or failed him emotionally. If you do, say, “That must have been so hard for you,” or “Did you feel very alone with that?” or “Where were your parents when that was happening?” Strive to feel some empathy for the child your father once was.

3. If your father emotionally neglected you, then Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) has left its footprint on you

Learn everything you can about CEN, and begin to address yours. You can learn the emotional skills you missed, and give yourself what you never got.


Since Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible and unmemorable, it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out if you are living with the footprint of CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

RELATED: Why I Fought So Hard To Protect My Children From Their Father

Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, marriage, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.