If you are a person who experiences symptoms of Emotional Neglect, it can be quite baffling at times. Having experienced as a child the consistent mismanagement of our feelings by our parents can have tremendous impact in adulthood.
Emotional neglect stems from what wasn’t present in our childhoods rather than what did happen. What didn’t happen in the way of emotional validation, nurture, education and support. Many adults are trying to make themselves happy having been raised with little to no emotional literacy!
All parents will from time to time fall short on recognising and addressing effectively what their children need emotionally. This by itself doesn’t constitute emotional neglect or abuse.
What sets the foundation for impactful emotional neglect that leaks out in adult life is:
- If a parent or parents consistently weren’t able to attune to and be emotionally sensitive to their child’s feelings.
Eg:” I stopped talking to my mother about anything important or troubling to me as she never seemed to say the right thing!”
- If a significant time of trauma and/or unpleasant experiences the parent’s couldn’t effectively support and address the child’s emotional requirements.
Eg: “Dad was never home as he travelled all the time for work, so I couldn’t tell him about being bullied at school as I didn’t want to bother him.”
OR: “When my friend died my parents told me that I just had to get over it and don’t upset people by bringing it up.”
- Continual exposure to extreme or insensitive parenting styles as a child and adapting to survive or in an attempt to please parent.
Eg: Parents who let their children do whatever they want or on the opposite end rigid, dogmatic inflexible parents.
It can be difficult to acknowledge what wasn’t there in our childhoods. You may feel guilty for thinking about it especially as your parents worked so hard to more than meet your physical needs. Just because your parents meet your physical needs isn’t sufficient to raise a child. A child needs effective emotional support, validation and guidance. This can be challenging but must be made more of a priority.
If your parents are products of emotionally neglecting childhoods, then they will struggle to meet your needs emotionally. We can’t give effectively what we didn’t get and/or weren’t even aware was missing in the first place.
Symptoms that may arise from experiencing emotional neglect as a child.
- Generalised experiences of emptiness, anxiety or dissatisfaction despite everything looking “ideal” externally (What have you got to complain about! You have a great life!).
- Difficulty managing emotional responses.
- Dysfunctional self appraisal and method for self concept.
- Over inflating the perceived short comings of self and minimising/ dismissing the favourable elements of the self.
- Easy to be compassionate and empathic for others yet no empathy or compassion for self.
- Rage directed at self for perceived mistakes or short falls.
- Absolutely brutal on self for not meeting seemingly apparent expectations.
- Counter dependency (I don’t need anybody or anybody’s help. I can do it all myself.)
- Co-dependency (Only your feelings, thoughts and behaviours are important, mine don’t count. I can’t survive without you!)
- Inability to experience, label or tolerate emotions in self or others. (Alexithymia)
- Difficulty with issues related to self discipline.
- Over indulging in certain areas such as food
- Trouble participating in the aspects of life that may need to get done but aren’t pleasant tasks
- Avoiding doing the tough stuff even when we know it would make life easier
Running on Empty by Jonice Webb. Phd with Christine Musello, Psyd is a fantastic resource for understanding more about Emotional Neglect and I have used it as a reference alongside the journeys of many of my clients.
The good news is that we can heal and learn to meet effectively our emotional needs but first we need to be aware that adequate emotional support wasn’t provided in the first place. These blind spots in adequate emotional nurture have nothing to do with how much our parents love us and certainly isn’t intentional. Most of the neglect is completely unintentional however it still has an effect and needs to be addressed in order to achieve a joyous life!