Emotional neglect is an invisible wound that continues to bleed but nobody notices. It can be like an anchor dragging you down but you don’t know how to change it. It often stays in the background in a way that makes life unsettled until something big happens and you can’t figure out how to cope with it. Additionally, when you reach out for help it seems like the things they are suggesting don’t work and you wonder what’s wrong with you.
The effects of emotional neglect in childhood can have long-term consequences. It can interfere with building a strong foundation of self and nervous system regulation that you can fall back on when things get tough. Furthermore, there are a number of consequences of emotional neglect that can cause inner turmoil and suffering. Emotional neglect is not about what happened to you but what didn’t happen. Therapy can bring healing from the wounds of emotional neglect and move you towards a freer and meaningful life.
Consequences and Symptoms of Emotional Neglect
Some of the consequences you may be experiencing due to the emotional neglect in childhood are:
- Being on edge, guarded, overwhelmed, trapped, helpless, and/or unsettled.
- Struggling with emotional suffering controlling or limiting your life.
- Feeling like something is wrong with you, that you’re not worthy of being treated better, or not good enough.
- Being harsh on yourself, engaging in self-criticism, self-blame, people-pleasing, putting yourself last or after others, putting pressure on yourself, and/or perfectionism.
- Persistent feelings of emptiness, sadness, guilt and/or shame.
- Depression and/or anxiety that doesn’t seem to respond to the typical strategies or treatments.
- Low self-worth, low self-esteem, inner self-pressure, and/or feeling like you need to prove yourself.
- Limited or no boundaries with self and/or others, and/or low self-discipline.
- Exhaustion from the worries, pain, suffering, and/or lack of sleep.
- Lack of emotional safety, feeling like no one cares, feeling like you need to protect yourself from others, and/or problems trusting others
- Increased likelihood of developing conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, or other chronic illnesses due to the constant emotional stress that is felt inside.
It’s about what did not happen
Emotional Neglect is not about what happened to you but what did not happen. It is about your parents or caregivers not adequately responding to your emotional needs and giving you the co-regulation you needed at that stage of your development. This can happen from a parent having unrealistically high expectations and not listening attentively to invalidating a child’s emotional experiences to the point she/he feels self-doubt. Most of the time, it is not intentional. It can come from parents who do not adequately respond to their children’s emotional needs because their parents did not respond to their needs, trauma got in the way of their emotional development, or they got too busy or exhausted to be able to respond adequately to their children’s emotional needs. All your physical needs may have been provided for but there was still something missing.
Not Important and Unnoticed
In emotional neglect, children learn that their feelings are not important. With childhood emotional neglect, the Amygdala (part of the brain that has a primary role in memory processing, decision making, and emotional responses) becomes bigger and more reactive. Emotional neglectful families often look normal. But in reality, children in these families may not receive the emotional aspects of family that allow children to develop properly. This normal appearance can intensify the suffering. First, due to the fact that others do not notice the pain that the child is in and don’t give the child extra support. And secondly, the lack of anyone stepping in solidifies the thought that they are not good enough.
Wounds to Your Emotional Foundation
Emotional neglect impacts the emotional foundation that is laid down in childhood. The lack of co-regulation as a child can interfere with the ability to self-regulation as you are going up. Furthermore, the lack of emotional nurturing may result in you being harsher with yourself and having more issues connecting with self-compassion. The lack of a sense of self and that you are accepted as you are can result in feeling like you have to be perfect to be accepted or that you are accepted because of achievements. All these things can cause emotional turmoil and can cause you to attack yourself through self-blame and self-criticism even when it is not your fault.
Emotional Neglect goes unnoticed. Moreover, it is a quiet desperation until something happens and you don’t have the tools to get out of it. Additionally, the inner turmoil is also often discarded by others because there is no outer appearance of a problem. It can be frustrating because the tools and techniques that often help other people, often don’t work for people who experienced emotional neglect in childhood because you don’t have the foundation that these tools and techniques assume a person has. This can increase the feeling that something is wrong with you, but it’s not your fault.
Therapy for Emotional Neglect
In therapy, we can work on the symptoms and consequences you are experiencing from emotional neglect.
We can work on your emotional intelligence so you can understand how emotions can work for you, how to recognize when you are overreacting or underreacting, and learn techniques and strategies for when they become too much.
Through therapy, we can identifying your needs and providing ideas and skills to help you meet them. We can identify the missing needs of the child part of you and use techniques to heal that wounded part of you.
We can help you learn skills and techniques that help you challenge the thoughts and beliefs that are holding you back. Often it is these thoughts and beliefs that prevent the inner healing from happening.
In the therapeutic relationship, we can create change. First, we can establish a sense of connection. Second, we can encourage you to be gentle with yourself through the process. Third, we can normalizing your struggles. And finally, I will encourage you to believe that you are a unique, beautiful person but you just cannot feel it because you have either not learned to connect with that part of you or you have not had that belief instilled in you.
The Next Step
In therapy, there is healing for the wounds of emotional neglect. You have the ability to find healing and to start to live a life with more peace and meaning and less pain and suffering. You can find this healing in therapy and the relationship with a therapist that understands emotional neglect. Please invite me to take part in the next stage of your healing journey by booking a consultation or contacting me with any questions or concerns.
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