Do you have trouble pinpointing what you are feeling and finding the right words to express what’s going on inside of you? Have you perhaps experienced childhood emotional neglect? If so, this article may be helpful for you.
In order to move on, you must understand why you felt what you did and why you no longer need to feel it. – Mitch Albom
Childhood emotional neglect.Children learn about feelings in infancy through the emotional bond they form with their parents. If the parent or primary caregiver is in tune with their needs and mirrors and responds to them consistently, the child feels validated and learns that his emotions are valued and acceptable. If they are not, the child feels that his needs and feelings do not matter and, over time, learns to bury them.
The term childhood emotional neglect (CEN) was coined by clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Jonice Webb, to describe a parent’s failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s emotional needs.
Unlike mistreatment or abuse, it is an intangible, invisible act. Something that does not happen to the child rather than something that does. This makes it tricky to detect, and often the person who has experienced childhood emotional neglect will be unaware of it until he becomes an adult and his symptoms become more visible.
Childhood emotional neglect is often unintentional. Parents may love their child and make sure all of his physical needs are abundantly provided for, but be so busy working long hours or caught up in the stress of their own lives that they do not realize they are emotionally unavailable. In some cases, they themselves may have been victims of childhood emotional neglect and not know how to be emotionally present for their child.
Hunger for emotional connection in early childhood can create a deep wound that impacts a person’s emotions and psychological well-being, as well as the way he lives his day-to-day life. As an adult, he may still feel as though he doesn’t matter, and suffer from low self-esteem and self-doubt.
- Something feels off but you can’t put your finger on it.
- You have trouble identifying what you are feeling.
- You have trouble finding the right words to express yourself and have a limited emotional vocabulary.
- You feel numb, cold, or empty, and as though something is missing inside you.
- You feel disconnected from your friends and family, and as though you don’t fit in.
- You lack a sense of belonging and often feel as though you are on the outside looking in.
- You have difficulty connecting with others emotionally and forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
- You feel confused and stuck in your relationships, and have trouble asserting yourself or setting boundaries.
- You have trouble understanding or pinpointing why you are unhappy in an emotionally neglectful adult relationship.
- Self-doubt and lack of clarity about what is right or wrong, or what to embrace as opposed to what to avoid, may keep you trapped in an unhealthy relationship.
- You feel something is wrong with you and you are somehow flawed, so you distance yourself from others to keep them from noticing it.
- You feel confused about why you feel the way you do.
- You lack self-knowledge and have a hard time identifying your strengths and weaknesses.
- You are easily overwhelmed or discouraged.
- You tend to cater to the needs of others while neglecting your own.
- You have poor impulse control and don’t know how to handle your emotions in a healthy way.
- You lack clarity as to who you are and what is expected of you.
- You tend to get sad or angry for no reason.
- You are super sensitive to anything you perceive as rejection.
- You may self-sabotage relationships to avoid being rejected.
- You have trouble trusting yourself or taking risks and may decline opportunities you should accept or let them slip by because of your uncertainty about making decisions.
- You have trouble recognizing what others are feeling and how your actions may be contributing to it.
- Big emotions feel scary and unclear to you, and you try to escape emotionally loaded situations.
- You feel uncomfortable talking about deep issues, have trouble knowing how to respond, and tend to overreact to disagreements or conflict.
- It is difficult for you to trust or depend on others because you are afraid they will disappoint or reject you.
- You try to avoid conflict and may leave issues unresolved for fear of trying to express what you feel.
- You avoid asking others for help when you need it for fear you’ll be ignored or let down.
- You feel inadequate and ashamed of being less than others, and your low self-esteem and negative self-image make you easily embarrassed.
- You have trouble picking up on social and nonverbal cues in conversations which often leads to misunderstandings or feeling left out.
- You tend to turn to addictive or numbing behaviors such as compulsive exercising or overeating to escape stress or conflict.
- When negative things happen, you automatically feel guilty even if you had nothing to do with it.
- You tend to be hard on yourself and prone to self-directed anger, shame, and/or self-blame.
Healing from childhood emotional neglect.
Children learn to cope by expressing or disconnecting from their feelings. A disconnected child whose emotions were not validated grows up to be a disconnected adult. He often has little to no understanding of what he is feeling and is vulnerable to triggers others would think nothing of.
The following are some strategies that can help promote healing from the aftermath of childhood emotional neglect.
- Learn to become aware of your feelings and consider where they are coming from.
- Build your emotional vocabulary by looking up words that describe what you think you are feeling.
- Accept yourself the way you are.
- Recognize that there is nothing wrong or bad about your feelings, and learn to view them as just messages to keep you informed as you go about your daily life.
- Get to know who you are and the things you like, want, need, and value in life.
- Invite people into your life instead of pushing them away.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
- Accept that even if other people don’t understand how you feel that doesn’t mean they don’t care about you.
- Participate in activities you enjoy.
- Keep an emotions journal to help you express and process your feelings.
- Get in touch with your needs and take steps to meet them.
- Recognize that beliefs are not always facts and start deconstructing old beliefs that are no longer valid.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Write a letter to your younger self or to the people in your past who neglected you and then burn it up and let the feelings go.
- Consider joining a support group, which is a safe space where you can meet with others facing the same issues to share your experiences and support one another.
- Invite god to shine his light into the hidden areas of your heart and heal your wounded spirit.
- Consider counseling.
A trained mental health professional can help you understand how you have been impacted, reconnect to your feelings, learn how to identify and process them, and equip you with healthy coping skills going forward.
If you would like to make an appointment to meet with one of the faith-based counselors in the online directory, please give us a call.
Carola Finch. “The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect.” We Have Kids. June 28, 2023. wehavekids.com/parenting.
Janice Webb. “6 Unhealthy Behaviors Caused by Childhood Emotional Neglect.” Psychology Today. December 6, 2022. psychologytoday.com/us/blog/childhood-emotional-neglect/202212/6-unhealthy-behaviors-caused-by-childhood-emotional-neglect.
Jonice Webb. “About Emotional Neglect.” Dr. Jonice Webb. drjonicewebb.com/about-emotional-neglect/.
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