WHAT IS EMOTIONAL NEGLECT?
According to Dr. Webb, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is "a subtle, often invisible childhood experience that happens when your parents fail to notice or respond to your feelings enough."
When your emotions are disregarded in childhood, you learn to accept, on a very deep level, that your feelings do not matter. Moreover, when your parents lack emotional health skills, they lack the ability to connect and attune with you. You are taught to see emotions as confusing and overwhelming. You learn to wall off your feelings, exile aspects of your genuine nature, and disconnect from yourself.
Albeit, unintentional, lack of connection and emotional attunement in childhood, has predictable effects in adulthood: feelings of emptiness, counter-dependence, unrealistic self-appraisal, poor self-compassion, guilt and shame, self-directed anger/self-blame, angry outbursts and reactivity, the Fatal Flaw, difficulty nurturing self and others, poor self-discipline and alexithymia (subclinical inability to identify and describe emotions with a marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating).
We need to become aware of emotional neglect and associated false beliefs. Once uncovered we become empowered to change our programming in order to heal unmet emotional needs, build secure attachment, and gain the emotional health skills necessary to have a healthy relationship with ourselves and others.
10 HARMFUL FALSE BELIEFS LEARNED
FROM CHILDHOOD EMOTIONAL NEGLECT & LACK OF EMOTIONAL ATTUNEMENT
Adapted from Jonice Webb, PhD
1. You are overly sensitive.
As a child, you naturally felt upset when things upset you. You naturally felt angry when you were hurt. What you needed was to have your feelings soothed by a loving parent so that you could learn how to soothe yourself.
If you got the message that feelings were a weakness or "too sensitive," you learned to judge yourself and shame your emotions (in others words, you learned to shame yourself for being human).
2. It’s not good to be too happy or too sad.
As a child, you naturally had intense feelings. This is how all children are wired. Exuberant one moment, intensely frustrated the next, you needed someone to teach you how to understand, validate and process your emotions.
If you learned your emotions were "too much" or excessive, you learned to dampen your feelings. You were not taught the necessary skills you needed to manage them.
3. Your needs and preferences are irrelevant.
As a child, you had needs, just as all children do. You had things that felt important to you, and things that felt good or bad to you. What you needed was for someone to notice, or to ask what you needed or wanted, so you felt heard, seen and valued.
When no one asked you enough, you learned to believe you don’t matter.
4. Talking about a problem will unnecessarily burden other people.
When problems occurred with siblings, friends or in school, you needed to know you had support and could feel safe talking to a parent.
Instead, you knew they could not handle it, for whatever reason. So, you learned that others couldn’t handle your problems, and so you’d best keep it to yourself.
5. Crying is weak and shameful.
All humans cry, and for a reason. Crying is a way to release and process your emotions. As a child, you cried sometimes (maybe often). What you needed was for this to be okay.
Instead, your family didn’t know that crying has a purpose, so they ignored your tears or shamed you for having them. Perhaps they never showed tears themselves. You learned that crying is negative and should be avoided, one of the biggest signs you were neglected as a child.
6. Others will judge you for showing your feelings.
Were you judged for showing feelings in your childhood home? This powerful message has been carried forth with you. “Hide your emotions from others” is the message, “or others will think less of you.” Or, worse, they will use your feelings against you.
7. Anger is a negative emotion and should be avoided.
As a child, of course you often felt angry, as this feeling is a natural part of life. As a child, what you needed was help to name, understand and manage your anger.
Perhaps instead your anger was squelched or overwhelmed by another’s. Maybe you were punished for showing it. You learned anger is bad and that you should suppress it. You also learn maladaptive protective strategies to keep your rightful anger hidden and shamed.
8. Relying on another is setting yourself up for disappointment.
Children need help, period. So do adolescents and adults. As a child, you needed support, direction, suggestions, and assistance. But you could see that your parents were not up to that.
You learned it is best not to ask for help in general because you are setting yourself up for a letdown.
9. Others are not interested in what you have to say.
As a young child, you had endless wonder at the world around you. As you grew, you had endless things that you wanted and needed to ask and say. Yet talking was not valued in your family, and you were not asked or listened to enough.
You learned your questions and words are not valuable and that you should keep them to yourself.
10. You are alone in the world.
As a child, you needed to feel that an adult had your back; that no matter what happened, there was support and help for you. Instead, when you needed something you discovered that your adult(s) were busy, overwhelmed or not aware.
You learned to believe you were all alone.
You learned that crying is negative and should be avoided, one of the biggest signs you were neglected as a child.
Jonice Webb, PhD
These false beliefs seemed true when you grew up receiving them in a subliminal, consistent way. But they are merely multi-generational lessons from your family and society, not truths.
The truth is…
Strong feelings connect us to ourselves and to each other
We connect emotionally. If you are cut-off from your emotions, you will feel disconnected from yourself and others
Experiencing and understanding our emotions is a sign of health and well-being
Taking responsibility for your emotions and embracing them is key to problem-solving
Crying is how our emotional systems heal and let go (rather than "get stuck" in denial or depression)
Being vulnerable and sharing your feelings with those your trust helps them know you and love you
Anger is an important message from your body that empowers you to make necessary choices and set boundaries (some of which are life-saving)
Mutual dependence and reciprocity is grounded in sharing your feelings and is a form of teamwork that makes relationships stronger
What you have to say is important
You are human. You are connected, you are important
You are not, in fact, by any stretch, alone
"You grew up with your feelings ignored, and now you must do the exact opposite. You can start right away simply paying attention to your feelings. When you do the work, you get to reap the rewards."
Jonice Webb, PhD