Do you remember this adage? This is the era in which I grew up. It was the tail end of the baby boom years, and it was important to parents that children were a well-mannered reflection of themselves. Children were not considered the center of the parents’ universe. As such, children were often left to fend for themselves, to figure things out on their own. So, what's the outcome of this parenting approach?
If the parents are generally supportive and nurturing, the child has a secure base from which to explore the world and try things out before returning to the parent to get guidance, validation for their findings, and correction when needed. These children grow up to be resilient, value themselves, and have a solid sense of self.
If the parent fails too often to acknowledge the child and their explorations, and doesn't provide the child with validation, guidance or correction about what they are discovering, the child concludes that what they are up to doesn’t matter. It’s a short stretch to the child translating that to “I don’t matter.” When that message is repeated often enough, it snowballs into a poor self-image, low self-esteem, lack of confidence. These children may also become resourceful, because they had to do things for themselves. But no matter what, the child’s sense of self is based on insecurity at the core.
This is the basis of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Emotional neglect is about the absence of something. It’s the failure of parents to provide enough emotional acknowledgment and validation that a child needs to develop a solid sense of self and worth. For the adult, the consequences of emotional neglect are many. It shows up differently for each person, depending on their unique situation.
The effects in adulthood can be categorized as follows:
Mood and Emotions: having pervasive feelings of emptiness, numbness, disconnection from your own and others’ emotional states. Left unchecked, this has the potential of becoming clinical depression or anxiety.
Harsh Inner Critic: having an inner voice that is critical and punitive, sometimes gained by hearing overt criticism from significant others. In the absence of feedback, the inner critic can come from one’s own perceptions of what they must be like to others.
Poor Self-Image / Identity: not knowing what qualities or characteristics one possesses, or viewing themselves as having primarily bad qualities or characteristics. The feeling that I don't know who I am, and there must be something wrong with me.
Poor Self-Care: having difficulty in acknowledging or meeting one’s needs for care and attention, lacking self-discipline, and an inability to nurture one’s self, or viewing self-care as frivolous or unnecessary.
Counter-Dependence: having the belief that you can’t depend on others, of being overly self-reliant, even to the point of being isolated.
Lack of Connection / Belonging: having difficulty in connecting with others in an authentic way, fearing that if others really knew you they would reject you.
These are not trivial matters, and in fact they can be debilitating, especially when you have a constellation of these manifestations. You can function to an extent with these issues, and even look good on the outside, but your life will be diminished from what it could or should be.
If you recognize yourself in any of these experiences, overcoming the effects emotional neglect in childhood IS possible.
Stay tuned to learn how to heal and grow from CEN.