Signs you may have been emotionally neglected

When I first got into sobriety and began to look at the things that led to my addiction it was hard to see what had happened to lead me to this state.  I seemed to come from a good home, albeit one in which there had been a lot of tragedy.  I didn’t really abuse others, although I know my drinking was a source of concern to close friends at the time.  It was more that I carried a deep fear of ever getting close to anyone and this knowing fuelled by alcohol didn’t help me in anyway. I didn’t have much awareness of my emotions at all and as I look back I know how deeply the emotions I did carry were buried.

I was not fully aware then just how powerful my fears of loss and being abandoned again were.  I now know they stem back to the younger years of my life.  I would act them out whenever I started to get close to anyone, most especially boyfriends and of course, most often my relationships ended in tears.  I didn’t know how to be intimate.  I was not in touch with my feelings and fears.  I was terrified of being vulnerable and as the years went on I had amassed a great number of wounds.  For example by the age of 23 I had already had three terminations of pregnancy which I hid from nearly everyone who knew me.  I was so terrified to be found out.

Now I know that though my parents would have said I was raised in a happy home, I was often left alone both physically and emotionally.  No one took the time to spend time with me, to listen to me and to nurture me.  I don’t remember ever being hugged.  I longed for my Mum but she was working a lot.  I was left with my second sister who was often really annoyed and did really cruel things.  For example one day when we were playing and I  slammed a door while we were playing chasing in the house which caught a Hawaiian lai which was hanging over the top belonging to my sister she took my little koala bear with the music box inside and held up and slammed the door on it repeatedly.  The music box inside it broke and it never played again. I was very traumatised by this but when my parents found out they didn’t really do anything about it and made a bit of a joke of it.  It might seem trivial now but at the time that bear was the closest thing I had in my life.

I have been in therapy for some years now but it wasn’t until fairly recently a therapist gave a name to what I suffered growing up… benign neglect …… lately I have learned more about the impact of emotional neglect through a really enlightening book  Running on Empty written by a therapist who specialises in helping those who suffered what is to all intents and purposes often very deeply hidden, most especially to the sufferer.

The ten signs she catalogues below indicate that you may have been emotionally neglected.  They certainly helped me to make sense of my own childhood and I am sharing them as they may help you if you struggle with feeling disconnected from the fullness of live and relationships.  There really is a reason for it.  You aren’t to blame and you can find out why and how to heal. These are just the symptoms. The book gives a lot of recommendations for what you can do to free yourself from the hidden destructive consequences of emotional neglect.  I strongly recommend it.

  1. Feelings of emptiness  –  A sense of something missing,  a numb feeling, sense of emptiness in your body, a sense of being on the outside looking in, questioning the purpose of life, suicidal thoughts come out of nowhere, an attraction to thrills just to feel more alive, feeling like you don’t belong or are different.
  2. Counter dependence – a sense that you should be able to cope alone, that you don’t really need anyone, or a fear of trusting and being close (often deeply unconscious), keeping up an emotional distance, fear of neediness in self or others, difficulties asking for help;
  3. Un realistic Self Appraisal – due to lack of consistent or positive feedback in childhood we have problems seeing ourselves realistically, we may over emphasise our defects and underestimate our abilities, we may struggle to find our place in life, our true needs and desires in being dismissed or ignored get lost or hidden;
  4. No compassion for self, plenty for others -suffering from lots of inner negative self talk, gravitating yourself around others and listening to their needs and problems but not allowing yourself the same, difficulty making mistakes or errors, taking refuge in the intellect, ideals or standards that harm or hurt us, feeling angry with yourself for being a failure or not measuring up;
  5. Guilt and Shame. What is wrong with me? – often part of being neglected is the feeling we absorb that we, our feelings and needs are a burden, so we feel guilty for having them, efforts are made to bury or hide feelings from others, there was no time for them or they were considered an inconvenience in an emotionally neglectful home so our feelings are never validated, we learn to hide feelings but feel secretly guilty and shame based, ashamed for feeling, ashamed for being human, we may turn to addiction to cope with these feelings of guilt and shame;
  6. Self directed anger, self blame – it is difficult to feel deeply ashamed of something as innately human in oneself as emotions without getting angry with oneself and shame often becomes misdirected anger and is turned in upon the self as it is often forbidden expression in the emotionally neglectful home, suicidal feelings and addictions are often the result of self directed anger;
  7. The Fatal Flaw (If people really knew me, they wont like me.)  – each emotionally neglected person struggles with not being able to be truly known and express the truth of the self so the feeling results that there is something wrong with us and that if others knew us they would find that out.  When the real self gets hidden we cant undo this belief and get trapped in a self fulfilling prophecy:
  8. Difficulty Nurturing Self and Others – due to not being sufficiently nurtured, we never learn these skills,  we may keep up a distance, feel uncomfortable when others need anything from us and most uncomfortable when we need something from others;
  9. Poor Self Discipline – part of emotional neglect may have meant that you were left to roam free, with little supervision at critical times and no boundaries, this often leads to a difficulty with setting boundaries for yourself, overeating, oversleeping, over consuming. making excuses for why you cannot exercise or take other steps to live a healthy fulfilling life;
  10. Alexithymia :  Poor awareness and understanding of emotions – when we are not helped to express and understand our emotions we don’t develop a relationship with the emotional side of ourselves or others, this makes it hard to read cues, hard to have relationships.   We may just become very irritable and have difficulty knowing the complex mix of feelings which unlie this irritability.

I related to most of the ten.  They are clearly explained in more detail through case histories in the book.  I would like to share more of it here on my site, especially later a blog on why coming out of this we often feel suicidal.   I hope it helps.

 

9 thoughts on “Signs you may have been emotionally neglected

  1. Benign neglect: The name makes it sound like it’s not so serious. Being one who was emotionally neglected, I know all too well there is nothing benign about it.

    Number 5 made me think of the frustration (as well as the other mentioned feelings) I felt much of the time about not being free to be real, having to hide my emotions.

    I relate to all ten in the list.

    It’s awful that your parents completely neglected the incident with the koala music box. For both of you… You clearly did not deserve such aggression against you and your sister also apparently had some emotional issues she didn’t know how to deal with.

    It makes me sad that the parents of adult children like us (my parents neglected my and my siblings emotional needs too) cause such a rift between and among siblings because they didn’t intervene when they should have, left us alone, (I was a latch key kid and after school”baby” sitter of my two younger siblings when I myself was too young to have such a responsibility) and even set us up against each other even if subtle and at times unintentional.

    1. Yes! And you have hit the nail on the head of why my sister was so aggressive to me. If the parents cause those kind of feelings by being absent often the older ones become parents like you had to do and anger comes out but not directed to the parents as that would be prohibited. My sister was 8 years older and she was alone with me to care for. And then she became inducted into the family system of work hard/ achieve/ bury your real feelings. I
      It has taken me a long time to uncover my real feelings, I know I minimise them a lot too as not many people have been able to validate how gut wrenching that incident from childhood was as well as all the other wounds not mentioned here.
      I don’t think the word benign is meant to mean it wasn’t severe more that the parents didn’t intend the suffering deliberately but were passing down old wounds. I guess its still no excuse but my parents were depression survivors who nearly starved and had to become parents too early too.
      Thanks so much for reading, sharing your experience and insight. ❤

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