I have written several detailed posts on Childhood Emotional Neglect. One of the painful symptoms is alexithymia which is a complex name for a condition in which you are often out of touch with your deepest feelings. As a result you may often feel confused, irritable or angry for seemingly ‘no’ reason, mystified by the behaviour of others. You may also feel like something is missing inside of you, have friendships which lack depth and substance, including the ability to share and feel comfortable with expressing feelings. You may also suffer from suicidal feelings and not really know the where they come from.
This kind of thing dates back to a childhood where you were emotionally neglected, left alone a lot of the time without a lot of support or attention in contrast to being violently or overtly abused or led to believe it was not okay to express difficult emotions such as anger or sadness. Such scars and deficits left run deep and are invisible and even mystifying to yourself, since you were given next to no help with understanding your feelings, led to believe they don’t make any sense or should be ignored, over-ridden or put to one side.
In her book on Childhood Emotional Neglect, therapist Jonice Webb addresses the issue of trying to heal from this kind of thing through developing emotional intelligence and insight into your feelings but another important skill to learn is sharing how you do feel with others while taking the risk that it just might lead to abandonment.
Taking this kind of risk runs exactly contrary to what those of us who have been emotionally neglected or forced out of touch with our feelings have been forced to do if there was no one there to tell or depend in childhood. Instead we learn to be super independent, feel we should not ‘bother’ others or be a ‘downer’ or a ‘burden’ to others. But in an emotionally healthy relationship its okay to express and share feelings as this builds intimacy, connection and emotional depth.
In addition, if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect we may feel that we are all ‘too much’, especially if we learn to substitute larger more dramatic emotions and blows ups for the balanced expression of true semotion which we probably never learned or saw modelled in our family of origins growing up. Jonice recommends in her book that instead we seek out those who are trustworthy as far as feelings are concerned, are willing to listen, support and understand. Futhermore, she recommends taking risks to :
tell (others) your problem to see if it does help you to manage your feelings in order to test out :
if they are used against you,
if the person runs away,
is burdened by it,
accuses you of ruining their day/night
or gives you the feeling that you are ‘weak’ or that there is something wrong with you for feeling that way…
These kind of reactions according to Jonice are signs that this particular person is not really the best kind of friend for us in the circumstances, that they may actually be like an unsupportive parent and therefore not healthy to be around long term if we really wish to build greater depth and emotional rapport which are so essential to those of us who were emotionally neglected in childhood.
Further more, in terms of understanding the symptom of alexithymia versus emotional awareness which we need to develop as we recover, Jonice points out that the following treatment by parents in childhood is often behind our disconnection from feeling and our emotional life.
- The parent doesn’t pay attention to the child’s feelings.
- The parent doesn’t make an effort to feel what their child is feeling
- The parent doesn’t help the child to find and form words for what they are feeling.
- The parent doesn’t help the child to draw connections between what has happened to them and how they are feeling in reaction or guilts or shames then for such a reaction.
- The parent does not make emotions an important part of nurturing the child.
If this is the way your parents raised you, then it’s no wonder you developed alexithymia as a result. It will take time and a lot of help in recovery to help you learn not only to differentiate your feelings and make sense of them but trust yourself in expressing then to others. Without this capacity your emotional life will suffer as a result.
human beings are designed to feel emotion. When that design is short circuited, first by emotionally neglectful parents and later by the child himself as an adult it throws off the entire system….the human psyche malfunctions when emotions are pushed out of it… emptiness or numbness is worse than pain. Many people have told me they would prefer feeling anything to (feeling) nothing. It is very difficult to acknoweldge, makes sense of, or put into words soemthing that is absent. If you do succed in putting emptiness into words to try to explain it to another person,, it’s very difficult for others to understand it. Emptiness seems like nothing to most people. And it is nothing, neither bad or good. But in the case of a human being’s internal functioning, nothing is definately something. Emptiness is actually a feeling in and of itself. And I have discovered that it is a feeling that can be very intense and powerful In fact, it has the power to drive people to do things to escape it…….
And as Jonice goes onto explain this kind of emptiness leads not only to suicidal feelings but to an attempt to control or hide from the feeling by supresssing the truth of it, denying, avoiding, detaching altogether from human life and relationships. People with alexithymia suffer in silence, they question the value and meaning of their lives and indulge in escape fantasies and addictions as a result.
To understand emotions better I recommend checking out these past two posts that I wrote a while back taken from the healing work of Dr Jonice Webb.
I would also highly recommend getting a hold of her book or checking out her website. In order to live complete fulfilling lives, it is so important we work to become more aware of our emotions and their messages.
(All quotes taken from Running On Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect)