Critical symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Benign neglect is still neglect, it is something therapist Jonice Webb addresses in depth in her book Running on Empty. Many of us could say that we came from loving homes or homes that to all appearances seemed okay or functional from an objective external point of reference and yet something was still missing at the core of such families, a critical sense of warmth, emotional resonance, parental presence, availability and connection which can be hard to articulate. Feelings of emptiness haunt the soul who suffered CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) and the pervasive if unspoken feeling ‘there is something wrong with me’ may dog many of us well into adulthood, it is one of the critical symptoms of CEN. It is not based on any objective truth though, the truth was we never got adequate care and then internalised the belief it was somehow our fault. Our responsibility in the present rests in recognising levels of wounding and trying to find ways to get valid needs met we did not feel allowed to have at the time, rather than internalising self blame.

I shared a lot from Jonice’s book a while back, you will find links to these posts below when I manage to find them back. It took me until I read her book to really get a true handle on what haunted me many years in sobriety when I felt I should be doing a lot better than I was, never the less I was still attracted to dysfunctional emotionally absent relationships and I suffered profoundly mixed feelings of sadness, anger, pain and confusion, I also see now I struggled with critical issues of boundaries and self care.

CEN sufferers often blame themselves when things go wrong or for our suffering and we often don’t know how to take care of ourselves across many levels. For example the child who is left alone a lot may look to comfort from substances like food or drink, seeking the missing love that would come from an emotionally present, warm, available, engaged parent.

I was triggered to break down in tears when watching a programme about latch key children about a month ago. The film showed a little boy going to a fridge to take out some food with a lonely and forlorn look on his face. As I think about this now after just having met up with a close family friend to my mother, an image of her as a child comes to mind. I love the Louise Hay evening meditation in which she asks us to visualise in our mind’s eye both our parents as small children, taking them with love into our hearts. I think of my Mum sitting all alone on the back step after school with no mother at home looking longingly at the neighbourhood kids playing with siblings and longing for a brother and/or sister. I think too of how when she had kids were born too far apart in age to really be able to play like this, something my siblings and I sometimes talk of.

It came up in conversation with my friend earlier how my sister wished not to have a bar of me when I was about 8 to 14. I remember clearly getting my period while Mum and Dad were on a trip away and I had never been told what period was, I went to my sister crying with bloody underpants and got fobbed off in some way. I remember the mix of shame and aloneness and confusion I felt. I don’t remember how it was addressed when Mum and Dad got back home.

Another symptom of CEN is that we feel we must be independent. We learned early on that it was not possible to reach out, open up or rely on anyone. We learn to keep our cards close to our chest, we feel we should manage things that others naturally need help with, the list can go on. I see how this manifests now in the life of my other sister and I see how self contained my brother stays remaining perpetually self focused on work work work and not engaging emotionally AT ANY TIME. The exception was at my older sister’s funeral when he broke down giving the eulogy. He rarely went to visit her in the care home where she lived in the later years with Complex PTSD and acquired brain injury (incorrectly diagnosed bi polar disorder, I feel). His wife told my mother years ago she never wanted her daughter anywhere near my older sister who flipped out and tried to take her life after her husband abandoned her. Guess what? My niece ended up in the psyche ward AT THE EXACT AGE MY OLDER SISTER HAD HER CEREBRAL BLEED AND RESULTING PSYCHOSIS.

I think while writing this of my own struggle with addiction, about how silent I used to believe I must be, how I must try never to be ‘too much trouble’ and sadly remember it was because of this my mother eventually had the final fall that ended her life, she drove herself all alone to a doctors appointment then went to do shopping when she was struggling with walking and chronic back pain because she ‘didn’t want to bother me or my sister!’

I just broke down with our family friend. She told me I am a cry baby but this is the real pain and struggle of my entire family with CEN that I am realising now after almost 26 years of active sobriety. My so called defects of character could read like a skit from British comic act Monty Python : fear, surprise, a ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the pope (just joshing!!!) But the perfectionism (ruthless efficiency) as well as ruthless self sufficiency defects could be primary ones. That said there are times we need to take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves if we want to truly recover and own our power, but never the less being forced at times to cope on all alone, put on a good front and ask nothing of anyone IS NOT GOOD FOR US. And often it may also come from never having felt truly safe, validated or ‘got’. As a default the sense that if we are to get attention or be considered ‘good enough’ we must always be there for others and never demand too much also sets in making us codependent in an attempt to win the missing love.

Well I am glad I could shed the tears anyway. I know the cure to what ails my sister is not an easy one and I honestly never believed it lay in medication nor in some of the so called ‘strategies’ they are trying to arm her with for about the 8th similar hospitalisation. My sister’s heart is lonely and she may feel there is definitely ‘something wrong with her’, a person who tried all her life to be there for others and not expect or ask too much. But my heart knows the true pain lies deeper and cannot ever be fully addressed by band aids or medications.

Many CEN sufferers do end up ending their lives, like Robin Williams they may have had to put on funny or happy mask but never the less what they were forced to face deep in the lonely privacy of their own hearts and souls may in the end being far far too difficult to come to grips with or digest, inner disparaging voices of self blame also dog many CEN survivors marking us in many places with deeply inarticulate wound which may seem impossible to fully make sense of or bear.

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/who-are-we-really-the-lost-feeling-self-and-its-role-in-suicidal-ideation/

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when thieves broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to undertake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

On the issue of understanding and healing internalised blame and shame

If we suffered emotional abuse or neglect in childhood we are not really always going to consciously know about it, at least not initially.  This is because as small children we never had any idea of our limits of responsibility.  To a child his or her caregivers or parents are God like and if they deny the hurt they inflict upon us it, or worse even blame us for it then we are going to find it very, very hard to have a balanced and grounded sense of self esteem and self love within.  As a result many of us will suffer from a number of punishing voices of either a voracious inner critic or persecutor/saboteur who tries to protect the inner child but never gives back responsibility where it truly belongs, i.e. with the parents, caregivers or abusers.

With neglect or abuse our ego boundaries will also be damaged and even worse, toxic feelings and splinters of pain will be lodged deep within us in our tissues.  This is a subject Marion Woodman addresses in many of her books on helping her clients recovering from addictions and eating disorders which are often psychic defences we can resort to in the absence of human love, protection, care, empathy, validation and soothing.   The pain we have suffered then becomes deeply internalised and we suffer shame and come to blame ourselves, turning against our vulnerable inner child and keeping the cycle of abuse going on internally.

We even see a lot of this blaming and shaming going on in a society that denies abuse or covers it over.  Addicts are blamed for not ‘pulling their socks up’, women and girls are blamed for attracting sexual abuse, boys and men are criticised and shamed for not ‘manning up!!”.  Priests are blamed for abusing when their behaviour formed in the crucible of emotionally barren pedagogies and religious systems that denied the sacredness and sanctity of sexuality and the human body.  It’s a truly disturbing and toxic situation.

Often our pain of childhood too may only come to light when we enter another relationship which triggers earlier wounds.  We may be shocked at the degree of anger or rage we feel towards a partner who treats us like our parents did, or we may project that pain onto them and find it impossible to be close. But our anger is never bad or wrong, rather it is evidence of psychic wounds demanding attention, understanding and healing.

In her book on healing from the abandonment that comes following the end of a marriage or partnership, Susan Anderson addresses this issue of internalised blame.  If we are left later in life we often will blame ourselves and there may indeed be some way in which we contributed to the fall out but this should not be a black mark against our inherent sense of self esteem if we are truly working to heal, understand and correct things.   Being left can trigger the feeling that we are not worthy enough and sometimes we may be shame dumped by a partner who themselves carries injuries that they are not willing to address.

That said the ending of a relationship can begin a healing for us if we are willing to look deeper and do the work of recovering our lost sense of self value and self esteem which will be a huge part of the healing process.  It will involve facing any shame we feel inside that we may have internalised and defended against or covered over.  If we cannot face the shame we feel or may have taken on we cannot really heal ourselves from it.  We will never cure the feeling of ‘not being good enough’ if we consistently look to others to define our value but it is a paradox for those abused in childhood who were shamed and blamed and never helped to understand their sense of value was negated by unloving parents will need to find someone to help mirror them while they work hard to reclaim this lost sense of self.

Emotional absence of parents in childhood also is a huge part of internalised shame.  As kids we need the mediating soothing of parents.  If we are just left alone with big feelings its too much for us to manage.  I know this is why I struggled so much in my own life and relationships.  Neither of my parents understood their own feelings very well and then they were absent a hell of a lot.   I learned I could only rely on myself for consistency and I increasingly began to turn towards writing and reading to find my way.

It’s interesting to me now that as an adolescent the writings I was drawn too were poems like T S Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as the writings of Sylvia Plath.  Both battled depression. I was also drawn into smoking dope very early on and listening to a lot of angry and disturbed music about emotional alienation.   Around this time I had nearly lost my life at 17, spent 3 months in hospital, come out, had no counselling and then had to watch as my older much loved sister hit the wall with a haemorrhage and was later abandoned in the worst possible way and tried to take her life.    I got involved with an addict around this time who never really loved me, had two terminations of pregnancy I keep hidden due to shame and had to watch my father die of cancer by age 22.   From 1984 onwards the darkness of my life escalated and I only really started to wake up and come out of it around the time I chose sobriety at the age of 31 in 1993.

I still suffer from internalised shame and self blame despite years of therapy.   It is with me every morning when I wake up.  The critic is up WAY before me each morning and if I had never got a good therapist I could still be permanently depressed and suicidal.

Suicidal ideation as I understand it comes from the internalised introjects (inner voices)  we are left with when we are abandoned emotionally and given no help to understand our true predicament.  It’s one of the reasons I am very opposed to drug therapy alone,  Without being able to make meaning of what really happened to us (our soul) the truth stays locked inside and a lot of psychiatrists and therapists are happy just to keep people unaware unless they have faced their own pain or are well educated into the impact of emotional neglect or abuse.   I know this situation is changing slowly but drugs are to my mind never the final answer for depression and anxiety alone.

If you do suffer from a punishing inner voice or tormentor, my advice is to please reach out for help to someone who can HONESTLY AND TRULY VALIDATE YOUR PAIN.  No you don’t have to be stuck in victim or not reclaim power but to know you truly were a powerless victim at one stage of your life is most essential if you don’t want to keep that blame and shame internalised for ever.  If you were abused as a child IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT.  As a child you were powerless, you looked to adults, you had no idea that adults could be damaged and you most definitely NEVER DESERVED IT.  If anyone tries to tell you this my advice is to run a mile or put a good distance between yourself and that person.  Most of all your traumatised inner child needs your unconditional love, support and care, to truly recover you must find ways to give it to him or her how ever you can.

 

 

 

Undermined reality and fear of intimacy : Insights into loving an Adult Child

There is nothing worse for  a child than having our inner reality undermined. Being told “no you don’t feel that way” “just get over it” “that didn’t hurt, you are such a baby” and worse things and this is the legacy sadly of those brought up in narcissistic homes.  Children raised in these homes learn to shut up and repress the reality of their True Self pretty quickly (especially anger which goes along with invalidation abuse but has to be supressed for us to survive).   We carry great fear and there is never really any freedom to take an unimpeded breath.  For those of us who meet partners in life later who aren’t this way and want to see, hear, validate and love us as we are, the struggle to trust is even harder.  IT IS something therapist and author Janet Woitiz deals with in her book The Intimacy Struggle which I have had for years but am rereading now I am in a new relationship that is so vastly different to the old ones.

There are ten fears that Janet outlines which hit the nail on the head for me lately.  Children from alcoholic or narcissistic and emotionally neglectful homes often will detonate a relationship that offers them exactly what they need as soon as it gets close and intimate, its due to a profound fear of abandonment we cannot often even fully admit to ourselves.  Partners of such people go through shock and confusion as the one they love acts out, especially after a time of closeness and connection.   The adult child will quickly pull the rug out from under such closeness by starting a fight, disappearing or going disconnected in some way, all due to not being able to stand the heat of their own feelings of sadness and longing for what they were denied needing or wanting from a young age which are evoked in intimate relationships.  As pointed out by Robert Firestone who has done a lot of work with inner voices and the inner critic often we will start to hear criticisms and doubts in our heads when intimacy threatens us putting ourselves or the other person down if we carry past unresolved attachment wounds.  Its something addressed too in the book on attachment by therapists Amir Levine and Rachel Heller ‘Attached : The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – And Keep Love.

Its helpful to know when our fear of intimacy is being evoked.  It may not always stop us acting out but it will start to bring awareness which is the first step, then maybe we can have a talk to our partner about it later if we can be honest and they are open. Partners of adult children of trauma, addiction or neglect can also educate themselves to the vulnerabilities of their partners if they don’t suffer this way and are more securely attached.

Below is a list of fears which Janet Woitiz outlines in her excellent book.

  1. Adult Children fear hurting others due to their own pain and sensitivity.  They make excellent loyal partners for this reason but such fear may make them into people pleasers because their fear of conflict is so high.
  2. Adult Children fear the person others see them to be does not exist.  They were not able to be their full selves and were never unconditionally accepted.
  3. Adult Children fear they will lose control if they love someone or connect with them, often due to the fact their homes were out of control or they had overly controlling parents.
  4. Adult Children will deny things hurt or matter, its a defensive approach to make themselves appear bullet proof and deny their vulnerability which was never safe before.
  5. Adult Children fear any love given is not real, things going well is so unfamiliar to them it seems unreal since all they knew growing up was chaos.  High drama doesn’t go along with a healthy relationship and they never experienced peaceful connected relating so they have no template for it.
  6. Adult Children fear their anger when exposed will lead to abandonment.  They have a power keg of it anyway due to the way they were treated growing up.  They have difficulty asking for help then get upset if partners don’t mind read due to a fear of expressing needs.
  7. Adult Children feel shame for being themselves and they feel responsible for everything that went wrong in their families.  This is unrealistic but its very true for them.   So how could you love them when they are so bad?
  8. Adult Children fear that if you really get to know them you will find out they are unlovable.  They were probably led to believe this anyway due to the way they were treated or blamed for things growing up that were not their fault.  They often feel failures that they could not fix their dysfunctional family.
  9. Adult Children have difficulty tolerating the discomfort that is a natural part of getting close to others.  Feelings naturally get stirred up with intimacy and adult children fear their feelings or don’t really know how to deal with them so often they cut and run.
  10. Adult Children fear they will be left and this fear harks back to their history.  It is important these fears are not discounted and that a loving partner gives them constant reassurance, they didn’t ask to be abandoned growing up, it wasn’t their fault and they don’t “have to get over it”.  Their fear needs to be understood and soothed until they can learn to trust in a present that is profoundly different to their traumatic past.

Related post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/08/23/why-intimacy-brings-up-pain-for-neglected-adult-children/

The dark place of abandonment

Being made to believe we are not okay as we are and certainly not deserving of someone’s love and relationship does affect us so very deeply.  I am revisiting the work of abandonment therapist Susan Anderson lately.  I was lucky to be guided towards her book From Abandonment to Healing just over 13 years ago when my marriage ended and I found myself in a very dark place.

This was not the first time as abandonment has been a pretty much constant theme for me starting with my older much loved sister leaving home when I was only 3 to marry and start her own family and live overseas.  My Mum wasn’t emotionally available to me at all, she worked all the time and when she was home we had to duck and weave around her compulsive cleaning, there was never a place to rest and my Dad also vacated through his own addictions (minor ones) when he was around he wasn’t really there.  Later in life after I nearly lost my life at the tender age of 17 in a motor vehicle smash up he was hard line forcing me to go to secretarial college in the painful aftermath of my older sister’s breakdown and cerebral bleed.  Later I saw her abandoned too at her most vulnerable time and was back at home when she tried to take her life in 1982 when I was only 20 years old.

Dad ended up dying when I was only 23 and that was followed by my then partner (who I had two terminations of pregancy to), ringing me at 4 am in the morning just a few days after my father died to tell me not to bother joining him overseas as he didn’t love me any more and had found someone else.  Do you believe that later when our paths crossed in Greece I slept with him only to come home one night and find him in bed with someone else only to be accused of being ‘mad’ when I reacted to it poorly?  Luckily at that time I was with other friends in Greece and the owner of our B and B deplored my ex’s behaviour.  Never the less I internalised the abandonment seeing it as due to a flaw in me.

I won’t go into the pain of three more similar ‘leavings’ of exs over a period of 18 more years, often on the back of being told there was something wrong with me.  What that ‘something’ I now know was terror and fear pure and simple and Susan Andersons’ newer book which I just bought Taming The Outer Child : Overcoming Self Sabotage and Healing from Abandonment explains how very real changes in our neurochemistry involving the amygdala leave us with an over active fear, flight and fight response which is automatically triggered in any new relationship or prospective interaction  (and not only with new potential partners, from my experience).  This reactive pattern she gives the name Outer Child and it can sabotage and lay to waste new connections but not only that leaves us with cumulative Post Traumatic Stress as a result of our abandonment trauma or ‘schemas’.

Anderson.jpg

As I sat with my sister yesterday after she tried on the clothes I bought for her and saw how much of her self love had been decimated I thought it is criminal what people are telling her, I know her fixation on clothes and looking good are symptoms of her abandonment but its not only that, the roulette wheel of psychiatrists and medications has left her depleted, she went down the exercise route but withouth any psycho dynamic therapy and no emotional recovery buddies.  She is not able to express and read as I am and that works against her.   I know new clothes will not fix that deeper wound to her self esteem but I think it doesn’t hurt to be there to try as it’s getting so much colder here and she has no warm jumpers and when people tell her ‘its all in her head as she has lots of clothes’, that to my mind is pretty invalidating and harsh.

I seem to have gone a little off track here but what I am trying to address in this post is how our abandonment at another’s hands can leave us questioning our own use, meaning, value, beauty and goodness and how healing involves not internalising those feelings from someone else.  In her earlier book Anderson uses the acronym S.W.I.R.L. to describe the process of working through a recent abandonment which may trigger far earlier ones.  (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalisation, Rage, Lifting).

The true abandonment as adults is then self abandonment which occurs as we internalise false beliefs about our value and worth and fail to understand or validate reactions to abandonment and its deeper triggers. For sure we may not be perfect and have wounds and scars and reaction patterns we need to understand and work with : the process Anderson outlines in the second book, but we are not worthless because we have been abandoned or gone through loss and all our feelings and reactions make complete sense once we understand their roots and work to understand our own history and self sabotaging behaviours.

From this position we should be showing compassion to those who have suffered emotional abandonment not be taking out a big stick to hit them over the head with.   For healing involves compassion, wisdom and tenderness both to others and to our inner child that bleed from very real wounds in earlier life.

Don’t tell me : Say nothing!

Hurting.jpg

Don’t tell me I am to blame

When I did all I could to survive in a wilderness

Don’t tell me this is something I chose

Something you would not wish on your worst enemy

Don’t tell me I need to make it alone

When only relationship and community can sustain me

Don’t tell me it wasn’t intentional

Even so I was hurt

And so were others

And if you really had empathy you would understand this

Don’t tell me I should be over all that by now

For I will never be over it I will only come through it

And telling me or others that only feels dismissive

Don’t tell me it was all for a reason

When really you would just rather not

Engage with this level of pain

Or lack the depth to understand deeper causes

Don’t tell me

It will all come right in the end

For it may not

As much as I try

And you are not God

For the kind of world we live in now

Sometimes shows and sometimes lacks empathy

And good and terrible things happen all the time

And so often kind people die alone

Instead please say

That must have been hard

I hear your pain

Or if you can’t

Please

Just say nothing

Who ARE we really? The lost feeling self and it’s role in suicidal ideation.

Just re reading through key chapters in Jonice Webb’s book on Childhood Emotional Neglect, Running on Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect  is reminding me of this question and how hard it can be to answer fully and honestly if we were not fully allowed to express ourselves or unfold ourselves and our feelings in our family of origin.

In the chapter Cognitive Secrets : The Special Problem of Suicidal Feelings, Jonice outlines the story of Robyn who becomes suicidal after what seems to be a ‘fun’ night with friends.  What is not seen by her friends though or expressed by Robyn is her real and true self.  As Jonice describes Robyn’s childhood she describes a loving family who did not allow any displays of so called ‘negative’ emotions  :

Robyn’s parents seldom argued and they had very low tolerance for negativity of any kind  When a conflict would break out between the children, as they do with all siblings, the parents would crack down by sending all parties to their rooms immediately (no matter what the fight was about).. their motto was “Zero Tolerance”. They also applied this role to complaining or any expression of unhappiness, sadness or frustration.   The result was a quiet household.  The children learned early on that if they had something negative on their minds, they had better keep it to themselves.  Mom and Dad refused to be burdened by nonsense.. they didn’t have the time or energy to put into solving crises, assuaging tears and soothing frustrations  The Zero Tolerance policy allowed them to stay in charge of the household and they felt, keep a positive outlook on life.

Outside the house the siblings did fight and argue, however.  The older siblings could work with this conflict, contain the emotions and felt freed by it, but Robyn who was a sensitive child did not.  She was labelled a ‘Frequent Crier ‘ by the family, due to her tendency to burst into tears and was of course teased about being like this and if the tears continued too long she was,( of course), sent to her room (alone!).  Great solution, Mum and Dad!!!

Throughout all of this Robyn learned a powerful lesson.  She learned that negative emotion was bad and would not be tolerated.  She learned that any feelings she had that were not upbeat, fun or positive must be kept to herself and carefully hidden.  She felt ashamed that she had such feelings, and silently vowed never to let them be seen.  (to such an extent that she even hid them from herself!)

Robyn learned to withdraw, to stay busy and diverted, watch too much television or over work and to fight off any ‘negative’ feelings.

Robyn didn’t just fight this battle.  She lived it.  Her life was organised around making sure that she did not reveal, see, know or feel anything negative from herself.  It took a tremendous amount of energy.  She was bent on hiding the negative shameful part of herself (Robyn’s version of the Fatal Flaw most neglected kid hide deep inside)…..she couldn’t let anyone get to know her too well.

Robyn learned to live alone, to not invite friends around.  She hid even her intense loneliness about this from herself and struggled because she knew her parents loved her, so why would she be struggling so much if she was not fatally flawed?

Since adolescence, Robyn had an outside looking in feeling. At age 13, she had started wondering what was wrong with her.  She’d had a great childhood, so there was no explanation for how flawed she felt.  There was something missing something sick inside of her, a secret void.  The only way she could soothe herself was to imagine being dead.  Being dead would be such a relief  She did not have any intention to kill herself, but she reserved the possibility as a safety net…..Robyn used fantasies of being dead and her secret knowledge of her safety net as her chief method of soothing herself from age 13, all through her adulthood, but she had not breathed a word of it to a single soul.

Jonice goes on to describe how this fantasy and desire was, however, triggered after the night in question Robyn had shared with friends…. how feelings of numbness, emptiness and gloom suddenly began to over take and consume Robyn…As her desperation increased after failed attempts to distract herself with television comedy failed, Robyn reached for the bottle of pills and swallowed them compulsively.

Robyn’s suicide attempt and feelings would most likely make so sense to anyone who knew her because as Jonice explains “the Robyn that everyone else knew and loved was not the real Robyn… She was essentially a time bomb, set to explode periodically”.

Robyn was luckily found by her sister who happened to drop by that day…but many who feel and suffer the way that Robyn did are not so lucky….”they don’t get to share or understand their pain, and they don’t get to explain their final moments to anyone.”  They also never really get to know, love or understand their real feelings or true self.

When I first read this chapter in Webb’s book last year I identified with it so strongly.  I have not ever committed suicide though often I had cherished that fantasy too.  Luckily I got a sense years into sobriety that more was going on underneath my addiction that just ‘defects of character’.  Soul sadness, soul loneliness as therapist Tara Brach points out in her book True Refuge are primary feelings that drive us when we come to mistakenly believe “there is something wrong with me”, the fatal flaw which is symptom seven in Jonice Webb’s list of effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

So many of us who suffer urgently need to understand it’s roots if we really are ever to recover our true sense of self which contains all kinds of feelings in response to a life which we didn’t choose and is so often influenced by all kinds of toxic, negating and restrictive influences beyond our control.

(For a full list of all 10 symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect please see the following post or read Jonice Webb’s book.)

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/signs-you-may-have-been-emotionally-neglected/

Understanding alexithymia and building emotional depth if you were emotionally neglected.

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.

  1. The parent doesn’t pay attention to the child’s feelings.
  2. The parent doesn’t make an effort to feel what their child is feeling
  3. The parent doesn’t help the child to find and form words for what they are feeling.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

https://wordpress.com/post/emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/43134

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/learning-to-express-your-feelings-effectively/

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)