Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can often be difficult to recognize. CEN is elusive. It represents something a child is missing at home rather than something that was there (such as physical abuse). Many adults don’t even know they experienced emotional neglect. When emotions were expressed, or the child had a need, they were ignored or dismissed. Thus, the child learns to not reach out or that their caregivers cannot be relied on when they need support. As children, they were raised to believe that not only do their ideas not matter, but neither do their feelings or needs. Though the words may never have been said, the actions, or lack of, announced loud and clear: You don’t matter.
These children grow up to become adults who still believe they don’t matter, and that they shouldn’t burden others with their needs or feelings. They have to take care of themselves. But this cycle of worthlessness can be broken.
Here are 3 ways you can work to heal from childhood emotional neglect:
Accept Your Needs and Emotions
You most likely grew up believing your own needs and emotions were not important. You may have even been made to feel ashamed because of them. Or that you were somehow wrong for any feeling or having a need. This often leads to doubts about your own emotions or needs and a hard time trusting yourself.
In order to heal you must accept your needs and emotions and work to better understand them. This is difficult for someone who experienced CEN, but first you must identify your feelings and needs. You can do this by listening to yourself and honoring the way you feel. Remind yourself that all your feelings are ok and valid. When understood and managed, emotions can move us toward positive change.
Allow Connections to Others in Your Life
Growing up, you might have felt like adults were going to let you down. After all, it was the adults in your life that made you feel undeserving. If you reached out, you risked being ignored or dismissed, therefore feeling more hurt and pain. As an adult, you may have a natural instinct to keep people at a safe distance, to “protect” yourself. But, in order to heal, you have to stop pushing people away and, instead, invite them into your life. When we form relationships with genuine, caring and honest people, we feel good about ourselves while adding value to our lives. You can create a relationships that help repair the hurt and learn that your feelings are valid.
Get to Know Who You Really Are
Survivors of CEN all have one thing in common: they don’t really know themselves. That’s because the people in their lives who should know them the best, their family, never really took the time to get to know them.
You now have the opportunity to learn more about yourself, you are absolutely worth knowing and it is your responsibility to recognize the truth. Knowing who you are, what you like, want, need, love, value, desire in this life will give you a firm foundation from which to move you forward in a positive direction. Make a list of these things so you can get clear on what’s most important to you. Ask yourself, is this my value (belief, need, desire, etc.), or did this come from someone else’s expectation of me? Initially it might be hard to distinguish; pay attention to how it feels in your body and your heart.
Recovering from any kind of emotional trauma is not easy. It is a process that can have many ups and downs. But trusting the process, a little at a time, will lead you a life that you deserve.
If you or a loved one is suffering from CEN and would like to explore therapy options, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.