Frame Therapist Catherine Wohlwend shares 9 clues that you may have experienced emotional neglect.
1. You have never felt close to your parents. Not even as a small child2. Your parent leaned on your from an early age to discuss their problems, not yours.
3. You didn't talk to your parents when big things happened, even significant milestones, things you know other kids would have shared.
4. You engage in people-pleasing behaviors.
5. If you had a problem, your parents were not the ones you went to.
6. You have trouble identifying and naming your emotions.
7. You have "commitment" issues, because it's too hard when you get close to others.
8. You have an extremely hard time stating your needs and setting boundaries.
9. You have a hard time identifying what your needs even are.
When we think about abused children, we often have visions of spanking, hitting and even sexual abuse. We think of withholding food, cruel punishments or physical neglect.
What is more chronic and quite honestly, common, is emotional abandonment. It's leaving a child to emotionally fend for themselves. It's not helping them manage their emotions. It's expecting them to have the factory settings of fully grown adult in terms of emotional regulation. It's the lack of attuning to them.
There are lots of reasons why this happens; perhaps their own abuse as a child led them to not understand how to parent correctly. But talking about the reasons why it happened begins to feel like defense. And when you do it in the same breathe as someone sharing what happened to them, it looks a lot like dismissing their experience. It's in fact a perpetuation of the same problem in the first place.
The hardest thing I see as a therapist is when someone does this to themselves. That is, they say their parents didn't know any better, they did the best they could. That is likely true. But that doesn't mean you can't express your pain about what happened to you. It doesn't mean you need to stuff your feelings down simply because their is an explanation for your experience. Both things can be true: they tried their best and you didn't have proper modeling or support for your emotional expression as a child. The good news is that this is workable. You can move forward. Therapy can help. Journaling can help. Working on re-parenting yourself can help. Aggressive self-care can help. Learning to sit with your emotions is the ultimate goal.
About the Author: Catherine Wohlwend, LMFT, is a trauma therapist who works with people across the lifespan: from teens, to those in early adult life, mid-life, and those bringing new life into the world (new parents).
Follow her for more content @therapistcatherine