What is Emotional Neglect + Does it Impact You Today?
Anxiety and Trauma Therapy for Emotional Abandonment + Grief in Cedarhurst, Long Island.
“I’m just messed up. I know it in every single bone in my body. Don’t try to psychoanalyze me. I don’t have any trauma and I wasn’t molested by an uncle, neighbor or high school boyfriend. It’s called “messed up”, they should just add it to the DSM so I can finally have a clinical term to make myself feel better.”
Alexandra has a vivacious energy, is wearing funky purple earrings and the coolest boots in NYC. She is engaging and easy to connect with, and at the same time is in an exhaustive amount of pain.
“ I came to you because I heard you do “depth work”. I’m not sure what that means but I hope it means you won’t just tell me to change my thinking, but rather help me dig in to what’s beneath all of this hurt”.
As she speaks, I see the sadness in her eyes. Her forehead, which carries with joy and passion she presents to the world, softens, her brows gently droop, as she slowly looks around the room. I look at her with warmth in my eyes, compassion for her pain and respect for her commitment to living a better life. I catch a glimpse of her fierce strength and hold a mental snapshot of it in my mind. I have no doubt her incredible resilience will take her far.
“Alexandra, I’m listening and I hear you. I’m sorry for your pain. I’m also happy that you’re here to help yourself heal, as I think that, together, we can help you feel better. I’m going to need your help though, with understanding the “messed-up diagnosis you mention”.
“You’re funny. I didn’t know therapists can be funny and smart. If I’m gonna be crying in here, I’m glad I can giggle too. Maybe I can do this therapy thing.”
I find it important to connect over some laughter and sprinkle lighter moments in the therapy office. It helps invigorate the room and keep us energized for the the deep, focused work.
At first, the sessions were about her job as a high-end designer in the fashion industry. She’s promoted clothing, bags and other products and has seen continued growth in the business. There’s a glisten when she talks about her plans for up-leveling her business, but as the conversation peaks, there’s a sudden lull. A lessening of joy. A darkness that overtakes her eyes, her face and her whole body energy. It’s as if something else more important needs to share its piece.
I’ve noticed this shift happen whenever she discusses a dynamic between her friends, a boy she’s dating or something about her chaotic family life.
“Ugh, remember, I told you, messed up”.
She says as she references an interaction she had with her family over thanksgiving.
We slow down and begin unfolding what “messed up” means to her, what it feels like and looks like in this specific instance.
As a therapist, I’ve begun picking up that her “messed up” terminology is referencing the emotional neglect she’s experienced.
Raised in a home with dad as a cardiologist and mom, a radiologist, Alexandra was essentially “raised” by a nanny. Well, not one nanny. Being an only child, she wanted constant companionship and physical touch and seemed “clingy, needy and emotionally exhausting” to an outsider. Over time, every nanny would leave because they found her to be “too much”. Incredibly talented and socially suave, Alexandra used her outspoken personality at school, made friends easily and impressed her teachers with her wisdom and creativity. Though she was well liked, and wore a smile on her face, she felt empty on the inside.
“It’s the isolation that hurts deepest. Pain is pain, but if I broke my arm and so did someone else, at least they can understand the pain. I have this pain of a “cold feeling”; I once tried explaining it to my friends, but they looked at me like I spoke a different language. I felt stupid, so I just shut down and put my energy into working.
“What is it”? I ask one morning, as she shifted suddenly, her body tensing up and her forehead tightly crunched.
Alexandra had been gaining awareness and insight into how her body and the external shifts were most often expressing and communicating something from the inside.
“I know. I know. I think its something about disconnect. I’m so successful at work but am a failure at love and relationships.
I’m dating this guy and I like him but every time I try to speak or express my real feelings, everything comes out wrong. I know how to operate in the business, world, but when it comes to people, how I feel or who I am, I hit a road block. It’s like all things suddenly black out.
It’s like I’m a stranger in a world of normal people. I don’t have a heart that beats like other peoples. Mine is numb, frozen or I just didn’t get the script on how to love others”.
What Alexandra is describing is a wound related to emotional neglect from her younger developing years. Adults sometimes don’t know they have neglected to learn some life + relationship skills until things start getting confusing. Here, as an adult, Alexandra is struggling with love, intimacy and a true sense of self esteem.
What are primary emotional needs? (for adults + children)
To be listened to, To be nurtured, To be accepted and embraced, To feel loved, To have companionship, To feel understood, To feel Seen, To feel Heard, And To feel Valued.
What is emotional abandonment?
Emotional abandonment is experienced when you feel dismissed, disregarded, unacknowledged and unseen. The injury here isn’t in being hit, violated or controlled by someone else; rather the wound is in the invisible injury; the receiving of little or nothing.
When you were hungry for attention for love, for physical touch or connection, your mets went ignored, or misunderstood. When you acted out, yelled, pushed or shoved, you were yelled at, ignored or punished instead of having the space to express, understand and make sense of what was happening.
Why does emotional neglect happen?
This can happen because your parents were busy working, had their own traumas or mental health issues, or were disconnected from their own minds + bodies. Or, if there was a family stressor, they were chronically distracted and overwhelmed which impacted their ability to show up for you + get curious about your needs and help you develop emotionally. Regardless of what it was, if you reached and you did not get a response, or got a blank, cold or “shutting down” response, that was experienced as let down, a disappointment and the message that emotions are not important.
when the hunger for emotional connection goes ignored, it creates a wound that cuts deep on a psyche + soul level.
Often the recipient doesn’t feel much, rather they feel invisible, empty, cold or numb. There’s no bruising, scarring or “abuser” to identify. As human beings, we all have a deep desire to matter, to make a difference and to be connected to others.
The absence of this meaningful connection carves a deep hurt in the developing heart.
If you were emotionally abandoned as a child, you may not have understood what you experienced, as it is difficult to put words to an “absent” emotional experience. As your brain develops, the discomfort sparks a desire for clarity, understanding and relief from the symptoms. This is why many adults come into my office seeming confused, and as we work together, the simple clarity takes a big weight off of the empty hole of confusion.
As an adult, neglect symptoms come up when you notice you feel empty, confused, or stuck in your love relationships. You may also feel triggered by your child(ren) need for emotional presence, connection and attention. You are left feeling perplexed as why you’re feeling tapped out by what others are finding as a “seemingly manageable”role, yet you’re left feeling skill-less and insecure.
Struggling with relationships, self esteem and parenting but not sure if you have symptoms related to neglect?
Read “ 10 Silent Signs of Emotional Neglect + 1 Tip to Begin Healing” for clarity.
Live in the Five Towns, Nassau County, Garden City or anywhere across Long Island, NY and want to begin the deeper work with a therapist?