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3 Problems Caused by Ignoring Your Emotions

... and 3 ways to start letting those feelings in.

Key points

  • Childhood emotional neglect teaches you that your feelings are unimportant, useless, or a burden on others.
  • Many who grew up with emotional neglect blame themselves for the life problems that ensue.
  • Once you see emotional neglect as the true cause, you are freed of self-blame and can take three key steps to start the healing.
interstid/Adobe Stock Images
Source: interstid/Adobe Stock Images

What happens when you grow up in a household that ignores your feelings and avoids talking about difficult or emotional things?

Childhood emotional neglect. It happens when your parents do not respond enough to your emotions as they raise you.

And this can cause other very big things to happen. Invisible things, yes, but also impactful.

Imagine that, as a child, your parents tend to ignore your feelings of sadness, hurt, anxiety, confusion, or loss.

Every single time your parents fail to respond emotionally to you when you need it, you are receiving messages from your parents. Unstated, subliminal messages, most likely, but that gives them even more influence over you.

Your feelings (all feelings) don’t exist.

Your feelings (all feelings) do not matter.

If you feel something, hide it. We do not want to be burdened by your emotions.

You are essentially being raised to undervalue, under-attend to, and under respond to your own feelings as well as the feelings of others. You are being taught to hide your feelings. You may even learn to be ashamed of your own emotions.

Growing Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect

When, as a child, you are frequently receiving the message—even if it is never stated outright—that the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are—your emotions—don’t matter or are unacceptable, you naturally push your feelings down and away, essentially walling them off so that they won’t be visible or bother anyone, including yourself.

Walling off your feelings is an automatic and adaptive defensive move that may help you deal with the demands of your childhood home. But, as an adult, you need to have full awareness of and access to your emotions.

As an adult, you will likely have no memory of having pushed your feelings away, or that your emotional needs went unmet in childhood. Yet you will suffer the effects and those effects are substantial.

The effects occur in three primary areas of your adult life. It is vital to be aware of them, mainly because once you see them, you can heal them.

Yes, it is true. Childhood emotional neglect can be healed.

The 3 Areas of Your Adult Life Most Affected By Childhood Emotional Neglect

Area 1: Emotional Skills and Knowledge

  • When you grow up with parents who are not tuned in to your emotions enough, you don’t get enough opportunity to learn about how to identify, express, or manage your own feelings or the feelings of others.
  • It can then be hard to make sense of relationships or understand your own behavior and the behavior of other people.
  • You may be mystified about why you do certain things or find some important relationships confusing, both in your personal life and at work.

Area 2: Self-Care

  • The message, “Your feelings don’t matter,” comes across to the child as, “You don’t matter.”
  • So now, as an adult, you are at risk of putting other people’s needs, wants, and feelings before your own.
  • You may find it difficult to say “no.”
  • It may be hard to depend on others or to ask other people for help.
  • You may have compassion for others, but very little for yourself.
  • You may feel like an island upon which others can rely, but who is not allowed to have any needs of your own.

Area 3: Self-Blame, Shame, and Self-Directed Anger

  • Because the emotional neglect that’s at the heart of what’s wrong in your life is invisible and unmemorable, you have no explanation for the disconnection, confusion, and aloneness that you live with.
  • You feel deeply, secretly flawed, and you assume it must be all your fault.
  • So you feel ashamed that you’re not happier and blame yourself for feeling empty.
  • You are hard on yourself, often feel ashamed, and tend to direct your anger inward instead of the people and events that deserve it.
  • You find yourself wondering, “What is wrong with me?”

The Good News

I know all of this sounds painful and negative, but there is some good news too. If you are living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you are not flawed or disordered, or ill. Your childhood emotional neglect is not a defect or a disease.

It’s just something that failed to happen for you as a child (emotional validation, awareness, compassion, and care). These are all things you can provide yourself as an adult. It’s entirely possible, with some hard work and dedication, to heal from the effects of your childhood emotional neglect.

fizkes/Adobe Stock Images
Become a student of emotions
Source: fizkes/Adobe Stock Images

3 Steps to Do Now to Get the Healing Started

  1. Become a student of emotions. Pay more attention to your own feelings and see if you can determine what other people in your life are feeling. Learn some new emotion words to label your feelings. Take note of the variety of emotions that pass through you every day.
  2. Accept that you matter. Free yourself up to put more consideration, effort, and care into your own happiness and health. Those old, false messages from childhood cannot control you any longer.
  3. Know that this is not your fault. When you accept that your struggle is not your choice or a result of some major flaw, you can begin to treat yourself more kindly, stop the self-blaming and shaming, and free yourself up to heal.

If childhood emotional neglect happened to you, you were set up with some significant challenges from the start.

And, perhaps something else happened as well. In each of the three areas above, you may have been unknowingly living out the silent messages of emotional neglect that are wrong and painful, and harmful.

But you now have the power to make something new happen. Practice the three steps in your everyday life and stop the neglect in its tracks. Step by step, bit by bit. Forever.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.

LinkedIn image: panitanphoto/Shutterstock. Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

References

To determine whether you might be living with the effects of childhood emotional neglect, you can take the free Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. You'll find the link in my bio.

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