Leadership Trauma

Healing from the Pain of Emotional Neglect

Nov 30, -0001

Emotional neglect can take a toll on your mental and physical health, leading to damaging long-term effects. If you're struggling with the effects of emotional neglect, it's important to understand the signs, identify where you need help, and commit to self-care. This post will discuss how to start your journey of healing from emotional neglect.

Understand What Emotional Neglect Is.

It's important to be able to understand and identify the signs of emotional neglect. Emotional neglect is defined as when one person in a relationship does not provide the necessary emotional support or connection for the other person. Typically, this type of behavior is exhibited by caregivers or romantic partners who don’t acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, needs or experiences, which can result in a wide range of difficult emotions and psychological distress.

Oftentimes the term relates to childhood experiences where people get to deal with when they are already adults. Herein also lies the complexity of the subject: people who become aware of patterns of emotional neglect often do not want to blame their parents and do not want to dwell on the past, but still see that the emotional patterns express themselves in the everyday reality of their adult life.

Acknowledge the Losses You Have Experienced.

Acknowledging the losses you have experienced due to emotional neglect can be a painful process. The losses could include the feeling of not being cared for, loved and valued. It may also include other lost opportunities such as not having a partner to share moments with or to provide comfort during difficult times. Recognizing these losses is necessary for healing and accepting them can open the door for creating new experiences that are healthier and more fulfilling.

Find Meaningful Ways to Process and Grieve Your Painful Experiences.

One of the best ways to start healing from emotional neglect is to find meaningful ways to process and grieve your experiences. Writing, artwork, and journaling are all great ways to express and connect with the pain you may have felt during times of neglect. It can help you give shape and meaning to the experience, as well as create a safe space for exploring any emotions that come up. Music can be another powerful vehicle for expressing emotions, and reaching out to professionals who specialize in helping people heal from emotional abuse is also highly encouraged.

Is Emotional Neglect a Trauma?

Emotional neglect is not recognized as trauma in the sense that it is not diagnostically associated with terms like PTSD or psychotrauma. However, there is a widespread realization among clinicians that almost all serious psychological symptoms and disorders are rooted in emotional deficits and in the relationship people have developed as a result with their own inner world. Emotional neglect is therefore not the same as PTSD in the narrow sense, because it is not about something shocking that actually did happen, but mainly about something that was missing or did not happen. Emotional neglect however does have a traumatic effect, and often leads to visible and invisible wounds and behavioral effects that are indeed trauma-related.

What Causes Emotional Neglect?

Emotional neglect is rooted in consciousness. Parents often pass on to their children what they have received themselves. Love, warmth, security, presence - these are all examples of basic conditions that children need to develop properly. In the post-war climate and the decades that followed, emotions and the developmental needs of children were assessed differently than today. Collectively speaking, there might not have been so much attention for the warmth, affection and emotional holding that is nowadays considered essential for safely growing up.

Many times, it is the emotional pain of the parents that prevents him or her from seeing the child’s needs. Emotional neglect is therefore often rooted in so-called intergenerational patterns of trauma. Father and mother pass their unhealed emotional wounds and struggles on to their offspring, no matter how hard they try to compensate or avoid that.

Emotional Neglect in Relationships

It is precisely in adult relationships that the influences of emotional neglect become visible. The basic idea here is that the relationship you had with your main attachment figures comes back into adulthood: the patterns repeat itself (also called re-enactments). This may for instance lead to unsatisfying love relationships and friendships, to a situation where you shield your deepest protecting your innermost feelings because you already assume that you will not actually be seen and loved after all.

This can easily imply that relationships and friendships are always somewhat unsatisfying, that you constantly close yourself off because you already assume that you are not really seen and loved after all, that you feel chronically dissatisfied and jealous of others, or that you always end up feeling disappointed because the other person did not give you what you need emotionally. This easily leads to feelings of emptiness, numbness and depression. It can also easily become the breeding ground for addictions and all sorts of destructive behaviors and activities.

Consequences of Emotional Neglect.

Basically, the consequence of emotional neglect is that there is a chronic lack of nurturing, understanding and security.

People can manifest this basic programming in different ways in their daily lives:

* they can surrender to it - follow the code (always take care of others, don't stand up for their own needs, don't be vulnerable);

* they can fight with it (extremely high demands on others, constant bitterness and hostility towards others);

* they may try to avoid it (allow only superficial contact, keep the heart closed, use drugs or alcohol for emotion management).

Leadership and Entrepreneurship

Because emotional neglect is all about yourself, it has direct consequences for your functioning as a business leader or as an entrepreneur. Business-wise, the link is basically in the same area: that you neglect yourself or ensure that there is a constant emptiness and shortage.

This can manifest itself, for example, in:

* putting in too much effort for too low prices;

* doubt about who you really are and what you mean to your customers or clients;

* difficulty opening your heart to your board members or personnel;

* the struggle to foster love, joy and connection in your company or organization.

Wounds of emotional neglect can also show in your leadership. For example, because you project your own unhealed wounds onto your people, or because you experience intense pain and triggers when specific situations or conversations penetrate deeper than expected.

Why This Can Hold Us Captive

The biggest problem that emotional neglect presents in your personal functioning and your leadership is that it keeps you unwillingly trapped in the emotional layers of your self - what Eckhard Tolle describes as 'the Pain Body'. Leadership and entrepreneurship at the highest level require us to see and relate to this emotional layers, but without being lived by it. This would lead to unnecessary reactivity and a lack of clarity - simply because higher layers of consciousness become less accessible.

Dirk Jan Versluis (MM, MSc) is psychologist and executive coach and specializes in the integral psychology of trauma, leadership and top performance (more information).