When I think of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) I picture a child – all alone, not knowing where their next meal is coming from. The adverts on TV are plentiful of sad and tearful children reaching out to be loved, who have been abused physically and/or sexually. It’s overwhelming to think what some kids have had to endure whilst growing up and the possible long-term effects that they will undoubtedly suffer from as adults.
However, there is also emotional abuse which is harder to see as nothing visual comes with it. There are no bruises or physical scars to see so this goes unnoticed. This can take the form of regular incidents of the emotional beating down of a young and developing child which is often overlooked. This has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to their mental well-being now and also in the future.
This abuse can be denied, laughed off or turned around on the person being abused with accusations of “You have no sense of humour” or “It was only a joke” or “You’re too sensitive”. This is possible as there are no bruises or physical scars to see. There is no evidence that points to the bullying and nasty comments, and no way to gauge the damage being inflicted inside that young mind. This damage will result in guilt and shame when anything goes wrong around them, self-directed anger and blame.
CEN can be even trickier to spot as there is an indifference to who you are, what you may have achieved and your need to be loved. There is no abuse – “just” no emotional attachment. If this is all you’ve known, it’s impossible to identify the cause of your low self-worth and esteem.
RESULT IN CHILDHOOD
As this child grows up this neglect is their normal- it’s familiar, it’s soul-destroying and what he bases their view of themselves on. It is also feeling fatally flawed and feeling that this flaw is shining like a beacon for others to see.
I can picture a young impressionable child, soaking up his environment like a sponge. The unwritten rules and understandings of the household, the emotional backdrop, how people interact with and regard each other and where their place in the world is.
It leads me to wonder what these perceptions could turn into in this environment. Do they feel that they matter to someone? Are they worthy of being loved? Are their achievements and good deeds important or even noticed?
The way I see it there are two ways they could behave in this scenario. Firstly, they could withdraw and become introverted and anxious or they could resort to negative behaviours just to get noticed.
This child is not learning what emotions are, he’s not learning how to deal with his own emotions and literally puts them to one side as they have never been acknowledged. This emotionless environment is all he knows and has nowhere to learn how to handle his emotions.
A child’s basic needs includes food, water, warmth and rest, which are basic needs required to survive. In amongst that is a need for safety – a place to call home, and somewhere to live without fearing danger. If they can’t feel safe in their own home, where can they?
A home is not only a place to shelter from the cold or to shut out danger – it is also a place to feel love, somewhere to develop and grow safely and a platform to learn how to interact in the outside world.
RESULT IN ADULTHOOD
If these needs are not met emotional development is stunted and they aren’t able to develop feelings of warmth, belonging and self-worth naturally. Without this level of self-love there is no way of realising their own potential and will always feel bad about themselves. They will always have an unrealistic view of themselves and lack the confidence to aspire.
These are learned behaviours – if you learn as a child that you will never do anything right they will develop a psyche to suit their situation such as isolation and survival. This grows into a fear of being dependent on anyone.
If a child is nurtured and encouraged they are being taught that they are part of a loving unit and that there is freedom to grow. If they aren’t they will have a difficulty feeling, identifying, managing and/or expressing emotions.
As this person gets older they won’t have the capacity to know how to respond to certain life situations. They have been taught un-healthy emotions by their parents and this psychological start to their life is extremely detrimental to who they will become.
These unhealthy responses will stay with them until addressed. The problem is becoming aware that this is not right and recognising it within themselves and where it originated. The neglect that they have suffered is hard to pinpoint as there is no abusive action as such, but their emotional development has been stunted.
Not only that but negative behaviours have developed to compensate for this, such as avoidance of certain situations that involve interaction and emotional responses leading to social phobia. Alternatively, feelings of anger over the situation could turn inwards and result in self-harm. Or anger towards others and regular bursts of aggression.
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