Updated: Mar 20, 2020
ANY OF THESE HIT A NERVE?
- I'm depressed or sad for no apparent reason.
- I don't know what I feel or what I want.
- It’s hard for me to ask for help.
- I’m very hard on myself.
- Shouldn't I feel happier than I do?
- I feel numb and empty inside.
- I tend to push down my feelings or avoid them.
- I expect rejection from people. If I let them get too close, they won’t like what they see.
It can be hard for many of us to think critically of our parents or our childhood. This is especially true if we grew up in a loving home with plenty of food and clothing and were never abused or mistreated. You may have some memories about what happened in your childhood, but what about what *didn’t* happen*? Because *what didn’t happen* has as much or more power over who you have become as an adult than any of those events you do remember.
No doubt, parenting is the hardest job in the world, most parents are doing their absolute best, and no one is perfect. But, to love your child is a very different thing than being in tune with your child.
For a parent to be in tune with his child, he must be a person who is aware of and understands emotions in general. He must be observant so that he can see what his child can and can’t do as he develops. And he must be willing and able to put in the effort and energy required to truly know his child. A well-meaning parent who lacks in any one of these areas is at risk of emotionally failing his child.
This Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible, vague, hard-to-define and is rampant. It can explain many of the empty, lost, depressed feelings described at the beginning of this post.
What’s tricky is that Emotional Neglect is so subtle, it’s barely observable. And it hides in what’s NOT THERE.
EXAMPLES OF PARENTING STYLES THAT CAN LEAD TO CHILDHOOD EMOTIONAL NEGLECT (CEN).
⇨ Anything feel familiar? ⇦
✔︎ THE WORKAHOLIC PARENT:
- By putting their work first, parents send message to kid that her feelings, needs & accomplishments are of lesser importance (damaging child’s self-worth)
- Some children act out to get their parents' attention, others grow up with low self-esteem
- Children often grow up with privilege (don't see themselves as deprived), so they feel guilty for not being happy
- The loss of a parent to divorce/death/etc is perceptible. The loss of a parent to success is invisible & vague
✔︎ THE DEPRESSED PARENT:
- Child feels that he must be perfectly behaved so as not to make his parent feel worse. Grows up having difficulty making mistakes, rocking the boat, or allowing himself to be an imperfect human being
- Parent has little energy, turns inward, focuses on himself & what is wrong with him
- Because parent has little to give as far as comfort or encouragement, child doesn't know how to self-soothe and may turn to drugs or alcohol
- Child feels worthless and is at risk to become depressed himself
✔︎ THE NARCISSISTIC PARENT (a whole other article will be written on this, specifically on the COVERT NARCISSISTICS):
- Demand perfection from their children (because they see it as a reflection on themselves)
- Child's needs are subsumed by the parent's needs (mostly the need to be seen in a flattering light by others)
- Lack ability to imagine or care about what child feels (more focused on the child being successful and may not notice if child is lonely, depressed, withdrawn)
- Parent takes child's behavior personally ("How could you do this to me? Everyone will think we're ... “)
✔︎ THE PERMISSIVE PARENT:
- Often seen as very loving and "cool" by their children, because these parents stir up very little conflict with their children
- Many of these parents have discomfort with conflict themselves and simply don't say "no" enough to their kids (being momentarily hated by your child for saying no is painful)
- Do not provide kids with limits, structure or a strong adult against whom they can rebel
- The children grow up thinking their parents gave them every opportunity and so blame themselves for their inner struggles
- Child doesn't get enough feedback from parents. They treat children like buddies instead of taking opportunities to teach them valuable lessons
✔︎ THE HIGH FUNCTIONING ADDICTED PARENT:
- These are high functioning, loving, present parents whose addictions may not even be identified by the family
- What harms the child is the parent behaves like two different people and the child cannot always predict which side of her addicted parent is going to show up (During the day mom might be kind & supportive, at night after a few drinks she may become mean & frightening)
- With this unpredictable parenting, the child becomes anxious, worried & insecure
- Child has that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop
- Child learns how to avoid consequences, navigate mom's moods and "play" people
✔︎ THE WELL-MEANING-BUT-NEGLECTED-THEMSELVES PARENT:
- Even the most loving and well-meaning parents can be emotionally neglectful, most probably because they themselves were emotionally neglected
- Parent may not attend to the *feeling* level of life. Mostly lives on the surface of life, not aware of or in touch with the world of emotion
- Parent has blind spots about the connection between behavior, feelings, and relationships and never teaches these to the child
For more, see Jonice Webb, "Running on Empty"
Image: Face House, Kyoto by Kazumasa Yamashita