Childhood Emotional Neglect – PART 3
This is PART 3 of Childhood Emotional Neglect – How does it impact adult relationships? Is healing even possible?
PART 1 : What are the symptoms – the legacy of coping mechanisms?
PART 2 : What has caused those symptoms or coping mechanisms?
I think it would be fair to say, that everyone who seeks relationship counselling has some form of attachment trauma – maybe it’s a small ‘t’ trauma, but it still really hurts! They hurt from something that has happened, or is regularly happening, within their relationship. They hurt badly enough to be willing to step into the emotionally vulnerable space of relationship therapy.
What they don’t always realise, is how their earlier life experience of relationships, so often plays out within their present relationship woes. This is definitely a painful truth for those who have suffered childhood emotional neglect.
We are usually the very last to see what has been programmed into our young unconscious brain and how those unpleasant experiences (and the limiting beliefs we developed from them) are playing a major role in our present challenges.
Some scenarios …
A client’s mother had been very manipulative and he felt that he could never please …
He was now hyper-vigilant to the slightest mood change in his partner, he felt like leaving the relationship because he couldn’t keep her happy. She felt she wasn’t allowed to have any negative emotions and so started sharing those with a work colleague and found herself almost having an affair.
A client had immigrant parents who worked enormous hours to survive …
She felt that being dependent on her partner for comfort, was really uncomfortable! She felt ‘weak’ and preferred to be alone when she was hurt or upset. Her partner just wanted to be able to talk about things and hated her ‘stone walling’. It drove him ‘crazy’ and he would push to discuss things, and they would end up arguing.
A client’s mother suffered mental illness …
She found it really hard to tolerate when her partner felt down or needed a shoulder to lean on. That burden just felt too much for her to respond to with compassion. The client’s girlfriend was left feeling alone, just as she felt her entire childhood, spent at boarding school.
A client’s father drank heavily when she was very young. He was forever telling lies to her mother about his drinking …
The client struggled to believe her partner, despite the fact that he had done nothing very ‘wrong’, and told me about how she was constantly checking up on him. However, the more she checked, the more evasive he became and the more suspicious she felt! He said that she had broken his trust by looking on his phone and computer, when he had done nothing distrustful.
A client described her mother as a ‘super-mum ’ …
But now she found herself in a confusing marriage where her husband would ‘blow up’ if she tried to share the things that were hurting or upsetting her. Far from listening or saying sorry, he would point the finger at her, saying ‘it was her fault’, she was being ‘unreasonable’, ‘difficult’, ‘too sensitive’, ‘selfish’, ‘too hard to live with’. The client ‘knew’ these to be ‘true’ because her ‘super-mum’ had told her the very same things when she was a child and still did, to be honest. So she tried harder and harder to be a good wife as her husband’s behaviour became more and more erratic, thoughtless and demanding. She came to counselling because she believed there was something very wrong with her, she was so miserable, she didn’t know how to get him to listen to her, but she couldn’t leave her husband either, because that would mean she hadn’t tried hard enough, that she had failed. (Her mother hadn’t been a super-mum, more a covert narcissist shaming her out of her feelings when they weren’t comfortable for the mother – she had to be seen as a ‘super-mum’ at all times.)
A client’s father was super good at everything he did (some would call him a perfectionist) …
With the slightest hint of criticism from her partner, she would react with her own harsh criticism towards him, and then spiral into silent self-doubt, giving him the cold-shoulder. At these times she also said her eating disorder was more difficult to manage. He didn’t know how to reach her or help her in that place and was feeling like a ‘shit husband’. In fact he’d felt pretty ‘shit’ all his life, telling me he had been a ‘shit kid’. (Told to him often by his financially stressed father who was feeling a failure).
A client’s parents were harsh in their criticism and demanding of him …
He would often snap at his partner and children for the smallest things, but he would also beat himself up for his lack of patience and tolerance. His wife felt like she had to walk on eggshells, just as she had to do in her childhood with her traumatised refugee father.
Of course the scenarios are as unique as every client or couple that I counsel – but the present sabotaging behaviour always has some roots in the original attachment trauma of their childhood.
Brad Yates, says that self-sabotage, is simply self-love from an old program, and I would agree with him.
That sabotaging way is simply trying to protect the client from more of the same pain that they used to experience in their childhood and/or youth – and so is yours!
But a protecting way of being, will never create the emotional connection that you yearn for.
So what are the steps to healing?
1 Learn to self soothe.
2 Develop self-compassion.
3 Reconnect with subjugated feelings.
4 Heal from the traumas that created the ways you protect yourself.
5 Develop self acceptance to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
6 Learn to assertively express your needs.
7 Maintain a routine of self-nurture.
However the key to all of these, is compassion – a therapeutic journey consistently immersed in compassion, as you learn self compassion. Because compassion was the pivotal ingredient missing from your childhood of emotional neglect.
I find that trauma informed relationship therapy is the quickest way for someone to heal from childhood emotional neglect. Compassionate understanding and acceptance from their partner, heals not just the present issues that brought them to therapy, but the childhood wounds as well.
I use my somatic trauma informed relationship therapy, Tapping into Relationships – eft2 to support and guide the couple to empathically hear each other’s childhood experiences that are now playing out in their relationship. Helping them to reframe their sabotaging actions as their desperate efforts to maintain the relationship.
In therapy we turn the protecting behaviours into connecting behaviours.
But if the client isn’t in a relationship at that time, or simply prefers to do individual counselling, these are some of the techniques and therapies I find really helpful for those struggling with the aftermath of childhood emotional neglect.
Tapping (EFT), Havening and Energy Techniques –
to help calm the nervous system and their anxieties; to establish self-soothing techniques; to access buried feelings; to calm inner critics; to change limiting beliefs; to heal from incidences of trauma; to ease out of depression and to begin to feel and to develop self compassion.
Internal Family Systems –
to give voice to wounded parts from their childhood; to calm sabotaging parts; to soften and unburden managing parts; to integrate a sense of self.
Interactive Drawing Therapy, Sand Tray and Symbol Work –
to create a new nurturing narrative of their journey; to help develop a sense of self; to create a sense of healthy boundaries and relationships; to generate a sense of purpose.
Journalling and writing letters to Self –
to help develop a lived sense of self-compassion and gain a more compassionately informed perspective of their journey; to create self acceptance.
Loving Kindness to Self Meditations –
to self soothe; to develop self-compassion; to use in their self nurture routines.
I use any, or all of these therapies and techniques, woven together within the empathic space of a sound therapeutic rapport, to support my clients to begin to speak their needs.
Don’t waste another day trapped in the confusion and betrayal of childhood emotional neglect.
It is a challenging journey …
but it is so worth it as you heal.