• Fiona Feeley

Childhood emotional neglect

One of the most insidiously destructive, yet unrecognised forms of childhood trauma is emotional neglect and abuse. Its ramifications (as with physical/sexual abuse) for every aspect of our adult life are staggering and yet often go unnoticed. As children, we are egocentric. We assume unmet needs, humiliation, criticism and judgement from our carer is a reflection of who we inherently are and develop a sense of shame at an early age. We internalise a view of ourselves as ‘bad’. Without self-acceptance or a robust sense of self-worth, we feel lost and distressed and create ways of coping that become maladaptive.

These include addictions/numbing/avoidance/self-sabotaging strategies including:

Food, online shopping, sex, porn, drugs, work addiction, body dysmorphia, achievement, perfectionism, control, people pleasing, paranoia, self-deprecation, comparison and rigidity. This list is non-exhaustive.

A poor sense of self and a belief that our needs are invalid makes for disillusion and difficulties in relationships. We can experience a sense of emptiness which we continuously try to fill through external validation and sources. Relaxation is difficult and anxiety likely an issue as our fight/flight/freeze response is altered to assume the worst from our environment and the people in it. The way in which we interpret the world is compromised by our conviction that bad things happen, and people are the enemy. Our internal self-judgment and criticism extrapolates onto other and we feel a need to compare ourselves to others, consequently disconnecting ourselves from others in the process. and an incapacity to accept that you are loveable which presents as wariness, defensiveness or submissiveness and insecurity. Impatience, low tolerance for emotions, fatigue and apathy are common life can feel like an ongoing struggle.

Despite what the self-help industry suggests, you cannot positively affirm your way through deeply ingrained beliefs, values and worldviews. There is no fast-track or easy street in the healing process. It involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable, recognising the maladaptive ways you are using and taking responsibility for your thought and behaviours. Initially experiencing intense, visceral emotions can feel incredibly frightening and at times, painful. However, as you allow the pain to be recognised and experienced, you release and transcend it. Creating a life of awareness and acceptance brings it with a sense of equanimity and capacity for meaning, fulfilment, joy and love like no other. The lonely, unseen child is set free and you can become the adult you were always destined to be.


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