Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is evident in most clients we, at Anglia Counselling Ltd, work with who present themselves for counselling and therapy.
There remains for others a misconception that CEN must be that the experience of obvious and overt abuse and trauma has occurred, and while these do fall into ‘neglect’ or abuse category, there are many more subtle examples, the symptoms of which can remain hidden from our conscious awareness for decades.
“It is common for symptoms to only become more obvious once we embark on deep relationships – and then if we ourselves become parents”
So, who does not have any symptoms of neglect from childhood?
Very, very few humans have no symptoms at all.
So, what can be classed as childhood developmental neglect that leads to at least some level of psychological injury?
- Failing to attend to the infant and toddler when crying or otherwise distressed.
- Abandonment, temporary or permanent (attachment issues in later life, such as infidelity or difficulty committing).
- Not being ‘seen’, heard, or believed (Healthy attunement may be missing from ruptures with caregivers, especially when the child is shamed by unrealistic expectations, and most commonly today, with the newly acquired digital ‘soother’ that keeps the child occupied but without eye-to-eye contact that is crucial for healthy esteem and connection to others and oneself.)
- Uncertainty in the environment due to hostile relationships, anger, or inconsistent caregiver behaviours as seen in domestic abuse and violence.
- Parents and caregivers who put their own needs before the children.
- Parents and caregivers who are too busy.
- When a family member needs more care and attention than others, such as with long term illness or disability of a sibling.
- Poverty may or may not impact depending on whether love, attention and connection remain available.
- Overly protective parenting (Helicopter Parenting).
- Narcissistic parent or caregiver.
- Alcoholism and substance abuse, other addictions such as gambling and porn.
- When the child is bought-off with material possessions.
And there are many more developmental stage experiences that will ultimately shape the adult that the child becomes – and the relationships, including parenting styles, they have.
Who is to Blame?
It’s usually unhelpful to blame our parents and caregivers. They did the best with what they had in their awareness, usually repeating a transference via a culture of parenting that may well have been passed down the ancestral line for countless generations, until a ‘chain-breaker’ intervenes and with awareness and counsel, passes on to their own offspring a new, more mindful, less emotionally neglectful experience from which to enter adulthood, relationships, and parenting with.
*We always welcome working with clients who are planning to become parents and who have become aware that they themselves would rather avoid passing on negative approaches, including ‘over-parenting’.
The roots of anxiety and depression in adulthood are often to be found in the child’s formative years while the nervous system was still being developed.
The natural way a child’s underdeveloped nervous system regulates is through relationships. The unnatural way is to regulate on its own which is the source of trauma.
When a parent or caregiver is unavailable for regulation and emotional support or when the parent or caregiver is the primary source of physical or emotional distress, the nervous system of the child is “pushed” to find strategies to regulate on its own and make the pain less painful.
Without emotional and biological support (co-regulation), the child’s brain learns: “I have to do it on my own“
The way to regulate on its own is via survival adaptations, responses and mechanisms that substitute for the co-regulation. It will become hyper-aroused, hyper-alert, disconnect, tense, freeze or shut down.
Walls are Built That Can’t be Seen
Protective emotional barriers, or ‘walls’ are unconsciously created to try and protect the individual from further emotional pain. But these ‘walls’ also fail to allow us in adulthood to ‘feel’ the love of another.
The adult will also have learned through life to move pain into a problem-solving intellectual brain to solve, practically, an emotional problem. The result of this is a disconnection between the mind and body, leaving emotions to become subconsciously stored in the body while ‘we live in the brain’. Not only is this a safety behaviour, but it also has the effect of emotions with nowhere to go; no completion or catharsis, then we as adults become more and more distressed, affecting behaviourally our relationships with ourselves and others, our social and professional performance, our familial and domestic relationships.
We turn to numbing behaviours associated with alcohol or other substances, or allow anger and coercion, manipulation, and distrust, to affect many facets of our lived experience.
The Child Needs to Have Been Seen, Heard, and Believed!
Put simply, the child that learns there is value, and it is safe to express herself will continue to do so in adulthood. In this expressiveness she will be more able to set healthy boundaries, will have raised self-esteem, and be able to regulate her emotions so they do not lead to ill health and the assortment of other turbulence mentioned above.
Jonice Webb, PhD, author of “Running on Empty” and her website which contains a ‘self-assessment questionnaire’ for Childhood Emotional Neglect.
“The book I wish my parents had read” – Philippa Perry
Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.
Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).