Just what is the Emotional Dark Age? It is the age of ignorance relative to emotions. Most people on earth do not understand emotions; they are not terribly conscious of them, they do not know what function they serve, they do not know what to do with them. This is a serious problem considering that emotions are the very basis of every person’s life experience.
There are many awakenings that must occur relative to our understanding of emotions but today; I’m going to trigger a specific one of these awakenings because it is at the very core of our adult dysfunction. I like to call this particular aspect of emotional ignorance, “The Great Epidemic” because it quite literally is. It is an epidemic that is responsible for more chronic unhappiness and suicide than all other causes combined.
Many of you who are reading this article, are aware of emotional abuse. Things like deliberate threatening, shaming, humiliating, exploiting, and isolating to name a few. But there is another form of emotional abuse that goes on between people, which is harder to recognize. And it leaves even deeper scars. It is this form of abuse that is today’s epidemic and it is called ‘Emotional Neglect’. The best way to understand emotional neglect is this: Instead of trauma caused by what IS done, it is trauma caused by what IS NOT done. Keep in mind that the traditional expressions of emotional abuse can go hand in hand with emotional neglect. But a person can still emotionally neglect another person without overtly emotionally abusing them in the traditional sense. Emotional neglect begins in childhood, so childhood is where we shall begin; but not until we examine the life of a person who has suffered emotional neglect in their childhood. One such person who suffered emotional neglect in childhood is Mary. Mary has a very successful job at a law firm. She came from a small little town in Colorado. She was the last of three children. When Mary looks back at her life, she had what anyone would consider to be a good childhood. Her family was financially successful, she never wanted for anything. Her parents (who are still married to this day) never argued. They had low tolerance for negativity of any kind. When any of the children would whine or complain or cry, they were promptly sent to their rooms. So Mary is confused about why she is the way that she is. She is confused about why she goes to bars on the weekends and drinks until she blacks out. She is confused about why she cannot seem to create a successful relationship with a man. She is confused about why she often fantasizes about suicide. You may be confused as well, but lets look at Mary’s life under the lens of emotional neglect.
It is a parent’s responsibility to be attuned to the needs of their child. It is obvious that one should be attuned to a child’s need for food, shelter, water, clothing, cleaning etc. But what about emotional needs? Chances are when I just said “what about emotional needs?”, you just thought to yourself, “what are emotional needs?” If that doesn’t tell you just how deep in the Dark Age we are, I don’t know what does. That being said, we all have emotional needs. And children have emotional needs and when these needs aren’t met, we end up empty. To understand more about emptiness, you can watch my YouTube video titled “Emptiness, How to Stop Feeling Empty” When a parent does not meet their child’s emotional needs, the parent is essentially invalidating the importance of their child in their life. This child does not feel seen, heard or felt. There is no intimacy in the relationship and so this child lacks the knowledge about how to form intimate relationships. When a child is shamed for having emotional needs and wanting to have them met by the parent, the message the child receives is… There is something fundamentally wrong and unlovable about me. This child grows up being completely blind to his or her own emotional needs as well as being very afraid of his or her own emotions.
It is a parent’s job to establish emotional connection with their child, to give the necessary undivided attention to their child, seeing them as a unique, separate individual who has a right to feel the way they feel and to use this emotional connection and attention to respond to the emotional need their child is currently displaying. This can sound like a tall order if you, yourself have never experienced someone being emotionally attentive to you. But it is my promise that you can learn.
Looking now at Mary’s childhood scenario, we can see clearly that though meaning well, for the sake of keeping a peaceful household, Mary’s parents trained their children that if they were thinking or feeling anything negative, they had better keep it to themselves. Negative emotion was bad and not to be tolerated. Every time Mary had these feelings, she would feel ashamed of them. She would isolate herself and not let anyone else see them. She would try to escape them by drinking. And she was so intent on hiding this shameful aspect of herself (believing that if anyone saw this side of her that felt bad, they would abandon her) that she never got past the third date with a man. She was lonely and regardless of whether or not Mary’s parents did actually love her, she did not feel loved as a child. Remember that we can know a parent loves us without feeling that a parent loves us. Long story short, Mary felt isolated from the world. Like she was on the outside looking in and like no one knew her really. And so, she often thought, “What is the point of being alive?” And one day, when Mary was feeling lonely enough, she did commit suicide. And no one saw it coming. It was a shock to everyone, because no one knew how much pain she was really in. Mary’s parents loved Mary and all their children. On the outside, their family life looked perfect and even enviable. They were simply completely unaware of the emotional needs of their children and unwittingly, as a result of not meeting those needs, taught Mary a few lessons that eventually led to her death. Most people who suffered emotional neglect, either keep their suffering entirely to themselves, or go from psychiatrist to psychologist trying desperately to figure out what is so wrong with them. Most are drowning in a sea of self-condemnation because they can’t see what it is that caused them to feel the way they feel. This is because emotional neglect is not what you see. It is what you don’t see. It is the encouragement that didn’t happen. It is the comforting that wasn’t given. It is the loving support that wasn’t offered. It is the loving words that were not said. It is the sense of belonging that was never granted. It is the understanding that was never reached for. Emotional neglect is so hard to recognize because you can’t see what isn’t there and so you can’t remember what isn’t there and until you see what could have been there, you wont even know something was missing. All parents at this point in history will emotionally fail their children at certain times. And the more aware you become of the emotional neglect in your own childhood, the more obvious it will be when you emotionally fail your own child. But it isn’t the occasional failure that corrodes the foundation of a person’s life enough to make their adulthood crumble. It is the chronic failure to meet a child’s emotional needs. And why is this an epidemic? Because it is rampant like a disease and emotional neglect is passed from generation to generation to generation and each generation is completely unaware of it… until someone becomes conscious of it.
If your emotional needs were not met in childhood, you will have a difficult time meeting them as an adult. This is why emotional neglect is a major cause of unhealthy codependency. Now before you let yourself off the hook by saying “I’m not codependent, I’m the most independent person I know, I must not have been emotionally neglected”, let me remind you that independent people often have the most difficult time meeting their needs for closeness with others and intimacy and support.
There are many, many symptoms of emotional neglect. But here is a list of some common things that are likely to occur in adulthood if you have suffered from emotional neglect in childhood: Feeling like you do not belong Feeling chronic shame Feeling an insatiable sense of Emptiness Difficulty asking for help Chronically unhappy relationships or the inability to form lasting relationships You are wither too dependent on others or pride yourself on being completely independent. The feeling that you are a fraud Feeling either like you are safer alone or that you absolutely cannot stand being alone Judging yourself more harshly than you judge others Having a hard time figuring out what you are feeling Feeling like you are on the outside of life looking in Suicidal feelings or thoughts Difficulty calming yourself or self-soothing Feeling a great deal of self blame or self hatred Feeling as if something in you is defective or unlovable… there’s something wrong with me Feeling wither like you are too self disciplined or that you struggle with self-discipline and are lazy. Having difficulty nurturing others or providing adequate affection You feel unhappy for no obvious reason
If you suspect that you were emotionally neglected as a child, I implore you to watch my video on YouTube titled: “Meet Your Needs”. Once you discover what your emotional needs are, it is easier to see how those needs were not met in childhood and this will tip you off to the kind of emotional neglect you suffered in childhood. Learning how to self-care and also how to let others care for you… how to meet your needs and also hoe to let others meet your needs, is a critical part of healing from emotional neglect.
Also, it might be enlightening for you to do a little research on your own time about emotional neglect and about the many different family dynamics and circumstances that are emotionally neglectful. You may just finally be able to connect the dots between what you experienced (or should I say didn’t get to experience) and why you feel the way you feel.
If you have suffered from emotional neglect, you need not despair. With some deliberate focus, you can learn how to emotionally be there for yourself and others and you can learn how to let others be there for you. The first step is diving head first into the art of emotional awareness. Develop your emotional intelligence. Start to become aware of how you feel. Learn as much as you can about emotions, their purpose and what to do with them. If you feel you want some assistance in doing this, seek out a Somatic therapist or a Hakomi therapist in your area. You also may want to watch my YouTube videos titled, “Positively Embrace your Negative Emotions”, “How to Express Emotion” and “How to Heal the Emotional Body”.
Next, you need to learn about emotions and relationships, most especially how to deal with other people’s emotions. If we want to end the epidemic of emotional neglect in our society, we must learn how to treat emotions and how to meet our own emotional needs as well as each other’s emotional needs. For this reason, it’s a good idea to Watch my video on YouTube titled: “Emotional Wake Up Call”. Since emotional neglect affects our ability to be authentic and our ability to be intimate with others, learning how to be authentic and intimate with others is also a key ingredient for healing from emotional neglect. Keep in mind that true intimacy has nothing to do with sex. True intimacy is to see and feel and listen into another person and to be truly seen, felt and heard by them. In this universe, there is only the presence of something and the lack of that very same something. This is the true polarity that exists. So one could say that darkness does not exist, only the lack of light. Lack is the furthest vibration you can get from the vibration of source or what many call god. And so, the most painful thing you can experience in your waking life is in fact lack. More damage can be caused to you by what is not done than can be caused to you by what is done. And so it is with emotional neglect. It is my desire that by becoming aware of this human epidemic, we can collectively shift our focus in the direction of emotional awareness and learn to meet the emotional needs of our children, ourselves and each other. May you live long enough to see what becomes of the world on the day that we succeed in this.