Why Emotional Neglect and Depression Are Often Experienced Together

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From Dr. Jonice Webb: “Why are Emotional Neglect and depression often experienced together?

Let’s start with a brief refresher on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), how it happens, and how it plays out through the neglected child’s adult life.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you.

This usually unmemorable childhood experience is deceptively powerful. It gains its impact from the fact that it happens daily, subliminally, and under the radar. The child receives the message:

Your emotions are not important, not relevant, or not welcome here in your childhood home.

Children who receive this message often as their brains are developing naturally adapt to their situation. They automatically wall off their feelings so that they will not be a burden to their parents in their childhood home.

This naturally adaptive step is truly an amazing solution. But, sadly, it backfires in many ways as the child grows into adulthood. One of those ways is by making you more vulnerable to depression.

5 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You More Vulnerable to Adult Depression

You’ve walled off your pain and it now weighs you down.

When you were a child, you learned to push all of your feelings away. This became your primary way of dealing with difficult emotions. When your feelings were hurt, instead of using this as an important message from your body, you tended to push it away. Throughout the decades of your life, this is how you have managed most of your sadness, loss, anger and other pain. But, unfortunately, blocked off feelings never really go away. They collect, all swirled together, on the other side of your wall. Since you’re unaware of them you can’t process them. They may arise at times when you least expect them, and they also weigh you down, sapping your energy and making your world feel heavy or gray. They make you more vulnerable to depression.

Your joy is blocked off, along with all your other emotions.

Blocking off feelings is usually not possible to do in a discriminating way. Unfortunately, you cannot choose to wall off some emotions and not others. So when you block off negative emotions you also lose your positive ones. You may find it difficult to experience happiness, enjoyment, and reward as intensely as other people can. This makes you more vulnerable to becoming depressed.

You are out of touch with what you want, need or enjoy.

Why don’t you know these things well enough? Because the way to know what you want is by feelings like desire, craving or longing; the way to know what you need is by feeling deprived or needy; and the way to know what you enjoy is by feeling rewarded, pleased, or happy. When you are cut off from your own feelings, you are not able to know these things as well as you should. This makes it difficult to seek what you should be seeking, or make yourself happy. This makes you more likely to become depressed.

Even when you know what you would enjoy, it’s hard for you to prioritize your own needs.

Since few folks are 100% removed from all of their feelings, there are probably times when you do know what you want, need or will enjoy. But when you grew up with Emotional Neglect, you learned to keep your wants and needs to yourself. So even if you do know what you would like, something deep inside stops you from requesting it. Other people’s wants and needs always seem more important or more legitimate, and you allow your own to fall between the cracks. Unlikely to prioritize your own wishes, you are unwittingly making yourself more likely to become depressed.

You may have made some life decisions that aren’t right for you.

A funny thing happens when you are not connected with your feelings: you don’t get to make major life decisions based on your feelings. And, after all, our feelings are our most effective guides to our true selves. This is why so many people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect end up in jobs, marriages, and locations that are not quite right for them. Going through the motions, living the life that chose you instead of the life you chose to live, you may find yourself feeling off-kilter, unfulfilled, and somewhat at-sea in your adult life. This lowers your defenses to depression.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. I haven’t read the refered article, and I am not going to, but I have a couple of points, just from the review of why I am not going to:

    “You’ve walled off your pain and it now weighs you down.”

    I think the whole following paragraph can be disproven simply: there is no way for me nor the therapist to prove that what the paragraph might say about me is true. Sounds way, way more difficult than to explain how I feel now. Or how the, ironically, therapist feels now.

    And precisely because of that, being way more difficult, it is more prone to at least confirmation basis, satisfaction of search, and probably to many other fallacies or cognitive errors, that might affect more the therapist/asessor than the “sufferer”.

    Since the author, I imagine as therapist, is pointing where there is less light to search for a relief, insted where there is less obscurity, like in the present moment. Lack of clarity to bring enlightenment?.

    “Blocking off feelings is usually not possible to do in a discriminating way. Unfortunately, you cannot choose to wall off some emotions and not others. So when you block off negative emotions you also lose your positive ones.”

    Those three claims have no proof, they look like assumptions, that do not look necesarily true, and as such might very likely be false. Researching the veracity, the truth value of said claims sounds to me like going into a rabbit whole of psycho blabble, with no end in sight, at least for me.

    Who is going to tell me what my desires, cravings, longings, needs, deprivations, rewards, pleasures, seeks or happinessess are? or might be?. Let alone how feeling my feelings affects those, the recognition of their connections and worse yet: the remedies. The therapist?.

    It speaks more of a disability than something else. Without using the word disability, like a covert act of labeling.

    A covert labeling and DISABLING act, rather than an empowering one…

    It states without proof that despite knowing what one wants, desires or needs one does not get it, enjoy it? or search for it because self-referentially I can’t even do that, somehow and in someway, it looks like a blame the victim because he/she was neglected.

    Without acknowledging that there might be a lot of things that prevent me from enjoying what I might, might, enjoy. Even knowing what that might be, despite of a claim on my part I think that is or would be the case.

    I am not questioning the validaty of expressing needs, etc., but the relevance to my feeling, oddly still connected, to my insatisfaction…

    Also ignoring that in reality I might not look for something predicting I might not enjoy it that much. How to tell the difference if that were the case?.

    It might look liberating saying there’s got to be some needs/wants/desires reprioritization by “connecting/reconnecting” to feelings, but it might be burdensome and perhaps useless at least because of the lack of causality in general, and in the sufferer in each unfulfilled desire, need and want. In appearance an exponentially increasing search for satisfaction.

    Although lack of connection with one’s feelings is used as an explanation of making decisions that are not right for oneself, the sad fact is that sounds confusing the part with the whole, a synecdoche: just because a “decision” had a bad outcome, does not make the decision a not right one, i.e. a bad one. Even the phrasing avoids using “bad decision”.

    And it sounds like a sentence that any, every, all? of my decisions need to be “right ones”. It looks like blaming because of being human, and among other humans…

    And it’s even provided as causal, i.e. forced, without connecting demostrably such is the case.

    And it brings another synecdoche: now I feel “bad”, and it is because of that. Again without proof…

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