October 5, 2016

Childhood Emotional Neglect or Trauma: You Can Overcome It as an Adult

Written by Rachel Eddins

Child emotionally neglected by his father

You’re an adult. But deep down inside you carry with you a hurt that seems to be etched into your mind and heart. All too often, you feel hollow and empty within, as if something is missing, but you have no idea what. And at times, rejection hits you so hard that you feel like a wounded child – deprived and wronged by someone you loved and trusted.

While symptoms like these don’t automatically mean you were emotionally neglected or experienced some sort of emotional trauma as a child, the possibility is definitely there. The fact is, childhood emotional neglect is generally not recognized until symptoms of the trauma begin to show themselves in adulthood.

So, what can you do as an adult to overcome the emotional neglect you may have experienced early in life? Is it even possible to overcome?

Gaining Mastery Over the Past

It’s important to focus your efforts on confronting the painful experiences and feelings – one at a time – and objectively reassess them. Understanding the meaning of what happened will then allow you to move past the futility of reenacting negative experiences or replaying internalized messages of blame.

1. Confronting Your Memories

Confronting painful memories means you will have to revisit them. However, you must do so in a constructive way.

  • Recall the experience – Take 20 minutes to write down everything you can remember about one of the hurtful experiences you had as a child. Write in first person and present tense, as if the event is happening right now.
  • Identify Your Needs – Consider what you really needed to have happened. Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
    • Instead of what transpired, how would I have liked this to play out differently?
    • What were my needs at that time?
    • How did I interpret what actual happened?
    • Did those events make me think that I don’t deserve to have my needs met?

Could you have PTSD? Take this quiz and find out.

  • Externalize Your Feelings – Connect with and express, in writing, what you felt during this event. Analyze:
    • How did it make me feel about myself?
    • How did it make me feel about other people involved in the incident?
    • Who do I blame for what happened? Why do I blame them?
    • How does this event affect how I feel about myself today?
    • Has it affected my relationships in the past and present? How could it affect them in the future?

After you finish writing, put your writing aside and walk away. Give yourself a break.

2. Reassessing Your Memories

After a well-deserved break, it’s time to reassess your feelings and deconstruct beliefs you probably held for a long time, but that may no longer be true.

  • Revisit what you wrote down – Read your words and think through the event objectively, using your adult mind, as if reading the words of another person. Consider: Does approaching the experience from a more mature perspective change my perception? If so, how? If you think this step might be difficult to do by yourself, enlist the support of someone you trust.
  • Pinpoint triggers – Ask yourself what sort of things or situations cause your painful memories and hurt feelings to surface. Make a list if necessary.

3. Repeat the Process – One Step at a Time

  • Begin anew – The next day, throw away everything you wrote and begin again. Write about the same event, but try adding more details if possible.

In addition, as you repeat this process for each experience, observe how your perspective begins to shift. Contemplate: What changed? Ask: What is to be learned from all of this?

Overcoming emotional neglect or childhood trauma is a slow, but deeply healing process.

Most of all, remember to always be compassionate with yourself. No self criticism and no judgmental thoughts!

If you would like to talk with a therapist about how counseling can help you heal from emotional neglect or trauma, contact us today.

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