In her highly recommended book Running on Empty: overcoming your childhood emotional neglect, psychologist Jonice Webb tells us that:
“There is a minimal amount of parental emotional connection, empathy, and ongoing attention which is necessary to fuel a child’s growth and development, so they will grow into an emotionally healthy and emotionally connected adult.
“Less than that minimal amount and the child becomes an adult who struggles emotionally – outwardly successful, perhaps, but empty, missing something within, which the world can’t see.”
Webb goes on to define the 3 emotional skills she says are required to be a ‘good enough’ parent:
Good enough parents:
1)Feel an emotional connection to their child
2)Pays attention to their child, and treats them as a unique person in their own right, not just as an extension of the parent, or an unwanted burden, or as a possession
3)Responds competently to the child’s emotional need – ie, they empathise with what the kid is experiencing, sees when they need extra help, guidance, love, attention and support, and gives it to the child in a way the child can relate to as filling their ‘emotional need’.
Webb has some very good resources on her website, (click the blue) including a Questionnaire which can help you work out if you experienced childhood emotional neglect, and how it’s affecting you as an adult.
Particularly helpful, at least for me, was her list of ‘themes’ that typically come up in adult, if they were emotionally neglected as children.
The 10 main ‘themes’ of emotional neglect:
We’ll come back to these ideas again in the future, God willing, but for now I just want to flag how most of these ‘themes’ show up time and again in diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder, and anxiety and depression, amongst other things.
Emotional neglect can cause huge problems for people, ranging from depression to suicide to personality disorders, and a few other things, besides. But once you know what it is, what it can do, and what's causing it, it can be surprisingly easy to start turning the problem around.