When I shared my last post, I warned the readers that it was guaranteed to leave at least a few of them sputtering, "Yes, but...!".
And I was right.
This post is for anyone who indignantly sputtered and is still confused as to why.
Ahhh, the Yesbuts. A favorite of the righteously indignant everywhere. "Yes, but you don't understand!" and "Yes, but I have the right to expect...!" It is also popular among minimizers, especially when trying to understand and defend against the possibility that they have been a victim of Emotional Neglect.
What do the indignant and minimizers both have in common? Denial. Denial that stems from Emotional Neglect.
Don't believe me?
Let's take a look at Emotional Neglect and how to know if you have really been exposed to it.
Look, I have yet to meet anyone who comes from a dysfunctional family who has not expressed disbelief that their family was as awful as they think it was. The beginning stages of change are always filled with ambiguity, contemplation, and questions. And for good reason! Most of it doesn't make any sense. Much of the time we are filled with uncertainty and guilt for even questioning what was happening. This is very common and completely normal. No need to beat yourself up, you are only pondering the idea that maybe it wasn't all that the 'company line' said it was.
I have worked with many clients who are in such stages of confusion. And they spend many, many weeks (even months...sometimes years...) of responding to an observation that indicates emotional neglect with, "Yes, but it didn't leave any physical scars.", or "Yes, but my parent(s) didn't get fall down drunk and pass out. I am not even sure they are an alcoholic!" or "Yes, but I know other people who have it so much worse. And my siblings are always telling me I make too much out of things and my parents are always telling me I am exaggerating and being dramatic...".
When a family member is struggling with substance abuse or mental illness that is undiagnosed or untreated, Emotional Neglect is almost always a side effect. Wondering if it really could be true for you, too? Wondering what it looks like in action?
I am glad you asked!
How do you know if you have been affected by it?
Here's the thing:
It Is Okay if you relate to anything you just read.
Really. It does not mean you are a bad person, nor does it mean we are going to pin all of your poor life choices on your parents (I promise). Whether you are indignant or minimizing, chances are, denial is at the bottom of it. And underneath that? Emotional Neglect.
These realizations often come as a shock and many times we find ourselves going back to the beginning for a moment and saying, "Really?".
Yep. Really. And it's totally normal. It takes a while to wrap your head around it. Sometimes there is a protective mechanism in your brain (that developed out of a need for survival in the dysfunction) that insists this is all much ado about nothing. It is overwhelming. Often we jump to conclusions like, "If this is true I come from horrible people and can never talk to them again!" , or "I am doomed to repeat the same patterns!" (more of that black and white thinking).
And then there is the voice that says, "You are so stupid for not seeing this sooner." Stop that.
It's not nice to beat people up, including yourself.
So let's take a moment and consider the And/Both in Emotional Neglect: You may have had some Emotional Neglect AND you may have had a really great life the rest of the time. Vacations, clothes, dinner at the table every night. Maybe even some humor thrown in there. That, in and of itself, makes things feel a whole lot more complicated. Two things can be true at the same time.
Feel relieved? Overwhelmed? Have questions? Leave a comment below or let me know if you want to talk about it ;-)
Cindy Goeller is a licensed therapist who loves listening to others, eating Maryland steamed crabs, and exploring the Finger Lakes of New York. When she is not in session with her clients, she can be found writing, baking, or spending time with her family.