About Emotional Neglect — For Mental Health Professionals
“The Definition of Emotional Neglect: When a parent fails to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.”
As a mental health professional, you may be wondering why Jonice Webb is making such a big fuss about Emotional Neglect. After all, you probably have it in the back of your mind often as you work with clients. We therapists know that emotion is important, and that if it isn’t handled well by our clients’ parents in childhood, there will be clear and direct results years later, when our clients are adults.
As you have no doubt noticed over and over in your work, this clear, apparent observation on our parts, supported by the work of Attachment Theorists like John Bowlby in the 1950s and Donald Winnicott in the 1960s, is not so easily communicated to, or believed by, the population at large. I have found that people in general have great difficulty accepting that subtle emotional experiences in childhood have any effect whatsoever upon them as adults.
In writing my self-help book, Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect (available 10/1/12), I have two goals which I am very passionate about:
1. I want to make Emotional Neglect a household term.
I want to make as many people as possible aware of the power of emotion, and how it affects us when our emotions are invalidated, ignored or suppressed; first by our parents in childhood, and later by ourselves in adulthood. I want to take a childhood non-event, which typically goes unseen and unnoticed, and give it equal recognition and respect to the events that we talk about with our patients every day. I want to give you the words to talk about this parental failure to act with your patients, and a framework to treat it.
2. I want to make as much of the general population as possible more familiar with, and aware of, Attachment Theory.
Every day I see lovely people blaming themselves for having an issue. They blame themselves because they do not see the connection between their childhood experiences and their adult functioning. I hope you will look at my blog called Stop Blaming Yourself for more explanation of why I feel this is so important.
I have found that keeping Emotional Neglect in the forefront of my mind while conducting psychotherapy over the past several years has made me a far more effective therapist. I feel that for years, I was like the proverbial blind man, treating parts of the elephant – unaware that there was a whole elephant to which I should be attending.
- I now have a way of understanding why patients who recall having had a fine childhood are struggling with self-discipline, emptiness, or even suicidal thoughts.
- I now know how to understand and work with a patient who is counter-dependent, or has low emotional intelligence, self-directed anger or self-blame.
- I can address suicidal thoughts and feelings on a whole new level.
- I have the words to talk directly to people about what’s really wrong.
I hope you will find Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect a helpful resource in your work with patients. With a special chapter for parents and another for mental health professionals, it will perhaps help you open new doors with stuck patients.
But above all, I hope you will join me in my efforts to make Emotional Neglect a household word.