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Why Do We Ignore Our Feelings? Because They’re Confusing

There is one powerful aspect of all of our lives which refuses to conform to the laws of nature. This part of your life has the ability to make or break your marriage, direct your career choices, drive your friends away, or keep them connected to you through thick and thin. It is rooted in your physiology, defines your humanness, and yet makes you a human unique from every other.

Despite its incredible power, it is nevertheless largely ignored and suppressed by many people. I am talking, of course, about emotion.

Why Do We Ignore Our Own Feelings?

Two reasons:

  1. Many of us view our feelings as an unnecessary burden. We have no idea how useful our emotions are.
  2. Emotions are confusing. They don’t make sense to us so we ignore them.

Not surprisingly, these two reasons perpetuate each other. The less attention we pay to our feelings, the less we learn how they work and how to use them. That only serves to make them more confusing.

Then the problem is perpetuated in another, even more, enduring way. If your parents were confused by your feelings and ignored them (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), then they inadvertently taught you to do the same. Growing up blind to your own feelings, you will also be blind to your children’s feelings, and you will raise them as you were raised.

On and on it goes, with one generation after another learning little about how their own feelings work and what to do with them. One generation after another, expecting feelings to be logical, make sense, and conform to the laws of nature. Causing more and more people to become frustrated and baffled and, lacking a way to cope, choose to ignore them.

The Laws of Nature

Think Newton’s Laws of Gravity, the Laws of Motion, or the Relativity Principle. These laws of physics allow us to understand, define and predict our complicated world. They’re all based on formulas and can be demonstrated by mathematics. They make sense. They’re logical.

As complex as those principles may be to thoroughly understand, basic knowledge of them at least provides us with guidelines. We know what to expect when we drop an apple or push a chair, and generally why it happens.

But many bright people have sat in my therapy office completely befuddled by their own or their spouse’s feelings. And they are confused for a very good reason. It’s usually because they’re trying to apply the logic of nature to something that does not follow them:

It’s wrong for me to be angry about this.

How can she possibly feel that way?

That’s a dumb way to feel.

You just said you’re happy, and now you’re not. Which is it?

I need to stop feeling this way.

5 Ways Emotions Defy Logic and Nature

  1. With emotion, there is no right or wrong. Our emotions are biological. They originate in our brains, and they are involuntary. Because of this, morals and ethics do not apply to them.
    The Takeaway: Never judge yourself for your feelings. Instead, judge yourself for your actions.
  2. Emotions can be both a help and a burden at the same time. Feelings can be heavy and can weigh on us. Yet they are vital sources of information. They are our body’s messages, and if we listen, we are informed and directed.
    The Takeaway: View your emotions as your friend, rather than your enemy.
  3. Opposite emotions can co-exist within the same person, about the same thing. It’s entirely possible to feel both pleased and disappointed about something; happy and sad; fascinated and repulsed, love and hate.
    The Takeaway: Don’t oversimplify your feelings or anyone else’s.
  4. The more your emotions hurt you, the more they can help you. Our most painful feelings carry the most powerful, most vital messages. “Do something,” they tell us. “Face something, say something.” Our pain wants us to look at what we’d rather not see, and accept what we’d rather not know. The more painful the message, the more important it is to listen.
    The Takeaway: Your emotions have great value, especially the most painful ones.
  5. Accepting and welcoming your emotions actually makes them go away. It’s true. Feelings that we avoid feeling have great staying power and tend to get stronger. The very best way to make a feeling fade is to welcome it, sit with it, and process it. Try to understand its cause. All of these steps take away its power. It will stop running you, and you will instead take charge of it.
    The Takeaway: Stop avoiding an emotion if you want it to go away.

Feelings cannot be true or false, right or wrong, smart or stupid. You cannot choose them. Your body chooses them for you. They just are what they are, period.

Your feelings are your greatest motivators and guides. They are messages from your body, that’s all. They may hurt, but they can’t hurt you. Listen to your feelings, but don’t give them too much power. It’s your responsibility to manage them, share them with care, and try to understand them on their terms.

It’s your responsibility to learn how your emotions work so that you’ll understand how your children’s emotions work. Then, instead of teaching them to ignore their feelings, you can teach them how to feel, name, manage and share their feelings: the exact opposite of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

That’s you, stopping the cycle of confusion and avoidance. That’s you, defying the laws of human nature. And creating a different future for us all.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn more about emotions, how they work, and what happens when you ignore them, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to use your feelings in relationships and teach your kids about emotions, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Some parts of this article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com and have been republished here with the permission of the author.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: 4 Ways to Fill Your Emptiness

Growing up with your emotions ignored is a far bigger thing than most people would ever imagine.

As a child, to cope with the unspoken demands of your childhood home, “Keep your feelings to yourself,” you push your emotions off to the other side of a wall, and this is, without a doubt, a brilliant and adaptive move. After all, now those burdensome emotions are no longer a problem for your parents or yourself.

But when you grow up, it does become a problem. Something is missing inside you; a valuable resource that you need. If only you had full access to your feelings, they would guide you, inform you, motivate and connect you. Sadly, you are operating with a dearth of this rich asset that everyone else enjoys.

The strange thing about this missing asset is that even though you don’t realize what you are missing, you feel it. When it comes to blocked-off feelings, the body knows. Somehow, in some way, you will, in your body, feel it.

Some people actually say, “I feel empty,” and they can point to a place in their belly, chest or throat where they feel it. Others say they feel numb, lost, apart, at sea, or different. And others say, “I don’t feel things as intensely as other people do.”

Emptiness is unique to its holder, but yet it is always the same. It is your body saying, “You are missing something important. Wake up. Pay attention. This matters.”

Fortunately, there are ways to make your emptiness go away. There are things you can do that will powerfully change your life for the better. No, healing your emptiness is not simple, but it is definitely possible.

The 3 Areas of Healing Your Emptiness

Thoughts/Behavior Relationships Your Inner Life  
Recognize what you didn’t get in childhood Increase emotional connections Grieve what you didn’t get
Emotional awareness & management Boundaries (distance?) with parents as needed Develop compassion for yourself
Self-care Work on trusting others Decrease self-directed anger
Decrease self-blame Therapy relationship Self-acceptance & self-love
Increase self-knowledge Share your pain with another Value your emotions
If you have depression or anxiety, let medication help Let down your walls Reclaim the parts of yourself that your parents rejected or ignored

 

If you find this Table overwhelming, please don’t be alarmed. All of these items can be done, and improvement in one of these areas often will feed into other areas. I know this because I have been through them with many people in therapy, and have witnessed amazing progress.

However, please take note of two things: It takes commitment, conscious effort and time. You may benefit from the help of a therapist. It is, though, entirely possible to fill your emptiness on your own, with the right structure and support.

4 Ways to Heal Your Emptiness

  • Accept and Grieve The first and most vital step for everyone who feels empty is to recognize that your empty space represents something that you didn’t get in childhood. Identify what is missing (emotional validation, connection and perhaps rejected parts of yourself), and grieve it all. This may involve feeling sad and/or angry. It’s okay. You have to feel it in order to move forward.
  • Break Down Your Wall Try to access your feelings. This process may seem impossible to many, but it is not. Focusing inward rather than outward, paying attention, and using various mindfulness and other emotion techniques can help you feel them more. Then it becomes vital to accept them and learn to name them, which brings us on to Step 3.
  • Learn the Emotion Skills You Missed Start tuning in to what you’re feeling and why. Working on learning how to put your emotions into words, how and when to express your feelings, and when and how to manage them. All of these skills can be learned. Depending on the depth of your empty feelings, you may be able to learn them yourself with enough guidance. If you have the deepest, most painful kind of emptiness, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is most helpful. It is designed to help you manage your feelings and impulses.
  • Deepen Your Relationships When you begin to break through your wall, you’ll be feeling more, and you will be feeling different. People in your life will start to tell you that you seem different. You’ll become more emotionally connected and emotionally available, more interesting, and more real. Now is the time to start taking risks. Share with a trusted person that you are working on getting closer to people, and on feeling more connected. Work on becoming more open, sharing more, and being more vulnerable.

An amazing result of working through the four steps is this: you will gradually learn to love yourself. Picture yourself as the child you were, growing up as you did. What parts of you did your parents ignore or reject? Know that they did so because of who they were, not because of who you were.

Have compassion for that little child, and for yourself as an adult. Your struggle is real, and you deserve more and better. You must reclaim, and learn to love, all of the different parts of who you are: your emotions, your needs, your inner you.

Your emptiness is an important part of you. It represents the old and the past, but also the future and the new.

It is not an absence but space, filled not with pain, but with possibility. It is room for your new story, the one you will write yourself. It is room for your life, your feelings, and the people who you choose.

Fill it with self-knowledge, self-care, self-compassion, self-love, and your people.

Then you will find yourself running on empty no more.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how to reclaim your feelings and use them, see the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

A version of this article was first published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with permission of the author.

How to Know if You Were Emotionally Abandoned as a Child: 4 Signs

Abandonment issues lurk under the surface of your life, often raising their ugly heads when you least expect them. Abandonment issues are caused by a painful experience of being left by someone important, like a parent, spouse, sibling or very close friend.

Any single one of these three key factors can make you more vulnerable to developing abandonment issues:

  1. The abandonment is sudden or unexpected
  2. Your abandonment experience happens in your childhood
  3. You have a general tendency to downplay or ignore your own feelings

All abandonment is not the same. There are two different types.

What is Physical Abandonment?

Most people think of abandonment as a physical experience. In other words, when a child is abandoned, it means that his parents physically left him. Many children have this painful event happen when a parent dies or leaves them for another reason. Adults can be physically abandoned by their spouse leaving them, or by another important person in their lives dying or moving away.

What is Emotional Abandonment?

Emotional abandonment is far less obvious, yet equally painful. Emotional abandonment happens when an important person who you believe cares about you and loves you, seems to stop caring about and loving you.

Abandonment Issues Are A Coping Response

The experience of being abandoned, either physically or emotionally, prompts a very predictable response in your human brain. Your brain automatically goes into high alert, becoming hyper-vigilant for any whiff of anything that could lead you to be hurt by another abandonment.

If you do not acknowledge and work through how you feel about the abandonment experience, your brain’s hypervigilance becomes more intense and continues longer. Over a much longer time than necessary, you may search for rejections or potential abandonments everywhere, and your brain may continually hold you back from taking healthy emotional risks in your life. This is the very definition of “abandonment issues.”

4 Signs You Have Abandonment Issues

  • A fear of initiating plans with people – This likely applies not only to new friends and acquaintances. You may have the same fear about suggesting plans with those you’re close to.
  • A feeling of hurt and/or anger when someone fails you, even in a small, explainable way – You may experience everyday failures of the everyday people in your life especially acutely. It’s hard for you to take in the other person’s circumstances as an explanation. Instead, you feel it personally and deeply.
  • You feel safer keeping people at a distance – Depending on others emotionally is scary, so you prefer to keep your relationships feeling safe. You may be great at taking care of others emotionally, but you’re afraid to let others take care of you.
  • You tend to downplay the importance of the people in your life – You may find yourself at times pretending that you care less than you do about certain people and what they do. “I don’t care if you’re there or not,” “Either way, it’s good with me,” “You can do whatever you want and it won’t matter to me,” are things you may hear yourself saying.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) in Abandonment Issues

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you. When you grow up this way, you receive a powerful, unspoken message throughout your childhood that your emotions do not matter.

Being raised to ignore your feelings sets you up to downplay your emotional reactions to all of the things that happen throughout your entire life, and that includes your abandonment experience.

Unfortunately, ignoring and downplaying your feelings about the abandonment prevents you from being able to work through them in a healthy way. All that old hurt, sadness, anger and fear stays right there with you, keeping your brain in high alert, and holding you back from new relationships and experiences. All of this may happen completely outside of your awareness.

What To Do if You See These Signs in Yourself

  1. Become aware of your abandonment fear – Accepting your sensitivity to abandonment, and the event that originally caused it, is an important key. Once you see your fear and what caused it, you can begin to take control of it.
  2. Become aware of the Emotional Neglect in Your Childhood – Just as Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) sets you up to be vulnerable to abandonment issues, healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect will help you resolve them. Learning to pay attention to your own feelings, and how to value and use them (all part of recovery from CEN) will not only go far toward solving your abandonment issues but will make you stronger in many other areas of your life too.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is often subtle and invisible, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To learn more about CEN and how to heal it, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal yourself see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to heal CEN in your relationships and as a parent, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Parents Follow These 3 Steps to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Parents, I have an important message for you. Of all the gifts you can give your children, emotional intelligence is probably the most valuable.

For decades, it was believed that IQ (Intelligence Quotient) was the primary factor in the ability of a child or adult to be successful in life. Now, thanks to lots of research, we know differently. Emotional Intelligence (also known as EQ) is more important to life satisfaction and success than IQ.

So what exactly is emotional intelligence? EQ expert Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. defines it as the ability to manage your own emotions, and also the emotions of others. If you have a high EQ, you are able to recognize your feelings when you have them and understand what they mean. You are also able to read what others are feeling and respond to them appropriately. This makes you well-equipped to manage complex interpersonal experiences.

The importance of EQ to life success has been established in study after study over the last 15 years. Research has shown that students who receive training in emotional intelligence at school try harder in classes, have better self-awareness and self-confidence and manage their stress better in school.

Not only that, high EQ adults are more effective and more successful in leadership positions in both business settings and in the military.

Despite the incredible value of these skills, they are not in the minds of most parents as they raise their children. Parents want to teach their children how to behave, but they are probably not thinking about teaching them how to handle their emotions.

But this must change. Because fortunately, although a parent may have some difficulties helping his child understand complex math or chemistry concepts, all parents have the capacity to help their children develop emotional intelligence.

3 Steps To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children 

  1. Know that your child’s behavior is driven by his feelings. So the best way to teach her to behave is to help her learn how to manage her emotions.
  2. Set a goal to notice your child’s feelings. This step alone is enormously important.
  3. Never judge your child for having feelings. Accept his feeling, and then step in to help him name it, understand why he is having it, and manage it.

Example of The 3 Steps In Action

As Marcy stood chatting with another mom at their daughters’ soccer game, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that her 10-year-old daughter Halley was playing very aggressively. She was kicking the ball in a too-hard, undirected, and out-of-control fashion. As she watched, she saw Halley kick so hard that she missed the ball altogether, and then sit down on the field appearing to be in tears.

Macy and Halley

Marcy walked over to meet Halley on the sideline, where the coach sent her to cool down. “What’s going on Halley?” she asked her daughter. (This question tells Halley that her feelings are visible and important.)

“I hate soccer and I don’t want to play ever again,” Halley exclaimed with disgust in her voice.

“What’s making you so angry right now, Hon?” (Marcy has named the feeling for her daughter).

“Sophia and Katy were ganging up on me before practice, and they’re still doing it on the field. I hate those two,” Marcy explains, breaking into tears now.

“Aw, Halley, it always hurts so much to get ganged up on. No one likes that!” (Here Marcy has validated Halley’s feelings as understandable while also establishing that her painful experience happens to other people too.)

“You can handle this Halley. I know you’re hurt, but you can put that aside for now and finish the game. Then we’ll talk about what to do about Sophia and Katy on the way home, OK?” Putting her hand in the air for their trademark “pinky high-five,” Marcy says. “You’re strong and you got this.” Halley does the high-five with her mom and nods her head reluctantly. (Here Marcy has shown Halley that her feelings can be managed, and also how to do it.)

Years from now, at age 26, Halley will benefit from this exact experience. She will find herself feeling excluded at work, right before a meeting in which she has to present an important project. She will notice that she’s angry, and she will realize that her feelings matter. She will take a moment to identify the reason (she feels excluded).

Armed with this self-awareness of what she’s feeling and why she will now use the emotion management skills her mother taught her. She will say to herself, “I will think this through later. Right now I need to focus on this presentation.” With that, Halley will put a smile on her face and walk into the meeting looking composed and confident.

Marcy could have handled the soccer situation very differently. She might have walked over to Halley and said any of these things that any parent might say:

Pull it together, Kiddo and get back out there.

This kind of behavior will get you kicked off the team!

What the heck is the problem?

You’re really annoying the coach!

If you’re not going to play the game right, we might as well go home.

None of these responses from a parent would be horrific or unreasonable, but all would ignore the importance of the child’s feelings (the definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN). And all would miss an important opportunity to teach the child emotional intelligence.

If you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect yourself; if your parents didn’t teach you the EQ skills, then you may need to begin to learn them yourself.

But as a parent, you don’t have to be perfect at this. You only have to be willing to try. Please know that every single time you notice, respond to, and validate your child’s emotions, you are giving him the skills for a lifetime. Skills for confidence, connection, success, and motivation.

Possibly the greatest, most loving gift ever.

To learn how to emotionally connect with, and emotionally validate, a child of any age (small, teen or adult), see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, your Parents & Your Children.

CEN can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take the CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.