Most adults, and I would venture to say, even some people who are not yet adults, would answer this question “yes, for the most part.”
As I see clients each day, I have come to realize that the answer is really “Maybe, I am not as self-aware as I thought.”
As I was working with a client recently, they shared experiencing increased symptoms of depression such as loneliness and not finding joy in things they felt they should. I asked the client to explain more about their “loneliness.”
Although the client said MANY times that they felt that they are better off alone, everything else the client detailed, said something different. For example, the client said that “I often feel that I want to hang out with friends, but I am hesitant to reach out. I miss in person interactions. I would like to be in a relationship, and recently when I was dating and it was going well, I found myself thinking ‘I do not want this time to end.’”
Yet and still the client repeated the whole, “I prefer to be alone” mantra. As I realized the client was not actually aware of their feelings, I asked about the following areas of the client’s life:
Family of origin/home environment growing up
Past relationship behavior and outcomes
After the client shared these experiences, I realized that they had experienced emotional neglect. However, they never reported or acknowledged feeling emotionally neglected. How could I identify this from a few questions and the client did not realize it from their actual experience?
First, emotional neglect sounds ominous and bad. Obviously, to avoid feeling shame, we might quickly say “no, I did not grow up neglected!” Though understanding what emotional neglect means is key to growing in your self-awareness journey. Emotional neglect is defined as when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs. Which can lead you to think and feel the following:
Your feelings (all feelings) don’t exist.
Your feelings (all feelings) do not matter.
If you feel something, hide it. We do not want to be burdened by your emotions.
If any of these thoughts resonate with you, there is a chance that you experienced some emotional neglect.
Now, this does not automatically mean that your caregivers were intentionally harmful. After all, most often they were just repeating what was done to them. In order to HEAL and to not repeat old or possibly negative patterns of behavior, and care for our mental health, it is important to become students of our OWN emotions, that includes acceptance of your experiences, both bad and good.
Not sure if your self-awareness needs attention? Ask yourself the following:
Do you find yourself confused by why you do or do not do things? Are you “mystified” by your own behavior (i.e.-asking yourself “why do I do that? I know it is not healthy.”)
Do you struggle to understand relationships of any type? (Professional, romantic, platonic friendships?)
Do you have a difficult time expressing how you feel about anything? Do you often feel unsure about what you think? Do you feel the need to get validation for your thoughts and feelings before you can express them?
Do you experience any feelings that what you need or want is NOT as important as the needs, wants, and feelings of others, AND now you have issues about people pleasing and putting other’s needs before your own?
Can you find all the grace, support, and compassion for others and none for yourself?
Do you feel that you cannot tell others NO?
Do you feel that you are alone because you are the go-to for support and guidance for others, but notice that no one reciprocates that support?
If you answered YES to any, or all these questions, you could benefit from the following:
Make it your business, to become a student of YOU!
Learn to CORRECTLY identify and label emotions. Work on paying attention to what your true feelings are and noticing and recognizing the accurate emotions and feelings of other people. In other words, practice being AWARE.
Practice new self-talk that highlights the fact that you matter!
Accept that the old narratives of “it is selfish to prioritize your needs” and that “it is important or even necessary to care for others” is not being selfless, its being codependent. (check out this blog post to learn more) Co-dependency keeps you stuck in a self-defeating pattern of behavior that can cause major issues with your self-worth and mental health.
Acknowledge that not having self-awareness or being codependent is not your fault.
Once you can accept that you have experienced emotional neglect and that it is NOT your fault, it could be the beginning of true healing, openness, authenticity, and self-awareness.
Never stop being a student of YOU!
Psychology Today, January 23, 2022
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