“The most important role model for a child is the same sex parent” – Dr Phil
As an emotional intelligence therapist, I tend to mostly work with women (and a few men) who have experienced childhood emotional abuse, neglect, and emotionally absent parents.
One of the core problems if you’ve grown up with emotionally absent or abusive parents is that your emotional needs have not been fully met, or have not been met at all. But the problem is you don’t even know this because you were just used to what you experienced – it was your norm.
So for example you don’t know as a child that it’s not normal to feel afraid all the time, to be on tenterhooks and walking on eggshells, waiting for the next shoe to drop, argument to break out, or punishment to be meted out.
You don’t realize when you’re growing up that it’s not normal to lie in bed at night, feeling alone, isolated, afraid and confused, and that there’s something wrong with not being able to reach out or run to Mummy or Daddy for a comforting hug.
It’s usually not until we hear stories of what life was like for other people, our friends, colleagues… that we see how radically and fundamentally different our life was, and how actually what we experienced was not normal or healthy at all.
And it’s often only later in life, when chronic unhappiness and illness set in, that the end-results of the dearth of nurturing make themselves known.
So here are a few questions for you to help determine if you did, or didn’t, receive a healthy level of nourishing love:
- When you were a child, how normal and safe was it for you to run to your parents when you felt upset, hurt, angry, disappointed?
- How often did you get swept up in your parents arms to be kissed and cuddled and told you were gorgeous, beautiful, adorable?
- How easy was it for you to run to your Mother with whatever upset you or you were experiencing to be held lovingly and told ‘everything’s going to be OK’?
Or did you experience a childhood where you:
- Kept to yourself, held everything inside, because there was no point going to Mummy – she would just brush you aside, chastize you, shout at you, even punish you?
- Lie in bed at night holding your teddy bear for comfort because that was the only thing you could hug and would hug you back?
- Talk to your pets and love them with all your heart because they listened, and they didn’t judge you or be mean to you?
- Crammed sweets and savouries down your throat every time you got upset because they made you feel better, comforted and safe?
Do you often wonder in awe as an adult, as you walk around the supermarket, and watch parents lovingly pick their children up or speak to their children with gentleness and kindness, and think to yourself ‘Wow, I wish I had been treated like that‘?
The ability to be able to run to our parents for nurturing and consolation is one of the most important needs for a growing child.
Without it we grow up feeling isolated, afraid, lonely, finding it difficult to ask for help, afraid to share our feelings with others, afraid to speak our truth, afraid to be happy, and much more than this.
With it we grow up feeling safe, nurtured, supported, able to move out into the world feeling strong and full of authentic self esteem and self value.
What to do now you’re grown up?
So what to do if you did grow up with a dearth of nurturing and love, and now it’s up to you to provide it and find it for yourself?
Well, for a start, do yourself a favour and don’t get into a dysfunctional relationship where you’re craving to get the love you never got from your parents, from a partner who can’t give you what you want, usually because they didn’t get it either when they were growing up.
By this I don’t mean you are not going to find, or shouldn’t find, a truly loving partner who will love you in a healthy way. What I mean is that when we didn’t get our needs met as a child, later on in life, if we don’t heal these unmet needs, we tend to unconsciously gravitate towards another adult who cannot meet our needs because their needs weren’t met either as a child, and so we unconsciously attract ourselves to a partner with the same issues as our emotionally absent parents! This will keep repeating until we change inside and heal our past.
Secondly, (or really firstly), learn to recognize the truth of how your past was. Many people will say to me “Oh my childhood was good, it was fine…” and yet when we dig deeper we discover they were not as happy as they thought they were. Yes, you might have had good friends, enjoyed school, enjoyed sports etc, but if you were constantly afraid and alone at home, this is not good, and unless the emotional trauma is recognized and cleared, it stays in the body at a cellular level and unconsciously keeps us unhappy and sick.
Thirdly, learn how to heal the past, let go of the trapped emotional energy… learn how to speak your truth, stand up for yourself, and ask for help… learn how to love yourself, appreciate yourself and value yourself. These are all absolutely necessary in order to experience authentic health, happiness and success in life because it is only from a solid rock of self value and self love that we can move out into the world to fulfil our dreams and life purpose.
And remember – no matter what happened, YOU ARE OK, you are a good person, you DO deserve LOVE and to be loved, you DO deserve to be happy, healthy and successful. These are you birthrights and you deserve them.
Never give up hope that you can come out the other side of an emotionally abusive childhood because with the right help and guidance you can!
About the author:
Kim Knight is an emotional intelligence therapist who specializes in helping adult survivors of emotionally abusive childhoods to transform pain, unhappiness and sickness into health, happiness and fulfilment.