Wounded Childhoods

Why Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is a much neglected area when it comes to mental health we try to find out as May, the month of Mental Health Awareness, begins

Published: 04th May 2018 11:02 PM  |   Last Updated: 05th May 2018 03:11 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD:  That indefinable sense of being empty or feeling numb followed by a sort of disconnection from the world and self, a lack of fulfillment and feeling completely out of place as if something is wrong – this is not the brutal unlayering of any psycho-emotive conundrum, instead a deep analysis of the same not much known or explored in the areas of mental health. In fact, the victims don’t know that the pattern noted regularly is known as CEN or Childhood Emotional Neglect, which later acts as a direct cause or catalyst for BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder. Though this may seem like a non-event which is hardly there, but its subtle presence is what makes it important. Unfortunately, not only are people not unaware about it, there’s not much information regarding CEN. And the reasons can be many. 

Remember Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie starrer movie Girl Interrupted? Winona has BPD which originated from CEN and she ends up in a sanatorium. But is it because of its vaguely-there presence that it is a much less-talked-about mental condition? Says Dr N Sucharita, a counselling psychologist, “We don’t discuss emotional vulnerability. It’s usually seen as a personality trait. Validation of emotions happens when we are children.

As adults we wear masks and keep changing the same. You are not taught how to handle your emotions, instead the parents’ voice becomes a constant nagging siren. We are forced to learn certain things as rules which gets masqueraded as family system and nobody feels that there’s a problem when emotions of a child are neglected so much so that they get rooted deep within him/her surfacing later in adulthood as a vague feeling of emptiness.”

Lipika V Anand, business development head in a start-up is in her late twenties. She couldn’t sustain several of her friendships or romantic relationships. She needed assurance and constant proof of the integrity of her friends and partner(s). A sense of detachment from her own feelings would consume her making the right things go wrong. She shares, “I grew up in a nuclear family. Both my parents were working; my mother was a control-freak asking me to shut up when I wanted to share little things with her as a child. She’d pretend not to listen and direct me to homework or some regular routine. I didn’t know that later this would engulf my personality.

I am trying to deal with it with the help of psychotherapy.” That’s how Erik Erikson, a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, has divided life into eight stages and he says that it’s during early childhood that human personality develops. Talking more about this, psychologist Radhika Acharya says, “During the early growing years when a child is neglected while he’s crying or even if the parent attends to him, but really late a sense of distrust is instilled into him which later develops as a major personality trait. When the child grows up, his emotions are neglected and in the guise of harsh words he is disciplined. Now, given the socio-cultural reasons CEN is increasing. The need of the hour is that the parents need to understand children’s psyche.” 

Farah Amjad, a finance manager in her mid thirties was a victim of mental, emotional and verbal abuse in her family. She left her home in Nasik for a non-toxic environment and settled in Hyderabad. She’s battling Major Depressive Disorder and BPD both. But she’s hopeful as she shares, “I was never cared for when I was a child. I was beaten up and insulted in front of guests. When I grew up this violence translated into mental and emotional abuse thanks to a control freak mother.” While she’s on medicines and therapy, the question remains if there’s a thin line between child abuse and CEN or do both the areas spill over each other?

Explains Dr Sucharita, “It all depends on the types of parenting. The children get confused if one moment the parent is too sweet or the next too rude. The child cannot decide his/her own emotions which anyway don’t get validated.” She explains that there are four styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful elaborating, “The first and the last types do the maximum damage. Children don’t know how to set limits to emotions or boundaries for relationships. In most of the families shaming is used to put a lid to the child’s emotions which gets bottled up later leading to bad interpersonal relationships.”

Is there a way out? Dr Jonice Webb, a US-based therapist in her book ‘Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect’ says that CEN is  parents failure to address the emotional needs of a child and it’s important that they don’t pass on their own emotional neglect to their offspring.  She suggests in her website, “Pay attention. Start to take note of your own true nature. What do you like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with?

Observe these aspects of yourself in a non-judgmental way so that you become more in tune with yourself. Strive to get in touch with what you are feeling, including your pain.” But other than that what if the child grows up to be a disturbed adult? Explains Radhika, “Those who suffer during childhood develop severe problems as they grow up as the same remains unresolved as strong mental conflict inside the unconscious mind and sprouts up as a mental health issue. We treat them using Cognitive 
Behaviour Therapy (CBT) going to the root of the trauma and draining out all the negativity for the person to start afresh.” Maybe CEN has a long way to go, maybe it’s the parents who need to break the cycle.
saima@newindianexpress  @Sfreen


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