18 October 2023 at 09:55 · 4 min read
Have you ever thought about your childhood, the emotional support you received, and realized that you’re missing something in life but you’re just not sure what?
At the beginning of 1952 Dr. Rene Spitz identified a problem in Romanian orphanages that were related to effects of deprivation and hospitalization in infants who were institutionalized for long periods and deprived of parental care. Results showed that these children experienced several developmental difficulties such as reduced motor functioning, weight, and height. The most serious issues were shown psychologically, in the children’s affective expressions, relationships and emotions. All these difficulties may be related to emotional deprivation which represents an absence of emotional attention given to a child.
Deprivation vs Neglect
Because of similarity in shortage of emotional attention, often emotional deprivation is confused with, or misattributed to, emotional neglect. But actually, these terms represent two separate things.
- Emotional deprivation refers to an extreme absence of emotional attention or response given to a child by caregivers while
- Emotional neglect is usually considered a milder form and occurs when caregivers fail to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs.
Emotional neglect may occur in normal homes all over the world, even when the parents are physically present, and all the child’s material needs are met.
Emotional deprivation has its roots in early childhood and arises as a reaction to a lack of emotional support, or, more clearly; a child's emotional needs were entirely ignored. When these needs are not met, he or she can feel invisible, uncared for, and unimportant. In essence, they feel like their existence simply doesn’t matter.
They fail to develop a connection to those around them. In adulthood, an emotionally deprived person may not know how to ask for emotional support. That’s understandable as it’s hard to ask for it, even when our self-esteem is such that we feel like we warrant it. It feels awkward to express what you feel, literally because you feel weak, and the conviction that you won’t get what you ask for makes you feel even weaker. Such people can build very high walls around themselves. Emotional deprivation can lead to someone feeling afraid of getting close to others out of fear of rejection, betrayal, or loss.
During the psychotherapy process, emotional deprivation is one of the most difficult schemas to detect simply because people often don’t show clear signs and symptoms. Usually, they express the feeling that “something is missing in their life, but they are not sure what.” It is like a feeling of emptiness. But it’s quite real – it’s a void of unfulfilled emotional needs. Some of the other common signs also may include an inability to understand one's own emotions or needs, lack of emotional support or unfulfilled emotional needs in relationships.
The first step of recovery would be raising awareness of one’s own emotional needs which might be challenging because their needs have gone unmet for so long. Besides this, the person needs to understand that all their needs are normal and natural. Just like children, adults also need protection, care, and empathy.
Lastly, one of the most important steps for patients is to learn to choose the right people to seek emotional support from and to ask for what they need in an appropriate manner. Usually, other people are not purposefully or inherently predisposed to being emotionally ‘depriving.’ The problem is that people with this schema may often have maladaptive behaviours as a result of their condition. These maladaptive behaviours can in turn discourage other people from meeting their needs or lead them to choose people who simply cannot give them the right kind of support.