Christmas is just around the corner and unfortunately for many of us, including myself, it won’t be possible to spend it with family this year and it’s not hard to imagine that Christmas 2020 might be a quieter and perhaps more lonely one that usual for many people. However, being with family can also be a very lonely experience, especially for those who have grown up with emotional neglect and it is this I want to talk a little about here.
Why you might feel lonely, even with your family
When we think of difficult family get-togethers we might think of arguing and conflict but this isn’t what is happening when we live in an emotionally neglectful family. In fact it isn’t anything to do with what is happening – it is about what is not happening. What is missing is a deep strong emotional connection. This doesn’t mean the family is not warm and loving with each other – when we hear the word neglect we often have images of extreme situations come to mind – it just means that there is not a deep emotional bond that helps us feel really seen and really understood.
If you have a family who are not able to respond to your feelings in a meaningful way, family who invalidate or can’t tolerate expressions of emotion, family who talk about the things happening in each others life but not how they make us feel or family who avoid talking about anything that might be difficult or painful then chances are you are in an emotionally neglectful family.
The role emotional neglect might play
Spending time with your emotionally neglectful family might leave you feeling deeply unsatisfied, disheartened and empty but what is doubly hard is you often can’t put your finger on why you feel like this. You might be left with a feeling that something is missing but not now what. Family gatherings may feel superficial or boring or disappointing but because nothing negative actually happened you may be critical of yourself for feeling this way. But you have nothing to be critical of and now hopefully you also have a way of understanding why you are feeling the way you are.
How to cope with your emotionally neglectful family at Christmas
If you are spending time this Christmas with an emotionally neglectful family perhaps you can schedule a call with a friend who is able to connect in a more meaningful way with you. You could also practice self compassion-recognising with tenderness how difficult it is to spend time with people who you love but who don’t fully emotionally connect with you. Finally some people find it helpful to remember that emotional neglect is way more common than most people realise and so you are definitely not alone in your feelings of emptiness, loneliness or disappointment.
If you are interested in understanding more about emotional neglect and especially the impact Childhood Emotional neglect has on us then I highly recommend the work of Jonice Webb and her books entitled Running on Empty and Running on Empty No More.
However you are spending Christmas this year I hope your need for emotional connection is met, even and especially if this is not by your family.
Written by Dr. Olivia Thrift – registered Counselling Psychologist and founder of The Psychology Company.