Tag Archives: emotional abuse

The Physical Impact of Avoiding Emotions

It is not commonly known that emotions are stored on your body. When an emotional event happens, such as verbal or physical harm, you have a visceral response from the sympathetic pathways of the central nervous system. These responsive pathways can be experienced as an impulse of either fight, flight or freeze.

Using your imagination from your own experience, which one (or ones), fight, flight, or freeze, have you experienced as a result of harmful or potentially harmful events? For example, if someone is being verbally abusive, my impulse is to shut down and not respond (freeze). This impulse, I feel, protects me from an escalation of the situation. I believe that if I stay calm, maybe the aggressor will deescalate or at least not get worse. It is kind of like paying dead when you cannot escape the big scary bear that wants you for their dinner.

Some other examples…

The fighting impulse can look like yelling and temper to keep at bay a potential predator. The flight impulse is when you feel so uncomfortable (social anxiety) that your body wants to get up and run out of the room. These are just a few examples and of course, your sympathetic impulse in response to perceived harm is unique to you.

Whenever you are experiencing any kind of trauma (even the cultural trauma of COVID-19), it is always felt in the body. However, you may not be aware of what happens to your body in these emotional states. But the body remembers. As Bessel van der Kolk postulates (see video below), the body always keeps the score.

So, what can you do? The first step is to pay attention to what the emotion is that you are experiencing in the face of harm. Fear is likely present in the moment. Anger toward the aggressor is the most common after someone has harmed or oppressed you; however, you can be experiencing several emotions at once. The next step is to pay attention to what your emotions feel like in your body. The consequences of not properly processing (avoiding) your emotions from past events are the continuance of your version of fight, flight, or freeze. Emotional avoidance causes you suffering and disruption in your daily life. Another consequence of unprocessed emotions is high levels of anxiety, which again, can disrupt your life, your experiences of joy, and prevent you from having or reaching your goals.

Keep in mind, that chronic avoidance of emotions and anxiety can eventually manifest as physical pain or other chronic health issues.

Please watch this…

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Is Emotional Neglect Abuse?

I think the answer to the question: is emotional neglect abuse, depends on who you ask. Most of my clients are able to recognize abuse in others but can have difficulty expressing (or admitting) the extent of their own abuse (not all clients have been abused).

Clients commonly recognize physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Nonetheless, clients typically do not recognize emotional neglect. Imagine that you grew up in a nice home, you had clean clothes, you were fed, and got medical attention. However, imagine that you were never hugged, told that you were special, or told that you were loved. Imagine that you were the only kid you knew whose parents never came to watch you play sports or act in a play. Imagine that your parents did not teach you life skills, nor paid attention to what time you got home at night.

Emotional neglect can be defined by the absence of the traditionally provided parental emotional supports, such as belonging and encouragement (Bernstein & Fink, 1998). Emotional neglect is when we do not feel loved, nor received emotional attention.

What happens when kids are emotionally neglected? Research shows strong evidence that emotional neglect is strongly connected to problems in social relationships (Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002; Trickett & McBride-Chang, 1995). For example, emotionally neglected individuals feel a sense of independency because the cannot feel like they can rely on anybody. They have difficulty with asking for help or being a support towards others reaching out. They can become self-centered and have difficulty with perspective taking (understanding from another’s point-of-view). They may also have difficulty expressing empathy, therefore affecting their ability to form safe and secure relationships.

As a mental health counselor, it is my job to develop a secure relationship with my clients in a nonjudgmental and compassionate manner. I become the support system they may never have previously experienced. This begins the process of trust and compassion, which eventually develops in the client’s social relationships.

Please contact me, Catherine, for more information and to set up an appointment.

References

  • Bernstein, D., & Fink, L. (1998). Manual for the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. New York: Psychological Corporation.
  • Hildyard, K. L., & Wolfe, D. A. (2002). Child neglect: Developmental issues and outcomes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 679–695. doi:10.1016/S0145- 2134(02)00341-1
  • Trickett, P. K., & McBride-Chang, C. (1995). The developmental impact of different forms of child abuse and neglect. Developmental Review, 15, 311–337. doi:10.1006/drev.1995.1012