Do you feel like no one really gets you? That you’ve never properly felt emotionally supported by someone else before? It’s as though there’s a void, something missing – a sense of emptiness you can’t quite place…
As human beings, we are all vulnerable. And no more so when we’re a child. If you look at a small child, the chances are you see it expressing it’s emotions pretty freely. As we grow older, we may grow wiser in some respects, but the depth of those emotions remain the same. The difference? We learn how to channel those emotions in healthy, more “socially acceptable” ways.
But what happens when that child is shut down when it expresses its emotions? Maybe it’s told to simply “get over it” or to stop being “such a baby”. Over time, the child learns that emotions are negative, something to be stuffed away and hidden from view. It learns to expect that no one is going to listen to its emotions. It may even learn to deny this part of itself completely.
If you grew up with parents who were distant, unpredictable or aloof and relate to any of the above statements, the chances are that you grew up emotionally deprived. This doesn’t mean that you had a terrible childhood. To the contrary – perhaps you had everything you needed in terms of material things. What was lacking was emotional connection. You didn’t feel heard; your parents didn’t get you.
What’s the problem with this?
The emotional self is a part of us. Whether we like it or not, we will never be able to deny it completely. And if we try, it’s only going to start vying for our attention, rearing its head in uglier ways – anger, loneliness, frustration, feeling “empty” or numb…
Our beliefs about the world determine our behaviour. If we haven’t felt emotionally heard as a child, we’re going to believe that no one can fill that role for us when we’re older too. And if we move through life never expecting someone to understand or show up for us, they probably never will. We might wind up choosing partners who can’t give to us (similar to our parents) or behave in such an erratic way whereby we end up creating the kind of behaviour we’ve come to expect.
How does this play out?
- You might feel different to everyone else, as though there’s something “wrong” with you or that you’re unlovable in some way.
- You might end up over-compensating by demanding that your needs be met. At the other extreme, maybe you’re clingy and needy, and have a tendency to become codependent in relationships.
- You give out more than you get back. You support other people but never seem to get the same love and care in return. Giving provides you with a sense of purpose.
- You people-please and feel the need to get everyone to like you.
- You avoid asking for what you need at an emotional level. You might have a tendency to assume that people should just automatically know.
- You may deny the fact that you have any emotional needs at all, acting stronger than how you feel underneath.
- You choose partners who are aloof, cold and distant.
- You fear intimacy and avoid relationships completely, because you believe at a fundamental level no one is going to be able to show up for you in the way you need.
- You bottle up your emotions. Because of this, you might find yourself lashing out at small, insignificant things that seem out of proportion.
To deny our vulnerability is to deny what it means to be human. We can’t be strong all the time. No one can. We need to find a balance between strength and weakness, and learn how to swing between the two – knowing that we will always find our way back to the middle again (no matter how overwhelming something feels at the time).
No one understands me: steps to take to overcome this feeling
1. The first step is to recognise how this is playing out in your life. Up until now, you might not have even realised that anything is wrong. Owning your emotions, and understanding that everyone has emotional needs is an essential first step.
2. Re-connect with your vulnerability. If you’ve spent a lifetime stuffing down your emotions, you’re going to have to work a bit to access them again. What are your needs? Do you feel undervalued? How can you better communicate your needs?
3. You need to learn how to choose appropriate partners and friends. We all deserve to give and receive love, and we all crave warmth and affection. Never feel ashamed to communicate what you need in order to feel supported and heard in your relationships.
4. Practice healthy, non-aggressive communication. There’s a difference between requesting something and demanding it e.g. “When you go ‘x’, it makes me feel like…” rather than “I hate the way you…”
How can therapy help?
Emotional deprivation is a psychological trauma that has the potential to be just as devastating as any other kind of trauma. However, because it is a “non-experience” or lack of something, it’s sometimes difficult to spot. Therapy provides a safe space to delve a bit deeper and explore how this emptiness came about. Once you get the root to it, you can start to access the parts of yourself you have been unwittingly pushing away, and work towards building a life that is filled with love, warmth and connection.