For this blog post, I thought I’d opt for a book review. It’s about a book that delves into a topic that’s often overlooked yet relevant to many different people who decide to seek therapy and too many of those who don’t. It’s also a book that I’ve started recommending to clients, and they seem to be responding well to it. It covers the profound impact of caregivers’ emotional unavailability on the growth and development of a child and how these early experiences resonate through adulthood. Namely, the title of this book is Emotional Neglect and the Adult in Therapy: Lifelong Consequences of a Lack of Early Attunement. It highlights the consequences of emotional neglect rather than emotional abuse, (which is usually discussed more often).
A Focus on Emotional Neglect
The book’s focus is to shed light on the unique traumas faced by emotionally neglected individuals, setting them apart from those who suffered direct abuse. The author acknowledges the often-overlooked group of children who, despite not being abused or rejected outright, were left unattended and ignored, never experiencing the warmth of acceptance or love from their caregivers. This trauma is hard to talk about; clients often report not having had any “major” episodes of being abused or directly hurt. What they usually describe instead is an often unintentional but deep absence of care, attention, and warmth.
The Undeniable link between Childhood Experiences and Adult Lives
The narrative unfolds through six enlightening chapters, each building upon the previous to provide a comprehensive understanding. It starts by establishing the undeniable link between childhood experiences and the clients’ adult lives, offering a fresh perspective on the experiences of emotionally neglected or ignored children. Moving forward, the book dissects different scenarios of emotional neglect characterised by absent, depressed, or preoccupied caregivers. Regardless of the specific circumstances, these children endure developmental deficits and an absence of parental care, which leaves them with unique challenges.
The Psychotherapeutic Theories about Ignored Children
Chapter three presents essential psychotherapeutic theories regarding ignored children, offering insights into biodynamic psychotherapy, models of the mind, developmental deficits, and attachment theory. The subsequent chapter bridges the gap between psychotherapy and neuroscience, exploring polyvagal theory and the role of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in affect regulation. For therapists and counsellors, chapter five offers a practical guide on how to approach and support adults who experienced emotional neglect as children. Lastly, chapter six provides a glimpse into the author’s therapeutic journey, sharing effective interventions, such as body psychotherapy, tailored to help this specific group of clients.
The Urgency of Recognising Emotional Neglect
To sum up, this book paints a poignant picture of the life experiences of adults whose formative years were marred by emotional neglect. It emphasises the urgency of recognising and validating this group of vulnerable individuals. In a world that often reveres the assertive and self-assured, it beckons us to acknowledge the silent struggles of those emotionally neglected or ignored during their critical developmental years. This volume is a rich source of information, sensitively written, and of great significance, encapsulating the lived experiences of adults profoundly affected by their early upbringing as ignored or emotionally neglected children. While therapists and counsellors will find an abundance of insights and suggestions within, this book also resonates with the general reader seeking a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the human psyche.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Branka Mlinar is a psychologist and Gestalt therapist offering psychotherapy and counselling to adolescent and adult individuals. She’s mostly worked with problems of anxiety, interpersonal and relationship issues, procrastination, work-related stress, trauma, and grief.
Stauffer, K. A. (2020). Emotional Neglect and the Adult in Therapy: Lifelong Consequences to a Lack of Early Attunement. WW Norton & Company.