Emotional neglect in childhood. ‘But I had a really happy childhood’. I hear this a lot in clinic. Clients who truly believe they did. What this means for many is a roof over their heads, food on the table, maybe even private schooling, parents who were around and no sexual abuse. In my experience for many clients these factors are true, but despite one or both parents being physically present, often their experience in childhood and adolescence was that they were emotionally neglected. This might be because their parents were busy, tied up at the office, working long hours to earn money, running their own business, looking after elderly relatives or maybe dealing with their own mental health issues.
Challenge your inner critic. What this means for my client is that as an adult they tend to be extremely self-sufficient but lack an ability to self-nurture. There is a loud inner critic and no-one to shut the voice up. So in times of stress they tend to say typically British ‘stiff upper lip’ things like…’Come on, get it together’ ‘Don’t let them get to you’ ‘You can do better than this’.
Emotional neglect often leads to a lack of a soothing inner voice – a nurturing voice to counteract the inner critic. Often we are far harsher to ourselves than we would ever be to a friend. If a friend broke down in front of us due to feeling totally unappreciated and overwhelmed at work, would we tell them to ‘Pull yourself together’ ‘Stop being dramatic’. I’d hope not, but often that can be what we tell ourselves.
Take care of your younger self. Somewhere inside of all of us is a younger self, who may be struggling at times when we are feeling stressed. Consider consoling this part of yourself. Pay attention to this part of you and take her/him, by the hand and help them. In doing so you’ll be helping your self. Perhaps this younger part is avoiding confronting the boss, so rather than tell him/her to ‘get over it’ why not help them, soothe them and tell them they are doing so well considering the circumstances. Strengthen this part of you and let him/her know that together we’re going to be brave and make some changes so we can feel better. You’d say this to a friend, so why not say it to yourself?
Your internal nurturing voice. This internal nurturing voice I see lacking in clients time and time again and much of our therapy is around developing it and allowing it to support you in times of trouble and praise you in the good times. It is that healthy narcissism I often speak about.
So during this mental health awareness week consider praising, soothing and nurturing yourself. Some of you may find this hard but I encourage you to try it. A strong nurturing inner voice can become the best support you’ll ever have, it will always be at hand and it’s an ideal support if you are the self-sufficient kind because you won’t have to rely on anyone else providing it for you.
Written for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. Visit Mental Health Foundation for more information or to get involved.