The experience of emotional deprivation is harder to define than some of the other schema. Often it is not crystallized into thoughts. This is because the original deprivation began so early, before we had the words to describe it. Our experience of emotional deprivation is much more the sense that we are going to be lonely forever, that certain things are never going to be fulfilled for us, that we will never be heard, never be understood.
Emotional deprivation feels like something is missing. It is a feeling of emptiness. Perhaps the image that most captures its meaning is that of a neglected child. Emotional deprivation is what a neglected child feels. It is a feeling of aloneness, of nobody there. It is a sad and heavy sense of knowledge that we are destined to be alone.
I would normally refer to this part of us as one of our Exiles, in that often we too, sadly, push it away, sequester, or exile it from the rest of our experience. Perhaps because of the pain and discomfort it generates in us, or the shame we feel about it.
When this Emotionally Deprived Exile is activated, it might have some of the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings and behaviours expressed below:
- I feel that people have not been there to meet my emotional needs.
- I often feel that I haven’t, or don’t get enough love and attention.
- Most of the time, I haven’t had someone to nurture me, share him/herself with me, or care deeply about everything that happens to me.
- For much of my life, I haven’t had someone who wanted to get close to me and spend a lot of time with me.
- In general, people have not been there to give me warmth, holding, and affection.
- For much of my life, I haven’t felt that I am special to someone.
- For the most part, I have not had someone who really listens to me, understands me, or is tuned into my true needs and feelings.
- I have rarely had a strong person to give me sound advice or direction when I’m not sure what to do.
It is a sign of the Emotional Deprivation schema to feel chronically disappointed in other people. People let us down. We are not speaking about a single case of disappointment, but rather a pattern of experiences over a long period of time. If our conclusion as a result of all our relationships is that we cannot count on people to be there for us emotionally – this is often a sign that the Emotionally Deprived part/exile is present.
THE ORIGINS OF EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION
The origins of emotional deprivation can often lie in the person who serves as our maternal figure – the person who is chiefly responsible for giving us emotional nurturance. In some families this figure is a man, but in our culture it is usually a woman. The father figure is important also, but in the first years of life, it is usually the mother who forms the center of the child’s world. That first relationship becomes the prototype for those that follow. For the rest of the individual’s life, most close relationships will bear the stamp of that first experience with mother.
With emotional deprivation, it is often the case that we received a less than average amount of maternal nurturance for one reason or another. The term nurturance has a number of dimensions, as we can see from the table below outlining the origins of this schema. We use the word mother to refer to the maternal figure.
Possible Origins of Emotional Deprivation
- Mum was somewhat cold and unaffectionate. She did not hold and rock us when we were infants. Or if she did, not enough for our needs.
- As children, we did not have a sense of being loved and valued — of being someone who is precious and special.
- Mum did not give us enough time and attention. She was most likely not really tuned into our needs as children. She had difficulty empathizing with our world. She may have found it hard to really connect with us.
- Mum was not able to soothe us adequately. So perhaps as infants we may not have learnt to soothe ourselves or to accept soothing from others.
- Our parents may not have adequately guided us or provided a sense of direction. No one solid for us to rely on growing up.
It sometimes takes us a while to realize that we have this part. Unlike other parts which may have been formed because someone did something active that damaged us in some way, emotional deprivation results from the absence of nurturing.
Emotional deprivation, therefore, can be a difficult part for us to recognize, for us to see and take care of (hence it falling into the category of one of our Exiles). Unless we experienced extreme neglect, it might take some exploration to determine whether we were deprived as a child. We might recognize the part in ourselves only after we have asked ourselves specific questions such as: “Did I feel close to my mother, did I feel she understood me, didI feel loved, did I love her, was she warm and affectionate, could I tell her what I felt, could she give me what I needed?”
OUR EMOTIONALLY DEPRIVED EXILE/SCHEMA IN ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
In our culture, it is romantic relationships that are usually the most intimate. For this reason, some people who have this exiled part avoid romantic relationships altogether, or only get into them for a short time. Another Protective Part might step in to help the Emotionally Deprived exile cope by being very mistrustful of others, not willing to commit, or alternatively somewhat needy, clingy, or demanding when in a relationship.
Perhaps we have a history of breaking off relationships when the other person starts to get too close. Or we conveniently find reasons to end the relationship. Or we protect ourself from closeness by choosing partners who are unavailable. Or we choose someone who is there, but is cold and ungiving. No matter what path we take, the final outcome is the same. We wind up in a situation that is emotionally depriving, thus unfortunately replicating and validating our childhood deprivation.
The next table lists some of the danger signals to avoid in the early stages of dating. They are signals that we are about to repeat the pattern again and become involved with someone who can activate this part in us.
Danger Signals in the Earlv Stages of Dating
- He/She doesn’t listen to me.
- He/She does all the talking.
- He/She is not comfortable touching or kissing me.
- He/She is only sporadically available.
- He/She is cold and aloof.
- I am much more interested in getting close than he/she is.
- The person is not there for we when I feel vulnerable.
- The less available he/she is, the more obsessed I become.
- He/She does not understand my feelings.
- I am giving much more than I’m getting.
When several of these signals are occurring at once, most likely your Emotionally Deprived Exile has been triggered in a big way.
When this occurs, other Protective or Coping parts might step in to try and alleviate or cushion some of the pain. These might include:
The Subjugated Protector:
We don’t tell our partner what we need, then feel disappointed when our needs are not met. Or we don’t tell our partner how we feel, and then feel disappointedwhen we are not understood.
The Detached Protector:
We don’t allow ourself to be vulnerable, so that our partner can protect or guide us. Or we become distant and unreachable.
The Angry or Blaming Protector
We feel deprived, but we don’t say anything. We harbour resentment.We may even become angry and demanding.We might even accuse our partner of not caring enough about us.
We might even reinforce our deprivation by sabotaging the relationship. We might become hypersensitive to signs of neglect. Or we might expect our lover or partner to read our minds and almost magically to fill our needs.
As I mentioned above, some people who have this exile develop Protective parts who counterattack by becoming demanding in relationships, most do not ask for what they want. It probably does not occur to us to spell out our needs. Most likely we do not ask for what we want, and then become very hurt, withdrawn, or angry when our emotional needs are not met.
If you are struggling with this part of yourself and would like to find out more about how to cope better with it, please feel free to get in touch with me to discuss this matter further.
There are powerful and reliables ways in which your Emotionally Deprived Part/Exile can be helped and healed. However, not all therapeutic modalities (e.g. CBT) will be able to get to the roots of this part, so it is important to find a therapist and a modality which has the means to do so.
Both Schema Therapy and Internal Family Systems Therapy are specifically tailored to work and heal these parts of the psyche. I have been trained in both of these and would be happy to talk more with you as to what the healing process for this part involves.