Emotional deprivation – what is it and what symptoms does it cause?

Emilie and her friend Siri end the phone call. Once again, Emilie listened to all the problems her friend was experiencing with her boyfriend and at work. She tried her best to give advice. But not this time either, she talked about her own feelings and all the challenges she experiences with her family. She has never done that to anyone. She notices more and more that she too has a need to be the one who is listened to, and not always the one who only listens to other people’s problems.

The example above shows how emotional deprivation can be expressed. Meeting other people’s needs and showing care can be a way of compensating for feelings you yourself are stuck with, and needs that have not been met.

This stems from childhood. Simply put, emotional deprivation is the partial or complete absence of emotional care from the closest caregiver. This in turn can lead to challenges in forming emotional bonds with others in adulthood. In addition, it can be challenging to allow yourself to take your own feelings seriously.

Here you can read more about how this can occur and how it can affect us in adulthood. At the bottom of the article you can also see how emotional deprivation can be treated.

What is emotional deprivation?

Emotional deprivation is a lack of basic emotional care and support during childhood. In contrast to being about a type of destructive behavior the parent or parents do that affects the child, it is about the absence of a certain type of behavior that should have been exercised. It can be expressed already from childhood, but often you will discover it in adulthood.

It can be challenging to discover that you have been exposed to emotional deprivation, because the emotional consequences of it, such as the lack of close ties to others or the feeling of being alone, are so rooted in you as a person.

Experiencing such an absence of closeness and care as a child can result in the feeling that something fundamental is missing in life as an adult. Many may find that they are left with a large void that will never be filled . Some may feel that they are meant to be alone for the rest of their lives. That they are not meant to experience love or bond with others. At the same time, this can lead to an experience of not being valuable.

The emotional consequences of emotional deprivation in childhood can also be camouflaged as loneliness or anxiety in adulthood. That is why one often has to take a deep dive into one’s own emotional life and patterns in one’s own behavior in order to understand what really is the reason for the failed relationships, or why one feels a void inside. When you have experienced a lack of emotional ties to your loved ones all your life, it can be challenging to know how to form these ties or how it should really feel. Many also experience difficulties in standing up for themselves and their own emotional needs.

Causes of emotional deprivation

Emotional deprivation stems from childhood. All people depend on care and love right from birth, in order to develop important abilities and characteristics. When a child’s emotional needs are ignored, it can lead to them feeling insignificant , unwanted and invisible .  Here are typical deficiencies from childhood that can lead to emotional deprivation :

  • The child does not experience being lovedor valued, they do not feel that they are valuable
  • There is no predictable securityand support for the child
  • The carer(s) show no attachment to the child
  • The child is not given enough attention, confirmation or time
  • The carer(s) are unloving towards the child, both in words and actions
  • Lack of enough comfort
  • The caregiver(s) is emotionally divided or completely absent

It is important to distinguish between physical and emotional needs. Although the child’s physical needs may be met, he may not experience sufficient emotional support . They may get enough food, personal care, toys to play with, while the emotional needs are not met by the most important caregivers in the child’s life. It can create stress in the child, which can lead to them finding their own ways to cope.


Consequences in adulthood

Often when you move away from home and have to manage on your own by finding your place in society, you will in many ways also find out what emotional challenges you are struggling with .

This often happens when meeting others, either through romantic relationships or friendships. A consequence of emotional deprivation can be that one does not feel understood. It can be difficult to express what you feel and want, and many feel that they are not understood by others . Being able to express one’s feelings is uncharted territory because it was never taught as a child. As a rule, you also never expect to experience love and affection from others. It feels like a waste because in your own head you always think that you will be misunderstood and that you are alone.

Many people may find it problematic to ask for emotional support because it brings out the feeling of being weak. In addition, the feeling of weakness can be intensified because the conviction of not wanting to receive what one is asking for is so strong. It can lead to putting up a high emotional wall around yourself to protect yourself . The fear of being rejected, deceived or abandoned can be an obstacle to forming bonds with others.

Is there treatment for emotional deprivation?

There is absolutely treatment for this disorder. The first step is to map one’s own emotional needs . As described earlier, it can be challenging because you have lived your whole life without having these needs satisfied. In addition, one must understand that all these needs are natural and normal. All people need security, support, empathy and care.

The next step is to learn to associate with the “right” people. That is, people from whom you can seek emotional support and from whom you can ask for advice and guidance when the need arises. Many people who suffer from emotional deprivation have a maladaptive behavior that leads to others being discouraged from meeting the person’s needs and offering help. It can also be self-sabotaging behavior through choosing to associate with people you know you will not get the desired support and help from. For some, it provides security and predictability because it resembles one’s own dysfunctional childhood with which one is familiar.

Therapy can help to map which feelings or lack of feelings lead to the void one sits with. This way you can find out what it is that really feels wrong, and then ways to deal with it. In this way, you can try to achieve emotional bonds with those around you. And not least to oneself and understanding how one’s own emotional life works.