New scientific research shows that mindfulness can help us to overcome childhood emotional neglect and the effects of being brought up in a negative environment.
Research reveals that growing up in a household where our emotions are invalidated or ignored is detrimental to our health.
You might have suffered from emotional invalidation is your parents constantly said to you:
- Stop being such a baby
- Quit making such a big deal out of it
- Man up
- You shouldn’t feel that way
- Get over it
- I know what you’re going through
- I’m not discussing that with you
- You’re too sensitive
Emotional validation (being told and treated like our emotions matter) is vital for relationships and especially between parents and kids. Healthy family relationships are founded on emotional intimacy, love, compassion, and good communication. Poor family relationships are founded on the opposite: being told that our emotions don’t matter, or that we’re silly for feeling certain ways. 
If your parents told you how you should feel as a kid, or told you that you are too sensitive or that your emotions are stupid, it may well have affected your psychology into adulthood.
Sadly, many parents do this without even realising it, and it is easy to understand why. Between the pressures of being a parent, maintaining finances, paying off the mortgage and everything else, it can be easy for parents to make the mistake of dismissing their kid’s emotions. Other parents do it because they want their kids to grow up strong. They wrongly believe that telling them to “Man up” will help them to do so, when in actual fact it is far more likely to have the opposite effect. And then you have manipulative people who use things like gaslighting tactics.
Whatever the reason for emotional invalidation, it can have a serious impact on mental health. Experts believe that emotional invalidation In childhood may cause Borderline Personality Disorder [BPD]. One such expert is clinical psychologist Marsha Linehan, Ph.D (who created dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)). And even if it doesn’t cause you quite such a serious problem as BPD, it could make you uncomfortable expressing your emotions, constantly questioning your thoughts, and wondering what’s wrong with you.
The problem is that emotional invalidation teaches us a) that our emotions don’t matter, b) to badly manage emotions, and c) to use extreme emotions to get attention.
To overcome this, we need to reprocess our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and our emotions. We need to undo the effects of emotional neglect. Thankfully, there are some great techniques for doing so.
Andre Solo states that there are various ways of overcoming childhood emotional neglect:
Ways of overcoming childhood emotional neglect include:
- Expressing your needs
- Practising self-soothing
And today at THE DAILY MEDITATION, we heard about another method of overcoming childhood emotional neglect: Mindfulness.
How Mindfulness Helps Us Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect
We can undo the damage of emotional neglect by practising mindfulness.
Dispositional mindfulness (the general quality of being mindful, as opposed to the meditation technique Mindfulness Meditation) has been scientifically shown to improve emotional regulation [READ: Meditation for emotional control].
Dispositional mindfulness is the practice of being nonjudgmentally aware of the present moment in our general day to day life (as opposed to when meditating). It is essentially the art of living in the present moment, rather than being lost in thoughts and feeling.
Dispositional mindfulness helps with cognitive reframing (a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then changing the way situations, experiences, events, ideas, and/or emotions are viewed) and reducing maladaptive techniques like expressive suppression (preventing ourselves from expressing how we are feeling).
In one study, researchers investigated the effects of mindfulness on cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression on adults who had experienced emotional invalidation in childhood. Participants were trained in mindfulness and completed a self-report analysis to assess their perceptions of maternal invalidation, mindfulness, and emotion regulation.
Results of the study reveal that certain aspects of mindfulness (namely, the act of describing, the quality of being non-judgmental, and non-reactivity) helped adults who had experienced emotional invalidation to reduce their expressive suppression. In other words, the adults who practised mindfulness were more able to express how they were feeling.
Meanwhile, the qualities of awareness and non-reactivity were found to improve cognitive reappraisal.
3 Aspects of Mindfulness For Overcoming Childhood Emotional Neglect
1: Describe how you are feeling
One of the negative effects of childhood emotional neglect is that it makes us feel uncomfortable of showing our emotions, and often even unaware of what we ourselves are feeling.
The study shows that we can learn to accept our emotions by describing them.
Describe to yourself (in your head) how you are feeling. This will increase your awareness of your own emotions. When you describe those feelings, aim to accept them. This will teach you that emotions are normal. Then, you will feel more comfortable expressing how you are feeling to other people.
Another problem with emotional neglect is that it can lead to erroneous thoughts and beliefs. Some people who experience emotional neglect are left genuinely believing that their thoughts and feelings are irrelevant. This belief can last into adulthood and can have a devastating effect.
Counteract this by being more aware and more present-moment minded. Research shows that mindful awareness improves cognitive reappraisal, meaning you will be more able to notice and change your erroneous thoughts and beliefs.
The study revealed that the quality of non-judgment helps with cognitive reappraisal.
When you experience different emotions, do not judge them. Do not think, “I’m being silly” or “My emotions are stupid” or “Why am I so sensitive”. Instead, simply accept the way that you are feeling without self-criticising. This will train you to accept your emotions as a normal way of life.
Childhood emotional neglect can have a severe impact on emotional development. It can leave us feeling like our emotions are stupid, irrational, and out of place. It can even cause us to feel ashamed for having any emotions at all. And changing those beliefs can be a challenge.
Mindfulness can help.
By cultivating the traits of awareness, non-judgment, and acceptance, we can train ourselves to accept the way we are feeling and to feel comfortable expressing our emotions. This is vital for our health, happiness, and relationships.