Emotionally neglected family? How to Cope with Thanksgiving

Monkey Business/Adobe Stock Images

Source: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock Images

Many families celebrate this Thanksgiving with an elephant in their room. You won’t be able to see the elephant, but you will feel it. It will feel like separation, loneliness, disappointment, sadness or disappointment.

Some will wonder why they get bored when they are with their family. Others may wonder why certain family members appear angry, hurt, or sad. Still others will be amazed at why they can’t just suck it up and be happier with what they have. Most of these people have no way of knowing that emotional neglect lies dormant in their families, silently sucking the life out of their interactions and eroding the happiness and connection they were meant to feel.

Emotional neglect can result in missing out on family holidays like Thanksgiving — which should feel welcoming, loving, and warm.

Emotional neglect in childhood lingers in the family long after the children are grown. It deadens the reception, cools the warmth and dilutes love. Unacknowledged, unshared, unspoken emotions form the backdrop to your family picture that no one sees but everyone feels. They are the gray fog that wraps around the family, making it impossible to see each other clearly.

The members of an emotionally neglected family tend to go through each and every vacation with a vague sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction at best, and bewildering anger, hurt, and sadness at worst.

Emotional neglect in childhood

Emotional neglect in childhood occurs when you grow up in a family that doesn’t “see” the emotions of its members. In an emotionally neglected family, feelings are generally treated as irrelevant or distressing.

Children in these families learn to ignore and hide their own feelings. They learn to be ashamed of their emotions and avoid emotional things. They learn that meaningful conversations and displays of emotion, even positive ones, are undesirable or even shameful.

The family that suppresses, crushes, or shames the feelings of its members, even if it is unspoken and unintentional (which is often the case), pays a sad and heavy price. Like a cake baked without sugar, it looks great but doesn’t taste right. Like a baseball game played without the ball, it may look normal from afar, but if you get close enough you realize everyone is just doing the moves.

If this is your family, you may feel slightly disappointed and let down by your family during the holidays. You may find that you are afraid of them. You may feel bored and disconnected, angry, hurt, left out, or sad when you are with your family, but you have no idea why.

If you suspect this might be your family, or know they might be, how do you take care of yourself so you can enjoy Thanksgiving?

5 tips for the emotionally neglected on Thanksgiving

  1. Have a support person: Try to have someone with you who understands your situation. It helps if they understand the power of emotional neglect. A spouse, sibling, or trusted friend can give you great strength in the moments when you need it most. Meeting the understanding eyes of your companion across the room is reassurance and grounding. If they can’t be with you, see if they can be reached by phone or text.
  2. Keep Your Expectations Realistic: Our human brains are naturally wired to expect love and nurturing from our families of origin. But in an emotionally neglected family, when you embrace those expectations fully, you can feel doubly empty. Try to adjust your expectations before you go so you expect what you’re likely to get. This protects you from disappointment and disappointment.
  3. Be Aware of Your Emotions: Throughout the day you may experience a variety of different emotions such as frustration, emptiness, boredom, anger or loneliness to name a few. Pay attention to these feelings as they arise. Accept and name them and let them be. You feel these emotions for a reason, and you can use them later to understand how your family is affecting you.
  4. Be thankful for your strengths: Know that growing up with emotional neglect has made you remarkably strong in some ways. As an emotionally neglected person, you have learned to rely on yourself. On this day, focus on the gifts your family gave you and the positive aspects of growing up that way. Whether you realize it or not, your childhood emotional neglect taught you to be independent, capable, self-reliant, and giving. These are all things to be thankful for.
  5. Focus on your self-care: move around and wear clothes that you feel comfortable and comfortable in. Only stay at your Thanksgiving family reunion as long as you feel good enough, not a minute longer. On this day it is especially important to put yourself first.

take that away

Emotional neglect passes unnoticed and unnoticed through the generations of a family. Your parents may just have done what most people do: raised you the same way they did. That’s why it’s so often nobody’s fault.

It is important to your healing to acknowledge everything that you have not received from your family. On that day, work on accepting what you didn’t get, what you did get, and why.

Try your best to remember that everything your parents could not and cannot give you is now possible to give yourself. You can acknowledge, validate, and accept your feelings and see them as an expression of your deepest self, which you are.

And on Thanksgiving, like every other day of the year, you can honor your deepest, neglected self by taking steps to take care of yourself emotionally. This is how you stop the generations of emotional neglect.

© Jonice Webb, Ph.D.

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