Childhood Emotional Neglect: An Underrated Syndrome

Rahama Obadak
Marketing & Comms, Flexisaf

Albert is a middle-aged man who is always filled with rage. His angry nature makes it difficult for people to associate with him. He has had 3 unsuccessful marriages and has been sacked numerous times. He fights at the ATM queue, petrol station, market places and just about any other place he sets foot.

Because of his impolite attitude, no one wants to deal with him. Not even the sweet sales lady at the neighborhood grocery store.

Out of sheer loneliness, he develops depression and resorts to substance abuse and drinking to help him cope. Soon enough though, he goes broke and is forced out of his apartment, he now has nowhere to go.

As pitiful as his situation is, no one renders him a helping hand because of the fear of having anything to do with him. No one except his new neighbor Miss Keisha.

Miss Keisha is a doctor who works in the city psychiatric hospital. She was shocked upon seeing the pitiful condition of Albert. He was on the side of the street, drunk and clearly intoxicated enough to not know where he was. She called her hospital’s emergency department, and a few minutes later, Albert was admitted there.

What was the problem?After 3 days of special care, Albert was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): A lifelong pattern of unstable moods, unstable relationships, unpredictable emotions, and impulsive actions.With much difficulty, the psychologist was finally able to engage Albert in a deep conversation. He asked him "what was your childhood like?"“I don’t know if I had a childhood. Because I can’t remember ever been allowed to play with the neighborhood kids, taken to a park or even cleaned properly” Albert said tearfully. “ My parents had a very bad divorce when I was four. My mom was always in her own world, always unhappy and feeling sorry for herself to care for me. She never gave much attention to me or my feelings. I always cried myself to bed.” He went on "She would always make me feel ashamed of expressing my feelings. She’d always tell me feelings don’t matter. She had a job, so I was at least taken to school. Because of my pain, I hated myself and always got into fights.""I was moved from school to school and my mom would always threaten to take me to an orphanage.” At this point he was sobbing so much that he couldn’t continue.Apparently, what can be deduced from Albert's story is; he was a victim Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).What is CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect)?Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A childhood characterized by the absence of enough emotional attention, emotional validation and emotional responsiveness from one’s parents or caregivers.How it relates to you…..In a typical African system, emotional neglect is very common but has often been overlooked. Like Dr. of Psychology Jonice Webb says “CEN is overlooked because it’s invisible, unmemorable, and the absence of something (emotional validation), It has been greatly overshadowed by more visible, but also worthy topics, like childhood events, abuse, or trauma.”This is a serious problem because most victims (children) grow up with very low emotional and social intelligence and if severe could lead to more serious psychological disorders. A more common form of CEN nowadays is overindulgence and indiscipline in children. Mostly because parents or other caregivers are too engrossed in other worldly pursuits like TV viewing or other media use, and barely have time to properly carry out their responsibilities.How to prevent it?According to WHO, The most successful preventive interventions to reduce the risk of many disorders include;

  • focusing on improving the social competence and pro-social behaviour of children, parents, peers and teachers.

Other ways may include;

  • Caregivers be made to understand basic child psychology
  • Treating children with care and validating their feelings
  • Promoting emotional intelligence in schools

Every child's feelings matter. Let's keep that in mind.Can you think of other ways we can prevent CEN? Share it with us in the form below. We look forward to hearing from you!