Clearly, the child has both physical and emotional needs that the parents have a responsibility to meet. Both are obviously of vital importance. Often, however, a child may be well provided for in a material sense, but utterly deprived of emotional nurturance; this can be regarded as a form of child abuse.
This places the child in a state of psychological conflict, even turmoil. He may be grateful on the one hand (for having his material needs met), but angry and hurt on the other (due to emotional deprivation).
So what are the effects on the child that result from him not having his emotional needs met, or, as occurred in my own particular case, not having one’s emotional needs met AND being expected to meet the emotional needs of the parent (ie, the child is compelled to act as his parent’s parent) ?
First, let’s look at some of the child’s most important emotional needs :
THE CHILD’S EMOTIONAL NEEDS :
– needs to receive love/affection and attention
– needs to have personal feelings and emotions respected
– needs to be free of burdensome adult responsibilities / spontaneously enjoy self / play in care-free manner
– needs to be encouraged and helped to develop a sense of self-worth
– needs behaviour to be guided by compassionate discipline which does not cause physical or emotional damage
– needs to be protected, as far as is reasonably possible and desirable (some knocks in childhood are clearly unavoidable and can provide valuable learning experiences)
This is not a definitive list, but, I think, covers the main areas.
Both verbal and tacit (non-verbal) messages from parents are absorbed by the child, as water into a sponge, both consciously and unconsciously, and have an enormous impact on his self-image and identity.
If, however, the child is essentially emotionally abandoned, family roles become confused and blurred ; indeed, if the child is expected to provide for the emotional needs of the parent, role-reversal can occur. Not only does this place the child under immense psychological strain, it also deprives him of a parental role model. The child is then likely to develop a very shaky and uncertain self-image and low self-esteem as he has learned that his own psychological well-being is of no importance, or, at the very best, comes a poor second to that of the parent.
EFFECTS CARRIED INTO ADULTHOOD.
The adult who has experienced a childhood such as described above is likely to repress, or shut off from, his emotions as he has learned they will be dismissed as unimportant ( due to the fact that they were invalidated by the parent). There can be a sense of emotional numbness, or of being ’emotionally dead’.
Such people are likely to be very poor at expressing, or even identifying, their emotions as they were unable to assimilate an ’emotional language’ as they grew up. The loneliness and emotional deprivation they suffered in youth will frequently lead them to deny their own needs as adults.
If the child was expected to fulfil the parent’s emotional needs in youth, at the expense of his own, he is also likely to carry a heavy weight of guilt into adulthood, as well as a deep sense of inadequacy. This is because he was given an impossible task which was thus impossible to succeed at : to be his parent’s parent.
Psychological scars inflicted in such ways may be very severe, leading to much anger and pain in adulthood, in which case an appropriate form of therapy should be given serious consideration.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE (FAHE).