Through fog: An autoethnography of childhood emotional neglect.
Childhood emotional neglect is increasingly recognised as significant and widespread, potentially linked to adult depression and anxiety, yet it remains hidden, poorly understood, ill-defined, foggy. Less widely researched than other forms of child maltreatment, emotional neglect has largely been neglected. The literature tends towards measures of prevalence, or predicted outcomes; at the other extreme are purely subjective personal misery stories.
My autoethnography blends autobiography, my own story, with ethnography, the story of a group of 12 participants. Unstructured interviews capture nuanced stories of emotional neglect, and I use my subjective experience to examine the stories in their social, cultural and historical context. Blurring boundaries between research and creative writing, I aim to elicit a visceral response: don’t just hear this story, really feel it.
Thematic analysis of the data reveals common themes: feeling unloved, unwanted; unseen, unheard, invisible; feeling disconnected, aloneness; a lack of joy. Taught in childhood that our feelings don’t matter, it’s hard in adulthood to recognise and attend to them. Blamed for childhood upsets, “What’s wrong with you?” becomes, “It must be me.” Taught not to have needs, not to make a fuss, not to inconvenience anyone, it’s hard to ask for help, or recognise we need it. We’re left confused, alone; if our own parents don’t want us, don’t love us, can’t enjoy us, won’t listen to our story, who will?
Participants tell the sociocultural context of their childhoods: hospital practices and child-rearing fashions that damaged infant attachment; emotionally distant parenting handed down the generations; pressures of work and home life, or our parents’ own unmet childhood needs, that left them unable to love and enjoy us.
Childhood emotional neglect is widespread, causes far-reaching harm, yet lacks clear definition, and remains under-researched. It’s time to tell this story; it’s time to come out of the fog.
|Publication Date||Jun 1, 2019|