Stop Starving Yourself – Emotional Deprivation

Well it’s Monday again. Seems pretty inevitable doesn’t it? I’m actually in a pretty good mood this morning… good, bordering on hypomanic good haha. Anyways. I hope you all enjoyed my Guest Post last week. This week I’ll be getting back into my more in depth look into the schemas.
Emotional Deprivation
Typical Presentation of the Schema
This is probably the most common schema treated even though patients frequently do not recognize that they have it. People with this schema often enter treatment feeling lonely, bitter, and depressed, but usually don’t know why; or they present with vague or unclear symptoms that later prove to be related to the Emotional Deprivation schema. These people do not expect others – including the therapist – to nurture, understand, or protect them. They feel emotionally deprived, and may feel that they do not get enough affection and warmth, attention, or deep emotions expressed. They may feel that no one is there who can give them strength and guidance. Such patients may feel misunderstood and alone in the world. They may feel cheated of love, invisible, or empty.
As mentioned before, there are three types of deprivation:
1.      Deprivation of Nurturance: in which patients feel that no one is there to hold them, pay attention to them, and give them physical affection, such as touch and holding.
2.      Deprivation of Empathy: in which they feel that no one is there who really listens or tries to understand who they are and how they feel.
3.      Deprivation of Protection: In which they feel that no one is there to protect and guide them (even though they are often giving others a lot of protection and guidance – This is often related to the Self-Sacrifice schema.)
I feel all three of these almost constantly. Even when I’m surrounded by people I know and that I (cognitively) ‘know’ care for me, I feel alone; emotionally separate. I believe I’m too different to relate to, too weird to be inoffensive, too new to have any real connection… and what’s more, I can’t actually allow people to see that I need these things because it will undermine my strength.
Typical behaviors exhibited by people with the schema include not asking significant others for what they need emotionally; not expressing a desire for love or comfort; focusing on asking the other person questions but saying little about oneself; acting stronger than one feels underneath; and in other ways reinforcing the deprivation by acting as though they do not have emotional needs. Because these patients do not expect emotional support, they do not ask for it; consequently, usually they do not get it.

Hugs do a body good

I think it’s important to add that, yes, this is typical, but it’s typical because we often don’t even know what it is we should be asking for. How do you ask someone to show that they love you when you’re not sure what it looks like when someone does offer you this? I always act stronger. I don’t think this is all an act though. I am strong. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve build up my base, my core, and my defenses. I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I do have a lot of strength. However, because I don’t want people to find the cracks in my armor, find the weak points that are more vulnerable (because in the back of my mind it’s only a matter of time before these points are attacked) I refuse to let people know that there’s something I’m missing emotionally. I definitely see this problem of needing something, but by not allowing others to see that I need it, kind of self-sabotaging my ability to be open and receptive to the thing that it is I need.
Another tendency is choosing significant others who cannot or do not want to give emotionally. They often choose people who are cold, aloof, self-centered, or needy, and therefore likely to deprive them emotionally. Other, more avoidant, people become loners. They avoid intimate relationships because they do not expect to get anything from them anyways. Either they stay in very distant relationships or avoid relationships entirely.
::laughs:: I’m the queen of choosing emotionally unavailable significant others. Abusive narcissists, married men, polyamorous women…. Bluntly… people that will always have someone else as a priority. I tend to alternate between wanting to try, and that expectation that I won’t get anything from people anyways and spend long periods being actually alone.
People who overcompensate for emotional deprivation tend to be overly demanding and become angry when their needs are not met. These patients are sometimes narcissistic: Because they were both indulged and deprived as children, they have developed strong feelings of entitlement to get their needs met. They believe they must be adamant in their demands to get anything at all. A minority of patients with the Emotional Deprivation schema were indulged in other ways as children: They were spoiled materially, not required to follow normal rules of behavior, or adored for some talent or give, but they were not given genuine love (this is often associated with people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder because often people with Borderline PD were not given enough attention when they were young).
Another tendency in a small percentage of people with this schema is to be overly needy. Some people express so many needs so intensely that they come across as clinging or helpless, even histrionic (Histrionic Personality Disorder). They may have many physical complaints – psychosomatic symptoms – with the secondary gain of getting people to pay attention o them and take care of them (although this f unction is almost always outside their awareness).
Goals in Treatment
One major goal of treatment is to help patients become aware of their emotional needs. It may feel so natural to them to have their emotional needs go unmet that they are not even aware that something is wrong. Another goal is to help patients accept that their emotional needs are natural and right. Every child needs nurturance, empathy, and protection, and, as adults, we still need these things.  If patients can learn how to choose appropriate people and then ask for what they need in appropriate ways, then other people will give to them emotionally. It is not that other people are inherently depriving; it’s that people with this schema have learned behaviors that either lead them to choose people who cannot give, or dis courage people who can give from meeting their needs.
This is definitely something I need to work on, am working on. It’s not easy. Often it feels like prying open steel reinforced vault doors with your bare hands. One inch at a time. But even slowly, things do eventually begin to budge.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
Many patients never realized they were missing something, even though they had s symptoms of missing something. Patients need to get in touch with their Lonely Child part and recognize that this is connected to the problem. It’s important to find a safe way to express their anger and pain to the depriving parent. Listing all their unmet emotional needs in childhood and what they wish the parent had done to meet each need is important to recognize.
Cognitively it is important to change the exaggerated sense that significant others are acting selfishly or depriving them on purpose (if this isn’t the case). To counter the “black or white” thinking that fuels overreactions, the patient learns to discriminate gradations of deprivation – to see a continuum rather than just two opposing poles – Even though other people set limits on what they give, they still care about the patient.
This is something I have a really hard time with. I usually either feel like someone cares about me completely in the moment, or doesn’t remember me at all… and therefore doesn’t care about me. If I’m not in their presence I can’t even really understand how they remember me, let alone continue to care for me. And if they aren’t able to give as much in return as I am willing to give to them, then to me it seems like they must not really care that much at all. I’m working on seeing those ‘grey’ areas; the in between shades where people can care, even if they have other things going on and cannot be focused on me exclusively.
I’ve found it to be a really helpful (though occasionally painful) exercise to think about my parents, or significant others, and write down the things that they didn’t do, or did wrong, and how I wish things had gone, or what I think I really needed.
Behaviorally, this helps people learn to choose nurturing partners (because it enables you to recognize the patterns you need to avoid in people) and friends. It becomes possible to ask partners to meet emotional needs in appropriate ways and accept nurturance from significant others. Patients learn to stop avoiding intimacy. They stop responding with excessive anger to mild levels of deprivation and withdrawing or isolating when they feel neglected by others. It’s important for the person to learn that people have limitations and to tolerate some (normal!) level of deprivation, while appreciating the nurturing that can be provided.
Special Problems with this Schema
The most common problem is that people with this schema are so frequently unaware of it. Even though Emotional Deprivation is one of the three most common schemas, people often do not know that they have it. Because they never got their emotional needs met, patients often do not even realize that they have unmet emotional needs. Thus, helping patients make a connection between their depression, loneliness, or physical symptoms on the one hand, and the absence of nurturing, empathy, and protection on the other is very important.
People with this schema often negate the validity of their emotional needs. They deny that their needs are important or worthwhile, or they believe that strong people do not have needs. They consider it bad or weak to ask others to meet their needs and have trouble accepting that there is a Lonely Child inside them who want love and connection, both from the therapist and from significant others in the outside world.
This is me.  Underlined for emphasis, maybe with a couple dozen exclamation marks at the end. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that I have going on. Here on my blog, I am very vocal of my feelings and problems, you see my inner turmoil pretty clearly. In the real world, you would never know. I hide all of this. Growing up I was told to stifle and get over any upsetting feelings and emotions. The time when I really could have used emotional comfort I was told to repress and not express these needs. I learned to bury them, hide them. These things made me weak, and bad. I still feel like this. I don’t know how to ask for emotional support. I believe that if I do others will judge me, and think I’m weak, undermine my ability to take care of myself and manage the important aspects that I value. I can’t figure out what is ok to ask of others, if in fact, it’s ok to ask others for anything. Coupled with the fact that I need it so badly, the frustration bubbling below my calm exterior is maddening. I’m always at odds with how I feel… and how I feel I need to present myself.
Similarly, people with this schema may believe that significant others should know what they need, and that they should not have to ask. All of these beliefs work against the patient’s ability to ask others to meet his or her needs. These patients need to learn that it is human to have needs, and healthy to ask others to meet them. It is human nature to be emotionally vulnerable. What we aim for in life is a balance between strength and vulnerability, so that sometimes we are strong and other times we are vulnerable. To only have one side – to only be strong – is to be not fully human and to deny a core part of ourselves.
This is so important to remember. I, we, want to be whole people. Whole, healthy, people. It’s ok to be vulnerable sometimes with people that it is safe to be vulnerable with. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that you are not strong. It just means that you are human.

3 comments on “Stop Starving Yourself – Emotional Deprivation

  1. What I find interesting is the fact that we are attracted to certain people without knowing right off the bat they are emotionally unavailable or otherwise unable to give us what we need.. it's like we have a magnet for them!!

  2. I know! Either they're only projecting the better aspects of their personality at first to hide who they are, or our eyes aren't as open as we think. I'm betting it's a combination of both though.

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