How to overcome devastating impact of unmet emotional needs

unmet emotional needs
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Many of us had our physical needs met in childhood while suffering with unmet emotional needs. It’s only recently that the epidemic of childhood emotional neglect has been acknowledged, so most of us have suffered in silence.

The problem with unmet emotional needs is that they’re less tangible than physical neglect or emotional abuse. We may not realize how we suffered as we try to understand why we sabotage ourselves on a daily basis.

The sad result is self-blame that perpetuates the idea we have a fatal flaw. Meanwhile our parents and caregivers escape accountability and often join in pointing the finger at us.

But, you’re not living a less than ideal life because there’s something wrong with you. More often than not, it’s a result of the way you were treated growing up.

Unmet emotional needs have a devastating impact on your future relationships and quality of life. If you never received comfort or security from caregivers, you had to find a way to give them to yourself.

Unmet emotional needs have a devastating impact on your future relationships and quality of life. Click To Tweet

But, what worked in childhood becomes maladaptive in adulthood. By then, the patterns are literally engraved as our brains have been rewired to work against us.

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Here are 10 examples of unmet emotional needs followed by how to get those needs met now.

1. Acceptance

If you felt unloved or love depended on you performing well or not making mistakes, you have unmet emotional needs for acceptance.

As an adult you’ll have trouble believing anyone would love you for who you are and that you have to earn their acceptance.

2. Affection

Were you shown affection through the closeness of appropriate physical touch? If not, you may cut yourself off from this need as a way of avoiding the intense pain of that deprivation.

You become aloof and distant, telling yourself you don’t need physical closeness. You shut down your emotions and feel uncomfortable with intimacy. Or go the other way and feel very needy.

3. Attention

If your parents or caregivers showed little or no interest in you, you’ll suffer with the unmet emotional need of attention. You’ll try to find other ways to receive that attention like acting out in negative ways.

4. Affirmation

Affirmation is a verbal declaration that you matter and are loved and accepted. It tells you that you are someone of worth and value.

Without statements of affirmation, you’ll believe you have no inherent value. You will try to prove your worth through accomplishment or people pleasing.

5. Security

If you did not feel safe or protected in your family, you’ll suffer from the unmet emotional need of security.

You will experience an excessive amount of fear and expend a lot of energy defending against perceived threats.

unmet emotional needs
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6. Comfort

This is the need to feel like you can go to someone for soothing when times are difficult. Rather than giving a reprimand or a lecture, they will come alongside you and do what they can to help you feel better.

If your need for comfort went unmet, you would have learned unhealthy self-soothing behaviors. As a young child, I used to suck my thumb, for example.

As an adult, these coping mechanisms become more damaging and include binge eating, drug and alcohol abuse, and behavioral addictions such as shopping and gambling.

7. Encouragement

Encouragement spurs us forward and inspires us to achieve healthy goals. It keeps us determined even in the face of initial failure.

Without it, we lose hope and give up more easily because we feel our achievements don’t matter. As adults, we’ll have trouble knowing when to switch off and won’t feel the pleasure of a job well done.

Without encouragement, we lose hope and give up more easily because we feel our achievements don't matter. Click To Tweet

8. Support

This is the feeling that someone is on your side. When carrying a burden, you have the sense you are not alone, that someone will help you bear it.

9. Appreciation

Appreciation means letting you know that what you do is valued. It means showing gratitude for your contributions and accomplishments. It means recognizing how hard you worked to achieve a goal.

10. Respect

Respect becomes more important as we grow older. We want to be treated as though we have worth and value and that our opinions matter even when they don’t line up with the family’s.

How to overcome the impact of unmet emotional needs

If you’ve suffered with unmet emotional needs, you likely have trouble forming supportive and connected relationships. You may isolate instead of reaching out when you have problems.

It’s understandable because people can be highly triggering for those of us who experienced emotional neglect in childhood. We may have poor boundaries and feel unable to stand up for ourselves due to never being taught our true worth and value.

If your parents failed to protect or support you, you’ll struggle to give yourself that same courtesy as an adult. To someone with a healthy upbringing, however, self-preservation comes naturally and feels like “home” to them.

The best way to begin to release the pain of unmet emotional needs is to acknowledge the pain! We spend so much energy avoiding and covering up the pain when what we need to do is sit with it.

The best way to begin to release the pain of unmet emotional needs is to acknowledge the pain! Click To Tweet

When we let the pain come to the surface rather than smothering it with binge-eating or other maladaptive coping mechanisms, we begin to heal.

Such awareness can feel excruciating at first and you might enlist the help of a qualified supporter. Journaling your pain and allowing yourself to experience your emotions rather than push them away will help you on the road to healing.

Reaching out to others instead of isolating is essential. If your current circle can’t provide comfort, develop new relationships based on honesty and mutual support and connection.

It won’t happen overnight but life will improve if you’re brave enough to step outside your comfort zone. It might mean finding a support group who shares your desire to overcome. The structured environment will give you a safe place to heal without the usual triggers.

Resource: Healing and Restoring the Heart by Denise Boggs

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