The long-lasting impact of parenting style on the HSP child

Today, I want to share an article that resonated with me very much so, for the main part, I want to direct you to that article. By way of an introduction, I want to ask any of you that identify as a Highly Sensitive Person (especially those who struggle with emotional, health or other issues, even ADHD-like traits, as an adult, in spite of all your efforts to meet life’s challenges), have you considered that you may have grown up with emotional neglect? Dare you even consider it or say it outloud because, perhaps like me, you may have grown up in an otherwise “normal” and loving, supportive family, so to even consider this seems inflammatory, ungrateful and wrong, out of love and respect for your family. In fact, this might be the last rock a person dares to look under for answers, out of strong feelings of loyalty to family and precious childhood memories. So let’s be clear here, you’re not saying your parents were “bad”, just that you are wired differently to others in your family and its time to explore the profound impact that has had on your life.

In my case, I was always supported to the enth degree and had all I physically needed, but there was this whole other, massive, layer of my subjective experience that quite simply defined who I was (and still does) yet which was not made room for or given outlet to explore, so I learned to act as though it wasn’t welcome in the world and tried to handle my traumas myself, learning very early-on in my life not to ask for help (a pattern that continues). My strong feelings weren’t acknowledged or, at worst, were made fun of, though they were intense and all consuming, so that left a massive part of me feeling invalidated whist I learned to live in this other alien territory, where suppression of emotions was apparently the name of the game.

So, if you are an HSP, that neglect can come as a result of a simple miscompute between your needs and those of other family members. Put simply, the emotional language of your parents or siblings may have been (may still be…) completely at odds with your own language and, meanwhile, some or all of your siblings may seem to be fine with the same parenting style that left you feeling bereft or abandoned at times, even having to deny or coach yourself out of having your own natural emotional responses as though they were “wrong” as you matured, simply because your tribe are not HSPs and don’t relate to the depth of emotional experience you bring to the table.

You may tell yourself you got better at coping and had no more challenges than your brothers or sisters when growing up but, underneath the veneer of hardening up to life, unresolved issues may lurk from the fact your own emotional needs were left unmet or even denied at an early age. Add to this the fact there was no one around that seemed to experience the world as intensely as you do from whom you could learn tactics for coping as a role model for your later life-experiences. In short, no one else around you seemed to feel things as deeply or intensely as you did and perhaps you even assumed that you were in the wrong for being wired this way, laying the foundations for believing you are in some way “broken”, meanwhile feeling highly overstimulated by the loud and busy environment of your family. If that pattern is allowed to continue, you may deny and invalidate your own emotional needs for decades, in other relationships, jobs and so on, leading to a pattern of abuse that is, in a sense, self-perpetuated, all because an HSP way of being wasn’t modelled or supported in your childhood, leaving you feeling like a deer brought up by (well-meaning) bears.

In the words of Andre Sólo in the attached article:

That’s because emotions are, in many ways, an HSP’s first language. And an emotionally neglectful family doesn’t speak that language. While the parents certainly have emotions of their own, they avoid expressing them outwardly or acknowledging the emotions of others. It’s like they completely divorce themselves from the most important part of their HSP child’s inner life.

At best, growing up as an HSP in an emotionally neglectful household is like being a musician in a world with no music. In other cases, it’s much worse — it’s the equivalent of having parents who actively tell you that your music is bad.

Whilst not meant in any ill-intentioned way, the effects of this can have far-reaching results in the life of the HSP, long into adulthood, to which I can strongly relate. The article does a great job of outling all the effects this can have and what can be done about it so I won’t repeat it all here. Some of the key recovery tactics, which I can again relate to, include identifying yourself as an HSP and learning to own and then live with the trait by educating yourself and others around you that you have it. Also, learning how to express needs, set boundaries and self-soothe, all of which are covered in the article below. There’s no shame in being an HSP and you aren’t “wrong” or “broken”, in fact it comes with many gifts but the first stage of reaping them is to accept that you are one and then dive all the many resources that are now available (some listed below, others in my HSP resource page above) so that you can get to know and support yourself better.

Here’s the article I’m referring you to – What Happens When a Highly Sensitive Person Grows Up with Emotional Neglect, Andre Sólo.

Here’s some great resources that I’ve found extremely valuable:

Julie Bjelland, Empowering Highly Sensitive People – courses and resources

Highly-Sensitive Refuge

CEN questionnaire, Dr Jonice Webb – “The way you are treated emotionally by your parents determines how you will treat yourself as an adult. This has been proven over and over again in study after study” However “CEN is often subtle, invisible and unmemorable.So how do you know you have it?” Take the questionnaire then plunge these resources. It can often be the missing link on the road to recovery. In fact her book “Running on Empty” focuses more on what didn’t happen in your childhood than what did as arguably one of the most powerful influencers of your life.

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