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Emotional neglect in marriages


This is a topic I'm extremely passionate about. Those who know me, know that any form of mistreatment/harm to a human being, especially women and children, I'm deeply passionate about.

Unfortunately, going by people's responses when you bring it up and even just how women are taught generally about marriage, it's a topic our Zambian society doesn't see as anything serious, yet it is a HUGE SILENT KILLER! To make it worse, even some professional and Christian counselors dismiss the reality of this issue.

Emotional neglect occurs when there is a repeated pattern of ignoring, minimizing, or disregarding someone’s emotional needs. An individual's affectional needs are consistently disregarded, ignored, invalidated, or unappreciated by a significant other.

This is an extremely painful experience, and over time, can cause negative impacts on the individual's mental health, self-esteem, and ability to form close, healthy relationships.

Emotional abandonment or neglect is, “other people not meeting your emotional needs, leaving you feeling rejected, unloved, or painfully lonely,” explains Kibby McMahon, PhD, a clinical psychologist and co-host of the podcast “A Little Help for Our Friends.”

  • If you are experiencing these things in your relationship, please know that you are being neglected emotionally, and IT IS NOT OKAY:
  • Having one’s feelings repeatedly minimized, dismissed, or ignored.
  • Being mocked, teased, criticized or kukuonelamo (can't think of the English equivalent right now) for opening up or being vulnerable.
  • Not being allowed to fully express yourself in different ways; being told you are too much.
  • Being held to unrelenting standards, even during hardships.
  • Having hardships, painful experiences or even joyful experiences discounted or downplayed.
  • Being refused/denied affection, validation, or warmth from a loved one (often a reason why many feel lonely)
  • Being ridiculed for asking for help or support from other people.
  • Being expected to tolerate unfair treatment or disrespect without complaint.
  • Having emotional needs described or treated as unimportant or childish.
  • Getting cold, detached, or apathetic responses from a loved one.
  • Repeatedly having important requests ignored or disregarded.
  • A lack of positive interactions, intimacy, or closeness in a romantic relationship.

As a society, we seriously need to start talking about emotional neglect and its far reaching effects.

Some effects of emotional neglect I found on the Internet, which corroborate with what I've seen on the ground myself, not just during my work as a counselor, but even in life generally are:

1. Higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts plus other psychiatric disorders.
2. More frequent negative emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and fear.
3. Higher risk for substance use disorders and addictions.
4. Low self-esteem, high self-doubt, or a lack of confidence.
5. Trust issues and difficulty forming close and healthy relationships.
6. Internalizing or suppressing emotions and difficulty opening up to people.
7. More trouble regulating emotions, having uncontrolled outbursts
8. Poor boundaries, social skills, and difficulty asking for or accepting help
9. A negative self-image or high levels of self-criticism or negative self-talk
10. Increased likelihood of becoming socially isolated or withdrawn

Over time, emotional neglect can undermine your self-esteem and negatively impact your mental health. Sometimes, it can be corrected through open conversations or with the help of a trained therapist. If things aren’t improving in the relationship, it may be important to set boundaries, find other supports, or even cut ties with someone who can’t or won’t meet your emotional needs.

If this is something you are struggling with, please do not struggle alone. You are NEVER alone. Know that there is a SAFE and EXTREMELY CONFIDENTIAL space available for you to release these pent up emotions.
Do get in touch with us, and we will help you. We offer online Counseling.

Call/WhatsApp: +260975793028

Come ALIVE Movement

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Comments (4)

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Thank you for this timely and highly valuable piece. What you describe in this article is an issue in many of our African communities and sadly, I think at times, embedded in our cultures.

I'm seeing a lot of emotional neglect happen due to internet, phone and gaming addictions.  I'm also seeing that people don't know how to get their needs met and expect that their spouse will meet all of their needs--only compounded when the spouse is addicted/distracted online.  When the spouse doesn't meet all of their needs and they feel neglected, they reach out for internet or technology assisted affairs.  In the end, both end up addicted and miserable.  We need to learn how to meet our needs in healthy ways and break addictions to things that promise to meet our needs, but don't.

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