Q- I am college drop out and am struggling with strange experiences since childhood. My mother has schizophrenia and was always in her own world and my grandmother looked after me and her. I do not remember being hugged or cuddled by either of them and have seen my grandmother working consistently, complaining and worrying. Often, I was the target of her outburst. In school, I never had friends and would feel comfortable being with myself. I feel something is missing and do not know how to sort myself out. Once, in Grade 7 I was referred to a counsellor, but I felt odd and did not talk to her- ST
Dear ST, It takes a lot of courage to share your story and having the clarity that there is something amiss and you need help. I really appreciate your first step. A childhood bereft of emotional bonding and loving care, is indeed lonely and hard. However, your ability to connect your present distress to your experiences and being aware of it, highlights the possibility of better times to come. Emotional Neglect is a parent’s or caregiver’s failure to act.
It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. In your case, your mother’s illness did not let her feel and express her natural maternal instincts and it appears that your grandmother was overwhelmed with responsibilities and stress of being the only support to two dependents. Emotional neglect is generally unrecognized by the child until symptoms begin to appear in adulthood, as happened with you. The ideal response for you would be to seek one on one psychotherapy. Although, it was difficult for you to share with your counsellor earlier in school, but with present realization of something amiss; it would become easier to share and get support.
However, till you take the appointment and begin with identifying your feelings and needs. Try to label the exact feeling and list your strengths. Plan and work out the connection of your strengths with your goals or needs. Take one small step at a time and spend time doing constructive activities that make you feel good, such as exercise, a sport, a hobby, or volunteering at a place that interests you. Remember, your feelings matter! All these activities would provide opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. Make sure to have regular short and sweet conversations with people, gradually it would get easier and longer.
The more you focus on constructive, healthy ways of self-care, you would soon begin to experience the feelings. Try sharing your grandmother’s work load and help her in domestic chores, sharing domestic expenses through your income (if none, take a part time job) and your mother’s care.
Q -I am a mother of a nine months old baby. My husband’s job keeps him out of town for days and sometimes the whole week. Since my son’s birth; I have been unable to sleep due to his disturbed sleep at night. He has started to sleep for most of the night for past 3 to 4 months but somehow my sleep is lost! I am unable to have a sound sleep since then. It takes me hours of tossing and turning before I fall asleep and often the fear of my son waking up to disturb my sleep weighs heavy on my mind. When I get up in the morning on my son’s cry or movement; it is a struggle. In fact, the entire day I feel tired; until again the night when I am unable to sleep. I am scared to take sleeping pills, as the doctor has prescribed. -AT
Dear AT, It appears that you are stressed out due to single-handedly raising your infant. The good part is that he is grown out of the stage of inconsistent or short sleep patterns and now has a regular time of sleep and waking up. Please try to match your baby’s sleep time with yours. The prescription could be discussed with the doctor by raising your concerns of side effects or other aspects. Along with that, you can try psychotherapy and discuss the reasons for stress, the fears you have regarding your son’s night time waking, etc. Meanwhile, try a few of the following tips; such as spending the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading, listening to meditative music, avoiding electronics, doing some physical exercise during the day.
DISCLAIMER: The answers given in this column are not to be taken as a professional psychotherapy service. It is completely educational in nature. Please note that each individual’s situation is different and one must consult a therapist for psychotherapy service or advice.
Rima Sehgal PhD