'In an effort to fill the emotional void inside, we will either turn to substances to numb the pain (drugs, tobacco, alcohol, medication, food etc) or distract ourselves with external habits such as shopping, extreme sports, over-working - anything which takes our attention off ourselves so we don't have to recognize, acknowledge and feel the excruciating emotional hurt buried in our heart'.
Recently I went to see 'Rocketman' - the real-life story about Elton John's life. It's a powerful film which moved me deeply.
I had imagined the film would primarily be a chronology of his career (which it was), but it was so much more than this, diving deeply into the effects his childhood had on his life.
Strangely enough, I had forgotten I grew up (in the same era), literally round the corner from Sir Elton in Middlesex, UK; he in Pinner, me in the next suburb of Northwood Hills. It was both comforting and odd to see the familiar streets and houses on screen, which looked so similar we could have grown up in the same cul-de-sac.
His audition at the Royal Academy of Music brought back memories of the day I was driven up to that very same institution for my own audition, which I completely blew with fear and nerves: I was picked up from school, bundled into the car and driven up to London without being told why or where we were going, finding myself deposited at the Royal Academy of Music for a surprise piano audition! Unprepared and overwhelmed, I completely flunked it, was promptly admonished by my Mother and returned to school with my tail between my legs. It wasn't until many years later that I understood how this event was just another example of the many ACE's I unknowingly experienced, and the impact they had on the rest of my life.
Which brings me back to the subject of what we are talking about here: the silent but devastating impact of ACE's (adverse childhood experiences or events) and CEN (childhood emotional neglect) on the formation of our sense of self and wellbeing.
CEN is defined as a "subtle, often invisible childhood experience that happens when your parents or caregivers fail to notice or respond to your feelings enough".*
I have spent the last 35 years exploring this topic, both for myself, and my clients, whose symptoms of chronic illness (CFS, ME, fibromyalgia, PVFS, EBV, IBS and more) ALL (bar none) stem from a variety of adverse childhood experiences (ACE's) and CEN (childhood emotional neglect).
As CEN expert Dr Jonice Webb says "In all of my years as a psychologist, I have never seen anything so seemingly innocuous, yet so powerfully damaging as the simple failure of your parents to notice or respond to what you are feeling as they are raising you. It’s a “simple failure” that becomes a part of your everyday life forever".
The backbone of the film Rocketman is the portrayal of the lack of emotional love and demonstrative affection from Sir Elton's parents, driving him later to extremes of drinking and drugs in an unconscious effort to numb the pain of hurt and rejection which he had swallowed deep inside.
This was poignantly portrayed in two key scenes:
Firstly when as a young boy he asked his Father 'when are you going to hug me', his request promptly being dismissed and being told not to be 'soft'.
And later in the moving scene as he witnessed the love his Father overtly demonstrated to his younger step-brothers, which he himself had craved but never received; watching him stifle his tears as he drove away from his Father's house left me with a lump in my throat as I recalled the attention my own brother received whilst I was often left feeling completely ignored and unseen.
I do not say this to bring out the violins, but to help people recognize and understand the devastating and often very under-acknowledged effects of CEN and ACE's.
As part of my own journey to heal and in my work as an emotional healing therapist, I have done much training and study on the impact of a lack of emotional nurturing and support on the human psyche in the formative years of life:
During the first 18 months of a child's life, there is a set of so-called 'developmental' needs which need to be met in order for a person to develop a healthy sense of self. There are also a set of 'emotional' needs which need to be fulfilled by the age of 7. The extent to which these developmental and emotional needs are met, or not, determines our sense of self, self-esteem, self-worth, self-value and self-love. In turn, this sense of self determines what we feel we deserve in life (love, success, happiness etc), underpinning our beliefs which in turn drive our thoughts, habits, actions and behaviours.
These emotional needs need to be met and then ongoingly fulfilled throughout our whole life, but if they are not fundamentally met in those first formative years, we will spend the rest of our life trying to fill them in a variety of often unhealthy ways:
In an effort to fill the emotional void inside, we will either turn to substances to numb the pain (drugs, tobacco, alcohol, medication, food etc) or distract ourselves with external habits such as shopping, extreme sports, over-working - anything which takes our attention off ourselves so we don't have to recognize, acknowledge, feel and clear the excruciating emotional hurt stored in our heart.
My personal survival habit was comfort-eating: I would silently escape from the house and walk to the local shops to bury my sorrows in mars bars, twixes and crisps. Or during tea break at school I would sneak a double serving of doughnut, my body craving the sweetness of sugar in an attempt to fulfill the sweetness of love it unknowingly and desperately needed.
In Chinese medicine, the organ of 'sweetness' is the Spleen, which naturally needs the taste of sweetness to stay in physiological balance. The Spleen (and Pancreas) are the 'earth' element in the Chinese medicine '5 elemental cycle of nature', forming a pivot around which the other 4 elements (fire, water, wood and metal) revolve.
The Spleen corresponds energetically and emotionally with 'mother earth, feeling earthed, safe, mothered and supported': if we do not feel 'mothered', nurtured or emotionally supported, our spleen will lose balance, and crave and seek to fulfill this sweetness in other ways. This is why many people with spleen-pancreas issues (for example diabetes) often have a habit of craving sugar, which in itself is usually an unconscious attempt to fill an unmet emotional need for love.
These emotional needs have been called 'Human Givens' by the Human Givens Institute because the need for human love is such an essential component for a healthy human life. The point here is they are called 'Givens' rather than 'Needs' because they simply must be met in order for us to have any hope of feeling good about ourselves.
In other words, in order to feel authentically happy we MUST experience human love, and this experience needs to be 'wired' into our system at a cellular level. This wiring only comes as a result of experiencing repeated nurturing behaviour from adults and caregivers around us as we grow up, including nurturing touch, hugs, kind words, validation, appreciation, safety and more.
If we do not experience this human love and affection, we will come to believe there is something 'wrong' with us, that we have done something wrong or we are 'bad'. Then we unconsciously store the feelings of rejection and hurt inside of us (literally in our heart, and other organs), where they lie and fester for years, but do not disappear unless and until they are fully recognized and healed, because 'feelings buried alive never die'.
Instead of love, we then experience self-hatred and self-rejection, as we turn these feelings of self-disgust in on ourselves (the process of which I describe in the video 'how childhood abuse turns into self-abuse').
The film beautifully portrays Elton John facing his past during his AA meetings, the crowning moment of glory finally being able to 'hug' and give his inner child the love he always wanted. Was there a dry eye in the house watching that final scene?
How much 'poetic licence' there is in the film the average person may never know, but I am deeply grateful for this film's portrayal and bringing to light of the very real effects on children of ACE's and CEN, and how when we don't feel loved and nurtured growing up, it affects every thought, belief, action and result we see in our life.
The solution, as beautifully portrayed in the film, is to understand and recognize the truth of what has happened to us, and then do the work necessary to heal those wounded parts of ourselves. This is no easy task, but with patience, perseverance, support and much self-love it can be done.
Introduction to Emotional Mastery - understanding how unresolved unhappiness and trapped emotions cause anxiety, loneliness, depression and chronic illness
Emotional Health Transformation - how to transform the stress and trapped emotions which underpin chronic illness
Emotional Alchemy Foundation Training - Understand the core emotional needs of a human being and the hidden intelligence of emotions. Includes emotional needs assessment to determine how much your needs were or were not met in childhood.
** Human Givens Institute https://www.hgi.org.uk/
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