Monday, October 24, 2011

Stop Starving Yourself - Emotional Deprivation

Well it’s Monday again. Seems pretty inevitable doesn’t it? I’m actually in a pretty good mood this morning… good, bordering on hypomanic good haha. Anyways. I hope you all enjoyed my Guest Post last week. This week I’ll be getting back into my more in depth look into the schemas.

Emotional Deprivation
Typical Presentation of the Schema
This is probably the most common schema treated even though patients frequently do not recognize that they have it. People with this schema often enter treatment feeling lonely, bitter, and depressed, but usually don’t know why; or they present with vague or unclear symptoms that later prove to be related to the Emotional Deprivation schema. These people do not expect others – including the therapist – to nurture, understand, or protect them. They feel emotionally deprived, and may feel that they do not get enough affection and warmth, attention, or deep emotions expressed. They may feel that no one is there who can give them strength and guidance. Such patients may feel misunderstood and alone in the world. They may feel cheated of love, invisible, or empty.
As mentioned before, there are three types of deprivation:
1.      Deprivation of Nurturance: in which patients feel that no one is there to hold them, pay attention to them, and give them physical affection, such as touch and holding.
2.      Deprivation of Empathy: in which they feel that no one is there who really listens or tries to understand who they are and how they feel.
3.      Deprivation of Protection: In which they feel that no one is there to protect and guide them (even though they are often giving others a lot of protection and guidance - This is often related to the Self-Sacrifice schema.)
I feel all three of these almost constantly. Even when I’m surrounded by people I know and that I (cognitively) ‘know’ care for me, I feel alone; emotionally separate. I believe I’m too different to relate to, too weird to be inoffensive, too new to have any real connection… and what’s more, I can’t actually allow people to see that I need these things because it will undermine my strength.
Typical behaviors exhibited by people with the schema include not asking significant others for what they need emotionally; not expressing a desire for love or comfort; focusing on asking the other person questions but saying little about oneself; acting stronger than one feels underneath; and in other ways reinforcing the deprivation by acting as though they do not have emotional needs. Because these patients do not expect emotional support, they do not ask for it; consequently, usually they do not get it.
Hugs do a body good
I think it’s important to add that, yes, this is typical, but it’s typical because we often don’t even know what it is we should be asking for. How do you ask someone to show that they love you when you’re not sure what it looks like when someone does offer you this? I always act stronger. I don’t think this is all an act though. I am strong. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve build up my base, my core, and my defenses. I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I do have a lot of strength. However, because I don’t want people to find the cracks in my armor, find the weak points that are more vulnerable (because in the back of my mind it’s only a matter of time before these points are attacked) I refuse to let people know that there’s something I’m missing emotionally. I definitely see this problem of needing something, but by not allowing others to see that I need it, kind of self-sabotaging my ability to be open and receptive to the thing that it is I need.
Another tendency is choosing significant others who cannot or do not want to give emotionally. They often choose people who are cold, aloof, self-centered, or needy, and therefore likely to deprive them emotionally. Other, more avoidant, people become loners. They avoid intimate relationships because they do not expect to get anything from them anyways. Either they stay in very distant relationships or avoid relationships entirely.
::laughs:: I’m the queen of choosing emotionally unavailable significant others. Abusive narcissists, married men, polyamorous women…. Bluntly… people that will always have someone else as a priority. I tend to alternate between wanting to try, and that expectation that I won’t get anything from people anyways and spend long periods being actually alone.
People who overcompensate for emotional deprivation tend to be overly demanding and become angry when their needs are not met. These patients are sometimes narcissistic: Because they were both indulged and deprived as children, they have developed strong feelings of entitlement to get their needs met. They believe they must be adamant in their demands to get anything at all. A minority of patients with the Emotional Deprivation schema were indulged in other ways as children: They were spoiled materially, not required to follow normal rules of behavior, or adored for some talent or give, but they were not given genuine love (this is often associated with people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder because often people with Borderline PD were not given enough attention when they were young).
Another tendency in a small percentage of people with this schema is to be overly needy. Some people express so many needs so intensely that they come across as clinging or helpless, even histrionic (Histrionic Personality Disorder). They may have many physical complaints – psychosomatic symptoms – with the secondary gain of getting people to pay attention o them and take care of them (although this f unction is almost always outside their awareness).
Goals in Treatment
One major goal of treatment is to help patients become aware of their emotional needs. It may feel so natural to them to have their emotional needs go unmet that they are not even aware that something is wrong. Another goal is to help patients accept that their emotional needs are natural and right. Every child needs nurturance, empathy, and protection, and, as adults, we still need these things.  If patients can learn how to choose appropriate people and then ask for what they need in appropriate ways, then other people will give to them emotionally. It is not that other people are inherently depriving; it’s that people with this schema have learned behaviors that either lead them to choose people who cannot give, or dis courage people who can give from meeting their needs.
This is definitely something I need to work on, am working on. It’s not easy. Often it feels like prying open steel reinforced vault doors with your bare hands. One inch at a time. But even slowly, things do eventually begin to budge.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
Many patients never realized they were missing something, even though they had s symptoms of missing something. Patients need to get in touch with their Lonely Child part and recognize that this is connected to the problem. It’s important to find a safe way to express their anger and pain to the depriving parent. Listing all their unmet emotional needs in childhood and what they wish the parent had done to meet each need is important to recognize.
Cognitively it is important to change the exaggerated sense that significant others are acting selfishly or depriving them on purpose (if this isn’t the case). To counter the “black or white” thinking that fuels overreactions, the patient learns to discriminate gradations of deprivation – to see a continuum rather than just two opposing poles – Even though other people set limits on what they give, they still care about the patient.
This is something I have a really hard time with. I usually either feel like someone cares about me completely in the moment, or doesn’t remember me at all… and therefore doesn’t care about me. If I’m not in their presence I can’t even really understand how they remember me, let alone continue to care for me. And if they aren’t able to give as much in return as I am willing to give to them, then to me it seems like they must not really care that much at all. I’m working on seeing those ‘grey’ areas; the in between shades where people can care, even if they have other things going on and cannot be focused on me exclusively.
I’ve found it to be a really helpful (though occasionally painful) exercise to think about my parents, or significant others, and write down the things that they didn’t do, or did wrong, and how I wish things had gone, or what I think I really needed.
Behaviorally, this helps people learn to choose nurturing partners (because it enables you to recognize the patterns you need to avoid in people) and friends. It becomes possible to ask partners to meet emotional needs in appropriate ways and accept nurturance from significant others. Patients learn to stop avoiding intimacy. They stop responding with excessive anger to mild levels of deprivation and withdrawing or isolating when they feel neglected by others. It’s important for the person to learn that people have limitations and to tolerate some (normal!) level of deprivation, while appreciating the nurturing that can be provided.
Special Problems with this Schema
The most common problem is that people with this schema are so frequently unaware of it. Even though Emotional Deprivation is one of the three most common schemas, people often do not know that they have it. Because they never got their emotional needs met, patients often do not even realize that they have unmet emotional needs. Thus, helping patients make a connection between their depression, loneliness, or physical symptoms on the one hand, and the absence of nurturing, empathy, and protection on the other is very important.
People with this schema often negate the validity of their emotional needs. They deny that their needs are important or worthwhile, or they believe that strong people do not have needs. They consider it bad or weak to ask others to meet their needs and have trouble accepting that there is a Lonely Child inside them who want love and connection, both from the therapist and from significant others in the outside world.
This is me.  Underlined for emphasis, maybe with a couple dozen exclamation marks at the end. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that I have going on. Here on my blog, I am very vocal of my feelings and problems, you see my inner turmoil pretty clearly. In the real world, you would never know. I hide all of this. Growing up I was told to stifle and get over any upsetting feelings and emotions. The time when I really could have used emotional comfort I was told to repress and not express these needs. I learned to bury them, hide them. These things made me weak, and bad. I still feel like this. I don’t know how to ask for emotional support. I believe that if I do others will judge me, and think I’m weak, undermine my ability to take care of myself and manage the important aspects that I value. I can’t figure out what is ok to ask of others, if in fact, it’s ok to ask others for anything. Coupled with the fact that I need it so badly, the frustration bubbling below my calm exterior is maddening. I’m always at odds with how I feel… and how I feel I need to present myself.
Similarly, people with this schema may believe that significant others should know what they need, and that they should not have to ask. All of these beliefs work against the patient’s ability to ask others to meet his or her needs. These patients need to learn that it is human to have needs, and healthy to ask others to meet them. It is human nature to be emotionally vulnerable. What we aim for in life is a balance between strength and vulnerability, so that sometimes we are strong and other times we are vulnerable. To only have one side – to only be strong – is to be not fully human and to deny a core part of ourselves.

This is so important to remember. I, we, want to be whole people. Whole, healthy, people. It’s ok to be vulnerable sometimes with people that it is safe to be vulnerable with. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that you are not strong. It just means that you are human.


  1. I can identify with this. I'm so glad I found your blog.

  2. What I find interesting is the fact that we are attracted to certain people without knowing right off the bat they are emotionally unavailable or otherwise unable to give us what we need.. it's like we have a magnet for them!!

  3. I know! Either they're only projecting the better aspects of their personality at first to hide who they are, or our eyes aren't as open as we think. I'm betting it's a combination of both though.

  4. This is all me. As i am writing this, i am feeling all these things that i read from your blog. The most frustrating thing for me is asking for help. Asking for help has this picture of me looking all helpless and pathetic in front of other people. Asking for help = weak and overly sensitive being. But in fact when i cant ask for help (or for love of god dont know how to ask), i get more frustrated and out of control. And when somebody does offer me help, i want them to help me my ways. It sounds really terrible. And i know there is real me somewhere in there that wants rest of the world to also see.
    i feel misunderstood a lot, especially by my boyfriend. he thinks i am sick but i dont think he knows what exactly. I know, and i don't know how to tell me b.c it all sounds whiny cry baby shit in my head. when that is the case, how can i make him understand. he tries to help me but his help always seem like attack (at the time it is happening) to me. how can you tell someone you are emotionally deprived after 6 years of being together?

    Thanks for the blog. It helped me feel like i am not alone. Actually this is something i tend to forget a lot. i feel like i am all alone with my problems but the thing is suffering is part of life. Everybody is suffering and suffering the same.

    1. You're not alone ::hugs::

      Asking for help is very difficult. I know exactly how you feel. The best thing I can tell you is to start small. You're going to be continuously frustrated if you never ask, and afraid of being frustrated if you do. It's a lose-lose situation. The best thing I think you can do, is to tell someone that you need something, but before you can ask, try to help them understand why it's so hard for you to ask. Give them the chance to show you that your fears or not real. It requires some trust. Which is really scary, but it can also be very worth it. If you don't try to communicate what's going on, you won't be able to feel better.

  5. I really identify with what youve written - Thankyou!

    I didnt know people hugged until i was 12 - i went round to someones house and the first thing she did was hug her mum - id never seen anything like it! Now its been so long i dont think im capable, Im 45 with a dead relationship it took me too long to get out of behind me - neither of us could connect - we stayed in the same house without communicating for years - ive no children and a dwindling aging excuse of a family that never talks and will never be capable of doing, my sisters a mess too- taken several overdoses over the years i try to help her but its hard bacause all she can see is herself ie everything is about her as is the nature i suppose of her illness, ive been there for other people , helped in many ways but it never results in real friendship i just seem to get used and even stabbed in the back for my efforts - so have no friends only acquaintances - i dont think im capable of connecting to another human being, like you said a steal reinforced door - but its tearing me apart inside and i feel im slowly losing it, i feel i cant accuse/get answers from my parents - my dad died years ago and my mums 82 and not in fanatastic health - although im so angry that she just ignored my childhood suffering - (being meddled with by a couple of family 'friends' and bullied for being an ugly kid - it would be obvious to any normal family something was wrong- a child completely withdrawn and living in her bedroon for years) - i need help before i lose everything and other things suffer - is there a particular area/type of counsellor i should seek?

  6. Wow, I feel I learned a lot about myself reading that. Do you have any sources for further reading?

  7. I feel so fortunate to have found your blog today. So helpful and touching. You are my "sister". So along with other things I've learned on this subject, I think it is reasonable at least to conclude that this state of being is a natural result of(a child)having to contend with poor emotional environment for whatever reason, during the time of foundational childhood.

    Coincidentally, I let my supportive/considerate therapist know yesterday that I was thinking lately that I was pretty sure I had some strong borderline features.- Based on my internal emotional life that I've been aware of for decades, but not able to share because it's too raw to reveal. Fortunately, I found this therapist and I feel safe and I am committed to taking this path. I think he had already arrived at my conclusion about the borderline me.

  8. Thank you. I am crying as I read this because it articulates perfectly my inner world. I only discovered that I had this schema today. I was always more attuned to the abandonment schema. I hope you are able to express and have your emotional needs met- so important. ;o).

  9. Thanks for posting this, it's useful information.

    I have been told I have this schema. I didn't really agree for a long time but in the last few weeks I'm starting to see it very clearly. I had a boyfriend six years ago that wasn't my usual 'emotional unavailable' or just 'person I don't even like that much' typical choice. He was the opposite. For a short period of time I did not feel lonely, but in the end we split up. I don't love him anymore - he's a stranger to me now, we didn't stay in touch - but I'm still suffering a lot of pain from the loss of the connection we had that I haven't had with anyone else. When I look back it seems unreal because I'd never experienced that before, and I'm almost starting to think I made it up! It's very difficult to imagine that I could ever feel anything like it again. My goal in schema therapy is to start believing that I could experience love. It seems like there's a long way to go, though.

  10. I can relate to most of this. Thank you for sharing. Wish I could open up and talk and express myself here. I don't know why it's so hard for me to do that.

    1. Part of the beauty of the internet is that you can maintain a certain anonymity and therefore safety. Take a peek into the Forum. You may find a welcoming environment for expressing yourself there.

  11. Some Guy Passing ByAugust 12, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    Okay, so I found your blog through Google because I was aware of a problem with emotional deprivation. Thanks you for the article, it really shed some light on my problems.

    There is one core paradox that you highlighted : I feel I do not have enough emotional attention (according to the categories of deprivation I am included in two : Empathy and Nurturing, the least being the strongest one) but yet I do not express it... So why would anyone without any psychological disorder suddenly give me emotional support ?

    I didn't realize that we all need some kind of emotional support. I used to be so needy about it that I thought it was a weakness, this was dangerous.

    Look like I was wrong. Once again, the answer is not black nor white, it's an equilibrium of the two.

  12. "I’m always at odds with how I feel… and how I feel I need to present myself." Oh god yes. Completely, utterly identify with everything here too.

  13. I am very happy I found your blog. I was just confronted with the diagnosis of EDD and have been looking for information on the disorder. Your blog put things into context which helped me make connections to my own story. Thank you for being so open about yourself. for the first time in a long time I can feel empathy for someone (you), maybe it is due to understanding how you feel.

  14. your blog has been really helpful because now i understand what i feel,why i feel it and i am not wrong in feeling this way.i have never asked anyone for emotional support except from my boyfriend because i thought i could be myself with him,but i only got judged and ridiculed.i do not think i will find anyone who can care for me and that makes it worse.

  15. Hello - can I ask how you got on getting over this schema? I'm having issues with it. I thought I recognised the page so I scrolled up and I am anonymous from 2013 :) I'm single now but I'm having trouble believing there's any point in looking for a boyfriend. I don't even believe I will find anyone physically attractive and I really can't be bothered. I feel like I shouldn't have to have a boyfriend at all if I don't want one (what's the point, etc, what are they really going to bring to my life?) but I guess I had a pretty bad experience this summer that revealed to me that starving myself of affection for a really long time is dangerous (when given even the slightest bit of affection from a guy I thought was gorgeous I completely fell apart...) I've also realised I have a mild abandonment schema, but had totally forgotten I had ever felt that way (out of character for me). I've realised the abandonment schema is triggered by the emotional deprivation schema (i.e. if my needs are actually met then I start to fear that I will fuck up somehow and they will stop being met, which leads to anxiety and - if given actual good evidence of abandonment (i.e. someone actually breaking up with me) - will make me clingy). I think the abandonment thing is really painful and I also find it painful because it goes against two of my core schemas (emotional deprivation - "not having needs"; and emotional inhibition - "not showing emotions for fear of humiliation"). I feel a lot more comfortable with being single and not looking because it reinforces the idea that I am completely independent of others, which is a comfort to me, I kind of see needing anything from anyone else as a weakness. But I'm also concerned that these are schema thoughts and I need to change them. I just have no idea how - like even if I know they're irrational, I still think I'm better for being independent and not requiring anything from anybody, and it's difficult (shameful?) to think of myself as being in anyway needy or really wanting anything from anyone. I want to be 'better than that' and I can't uphold my self esteem unless I am. So there's a conflict here...I can't need and have self esteem...and I also don't actually believe at any level that there's anyone out there who I could ever have a loving relationship with (I don't believe I'd really love them, or if I did they wouldn't love me, there'd always be something wrong). I guess I see relationships as inherently one-sided and I prefer to be on the side of the one who does not require. I know all this stuff is wrong, but I'm at a loss here as to what to do to change it.

    I guess I was hoping you'd had success and could tell me how you did it?

  16. I'm curius about what they mean with "appropriate ways to fufill their needs". In today's capitalistic society is there any other way a stranger fullfiling your needs other than material compensation? Secondly is it fair that you pay a price for something that another person got for free?

  17. Hi there, came across your blog while looking for information about this. I was wondering where the white text part is from? a book? another site? Or if you could point me in the right direction for resources...?
    Someone I care very deeply for appears to have this and I want to help him more than anything in the world...


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