S3 E22

“…when our emotional needs aren’t met, they’re neglected, we miss out on that felt sense of being held, not only physically, but emotionally and at the level of our nervous system and our emotional expression. Then we miss out, too, on learning a lot of the nuances of emotions and the duality of emotions. Like I can be afraid and also be excited.” 

-Elisabeth Kristof, Founder of Brain Based Wellness and the Neuro Somatic Intelligence Certification

Does being around your parents put you into emotional flashbacks? Have a really hard time with conflict? Is it uncomfortable for you to be around someone with strong emotions? These are signs of a nervous system developed in an environment of emotional neglect. 

It’s about much more than just feelings. Emotional neglect can deeply impact our nervous system health, regulation capabilities and our immune system. 

Join us for a transformative conversation about the impact of emotional neglect on your nervous system, its complex and nuanced layers of guilt and acceptance and the healing that emotional expression can bring. Emotional neglect is an often overlooked ACE score that can be challenging to acknowledge so this week’s episode may be a tough one to hear.

Jennifer vulnerably shares her personal struggle with acknowledging emotional neglect as part of her ACE score. She talks about the feelings of guilt it brings up and her desire to defend her parents because they were never taught about emotional regulation. You may find yourself in her story if you grew up with primaries who seemingly met your needs and didn’t have any big T traumas.

Ever set a boundary with your mom not to listen to your own podcast? Elisabeth has! She shares what it was like growing up with a single mom who struggled with dissociation and how it created a messy mix of enmeshment and emotional neglect in her life.

Then we share about the tools we used to heal the emotional neglect wound. It all started by getting to know our nervous systems and learning our body’s way of speaking to us through minimum effective doses of Neuro Somatic Intelligence tools. Elisabeth shares how profound EFT Tapping was for her and Jennifer shares how she intimately got to know her nervous system to become a safe container for herself.

If you recognize yourself in this episode or in our personal stories, then we invite you to join us on the site. We have 2 free weeks of neuro training and somatic practices for you at Brain Based Wellness. Every week there’s live classes where you can ask questions and connect with our incredible community. There’s also a huge on demand library for you to explore. Come join us at www.rewiretrial.com

Listen and learn:

  • Definition of emotional neglect 
  • Adulthood signs of emotional neglect from childhood emotional neglect
  • What health emotional modeling looks like
  • Consequences of emotional neglect on brain development and immune function
  • Link between emotional regulation and behavior
  • Challenges of healing generational trauma
  • Neuroscience of emotional neglect
  • Role of brain areas like the insular cortex, interoception, and the vagus nerve in the emotional healing process
  • Ways to work with the body and nervous system to safely process emotions

Listen to more Trauma Rewired episodes HERE

[00:00:00] Elisabeth: So I’m really excited to dive into this topic of emotional neglect, how it impacts our nervous system and what we can do to start healing the patterns caused by emotional neglect in our nervous system.

[00:00:12] Welcome to Trauma Rewired. I’m Elisabeth Kristof, founder of Brainbased.com, a website that teaches you how to create resilience and re-pattern your nervous system for new outcomes and new experiences.

[00:00:27] Jennifer: And I’m Jennifer Wallace and Neuro Somatic Psychedelic Integration and Preparation Guide bridging the two incredible modalities of nervous system health and sacred plant medicine experiences.

[00:00:37] Elisabeth: Research shows that the holidays come with an increase in maladaptive behaviors, addiction patterns, social isolation, depression, and burnout. And all of you coaches, healers, therapists out here listening, you’re on the front lines helping your clients to navigate family dynamics, financial stress, emotional flashbacks, anxiety. This takes a toll on your nervous system. And the secret to navigating the holiday season with Presence and connection to better serve your clients and avoid burnout, really to enter into the new year with the energy you need to grow your business, is nervous system health. So we’re offering a free live Neuro Somatic Intelligence workshop to create a self care practice for your own nervous system that will change your holiday experience. Matt Bush, Melanie Weller, and myself, we’re leaders in the field of applied neurology and vagus nerve health, and we’ve created a simple framework and practical tools that will increase your capacity to handle stress and create resilience from the level of your nervous system. We’d love for you to join us. The link is in the show notes to register for the workshop on December 15th. You’ll learn practical tools and a framework for your own self care so that you can enter into 2024 resilient and ready to expand your business and show up fully for those you serve. We’d love to see you live, but a recording will also be sent out to anyone who can’t make the live workshop.

[00:02:03] Jennifer: It’s interesting to hear you say that this is the more overlooked ACE score because I felt that within myself, honestly. I had… it was really hard for me to come to terms that this was one of my ACE scores. Like I did not want to feel this in my body and I did not want to know this in my cognitive mind. And it was really hard for me to accept that it was. I can know how much my mom and dad love me. Like I know that and I have the recent experience of my parents selling our family home. So I’ve just gone home to go through all my childhood life. And it was really jarring to see an experience that they were creating for me and that I was having a totally different experience. And part of the gap is the emotional neglect.

[00:02:53] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think emotional neglect, it really is. It’s like the overlooked ACE score because one, acknowledging it, I feel like there’s a lot of  guilt. Like you were talking about, you don’t want to acknowledge it. You don’t want to put more on your parents. And then also too, it’s so much more subtle, than like physical or sexual abuse.

[00:03:13] So a lot of times people can think like, I had a really good childhood. All of my needs were met, nothing like what would classically be described as like big T trauma happened to me. Why are all these things showing up? And there is a component of emotional neglect and it is in fact an ACE score. 

[00:03:33] Jennifer: I’m excited too. I really feel like if there is a big T trauma like sexual trauma outside of the home, or even in the familiar home, when there is attunement between the primary caregiver and the person experiencing that, the young one developing that, you could probably survive it. 

[00:03:52] Elisabeth: For sure, I think we need to circle back and dive deep into that because it’s a really important component. 

[00:04:00] Jennifer: We can table that. This conversation is so big today that I’m actually wearing an ab belt so that I can process this in real time. Back to what we were saying in the introduction about the guilt, because like I said, understanding the dichotomy of where I came from and then also the understanding of if no one’s taught something, how can they teach it, how can they be it? 

[00:04:22] This is not only a big conversation today, but it’s one of the harder ones. And I mean that in the sense of the experience. And talking about it comes with a lot of emotion. And it’s really being on the other side and being in healthy relationship that allows for me to be in this conversation and hold all of the truths of my nervous system. Because the truth is I also feel the need to defend the love that I also share with my primaries, with my parents. 

[00:04:59] Elisabeth: Yeah, it’s a lot to think about. So just backing up, if someone’s listening to this, you may not even understand, like, what do we mean when we’re talking about emotional neglect? It’s really defined as a relationship pattern where an individual’s needs are consistently disregarded, ignored, invalidated, or unappreciated by a significant other.

[00:05:20] In terms of our childhood, as being an ACE score, it is one of the criteria for having an adverse childhood experience that then later has impacts on your health. And in the ACE study, they define emotional neglect as often having a feeling that no one in your family loves you, or thinks you’re important or special, that your family is not looking out for each other, there’s no feeling of closeness, or you don’t feel supported by your family.

[00:05:47] Jennifer: It hits home so hard. That is exactly how I felt my whole life. I mean, I really struggled to fit in. And a lot of times I would always say to myself: they don’t understand me, they don’t know who I am. We’ve talked so many times before on here about the endless channels of communication between a mother and a child, or the primary caregiver, and how much this also includes emotional states that are being communicated through the nervous system. These open lines of communication allow for us to feel each other from the inside out.

[00:06:18] So in that feeling when your primary caregivers’ nervous systems, your parents’ nervous systems, are disconnected from yours. We feel that. And us feeling that disconnect leads to really high stress states in the body. The emotional state transfers happen so very quickly. And particularly in our early development, we feel their stress. We feel their joy. We feel everything that is happening. And when we’re such little bodies, particularly those first 18 months, we don’t have another way to emotionally regulate. And so from my own experience, I was self taught as I’m sure my mom was self taught.

[00:07:04] Elisabeth: Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing, right? We’ve had a bunch of episodes that relate to this. So we talked about attunement and the importance of a caregiver to be able to attune to their child. And then we also just had the recent episode with Dr. Perry Nickelston talking about the importance of being able to process and regulate emotions to maintain an optimal healthy state of our nervous system. 

[00:07:27] But our society still really doesn’t encourage emotional expression. So a lot of times our caregivers don’t have those skills themselves. They have a lot of repressed emotions. They have never had the experience of healthy grieving or healthy expression of rage. So we’re modeling ourselves directly from somebody who also doesn’t have that skill set. And little developing nervous systems are, as we’ve talked about many times on here, completely reliant upon their primary caregivers to be able to process emotions and to regulate. The skills for self regulation aren’t there.

[00:08:06] Jennifer: For me, it was a lot of emotional numbness. Like not even understanding how do I feel? How do I process this? And that numbness led to massive states of shutdown. When I think of myself in this emotional state, I see myself if I was as a wind up just slowly, slowly, slowly turning down and slowing, slowing down. It’s something that I’m still dealing with in my forties. That high parasympathetic shutdown, as well as high cortisol and high stress states in the body at the same time. We know repressed emotions are so dangerous in the body. This is what the ACE score cumulatively, of course, adds up. All of the stress and the higher your score goes, the more likely you are to go into chronic illness.

[00:09:00] Elisabeth: Yeah

[00:09:01] Jennifer: I think I got a little ahead of myself there. But what I wanted to say really about that shutdown was that I always thought that it was me. It was my fault when things went the wrong way or when things got awry in the family dynamic and something happened. I always thought it was my fault and it was sort of put on me that way. So it fueled shame. It fueled the inner critic so hard because it was always me. I am so bad. I am causing this. And at the same time, not understanding, no one taught me this and I did not understand that till a few years ago.

[00:09:38] Elisabeth: Yeah, not only do we not see it from our primaries, but we don’t see it in society, period. Right? For the most part. And really, childhood emotional neglect can cause us in adulthood to avoid emotions altogether because we haven’t developed the skills and those emotions become really scary. And so we move very quickly into repressive outputs. So we’ll experience anger. And sometimes not even be aware that we have that anger going on in our body. We just go right into whatever repressive mechanism our brain and our nervous system are using to keep that emotion stuff down. So it might be a maladaptive behavior using substance, binge eating, it might be a physical output like pain.

[00:10:23] We might start to feel a lot of pain that our brain and our body are generating as a distractive mechanism to keep us from experiencing and being with the emotion. It could be a migraine. So, yeah, for me too still, a lot of times, I will have to experience an output first, and then be like, oh shoot, I’m experiencing this thing. What’s going on? There must be an emotion underneath and then take the time to use my neuro tools and do my somatic practices to let that emotion come up. Because it’s so deeply wired to just go right into the behavior or experience the protective output rather than feeling safe with the emotion.

[00:11:03] Jennifer: Well, when you’re not primed for connection and every time you are told, not told verbally, but every time that it is put on you to be your regulator, to be your emotional processor. I mean, you’re just winging it. You have no template. And then when things don’t go right, you know, that’s an issue. Those chronic states, they become well worn paths as to how we live our lives. And then we show up later on in relationships and it’s like, well, of course my attachment would be so disorganized in choosing partners who are emotionally unavailable because that’s what I know how to navigate. I can’t even navigate my own emotional experience.

[00:11:47] Elisabeth: Then it leads to these really big imbalances. Like we talked about in the episode about the Empath and the Narcissist, when we don’t have those emotional regulation skills, we’re maybe relying on other people’s emotions to feel and experience emotions or to emotionally regulate. Or we disconnect from them entirely. And so with emotional neglect, we can really end up living our life with this big block between ourselves and our emotions. And we just don’t feel like we’re able to access our emotional world. That’s a bigger deal than I think sometimes people think it is, because so much of our health and our nervous system regulation depends on also being able to process and regulate around emotions. And you’ve really missed out on learning on how to identify emotions, name them, manage them, express them, right? 

[00:12:38] When you start to work with people and they’re like, I don’t know what I’m feeling. I don’t know how I feel about this. Describe the sensation. I don’t know. It’s like there’s a wall there that they can’t bust through. Then as an adult, that also leads us to feeling disconnected from others, feeling really overwhelmed and confused when emotions are present. And not being able to really identify the sensations within ourselves.

[00:13:02] Jennifer: These emotions are basic survival human needs. We need them. They impact our immune function and they impact our brain development. So when you’re talking about this wall, say the wall has an emotional foundation to it, but behind that and in the concrete of that foundation there’s so much other interwoven experiences. And it gets really hard, like you said, finding myself in the behaviors. That’s often when we’re working with clients, we have to help them find themselves in their behaviors so that then you can kind of track it back a little bit. 

[00:13:40] Elisabeth: Definitely. I mean, the best way to start to understand when there’s an emotion behind something is to follow the dysregulation, follow the protective output, follow the behavior and start to gradually begin to process what might be going on underneath there. I think still for a lot of people it’s hard to identify even that they might have had emotional neglect in their childhood, because it’s so much more abstract than the other types of abuse that someone could experience.

[00:14:11] So I just want to go over a couple signs of emotional neglect from parents that maybe people could identify with. It could show up as indifference to a child, viewing or labeling the child as a burden, ignoring the child’s needs. If your parent has substance abuse there’s going to be definitely an element of emotional neglect there because they are intoxicated or absent in that way. Apathy toward a child, blaming a child for their behavior, like putting a child’s own behavior back on them, pretending the child doesn’t exist. Parents that ice out the child or won’t speak to them for times. And then also just if the parent isn’t around, right? Like if someone is not there even if they don’t mean to, we are going to be emotionally neglected because there’s a physical absence of someone there to help us process and regulate emotions.

[00:15:05] Jennifer: Absolutely. I think the silent treatment and icing someone out is one of the most abusive forms of emotional neglect to just pretend that the person doesn’t even exist. It’s to deny your existence and it’s so cruel. I hear this one a lot frequently with my clients. This is probably the one I hear the most.

[00:15:27] Even in my own self, when I can reflect on how I’ve lived and how I didn’t understand how to process emotions, I can see how I’ve done that. Just in the total avoidance of not understanding how to set a boundary, how to have a hard conversation or how to be vulnerable with someone and trust that person with my needs and my emotions. I didn’t really grow up like that. And so to then find myself like in relationship, it’s very scary to do that. It’s only been very, very recent to be able to have those hard conversations,

[00:16:05] Elisabeth: Yeah, yeah, same as you. I see this one a lot, and I’ve honestly been quite shocked because this is not one of my childhood experiences. My mom, I’m lucky, was really great at communicating through conflict and always ensuring that, like, there was just never a time where she didn’t speak to me. But I’ve been really surprised as I’ve been working with people, this comes up a lot, like how many people’s parents would go through days or even hours, but also sometimes days or like weeks of not speaking to them, of literally shutting them out of their life, especially as a child. And that’s really impactful.

[00:16:43] Jennifer: It will trigger an emotional flashback as an adult.

[00:16:46] Elisabeth: Mmm.

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[00:17:53] Jennifer: If this is happening in your life now, as an adult, it will 100% trigger an emotional flashback. And I think this kind of emotional neglect, it also drives hyper independence particularly, I think, in a single child home, because there is no one else.

[00:18:11] Elisabeth: Definitely. I think so much of this can trigger that hyper independence and the more isolation that we have developing, the more we learn that we have to rely on ourselves. And so, if the parent is icing out or also like I said, not there, and you spend a lot of time alone, you learn that you have to rely on yourself to be able to figure these things out. And most of the time the strategies that we figure out as little kids to process and deal with this aren’t always the healthiest, right? It might look like self harm, binge eating, substance use, complete dissociation, deep repression of emotions, because we couldn’t handle it all on our own.

[0018:53] Jennifer: Well, the substance abuse could be even a trigger later from the bingeing of food.

[00:18:58] Elisabeth: Mm

[00:18:59] Jennifer: You know, I wasn’t into drugs until I was, well 14, but at that point, I’m not a child, but not in early development, not that I didn’t stunt any of my brain development. Because that’s another real impact here is that emotional neglect has consequences to your brain development. So this isn’t just getting shut out and having the silent treatment as a little person. It’s no big deal. We’re talking about your immune function and your brain development.

[00:19:27] Elisabeth: Yeah. Your hippocampal development, the way that you process and encode memories, the way that you learn.

[00:19:34] Jennifer: And like I said, we have no template. We’re just winging it. Winging it from a survival state.

[00:19:41] Elisabeth: Mmm. Yes. I think you brought up something a little bit ago that is so important to talk about as well. And that’s that there is also a huge compounding factor of when we have a traditional big T trauma, something like sexual abuse or physical abuse or something that people would maybe more traditionally identify as a trauma. But we’re in a home where we have caregivers that are attuned and available and can help us process our emotions and will stand up and protect us as a child and so we feel that sense of like I can take this problem to my caregiver and they will handle it for me and they will protect me and all will be restored.

[00:20:24] That’s a very different in terms of the lasting impact of that trauma on a child’s nervous system versus if you experience that trauma and you also are living in an environment where you don’t have a primary or an adult figure that’s there to help protect you and also help you regulate and make sense of those emotions. That patterning ends up being very different and really amplifies the dysregulation that occurs in the nervous system because of maybe the single event.

[00:20:56] Jennifer I’ve seen it in a client or two. I’ve only seen it a couple of times where a client did know from an early age that there was early childhood sexual trauma. The parents knew. And they ended up to be pretty adjusted. There’s a different level of adjustment and growth that happens for someone who is seen and heard during that time of life, of super high chronic stress versus a little one who, like you said, went unattuned. It gets compounding. That’s the word that I was looking for when you were talkin about that wall that you were talking about, like the emotional neglect, if that’s at the foundation, the wall starts to build with these other ACE scores around it, because it’s very unlikely that emotional neglect would be your only one score.

[00:21:43] Elisabeth Yep. And then you have these big emotions from whatever the other trauma is, right? And you don’t have an environment that fosters the safe expression of those emotions so they get repressed and continue to cause that deep dysregulation held in the body and then continue to be re triggered very easily. You also are more prone to develop a real hypervigilance and self reliance, like you were talking about, of protecting yourself though looking for ways that you might be hurt in relationship, lots of distrust, lots of just hypervigilance around protecting yourself because there wasn’t anyone else there doing that.

[00:22:31] Jennifer: It’s really interesting when I think about it with attachment in that style too. Really so much comes to mind. My mind is like swirling- cancer and gut dysfunction. And then I’m seeing these faces of these men that I dated that were so unavailable to me. And we’ve said several times about this health outcome and emotional repression and ACE scores both have dangerous health outcomes attached to them.

[00:23:04] I’m going to pop a link in the show notes so that people can listen to our conversation on adverse childhood experiences. Because we did record a conversation that’s much more in depth about the study that Vincent Filetti did that we are not gonna get into super deep today. But emotional neglect is 1 out of 10 points that a person can score. One in every 6 people have a score of 4. That’s my score. I’m a score of 4. And what we know, back to the poor health outcomes, every time your score goes up, you get a little bit higher, bit bigger percentages. 5 out of 10 of these ACE scores are linked to the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. We’re talking heart stuff, talking lung stuff, we’re talking cancers, combinations of all of these things- autoimmune. That’s your experience from your ACE score. So it puts you at risk.

[00:23:57] Elisabeth Yeah, I think it’s all worth reconnecting the dots between our emotional experience and our physical health outcomes. Because there really isn’t a way to separate that and this is part of the foundational reason why ACE scores lead to substance abuse, truncated lifespan and disease states is because in addition to the general states of dysregulation sometimes it’s difficult to know if we have experienced emotional neglect. Like we were talking about, but you can see it in your behaviors. So if you’re somebody who gets triggered by certain things really easily, like you experience a big reaction in your body to some of these things, you find yourself in a high stress state, you may have a background of emotional neglect.

[00:24:48] So if you find that you’re often dysregulated or pushed into emotional flashback whenever you’re around your parents, that’s a pretty good sign. It can be difficult to re-engage in family time. When you get really activated, if you feel ignored or maybe even a little something like someone’s not paying attention to you and they’re looking at their phone while you’re talking. That could be a definite trigger left over from emotional neglect in childhood. If you have a very difficult time experiencing conflict and are really adverse to moving into conversations where there’s conflict, if you have a really difficult time needing help and asking for help and asking, trusting others to support you.

[00:25:27] And if it’s really difficult for you to be around someone else with strong emotions, if that makes you really uncomfortable, it feels really dysregulating to watch somebody else who can experience emotions, then those are all signs that some of your patterning comes from that emotional neglect. What would healthy emotional modeling look like? So people could maybe distinguish the difference there.

[00:25:52] Jennifer: I’ve never experienced that. (laughing) I mean, I don’t have a clue. Everything that I would be saying right now would just be reading out of textbook. I do not know what that would look like, but I know that we’re talking about a secure attachment.

[00:26:07] Elisabeth: Yeah, with healthy, emotional modeling, definitely it leads to secure attachment. I have a friend… it’s very rare to find people that can healthy emotionally express. But I have a friend who has two young children and her family was pretty stable as far as I know from the outside. I’ll tell you, I used to be really uncomfortable around her for a lot of my life because she is very emotional. Like she’ll talk to you and she’ll just let herself cry if something moves her to cry while she’s talking to you. Then in the same breath, she’ll laugh. And when she’s angry, she’ll emote in a way that is pretty exceptional. Honestly, it used to really bother me. Like, I couldn’t handle being around her and it was kind of like, why are you so emotional? Get it together. 

[00:26:58] But now I know more, (laughing) and as I’m more comfortable with my emotions, I’m more comfortable being around her. And I watch her with her kids, and one, if they’re upset, it doesn’t bother her, like she doesn’t get dysregulated by their being upset. She stays very calm and grounded, and she just allows them to have their emotional experience, and she’s there to hug them or hold them if they want. But she also lets them do whatever they want to do to express and doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. And then she’ll also allow herself to emote in front of them. You know, if she is feeling something and cries, there’s no apologies for the tears. There’s no like, ‘this is weird’. It’s just part of being human. And I feel like those kids are having a very different experience of the emotional spectrum.

[00:27:49] Jennifer: And if something happens to them, a big T trauma, there’s open lines of communication where those kids are going to go to her and her partner if she has one, and they’re going to feel really comfortable saying, ‘Hey, something happened to me, someone talked to me like this, or I feel this way in my body.’ And then the proper next things are going to happen. I’m even thinking of some of my friends that do have kids. I look at the tired state that they’re in also. And the extreme fatigue that mothers are under and particularly if they’re single mothers- we both grew up with single mothers- that is a high stress state.

[00:28:31] Elisabeth: It really is. 

[00:28:31] Jennifer: I was saying in the beginning, how can someone do better if they don’t know they can’t teach you? And I’m not saying that maybe there are some people out there, what we talk about here is on a spectrum. And so maybe there are people out there that have experienced extreme emotional neglect that was intentional. Maybe we experienced it and it wasn’t intentional. So, we’re looking at this on a spectrum and we understand under the lens of cPTSD that we’re all having very different experiences as to how it was in our homes when we grew up, how it was in our caregiving situations, and that our experiences might be very different from yours. So when we are talking about this from where I stand now, I can say that- how can you do better if you don’t know to do that? Because my experience was on the lighter end of the spectrum I feel like even though it is one of my ACE scores. I can see as a reflection now that my mother did not have the tools and she was under a lot of stress as a single mom. So I also just want there to be some grace out there with this ACE score.

[00:29:45] Elisabeth: Yeah. 100%

[00:29:46] Jennifer: It’s a tough one.

[00:29:47] Elisabeth: Also raised by a single mom who did an amazing job and had to be gone a lot. So really it was just emotional neglect and the lack of presence rather than her doing anything to intentionally neglect me. And, you know, we had a mother bring up a really great question in one of our Neuro Somatic Intelligence coaching classes the other day. She was like, for those of us who are trying to heal generational trauma it’s really hard because sometimes I react, right? Being a single mom is really stressful, and I’m really trying to undo these patterns for my children. And sometimes I go into the old patterns. I go back to what I was taught. I have a survival response and am I doing more harm to my children than good by being inconsistent like that? 

[00:30:31] And I really think it’s so important that we continue to have grace, especially like we’re not parents. So I don’t ever want to try to tell somebody how to do something that I have no experience with. But I do know that shame and inner critic is never helpful in terms of growth and regulation. So it’s so important to have some grace. And I think that there’s always, always great benefit to then just having a conversation with your kid, depending on what age they’re at, but finding some way to kind of communicate with them. Yes, I was really stressed. I’m doing the best I can. This is a hard day for me. I didn’t mean to take this out on you. It’s not personal. These things just happen sometimes and explaining to the child what’s going on so that there is that open communication and they learn it’s also okay to be human and sometimes have a reaction.

[00:31:25] Jennifer: Yeah. And it’s hard to understand that sometimes even with something as low key abusive as say silent treatment, right? Someone knows when they are giving the silent treatment. You know when you are doing that to someone and that energy makes it so hard to accept that it might not be your fault. That it might not be your fault. And it’s really hard too, when you are healing generational lines like this, you end up taking radical responsibility. Knowing that your primaries may never understand the work that we are doing, the work that you are being called to listening to this podcast and giving them maybe that grace that we talked about a few minutes ago.

[00:32:22] Elisabeth: It’s important. I think also in that vein, like one of the consequences of experiencing emotional neglect can also be ending up being really hard on yourself. And so continuing to be really hard on yourself and on others is counterproductive to our own healing. Because when our emotional needs aren’t met, they’re neglected- we miss out on that felt sense of being held, not only physically, but emotionally and at the level of our nervous system and our emotional expression. Then we miss out, too, on learning a lot of the nuances of emotions and the duality of emotions. Like I can be afraid and also be excited. I can feel grief and also see the possibility for hope and change and newness. 

[00:33:13] Everything becomes really black and white, because those subtleties of emotional experience just aren’t taught. Then that leads in turn to, I think, the way that we think about ourselves and our behavior as also being really black and white thinking and setting these really unrealistic standards for ourselves. So we can end up having a very harsh inner critic and being very, very hard on ourselves.

[00:33:36] Jennifer: Well, I think that emotional numbness is just a lot of muddiness. It’s muddy because you don’t know. Like it was so hard for me to even understand what is joy. What do I like about pleasure? What does connection mean for me? What is the difference between anger and rage? What is shame? What is grief? What is sadness? Like what are, in the spectrum of human emotions, it was black and white because there wasn’t a lot to go on. It was happy or sad. It was like I’m showing up or I’m shut down. There wasn’t a lot to go on and it wasn’t modeled. And then because of the emotional distance and neglect, it was not being caught that I was shutting down further and further and further and further because the distance in the nervous system was already created. So I could go further deeper into my own nervous system, shutting down further and further. But at some point the gap of my shutdown gets missed because it’s just another apple dropping basically. Does that make sense?

[00:34:41] Elisabeth: Yes, I think that it is that muddiness that you were talking about. I mean, gosh, it took me years to be able to feel anything. It was either like I was totally numb or I had a giant outburst, you know. Sometimes it would come bubbling over in this big emotional outburst in a way that probably I didn’t want it to or it would just be nothing.

[00:35:06] And even when I started somatic practices or I was doing EFT, I would hit a wall with it a lot of times. We would refer to that in EFT as a smoke screen. Something that my subconscious doesn’t want me to feel or see and it would be like, what do I feel? What are the sensations? I’d be trying to say it out loud. And it was just nothing, nothing, nothing over and over and over again. And now I can access that stuff pretty well through somatic practices and EFT. But in just like regular day to day life, I still have to really make time to pause and sit and breathe and be intentional about feeling that because it is not like second nature for me to feel things. It’s much more likely that I’ll just go into repressing and distracting and I still have to really slow down and work a little bit to feel things. I’m still sometimes unclear about what I’m even feeling.

[00:36:02] Jennifer Yeah. I really only just started to feel things clearly. Those repressed emotions, they are protective. They become protective at some point. Like you repress to survive, but the survival mechanism starts to turn against you. The protection starts to, well the words that are coming to mind are like, it starts to kill you. It starts to come after you in your body. You know, those clogged channels of emotional repression. Like, yes, it’s protective and also it will lead to these very depleted states. When we go into one of these F trauma responses, this is another one of these insidious consequences of emotional neglect. 

[00:36:53] Because when you’re in a trauma response, your body shuts down in other places. So this is why later on in life, we deal with gut function stuff. We deal with a system that’s not been turned on, back to the massive shutdown states I was talking about earlier. That became a well worn path, high parasympathetic states, high doses of cortisol, high doses of stress chemicals. And so I don’t need my digestive system. There’s certain breathing patterns I don’t need. There’s so much that your body… you’re harming… the protection becomes… What’s the word that I’m looking for? The protection becomes the threat.

[00:37:35] Elisabeth: Yes, that’s it. Exactly. The protection becomes harmful and threatening because it’s just like stress. Suppressing an emotion is the same concept of: we need a little bit of stress to take action to cause adaptation and we’re having that stress response of adrenaline and cortisol and mobilizing energy in order to protect us. But when it gets turned on all of the time and it becomes chronic, then it is damaging. And it’s the same in that moment of childhood. Maybe those emotions were really too big and too dysregulating, and we didn’t have a safe place to process it, so the repression or the dissociation was the most adaptive thing in that moment to ensure survival.

[00:38:19] However, when that becomes the well worn path, and we’re constantly moving into repression, constantly moving into dissociation now that’s problematic. It’s chronic. It’s chronic dissociation, it’s chronic repression. And that’s creating consequences for our health that are not good. But again, our survival mind lives in the Present moment and it’s not thinking about those long term consequences. And that response is patterned to occur frequently and rapidly. Over and over again, becoming chronic, and then we experience the outcomes that we do not want.

[00:38:56] Jennifer: Then we get into the patterns more and more. Right? Like your brain will choose a familiar hell over an unfamiliar heaven every day. And you will find this emotional neglect like I was talking about emotionally unavailable partners. You’ll find it in your partnerships, in your friendships. You can look everywhere at your attachments and see how am I being fulfilled in my relationships? What’s the energy exchange in these relationships? Is there a balance here? What other nervous system am I dealing with? And you can just look around at what your experience is like right now and see, but (laughing) reflect then on your emotion

[00:39:33] Elisabeth: What the pattern is!

[00:39:34] Jennifer: Yeah. What’s your pattern in relationship?

[00:39:35] Elisabeth: Well, it’s exactly that. It’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t. And remembering that our brains are incredibly predictive and really rely on that prediction for survival. So sometimes we might cognitively know, I do not want to continue this relationship pattern. I don’t want to keep perpetuating this dynamic with other people. And yet at the level of our survival mind, brainstem, deep mind, our brain knows that we have ways to survive that situation. It’s like I know how to handle this, even if some of those survival mechanisms are kind of maladaptive and harmful to our long term health. It’s like, okay, well, I have survived this so far. I know when I’m in something with these dynamics I can rely on A, B, C, and D to get through this. In the other situation, I don’t know. I just don’t know what it’s going to be like. I don’t have a well worn survival path laid out for that. And so at the level of our survival mind, it actually is more threatening to go with what’s unknown because it doesn’t have a predictive plan in place to ensure survival.

[00:40:49] Jennifer: Something’s coming up for me around boundaries. And around the absence. Let’s talk early development under eight. If a nervous system, a young developing nervous system, is being developed with a primary who is dissociated and emotionally neglectful. This is what’s happening for me-  there’s an energetic boundary there of distance, right? At the same time there’s no boundary at all. And the role of the parent at such a young age is to have no boundary. Right? And at the same time, there’s this huge boundary wall of like, you don’t feel me. You don’t see me. And then we move into our adult lives and we have no boundaries. Boundaries are the hardest thing for, I mean, we’re going to get into emotional expression, but boundaries continue to be a conversation on this podcast and our work with clients.

[00:41:54] Elisabeth The scenario you were describing just then, like was my childhood. And I  have set a boundary with my mother not to listen to this podcast, (laughing) so I’m gonna go ahead and talk about it for a minute here. Because I also, caveat, love the shit out of my mother and think she did an amazing job.

[00:42:12] Jennifer: 100. 100. Both of our moms are awesome.

[00:42:15] Elisabeth: Always want to put that out there. But dissociation is a well worn path for my mom, who experienced a tremendous amount of stress, especially in my early childhood in an abusive relationship. Had to then raise me as a single mom. There was just a lot there so our boundaries were both very enmeshed. Like she never had any hard boundaries with me about anything. I never had a curfew. It was always like, she would give me whatever money she had. If I woke up at 2 in the morning at 10 years old and wanted to go to IHOP, she’s taking me to IHOP. And there was like an emotional boundary of her not being able to handle the stress of my tantrums and my big emotions. Because when I expressed she would disconnect. She would dissociate, the stress level was too high. And it’s almost like she was always trying to reconnect us through this constant giving of her, whatever she had to give. But she also didn’t have the capability to stay Present and that just leads to this really confused understanding of boundaries because there’s no structure. And there’s also like when something is expressed, I lose my connection to someone else whenever those big emotions come up.

[00:43:43] Jennifer: Yeah. Some of what you said really feels so resonant for me too. And one of the conversations that we’re going to have here later on in the season is about parentification and about the emotional processing that a parent will put back on to a child. So we’ll just drop that little nugget there now.

[00:44:04] Elisabeth: Thinking about parentification in a child then taking on a parent’s emotional experience because that does happen a lot when our parents aren’t capable of handling their own emotions and we feel how it dysregulates them or how our emotions dysregulate them. The child ends up taking on a lot of that emotional regulation and emotional experience. I want to go back all the way to one of our very first episodes this season when we were talking about disorganized attachment style and how the children with mothers with PTSD, unresolved trauma and grief often took on their mother’s emotional experience and they were playing out the inner world of their parent, even when the parent didn’t actually express that. 

[00:44:53] Jennifer: I mean, when I hear you saying that my heart feels so heavy. Even in the imaginary scenario that I would have had a child… it just really makes my heart feel heavy to hear that. Because I think of- if I did have a child and what I’ve been through in my life that would have been unprocessed at their birthing time. I mean, like I’m ready to have a child now at 46, at a time when I’m healed and can’t do that because now I can handle that experience as an emotion. But like what you just said, had I had a child in my most dysregulated times of unprocessed trauma my heart feels so heavy for all of the children, for all of us, who have experienced the unprocessed trauma of our primaries. It’s a lot, and our grandmothers, like it’s our whole… some of us have whole lineages of trauma.

[00:45:50] Elisabeth: Yes. I mean, it’s a lot. And the quote that I was thinking of from Neurobiology of Human Relationships is, ‘a parent’s unconscious becomes the child’s first reality.’ And that idea of that going on. 

[00:46:08] Jennifer: The nervous system is being shaped when you’re in the womb. I mean, you’re already co-regulating to whoever’s carrying you.

[00:46:18] Elisabeth: So, what do we do when you’re like, here we are talking about this big task of healing generational trauma. What are some of the things that we’ve done to start to heal this emotional neglect wound?

[00:46:30] Jennifer: I think the number one thing is that, for me, I learned what was my nervous system. I started to get real intimate with the way it spoke to me and I started to get real curious about why am I like this? Why was that conversation hard for me? Why couldn’t I share my experience? Why couldn’t I be honest? Why didn’t I use my voice? Why, why? Then when I got intimate with my nervous system, and that all came with having the tools, it starts with the tools. Like start getting regulated. I guess that’s the first place to start, right? Get regulated so you can even understand your nervous system. And then get curious. 

[00:47:15] Elisabeth: I think that understanding is so important, just listening to this and other podcasts and trying to understand what’s going on. Then that embodiment piece that you were talking about like having the skills, the types of tools that we teach at RewireTrial.com, having the skills to actually start to feel into your body and start to feel safe connecting to your body. Because part of being able to experience and express emotions is reteaching yourself how to feel the sensations in your body. How to feel safe in sitting with those sensations so that you don’t just disassociate. And really working directly with the nervous system in the body to be able to practice embodiment and Presence so that all this other stuff is possible.

[00:48:02] Jennifer: And you said something earlier about a person missing out on being held and being in a safe container. When you start to learn your nervous system and regulate it, you become that safe container. And then like we have talked about with a little bit of altitude today as to how we see our caregivers and like not holding that blame, taking radical responsibility, doing the deeper work knowing that maybe they’re not called to it. Like, that takes regulation.

[00:48:31] Elisabeth: Yeah, it’s like, I’m going to have to become that for myself. That’s the radical responsibility of like, I’ve got to create safety and ability for myself. I’ve got to re-educate my body and my nervous system how to do this. I have to be the one to teach myself this so that I can move out of this behavior.

[00:48:52] Jennifer: And the difference is when you come into Rewire Trial, you’re not winging it anymore. There is a template. We are laying that down every week, I hope, for you guys. Like, we have done this. We are doing this. We have healthy relationships with our primaries. And that was not something I could have said 10 years ago, definitely. Probably not even 5. So it does change. And it’s been so helpful for me to understand my emotional body, to understand what are my emotions? What is the difference between anger, rage and grief? I know that now and I work with them independently. Sometimes something will get triggered, right? It just comes out of nowhere and then it’s upon me. I have the tools to work with that. Or I can intentionally trigger one of those emotions because I just want to clear it out of my body. There seems to be a never ending well of grief and rage, so I can always sort of tap into that. It’s been so beneficial. I just feel so healthy. I feel the healthiest in my life and I don’t think that’s down to nutrition only. Like it’s because of my emotional state. It’s because of my nervous system.

[00:50:05] Elisabeth: I think I completely agree with that. I have just this big landscape of emotions that I feel now and am able to move through. And it’s very different. EFT tapping has been really important for me in being able to experience and express emotions. And so working with some really great EFT teachers, I do think it’s a really powerful way to do that. And that’s why we also have so many different kinds of EFT taps for all these different emotional experiences on the Rewire Trial site, because it is a really powerful way for those of us that are very blocked to start to chip away at that wall and work with the body as we’re intentionally moving some of that emotional energy through.

[00:50:48] Jennifer: And we always talk about minimum effective dose. We are looking at life as minimum effective dose. What’s the least I can do to get the maximum benefit? And that is super resonant when it comes to emotional work and when you haven’t been used to experiencing your emotions safely in your body. So a minimum effective dose and the tools really make it possible for larger emotional experiences that are safe.

[00:51:21] Elisabeth: It’s important, always, to honor that.

[00:51:24] Jennifer: Yeah. And then there’s certain brain areas that we particularly work with- insular cortex. Man, that one comes up just about every episode, I think we talk about the insular cortex. And interoception, back to my ab belt that I’m wearing today. This is giving me a boost of interoceptive stimulus. It’s giving me passive stimulus to sit here and have this harder conversation. And I’m here for it

[00:51:47] Elisabeth: Yep, vagus nerve- vagus nerve health superhighway. That’s actually sending those signals from inside of your body up to your brain. So you can’t hear and feel it. It’s really hard to have the felt sense when your vagus nerve is compressed or not functioning well. So, again, that’s another reason why we have so many different types of vagus nerve classes on the rewiretrial.com site. So that is a really key system in creating health, to be able to feel our emotions.

[00:52:19] Jennifer: Yeah. Thank you all so much for joining us today. We hope that you enjoyed this conversation.