Emotional Deprivation & Schema Therapy, Part II

By Rosie Barton, LMSW

In my previous blog post I wrote about the concept of emotional deprivation and schema therapy. I discussed how someone might feel lonely, disconnected, or dissatisfied, though they have a hard time identifying an underlying reason for feeling this way. In this post, I’m going to be writing more about the three different types of emotional deprivation and how you can begin to shift this schema and engage in healthier coping mechanisms. You can read my previous blog post here to see if schema therapy and emotional deprivation might be something that resonates with you.

Emotional Deprivation is often so hard to detect because you might not even know that you were deprived! There are three different realms in which you might not have had your needs met in an adequate way during childhood, which could contribute to these feelings of emptiness. You could have been deprived of nurturance, empathy, protection, or maybe a combination of all three. 

  1. How much warmth and physical affection did you receive when you were growing up? How were you comforted or soothed when you were upset? If you can’t recall frequent physical connection with your caregivers, you might have experienced a deprivation of nurturance.
  2. Empathy on the other hand, is related to whether or not you felt understood by your caregivers. Did you feel that you could trust them with your feelings? Were you validated when you were upset? 
  3. And finally, a deprivation of protection occurs if you didn’t feel safe as a child. Did you have someone you could go to when you needed support? Did you have the sense that someone was looking out for you and that you could rely on them to be there consistently? 

A deficiency in any one of these three areas as a child can lead to the feeling that something is missing from your adult relationships. It takes consistent effort, but it is possible to overcome emotional deprivation. I will outline three steps that can help you to change this schema, though I recommend seeking the support of a therapist to process these memories and emotions. You don’t have to do this work alone.

The first step is to begin to understand your childhood deprivation and to access your emotions about what you experienced. You might realize that you feel angry or sad, and it’s important to feel the full breadth of your pain in order to begin healing. It can be helpful to use imagery during this stage. You can create images in your mind from specific memories in which your needs for connection weren’t met. During the imagery exercise, aim to fully experience the emotions that come up for you. Try to connect to that young place within you and to feel compassion for the child who needed something that he or she didn’t receive. 

The second step is related to the present and your adult self. It’s crucial to monitor your current feelings of deprivation within your relationships. Can you get in touch with your needs for nurturance, empathy, and guidance? Are you able to identify when you feel more connected to those things and when your feelings of emptiness are activated? Perhaps when your partner or friend is unavailable, you notice that you begin to feel empty or rejected. Again, it’s important not to block out any of the emotions that might arise. 

By becoming aware of the origins and the present nature of your emotional deprivation, you can start to clarify the patterns that you get stuck in repeatedly. It’s helpful to look into your past relationships during this stage. Are you constantly finding yourself in relationships where you partner is unable to meet your needs? Are you driving away those closest to you with constant demands? Or are you bored with people who treat you well? Emotional Deprivation can manifest itself in many ways, which is why it’s so useful to work with a therapist who can provide insight and perspective. Through your work together, you can identify what the unifying feature of your pattern is so that you can create a list of the pitfalls to avoid in future relationships. 

Emotional deprivation will not dissipate immediately, but through this process, you can slowly chip away at it. Each time it gets activated, you can counter it with your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. This will mean entering into some unfamiliar (and often times scary or uncomfortable) territory, but ultimately this work can help you experience your life as much richer, rewarding, and more fulfilling. 

Rosie Barton is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.