YouTube Video by Teal Swan: “Today’s Great Epidemic (And How To Cure It)”
One of my wake-up calls regarding the meaning and importance of Emotions came from Teal Swan. She made an excellent YouTube video in which she introduces the interesting term: ‘Emotional Dark Age’ in 2015. Which I incidentally only saw in 2020. In this video, she speaks about how our emotional illiteracy is actually impacting our lives in ways we have not recognised before.
TEAL SWAN is, as stated on her website, an International Speaker and Best-Selling Author on truth, authenticity, freedom, and joy. She is not undisputed, but nevertheless for millions a very inspiring source of information on personal growth. I find that she is often ahead of her time and capable of explaining difficult subjects with refreshing clarity.
What is the Emotional Dark Age?
According to Teal Swan, we are living in an age of great ignorance regarding Emotions, which she terms the ‘Emotional Dark Age’. It is marked by people:
- not being terribly conscious of Emotions,
- generally not understanding them,
- not knowing what function they serve,
- not knowing what to do with them.
She states that this is a serious problem considering that Emotions are the very basis of every person’s life experience. She speaks about the phenomenon of ‘Emotional Neglect’. And even goes as far as to call ‘Emotional Neglect’ an epidemic, as in her view, it is responsible for more chronic unhappiness and suicide than all other causes combined.
Most people know deliberate emotional abuse like threatening, shaming, humiliating, exploiting, isolating, etc. There is, according to Teal Swan however, another form of emotional abuse that goes on between people that is harder to recognize, but which leaves even deeper scars: Emotional Neglect.
Emotional Neglect is not trauma caused by what IS done, it is trauma caused by what is NOT done. Emotional Neglect is not what you see. It is what you do not see:
- It is the encouragement that did not happen.
- It is the comforting that was not given.
- It is the loving support that was not offered.
- It is the loving words that were not said.
- It is the sense of belonging that was never granted.
- It is the understanding that was never reached for.
Emotional neglect is so hard to recognize because you cannot see what is not there, and until you see what could have been there, you will never know something was even missing.
This is not about the occasional omissions and failures of normal parenting and life in general. This is about the chronic failure to meet a child’s emotional needs.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Example as painted by Teal Swan.
Your childhood was not bad, it was actually pretty good. No big financial stress, parents that never strongly argued and who never divorced. However:
- your parents may have had a low tolerance for negativity
- whenever you or any of your siblings would whine or complain or cry, you were promptly sent to your rooms.
Even though meaning well, for the sake of keeping a peaceful household, your parents trained you that if they were thinking or feeling anything negative, you had better keep it to yourself. Negative Emotion was bad and not to be tolerated.
Effects in adulthood
Then as an adult, every time you have these feelings, you will feel ashamed of them. You will perhaps want to isolate yourself and not let anyone else see them. You will perhaps try to escape them by becoming a workaholic, or by drinking or by any other distraction/addiction. And perhaps you are so intent on hiding this shameful aspect of yourself (believing that if anyone saw this side of you that felt bad, they would abandon you) that you may never get past the third date with a man.
Most people who suffered emotional neglect, either keep their suffering entirely to themselves or go from psychiatrist to psychologist trying desperately to figure out what is so wrong with them. Most are drowning in a sea of self-condemnation because they cannot see what it is that caused them to feel the way they feel.
Co-dependent vs. Too Independent
If your emotional needs were not met in childhood, you will have a difficult time meeting them as an adult. This is why emotional neglect is a major cause of unhealthy codependency.
Now before you let yourself off the hook by saying “I’m not codependent, I’m the most independent person I know, I must not have been emotionally neglected”, let me remind you that independent people often have the most difficult time meeting their ‘needs for closeness with others and intimacy and support’.
Symptoms of Emotional Neglect
There are many symptoms of emotional neglect. But here is a list by Teal Swan of some common things that are likely to occur in adulthood if you have suffered from emotional neglect in childhood:
- Having a hard time figuring out what you are feeling
- Feeling a sense of emptiness inside
- Feeling like you do not belong
- You feel unhappy for no obvious reason
- Difficulty calming yourself or self-soothing
- Difficulty asking for help
- Feeling a great deal of self-blame or self-hatred
- Judging yourself more harshly than you judge others
- Feeling you are too self-disciplined or you struggle with self-discipline and are lazy.
- Feeling either like you are safer alone or that you absolutely cannot stand being alone
- Feeling as if something in you is defective or unlovable… “there’s something wrong with me”
- Feeling chronic shame
- Suicidal feelings or thoughts
- Having difficulty nurturing others or providing adequate affection
- Chronically unhappy relationships or the inability to form lasting relationships
- You are either too dependent on others or pride yourself on being completely independent.
This is how it goes according to Teal Swan:
When a child is shamed for having emotional needs and wanting to have them met by the parent, the message the child receives is: there is something fundamentally wrong and unlovable about me.
This child grows up being completely blind to his or her emotional needs. As well as being very afraid of their own emotions.
As this child does not feel seen, heard or felt, there is no intimacy in the relationship, so this child lacks the knowledge about how to form intimate relationships.
What we did not know
Empty adults & Stressed adults
We all have emotional needs, which need to be met for healthy living. Every child has emotional needs, and if these are not met, we end up feeling empty as adults.
The problem is this: when a parent does not meet the child’s emotional needs, the message they are unintentionally sending to their child is that the child is unimportant to them. The child then grows into an adult who believes his or her Emotions and inner world are not important. When Emotions are not tended to, they tend to become stronger, hence they must be suppressed or dissociated from in one way or another.
Thus we end up feeling empty inside, disconnected from our inner world. Or if we do reconnect, we feel completely stressed by an overwhelm of Emotions that cry for our attention.
An emotionally healthy world
In an emotionally healthy world, Teal Swan claims it is the parent’s responsibility to establish emotional connection with their child:
– to give the necessary undivided attention to their child
– seeing them as a unique, separate individual
– who has the right to feel the way they feel
and to use this emotional connection and attention to respond to the emotional need their child is currently displaying.
This can sound like a tall order if you, yourself have never experienced someone being emotionally attentive to you. But this is something we can all learn and NEED to learn to move ahead into the future and establish a healthy society with healthy individuals.
If our parents have not taught us, we can teach ourselves.
The Solution is: Emotional Literacy
Learning to feel, recognize & regulate our own emotions & needs
Teal Swan advocates that we all need to become Emotionally Literate, Emotionally Intelligent. We need to:
- learn as much as we can about Emotions
- become more aware of how we feel
- learn how to embrace our Emotions & needs
- know how to specifically label them, which then makes it easier to regulate them
- work with our Emotions in a healthy and constructive way
Emotions & Relationship: Learning Empathy
Next, Teal Swan explains, we need to learn about Emotions in relationships, most especially how to deal with other people’s Emotions. Since emotional neglect affects our ability to be authentic and our ability to be intimate with others, learning how to be authentic and intimate with others is also a key ingredient for healing from emotional neglect.
We need to learn:
- how to non-violently express our own Emotions & needs to the other
- how to empathise in a healthy & intelligent way with the other
Keep in mind that true intimacy has nothing to do with sex. True intimacy is to see and feel and listen into another person and to be truly seen, felt and heard by them.
Teal Swan concludes her video by stating that the most painful thing you can experience in your waking life is in fact ‘lack’, ‘the nothingness’. More damage can be caused to you by what is not done, than can be caused to you by what was done. And so it is with emotional neglect.
She suggests that if we want to end the Epidemic of Emotional Neglect in our society, we must become truly connected to ourselves within again by learning how to meet our own emotional needs. And then to empathically learn to meet other’s emotional needs.
Teal Swan concludes that we need to become truly Emotionally Literate.
To me Teal Swan’s video was very elucidating. I had never considered that the feeling of emptiness inside or the inability to form lasting relationships could come from emotional illiteracy. That somehow our emotions fill us up inside and that our Emotions need to be seen, felt and recognized, in order for us to be seen felt and recognized as a person. Somehow, apparently our Emotions form part of our core. They are thus not inconvenient nuisances that need to be controlled, suppressed or changed in order to feel good and healthy.
If this were true, this conclusion then brings up a whole lot of other questions for me:
- how to then recognize your own emotions?
- what to do with them once recognized?
- what exactly are emotional needs?
- what are valid emotional needs of children (and adults) and when do they need a boundary in order not to get spoiled (or re adults: impossible to be around)?
- and are really ALL Emotions welcome and important? How to make the difference within yourself?
- I know for myself that when I am very emotional about something, I can see things very much out of proportion. And when I have taken some time to calm my emotions down, I can see much clearer and more reasonable. How then to manage your own emotions and your emotional needs in a wise way?
This video made me curious to explore more. And I did find answers. Notable in another video of Teal Swan, which was seen 777.000+ times on YouTube, called ‘Emotional Wake-Up Call‘. And later especially in the work of Karla McLaren, who wrote a groundbreaking book Language of Emotions.