Emotional Blindness

Emotional blindness and how it impacts parents parenting traumatized children

  1. What is it? Emotional blindness-referenced in D. Siegel’s book, then researched it. Emotional blindness: an inability to identify and describe one’s own and other’s emotions. It’s considered a personality trait that can be present to varying degrees and is relatively stable over time.
  2. What causes it? Parents may have never developed the skill
    1. Adults with emotional blindness were likely parented by parents who, for a variety of reasons, were emotionally avoidant, minimizing, absent, or dismissive. These adults learned very early that verbalizing and/or otherwise communicating emotions to their parents was unproductive and sometimes dangerous. Lacking the option of co-regulating with that adult, they learned to ignore or avoid the feeling of fear. Over time, this coping strategy used regularly, lead to a depressed and eventually absent ability to recognize emotions. These strategies (character trait) may have worked in their lives, but as foster and adoptive parents, they will inhibit their children’s recovery. The children are also products of emotionally deprived environments with little ability to recognize and manage emotions. This is formula for disaster.
    2. Since humans are all different, their brain structures are not the same. Some emotional blindness may have organic causes that inhibit recognition of emotions in self and others. This is not the type of emotional blindness we will be addressing today.
    3. Others may lose their ability to perceive their and other’s emotions when suffering from a variety of mental health conditions; such as, major depression, postpartum disorders, etc.
  3. What does it look like?
    1. Because emotions particularly fear, are present, but unrecognized. The home is very labile. With blowups occurring often, because emotional processing and de-escalation are not occurring.  
    2. Behavior focused homes, allocating little or no time, energy, or words to recognizing or dealing with emotions.
    3. Family or individuals present a reduced ability to empathize with each other. Often, they will verbalize an inability to understand why behaviors occur.
    4. Parental splitting often occurs when one parent intervenes at the emotional level, while the other is intervening at the behavioral level.
    5. Emotionally blind individuals often present increased opposition to interventions designed to focus attention on emotional regulation.
    6. Emotionally blind individuals require additional steps to become emotional containers for their children. Prior to accepting this role, they often need to be taught emotional recognition, management, and processing skills before they are willing to give up the insulation from fear that emotional blindness provides.
  4. Why it’s a problem?
    1. Lack of recovery, necessary process of co-regulation leads to self-regulation
    2. emotionally distant relationships,
    3. may feel similar to traumatic birth families (child alone in emotion),
    4. emotionally unfulfilling relationships leads to marriages are less stable,
  5. What to do:
    1. Parents must complete these skills in order to be emotionally available for their children. (REMEMBER: There are additional steps needed to become emotional containers for their children. Prior to accepting this role, parents must be taught emotional recognition, management, and processing skills before they are willing to give up the insulation from fear that emotional blindness provides.)
    2. Label body sensation and link to emotion. Note how your body responds to emotions to facilitate recognition.
    3. Journal daily experiences that evoked emotion and how you managed the emotion.
    4. Acquire an accountability partner to help with daily verbal emotional labeling and processing.
    5. Implement physical strategies to address somatic (body) experiences (deep breathing, exercise, relaxation, change posture, etc)
    6. Label other’s emotions verbally. Include the physical signs of those emotions to increase awareness of both the emotions and other’s strategies for managing. Use media. You can even make a game of it.

In the same way visually-impaired people need to increase their perception of the world, emotionally blind people need to increase their awareness of the emotions going on within them, around them, and particularly in the one’s they love. Like visual blindness, emotional blindness can occur in varying levels of severity. Good parenting requires good emotional vision. All of us, and our whole culture can benefit from increased perception and processing of the fears inherent in our world today. 

© 2022, Jeff and Faye. All rights reserved.

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