Most people are much more familiar with the definition of abuse than they are of deprivation. It is always easier to identify errors of commission rather than errors of omission. It is harder to tell when we have not gotten enough of something. We might not recognize our own emotional deprivation because we grew up in it.
Emotional deprivation means that we missed important bonding experiences essential for our security. Our parents did not supply these reassuring experiences, nor did they think it was important to give them to a child. In the old days, many parents believed that feeding and sheltering their children fulfilled their parental responsibilities, a belief still supported by our culture. In the past, providing material things was seen as the hallmark of good parenting, probably because our society was not as affluent as it is today. A child's feelings were not valued and were often suppressed. Actions, not empathy, were what it meant to be a good parent.
Now, however, we are beginning to realize it is no longer enough for a parent just to be physically present or technically available. It takes more than that to raise a secure human being. It is not enough for a parent passively to allow children to cling or make sure they get their shots.
Children crave active, interested engagement by the adults in their lives. When a parent takes the time to get into a back-and-forth engagement with their child, the child feels worthy and lovable. When parents reach out for their children, and honestly enjoy their company, a powerful message is sent to that child that he or she matters. As children, we all want to feel as essential to our parents as they are to us. Without this reassurance, we are left adrift in emotional loneliness.
Children also need to feel that the parent is keeping a protective eye on them. A parent who will step in when a child is feeling overwhelmed makes the world a safer place to explore. Parents who defend a child from bad experiences teach the child that help is available.
Emotional loneliness in adult life is a tipoff that one's relationships in childhood were not nurturing or supportive enough. If we have suffered emotional deprivation, we will be familiar with feeling unseen. A lack of social confidence is another cardinal signs of growing up in an emotionally depriving environment. If you grew up with emotional neglect within your family, in adulthood you might find yourself attracted to people who avoid emotional intimacy and who are inconsistent in their lovingness.
If you often feel emotional lonely, the first thing is to understand is that your feelings have good reason, that it was never about you being deficient or unlovable. It was about you being emotionally deprived. The next step is to find chances to interact with other people under conditions that feel safe to you, preferably through mutual tasks or activities rather than social chitchat. Finding comfortable opportunities to interact with kind, interested people can reverse the effects of earlier deprivation. People can heal each other. Volunteer activities or educational classes are great opportunities to meet people interested in the same things. Another good idea is to sincerely ask receptive, friendly people for advice on straightforward decisions.
Reaching out to others may feel a little uncomfortable when you are emotionally lonely, but it is the way to change the direction of your life. If all of this seems too daunting, psychotherapy or other kinds of support groups can be enormously helpful. The important thing is to do the very thing for yourself that your parents may not have been able to do: cherish yourself as an adorable being and find interesting ways to be engaged with others.