Emotional Deprivation: a Lack of Food for Your Soul

Can a person really get sick because they don't receive attention and affection? The answer is yes. Find out why here.
Emotional Deprivation: a Lack of Food for Your Soul
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Emotional deprivation is the origin of many of our ailments. After all, caresses can bring healing. Hugs make us feel safe and loved. A look full of affection is a way to cheer up our soul. But can a person really get ill because they don’t receive this kind of affection?

The answer is yes.

Human beings are social and emotional. We need emotional ties to survive and to prove ourselves as part of a group. If our day-to-day interactions are full of selfishness, coldness, deceit or distrust, then this will affect our self esteem.

After this, we’ll gradually fall into a slow, downward spiral of destruction. We end up doubting ourselves. For instance, we ask ourselves: “Do I even deserve other people’s love or respect?” This type of thinking makes us fall into a state of defenselessness. Our defenses fall, our immune system weakens and the fearful shadow of depression looms large.

In today’s article, we want to delve deeper into this important subject and focus on the emotional health of human beings.

Girl stroking a cat

Emotional deprivation: holes in our identity

We’re taught to be strong throughout our whole life, and even more so during our childhood and adolescence. However, there are families that misunderstand the concept of emotional strength. Remember:

  • A child won’t become strong if they don’t get hugs, kisses or affection, even though some may see this as a “weakness.”
  • A teenager won’t become a strong adult if their parents teach them to repress their emotions.
  • Similarly, they won’t become strong if they criticize them for crying “because only children cry” or because “being an adult means solving problems on your own without asking for anybody’s help.”
  • This type of approach is both harmful and dangerous. A child who grows up without affection from their loved ones starts to think that the world is a hostile place in which they must defend themselves.
  • Sooner or later, this child may become hostile or develop anger problems.
  • Likewise, if young people don’t experience empathy and closeness, they’ll end up disconnecting from the world. They’ll put up emotional walls to lock themselves away in their own world.
  • This is extremely harmful and problematic. People who constantly lock themselves away from the rest of the world end up developing eating disorders, drug or medicine abuse, and bad friendships etc.

On the other hand, the signs of emotional deprivation can appear at other ages. There are moments in our lives when our apparent strength comes to the surface. This usually occurs when people who are important to us apply what is known in psychology as “negative strokes“.

We’ll tell you more about them below.

Emotional deprivation transmitted through language

Leaf with the shape of a heart

Sometimes, a word hurts more than a blowor a direct impact to our body. Language is a powerful way to communicate emotions and interactions in order to build healthy, dignified and happy bonds. Remember:
  • If our loved ones communicate with us by screaming or are continuously negative, we will experience emotional pain, which has consequences.
  • In addition to respectful, positive and meaningful words, we need to feel we are being heard and understood.
  • The delivery of a message is not the only part of communication.  It’s also necessary for people to practice active, empathetic and constructive listening.

A relationship without signs of affection is not genuine

Love that doesn’t involve daily hugs or touches, or small but powerful demonstrations of affection gradually withers away. Either that, or it ends up not leading to a full, satisfactory relationship
A romantic relationship doesn’t just mean coexisting with each other and sharing the same spaces, responsibilities or bed. Instead, we need to pay attention to the small details in the relationship in order to build a true bond.

A look of admiration, an unexpected caress, a hug, and seeking mutual closeness make us feel happy and safe.

Emotional deprivation can affect our health

It may seem strange, but there are times in our lives when we get used to not being hugged. We become used to not receiving kisses, or not receiving positive affirmations.

We tell ourselves that we’re fine and that our relationship has reached its expiry date. We may even tell ourselves that our children are too old for these things.

However, this may not be the truth. Getting used to an emotionally empty life isn’t really living at all. A life like this may lead to depression because we feel empty, exhausted, alone and undervalued.

Always remember that our souls need affection, emotional caresses and positive words to fully live.

Let’s put this into practice.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Garnefski, N., Kraaij, V., & Spinhoven, P. (2001). Negative life events, cognitive emotion regulation and emotional problems. Personality and Individual Differences. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-8869(00)00113-6
  • Hamilton, M. (1960). A rating scale for depression. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1136/jnnp.23.1.56

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.