Affective deficiency generates emotional hunger and leaves a mark on our brain. The lack of a strong bond and healthy attachment creates a permanent feeling of absence and emptiness. In addition, it impacts the child’s personality and outlines in the adult an almost constant fear: the fear of emotional failure, the anguish of being abandoned again and again.
Most of us have read and heard that man is, above all else, a social creature. Well, from a psychological, even a biological point of view, it is necessary to go much further: people are emotions. Those drives, those internal dynamics orchestrated by complex neurotransmitters, hormones, and various brain structures make up who we are and what we need.
“The deepest principle of human character is the longing to be appreciated.”
Affection, as well as bonds based on a safe and healthy attachment, imprint an almost perfect balance in our minds. Now, any lack, any emptiness or emotional dissonance instantly awakens our instinctive alarms. That newborn knows it well that does not receive the warmth of a skin that adapts to his own to give him security and protection. The baby who is not cared for when he cries knows this, and the child who feels alone in the face of his fears, who is not welcomed, cared or listened to, knows this .
Affective deficiency is a form of involution and generates deficits if it appears especially at an early age. Likewise, this emotional void also leaves “injuries” in maturity, when we build relationships inhabited by emotional coldness, inattention or disinterest.
Anatomy of affective deprivation
With the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communism in Romania (1989), there was an unfortunate opportunity to understand in greater depth the impact and anatomy of affective deprivation in the human being. What was found in those years was as decisive as it was shocking. The situation of those orphaned children was extremely serious. Now, what was truly dramatic was not malnutrition or abandonment, it was above all emotional neglect.
Harvard Medical School constantly monitored the evolution of those little ones. They wanted to know how a baby or child who had hardly enjoyed contact with an adult would mature and develop. They had before them creatures that had stopped crying from a very early age because they understood that no one was going to assist them. Those vacant and vacant stares had grown up in an affectively sterile environment, and the subsequent consequences were to be immense.
- It could be seen that the children – who suffer from a permanent affective deficiency throughout the first 3 years of life – suffer a delay in physical growth despite receiving adequate nutrition.
- Brain development was slow. Something that could be seen is that neurological maturation is related to the level of affection that the child receives. Thus, factors such as genes, the environment, access to a caregiver and a secure attachment bond, as well as adequate nutrition, sensory stimulation, and linguistic contributions are key to optimal brain development.
- Language disorders, elocution problems and poor vocabulary also appeared.
- Likewise, it could also be seen that on average, those children did not develop the skills necessary to build healthy relationships. They always showed low self-esteem, lack of confidence, emotional management problems, hyperactivity, challenging behaviors and aggressiveness.
The investigations carried out showed once again the importance of attachment in the evolutionary development of children. Having one or more reference figures capable of organizing our emotional experience, nurturing us and satisfying needs, generates in our mind a safe haven, a solid foundation on which to establish our personality.
Tin men and women in search of their hearts
We all remember the character of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. He was looking for a heart, he was looking for that inner strength that would allow him to regain sensitivity, the opportunity to love, to get excited about things. Perhaps he was looking for that which he had never received. He was looking to connect with his emotional universe … to return to being human, to put aside that tin skin that until now had served as a defensive barrier.
In some way, many of us also advance through our adult worlds wrapped in that tin costume trying to show a certain independence, reserve and even coldness. Because someone who suffered from emotional malnutrition often tells himself that it is better to distrust, that one should not be under any illusions. They devalue relationships for fear of being hurt again until little by little they stop asking for emotional support and even offering it.
Affective deficiency leaves very deep consequences. It is that void that a child does not know how to name, a psychological wound that cannot be translated into words, but remains imprinted on the conscience for life. It is also that devouring nostalgia of someone who does not receive the affective reinforcement of the couple and little by little withers until the conclusion is reached: loneliness is often preferable to that emotional emptiness.
So let’s not neglect this vital nutrient. Let’s think that affection is never superfluous, that emotional caresses humanize us, make us grow, and strengthen us. Let us therefore be courageous suppliers of this energy that grows when it is shared.