In a world brimming with constant stimulation and information overload, it is becoming increasingly common for individuals to disconnect from the noise, impacting emotional connectivity, and interfering with basic emotional skills necessary to successfully navigate social landscapes. This phenomenon, sometimes referred to as an emotional deficit in psychology, can have profound effects on one’s well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life.
Emotional deficit refers to any deficiency in the biological motivational process of emotion that interferes with adaptive behavior.
Emotional deficit does not simply imply a deficit in emotion itself but refers to the deficiency in the overall function of the emotional process. The deficit may occur anywhere along the continuum from the first arousal of feeling affects to the resulting behaviors motivated by the process. “Emotions are a biological reaction to experience. Incoming data from our senses interact with our biological being. Our system leaps, pulls back, or freezes in response” (Murphy, 2021).
Susan David, a psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, explains that emotions are “a neurochemical system that evolved to help us navigate life’s complex currents” (2016, location 65). Daniel Goleman explains that emotions in their simplest form are “impulses to act” (2005).
Emotions play such a fundamental role in our survival behaviors that any deficit in the process may significantly impact our quality of life.
Emotional Deficit and Diagnosed Illness
There are no illnesses diagnosed as emotional deficit. The term is too broad and the criteria vague. One may strongly argue that emotional deficit is a key contributor to all the personality disorders. Referring to some of the disorders associated with physical and emotional abuse, Sandra L. Brown wrote, “the fact that these impairments are called “personality disorders” is very important. They are given this name because the personality was forced to develop around environmental or emotional deficits. Another way to look at it is that because of the deficits, the personality failed to develop” (Brown, 2011, Kindle location: 525).
At its core, an emotional deficit refers to a state in which an individual experiences a disconnect from their own emotions and the emotions of others. It is characterized by a lack of emotional awareness, empathy, and the ability to effectively express and regulate emotions. In other words, it is as if one’s emotional compass is askew, making it difficult to navigate the intricate terrain of human connection.
Psychology research has revealed several skills related to experiencing and regulating emotions. Basically, the underlying concept is w through skills we can maximize the benefits off the emotional process. Or, perhaps, in Goleman’s terminology, emotional skills help us both refine and develop emotional intelligence. Through well-developed and practiced emotional skills, we may limit or even eliminate emotional deficits.
Goleman lists emotional skills as “self-awareness; identifying, expressing, and managing feelings; impulse control and delaying gratification; and handling stress and anxiety.” He continues, “a key ability in impulse control is knowing the difference between feelings and actions and learning to make better emotional decisions by first controlling the impulse to act, then identifying alternative actions and their consequences before acting” (2005, Kindle location: 5,162).
Emotional skills pertain to any act or thought that may interrupt or improve the emotional process from arousal to expression. We can plot the different skills along the five stages of opportunity as presented in the emotional regulation process model. While much of our emotional reactions and sensitivities are biological givens, our skills to manage those givens are learned from practice.
Some strategies and practices can help individuals bridge the gap and cultivate a more emotionally connected life. Markedly, research has found that mindfulness and self-reflection play a pivotal role in enhancing emotional awareness and developing a deeper understanding of one’s own emotional landscape. Additionally, seeking therapy or counseling can provide a safe and supportive space to explore and process underlying emotional wounds.
What Causes Emotional Deficits?
There are various factors that can contribute to the development of an emotional deficit. In some cases, it may stem from early childhood experiences (Adverse childhood Experiences), such as neglect, abuse, or a lack of emotional attunement from caregivers. A recent research paper artfully wrote, “favorable childhood conditions offer a conducive milieu for the development of the brain that affects a wide range of psychological and cognitive components, such as inhibition, emotion regulation, attachment, self-image, and socialization” (Katembu, et al., 2023). When childhood conditions are toxic, proper developments stall, and deficits ensue.
Childhoods build the foundation for all future developments. When the foundation is weak and skewed, the structure suffers deficits in strength and resilience. Key experiences and task completion “mold the neural connections that facilitate sensor, motor and cognitive skills and behavior regulation, as well as emotion regulation” (ibid., 2023).
Social Media and Emotional Deficits
There are other less obvious factors. Perhaps, our ever-increasing reliance on technology and social media platforms create a virtual barrier that separates individuals from genuine face-to-face emotional interactions. Naturally, one could assume that less interpersonal interaction would lead to underdeveloped social emotions. In some cases, we might assume that internet relationships may provides some of these needs. However, the very nature of the internet allows for greater numbers of superficial connections. If a person already struggles with social anxiety, then the internet may foster relationship that fail to provide adequate closeness to foster notable growth, leading to a number of emotional deficits.
Goleman explains “many competences are interpersonal: reading social and emotional cues, listening, being able to resist negative influences, taking others’ perspectives, and understanding what behavior is acceptable in a situation” (2005, Kindle location: 5,164). The internet fails to provide sufficient connection to ignite the development of these competences.
Genetics play a significant role in emotional sensitivities. A number of disorders begin at birth. Others wait until later life before notable expression. However, in either case, genetics play a primary role. Some children and adults are completely disconnected from emotion. We refer to some of these cases as alexithymia. Others emotionally detach because life is too painful because of highly sensitive systems.
Often genetic pre-dispositions require an activating event to activate the predisposition into an actual deficit in function. Science refers to this as epigenetics. Accordingly, predispositions interact with stressful experiences. “When life stresses disrupt our psychological equilibrium (or homeostasis), the stressful event may catalyze the development of predispositioned disorders” (Murphy, 2021a).
Importance of Emotions
The consequences of an emotional deficit can be far-reaching. Individuals who struggle with emotional disconnection may find it challenging to build and maintain meaningful relationships, as they may struggle to understand the emotions and needs of others. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and a general sense of dissatisfaction with life.
Emotions contribute to all aspects of life but most notably is their role in relationships. When we suffer from emotional deficits, our most important relationships suffer. When large swatches of life, whether from childhood abuse, addiction, or adult trauma, interfere with emotional development and disrupt normal human interaction, the deficits continue to impact our lives in reciprocal fashion.
A study of high school girls found a significant association to their ability to share distressing feelings from one another and to control them and the factors leading to eating disorders” (Goleman, 2005, Kindle Location: 4,912). Life is interconnected. Emotions seem to be a primary adhesive connecting behavioral outcomes with experience.
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
It is important to remember that everyone’s journey towards emotional connection is unique, and it may take time and effort to develop the necessary skills and insights. Patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to embrace vulnerability are key ingredients in this transformative process.
In a world that often prioritizes productivity and external success over emotional well-being, it is crucial to recognize the value of emotional connection and its profound impact on the human experience. By actively engaging with our emotions, fostering empathy, and cultivating meaningful relationships, we can begin to address the emotional deficit interfering with our path to authentic connection and fulfillment.
Brown, Sandra L. (2011). How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved: Describes 8 Types of Dangerous Men, Gives Defense Strategies and a Red Alert Checklist for Each. Hunter House; 1st edition.
David, Susan (2016). Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. Avery; First Edition.
Goleman, Daniel (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam Books. Read on Kindle Books.
Katembu, S., Zahedi, A., & Sommer, W. (2023). Childhood trauma and violent behavior in adolescents are differentially related to cognitive-emotional deficits. Frontiers in Public Health, 11. DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2023.1001132
Murphy, T. Franklin (2021). Psychology of Emotions. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-22-2021. Accessed 9-16-2023.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2021a) Diathesis Stress Model. Psychology Fanatic. Published 9-27-2021. Accessed 9-16-2023.