Why do I feel like a child?

A child should feel like a child. Nothing wrong with that. But an adult feeling like a child? What’s going on when a thirty-seven-year old keeps asking: why do I feel like a child? This feeling is like the tip of an iceberg; there’s an awful lot beneath it.

I’d like to thoroughly explore this question, the possible cause, effects, and solutions. It’s a very important question because fulfilling, adult relationships hang in the balance. Persistent feelings of immaturity certainly have a negative impact on adult relationships. It’s hard to enjoy adult love, not sexual love, but mature love when I limp along as an inner child. Mature love implies the completion of emotional development. Completely grow up, then completely enjoy love as an equal to another adult person.

My personal background offers a unique perspective on the theme. As a laicized Catholic priest, I have bachelor degrees in philosophy and theology from the Santa Croce, a pontifical university in Rome, Italy. I completed the course work for a licentiate in dogmatic theology.

For ten years, I worked as an award-winning hospice and bereavement counselor, for five years a specialist in grief recovery. For five years, I was registered as an unlicensed psychotherapist in the state of Colorado. For the past fourteen years, I privately studied the material presented in this post.

Andrew Lee Sullivan

Focused research included publishing my 274 page memoir, Vatican Intervention. But above all else, I used to be an emotionally immature person and learned how to grow out of it. So, I draw from academic, practical, and personal experience.

I don’t claim credit for the psychological perspectives offered in this post. Such insights belong to the late Conrad Baars, M.D. and late Anna Terruwe, M.D., two genius, European psychotherapists. Building on their clinically established advancements and my personal experience, I do claim at least partial credit for the spiritual insights presented in this post. The ideas regarding affirmation meditation are original to a small group of friends, including myself.

This post is long. Bear with me for that. But there’s no way around it if you really want a thorough answer to the question.

If the question haunts you, my heart goes out to you. I know the feeling. But I also know there is a good explanation and “cure,” as it were. Patiently creep to the end and you’ll surely discover a few personal insights, and perhaps a good path for yourself.

What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like a child?

There’s a hidden world behind this question: why do I feel like a child? Is this just a passing feeling, a quirky emotion without significant meaning, or is there a profound reality behind it? Feelings have validity. They come from somewhere. There’s always a reality from which my feelings emerge. A feeling always has a rooting, direct or indirect, in the real world. Find the root, the cause, and you’ve learned a lot.

Perhaps I feel like a child because at least part of me hasn’t grown up yet. This is my premise and everything you’ll read flows from it. Maybe, I’m a child inside? Does that sound ridiculous? While I grew up in many other ways, perhaps my emotional life didn’t.

Think about it. Parts of me can grow faster or slower than other parts. For instance, I can be intellectually brilliant, while my physical development lags way behind. Or the reverse: my physical growth can far surpass my intellectual development. Now, what about the emotional life? Its development can actually get stuck, while the intellect, body, and achievements of life take off and fly. I can appear and achieve like I’m an adult, but not entirely yet. Why do I feel like a child? Maybe I am a child, inside? And I may be forty-six years old. That’s a scary thought.

There’s actually an emotional condition that explains this experience. It’s called: emotional deprivation disorder. And it’s not hard to understand. You see, any living thing stops developing when deprived of the essential elements it requires to grow. A plant without water and sunshine stops growing. A puppy without food stops growing. Simply put, an infant, or baby, or child without the reception of love stops the human emotions from fully developing.

The soft, gentle, tender emotions, like joy and love need quality, unconditional, mature, sensual (not sexual) love to develop. Without this love received these particular emotions get stuck and stop growing. This is where the feeling of being a child inside comes from. Either I didn’t receive such love when growing up, or I received defective love. This crippled my ability to receive, enjoy, feel, and share love in an adult world.

Just as much, this deprived experience very early in life caused my inner feelings to freeze in time, while I kept growing in every other way. Truly, the profound and existential affirmation of a fragile child is a fundamental human need just as essential as food, water, and shelter. Without that love and acceptance we grow up into children again.

Emotional Deprivation Disorder – the Symptoms

Now, buckle up and get ready for a wild ride, maybe. I hope not. A thoughtful reading of the symptoms may shed light on the fundamental question: why do I feel like a child? If you have this disorder, the symptom list reflects like a mirror. Look into it and see if you find yourself. Note too that there are degrees of this disorder. If you have many symptoms the disorder may be severe. If there are fewer symptoms the disorder may be light.

When it’s not so severe it’s not really referred to as a “disorder.” It’s simply referred to as an unaffirmed state. This is what I had and it nearly destroyed me. Although the condition was not severe, nonetheless the symptoms still nearly destroyed my life.

Feeling like a child is an actual symptom of the disorder. But a detailed symptom list expands around this feeling. It’s only one of many similar symptoms. Seeing the question about feeling like a child in a wider context explains a lot. The following provisional list of symptoms (there are more) has three distinct categories. Take your time. For many, this is a life changing realization. It may tell you a lot about yourself or someone you know.

I’d recommend a meditative kind of reading. A breezy, dismissive skimming surely will not benefit as much as a reflective consideration. In short, take your time as you glance inward. Look for the raw, underlying natural feelings, not how I might handle such feelings. Here we go:

I can’t seem to establish a normal emotional rapport with others. This category of symptoms arises from an insufficiently developed emotional life. It’s so undeveloped that it’s difficult to establish enriching adult relationships. Accordingly, the emotional life of a child prevails, in words, thoughts, tendencies, and feelings. These internal dispositions dominate even though the person is well into adult life and frequently, exceptionally developed in many other ways.

  1. My self-orientation makes me avoid directing myself to other adults.
  2. I wait for adults to direct themselves to my needs and interests.
  3. I feel like a child in my contact with adults.
  4. I can’t seem to step outside of myself and experience the good of others as my own good.
  5. I feel alone and isolated in an adult world.
  6. It seems that I need adults to treat me like a child for me to feel right.
  7. My internal feelings don’t seem to match my physical age.
  8. I don’t really know what joy, friendship, and intimacy feel like.
  9. I forge adult relationships with the power of my will, based upon my needs.
  10. I can’t connect with adults by an internal, spontaneous movement toward them, whereby I openly share my feelings and participate in others’ feelings.
  11. I feel like a stranger to adults and conversing is difficult.
  12. I can establish superficial acquaintances but not experience emotionally satisfying relationships.
  13. I function well enough when my work does not involve my emotions, but suffer dysfunctionality when personal emotional participation is involved.
  14. I fail in all my adult friendships.
  15. I don’t understand the feelings of friendship. Friendships are forced, not genuinely felt. The need for satisfying, intimate friendships is not felt. External friendships are established and maintained by the sheer force of my will, lacking the pleasurable experience of a mutual exchange of spontaneous feelings.
  16. I don’t know what love feels like and I tend not to believe in it.
  17. I survive by acting and wearing a mask in the adult world.
  18. I can’t stand up for myself.
  19. I can’t confront and stand up to others.
  20. I’m not accepted whenever I show my true internal feelings. I’m considered a child.
  21. If I’m married, I feel and relate to my spouse as my mother or father, expecting excessive care.

A general feeling of uncertainty and insecurity controls me. This category of symptoms arises from a non-affirmed childhood. Then, the adult with child-like feelings faces an adult world. This brings about a clash of my inner life with the adult world. Inner insecurity prevails, even if I do my best not to show it or let it control me. Imagine a six-year-old thrust into the midst of harsh, judgmental, critical adult crowds. Now, imagine a forty-three-year old with the emotions of a six-year-old, entrapped in a similar situation.

  1. I find it difficult to make personal decisions, hesitating and changing my mind.
  2. I’m somehow unable to react in an emotionally proper way with other adults.
  3. I can easily make business or life decisions only when there is no emotional aspect involved. But when the decision is personal and related to another person uncertainty characterizes the choice.
  4. I’m overly sensitive to others’ opinions and feelings about me.
  5. I often want others’ reassurances and confirmations for my actions.
  6. I live in a state of hunger for others’ acceptance and approval.
  7. I demand reassurances and affirmations for everything I do or achieve. Sometimes mistaken for vanity, this tendency is actually a sign of abiding inner insecurity.
  8. I’m easily hurt by critical remarks, and get easily downhearted at the slightest sign of others’ disapproval.
  9. I find it hard to distinguish between words offered in earnest or jest about me.
  10. I’m overly sensitive about not hurting others’ feelings, because I need their acceptance.
  11. I feel I’m a nuisance to others.
  12. I fear asking for favors and services.
  13. I excessively want to please others.
  14. I feel helpless and ill at ease in company because I’m self-conscious and don’t know what to do with myself.
  15. I use the collection and possession of things to make me feel secure and adequate.
  16. This collection of things to experience security and acceptance ranges from hoarding to posting my degrees on the wall.

I experience a strong feeling of inferiority and inadequacy. Although life achievements may not be lacking, failures may prevail due to feelings of uncertainty. This category of symptoms relates to an insecurity-failure-inferiority cycle of life. Remember, this root insecurity arises from the deprivation of affirmation during infancy or childhood.

  1. I feel that nobody really loves me, and doubt others’ expressions of love for me.
  2. I feel like I’m not lovable or that I’m not worth loving.
  3. I feel that I’m not capable of loving because I can’t feel love when trying to love other adults.
  4. I can tend to shun others’ love for me because I really don’t believe in it. This may lead to testing others’ love for me.
  5. I tend to a jealous love because I get very insecure when somebody likes my spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend.
  6. I tend to look for and list the reasons why I’m not accepted and loved. I can also spend a lot of time and energy acting on my own false self-perceptions in this regard.
  7. I feel, perhaps even demand that expressions of love for me remain constant. The words just have to be there, practically always and everywhere.
  8. I feel like an outsider, like I don’t belong, like nobody accepts me for who I am.
  9. I’m excessively focused on appearing beautiful, strong, productive, or accomplished. Such striving may be related to a deep-seated urge to finally be loved and accepted.
  10. I feel inadequate, either physically, emotionally, or intellectually.
  11. I tend not to finish many endeavors I begin because I lose self-confidence and belief in my own capacities.
  12. I don’t want to start anything new because I doubt that I’d succeed in it.
  13. For those with a religious orientation, inferiority and inadequacy may be mistakenly attributed to moral failures with related feelings of guilt.
  14. Inferiority and inadequacy may also engender promiscuity or a striving for power. Both dispositions may stem from an inner void of genuine love and unconditional acceptance, reaching back to childhood.

Perhaps, sharing my “test” results may clarify how this symptom list can work. From the first category, I had 14 of 21 symptoms. I had 8 of 16 symptoms in the second category, and 6 of 14 in the third. The results indicate my unaffirmed state. I’m remembering how I was twelve years ago. Today, I don’t have any of these symptoms. I’m entirely healed. No, better said, I’m completely grown up, especially the emotional part of me. I’ll outline the therapy soon. There’s always hope my friend, regardless of your reading results.

Shades of this Disorder – According to a Person’s Temperament

It’s expected that a person with emotional deprivation disorder tries to succeed in the adult world. This attempt is characterized by a person’s underlying temperament. On the one hand, if a person is inclined to fear, the reliance on will-power to tackle difficulties soon runs into a dead end. Here, the reticent person tends to withdraw from the world and escape confrontation. In this way, the condition of deprivation is more detectable than otherwise.

On the other hand, if a person is gifted with an energetic and courageous constitution, the emotional deprivation disorder is better managed and hidden from family, friends, and co-workers. It can tend to be hidden from myself too. Energy and activity mask the true inner feelings. Reason and will-power navigate the difficulties of life, habitually squashing the child-like emotional life.

Yet, hope, will-power, and courage have their inherent limits. After perhaps many years of relative success, this energy based suppression of the child-like inner life reaches a tragic end. The burden of the fight and the entire struggle ends with a dramatic thud. Will-power can no longer exert an effective management of the finally appearing symptoms.

Either temperament fuels if own set of additional problems in life. A person with a weak personality finds it hard to hide the naturally emerging symptoms. A general anxiety soon dominates life. A person with inherent courage and energy better succeeds in the adult world. But the inner feelings are still there trying to dominate, perhaps for many years. A life-long inner tension ensues. An epic battle between the exterior adult and the interior child characterizes life itself. Astute observers may pick up on this inner conflict, but often lack the know-how to deal with it.

I Suffered this Disorder

Okay, enough theory. I’d like to share my testimony and offer an example how these symptoms can play out in the real world. My story certainly does not represent everyone’s temperament, but it does demonstrate the organic and progressive nature of the disorder.

The disorder is gradual in multifaceted ways. The symptoms progressively appear over time. The natural internal resources exerted to keep the symptoms at bay gradually weaken. The mind’s grasp of the prolonged experience advances ever so slowly, like a turtle crawling through denial to confusion, hopefully arriving at awareness.

The fifth of twelve children, I was born with a predominantly choleric

Sullivan Family
Andrew Lee Sullivan: back row and far right

temperament. As described by Aristotle, the choleric personality is extroverted, independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious. Pretty much, that was me.

By my teenage years I woke up with a conquering disposition. I intended to achieve something great in life. Believing myself better than others, I didn’t understand anyone who did not want to make a big mark in the world. I felt sure of my natural aptitudes and grew eager to tackle the world. Then, I became religious and wanted to become some kind of super-apostle.

During my teens and early 20s, I felt capable, positive, hopeful, sure, assertive, happy, forceful, focused, innovative, successful, idealistic, and superior. In my relationships, I felt accepted, admired, and praised by others. So, where was this terrible disorder we’ve described?

Yet, a few symptoms of emotional deprivation disorder started to appear. The value and pleasure, and appreciation of personal relationships was entirely lacking in me. I neither felt friendship nor love, and believed I didn’t need such feelings, like it was a weakness of some kind. Everything in my life was directed toward action and achievement. I spent a lot of time trying to please others, and could not express my true thoughts whenever that might result in opposition or confrontation with adults.

During those years if someone had told me that I had emotional deprivation disorder, I would have laughed. I would have exhibited a firm denial. I didn’t know myself that well. My ignorance would have been thick, but my denial sincere. Besides, the symptoms tend to intensify only through the passage of time.

During my mid 20s to early 30s I experienced failures in life and many more symptoms appeared. Life became more complicated, confusing, and less satisfying. The feeling and meaning of love truly escaped me. Desperation set in. It seemed that the lack of integration between my intellect and emotions grew. I “preached” about the love and joy of God, but did not know the inner feeling of such abstract ideas. I compensated with unbridled action.

I didn’t experience a heartfelt connection with other people. What was the feeling of friendship? I had no idea. So, life morphed into an endurance in isolation, cut off from confiding my feelings or genuinely enjoying other’s company. Removed from human relationships, I felt odd, like a childish misfit. Trying to compensate, I struggled to belong by achieving. And then, the gnawing hunger for intimacy increased considerably.

The defining character of adulthood escaped me. I reacted and adapted to strong-willed adults, missing the wherewithal to enter into equal and satisfying relationships. An emotionally fulfilling camaraderie simply was not present. I had no backbone, no opposition, no sense of equality. Pleasing others and subservience colored my soul.

Little by little, my “achievement-pay-off” diminished. Tinsel successes were no longer enough to make me relatively happy. My prayer life defaulted into intellectual considerations and expressions of love, devoid of feelings. My moral life turned into a dry checklist of heartless duties. Love was defined by action.

Somewhere between my mid 30s and mid 40s the consequences of inner emptiness destroyed me. I lived in despair, with no possibility of ever understanding myself. Eventually, a suicidal disposition gripped my soul. I just wished I’d die. The symptoms of emotional deprivation disorder conquered me. I had abandoned God and every human being.

Tragically, that’s when I was ordained a Catholic priest. I was 41 years old; it was the late summer of 2001, less than a month when the twin towers in New York collapsed. My life had collapsed too. I knew I shouldn’t have been ordained, but my child-like emotions couldn’t find the inner strength to oppose it. Then, things got worse. Eventually, the responsibilities of living as an adult priest crushed me.

Of course, it didn’t help that I’d inadvertently joined a cult run by a sociopath. That’s another story. But it certainly complicated things and exacerbated the ordeal of my unaffirmed state. My “superiors” neither understood my problem nor what to do with me. By the summer of 2004, I was confined in an apartment near Rome, Italy. I couldn’t leave without explicit permission, and I rotted away. Life was over.

I share this excerpt of my testimony simply to demonstrate how the symptoms of emotional deprivation disorder emerged in my life. At first, a few symptoms were subtle and escaped detection. Only after the wear and tear of life did the symptoms expand and intensify. Finally, the destructive force of relating as a child to adults climaxed. Emotional retardation is very real, with catastrophic consequences.

Note: It seems to me that emotional deprivation disorder is more easily detectable during the later years of life than the younger. At an early age the symptoms have not yet budded and blossomed. So, the detection of the beneath-the-surface-disorder is surmised by an acute understanding of the causality. In the later years of life, the disorder is more easily recognized by the effects, the full-grown symptoms.

What Causes Emotional Deprivation Disorder?

With that said, we return to the question. Why do I feel like a child? Pushing the wider context of symptoms aside, what truly causes this child-like feeling in the adult? What causes the symptoms?

Emotional deprivation disorder is an adult problem. If the disorder is present, an adult eventually experiences the symptoms. Sometimes the disorder is difficult to identify and grasp because the “victim” may flourish intellectually. He or she may outperform others regarding talents and skills. The assertive and go-get-em emotions may seem perfectly fine, even stuck in overdrive. The problem is with the pleasurable emotions that are oriented toward inner enjoyment.

As emotional deprivation disorder advances, it’s only specific types of emotions that remain undeveloped. These are called the pleasurable emotions. Such emotions include but are not limited to: love, joy, happiness, tenderness, affection, and the like. It’s precisley these kinds of gentle, or soft, or inward emotions that get stuck in an undeveloped state as emotional deprivation disorder progresses.

As the pleasurable emotions freeze in time, the utility emotions try to compensate. These are the emotions that move us to do whatever is necessary for our own good. Such emotions include: hope, despair, courage, fear, anger, and many more related to these in one way or another. As emotional deprivation disorder advances, it’s these kinds of emotions that tend to kick into overdrive and claim ownership of the person.

But where does this lopsided arrangement of emotions begin? Again, what is the root cause of emotional deprivation disorder? It’s not DNA, genetics, diet, a polluted environment, psychological repression, or a twisted cognitive defect of some kind. Well, that covers just about everything psychology offers today.

It’s actually more basic than all of these. It’s caused by a lack of mature and unconditional love early in life. The pleasurable emotions must receive such love to grow, just as surely as the body needs food to grow.

A complete lack of mature and unconditional love in infancy and childhood causes a severe form of emotional deprivation disorder. Of course, in this case the symptoms of the disorder tend to a greater quantity and intensity than otherwise. Without the reception of such unconditional love, authentic affirmation and emotional strengthening never have a chance to constitute an emotionally mature person.

There is a lesser form of the disorder referred to as an inadequately affirmed state. This is caused not by the absence of love, but by defective love. As such, an infant’s or child’s experience of receiving love may have been so inadequate that a significant interruption of emotional development ensued.

Defective love is characterized by selfishness, immaturity, and conditionality. There may be love, but a kid may hardly experience it. It may be lost in a world of rejection, criticism, distance, neglect, or abandonment. Or there may be a perverted love colored with abuse. Or there may be a weakly perceived love void of care or expression, of word or touch. Any of this is enough to cause emotional arrest and the tragic aftermath of an inner-child trying to survive in an adult world.

And Me? – How did I get it?

My testimony may clarify the cause of emotional deprivation at work in the real world. I didn’t have a severe form of emotional deprivation disorder. But I did suffer considerably from an unaffirmed state of being. So, truly, how did I “inherit” this condition?

Defective love doesn’t mean love’s entirely lacking. I enjoyed a good childhood in many ways. I experienced the stability of faithfully married parents and a dependable household. My father worked like a horse to adequately provide for the twelve children of our American middle class family. Food, clothing, shelter, education, and the opportunities of music and sports were never deficient. Love was certainly mixed into this solicitude. Fundamental and responsible parental acceptance provided for the basics of life and related emotional reinforcements. Honestly, I had a happy childhood in many respects.

My partial emotional deprivation resulted from the flaws of two human beings trying be adequate parents. I don’t say this with the slightest of critical judgment, bitterness, or blame. Morally speaking, Jack and Joan managed the twelve the best they could. But of course, they passed on their own inherent limits.

My father worked hard but suffered the life of maintaining emotional distance. He didn’t invest much emotional involvement in my life. Or at least, he didn’t allow his emotions to go out to me. My relationship with him lacked time, touch, tenderness, and intimate sharing. Everything seemed reduced to the practical things of life, without further interests. I wanted closeness and tried to earn it. No kisses or hugs were forthcoming.

My mother, though caring in many ways, lacked an emotional connection in her own way. Here is where a person’s virtue can be a vice. Mom was an energetic, effective, intellectual type, simple and funny too. Her care tended to translate into words and actions. She was not a touchy-feely kind of person. I missed the sensual expression of love growing up. I ended up with a working-relationship with my mother, rather than a heart-felt relationship.

These parental limits were just enough to plant love deprivation somewhere deep within me, only to emerge later in life. This deprivation certainly seemed “dormant” during the early years of life. I had no idea. Unknown to me, my emotional constitution congealed in a tragic direction. Only time was needed for the ticking time bomb to go off.

How to Grow Up – Affirmation Therapy

The therapy for emotional deprivation disorder is rather simple. It revolves around the passive reception of mature and unconditional love. A person missed quality love while growing up. So, love is given and emotional growth resumes.

You see, growth is a natural process. As long as the conditions for growth are present, growth advances. Look around; it’s true everywhere. A tree deprived of the essential conditions, just needs water, sunshine, and good soil again to resume growth. It’s true in every aspect of human life. Nourishment produces physical growth; a stimulating environment provokes intellectual development. Receiving unconditional love develops the capacity to feel and enjoy love and joy.

Therapy therefore boils down to providing the proper conditions for emotional growth. Once the right conditions are present and absorbed, emotional development ensues. Gradually, the symptoms of emotional deprivation disorder fade away. There’s no magic here. No complicated cognitive exercises. No psychoanalysis. No dream interpretation. No craniosacral techniques. No special diet. No pill or potion. Just belated, quality love. It’s absolutely amazing what love can do! It has the power to unfold a Cinderella story or bring a Lazarus back to life.

Clinical therapy places the psychotherapist in the role of providing unconditional love for the patient. This therapy is called affirmation therapy. It’s important to note that the concept of affirmation is not defined here in a common way. Affirmation in this therapeutic context is not something done for the patient. No, it’s a loving state of being personally present to the patient. The therapist is present to the patient in a parental way. As such, the therapist is genuinely moved by the goodness of the “patient” and radiates back a profound, unconditional love and acceptance. Picture a mom adoring her newborn.

The therapist relates to the patient very much on a feeling-level, just like a mother or father relate to a child. Conversely, the patient relates to the therapist as an expecting child. Affirmation therapy is experienced as authentic contact with a person who truly welcomes, loves, and accepts me for who I am.

If affirmation therapy is to work, the therapist cannot assume a business-like disposition. Rather, the therapist must truly feel for the patient and let this feeling come across. We’re talking here of a communication of feelings more than ideas, like when a parent communicates with a five-year son or daughter, as it were. The therapist expresses acceptance and affection with cordiality, concern, interest, and patience. Accordingly, unconditional love is not only understood but felt.

Such therapy requires multifaceted maturity on the part of the therapist. Emotional maturity is first and foremost. An emotionally deprived person cannot possibly impart this kind of therapy. Why? Cutting to the chase, a person cannot pass on what is not yet possessed.

Besides, such affective therapy must be kept within its proper boundaries with the exercise of restraining love. A therapist’s love and expressions of love must be regulated according to the overall best interests of the patient. This requires maturity by the therapist. He or she should be able to respectfully nurture love while mindful of the capacities of the patient. A therapist then should not give what a patient is not yet ready to receive.

Especially with this kind of therapy, there’s a risk that the patient and therapist will fall in love with each other. Although this is not something bad in itself, it does underline the need for a mature therapist. An adequate age difference between the patient and the therapist may offer significant therapeutic value in this regard. Yet, only genuine maturity will be able to properly manage a patient’s reception of love and the personal feelings that tend to stir within the therapist. The bottom line, the maintaining of a truly therapeutic relationship rests mostly upon the shoulders of the psychotherapist.

There’s one more essential role that the therapist must assume. He or she should become the teacher to a sole student, so to speak. There’s a lot of stuff that surfaces when emotional growth takes place. So, the whole process must be subjected to the guidance of reason. The patient will surely need a corresponding education to fresh emotional growth.

The teaching dimension of affirmation therapy is easy to understand. Emotional and intellectual growth go hand in glove. They grow together and complement each other. Or at least, they should. For instance, as the underdeveloped pleasurable emotions grow, the compensating and overdeveloped utility emotions will need to be moderated, precisely by instruction.

What About Meditation?

I hear a lot about meditation these days. If I have emotional deprivation, is there any way that meditation can help? Can it possibly take the place of therapy?

Conrad Baars, M.D. and Anna Terruwe, M.D. outline affirmation therapy as the specific, proper treatment for emotional deprivation disorder. Failing the criteria for therapeutic value, they categorize meditation as a self-affirming practice incapable of offering a cure. In their book Healing the Unaffirmed they particularly target Transcendental Meditation.

Yes of course, Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a self-guided technique incapable of granting real love from another person. I fully agree with the expert psychotherapists’ evaluation. Transcendental Meditation may help some promote inner peace and wellness, and alleviate depression and anxiety, but certainly can’t substitute for the indispensable reception of genuine affirmation from another person. TM would be a flimsy band-aid on the life-threatening hemorrhage of emotional deprivation.

Note: I don’t intend to promote TM here. Moving beyond superficial dabbling, TM possesses it own inherent dangers.

But for the purposes in this post, ultimately, TM fails because it’s a self-driven and self-contained process. It’s pure self-affirmation. It’s totally guided by oneself and there is no other person involved in offering love.

However, let’s back up a bit. Not every angle of the question regarding meditation has been adequately covered. Truly, a theological perspective is needed to complete the picture. Not all meditation is the same. Christian meditation is prayer. TM is not. Prayer is communication with God. Genuine prayer is not reduced to a self-driven, intellectual process, or shouldn’t be. Prayer is contact with a real Person who loves me unconditionally. This potentially changes everything. Who can say that the touch of the Creator cannot cure his own creation?

Additionally, not all Christian meditation is the same. Some is characterized by intellectual reflection on scripture. There’s meditation focused on the repetition of the name of Jesus. Other Christian meditation converges on worship, repentance, or thanksgiving. Christian meditation often involves moving the will toward some kind of moral conformity to the truths of Christianity.

But there’s a very specific kind of Christian meditation that conforms precisely to the therapeutic prerequisites of affirmation therapy. It’s called affirmation meditation. This kind of meditation emulates affirmation therapy. It’s therapeutic prayer, so to speak.

Affirmation meditation offers authentic therapeutic value. Affirmation meditation is not a self-driven and self-contained process. The core of affirmation therapy is the passive reception of mature and unconditional love radiated by a personal presence. Right, TM cannot possible provide this. But this is absolutely the heart of affirmation meditation. It’s not really something I do for myself; it’s pure reception of love from another person.

The difference between affirmation therapy and affirmation meditation reduces to two distinctive features. Affirmation meditation requires the gift of faith in Jesus. It’s believed that Jesus is personally present to the unaffirmed soul. Another way of saying this is that Jesus is the “psychotherapist.” Of course, he’s far more than that, granted. Though this divine person is invisible, he’s always with me, loving me unconditionally.

The second distinctive feature of affirmation meditation is that the “patient” relies upon the use of the imagination to help recognize personal contact with the Divine Physician. There’s a profound link between the external senses, internal senses including the imagination, and the emotions. These are active during affirmation therapy. It’s only the external senses that are skipped over, or not used during affirmation meditation. Otherwise, the imagination is employed and the emotions experience the passive reception of God’s loving presence.

Surely, affirmation meditation does not “make” or “produce” love for oneself. No. Properly speaking, it merely opens the doors to receive love that’s already abundantly, immediately present. So, it’s not self-affirmation. I do nothing to make myself loved. I “merely” surrender to love. I wake up to the reality that I’m already, unconditionally loved for exactly who I am.

How can I put this in easily understandable terms? I go to the beach for a sun tan. I spread out my towel, relax, and expose my vulnerable body to the power of the sun. From that point on, it’s the sun that does all the work. Affirmation meditation does something similar. I “place” myself in his presence, and see how profoundly Jesus loves me. He does all the work.

So, is all this just a theory? Mere speculation? Can affirmation meditation truly produce the same results as affirmation therapy? Yes, it does sound absurd, and this is what I said when I first heard about it. With disbelief, I objected: “I don’t need more prayer; I need a therapist.” Meditation had failed to address my emotional deprivation for thirty years. “Absolutely ridiculous,” I thought. But not so fast.

Here’s the reality. You can’t argue against a fact. I had many symptoms of an unaffirmed state. The syndrome had utterly destroyed me and brought me to a suicidal way of surviving life. I gave affirmation meditation a serious try, committing myself to its daily practice. A few years later I had no symptoms. I was cured. I experienced the fire of love. I passed through my psychic birth, described as the crown of therapy by Dr. Baars. And I witnessed others who practiced affirmation meditation, with the same astounding results. Unbelievably, Jesus had truly taken the place of the therapist.

I’m not saying that affirmation meditation can replace affirmation therapy, or should. I’m just saying that it worked for me and my friends. It was enough. I believe that affirmation therapy and affirmation meditation each claim their own special place in the big picture of enabling emotional growth.

Perhaps, affirmation therapy may be especially suitable for severe cases of emotional deprivation especially when the gift of faith is particularly lacking, or the need for a tangible human presence is strong. Affirmation meditation may be an appropriate option for a believing Catholic or Christian burdened with deprivation. It seems that the soul more inclined to visualization than conceptualization finds affirmation meditation decidedly conducive toward a cure.

After a groundbreaking and exhaustive study on emotional deprivation disorder, Dr. Baars concludes with a fascinating invitation. He asks for an exchange of ideas from the common man: “For some time we have been convinced that the person in the street must become an active part of the psychiatric team, of any healing efforts aimed at the wholeness of the human being.” This invitation was actually proposed by Anna Terruwe, M.D. and Conrad Baars, M.D., forty-seven years ago in the book Loving and Curing the Neurotic.

I believe the time for that “non-professional-contribution ” has arrived. There’s another way to deal with emotional deprivation disorder. “The person in the street” has discovered affirmation meditation. True healing can actually take place outside of the clinical setting.

Note: In a therapeutic context, it’s not so much that the emotions are “healed” or “cured.” Rather, more precisely, they “resume growth.” Moreover, the emotional growth caused by affirmation meditation is not a “miracle.” It may feel like it, but properly speaking it’s not. Miracles inexplicably supersede the laws of nature. But that’s not what happens here.

God normally works with nature, not against or beyond it. Affirmation meditation then helps the emotions resume their natural process of development, by exposure to the primary condition of growth. Eastern theology refers to Jesus as the Lover of Man. Well said! I simply need to passively receive his ever present, personal, unconditional love for my emotions to keep developing in their natural kind of way.

Admittedly, the educational aspect of affirmation meditation may be lacking. This is a significant negative. Remember, the therapist plays an important educational role in affirmation therapy. However, I’ve found that a decent “spiritual director” can significantly make up for this lack. A prudent, mature, descreet, open-minded listener is still needed. That person must understand and accept the therapeutic principles involved and be capable of offering common sense advice regarding growing up.

The Global Significance of Affirmation Meditation

Emotional deprivation disorder is everywhere regarding its cause and symptoms, but elusively nowhere regarding its diagnostic identity and corresponding therapy. This tragic distance between cause and cure unleashes emotional deprivation disorder to spread practically unchecked, far and wide. We’re living in the midst of an unrocognized “retarded-emotion-pandemic.”

Especially Western society swims in an “advanced civilization” of broken families and parents who have little time to properly love their children. Terruwe and Baars estimated that perhaps a fourth of the population of the Western world has been affected by emotional deprivation disorder. Apparently, an awful lot of people ask: why do I feel like a child?

Look around. We’re lost in an ocean of emotional immaturity. Abortion, child abuse, addictions, clergy abuse, and the unbridled pursuit of money tear the vulnerable and innocent apart because of a lack of love and acceptance. Sadly, emotional deprivation tends to stubbornly root as it passes from generation to generation.

Simultaneously, hardly any school of medicine or psychology knows about emotional deprivation disorder. The disorder is not even included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This resource is the virtual Bible for psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists to figure out a client’s problem and know how to treat it. Consequently, the many souls burdened with emotional deprivation disorder are characteristically misdiagnosed and treated inappropriately. While the doctors and therapists receive their fees, the patients go away unhealed.

A side note here. Why isn’t emotional deprivation disorder included in the DSM-5? Backed with ample clinical grounding, the brilliant discoveries of Terruwe and Baars have proved all too confrontational for modern psychology. Psychology today assumes only repressive disorders. The idea of a disorder simply caused by a lack of love is far beyond the psychotherapeutic status quo.

Besides, the works of Terruwe and Baars embrace a classical, anthropological underpinning. Their appreciation of Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Middle Ages theologian, is a serious obstacle to the standard and current psychtherapeutic perspective. Not enough Darwin and Freud. And Terruwe and Baars were devoted believers in Jesus Christ. Such belief is a stumbling block to psychology today.

All the above points underline how far away the common man stands from curing his emotional deprivation disorder. You can’t just go to the phone book and find a psychotherapist who offers affirmation therapy. Perhaps, there’s not more than a dozen therapists in the United States familiar with the diagnosis of emotional deprivation disorder and experienced in affirmation therapy.

In the beginning of 2007, I made almost fifty phone calls to psychotherapists in Rome, Italy. I was looking for someone capable of offering affirmation therapy outlined by Terruwe and Baars. Nobody had experience regarding the diagnosis and therapy for emotional deprivation disorder. Two therapists knew something, theoretically. Searching for the proper therapy was like journeying in a veritable desert.

Eventually, I did find a therapist who once had emotional deprivation disorder (not by name) and grew out of it. She offered not so much cognitive or behavioral therapy, but affective therapy. I introduced her to the works of Terruwe and Baars. She was humble enough to learn all about it, from me, her client! She ended up monitoring my practice of affirmation meditation and corresponding rapid emotional development. She was absolutely astounded by the amazing results and verified the effectiveness of affirmation meditation for healing an unaffirmed state of being.

The proliferation of emotional deprivation disorder and the inaccessibility of therapy suggest affirmation meditation as a healing option for an endless

stream of unloved people. Indeed, where can the masses otherwise find healing? Jesus is ever present to anyone who approaches, anywhere, anytime. I already live in his presence as he radiates his personal and unconditional love for me. I simply need to believe, imagine myself in his real presence, and passively receive.

Here’s the key to genuine therapeutic effectiveness. Affirmation meditation brings about real contact with a real person. But it will take putting your faith to the test. Can I possibly accept that God’s love for me can be just as real as another human being’s love for me? That’s the ultimate question here.

A Starting Point – for You

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps the haunting question applies to me? Why do I feel like a child? I hope the above introduction to emotional deprivation disorder and affirmation meditation has helped answer this question. If this post really hits home, let’s get a bit more practical. What’s the next step? Especially if you believe in Jesus, I can help more.

Some practical steps may help:

Read through the symptom list provided and give yourself a little test. If you have a lot of symptoms then you may be touched by emotional deprivation disorder. It may be severe or light. There are probably a hundred degrees of this disorder. Everybody scores differently.

If you have the symptoms, don’t be too concerned about a self-diagnosis. Why? The recommended “therapy,” affirmation meditation, has absolutely no negative side effects. It can benefit anyone with or without any degree of emotional deprivation disorder.

Read the post on this website about affirmation meditation. That post outlines how to practice it.

Before anything else, perhaps you want to learn more as a next step. Further education can only help. I’d recommend my book, Vatican Intervention by Andrew Lee Sullivan, to get an idea how affirmation meditation works in the real world. If you want the clinical basics of the disorder, read Healing the Unaffirmed: Recognizing Emotional Deprivation Disorder by Conrad W. Baars, M.D. and Anna A. Terruwe, M.D. For more ideas on how to practice affirmation meditation I recommend reading Quenching the Soul’s Thirst by Todd M. Scott, my wonderful friend.

Or maybe you’re the type that likes to dive in headfirst. That’s fine. Set the alarm for your first affirmation meditation tomorrow morning. Pick a daily time and place, and keep moving forward.

When I first started, I was told that affirmation meditation would completely change my life, if I’d give it time. I was told that within fifteen months, I’d experience love so powerfully that I’d beg Jesus to lessen the intensity. It was also explained that affirmation meditation would seem to have a life of its own. Without my planning or guidance, Jesus would take me wherever he wants to go, showing me how much he loves me. This is all true. In various degrees, my friends experienced it all.

One last piece of advice. The successful practice of affirmation meditation requires an underlying lifestyle choice. To receive Jesus’ unconditional love I’ll need to learn the art of doing nothing. Yes, that’s a funny way of saying it. Modern culture likes to wrap me up in activity, business, doing things, effectivity. But slowing down and withdrawing from the world a bit will make for good meditating. Slow down and go further.

I encourage you to choose the path of passive receptivity. Choose being over doing; affectivity over effectivity; passive reception over unbridled activity. Stop! Slow down! Set your heart upon receiving love.

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Andrew Lee Sullivan is the pioneer and foremost educator on Affirmation Meditation. He's a national, award-winning hospice counselor and grief recovery specialist. In 2007, as a Catholic priest and cult survivor, Sullivan became a Vatican whistle-blower. Today, Andrew is happily married and enjoys a second life under the Arizona sunshine with his wife and two young boys. His memoir is entitled: Vatican Intervention.

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28 Replies to “Why do I feel like a child?”

  1. Thank you for this enthralling account of emotional deprivation disorder. It is one I have never come across before.
    I am glad you gave your own personal account of this disorder plus the ways of treating and overcoming it.

    1. Derek,
      Learn something new every day, right? Glad you can share now, whenever the occasion might arise. I’ll say a prayer that you reach your business dream. Thank you for reading and reflecting.

  2. Wow, this ia a big one. I have read the long post and definitely agree that far too many adults are deprived of sustainable love from one of both patents. The result is a population of largely dysfunctional people who are dominated by their own insecurities. They lack an inner sense of approval and look outwards for this affirmation. Oftentimes the results are catastrophic. Thank you so much for bringing all of this to my attention. Yes, I can place myself in the midst of this. My philosophical bias is more Eastern but I truly believe that Jesus was the greatest healer of all time. If we were to go inside and realise that there is no outside then we are in a position to begin the inner work. Thank you

  3. Very interesting read. The statistics given on the sheer number of people estimated to be walking around in today’s society with emotional deprivation disorder is staggering. Going by the descriptions and symptoms you have outlined it is entirely possibly, if not probable, that most people are suffering from this disorder to some degree.

    What do you believe the chances of a child growing up in a single parent home has of becoming an adult with sufficient emotional growth having taken place? If one parent is virtually non-existent when it comes to attention and love, is it still possible for a child to grow and develop completely from an emotional viewpoint?

    I am not Catholic however I am a believer in a higher power; I am a member of Celestine Light. I can fully comprehend how affirmative meditation can be of great benefit for anyone, not only those in need of the affirmation of unconditional love. Creating a connection with our creator as well as all life on Earth will surely serve to bring an awareness and wholeness to anyone’s life.

    Thank you for a most enlightening and educational post!

    1. Shannon,
      Great questions. It just takes one person to accept a child with mature, unconditional love for emotional growth to take place. And that love can come late in life and help emotional growth resume. Where there is real love coming my way, there is always hope. Thanks for reading. I know the thing is long.

  4. Hi Andy, before reading your post I had no idea what Emotional Deprivation Disorder was or even thought there was such a thing. You have done a thorough and complete job of explaining what it is and the ways to go about treating it.

    In some ways I never really grew up emotionally. At age 56 I found my birth mother and now at age 58 I know who my birth father is but have not met him yet. ( tricky situation there ). I still remember the day ( around 8 years old or so ) my adopted father told me he and my mother were not my real parents. And, nothing more than that, no explanation, nothing. I guess I’ve had a difficult time trusting people, especially women in my life. I tell my now wife all the time. I love you as much as I’ve loved anyone. Guess that’s pretty good huh?

    So, at age 23 I entered into the profession of law enforcement. Probably not the best profession for one who doesn’t trust people much. Anyway, I’m happy with my wife and kids. I’m sure I will never truly, truly, trust anyone.

    This was an interesting read. And, thanks for opening up and sharing your life experiences.


    1. Cal,
      I feel for you. It just takes on tragic “event” at an early age to mess us up in life. But God is more powerful than anything that can happen to us. As for trust, it is earned. Yet, the flip side, we must give others a chance to earn it. Thanks for the reflection.

  5. Wow, I totally understand emotional deprivation disorder, for some reason, this has always been inherent in me, but I could not put a name to it until now, after reading your post. I didn’t need to to the self test either to know that this is my story too.

    I am near fifty and yet there are more times than I can count where I just feel like a child inside. The funny thing is I may appear intelligent, but I often feel like an idiot and fall in to a feeling of overwhelmed darkness, more frequent now as I age.

    However, I do mask it well in an attempt to appear in control for the sake of those whom I lead.

    What an intelligent and informed article. I appreciate theological writings as I studied Ancient History plus biblical history, for my Arts degree, therefore many of the philosophical views are not strange to my understanding. I am also Christian, although that in itself is only a mere label.

    In my opinion the topic of emotional deprivation needs to be discussed more, as it could be an answer to many other disorders or dysfunctional behaviors, in adult life.

    Your article has opened up a way forward to doing so and you have provided some great ways to overcome emotional deprivation in your post about affirmation meditation, which I enjoyed.

    1. Saane,
      So glad you’ve found some personal help. That’s what this post is all about. I’m grateful. I wish the information I’ve posted would reach far and wide. Just want to help people. Yes, you’re right, other repressive disorders and tragic behaviors (like alcoholism, for instance) can derive from emotional deprivation disorder.

  6. I always love imagination of a child. It is admirable and inspiring you shared your work through writing all these helpful resources. This requires a love for wellness of people, who may even experience this unknowingly. It sounds like a lot of pressure caused transformative growth, and I look forward to reading more of your work.
    Thank You & Best Regards,
    Nurse Becca
    – R. Nixon, RN, CLNC

  7. Wow!!!!

    Great Lesson for all of us, as parents this is a great challenge to every one of us, let us not let this opportunity pass without giving attention.

    I know that every one of us is not a perfect parent yet, let us give every child a time.

    Thank you

    1. Mervven,
      Absolutely, I’m ever mindful of letting my two boys feel unconditionally loved and accepted. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I give it a very good try. thanks for the comment.

  8. Hi Andy
    This is an incredible amount of information packed into one article! It has taken me two days to work my way through it, perhaps that is because I carry symptoms you speak of here. Thank you for sharing your testimony in addition to all the knowledge you have acquired. I love that though this article is very academic in nature, you also found a way to weave the practical aspects into your work here.
    I am a believer in Jesus, how blessed I am to know and be loved by Him – without His presence in my life … well, I don’t even want to consider the alternatives.
    Thank you for sharing everything you have here, truly appreciated.

  9. Hi Andrew,

    Wow! You did really a great work and give amazing detailed insight to emotional deprivation disorder.
    I admit that I certainly will not remember all of it at once, so I will read your article maybe several times because
    there are is many important information in it!

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    God bless you!

  10. Having worked for many years with inner city youth, foster children, homeless teens, and pregnant minors, I can certainly relate to the words of wisdom you share. Your experiences fill in the blanks for those who don’t really see that a highly active, motivated person could fall into the category of “deprived” anything.

    The faces we wear in public often hide who we really are and “Why Do I Feel Like A Child” fits a vast majority of people in this world.
    I appreciate your background and all that you have to offer. Your work is inspirational. Meditation of any type, I feel, is beneficial, but Affirmation Meditation, sitting in the presence of love, provides an interesting and sounds like a powerful way to uplift our egos to a deeper soulful level. It has been my pleasure, Linda

    I have enjoyed this connection. Thank you for your knowledge and for sharing.

    1. Linda,
      Sounds like you’ve seen a lot. I appreciate your comments, I’m sure, coming from your own experiences with young people. I like your reflections, in tune with mine. Thanks for reading, and the thoughts.

  11. I had never heard of this condition before, although I have certainly seen the symptoms. I studied psychology in college and worked for many years in the mental health field with people who suffered disorders from schizophrenia to mild depression. The symptoms and causes certainly explain a lot of “behaviors” I saw and maybe many of these folks were actually being treated for something they didn’t even have.

    Thanks for the detailed look at this and for sharing your personal experiences.

    1. Karin,
      An insightful comment, from your education and experience. It reminds me of how Terruwe and Baars began to formulate there ideas in their clinical practice in Netherlands so long ago. While they enjoyed successfully treating many repressive disorders, there were many patients in which therapies designed for repression had no effect. Then, after treating a woman for a fear-based repression without success, the woman said: “Doctor, nothing that you say has any effect on me. For six months I have been sitting here hoping that you take me to your heart… you have been blind to me needs.” It was this statement that got the doctors thinking creatively in another direction. It was like a revelation to them. This patient had a cold and business-like mother. And, although this 25 year old woman had doctorates in physics and mathematics, she had an unusually infantile emotional life. This patient felt like a child. Eventually, after finding no repressive mechanism, they wondered. Maybe a lack of motherly love and tenderness at the earliest stages of life can actually cause a neurotic illness without the influence of a repressive process. Everything took off from there, and the doctors built a extraordinarily successful clinic treating such individuals. Their new diagnosis and corresponding therapy was a historic landmark in clinical practice, without mention in mainstream psychology. Karin, I appreciate your observation.

  12. Thank you for the detailed and personal information you provided through this article. Although a bit long for my attention span, your thoroughness is sure to help many people struggling with this disorder and guide them towards a path of healing. Very good!

  13. Wow, what a blog!! I only did a speed read through it but found it very interesting and enlightening! The parts on people needing love and affirmation and how we can get that is very good. Thanks for your thoughts! Tony

  14. Thanks Andy for this powerful written message! I greatly enjoyed the opportunity of hearing you speak a couple of years ago in Phoenix, AZ. I’ve found encouragement for the journey through reading your courageous and insightful book: Vatican Intervention.

    You’re right-on about learning the “art of doing nothing.” Many people, myself included struggle with the concept of “unconditional love” and many Christians resist seeing God’s LOVE as being unconditional and based in the essential character of who God is. It seems like humans have a natural need to earn, achieve, control and manipulate even such precious gifts as love, grace, mercy, kindness and favor. The unconditional reality found in God’s LOVE takes away the need for working, striving and all efforts made in order to deserve, prove, control or earn the right to be the recipients of love. Perhaps our basic human brokenness circles around that sense that we are not enough. And while Christian theology is clear about our depravity and natural sin-nature, Christ offers the salvation/healing that can be found in a relationship with the God who delights in us right now and loves us beyond measure!

    Thanks for your reminder of the deep healing that comes when we, as Henri Nouwen put it: “accept our belovedness.”

    I personally appreciate and enjoy sharing with others your life-giving ministry!

    God Bless and keep you as you continue to offer this important healing work that is helping so many.


    Lyndon Duff Gorle

    1. Duff, thank you for sharing. I sense that you are very familiar with the truth of surrendering to the reception of God’s love. Keep encouraging other to welcome this “art of doing nothing.”

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