Episode 388: Building Emotional Intelligence & Partner is Afraid of Pictures

Hello friends!

In today’s episode, we dive into two listener queries that shine a light on the complexities of emotional experiences and relationships. First, we explore the journey of someone grappling with childhood emotional neglect, unpacking the long-term effects of growing up in an environment where emotions were disregarded and undervalued. Our listener shares their struggle with feeling emotionally disconnected and their quest for a path toward healing and emotional awareness.

Then, we shift gears to discuss the challenges faced by a couple when one partner feels uncomfortable with being photographed. This scenario opens up a dialogue on insecurities, the significance of memories captured in photos, and the importance of understanding and respecting each other’s boundaries.

As always, you can send me your questions at duffthepsych@gmail.com and find the full show notes for this episode at http://duffthepsych.com/episode388.

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Question 1:

Howdy Dr Duff! I’m a long time listener and really appreciate your insights. I would love to hear your thoughts relating to childhood emotional neglect and a path forward. I am now in my mid-30’s, but for as long as I can remember, I have always felt empty, devoid of emotion and motivation and lacking a lust for life. Several years ago I began therapy to principally address depression and anxiety. My sessions with my psychologist illuminated that what I thought was a normal upbringing was anything but. I have since established that throughout my childhood both of my parents severely neglected my emotions and their development during my formative years. Emotions always felt taboo and were never discussed or validated. In times of sadness, I was ignored or outright shunned and shamed. Encouragement was sparse and I don’t remember any physical affection, ever. I spent much of my free time escaping into television and video games.

Today I am acutely aware of my deficiencies including a lack of emotional intelligence and hyper independence. My default state is to seek solitude and indulge in process addictions. I believe deep down I still fear intimacy and closeness, which is severely impacting the relationship with my loving wife. Further, I have no concept of what I actually want out of life.

How do I now develop a missing conscious and emotional compass? I feel like I am missing a part of myself and life has always been on autopilot.


Thank you for sharing this deeply personal and challenging experience. Your journey highlights the profound impact childhood emotional neglect can have on one’s emotional development and well-being. It’s incredibly brave of you to seek understanding and a path forward from such a place of vulnerability.

Childhood emotional neglect, where emotions were considered taboo, ignored, or even shamed, leaves a lasting mark. It teaches children that their feelings are invalid, leading to adults who may struggle with emotional intelligence and hyper-independence, as you’ve described. This sense of emotional void and the default to solitude can indeed strain the most meaningful relationships, such as the one with your wife, and leave you feeling directionless in life.

Recognizing these patterns and deficiencies is a significant first step towards healing. It’s heartening to know that you’ve already made considerable progress in acknowledging the impact of your upbringing. This self-awareness is crucial and will be the foundation upon which you can build a more emotionally fulfilling life.

Starting to develop what feels like a missing conscious and emotional compass involves several steps. First and foremost, it’s about bringing these issues into the light, discussing them openly, and refusing to let them remain shadows that dictate your life from the periphery. This openness can start within the safety of a loving relationship, like the one you have with your wife. It’s about being vulnerable and honest about your feelings and fears, even if articulating them feels clumsy at first.

Therapy remains a potent avenue for exploring these deep-seated issues. Whether continuing with your current psychologist or finding someone new who specializes in addressing childhood emotional neglect, therapy can offer a space to dig into your past and understand how it shapes your present. It’s also a place to practice new ways of connecting with your emotions and with others.

Emotional vocabulary can be expanded with tools like the emotions wheel, which helps in identifying and naming what you’re feeling. Regular reflection and journaling about your emotional states can offer insights into your emotional triggers and responses, aiding in developing a more nuanced understanding of your feelings.

Importantly, be patient with yourself. This journey of emotional growth and healing is not linear and will have its challenges. But with each step, you’re working towards becoming someone who can fully engage with life, embrace intimacy without fear, and discover a direction that feels meaningful to you.

Your courage in facing these difficulties head-on is commendable. With continued effort, support from loved ones, and professional guidance, you can develop the emotional depth and connections that bring richness to life. It’s a testament to your resilience that despite the neglect you faced, you’re committed to growth and healing. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and there is hope for a future where you feel whole and deeply connected to those around you.

Question 2:

Hey Doc, Bit of a different one for you.

My girlfriend and I have been together for about a year now. We love each other dearly and things are just fine and dandy between us. But whenever it comes to taking pictures whether it’s just her or us out together, She is just so shy and acts like If there were a swarm of bees flying towards her. She is such a beautiful woman but of course she has her insecurities. but I’ve tried to kindly bring this up and she gets upset. How can I approach this?


Navigating a relationship where one partner feels uncomfortable with photos presents a unique challenge. It’s clear from your message that you care deeply for your girlfriend and respect her feelings. Your concern about her shyness with photos, especially considering it seems tied to insecurities, is understandable. The discomfort she experiences when a camera appears, likened to a swarm of bees, underscores a significant discomfort that goes beyond mere camera shyness.

Your first instinct might be to reassure her of her beauty and attempt to encourage her to embrace photographs as part of your shared memories. However, it’s vital to consider that her reluctance could stem from deeper issues than just surface-level insecurity. It could be rooted in past experiences where photos were used in ways that made her uncomfortable, concerns about privacy and the digital footprint, or a more profound discomfort with her self-image.

Your approach to this situation speaks volumes about your sensitivity and respect for her boundaries. It’s important to delve into why capturing these moments is meaningful to you. Is it about preserving memories, sharing your life with friends and family, or something else? Understanding your motivations can clarify why this issue matters so much to you.

When you broached the subject before and encountered a negative reaction, it might indicate that the approach or timing wasn’t right. Communication that feels accusatory or pressures her into confronting her insecurities head-on might not be the best way forward. Instead, framing the conversation around understanding her feelings and experiences with photography might open up a more productive dialogue.

If she’s open to discussing it, you could explore creative compromises that respect her comfort levels, such as taking photos that don’t focus on faces or are meant for just the two of you. Emphasizing that these photos are a way to celebrate your relationship and not a means to spotlight insecurities can help.

Ultimately, if photographs are a significant barrier to her comfort, it may be worth considering whether this issue is a stand-in for deeper concerns within the relationship or her own self-perception. In the end, the strength of your relationship doesn’t hinge on photographs but on understanding, respect, and love. Balancing your desire for visual memories with her need for security and comfort will require patience, empathy, and perhaps a bit of creativity.

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