Overcoming Neglect: True Life Precedes True Love
26 March 2015
By Karin Friedmann
In nature, animal offspring is
occasionally rejected by the mother. This leads to almost certain death. The
reasons could vary from the mother’s lack of resources – for example a
starving dog might only be willing to nurse the strongest two puppies and let
the other ten die – to the rejection of one particular baby for being
''different'' from the group. The rejected one might need extra care, which
would drain the resources of the group. Or the ''different'' one might
attract danger. For example, white baby lions are often abandoned and left to
die by their mothers, for fear that the brightness of their color would
attract predators and endanger the entire tribe.
In most human societies, abandoning
one’s baby to die is a serious crime, so it is not often done, but parents
quite frequently emotionally reject their children, abuse or neglect them.
This could be due to a lack of the parent’s ability or willingness to care
about the child’s needs, or from a desire to punish the child for being
''different'' from the group expectations. The parents might provide the
child with three meals a day and even pay for their college expenses, but
there is limited guidance and emotional support. The parent either does not
invest much effort to connect emotionally with the child, or else outright
crushes the child’s self-esteem in various ways.
Unless the child has another adult
caretaker in his life, who compensates for the lack of parental empathy, who
helps the child develop trust in an emotionally safe relationship, the child
will grow up to be an adult with an underdeveloped sense of self and a
handicapped ability to fulfill his or her adult intimacy needs with another
adult. Children without an extended family are especially vulnerable, because
there is no one to run to when home becomes a hostile environment.
Children will only flourish if the
following types of needs are consistently met: 1. Physical needs for
affection and protection; 2. Emotional needs for caring, regard and interest;
3. Spiritual needs for recognition of their worth and basic goodness; 4.
Verbal needs for welcoming inquiry, positive feedback, and multidimensional
Relational Therapist Pete Walker MA,
MFT writes in ''Emotional Neglect and Complex PTSD,'' that people neglected
as children ''never learn that a relationship with a healthy person can
become an irreplaceable source of comfort and enrichment… Love coming their
way reverberates threateningly on a subliminal level. If, from their
perspective, they momentarily 'trick’ someone into seeing them as loveable,
they fear that this forbidden prize will surely be taken away the minute
their social perfectionism fails and unmasks some normal flaw or foible.''
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
caused by childhood abuse or neglect is usually characterized by emotional
flashbacks that invade the present and overlap one’s perception of reality.
Various personality types will respond in different ways to these flashbacks.
Safety is the ultimate goal of each type of reaction.
Walker groups flashback reactions into
four categories: Fight, flight, freeze or fawn. Fight reactions generally
involve displaced anger. Obsessive compulsions are viewed as a form of
flight, or distancing oneself from the traumatic emotions; freezing could
include oversleeping or TV watching; and fawning involves pleasing behaviors
intended to prevent rejection:
''Servitude, ingratiation, and
forfeiture of any needs that might inconvenience and ire the parent become
the most important survival strategies available.''
The good news is that healing from C-PTSD
is possible. The first step is learning to recognize that an emotional
flashback is occurring and to train the mind to stop the thought and redirect
focus. Types of emotional flashbacks are feelings of toxic shame,
powerlessness, and rejection. These feelings can creep into our day or even
into our sleep, disrupting normal functioning. Repetitive refocusing
eventually establishes new neural pathways around our habitual pain.
The second step is to learn to
recognize and value your ''inner child,'' and to be the kind of adult that
your younger self required. This means learning self-empathy and self-care
skills. This requires validating to the inner child that the attacking
negative emotion is truly horrible and bad. When an emotional flashback is
happening, our adult self needs to step up and defend our child self,
creating healthy boundaries by angrily saying ''No!''
''How DARE you tell my inner child that
no one could ever love her!'' we must learn to tell our inner critic when
such deeply-ingrained destructive thoughts arise.
Then we need to take our inner child by
the hand and make her feel worthy of love by stomping off together to the
gym, or the park, making and eating a healthy meal, getting our hair done,
improving our home, or whatever makes us feel like we are getting ready for
The third step of healing is learning
to develop authentic human relationships. It is often recommended to hire a
therapist when first experimenting with raw honesty. The establishment of
trust in a ''safe enough'' relationship is when you can be your whole self
with another person, who is not going to leave, even though you exposed
yourself. This requires another person to be safe and caring. While an ideal
partner is not always readily available, learning to recognize what is NOT an
authentic relationship comes first – and with it the ability to free oneself
from people who trigger emotional vigilance and other psychic defense
mechanisms. We also have to recognize that not everyone can be our best
friend. We have to protect our inner child from public rejection by using our
adult sense of self to choose wisely about whom we reveal our secrets to,
while being open to experiencing many emotions with one who has earned our