Overcoming Childhood Neglect
A topic that tragically goes overlooked due to the discomfort that comes with it is child neglect. Whether or not it's talked about, its impact is significant for the child, lasting into adulthood. Recognizing how or when we experienced neglect as a child is essential.
Why? People I work with often tell me that talking about it does not change anything. However, if this continues, this person loses an opportunity to grow by processing how (if) they experienced it growing up, how it has shaped their beliefs, and how this could influence them. So I challenge them with why not?
One common side effect of experiencing childhood neglect is when a person consistently experiences unhealthy relationships as an adult.
Childhood neglect can sometimes be challenging to identify or easy to dismiss. Often, when a child is clothed, has a home, and has food, it can be easy to overlook other types of neglect. Even though a child may have their basic needs met, they can still experience neglect. While lacking these basic needs is critical to a child's overall development, childhood neglect is not limited to these domains.
When a child is raised in an environment where their emotional and physical needs are consistently unmet, it's common for them to develop vulnerabilities and ways of coping to create a sense of stability. Often, this is due to the instability of care from their primary caregivers. Regardless of why this was the case, the absence of a secure attachment with a child's caregiver can make it difficult for them to form healthy relationships with themselves or others later in life. Once an adult, the effects of childhood neglect can present themselves in various ways.
One noticeable pattern is seeking out relationships that mirror their early experiences. For example, if a person experienced neglect as a child, whether emotionally or provisionally, they may later gravitate towards relationships that demonstrate similar behaviors or are unavailable emotionally.
To be clear, the other person may not be intentionally neglecting them or trying to "abuse" them. However, the person who experienced this abuse will have difficulty separating this hurt within the relationship from the neglect they experienced at a young age, leaving an opening for resentment, conflict, and a growing disconnect between the two partners, further validating the childhood trauma.
Being in a relationship where this is happening can create an unintentional or unconscious cycle that validates the emotional hurt the person who experienced neglect has carried throughout their life. This cycle can then be made worse by the low self-esteem developed throughout the relationship as the partners have difficulty identifying the problem and creating effective change.
Growing up without a consistent source of validation and love can profoundly impact our self-worth. As a result, people often begin to believe that they do not deserve a healthy relationship and will avoid or not be attracted to partners who could be a source of such healing and security. This mindset can trap us in a cycle of accepting mistreatment and staying in an unhealthy relationship.
Fear of Being Alone
Another element of this dynamic that makes it much more challenging to change is the fear of rejection or abandonment. This core fear is often a result of childhood neglect. A person will develop an intense fear of being alone and struggle with feelings of worthlessness and severe avoidance of being alone.
Both contribute to the difficulty a person has in wanting to change their dynamic within a relationship or leave the relationship.
Healing from the impacts of childhood neglect is crucial to breaking this unhealthy cycle. Exploring and identifying ways a person has experienced neglect throughout childhood is the first step to getting help. Understanding when they experienced this will help them take active steps towards creating healthier relationships in the future. Finding a therapist you fit well with, feel you can trust and who has expertise in identifying these types of dramas can be an invaluable support in the journey of healing and breaking free from the patterns that have continued to hold us back.
Doing The Work
Even though someone may experience neglect in a relationship, doing the work to identify this is the first step towards creating a healthier dynamic within their relationship. By taking the time to recognize how their experiences have impacted us and influenced us, we can change these patterns and keep them from continuing.
It's common to want to allow the discomfort from these experiences to keep us from even seeing them, because of the fear of more hurt. However, doing this is the exact thing that will keep us from having a full life and experiencing the love we've always wanted to share.
I have experience in working with children, adolescents, individuals, couples, and families. Learn more about my group’s creative, collaborative practice at Lifeologie Counseling Austin or request an appointment with me to begin the work of healing from your past and building the life and the loving relationships you deserve.
About Calvin Burns
Calvin Burns, MA, LPC, LCDC-I, earned his BA in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University and earned his Master's in Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary. He specializes in disordered eating, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, parenting support, adolescents/emerging adults, and couples counseling. He brings unwavering hope to his clients, and firmly believes that people can change and their stories can be rewritten. He sees adolescents, young adults, adults, couples and families at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.Meet Me