What Is Childhood Neglect?
Neglect is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It’s a type of trauma that is hard to spot, so I thoroughly enjoy the relief it gives my clients when they finally realize there is a name to what they’ve been experiencing and feeling. It’s actually the most common form of child mistreatment. Childhood neglect is a type of relational trauma that can be emotional and/or physical in nature. The basic definition of childhood neglect is a caregiver not meeting basic emotional, physical, educational, or medical needs. Some examples of childhood neglect can look like:
Not having a clean, safe environment at home
Being deprived of healthy, nutritious food
Being told to stop feeling a certain way (crying, sad, angry)
Not receiving proper medical care
Being ignored, humiliated, isolated, or intimidated
Parents involved in drugs/alcohol or has serious mental health concerns
Exposed to domestic violence
When you finally recognize that you did not receive the type of love, care, and nurturing you deserved as a child it can feel painful. While there could be a number of reasons your caregivers may not have provided you care, it still hurts. This doesn’t mean all neglectful caregivers are bad or they're doing it on purpose, it just means that you were not given the proper environment to thrive as an adult. And I’m so sorry for that.
Childhood Neglect in Adulthood
Once it’s distinguished that childhood neglect is a part of your relational trauma, it can be helpful to see how it’s showing up in your present life as an adult. When facing neglect of this kind as a child, the most common belief is that you may not be good enough. I want you to know that you are good enough, even if you were not cared for or made to believe you weren’t. I believe that all humans have inherent worth and deserve basic emotional support and physical care. Unfortunately though, this is not the reality for everyone. When childhood neglect occurs, it can show up in adulthood as:
Feelings of not being good enough
Anxious or disorganized attachment style
Struggling with feeling your feelings
Taking care of everyone else first
Anxiety in relationships
Being triggered by seemingly random things
Difficulty with self-compassion
Healing Starts With You
While neglect is usually because of intergenerational trauma, that doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with the aftereffects of an unhealed heart. Here is what childhood emotional neglect expert Dr. Jonice Webb states we can do about a past that includes neglect:
"Rest assured, you have the power to change this. In fact, many emotionally neglected people have already taken the steps to become more emotionally aware, connected, and enriched.
You can begin by learning more about how childhood emotional neglect happens, how it affects you in adulthood, and how to heal its effects...
The single, most powerful beginning step you can take is to make a concerted effort to pay attention to what you are feeling. Once you are regularly paying more attention, you are well-positioned to start learning the emotion skills you’ll need to manage and use them" says Dr. Webb.
Dr. Webb also states, "the more you learn about childhood emotional neglect, the better armed you are to start reversing it. When you understand what’s wrong you can become curious about your feelings instead of minimizing, avoiding, or rejecting them. The process of overcoming emotional neglect boils down to giving yourself what your parents could not: emotional attention, validation, and care. (click here to read more from Dr. Webb: (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/childhood-emotional-neglect/202112/the-lingering-harm-childhood-emotional-neglect)
If you are interested in more guidance on whether relational trauma is apart of your experience, Annie Wright, LMFT has a comprehensive quiz here: https://www.anniewright.com/quiz