Childhood Neglect and the Impact of Invalidation

What happens when “nothing” happens? A lot. Childhood and adolescent neglect can have a profound and lasting impact on adults. Unlike sexual and physical abuse, some may find it difficult to understand the impact that absence had on their life. While neglect is a form of abuse, since the “action” of the crime is the lack thereof, identifying the problem may be tricky.

What is neglect?

  • Failure to provide basic needs such as food, supervision, and shelter
  • Allowing a child to use alcohol or drugs
  • Failure to educate a child/provide schooling
  • Failure to provide medical attention

Aside from basic survival, one need that frequently arises when a parent is not physically or emotionally available, is the need to be validated. When there is no one around, how does a child know they “count”? How do they know their feelings matter or if they even exist?

Some people deal with this by turning inward. They may have learned that it does not matter if they speak up or not, their needs will still not be met. They may become quiet and withdrawn. In the opposite extreme, someone who was not validated as a child or teenager may seem dramatic or react with an inappropriate intensity to demonstrate the pain they feel is real and should not be ignored.

When someone is not validated from an early age, their sense of reality may be skewed. It is possible that people who exaggerate and even lie, may be doing so to match their extreme emotions to a reality they think is not extreme enough to warrant validation.

Common Signs of Childhood Neglect in Adults:

  • Trouble understanding emotions and mood
  • Trouble trusting emotions and mood
  • Discounting your concerns as unimportant
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling as if something is missing
  • Low esteem
  • Existential fear
  • Problems understanding the reality of a situation
  • Problems judging intensity
  • Chronic depression
  • Perceived as cold or aloof
  • Anxiety involving emotional closeness

Adults that suffered from childhood neglect may continue the cycle by currently neglecting themselves. In the process of discovering what one needs/wants, they must learn how to pay attention to their emotional as well as physical needs.

Asking for help is a crucial step. Adults that didn’t learn an appropriate way to handle emotions or basic skills as a child, will have to grow comfortable asking for help. Luckily, since everyone needs other people at certain points in their life, no one will find this unusual.

Understanding what brings joy to life may also have to be consciously learned. Exploring the world and trying new things may seem daunting. By taking small steps, you can gauge how deep you want to plunge into life.

Therapies that help understand the body can be useful in tying emotional to physical reality. Since numbing is frequently a symptom of childhood neglect in adults, the awareness of emotion in the body may be underdeveloped. Yoga, meditation, and a general awareness of physical sensation, are all useful tools to help navigate feelings. After a few months of specifically focusing on the body’s reaction to different situations, the sensations will link themselves to certain feelings. This type of physical validation can ground someone firmly in the reality of their being. No one exists in a purely physical or emotional sense. Since both states work together, their connection is seamless.

Different types of therapy work for different types of people.  Some include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This helps train brain patterns to make conscious choices for the future.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Through long term help involving classes and trained counselors, this focuses on behavior and emotional regulation.
  • Group therapy. Through “anonymous” groups or groups that are run by counselors, the help of others may be beneficial for those struggling from neglect.

Learning how to take care of oneself when it is not instinctual can be a long road. Once it is accomplished, however, the reliability on individual strength is undeniable.

 

Resources:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan/

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