Child neglect and abuse often go hand in hand. What makes severe child neglect stand out, though, is that it hijacks the development of your identity and sense of self. With abuse, you still have a reference point as to who you are and “that” you are. Even if that is through negative attention. With severe neglect that reference is missing.
In childhood, your brain and nervous system are busy laying down neural pathways. You are dependent on your environment for a stimulus to promote that growth of the neural pathways in your brain and nervous system. When there is a lack of input and stimulus, that translates into stunted growth in those areas.
Child Development and How We Learn From Others
Through mirroring, copying, imitating, identifying, reacting, and parental affect regulation you slowly learn to find your way in life. When you have laid an emotional foundation, you can then further start to explore your likes and dislikes. What you are attracted to and what repulses you, and what will be your direction in life.
When you grow up with an absence of reference or example in your early years, that emotional foundation, on the whole, is missing. This is more so the case with neglect than abuse; with abuse, you still, through reaction, establish a sense of self. With severe child neglect, often that is missing.
What makes severe child neglect stand out, though, is that it hijacks the development of your identity and sense of self. With abuse, you still have a reference point as to who you are and “that” you are. Even if that is through negative attention.
As a result of severe neglect and your need to feel validated, recognized, or accepted in life will mostly be directed outward onto others. That very search for validation is an attempt to compensate for the void that you feel inside yourself, which came into being through child neglect, and which is an attempt to find some sense of meaning in your existence.
From there on it can become gridlocked into a habitual pattern of continually trying to please others while being met by further rejection or even abuse, thereby making you crave more attention, recognition, and meaning in your life.
The mechanism of continually searching outside of yourself for validation and acceptance can make you very vulnerable to further abuse.
Severe Child Neglect, Complex Trauma, and Looking at Ways to Heal CPTSD
I am aware this description makes child neglect and its repercussions into adulthood look very bleak. Unfortunately, for many, this is their reality.
Let us explore together what possibly can be done to work with neglect and abandonment and see if there is any hope.
As an exercise, can you start with feeling into the pleasing and searching for recognition part of yourself? Can you track what it does to your energy, how it pulls you outside of yourself, and how you become invested in anticipating someone else’s reaction? Now hold yourself there for a moment without judging yourself and without trying to change that pattern. Notice the compulsion and the habit of it without letting further thoughts come in. Stay with feeling the pleasing part of yourself and how it increases your anxiety because of your focus outward and the disconnection from your body.
Try now to shift your attention back to your own body for a moment by following your breathing for a few cycles and see what that does for you. By being attentive to and questioning this hardwired pleasing and searching for validation pattern, you create a little space for change by making the pattern a little less hardwired. In time, and with practice, you will find that you are able to see the difference that makes for you.
When you shift your awareness to your body and your breathing, you help regulate the anxiety around this pattern. That is the first step.
Managing the Pleasing Response and Dissociation in Working Through Child Neglect
Once you have done this a for a few cycles and can do it, can you from there feel into the pleasing once more, but without projecting it or relating it to anyone or anything in your life right now? Allow yourself to “hold” that pleasing state and ask yourself: “What is the underlying feeling that makes me channel my energy into pleasing and constantly searching for recognition, validation, and acceptance?”
The identity of the underlying feeling is the big question to ask. It is this genuine exploring that will connect you to the pain and void within you. And, which will relate directly to the neglect and abandonment you suffered.
You will have to go slowly and carefully here because if you dive in too deeply, too quickly, you will drown in that pain and from there dissociate again. So you have to go slowly! Whenever you start to feel that pain surfacing--as you listen to the pleasing part of yourself--you will have to measure for yourself how much of what comes up at that moment you can safely hold. When you reach your threshold, go back to your breathing and assist yourself to regulate yourself. If you have gone over your limit and feel activated, go for a walk. And, come back to doing this work when you feel more contained again.
If you feel incapable of doing this on your own, you should reach out for help. A skilled therapist can help guide you working through child neglect.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic, and how you get along with this exercise below in the comments.