Neglect is hurtful and abusive in many circumstances, especially with children.
The expression “benign neglect” means that neglect, or lack of attention, was intentional and done supposedly to help someone or something. That may work well for a cactus, but not another human being. Neglect is hurtful and abusive in many circumstances, especially when concerning children. Neglect is overwhelmingly the most common form of child maltreatment: According to a 2019 report on child maltreatment prepared by the Children’s Bureau at the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, 61 percent of victims suffered from neglect.
When you have been seriously neglected as a child, it becomes hard to see the world and the people in it as friendly. There is almost always the feeling of a perceived threat. You can try to push it away, but it never stays gone very long. Unlike a full-blown panic attack, this anxiety is more subtle, usually lying just beneath the surface of our daily lives. A harsh word or an unexpected change—even a positive one—can be a trigger for feeling like you are no one and that you have no one, no matter how much you are loved.
Self-confidence is something you don’t think about, because you know you’re just faking it. At any moment, someone is going to find out that your parents didn’t love you and you don’t get to play with the other children. That’s how it feels, and that horrible fog of worthlessness wraps around you like a wet towel that you can’t discard.
No matter how successful you become, no matter how sure you are of the love of your life, when you grow up neglected, you may continue to worry that it will all go away because you are not worthy of being loved. If love was withheld from you before, and you were traumatized by that, letting it back in can be scary.
If you are an adult feeling neglected in your relationship, please reevaluate your situation and the emotional price you may be paying by staying with someone who’s treating you poorly. Consider what your life is really like versus how you’d like it to be. If you need to leave for a better life, do it.
You may also benefit from good, supportive therapy. What many therapists do for clients is to (metaphorically) love them until they can learn to love themselves. This process of “reparenting” works. You can heal some of the pain this way, without your parents being in the room, but even more important is the healing you can do within yourself.
If you weren’t taught to love yourself, then you must develop the ability for yourself, no matter your current circumstances. There is no reason to let these feelings of not being enough make your life miserable. You can begin to rid yourself of the pain through personal growth work, taking steps to understand that this less-than idea of yourself is incorrect and allowing (or forcing) your pain to leave.
It sounds complicated and painful. But you need to let out the pain of past, cry the tears that will cleanse you, and let in a little self-love. Ask yourself, if others believe in you and think you are worth their love and attention, aren’t you worth your own? You don’t have to carry feelings of worthiness with you wherever you go. You can let them go.
2019 report on child maltreatment prepared by the Children’s Bureau at the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, 61 percent of victims suffered from neglect.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., LMFT is a Licensed Psychotherapist who also works in the media and entertainment industries. He is the author of 7 books, a keynote speaker, and an internationally-syndicated columnist. Since 2002, his newspaper column, syndicated by Tribune Media, is featured in The New York Daily News and The Chicago Tribune and has run in over 400 other publications including The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Time, and Cosmopolitan.