Why Neglect is Abuse

By Wendy J Olson, Healing Coach + Founder + Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption

I was in my mid-thirties before I learned that neglect from a caregiver IS abuse. And here I just thought I was unloveable…

When a primary caregiver chooses to not engage with you physically or emotionally, they are making a clear choice that your need do not matter. It’s more clear that physical neglect, ie not taking care of your immediate needs, is abuse, but it’s less clear why neglect of emotional needs is also abusive.

Every baby born needs to make an attachment to their caregiver. This is later called Attachment Theory and there are many different attachment styles that come from this engagement or lack thereof from this early childhood interaction. If your parent did not engage with you, you will develop one of three different attachment styles: avoidant, ambivalent, or abusive. (There are many books on this subject. The easiest read and my favorite is a book called Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller. Link for this book n our list in bio.)

Neglecting the emotional needs of a child is a choice. It is one you make consciously or unconsciously based on your interaction with your primary caregiver. We’ve all heard the saying ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ Well, if you are dealing with unhealed trauma, you will definitely be hurting the children in your care. Sometimes unknowingly. That’s why it’s so important to do the work and change the generational trauma that’s plagued your family for decades.

Neglecting the emotional needs of those around you, especially in a parent-child relationship is not giving your child their most basic needs apart from physical needs: that need to be seen, known, loved, and heard. The good news is you don’t have to do this perfectly. Research shows a parent only has to get it right 40% of the time for a child to develop a secure attachment. This serves that child later in life in their ability to know and accept love, and live a confident and fulfilled life.

What We’re Doing About It:

In our 12 week story workshop with our clients, we not only explore family of origin trauma, we also learn about attachment theory, attachment styles, and regulating your affect. We learn these things in the first 6 weeks of our time together. Further study is always encouraged, but having a basic understanding helps the client move forward in their healing and helps them choose better relationships with future partners. There IS a way to heal an insecure attachment. 

Red Flags

How do we know if we are living with an insecure attachment based on emotional or physical neglect in our early childhood?

  1. It’s hard to trust people. In or outside of a relationship, trust is the last thing that is given, despite how well someone has earned it.
  2. We trust the WRONG people. As much as it pains me to say, we gravitate towards what is familiar. That is why we find ourselves in relationships with people “just like our father,” or “just like our mother,” despite our declarations to NEVER make those mistakes.
  3. We have a hard time connecting with our partners and our children and/or staying present.
  4. We don’t feel worthy of another’s love no matter how much they give it.
  5. We question loyalty and hold our partners to the fire to try to test theirs.

Green Flags

How do we know when we’ve moved past our insecure attachment and are headed toward a more healed and whole secure attachment?

  1. We feel more settled in our relationships. No longer having to test whether or not someone’s love is real or not. Our body feels calm and at peace inside a partnered relationship with a healthy partner.
  2. We are present in our relationships. We can listen, not judge, and stay present and focused in company.
  3. We can stay focused and present in our everyday lives!
  4. We are no longer constantly scanning the landscape for betrayal or warning signs. We have found peace and can accept the peace we have found.
  5. We are present in our bodies, and our bodies feel safe. We can trust when we are safe, and we are self-awareness enough o recognize when we’re not.

If you found this information helpful to your own healing journey, please consider donating to Grit Plus Gumption and supporting another woman’s healing journey as well. You can make a tax-deductible donation today using this link. We are so grateful for your support!

Wendy J Olson is the Founder and Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption Farmstead, a 501c3 nonprofit. She also works as a healing coach, facilitating the Allender Center modality of Story Work, (Narrative Focused Trauma Care. ) She walks with women through their stories of past hurts and traumas, guiding them to freedom and healing.

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