Healing from Neglect
I hesitate to share this truth. So I'll just say it. When I look around, I see that neglect is the norm in this culture. Some form of it, anyway. It’s built into much of parenting, schooling, workplaces, even traditional approaches to psychology and mental health. Worst of all, neglect is a feature of how we speak English. English externally- rather than internally-references us, by using the verb "to be" to locate reality outside of ourselves. (More on that below.) The good news is, we have some super-powerful mind, body, emotion, and spirit-based approaches to healing the effects of neglect not available elsewhere all in one place.
For these to work, we first need to name and recognize the effects of neglect. This is not so easy, because compared to abuse, little has been written about the effects of neglect and how to heal from them. In fact, the effects of neglect are profound, and often more insidious than abuse. We may "feel crazy" even for thinking that something happened to us--because in fact it was what did not happen for us that we may find ourselves:
Discounting our own experience to the point where it’s hard to know what we feel and need
Struggling in relationship--keeping others too far away, or letting them in too close, too soon
Disconnecting from the healing power of nature
Tuning out the wisdom of our own body
Believing and replaying stories of exclusion, abandonment and scapegoating throughout our lives
To function optimally, to thrive in relation to ourselves and others, most of us needed, and continue to need, forms of nourishment and attention that we're not getting. Starting with childhood, extreme forms of neglect include deprivation of
food, clothing, shelter, and competent adult care and attention. Less extreme, or "normal" neglect includes not listening to or hearing children, failure to attune to or attend to their emotional needs, and valuing them only for what they can do rather than intrinsically for who they are.
Each form of neglect teaches us in greater or lesser measure to disregard our needs and conform to the requirements of our environment in order to survive. So we develop patterns to do just that, and come to adulthood challenged even to identify our own feelings and needs.
This orientation carries through, even into the field of traditional psychology. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, reported that during his entire tenure of of study for his PhD in psychology, not once did anyone ever ask him how he felt. Even the English language, through forms of the verb "to be," directs our attention outside of ourselves, allowing us to wonder, "Am I a loser?" "Is this the right thing?" instead of learning how to tune into our own feelings and needs.
Fortunately, when we can identify the multidimensional ways we experience neglect, we can begin to repair them, and enjoy the benefits, which include:
A greater sense of fullness in one’s own body, replacing “emptiness”
More confidence and effectiveness in setting appropriate boundaries in relationship
Ability to identify and express our own feelings and needs appropriately, and hear those of others
Replacing the inner critic with self-compassion
Wisdom of the Body work is especially suited to healing from all types of neglect.
The physical contact dimension helps us get a sense of fullness and attunement, in a safe, parent-like environment that we may never have experienced, but our bodies can learn to receive--because that’s how we’re wired! The cognitive aspect helps us get underneath the ways the English language trains our mind to locate reality outside of ourselves, or, “externally reference.” We replace questions like, “Am I doing the the right thing?” “Is this weird?” and “Are they really a jerk?” with, “What am I feeling and needing?” “How did those words land for that person?” “What are they feeling and needing?”.
The emotional aspect gives us space to feel and move as our bodies need to do, and teaches us how our own survival patterns run in our bodies, and how to get out of them, and come into greater presence to ourselves and others. Here, clients see immediate differences in their relationship with themselves and others.
The spiritual component makes use of a beautiful energetic field, much like a parent’s unconditional love, to hold and contain all that we do. The practitioner "fountains" a particular energy that the client may need, for example, Calm and Safe, which helps the client reset their nervous system, and relax into a kind of parental-style physical holding that many report experiencing for the very first time!
Together, these body-mind-spirit-emotions components work synergistically to heal and repair the effects of neglect, not just within sessions, but also, if practiced outside session, throughout our client’s lives. My dream is that this simple but profound collection of practices and insights becomes available to everyone.
Know someone who needs to heal from neglect? Please forward this to them.