One of the deepest needs of children is consistency, including the certain knowledge that they are unconditionally accepts and valued by those who love them. Small children crave the repetitive, constant nature of certain stories in which the same words or phrases are used over and over again. Children learn what to expect, anticipate with delight the coming use of the word or phrase, and feel in control of the story when they can repeat along with the storyteller the right words at the right time. Toddlers will often ask for the same book to be read over and over again until parents are so sick of it they could just scream.
What is boring to adult minds may be very comforting and affirming to children. The story always ends the same way. Life has order. By knowing the ending in advance, children have a sense of security and safety. They learn how it feels to be right, to know what lies ahead, and this produces a sense of control.
When this emotional security is taken away, either due to emotional abuse or neglect, children lose their security foundation. They never know the ending in advance. There are no boundaries for behavior directed toward them or attitudes thrust upon them.
And where there are no boundaries, there is no security. A study of children’s reactions to physical boundaries on their school playground found that when a fence was present in their schoolyard, they happily played right up to its crisscrossed edges. They knew where the boundary of their world was and took advantage of every inch; it allowed them to relax and play in safety. When the fence was removed, the children huddled together close to the school building and did not venture down the hill to where the fence had been. Without the fence, they did not have a clear sense of boundary, of security. Instead of the removal of the fence promoting greater freedom, it produced heightened anxiety and unpredictable behavior. The presence of the boundary brought freedom. Removal of the boundary brought fear.
When a child lives in a household in which there are no boundaries on adult behavior, fear is the immediate result. Never safe, never secure, the child learns to expect and anticipate the sudden, the violent. A physical or verbal blow can come at any time. Accomplishments can be met with apathy, passive-aggressive indifference, or outright aggressive disapproval. A mindset can develop that it is best to be left unnoticed. Life is safer that way.
A loss of security leads to an ever-present feeling of anxiety or fear. When you are in the midst of being emotionally abused, you have a very real fear of how far the abuse will go and how damaging it will be. You cringe and hope against hope that it won’t go on as long as last time or that at least it won’t be any worse.
You learn there are no safe moments. Your abuser may be absent, but he or she may reappear at any time. What met with an apathetic response yesterday may meet with violent outrage tomorrow. You are robbed of the security of anticipation. Unlike the child who knows the right words that come at the right time in the story, the abused child knows no right words, and there never seems to be a right time. Besides, the storyteller never tells the ending the same way twice. No order, no sense can be made of the events swirling around you. You fear what each day will hold.
If left unaddressed, growing up without emotional security can cause negative ripples throughout an individual’s entire life. Whether due to abuse or neglect, intentional or inadvertent, an emotional volatile foundation can be crippling. Our team at The Center • A Place of HOPE is not only can help heal the wounds of the past, but help recalibrate for a whole and healthy future. For more information about our programs, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially