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Paying Attention to the Emotional Abuse of Neglect

Tomorrow EatingDisorderHope.com is giving away 10 copies of my book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse. (To enter the drawing, click here.)  For a preview of what to expect, here’s an excerpt from chapter 6, “Emotional Abuse Through Neglect”….

None of us likes to be ignored, treated as if we simply aren’t important enough to notice. The person who has suffered this type of emotional abuse is saddled with the realization that his or her presence doesn’t even cause a ripple in the world of the abuser. What is so damaging is that usually the abuser is someone from whom the person desperately wants to receive love and attention.

Children know and understand that the things with which adults concern themselves are important. When parents are involved in the life of their child, they communicate to the child that he or she is important. When parents fail to become involved, they communicate to the child a sense of rejection.

The tragedy of emotional abuse through neglect is that it can take place in homes where physical needs are met, even extravagantly met. Children need more than food on the table and a roof over their heads. They are designed to need nurturing physical and emotional emotional relationships with their parents. When emotional needs are not met, children have difficulty progressing developmentally. It is as if they become “stuck” at a certain stage and progression is retarded. Emotionally neglected children are so hungry for emotional attachment that they may cling to strangers or other adults, displaying little natural caution around people they don’t know.

In my work with eating disorders, I found a tie between disordered eating and childhood emotional neglect. Food or control of food becomes a substitute relationship for the one missing; it becomes friend, comforter, lover. This is often tied to unusual comforting behaviors, such as head banging, biting, scratching, or cutting. So fundamental is an emotional bond for connection, comfort, and stability that neglected children turn to inappropriate, damaging behaviors as a way to substitute and cope.

Neglect may be found in the:

  • MIA parent who emotionally and physically abandons his or her responsibility as a parent
  • Distant caregiver who is physically present but emotionally distant and withdrawn from his or her children
  • Emotionally detached parent who provides for his or her children in every way except for emotional bonding and attachment

If neglect or abandonment has depleted your emotional life, it is possible to restore emotional strength. You do so by believing and internalizing the following truths:

I have value because God has given it to me.

Through the mistreatment of others, I have developed a faulty sense of self. I accept this truth and am learning more about who I really am and who I am meant to be every day.

My self-respect and innate dignity are a gift from God that can never be taken away.

I am learning to treat myself with dignity and respect, even if others have not done so in the past.

I am no longer a victim. Today I celebrate being a victor!

SOURCE: Chapter 6, “Emotional Abuse Through Neglect,” in Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.

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