Here are some of the most common ways we were made to feel unsafe. How many can you relate to?
- You were taught that it’s not OK to have your own opinions.
- You were punished when trying to speak up or act differently.
- You were discouraged from playing or having fun.
- You weren’t allowed to be spontaneous.
- You weren’t allowed to show strong emotions such as anger or joy.
- You were shamed by your parents or family members.
- You were verbally criticized/abused on a regular basis.
- You were physically punished, e.g. smacked, beaten.
- You were made to feel responsible for your parents and their level of happiness.
- You weren’t given physical affection, e.g. hugs, kisses, cuddles.
This list is by no means exhaustive. So if you feel I have left something out, please share in the comments.
Types of Childhood Neglect
Let’s further break down the ways you were made to feel unsafe and unloved as a child (if you had a dysfunctional upbringing).
Here are the three types of childhood neglect you may have experienced:
1. Emotional Neglect
Your parents/guardians didn’t show interest in your emotional needs for love, support, protection and/or guidance. They either didn’t pay attention to you or condemned emotional expressions of need from you. The likely outcome of this was that:
- You developed low self-worth and esteem for yourself.
- You began ignoring your emotional needs.
- You learned to hide from, avoid or repress your emotions as they were associated with feelings of neglect from your childhood.
- You developed psychological or physical sicknesses connected to your inability to listen to, accept and deal with your emotions in healthy ways (e.g. emotional repression).
2. Psychological Neglect
This type of neglect was manifested in childhood by your parents/guardians who failed to listen to, embrace and nurture the person you were. As you grew older, you likely developed any variety of these symptoms:
- You developed low self-esteem issues due to forms of abuse such as ridicule, put-downs, overly high expectations, being ignored, rejected, or constantly punished.
- You developed deep-seated anger issues both from unresolved childhood trauma, and an inability to love oneself.
- You developed addictions and neurosis to create a misguided sense of comfort and safety within your life.
- You developed psychological and/or physical illnesses.
- You have problems sustaining healthy and respectful relationships.
3. Physical Neglect
At a basic and fundamental level, physical safety and nourishment are some of the most intrinsic elements of a loving relationship. We can see this in nature, with mothers and fathers nourishing their chicks, pups, and cubs with food, shelter, and protection. When this is lacking, however, the following issues can develop:
- Low self-worth resulting in physical neglect/abuse of oneself, e.g. eating disorders (anorexia, obesity), maintaining an unhealthy diet, self-harm.
- Intense safety-seeking behaviors (psychological complexes such as OCD) or extreme risk-taking behaviors (e.g. unprotected sex, obsessive daredevil feats, etc.)
- Addictions to drugs, alcohol, violence, food, etc.
- Sexual dysfunction or promiscuity (often due to sexual abuse).
Take a few moments to breathe a connect with yourself after reading this list. Likely you will feel some strong emotions (but it’s okay if you don’t). I encourage you to take your time and go slowly, being gentle with yourself.
It’s helpful to remember that while some, or even many, of our problems stem from childhood neglect – grudge-holding and blame will get us nowhere. People are victims of victims, meaning that the reason why our parents/guardians behaved the way they did was most likely because of their neglected upbringing, and their parents experienced the same traumas – and so on and so forth.
25 Signs You Have a Wounded Inner Child
Pay close attention to these signs. They will help you learn the general extent to which your inner child has been wounded and the level to which you feel unsafe in this world. The more signs you say “yes” to, the more you need to seriously consider inner child work:
- In the deepest part of me, I feel that there’s something wrong with me.
- I experience anxiety whenever contemplating doing something new.
- I’m a people-pleaser and tend to lack a strong identity.
- I’m a rebel. I feel more alive when I’m in conflict with others.
- I tend to hoard things and have trouble letting go.
- I feel guilty standing up for myself.
- I feel inadequate as a man or woman.
- I’m driven to always be a super-achiever.
- I consider myself a terrible sinner and I’m afraid of going to hell.
- I constantly criticize myself for being inadequate.
- I’m rigid and perfectionistic.
- I have trouble starting or finishing things.
- I’m ashamed of expressing strong emotions such as sadness or anger.
- I rarely get mad, but when I do, I become rageful.
- I have sex when I don’t really want to.
- I’m ashamed of my bodily functions.
- I spend too much time looking at pornography.
- I distrust everyone, including myself.
- I am an addict or have been addicted to something.
- I avoid conflict at all costs.
- I am afraid of people and tend to avoid them.
- I feel more responsible for others than for myself.
- I never felt close to one or both of my parents.
- My deepest fear is being abandoned and I’ll do anything to hold onto a relationship.
- I struggle to say “no.”