Living in a neglectful home can have devastating effects on a child. The way he is treated, responded to, or ignored provides a strong undercurrent of messages that become part of his identity. He will lack self-confidence, self-esteem, and a basic understanding of himself.
What this child has learned will follow him throughout his life, affecting his relationships with others, his ability to make good choices, and even his capacity to function on a day to day basis.
Furthermore, if he has children of his own, there is a good chance they will be treated as he was, because it is all he knows.
These are the things he has learned so well from those who he expected would love him:
It doesn’t matter what I need or want. The adults in your life were too busy, distracted, or disengaged to pay attention to your needs. No one ever asked what you needed or listened when you asked. After a while, you learned none of it really mattered.
If I cry, I’m weak. You never had anyone to validate your hurt or anger or upset feelings. That loving parent was never there to soothe you so you could learn to soothe yourself. If you cried, you were either ignored or shamed or scolded. So, you learned that feelings should be hidden.
I can’t depend on anyone for anything. All children need direction and support, but the adults in your life were never very reliable in that department. So, you learned that if you expected something from them, you were usually setting yourself up for disappointment.
It’s never good to be too happy. You learned that happiness is very transient and is usually followed by sadness or distress. You learned not to let yourself feel exuberant and after a while, not even a little bit happy or excited about anything, because you were anticipating what came next.
Nobody wants to hear my problems. You learned early on, that the adults in your life had too many problems of their own to listen to yours. After being shut down repeatedly, it was clear you would be better off just keeping things to yourself.
Keep my anger inside, but if I have to let it out, make sure the recipient is weaker than me. There was never an adult who helped you name, understand, or manage any anger you felt. Instead, it was prohibited or overpowered by someone else. You learned that being cruel towards others was satisfying, from witnessing the satisfaction of the adults who were cruel towards you.
No one cares about what I have to say or want to know. As a child, your curiosity and wonder was stifled. Adults were impatient and turned a deaf ear to your questions and to what you had to say. You gradually asked less and less and really didn’t have anything important to say anyway.
I am all by myself. There was never anyone there to provide a sense of security, caring, or love. Because of this, you learned that no one was really going to be there for you and you were on your own. You also learned to be careful about trusting anyone else.
All of these messages were learned well and became part of who you are. Although they seem real and true, they only apply to what has happened within your own family. They are actually not true at all.
Here, in fact, is the real truth.
When you know what your own needs are and express them to others, it will make you happy.
If you let others in on how you feel, they can understand you better.
Anger is a normal feeling and there are safe ways to express it without hurting yourself or other people. By the way, being happy is a very good thing!
Crying is healthy. It helps you clear out anxiety and frustration, so you can move on.
If you ask others for help or work together with somebody, it makes you stronger. It also makes solving your problems a lot easier.
What you want to ask or say is always important.
And, by the way… you are important, you are valued, and you never have to feel like you are all by yourself.
As we interact with troubled children, it is so important for us to give them some perspective and hope and tell them the truth.