Hey hey hey... back again to tout other people's work because I'm too overworked to rewrite it myself.
Who has Childhood Emotional Neglect? (Most of us!)
Who feels like it's relevant most of the time? (None of us!)
When we're talking Trauma, I think it's really easy to consider outright abuse, violence, and socioeconomic conditions as "viable" events that lead to PTSD. But a lot of us struggle with the knowledge that we weren't beaten daily or locked in closets... and still, our therapists have given us the ole CPTSD diagnosis.
"How can my experience be compared to someone who was put through X, Y, and especially Z?" And so, the inner critic starts dismissing the whole thing, and you don't dare breath a word of it to anyone in your life. There's nothing like being told, "it wasn't so bad," by a dissenter right when you're starting to feel like you have an answer to the lifelong puzzle.
Well, know that you aren't the only one feeling like a Trauma-poster at times. Actually, there are tons of us who just... didn't experience a lot of important things, moreso than we were directly abused.
This is where childhood emotional neglect comes into the picture.
Instead of addressing this myself right now, because I'm too goddamn busy, Fuckers... I'm going to pass along some really helpful articles that have been circulating in the TMFR Discord Community. (God, I love those guys. Always saving my ass with new information and well-written articles that I can learn a thing or five from.)
Invisible Children: Kids of Mentally Ill Parents Often Overlooked
(This article is an excerpt from my book, Crazy Was All I Ever Knew: The Impact of Maternal Mental Illness on Kids. I have used a pseudonym to protect the privacy of family members.)
Growing up with a mentally ill mother, I learned to stay under the radar—to avoid drawing attention to myself in my home and later in the world around me. This gave me a sense of safety. My mother’s behavior was erratic, and she displayed a propensity for unprovoked rages. Her mental illness was undiagnosed, never discussed among family members, and never disclosed to anyone outside of the family.
I fit the profile of an “invisible child.”
Often, parental mental illness goes undiagnosed. As reported in an article in Social Work Today, Joanne Nicholson, a clinical and research psychologist, notes, “The first problem [for children of mentally ill parents] is that their parents’ problems go unrecognized, so their needs also go unrecognized.” (http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/052416p24.shtml) It’s not unusual for parental mental illness to be ignored or brushed under the rug. Research shows that parents and children may keep mental illness in the family a secret due to stigma and shame, and parents may fear being reported to child protective services and losing custody of their children.
As it turns out, that fear is not unfounded. According to Child & Family Connections, a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of families living with mental illness, as many as 70 percent of children whose parent has a mental illness are removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
My siblings and I never heard the word “stigma,” but it enshrouded us. In fact, stigma kept the family quiet about mental illness through generations. My grandmother suffered from depression, and every attempt was made to disguise her mental illness. When she was hospitalized for treatment, we were told she “went to the farm.” With my mother, the family perpetuated the cycle of stigma. My father no doubt experienced futility. As my husband sees it, my dad may have felt stuck: “What was he supposed to do? He had to go to work. If he got a divorce, what would happen to you kids?”
Most likely, other family members knew about my mother’s mental illness and were complicit in keeping it under wraps. I’m not certain if neighbors or others in the community suspected that my mother was mentally ill. My mother presented well in public—when she strayed outside the house to go to the supermarket, the fabric store, and church. I’ve learned that the ability to keep it together while in public view is not an uncommon phenomenon among parents with certain mental illnesses.
Mental health professionals say when no adult validates a child’s experience, it can cause the child to doubt his or her reality. Thankfully, I wasn’t plunged into that netherworld. By the time I was six or seven, I knew on my own that something wrong with my mother. I didn’t need an adult to tell me, but I did need an adult to help me. Nonetheless, my siblings and I were left to deal with my mother’s rampages on our own. We were unprotected from her erratic behavior during the most vulnerable periods of our lives.
Today, even when stigma is overcome and parents with mental illness receive treatment, their children’s needs often go unnoticed. Children are sometimes not told about their parent’s mental illness, and they are not asked how their parent’s mental illness may be affecting them.
Sometimes, the behaviors of kids can be misleading. Suzette Misrachi, an Australian mental health practitioner, points out that competent, well-functioning offspring or “super kids” of mentally ill parents risk having their needs overlooked because they don’t exhibit overt signs of trauma. For example, they may excel at school, participate in sports, and have friends, so their needs can fall through the cracks.(http://hdl.handle.net/11343/37852)
Fortunately, there is the opportunity for more children of mentally ill parents to get the services they need as a result of the screening of children for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) by pediatricians; however, such screening is far from widespread.
Kids can be spared trauma. Not all kids of mentally ill parents experience trauma—notably, those who have supportive relationships with caring adults, exposure to positive experiences, and opportunities to develop effective coping skills.
Invisible, Powerful Childhood Emotional Neglect
By Jonice Webb, PhD Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 ~ 2 MIN READ
“Something’s not right with me, but I don’t know what it is.” “I had a fine childhood. I should be feeling and doing better than I am.” “I should be happier. What is wrong with me?”
During more than 20 years as a psychologist, I have discovered a powerful and destructive force from people’s childhoods that weighs upon them as adults. It saps their joy, and causes them to feel disconnected and unfulfilled. This childhood force goes completely unnoticed while it does its silent damage to people’s lives. In fact, it’s so invisible that it has flown under the radar of not only the general public, but also the mental health profession.
I call this force childhood emotional neglect, and have spent the last two years trying to help people become aware of it, talk about it, and heal from it. Here’s the definition of childhood emotional neglect (CEN): It’s a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.
You can see from this definition why CEN is so hard to detect. Since it’s not a parent’s act but a parent’s failure to act, it’s not an event. It’s not something that happens to a child; it’s something that fails to happen for a child. Therefore, it’s not visible, tangible or memorable.
To further complicate things, it is often caring and loving parents who fail their children this way; parents who mean well, but were emotionally neglected by their own parents. Here’s one example of how CEN can work:
9-year-old Levi comes home from school feeling upset because he had an argument with his friends. He is feeling a swirl of emotion: hurt that his friends ganged up on him on the playground, embarrassed that he cried in front of them, and mortified that he has to go back to school the next day to face them.
Levi’s parents love him very much. But on this day, they fail to notice that he is upset. They go about the afternoon, and no one says to Levi, “Hey, is something wrong?” Or, “Did something happen at school today?”
This may seem like nothing. Indeed, this happens in every household across the world, and generally it does no great harm. But if it happens with enough depth and breadth throughout Levi’s childhood, that his emotions are not noticed or responded to enough by his parents, he will receive a potent message: that the most deeply personal, biological part of who he is, his emotional self, is irrelevant, even unacceptable.
Levi will take this implicit but powerful message to heart. He will feel deeply, personally invalidated, but he will have no awareness of that feeling or of its cause. He will start to automatically push his feelings away, and to treat them as if they are nothing. He will, as an adult, have difficulty feeling his emotions, understanding them, and using them for the things that emotions are meant to do. He may have difficulty connecting with others, making decisions, or making sense of his own and other people’s behavior. He may feel unworthy or invalid in some indescribable way. He may believe that his own feelings or needs don’t matter.
CEN can take an infinite number of different forms. Levi’s example is only one. But I have noticed a certain pattern of struggles which CEN folks tend to share. The pattern includes feelings of emptiness, difficulty relying upon other people, self-directed anger and blame, and problems with self-discipline, among others.
Because the cause of CEN is so subtle and invisible, many CEN people look back upon a “fine childhood” with loving parents, and see no explanation for why they feel this way. This is why they so often blame themselves for their difficulties, and feel a deep sense of being somehow secretly flawed.
The good news about childhood emotional neglect is that once you become aware of it, it is entirely possible to heal from it. But since CEN is so hard to recognize, it can be quite difficult to see it in your own childhood.