The Pain of Neglect
Today I spent some time with a person who has suffered incredible neglect throughout their entire life. They have been on a long journey of healing; reclaiming their sense of self. One of the things they shared is that is was like riding a jaggedy roller coaster. Have you ever ridden one of those? They can jar you to your bones. You can get off and never be the same again.
It’s been really confusing for this person to even know who they are or even where they are, or how they have gotten as far as they have in their life. So, just taking it slow, being very relational, taking time to be with whatever experience unfolds for them is really important. Acknowledging what it’s like when you’ve had so many years where you felt slammed, boxed up, or sometimes it feels like being in a vice grip it’s so intense. I’ve heard some say that it’s a mindless and terrible place to be of this yo-yoing; here I am and now here I’m gone.
Neglect can affect us in so many different ways. There is our individual experience and then there is also our collective experience. There’s the experience that happens inside of us and then there’s the experience that happens inside of us when we are with others. We don’t feel felt. We don’t feel seen or heard. We don’t feel included.
I’m grateful to acknowledge that some of the people are recognizing that they need to be on their individual path of healing, in order to be available for others, and that’s important. One person was recognizing that in their life they had one person who took care of them, that was a black woman. From that experience this person developed compassionate understanding that they don’t believe they would have had otherwise, if it wasn’t for that relationship that supported them throughout their life.
Then there is the experience of being really triggered by white women. Especially white women who have this air about them that they “know” something. And, being equally, if not more triggered by white men who act with an air of privilege. A status or power that is a way of being in the world. So, they end up with this sense of not belonging anywhere. Not fitting in anywhere. Being the bottom of the totem pole. Completely excluded. Yet in that collective experience, when they are out in a public setting, they feel that no one knows them or even recognize that there is an exclusion happening.
In those moments, at this level of neglect, there is an incapacity to speak up. There is no way to even know how to ask for help, or that help would even be possible. There has been such a limited experience of anyone being interested or checking in on them. If they are quiet, people say, “Oh, that’s just the way they are.” They don’t know how to express, because they internalize everything. It’s an implosion that happens within them.
Sometimes, it can feel like a ticking time bomb. Needing to have a release valve like on a pressure cooker to let some of that steam out, and to allow some of those emotions to begin to surface, to be held and caught. One person was acknowledging just how unworthy they felt, due to the neglect. As a child they would follow others, trying so desperately to fit in, acknowledging it was such an oddity to experience, even then. Being accustomed to being told, “This is how it is.” And never questioning that, but making sure you do what you are told, because that was a way to attempt to fit in.
There is a need for acknowledgment how it actually feels to have this strange disconnect inside. Not being allowed to be, and not being. There is a void, or a very dark cloak that can be felt by some. How important it is to have a place where they can begin to feel felt. They can begin to get gotten. They can begin to be heard and seen, for who they really are. To be able to acknowledge their heart of compassion. To acknowledge that spark of integrity that’s deep within them that shines, and to kindle and foster that with warmth, care, and gentleness.
Because many who have been neglected in this way, they need to develop the capacity to even know it’s safe to receive warmth from another being. They need to develop the capacity to be in relationship with others. To learn to read the nonverbal cues that they never synced up with to learn as a child. It is possible to do this, and, it’s really important work.
I want to honor the lives of those who have journeyed so far to find a resonance in their life that their heart has needed. I celebrate you, and I thank you for your trust and your willingness to be on your journey. You are an inspiration to me.