10 Signs You Suffered Childhood Neglect

I guess one way to look at it is that our brains was the original computer. We don’t have Google to bring up memories in our brain. But we can sometimes summon them up by merely thinking about something.

Sometimes my brain whirs like a machine, chugging along so fast I can hardly keep up with it. Other times it’s like a shuttered beach house closed down for the season.

Still, it is the miracle of miracles, the brain. If a computer is thrown against a brick wall it will shatter. So will a brain if there is sudden impact with a heavy object. In both cases, there is often irreversible damage.

For some odd reason I woke up thinking about all of this. I don’t know if it was leftover crumbs from a dream. Or just happenstance.

I think of little children and how they survive the things they do. Like my sister. I’ve read the children’s services report on her childhood. She had six mothers by the time she was 18 months old. Can you imagine?

How could she possibly bond with one when there were so many in so short a time? I doubt very much that she did.

She chose not to ever marry or have children.

She lives alone at age 52 and seems to have no social life. She has closed herself off with her multitude of pets. She draws the curtains on possible relationships.

My older sister once told me that she and my little brother ate out of trash cans. Fortunately for a time they lived next door to a kind older woman.

She knew their situation. And she would put freshly cooked food at the top of her trash can, leveled evenly, so they would have something to eat.

There is no required exam to test if a person is fit to be a parent. There are tests to check out your knowledge of everything else. Driving tests, college exams. You name it.

But children are born to anyone whose body can plant a seed and grow a fetus.

And so this world has many irretrievably damaged human beings that never really had a decent shot at life. Their cards were dealt early on.

Many were born and then scattered about the earth like confetti. Blowing in the wind like my five siblings.

In the few occasions I’ve actually talked to any of them, they recounted their childhood memories to me. They talked about it like they were discussing a grocery list.

Because the emotion had been wrung out of them at an early age. And they had nothing left to lift them up.

When you plant a seed in the garden, you must nurture it. Love it and tend to it.

And more than likely, you will be rewarded with a profusion of beautiful flowers.

Childhood neglect literally stunts the brain.

So many children fall through the proverbial cracks and are left to flounder on their own.

Isolation in early childhood sets off a flood of hormones that permanently warp a child’s response to stress. And this response leaves them anxious and prone to violent mood swings.

This is so damaging, especially for infants, who quite literally depend on social stimulation to shape their minds.

10 Signs You Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect:

1. You struggle with self-discipline.

Even if you think something is right you have trouble standing up for it. You have a lot of trouble overcoming your own weaknesses and you aren’t quite sure why. This can also be a numbness.

2. You feel empty.

This can also be a numbness.

3. You pride yourself on not relying on others.

You feel as though there should never be a need to depend on other people for anything at all. You also struggle with asking for help when you need it.

4. You often want to be alone.

You like to spend time alone because most people just don’t understand you. You feel as though you don’t fit in with other people. While you would love to have real friends there is not much room for connecting with other people in your mind.

5. You seem to be unhappy from time to time for no apparent reason.

Your unhappy moments don’t come on because something bad has happened, they simply show up out of nowhere and unannounced. You don’t know how to explain this and it drives you mad.

6. You have trouble knowing what it is you’re feeling.

When a baby is born, his/her brain houses over one hundred billion neurons that will chart paths and make connections based on the social experiences they encounter.

By the age of two and a half, approximately 85 percent of the baby’s neurological growth is complete, meaning the foundation of their brain’s capacity is in place.

By age three, the child’s brain is 90 percent of its completed adult size. – Dr. Bruce Perry

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  1. Great article. You definitely know what you’re talking about because I’m living proof of it. I spent my entire childhood being made to feel like everything I felt was an annoying inconvenience for others and I was wrong for it. I mean, being annoying and inconvenient is to some degree or another wrong, but as a young kid you have no way of knowing that the way you feel, in and of itself, is not under the headings of annoying and/or inconvenient and that if someone put them them there it says more about them than it does you. There is, however, a point where every person’s handling of their own emotions becomes unreasonable (punching walls in anger or screaming and crying at the top of your lungs all night long), but simply having an emotion is not even close to the line. If I just want someone to talk to for a minute, responding to “I’m sad” with “no, you’re not” is probably not going to achieve anything constructive. I grew up with parents who were never wrong while being made to feel I always was. I knew better, to some degree. I knew I couldn’t ALWAYS be wrong and they couldn’t ALWAYS be right. And I also knew, without having any evidence whatsoever, that never apologizing for anything ever is not on the list of what good parents do. Never admitting fault has never been on any list of doing things right. Because of this I slowly became an angry and bitter person. I knew what the truth was, but all I could do was suffer being told I was wrong. I wanted to scream. I held it inside and it built until one day, when I was 36 or so, I got a job. During training one of the people in my class asked why I always look so mad. That’s when I started realizing. It took another 3 years before I finally hit the end. I was done. Nope. I can’t. I can’t live this way anymore. I started by self diagnosing myself with ADHD, which was later confirmed by a therapist based on the current DSM, learned that I have RSD and began working on being more aware of it so I could learn to manage it in a healthy way, realized (which was apparently a huge revelation for me in my healing process) that I’d have to be the center of the universe for everyone to be annoyed simply by my presence and for them to be working towards relieving that annoyance at my expense all the time (they have lives of their own and probably don’t think about me enough to be annoyed one bit…and am I really that annoying to begin with?), got put on an anti-depressant as a non-standard treatment for ADHD which has completely turned my life around (I knew I was depressed, but had no idea what not being depressed was actually like), have recently begun to shut down the voice in my head by saying things like “I am good at (insert task here) because I have evidence to support that fact” or “Yes, (insert action here) is not a skill set of mine, but that’s okay, because only liars are good at EVERYTHING.” It works and helps tremendously.

    The part I still struggle with (but am getting better at) is actually seeing my parents for what they are. I know they did what they did (belittled me into an emotional mess) but knowing that it definitely happened and was done by them and actually recognizing them as being responsible for it are, apparently, two different things. Slowly, I’m getting there. I’m not looking to place blame, but I am looking to see them for what they are so I can let it all go. I haven’t spoken to my mother in nearly a year and my father, it’s been about 4 months or so, and I miss them and feel bad for cutting ties. Not a day goes by that I miss spending time with them, but I have to remember that what I miss was my perception of things and not things as they really were. When I look at things as they really were I picture one or both of my parents (and even my siblings, because they were in on it, having learned from our parents) and ask the image “how could you do that to another living being?” It’s usually in disgust that I ask them. It helps. Oh yeah, it does. It helps me to recognize that they were in the wrong and not me. No one’s perfect and I wasn’t a perfect child, but no one is what they lead me to believe I was. No one.

    So, long story short, I am getting better. I do spend a lot of time every day reminding myself that I am not what I was lead to believe I was, that my parents (and siblings) were wrong for what they did, I was not wrong to refuse to see myself that way (although ultimately I did without realizing it), emotionally eating (am I really hungry and if not when was the last time I ate, so as to avoid over eating, so would a small snack hurt?), and not emotionally shopping (telling myself I’ll save up for things I know I’ll lose interest in anyway to prevent from buying them), keeping myself calm and in a good mood (by reminding myself what it used to feel like when I was constantly angry and unaware of it and how much I do not want to go back there…”I’m not going back there!” is my new life goal, mantra, and constant motivator), and paying attention to how much better I feel now than I did even last year when I was unaware of the anger so as to retain my good mood and not slip and go back (which, at this point, I have little reason to worry about because I’ve drilled “take the medication” into my head such that it’s become a bodily function like breathing and the medication is a huge part of my recovery), and being acutely aware of my mood from minute to minute and immediately managing it back to stable and functional as necessary with as little effort as possible, and best of all, recognizing when I’m stressing myself over either nothing (yeah, and the worst that’s gonna happen is?) or doing something I don’t wanna do that doesn’t really need to be done anyway (eh, I don’t have the energy…you know, like going and getting a pizza as opposed to just eating food around the house or whatever), as well as other similar things.

    And the best thing I’ve realized that how much work or much of a challenge it is to work towards recovery doesn’t matter one bit. None. Not at all. Even slightly. What does matter is how much you want to do it. The more you do the more you will. You’ll start small and after while things will snowball and you’ll find it automatic. You still have to work at it, but the work will engage more easily and sometimes without you even realizing it until afterwards or not at all. Things take time, but that time can only begin when you decide that it will.

  2. Thank you, Brenda.
    All of these have been my life. I’ve overcome a few..and work hard on getting over the others. It’s not easy. But because when you are down, they seem to creep back in. My mom worked 6 days a week to support 3 children and on her 1 day off, she would sleep or be angry…dealing with her own issues and depression. As an adult, I understand but I can’t change how it shaped me. I was either with baby sitters or alone, my siblings are 7 and 8 years older than me.
    I make a point to let my children know I love them and am there for them.
    Most days are wonderful, I do my best to remind myself the past is gone and to move on.

  3. Numbers 1, 7, and 8 are me, me, me. There is a version of #6 I deal with as well. I definitely know what I am feeling at all times, happy, sad, or whatever, but, I often feel like whatever I am feeling probably is wrong, because it’s not what someone else wants me to be feeling. My parents were abused as children, and wanted to give their own kids a better life, but then seemed to resent us for having that better life. They were so hard on me and my siblings. My childhood was all focused on pleasing them in order to keep them from being so hard on me. I didn’t really learn how to think or have feelings for myself.

  4. For the first 15 months of her life, our daughter was like a prisoner locked in a crib in Romania, never held, never cuddled. Her bottle was propped, as were the bottles of all the babies around her. Hunger. Lying in her own urine. We rescued her when she was 15 months, thinking our love would overcome all. Well, it doesn’t. She suffers horribly every day of her life with attachment issues, rejection issues, anger – all bottled up inside, waiting til the bottle is full and explodes. Nevertheless, our love is never ending.

  5. Wow, this was powerful. I’m blessed to have come from a loving home, but applaud all who have overcome painful childhoods. Brenda, you are a strong woman and a wonderful role model for so many.

    Carol and Molly

  6. My husband and I have 8 children. Three homegrown and 5 adopted. Our daughter from Korea is 29, son from Russia 27, our last three are 13. They were adopted from foster care.
    Our son from Russia and the youngest three have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It comes with many secondary diagnosis. Bipolar disorder, explosive mood disorder, learning disabilities. The saddest thing is they have an inability to understand social skills, read people’s faces. It is on the same spectrum as Autism and has many of the same deficits only it is 100% preventable! Their birth moms drank and they got a life sentence. One trauma you didn’t speak of is pre birth trauma. It causes kids to have Reactive Attachment Disorder. All the love in the world can cure these problems. Sins of the mothers. Knowledge is a powerful thing. Thank you for posting this. People need to know.
    I hope you know what a living miracle you are!

    1. See my comment below – our daughter has the same FAS, and our son has RAD. yes, life sentences.

  7. A very nice article Brenda.

    Childhood abuse/neglect is such a complex subject and because it’s not only what you can see that effects your life, but also what is “unseen”. What is clear to our eyes may be remedied but what is deep within the trenches of our being needs a special key. It is so very true, a childhood wrongly dealt any of us can easily break a life and damage can be so severe that you were literally programmed for destruction before you even had chance to begin. These types of demons are also some of the most vile any human being may seek to overcome.

    I wish there was an easy answer to how someone moves from a life of victim hood or how one even reconciles terrible wrongs done against them. These subjects are so sensitive to some that they will block you in a heartbeat too and because blocking is the only way they learned to cope.

    Personally, I know of no place in this world that can create or recreate a whole human being out of brokenness. Neither in my mind’s eye does it exist. Problems are one thing, but utter and total brokenness quite another and this remedy can only come from the Great Physician.

    I might cry over the following line too but losing my boy trumps everything.

    Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 

  8. Brenda those ten points are me. I hate it. Survival mode is how I’ve lived my life, even now. I think now it is depression I am fighting to survive. I am so sorry you and your siblings did not have a better start in life. Thinking of you and Charlie this weekend.

  9. Thank you for writing on this subject. I was married to someone who had been left alone and neglected at times by his mother, and abused by his father and paternal grandparents when he saw them, Such a damaged adult. I can never trust anyone again. I used to be an editor but now work with intellectually disabled people, some of whom have suffered the same because of their issues. I don’t have control over the problems but hope I can at least be a good influence…with all my own flaws!

  10. Such a true post. Its mind boggling to read it all and still not have a single clue as to any FIX that might be available. Yet how could there be one when 90% of our mind was formed long before we had the power to demand our rights~! The right to be loved, cared for, protected. Especially when the people who were to love us were the very people we needed Protection from.
    I wish you well my friend.

  11. Your information is so powerful…and tough to absorb. This is reality on the “bleeding” edge of life. Wow. Your blog has had more of an impact on me than any other that I can remember. You have such value to me.

  12. #9 is the only one I can say is indefinably me. It always seemed that others were always telling me what I should and shouldn’t do and even what I should think, and so I moved away from people. I like other humans but can never allow myself to get close.

  13. Wow!! This really hit home. My Mom died when I was seven and my Dad became a mean and vicious drunk that didn’t buy food, clothes, provide medical and dental care and sometimes didn’t even pay the bills so no power. I never understood why I had these social inequities but this really explained it for me. Thanks for posting it.


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