themighty logo

13 Ways My Neglectful Childhood Affects Me as an Adult

It happened to me.

Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment, and while it is as harmful or even more harmful than the physical, emotional or sexual abuse of a child, it is neglected in research and general conversation.

That is why I didn’t even realize it applied to me until my therapist brought it up. She told me how neglect and abuse work as a horseshoe, neglect at the top, and the two bottoms representing positive or negative attention; abuse can be better than neglect in certain circumstances because at least it gives the child attention. According to her, a baby or young child interprets a lack of attention as life-threatening and thereby goes into survival mode as it starves figuratively or literally for parents or caretakers.

For me, having neglectful and sometimes abusive parents, then a severely dangerous abusive relationship in my teens, led to my diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

There are five types of child neglect: emotional, physical, nutritional, educational and medical.

I faced parents who withheld any love, affection, guidance, and so on, and would abuse me if I sought out those things. They did not help me medically when I admitted to self-harming and being suicidally depressed. My parents also did nothing to help me when they knew I was in potentially dangerous situations, or afterward to help me recover. My mother allowed my abusive father to watch over us, and in that time horrid things occurred. My father was rarely physically or emotionally present either — except to abuse us, that is.

Ultimately, child neglect is extremely damaging and has serious effects. For me, this is some of what I experienced.

1. Early attention-seeking behavior.

At around age 7, I recognized that students with glasses seemed to get more attention from teachers than other students, probably as they needed help seeing the board and adjusting to difficulties. My 7-year-old self was so desperate that I purposefully failed an eye exam when eye examiners came to our school. I then recall training in my room to fake out the eye doctor by screwing up the letters as I read them, on a poster on my bedroom wall. I was unsuccessful in cheating a medical professional and did not get glasses. I was devastated.

2. “Phases.”

As a child and ongoing into my teens, I became obsessive around various activities in my life, like shopping, being fashionable and athleticism, which I thought at the time was normal. But I poured everything into them — I would sob when I missed an athletic practice or didn’t get the shirt I wanted. It felt like the absolute end of the world, hopeless. By my teens, I would be suicidal over it. Both of my siblings developed eating disorders in a way similar to my disordered habits as well — obsessive and destructive in an attempt to fill a void deep inside.

3. Drug, alcohol and intimacy issues.

Through much of my youth starting at 14, I was obsessed with the idea that self-destruction in any form could make me feel whole even for a moment. When experimenting with various things, as teenagers do, it was much different for me than others. These were attempts of mine to feel whole.

4. Altered identity.

I have never really known who I am or felt like a person or anything. I would seek identity from various obsessive and destructive phases such as athleticism and partying. They would become who I was, I would be nothing else and nothing else would matter. I had no idea how to be a person because I was not raised like one.

5. Chronic depression.

I grew up feeling chronically empty, but by the age of 13 my attempts to fill the void inside me were increasingly unsuccessful, and I needed more attention. As a teenager, I became deeply depressed and have continued to be ever since.

6. Emotional blockage.

Many children in abusive/neglectful homes are shamed, guilted and abused for seeking out the love, attention and other needs they have. Therefore, they begin to block this need on their own, never dealing with their emotions and facing extreme emotional dysregulation from a young age.

7. Abuse and other trauma in childhood.

Neglect is often accompanied by abuse. Thereby, I experienced emotional and physical abuse from my parents as well. I was also threatened with harm and bullied at school, sexually harassed to an intense degree as a child, and I experienced a kidnapping attempt at age 12 or 13. Unable to speak to abusive and neglectful parents, I dealt with these things alone and was unable to stop them. The trend continued through my teens.

8. Fiercely independent adulting.

Because I had to be an adult from a young age, I became an adult who took care of all my needs as best I could and all by myself. I have remained this way and often struggle to see value in having others in my life.

9. Care-taking role.

As someone who was not cared for at all, I had to care for myself. Now, I often find myself doing this for others as well — romantic partners, friends, etc. This became dangerous and self-destructive to me.

10. Attraction to abusive romantic relationships.

I recall purposefully provoking my father to protect my brother, but also for myself in a way. As I got older, I ended up in numerous abusive romantic situations. One in which I survived an attempted/plotted murder, having no choice in sexual activity for the sake of my life and losing myself completely.

11. Little memory of childhood.

Besides a few things, I remember basically none of my childhood, especially early childhood. My first memory is probably around age 12. This proves neglect is trauma that should be taken seriously as it manifests as dissociative amnesia.

12. Broken inner child.

Sometimes, I take on a different state of being which feels younger, extremely delicate and fragile. I have realized this is my inner child taking over.

13. Intense emotional attachment to stuffed animals past a reasonable age.

While these are a lot of negative things, I am a lot of things because of this trauma and some of them are OK. I am extremely kind as I know what a lack of kindness feels like. I have strong mothering abilities, I foster kittens and hope to foster children some day. I am very independent and capable of basically anything I put my mind to. And most importantly, I am strong because I’ve had to be.

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash