Who am I? As I relate to “Emotional Neglect and Complex PTSD” by Pete Walker

My notes from reading the below article –

Emotional Neglect and Complex PTSD by Pete Walker  emotionalNeglectComplexPTSD

This article highlights the prodigious role that emotional neglect plays in childhood trauma, and how it alone can create Complex PTSD.

Growing up emotionally neglected is like nearly dying of thirst just outside the fenced off fountain of a parent’s kindness and interest. Emotional neglect makes children feel worthless, unlovable and excruciatingly empty, with a hunger that gnaws deeply at the center of their being, leaving them starving for appetite for substances and/or addictive processes.

Emotional Neglect: The Core Wound in Complex PTSD

Minimization about the debilitating consequences of a childhood rife with emotional neglect is at the core of the PTSD denial onion. Our recovery efforts are impeded until we understand how much of our suffering constellates around early emotional abandonment – around the great emptiness that springs from the dearth of parental loving interest and engagement, and around the harrowing experience of being small and powerless while growing up in a world where there is no-one who’s got your back

Traumatic emotional neglect occurs when a child does not have a single parent or caretaker to whom she can turn in times of need or danger, and when she does not have anyone for an extended period of time who is a relatively consistent source of comfort and protection.

Continuous emotional neglect turns the child’s psyche into a quagmire of emptiness, fear and shame – a quagmire that she will, as an adult, frequently flashback into until she understands and works through the wretchedness of her childhood. Without such understanding, her crucial, unmet needs for safe and comforting, human connection will continue to cause her an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering

What it does

Verbal and Emotional Abuse

  • is often lost for many childhood trauma victims. Many never learn to validate its crippling effects.
  • can be much more injurious than physical abuse. Being ongoingly assaulted with critical words systematically destroys innate self – esteem and replaces it with a prevailing consciousness of toxic self-criticism.
  • even worse, words that are emotionally poisoned with contempt [a deadly cocktail of intimidation and disgust] infuse the child with fear and toxic shame respectively.S

Fear and Shame

  • condition him to refrain from asking for attention,
  • from expressing himself in ways that draw attention,
  • from seeking any kind of help or connection at all.
  • unrelenting criticism, especially when it is ground in with parental rage and scorn, is so injurious that it changes the structure of the child’s brain.

As it Relates to Who I am

The verbal and emotional layer of the abuse onion has myriad sub-layers of minimization which must be confronted in the long difficult disengagement of one’s identity from the toxic critic. I have heard clients jokingly repeat numerous versions of this over and over: “I know I’m hard on myself, but if I don’t constantly kick my own ass, I’ll be more of a loser than I already am.” (note:  I never felt like a loser)

The child projects his hope for being accepted onto inner demands of self-perfection. By the time the child is becoming self-reflective,cognitions start to arise that sound like this: “I’m so despicable, worthless, unlovable, and ugly; maybe my parents would love me if I could make myself like those perfect kids I see on TV.”  (note:  I identify with the first sentence ONLY)

Emotional neglect, alone, causes children to abandon themselves, and to give up on the formation of a self. They do so to preserve an illusion of connection with the parent and to protect themselves from the danger of losing that tenuous connection. This typically requires a great deal of self-abdication, i.e., the forfeiture of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-care, self-interest, self-protection. .”  (note:  need to think about this)

A childhood rife with verbal and emotional abuse often creates an identification with the critic that is so pervasive, that it is as if the critic is the whole identity. Disidentification from the critic is the fight of a lifetime, and for a long time there is a great pull to collapse back into the old habit of self-blame. Ironically this self-hate can constellate around the self-judgment that one is especially defective because she cannot simply banish the critic (note:  self-hate is a big leap, for me anyway)

Abandonment Stultifies Emotional and Relational Intelligence

Emotional intelligence and its cohort, relational intelligence, never get to develop, and children never learn that a relationship with a healthy person can become an irreplaceable source of comfort and enrichment. Moreover, the appropriate management of the normal emotions that recurrently arise in significant relationships is never modeled for them. Emotional intelligence about the healthy and functional aspects of anger, sadness, and fear lies fallow. Moreover the receptor sites for receiving love and caring from others often lay dormant and undeveloped [.Emotionally abandoned children often devolve into experiencing all people as dangerous, no matter how benign or generous they may in fact be. Anyone can automatically trigger the grown-up child into the deeply grooved patterns of perfectionism and endangerment engendered by their parents. Love coming their way reverberates threateningly on a subliminal level. If, from their perspective, they momentarily “trick” someone into seeing them as loveable, they fear that this forbidden prize will surely be taken away the minute their social perfectionism fails and unmasks some normal flaw or foible. .”] (note: I don’t identify with the part in brackets and as for the part highlighted perhaps I never suppressed or shut down? You can’t suppress something that is not there)

For Recovery

Recovery from PTSD correlates with an individual’s ability to understand on deep impactful levels how derelict her parents’ were in their duty to nurture and protect her. The individual needs to get that emotional flashbacks are direct messages from her child-self about how seriously her parents hurt and injured her. As denial is significantly deconstructed, the recoveree feels genuine compassion for the child she was. This in turn motivates her to engage the healing process of identifying and addressing the specific wounds of her childhood. Over time she becomes aware of her specific abandonment picture and the pattern of physical, spiritual, verbal and emotional abuse and/or neglect that she experienced.

 Denial and minimization.

There is also growing evidence that recovery from Complex PTSD is reflected in the narrative a person tells about her life. The degree of recovery matches the degree to which a survivor’s story is complete, coherent, emotionally congruent and told from a self-sympathetic perspective. In my experience, deep level recovery is often reflected in a narrative that places emotional neglect at the core of the understanding of what one has suffered and what one continues to deal with. It is a very empowering accomplishment to really get the profound significance of childhood emotional neglect – to realize in the moment how a flashback into bewilderment, panic, toxic shame, helplessness, and hopelessness is an emotional reliving of the dominant emotional tone of one’s childhood reality. Like nothing else, this can generate self-compassion for one’s child-self and one’s present-time self, kick-starting the process of resolving any given flashback.

It is important to note the limitations of the analogy of the onion. Effective recovery does typically involve working at various levels at the same time. De-minimization is a lifetime process, and remembering a crucial instance of being abused or neglected may occasionally impact us even more deeply on subsequent remembering as we more fully apprehend the hurt of particularly destructive parental betrayals.

The Neuroplasticity of the Brain

I am so heartened to know about all the new neuroscience research that proves the neuroplasticity of the brain, i.e., that the brain can grow and change throughout our life: old self-destructive neural pathways can be diminished and new healthier ones grown. [A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis inspiringly explicates this fact]. The critic can indeed literally be shrunk via long-term, frequent and dedicated use of the thought-stopping, thought-substitution and thought-correction practices I describe in my articles on the critic.


About zappedin2008

In 2008, at age 50, my life was turned upside down and inside out with diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of childhood trauma endured as a result of events/experiences with my Mother who was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia when I was age 2. I believe in the power of support and hope to connect with others to share experiences, ideas for recovery, etc. as we make this journey.
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