If we connect the dots, most of us think of childhood abuse as the reason you freak out as an adult. Did you ever think of childhood neglect as a possible cause? It is often more difficult to identify childhood neglect because “nothing happened.” Research has shown, however, that childhood neglect is a much greater cause than childhood abuse of why people freak out later in life. In a 2008 study, 71 percent of the reported cases of child abuse were actually caused by childhood neglect.
Our experience is that this is true, especially for developmental traumas that go under the radar and therefore are harder to identify and heal. For example, “Did you experience a separation from your mother for more than one week during the first year of your life?” Infants under one year of age cannot handle that long a separation from their mother or primary caregiver without experiencing it as a physical abandonment. The length of separation time that the child can tolerate gradually increases, but it still can be difficult for the young child to handle.
Now Easier For Parents To Connect
Now it is a bit easier because parents usually can call or Skype with their young children when they are gone. This helps maintain the emotional connection, even when the physical connection cannot be maintained.
We had a client who after her boy friend left her, had to go to the hospital and be fed intravenously in order to survive. We eventually helped her discover the cause of her reaction. When she was two years old her parents took her to her grandmother’s house and while her grandmother took her to the kitchen and fed her milk and cookies, her parents sneaked out the front door, without saying goodbye, for a two-week vacation. They did not contact her for the two weeks they were gone. This caused an abandonment reaction that she experienced as life threatening. Every time someone close to her left, she freaked out big time.
The Adverse Childhood Neglect Inventory
The ACE research focused on childhood abuse and its affect on adult mental and physical health and we think this is a missing ingredient in those studies. There is not much research on this topic. If you are interested in knowing how much childhood neglect you experienced, take the Adverse Childhood Neglect Inventory that is attached to this article.