This post was updated on Feb 21, 2023
When it comes to romantic relationships some people tend to repeat the same patterns of behavior and make similar choices to the ones that had already proven themselves detrimental to both their well-being and their relationship. So why do so many of us keep making the same mistakes?
Most of our adult behaviors and feelings frequently stem from certain unresolved issues that punctuated our childhood. The challenges of many romantic relationships often arise from unconscious childhood neglect. Those who grew up with consistent emotional neglect and experienced it as “normal” at an early age might have difficulty connecting intimately to other people in general, particularly in romantic relationships.
Although it doesn’t make sense to keep staying in relationships that make us miserable, some of us keep tolerating diverse types of neglectful behavior even in our adult life because it’s familiar if that’s what we learned through the family dynamics of our childhoods. Simply put, we are drawn to whats familiar regardless of merit.
What Is Considered Neglect?
The word neglect almost instinctively makes us think of an abandoned child. But neglect doesn’t necessarily refer to a lack of food, shelter, or clothing. Those are the most severe and evident types of neglect and the most usual forms of child abuse, but children can also be deprived of other basic needs that involve lack of attention and affection.
Emotional neglect during early childhood can be a particularly crucial factor in an individual’s ability to achieve healthy adult relationships. The reason for this is children subconsciously adopt damaging behavioral patterns as ‘normal’, and shape their ideas and perception of themselves and others according to these patterns. This can influence their attachment style formation, and subsequently their behavior patterns in adult relationships.That is why in the PIVOT process we use the term #HealthyAdult. We WANT people who had complex childhoods and feel like they struggle in relationships that there IS a solution.
Attachment style is a frequent topic of conversation when relationships aren’t working out, as it strongly influences the choice of a life partner. It’s often cited as a root cause of some relationship difficulties, so by recognizing their attachment patterns people can discover what made them relate to others in certain ways and why.
What Are the Different Types of Neglect?
Emotional neglect is often misunderstood because it’s not as evident and clearly defined as abuse, the signs of which are easily identified and noticeable. While physical abuse is about what was done to someone, emotional abuse is often about what wasn’t done. It’s about everything that’s missing, such as a failure to provide a child (and later, a partner) with attention and behavior that corresponds to their emotional needs. Often, adults who were neglected in childhood have unrealistic expectations of their partners. Wanting their partner to “right” the “wrong” that was done to them.
There are diverse types of neglect, both in children and adults, but they translate quite clearly from the early stages of life to adulthood. Generally, there are six main types of neglect during childhood which can carry the most impact on our adult lives:
- Physical neglect occurs when children are denied basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter.
- Medical neglect is when they don’t receive the necessary and timely medical care when ill or injured.
- Supervisory neglect happens when parents or caregivers fail to protect their child from being harmed.
- Environmental neglect usually refers to unsanitary or otherwise inappropriate living conditions that may lead to illness or other harm. This is considered by some experts to be a form of physical neglect.
- Educational neglect is denying children access to education and not helping them when the educational demands are complex for their specific learning challenges.
- Emotional neglect: All the above types of neglect may strongly influence a child’s development into an adult battling various psychological issues. However, emotional neglect is the one we’re exploring, as it may directly correlate with the development of a wide range of difficulties and problematic patterns in our adult relationships and attachment styles, and potentially lead to an attachment disorder.
Individuals experiencing childhood neglect may keep having the same feelings even as adults when they enter romantic relationships, and they may find themselves craving attention. Recognizing the origin of these intense feelings and types of neglect in adults are particularly important steps towards learning to deal with them and making significant changes to behavior patterns.
What Are the Signs of Neglect in Your Relationship?
When it comes to neglect in adult relationships, it’s important to keep in mind that emotional neglect may not be as evident as abuse because it’s not about what happens – it’s about what’s missing. In a romantic relationship, emotional neglect can appear in the form of continuous failure to notice a partner’s feelings and respond to them appropriately.
This can make us feel invisible and unworthy of care, and even make us neglect ourselves. Some people could experience serious depression or engage in high-risk behaviors, either to draw attention to themselves or to escape unpleasant feelings.
The most common signs of neglect in a relationship may include:
- Having a tough time expressing your feelings, or even identifying them.
- Having trust issues.
- Not being able to experience sincere empathy.
- Frequently feeling guilt or shame.
- Excessive worry or fear.
- The constant need to please people.
- Persistent feelings of dissatisfaction, emptiness, and lack of joy.
- Feeling disconnected from yourself and others.
- Anger directed both at oneself and others.
- Excessive fear of failure.
- Not being able to ask for help.
All these feelings may point to the fact that your attachment needs aren’t met. The need for attention and the feeling that you matter aren’t something you ever “grow out of”.
How Can You Tell That It’s Time to Seek Help?
Most of the feelings listed above may culminate over time and lead to actions and behaviors your relationship might not survive, or if it does, it can do so by potentially causing great damage to your mental health. Think about these types of behavior and whether they’re consistently present in your relationship:
- You confide in people other than your partner, usually friends or family members.
- You feel like you’re “alone” in the relationship.
- You don’t engage in any social activities together.
- You prefer spending time alone to spending it with your partner.
- When you try to talk about the issues that are bothering you, your partner shuts down or ignores you.
- You keep suppressing your feelings.
- You frequently feel powerless and overwhelmed.
- You feel like you can’t act naturally and be yourself around your partner.
- You delay making important decisions, like having children or setting any long-term goals.
If emotional neglect is the type of behavior you became accustomed to during childhood, you may have been suppressing your emotions for too long to even be aware that you’re doing it. Studies show that these issues might lead to mental illness and substance abuse. However, they are certainly preventable with the right kind of help.
Trying to recognize these signs in your relationship is only the first step. Finding the will and strength to change may prove to be a challenging task for many. This is where help from others is of immense value.
PIVOT Workshops Can Help Build Trust in Your Relationship and Break the Cycle of Emotional Neglect
Changing the behavior you’ve been learning all your life as a way to ease your discomfort and unpleasant feelings may not be easy, but it’s certainly achievable. One of the ways to begin to deal with these feelings and behavioral patterns is by taking part in a Glass House workshop and starting to build trust in your relationship. PIVOT relationship advocates can provide the support and help you need to address the damaging behaviors. As you progress and feel the ability and strength to stop the cycle you’ve been trapped in, true change can finally happen.