childhood abuse
childhood neglect
toxic parents
inner child, john bradshaw
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Healing Childhood Abuse and Neglect

by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W.


I'm in the process of re-designing the whole of Mental Health Today. It is quite a process. I'm doing more than just putting the old material in a new template. I'm reading most of the material again so that I can improve the meta tags, alt tags for the search engines as well as putting in a special "Related Books" section on most pages. 

Thus, at this time a lot of technical information as well as opinions and other's experiences are flooding my mind. I am noticing that I am having an emotional reaction occasionally. I just had one and I wanted to share it because it is something that most of us consumers are dealing with and that is abandonment. That's what I want to talk about. 

In an article on the site is one entitled "Healing the Abandonment Wounds." Just one sentence made me stop typing and sit in my computer chair staring at the ceiling.

The article says:

"I have counseled individuals, couples, families and business partners for the past 35 years and authored eight published books. Every individual I've worked with has had some abandonment wound to heal, and most relationship problems stem from abandonment wounds. 

It is not possible to grow up in our society without some abandonment wounds. The following are some of the ways it can occur:

  • Being torn away from mother at birth and put into a nursery.

  • Being left to cry in a crib or playpen.

  • Being given up for adoption or being left in foster care.

  • Being physically and/or sexually abused.

  • Being emotionally abused - ignored, yelled at, shamed.

  • Being pushed aside at the birth of a new sibling.

  • Having a parent or caregiver who is emotionally unavailable.

  • Being unseen or misunderstood by parents or other caregivers.

  • Being lied to.

  • Being unprotected by a parent or caregiver.

  • Being left alone in a hospital during an illness.

  • Losing a beloved parent or grandparent at a very young age.

  • Divorce.

  • Being teased or left out with siblings or peers.

  • Being ridiculed by a teacher.

  • Being forgotten - not being picked up from school or other places.

  • Being left at a young age to care for oneself, a parent, or other siblings."

And the article continues on.

The sentence "Being left to cry in a crib or playpen" was the sentence that stopped me in my tracks. 

My aunt, in the past has shared with me that her mother, my grandmother babysat me from birth to age 3 as both of my parents worked. I did have this information confirmed by my grandmother but I did it slyly so as not to cause shame or blame. My brother was a difficult child to raise and needed constant attention. I was a quiet child and entertained myself. 

It is important to know that my family lived in an apartment at the time in the same complex as my grandparents. My grandmother told me I really preferred to be in my own place, in my crib so I was there in my crib alone in the apartment 95% of the time from birth to age3. My grandmother would come and check on me from time to time. 

Experiencing Memories of Feelings of Abuse or Neglect as an Adult

When I found this out I was both saddened and relieved. All my life I would not call it a memory, but a memory of my feelings. I don't actually remember seeing myself in the crib alone. However I do recall EXTREME feelings that, "I'm alone and no one will ever comes. I wait and wait to the point where the emotional pain of no one coming for a long, long, long, long time, is so strong it is as if my mind twists I can't stand it. The feeling of waiting and no one coming is so strong it's as if I go into another dimension of pure and total hell." I cannot tell you how bad it is. I don't have the words. It is a memory of feelings. I did not get that statement from any books. It is something that simply explains my experience as an adult.

There were actually two times in my adult life where I waited for my boyfriend - different ones as it was years apart - to come and I waited and waited and I went once again into that never never land and both times I laid on the floor in fetal position. 


I never understood those experiences until it was confirmed about how I was babysat. Though I was an adult, those two experiences for some reason put me back into the infant waiting for someone to come. I've been stood up many times in my life so I don't know why those two times were significant. I do know that on the first occasion the man had been on vacation for two weeks and just got back and had called and stated he was coming over at a particular time. He did in fact show up much later and that put me back into an adult state. 

In those days the man I was dating was a mirror of me. If I was abandoned by them, I ceased to exist so you an imagine how terrifying abandonment was and the extreme legal of anxiety I felt.

I do know that just long term stress alone changes the chemistry in the brain and it was not long ago that I sent everyone a new study about the BPD brain and being tested under abandonment environments.

What Can Be Done About Our Abuse/Neglect?

  • I am learning possibly some of the reason I have a mental health disorder.

  • I know that many people have endured similar and even much worse situations in their family of origin or horrible events as adults. Therefore I know that I am not alone.

  • I do not feel sorry for myself at all as I know that many have suffered. However I do feel an inner sadness about this. I feel sad for that infant in the crib.

  • I don't want to stay stuck there - as that ignored infant in its crib. I want to move beyond that and heal. I think it is good to grieve such a situation. I want so much for that to have never happened to me and I can get caught up into "if only" statements. Roger Whitaker does a song called "If Only is For Children." No "if only" thoughts. They get you nowhere. Part of grief is learning to accept what happened to us and making peace with it. Remember the grief process? Shock/Denial; Bargaining; Depression; Anger; (depression and anger can come in opposite orders from other's experiences and sometimes you may go back and forth) Acceptance.

  • I have a legitimate right to be angry and that's ok but don't stay stuck there. Move on. If you continue to stay angry at someone who abused you, you continue to give them power over your life. The old statement about the best revenge is living a wonderful life is very true.

  • Talk to your therapist about this. Talk and keep on talking.

  • Should you forgive your abuser(s)? If you can.

  • Is it ok to just sit down and cry for that child that you were? Of course. It's called grieving.

  • I strongly encourage people who have undergone any form of abuse or neglect as children or adults to seek professional help. Get a counselor. Talk! Do you need to see a Dr? Are you not sleeping well or depressed or anxious due to that abuse/neglect? If you cannot resolve these issues in therapy you may need medication. Don't be afraid of it. Focus on what it will take to improve your life instead of whether you are taking medication or not.

  • Understand feeling guilty over the abuse is normal though it makes no sense whatsoever. Work on that guilt and understand that you were a victim. The act(s) were about the other person and their own issues, not about you. In fact it had nothing to do with you. It wasn't because you were too pretty, too bold, too rebellious, etc. That had nothing to do with it. It is about the abuser and you were victimized because of their issues and their NOT making a choice not to hurt you. Get angry, just don't stay there.

John Bradshaw talks a lot about the "inner child." The child in us and he stresses how important it is to parent that inner child, comfort and love it. I've seen people with stuffed animals on their lap and pretending that is their inner child. They talk to it, hold it, love it, tell it you will always be there for it and will take care of it. Once again, tell that child that you will always be there for it.

The Abuser in Your Present

Talking about childhood abuse or neglect - some of us have had to evaluate in our own lives if being around our abuser (many times it is the parent or relative) is good for us as an adult. It depends upon how toxic that person is. 

Susan Forward wrote a book called "Toxic Parents" that helped me a lot. She helps you to evaluate whether your parents are toxic or not and even goes to the point, if necessary, to divorce our parents - to say goodbye and never talk to them or see them again. 

Some people, such as my grandmother did not set out to hurt me and was not even aware of the damage her behaviors did to me. She is one of the easier people to forgive and I can keep her in my life because she is not toxic to me as an adult. 

Other people made an actual choice to abuse children and understand what they are doing is wrong, yet continue due to their own emotional issues. If they continue to be toxic in your adult life, don't spend endless hours trying to convince them they hurt you if they are not hearing you. Divorce them. 


I am reminded of an activity John Bradshaw directed and I participated in it through his video tapes. I do NOT recommend this for any of you who are not well into recovery. Ask your therapist before doing anything like this. I cannot emphasize this enough. At the time I did it I began falling apart worse. However the reason I mention this is to show you an example of just how precious and wonderful we are regardless of what happened to us. 

Close your eyes and see yourself in your mind's eye as early of an age as you can remember. Perhaps you are playing outside, etc. Don't look at a traumatic experience. Just see yourself. 

You come up to that child (you) as your adult self of who you are now and you pick up that child and you tell the child that you understand what they are experienced more than anyone else because you are them as an adult. Tell that child and HUG that child, that you understand how they feel and that you will be coming back to get that child and take it with you and that you will be the parent of that child from now on and that you will take excellent care of it. 

Second activity 

You again come to that child and you pick up that child and you tell him/her how wonderful and how precious they are and you tell that child that you love him/her very much and that you will protect it and never ever let anything bad happen to it again. 

Tell the child that you will now be taking that child away from its current environment and taking it with you. Again, tell that child that you will be his/her parent and that you will take wonderful care of it and assure it that you will never let anything bad happen to it again. See yourself hugging the child, holding the child and telling the child just how much you love it. 

Then you and the child begin to walk away. Soon you look back and see your parents and you wave goodbye to them and again remind the child you will be its parent now. Then you continue to walk away and you see your house getting smaller and smaller. 

Now I am guessing that some of you are tearful right now. I don't know about you but I felt a tremendous amount of love for that child

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Related Books

Act It Out: 25 Expressive Ways to Heal from Childhood Abuse

Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child

Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy

Divorcing a Parent: Free Yourself from the Past and Live the Life You've Always Wanted

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