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Healing from Parental Neglect

If you grew up with an “oblivious” parent – one who didn’t seem to realize he/she was supposed to raise you – then you most likely have some emotional hurts as a result.  A lack of parental attunement, attachment, and care, can cause a covert-type of damage, one that people often don’t realize. Neglect is less obvious than abuse, but the damage is deep and pervasive.

If this describes your childhood, what can you do now to heal?  Here are some recommendations:

Embrace your Inner Child. Use imagery, that is, your imagination, to picture yourself as a small child being with (or not being with) the parent who neglected you.  Look at him/her. Describe what you see to yourself. What does he/she feel, need, have?As you do this observation, learn to have a relationship with this part of yourself.

Your inner child is the part of you that needs to be healed. If it helps you further, you can identify the “hurt inner child” within. This is the part of you that carries the repercussions of abandonment.

Develop a Healthy Inner Parent. This is what you need to heal the neglected part of yourself. You need a parent. You didn’t have one growing up, so now it’s time to do some developmental work. You went through your developmental stages starving for nurture, this left pockets of sadness, rage, and shame in your psyche.

One way to help yourself is to “re-raise” yourself through these stages of development by visualizing yourself as a child and presenting him/her with a healthy inner parent. This is one who is wise, nurturing, compassionate, and strong. Your inner parent should not be critical, impatient, or abusive.

Be There for Yourself. You must learn how to do this because it won’t be obvious. We learn from our parents how to “be” in relationships. If you learned a solid message that “being” meant “not being there” then you have a tautly relationship template that needs to be revised. In order to be there for yourself you need to stop abandoning yourself the way your parent did, and start nurturing yourself instead.

Find Healthy People to Bond With. You weren’t able to bond with one or both of your parents, so in turn, you probably didn’t get sufficient attachment needs met.  In order to undo the damage caused by this lack in your upbringing, it is essential to start developing close friendships.

These are not to be mistaken with overly-dependent relationships. All this means is that you need to find people who can really “see” you and care about you in ways that counter-act being with people who acted like you didn’t matter. Stay out of abusive or neglectful relationships at all costs.

Find Role Models, Mentors, and Healers. That is, find someone “bigger” than you who can serve as a pseudo-parent. A good therapist can do this. You need healthy role-models to “imprint” on you. As you are around someone who can help you create a new “working template” for relationships in your mind you start experiencing yourself being loved, valued, and cared for.In addition to this, a good role model can teach you many practical things about life as well.

When you grow up in a home with a neglectful parent, you often do not learn any basic skills about life. Good parents teach their children how to live. Neglectful parents leave their children flailing about in life, forced to figure it out on their own.Finding “replacement parents” will help you learn how to be loved and will help you develop the “anchors” you did not have in childhood.

Building these healing relationships in your life will help you feel stable and secure – concepts devoid in a neglectful childhood.

Journal. Start writing in a journal every day. Write your autobiography. Write your feelings. Be descriptive rather than evaluative. Let yourself experience your emotions growing up. Write letters in your journal to your neglectful parent(s). Write letters to your “inner child.” A journal is for your eyes only and is meant to help you express and process your unaddressed childhood emotions and beliefs.

Replace Hurtful Beliefs with Healing Beliefs. This is known as cognitive restructuring. Identify some of the prevailing unhealthy and hurtful beliefs you have about yourself; such as, “I’m unlovable,” or “If I’m perfect then I’ll be loved,” or, “If I get good grades my mom will see me.”  Write a list of all of the negative, self-deprecating, and abusive messages you have internalized over the years.  This list shows your cognitive distortions.

Now, you are going to start replacing your negative beliefs with healing beliefs. Write a list of healing thoughts that can and should replace the hurtful beliefs you have carried around so long in your head. Some suggestions are, “I am enough,” or “I am lovable,” or “It wasn’t my fault.”  Think of any beliefs that a healthy parent would tell a developing child, and start telling yourself these thoughts.

This is cognitive restructuring and is a very effective intervention for psychological health.

Grieve. Doing grief work will help you let go of all that you missed out on in your childhood and life because of being unloved. You can do this by writing the truth on paper and talking to someone safe about your feelings.I recommend that you start by writing a letter from your inner child to your parent, telling him/her what you needed, what you got instead, and how it made you feel and affected your life.

As with your journal, this writing is not meant for you to actually give your parent; it is meant for you to process through and complete your unresolved grief.


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Healing from Parental Neglect

APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). Healing from Parental Neglect. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 16, 2019, from