How severe neglect and abuse affect relationships

My parents did not love me. They did not hold me or care for me in even the most basic ways as a baby/toddler/child/adult.

As an adult, I know how this has affected me. I struggle to connect lovingly with other people in relationships. I don’t like to be touched. I struggle to feel anything other than numb.

There are people in my life who say they love me and care for me deeply; yet, I feel empty and nothingness and awkward to their loving gestures.

Interestingly, for me, I can feel love when it comes to my children. I genuinely love them, and I feel their love for me. I am not sure why it is so different when it comes to them.

When people other than my children say they love me, I cringe as if a dagger just went through me. I know I am supposed to give a loving reply back, but I can’t, and retreat into a state of internal awkwardness.

In case you are wondering, I am married. I don’t know why my spouse puts up with my difficulties around love, touch, sex, and oftentimes being aloof.

Sometimes, the fact that I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) comes in handy as there are other self states within me who do not struggle with the attachment damage from my childhood.

I don’t always control which part of me is out, and thus I fluctuate in the level of connectedness I have with others. This can be confusing to people because they don’t know about the DID (or don’t understand in my spouse’s case).

There are times when I am home with the family and I find myself very disconnected from them. My spouse will ask me what is wrong, and there isn’t anything wrong, but a self state that has more severe problems with attachment is usually present.

Other self states may go overboard with love and intimacy with other people. These self states tend to like to drink and be social, which of course is not the best combination.

My adult self-states are mostly similar enough that even the people who know I have DID have trouble distinguishing between them. But there are subtle differences if one is paying attention. However, very few people know about the DID.

My therapist seems to think my attachment problems can be healed through therapy and working through the pain of my childhood. I disagree. Though I have much more insight into my attachment problems, it doesn’t seem to do anything to help change that this is the way I am.

She would say I am feeling hopeless again, as if depression or something is causing me to come to this conclusion. I don’t feel particularly depressed. My mind is actually fairly clear, and I see my thoughts and feelings about my attachment problems as a form of acceptance of my reality.

I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer, but I do think it is better to accept reality and try to live life as it is rather than chasing a mental health that will never come for those of us who have been severely neglected as children.

That is not to say we can’t have a different version of mental health based on acceptance, instead of forever chasing a higher level of mental health and living our lives in the therapy room instead of the real world.

Too many of my friends and myself have spent almost our entire lives in the therapy rooms chasing an elusive mental health that will never come.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do believe in therapy, and it is necessary for many of us to survive in the world. But, I believe many of us with severe trauma backgrounds are using up our entire lives waiting for the wellness to begin. It’s just something to consider.

Yes, get therapy help, but don’t get caught in the idea that you will get “cured” and then miss out on living your life because you spent it searching for answers that don’t seem to transform into wellness.

*Disclaimer, my therapist and others do not agree with my point of view.

Wrestling with the truth that my parents repeatedly reinforced into me that I am not lovable has turned off a switch in me that should be on to experience the human condition of love and care.

This leaves me like one of those futuristic robots who can show the slightest bit of emotion, but fall short of the real human experience.

Living an inauthentic life

I grew up keeping my entire life a secret. I didn’t discuss with anyone the pain and abuse I was enduring. I also kept my internal world of other inside people a secret.

I knew it was not safe to discuss what was going on with me with others. I learned that my many abusers knew how to exploit me the more they knew about me and my inner system of people.

I would like to say this didn’t happen to me as an adult, but it did. When I was 21, I had my first psychiatric hospitalization for Major Depression, Anxiety, and severe suicidal ideation.

During this very lengthy hospital stay, a therapist on the hospital staff took a special interest in me. She would spend extra time talking to me, and made sure I knew I was special to her. Being 21, I had no idea the direction this was going.

I craved this attention from the hospital therapist, who incidentally was not my primary therapist. I wasn’t used to someone knowing the ugly truth about who I was, and still care about me. It was intoxicating.

It turns out, this hospital therapist was a master predator. She was one of the best I had ever experienced. She learned my inner system of people that began unfolding in front of her. She used that knowledge to exploit me sexually for 9 months.

The hospital knew what was happening and fired her to protect themselves. Sadly, the hospital and my private psychiatrist and therapist who were all aware of it did nothing to help me with the situation. They only worried about their liability in the matter. The betrayal of my private therapist and psychiatrist was worse than the sexual abuse I experienced from the hospital therapist.

So, trusting people with information about my inner world is really difficult. Everything I hear inside my head says to keep it private. The world can’t be trusted.

I live in this self-induced private Hell because I don’t want to be hurt any more. The worst part of this for me is that I don’t get to live an authentic life because no one truly knows me.

I have been married for 20 years, and you would think that person would know me. Nope. I hide things going on with me everyday.

I have pockets of people I can share different things with. My suicidal feelings are often the biggest secrets I keep.

I haven’t found it to be useful to share these feelings, and let’s face it, people don’t really want to know anyway. They say or think they do, but it only stresses people because they get scared about being powerless in the situation.

People would rather wake up one day to the news of my suicide thinking they had no idea. I am fine giving that to them.

Still, I hate living such an inauthentic life. No one knows the demons I wrestle with in my head. They don’t know the many people I share my body with that I must juggle. They don’t know the pain, anxiety, and desire to commit suicide I struggle with every day.

Instead, I do what I am used to. I ignore me and give everyone the me that they want to see. I can do happy or at least normal on many days. It is just another character role to play.

It leaves me in isolation where I am most comfortable. Some days I wish this wasn’t me, but the auto-pilot in me is strong.

Is my inauthentic life my own fault, or is it the wisest decision?

Maybe, one day I will live authentically, and my true struggle will be the story people know about me. That would be nice. Being a prisoner in my own mind is its own terror I subject myself to.

The unloved child

Lately, I have been discussing in therapy the fact that I grew up in a loveless home.

My therapist wants me to grieve that my parents didn’t love me.

I haven’t been able to do it as my immediate response is that I feel nothing toward them.

I do not feel love to, or from them, or even want to be loved by them. I feel nothing.

Empty. That’s what I feel the most when I think of them.

My mother was drunk as an alcoholic all through her pregnancy with me. My dad on more than one occasion laughed saying “I don’t know why you don’t have fetal alcohol syndrome given as much as your mother drank.” He always followed it with, of course, they didn’t know about fetal alcohol syndrome back then to make an excuse for her.

When I was born, my mother didn’t let up on her drinking. Both of my parents were alcoholics, and living in a middle class fantasy world. It seems almost every adult that came to our house was an alcoholic, which was weird statistically.

Our minister wasn’t an alcoholic, but I can remember him at the house sometimes to clean up some type of domestic mess.

Like the Catholic Church, our minister served to keep this chaos, violence, and abuse hidden behind closed doors.

Neither of my parents were affectionate with me in a way to communicate they loved or even cared for me.

In fact, it took my mom 50 years to utter the words she loved me. By then, it fell on deaf ears.

My father, who was nicer to me than my mom, never told me he loved me his entire life. I wanted to believe he loved me because he was kinder to me once he stopped drinking. But, as I sat with him for months on his deathbed, I heard him tell others he loved them, but never me, the only one who was loyal enough to see him through his death.

Growing up without love is a hard thing to work with as an adult. The only loving behavior I received was when I was being sexually abused. Otherwise, I was invisible in my world.

I once had an African-American maid who worked for my family in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her name was Annie, and she had a son who went to school with me named Tommy (he ways my friend until he was taken away from me). Annie tried to look out for me and my brothers. She would try to make sure we had food and other things that children should have. Though she was strict, she was kind to me, and gave me a few moments of stability.

As embarrassed as I am that we had a maid, I am grateful God put her in my life for a brief reprieve of some of the horror that was happening to me. I was so sad when she was gone.

It turns out you can grow up without love, and not always turn into something horrible. But the price of that admission is to walk around feeling empty, not getting too close to people, and not needing anyone outside of myself.

Interestingly, the main place I feel strong love is with my children. I love them with every ounce of my being, and I know they love me. I don’t know how I learned how to love them like this since I never saw this in person. I am grateful that somehow I have this inside of me when it comes to them.

I don’t feel lonely, which is strange for someone who doesn’t get too close to people. I think I am so used to living on my own, and in my head that it is comfortable this way. When I am alone, I don’t have to worry about someone hurting me.

I don’t know how to get close to the grief my therapist thinks I need to experience to heal. I suppose my intuition believes my world will come to an end if I touch on this type of grief. Maybe I am better off staying numb to it.