The acting out of neglect

Unconsciously driven behaviour can produce some surprising results…..

My Mother loves flowers. I love flowers. From time to time, my Mother would buy me some flowers in a pot for the garden. How lovely!

But rather than plant the flowers in the garden, I would leave them in their pots un-watered until, when they were close to giving up the ghost completely, I would carefully revive them with loving care as I planted them out….

Not all of them survived….. but even more bizarrely, when she had given me more than one, I managed to somehow carefully calibrate my neglect so that, although some died, there was always one that survived, its life hanging on by a thread….

In this self-created metaphor was contained all the pain and suffering of neglect. It is a graphic illustration of the impact.

Apparently there is an experiment where you take three plants. Each plant gets the same amount of water each day. To the first plant you say “I love you.” To the second, “I hate you” and to the third, well you don’t say anything: you ignore it. The first plant thrives, the second plant does not do so well; but the third plant fares even worse. When someone is angry with us or abusive, there is still a relationship, albeit a highly dysfunctional one; but when they turn away… we feel like we don’t exist. To a small child, that is an existential threat.

I was never physically neglected. There was always an abundance of delicious home-cooked food in our house. So what happened?

A few things: Firstly, my emotions were not mirrored back to me by a woman who had herself shut down emotionally as a result of early childhood trauma. She was nevertheless a very devoted Mother and was doing the best she could, passing on her trauma second-hand in the process. And so I grew up feeling unseen….

Secondly, like many children of my generation, I was left to cry at night. They called it “sleep training.” And so my rage went under wraps, only able to express itself through metaphors….

And lastly, my Mother, who had lived in fear of her domineering PTSD-impacted Father, colluded with my Father (also suffering from PTSD and on the narcissistic spectrum) and I became the forgotten child whenever he was present. I don’t relish some of the terminology I am using, as it smacks of victimhood, but it does convey my experience.

So, what about you? How does your neglect play out? Lack of self-care? Addictions?  Looking after everyone else, but never yourself?

And how can we shed these deeply-ingrained patterns? Is there any hope for us?

Yes, of course there is. Everything is possible. And becoming conscious of our own behaviour is the first step, without which no change can ever take place.

Paradoxically, the more we try to change ourselves, the more we prevent change from occurring.  
On the other hand, the more we allow ourselves to fully experience who we are, the greater the possibility of change   –  Laurence Heller

Once we have identified an issue and given it our focus, solutions will present themselves. What can help us to rewrite the neural programming is the presence of an empathic witness. That might be a psychotherapist or someone who offers a form of trauma work and, where there is an ancestral pattern to unpick, Family Constellations can be very helpful.

The support of a therapist, facilitator or group can help us to recognise and express the feelings which were never met, so that they are processed consciously and we no longer need to act out the story of neglect.


My garden is full of flowers. Some of them were given to me by my Mother.