Please help me welcome guest blogger Pam Witzemann as she shares about Emotional Neglect. Emotional Neglect is a form of psychological abuse. Pam is a frequent guest blogger here at Emerging from Broken and contributes her voice to the comments in almost every post here on Emerging from Broken. As always please add your thoughts and comments. Darlene Ouimet Founder of Emerging from Broken
The Black Hole of Emotional Neglect by Pam Witzemann
Emotional neglect is largely, invisible. When one is emotionally neglected as a child, it is impossible to understand what is missing because it is impossible to understand what one has never known and can’t see. The emotional neglect of a child, places within them a black hole. It produces an insatiable loneliness that can consume the spirit, body, and soul of a child. As a child, I was a victim of emotional neglect.
My most familiar emotion as a child was loneliness. I was prevaded and often overwhelmed by it; but I also couldn’t name it. At the center of my being, was a darkness that often pulled me under and left me in such a state of depression as to paralyze me. I was filled with a deep longing for someone to notice my pain and help me. This core emptiness followed me into adulthood and ruled over the choices I made. Inside me lived death and I longed for the final consummation of death. In that deep night, I was made blind to happiness, joy, and life itself. I was a dark child who didn’t expect to live past fifteen. When I outlived my expectation, I was careless with my life and did everything possible to hasten my own demise.
I was a tiny girl. I was often sick and spent many hours, days, and weeks alone in bed. I spent the bulk of my fourth year of life sick, in bed recovering from Scarlet Fever that was left untreated for too long. I lived in a kind of nether world, suspended within my own inner darkness that enveloped my thoughts and dreams. All of my childhood memories are set within that dark void. I was sick so often that illness became the main feature of my identity. I knew myself as small, weak, and sickly. My demeanor was pouty and morose. My companions were books and paper to draw on(front, back, and every blank space so as not to be scolded for wasting paper) and the books I read were far beyond my years and suitability for my age. I loved Edgar Allen Poe as the black hole within me recognized a spiritual companion. I accepted the void inside as normal and never understood that I was lacking the interest, love, and nurture of my parents. I saw the problem as me. I was too small, too sick and weak, too clumsy, too mopey and pouty. No one could love or like me because I was unlovable by design.
I grew to be an angry and rebellious teenager. My rebellious acts were my desperate cries for help as the pull of the black hole, sitting in the place of my true, undeveloped identity, threatened to consume me, forever. I wrote poems with lines such as follows: “My souls illusion, Your souls illusion, Named love, The never ending dream…” because by my late teens, I was sure that love was only a dream. It was an illusion that taunted me and frustrated me as I moved from the emotional neglect and psychological abuse of my parents to the sexual abuse of men. By age eighteen, I had experienced so much personal destruction by those claiming to love me that I became as a dying, bitter, old woman with no hope for any future. The only comfort and relief from the constant emotional pain, that I felt physically in my chest, was my drugs. It seemed to me that my drugs loved me better than any human being because they relieved me of having to feel the emptiness inside that grew more powerful by the day. My drugs loved me and I loved them. My drugs closed over me in death and I welcomed the darkness as a refuge that empathized with my inner being; but also, as the final and eternal comfort that my empty, shriveled heart desired.
There are many theories about black holes and one theory states that when a black hole fully consumes a world, it emerges from the other side, whole and made new. That is how I also experienced my final consummation that came by my own hand in the form of suicide. When the doctors brought me back from death, I was sorrowful to find myself alive. I don’t know how many days I laid in that hospital bed but I do remember the tears I shed at the thought of returning to a life that was little better than being one of the walking dead. A junky’s life is lived as a vampire in constant pursuit of the substance of enslavement. When my systems stabilized, I was admitted to the mental unit for three days observation and then released back into the world that held no promise or future for me. I continued in the pursuit of my love until I weighed 75 pounds and became sick with hepatitis. This was my bottom and the moment when there seemed no way to go but up. I completed my passage through the black hole and began my rebirth on the other side.
There were so many things missing inside of me that even as I became a spiritual person and began to see life as a solution rather than death, I couldn’t name what was missing. The emptiness and aloneness were still the major markers of my character. No one, besides my grandmother, was ever interested in who I was, what my talents and dreams were, or what I thought about anything. As a child, I was to entertain myself and not bother. I was a big bother when I was sick and I knew not to expect anything more in the way of attention or nurture. I wasn’t encouraged in anything unless it was of benefit to my father. Then I was to perform, admirably, on cue. If I didn’t, I would displease him and displeasing my father was the household definition of wrong-doing. It was sin. There was no God, no outer authority to measure morality by but instead, the whims and pleasures of my dad were the moral code we lived by. The ranch I grew up on was isolated and my family was a world of its own with little connection to society. The world revolved around my father and no one else’s needs mattered. The mother I needed belonged to him and he jealously guarded her from me. I don’t remember my mother holding me; and she told me once that it made my dad too jealous. I have one sweet memory of her singing to me but mostly, I remember her disgust and disapproval of me. I remember the anger and disappointment that seemed constantly aimed in my direction. I ran away from home on a regular basis but there was nowhere to go. I would run the mile or so to the eastern gate and stop, and wait, but no one ever came. Tired, thirsty, and cried-out, I always returned home and no one ever cared that I had been gone or that I had returned. Sometimes, I felt as if I didn’t exist and wondered if my dreams were real and my life the true dream.
If not for my grandmother, nothing that is me would ever have had opportunity to live. I wanted to live with her and no matter how long I was at her house, I never wanted to go home. With my grandmother, I was someone. I had substance but with my parents, I was mostly invisible as I felt the someone I was with my grandmother disappear upon entering my parent’s home. I lived in the make-believe world of, “Heidi” or “The Wizard of Oz” and other books I read. I found new definitions of me in assuming the roles of the main characters, who were strong, and loveable, and acting out their stories as if they were mine. What I experienced of the world outside of our ranch and school was through the characters I read about. Playing the roles of others became the way I dealt with life and the emptiness that was, me. There was never any thought given, by my parents, to introducing me to the world outside of our family to prepare me for adult life. My talents and interests were not worth developing. The only things that mattered about me were those attributes that would someday, please a man. My life didn’t matter and neither did I.
I no longer live with the void that I experienced as a constant pain in my chest; but now, as I write about it, I feel the memory of that pain. That empty place has gradually filled in and it began with the faith in God I found when the black hole consumed me and I was reborn on the other side; and I began to see life and not death as a solution to my problems. The light of life began to shine for me and lead me into a better way to live. It is common for people to say that we all have a void that only God can fill. That is probably true but the emptiness I lived with and inside of was greater than any natural, inborn need for God. It was the void that nurturing parents are assigned to fill as they love, protect, and encourage their child. By this they teach their son or daughter who they are, and of their importance, and place in the world. I didn’t have that and though I managed to survive, I had no fully developed identity of my own. I hid inside myself and assumed the role that best fit my current situation. I survived as a changling and when one role no longer served me, I discarded it, disconnected from everyone I knew, and assumed a new role to play while locking away, deep inside, any trauma connected with each act of my life.
The filling in of the black hole of emotional neglect has been like the rebuilding of a faulty foundation beneath an old house. It began with God and has ended with my own identity developed and in tact. I played many roles as the real me was nurtured through the love of God, the love of my husband, children, and a few dear, old friends who saw something in me that was constant, no matter how many people I tried to be. I didn’t do this consciously but since I have confronted myself, my past traumas, and accepted the girl or girls and women that I was ashamed of, this pattern is clear to me. The people I’ve been don’t always agree and have little in common with one another, other than protecting me while I became. I am the constant that held them together. I am, Pam revealed by the power of truth and love. The black hole that once sat in the seat of my identity, no longer exists and the roles that I’ve adopted as a way to live life are falling away as I shed them and emerge fully, me.
Pam Witzemann was born in Santa Fe, NM and is now 54 years old. She has been married for 33 years, raised two boys and has two grandsons. Pam and her husband have had their own business for about twenty years. Pam is a painter and a writer and hopes to make these pursuits more than a hobby in her later years. Pam authors the blog Boomer Back Beat; a place where baby boomers find inspiration in the process of aging.