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Healing Women's Invisible Scars - What "No One" is Talking About

If you have girls or young women in your life, please read this. If you're an adult woman, please read it anyway.

This is stuff no one is talking about, and very few people have even heard of it.

It’s called “emotional neglect,” and as Jess Weiner, the Global Ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, wrote in a recent Facebook post, “You can’t see the scars, but they are real.”

Sure, you can Google those words, and you’ll get to some interesting, mostly academic, sites. If you Google “child abuse,” up will come hundreds of sites because those are the scars we see, sadly.

The root of “emotional neglect” comes from not being loved as a child, and it can play out in many ways – and all of them can keep a girl or boy from realizing her or his potential.

My personal experience with this is as a girl, and we face special challenges when not being loved is combined with social pressures around looks, boys, and not truly “getting” how special, smart, and talented we are.

As a women’s historian, who also does a lot of public/motivational speaking, I am at the point now where I can look back at a 40-plus year life history and really see the consequences of emotional neglect.

I’ve decided to start sharing my story because I HOPE that any adult reading this will take another look at the girls and young women in your life to see if you need to intervene.

If you are a girl or young woman reading this, please know that you are not alone. You are not crazy. And, what’s more, it’s not YOU. There is nothing wrong with you.

You can survive this, and be fine.

From my own story, and from the studying I’ve done recently, here are some of the ways emotional neglect plays out.

1)  The source of emotional neglect is usually a parent or parents. I figured this out at a very young age, even though I couldn’t articulate it, and did everything I could to separate myself from my parents for my protection. I am very proud of that. You might have to do the same thing. It’s a sad decision, but you have to protect yourself. But you also do need parents and a family, so seek out adults who will be on your side – teachers, parents of friends, your minister, a community leader. They are there, and trust your gut. You will do this for the rest of your life – create your own family – so start it now!


2) You will find it very hard to believe in your talents, your intelligence, your gifts  -- all of the things that I now believe are God-given. You won’t believe they are true, and you won’t believe it when people tell you. This is a lie, of course, because you ARE all of the wonderful things that you are, but it will take time for you to believe it.


3) You won’t trust people, period. Why would you, if you can’t trust your own parents and family? Again, this will take time, and connecting yourself to good people is the best way to shift this lie.


4)  Men will find you – men who have their own needs in mind first and not yours. You will be susceptible, especially to older men, who seem to fill that emptiness where parents, family, and lover should be. I will share with you that my first “experience” was when I was 18. He was in his early 50s, and my college professor. See a problem there? Please guard yourself against these men, because the pain of the inevitable break-up is something I think we feel more than others because the loss is so great.


5) Guard yourself against drinking or drugs to fill the emptiness. It doesn’t work, and it does you more damage than you know. It’s just another way of telling yourself, “I’m not worth caring about,” and that’s a lie too. You are.


6) You will probably not take care of your health in other ways -- lack of exercise, weight gain, poor posture. I understand, but trust me, once you decide that you ARE worth taking care of and you start to like what you see in the mirror you will be very proud of yourself! And dress well! Lose the baggy, old clothes asap!

7) Money – another big one. If we don’t believe we are worth caring about, we won’t take care of ourselves financially. I’ve seen this a lot, including in my own life. And when you combine emotional neglect feelings with how girls are raised to understand money (not good news there), this is a dangerous combination. Instead, please KNOW that 1) You are worth caring about, including your money, and 2) You can’t take care of anyone or anything else without money.


8) Faith – to conclude. This is probably THE THING that shifted everything for me, and this didn’t happen until I was in my late 40s. Earlier, I simply didn’t believe in God, a Creator, the Universe or anything else at all. Why would I? Why would I believe anyone or anything else would care about me after a lifetime of that made-up “story” in my head, after believing the lie that it wasn’t possible, it wasn’t real, and that it couldn’t be trusted?

It doesn’t matter what faith you were raised in, or what you call that higher power. And no, this is not a religious essay.

I just wanted to share with you that the SECOND I started trusting in God, to use that word, after a whole lot of studying and thinking these past 16 months or so, EVERYTHING started shifting, and everything I needed, wanted and DESERVED started coming into my life.

Believing in that connection has also given me an anchor I never had before, and I feel safer than I ever have – another good feeling. I have also attracted love, business, a better home situation, a church community – the list goes on.

I see this change as a combination of faith and really, finally knowing that the lies were lies, and the truth is the truth.

I wish the same for you, and for every girl and young woman you may know.

Please recognize the signs of emotional neglect, and if you need to step in, step in. If you need to reach out, reach out.

No one deserves this, and we need to talk about it.

______________________
2011 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

Bonnie Hurd Smith, the President and CEO of History Smiths, is an expert on using history in new and innovative ways. She is a marketing, PR, event planning, and cultural tourism professional who also happens to be a respected historian (especially women's history), author, and public speaker.

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