When we think of trauma we most often think of incidents that are blatant and acute, visible and sudden, such as a natural disaster or a car wreck, mass shootings, or acts of terrorism. But some people experience trauma as more subtle and chronic that present in the form of emotional abandonment. The more subtle traumas can be just as damaging and scarring as the more blatant because they tend to occur over time and build upon each other. At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we find that the scars of emotional abandonment are often directly related to depression, anxiety, acts of self-harm, and addictions.
The scars of emotional abandonment can come from a variety of sources:
- They often emanate from impaired family systems where you have experienced verbal abuse, name calling, severe criticizing, broken promises, lying or unpredictability – not knowing what will happen next.
- When a significant other, and in the young adult‘s situation most often the person in a parenting role, is disappointed with you, they attack your whole being, worth, and value versus what you did or did not do.
- When that parent figure expects you to be an extension of them, fulfilling their dreams and not allowing you to have your own.
- When a parent is not willing to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors but expects you to take responsibility for them.
- When children are treated as peers with no parent child distinction.
- When there are chronically unrealistic expectations on the part of the parent(s).
This is traumatic as it is occurring at the time in life when young people are developing beliefs about themselves, others, and the world at large.
At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we see many young adults in a major depression directly related to unrealistic expectations, fueling them with perfectionistic beliefs. “I must perform at such and such a level in order to be loved; in order to be acceptable. There is no room for mistakes.” These are often young adults who experience great amounts of achievement pressure from parents who are overinvolved in how well their children perform.
When parents place an excessively high value on outstanding performance, children come to see anything less than perfection as a failure, ultimately translating into the belief that they are the failure. Their ability to feel good about themselves is based on performance—what they do versus who they are. Young people are already idealistic and highly self-critical; this unrealistic parental pressure fuels self-loathing which fuels depression and anger, creating chronic fear and fueling anxieties. We have seen many of these “looking good” kids striving to be the best, become actively suicidal.
Other forms of emotional abandonment young people struggle with are:
- Being rejected for who they are based on their sexual orientation. Many young adults who are struggling with being gay, lesbian or transgender experience and have great fear they will be ostracized and rejected from one or both of their parents. For some, they could be rejected by their faith group.
- Adoption issues. Although it’s often addiction or depression that brings them to treatment, we find the adopted young adult is struggling due to internalized beliefs that say they are not of value, they are undeserving, and are not lovable due to perceived and real abandonment.
At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we always treat the primary diagnosis, such as addiction, depression, anxiety, etc., with appropriate methodologies and, in the process, address what we recognize to be the major underlying emotional scars. We assess for the possibility of emotional abandonment being critical to diagnosis and, as appropriate, tailor their treatment to address what is specific to their situation.
Through our brain center and neurofeedback sessions, we help to regulate their highly dysregulated nervous system. Our trauma therapies assist in challenging the internalized shame and self-defeating thoughts. Our five-day Survivors workshop specifically addresses unattended grief and carried shame. Our daily two hour process groups offer education so they understand what has happened, and assist them in installing new beliefs that support making healthier decisions. Family week is vital in assisting the family to share their realities, maintain a sense of their worth, and develop healthy communication and boundaries with each other.
By the time our young adults leave the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, they have a better understanding of what has occurred in their life that led to their addictions or mental health issues and has a whole new set of skills to emerge back into their adult life.