The fact that “nothing happened” can cause a freak-out? Doesn’t make much sense does it? Something, some event, usually causes a freak-out, but not nothing.
These “nothing happened” freak-outs are because “something should have happened and didn’t” . . . also known as neglect. Research shows that childhood neglect has a much bigger impact on us than the “something happened” events, also known as abuse. Unfortunately, many people don’t know the difference between abuse and neglect. For example, a 2008 study showed that 71 percent of the reported cases of child abuse were really neglect.
We believe this is true, especially for developmental traumas, loss experiences that go under the radar and are therefore harder to identify and heal. Here’s an example, “Were you separated from your mother for more than one week during the first year of your life?” Babies under one year of age who are separated from their mothers for a week as a physical abandonment, making them forever sensitive to sudden or unexpected disconnects in their adult relationships.
Any separation that is long enough for babies to go through three stages of grieving—protest, despair and detachment—causes him or her to detach from the parent, and actually close their hearts. They stop trusting those closest to them and lock their hearts from the inside. Unfortunately, none of this is conscious because the “nothing happened” experience was so early in life. But the impact lasts a long time, popping up in adulthood as a Freak-Out.
As adults, people into your inner circle, only to trigger you when they withdraw or leave without warning or saying goodbye. Then you freak out and loose it. Bingo. A “nothing happened” event from the past becomes a major life drama.
We had a client whose boy friend left her rather suddenly. She got so freaked out that she had to go to the hospital and be fed intravenously. We helped her discover the cause of her over-reaction—something related to a “nothing happened” event when she was two years old. Seems her parents took her to her grandmother’s house, where her grandmother took her to the kitchen and fed her milk and cookies. While she was eating her cookies, her parents sneaked out the front door for a two-week vacation and neglected to say goodbye. She didn’t see them or hear from them for two whole weeks.
This early abandonment experience left an imprint that she experienced as life-threatening. Every time someone close to her pulled away or left, she freaked out. These early relational experiences, particularly those related to separations during the first year, leave a powerful imprint that our unconscious mind remembers and reacts to.
Worried about neglect in your history? If you’re curious, take the Adverse Childhood Neglect Inventory. It’s a completely free quiz that takes no more than 10 minutes to complete.