"Emotional neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives."
Rebecca Chapman is the principal consultant at A Life in Perfect Balance, a business primarily focused on helping people whose lives have been touched by childhood emotional neglect. She deals in inner child, calmness, and resilience therapy and aims to normalize mental health care and teach everyone that seeking help can be an easy and comfortable experience. Her main aim is to provide a safe environment with direct, practical solutions for as many people. Rebecca is skilled in kinesiology, mindfulness, parenting, wellness coaching, relationship coaching, energy healing, and counselling. She is certified in working with adults struggling with childhood emotional neglect.
SWY: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into this work?
RC: I have been working in the natural health industry since about 1991 using various modalities and found that I was attracting a certain “type” of client. They had been to a lot of therapists – physical, spiritual, and mental. They all seemed to be improving but were missing something elusive in their healing. I had also had a lot of therapy in my life – western medicine and eastern medicine – to try and resolve the trauma that I was carrying into my adult life. I had had some obvious traumatic events but still felt that something was wrong. To cut a long story short – it was a general pervasive feeling that I was wrong; that there was something inherently wrong with me and that I needed to hide this using any means possible in order to be loved. I stumbled across the work of Dr. Jonice Webb on childhood emotional neglect and everything clicked into place.
SWY: If you don’t mind sharing, what is your story with childhood emotional neglect?
RC: I have to state up here that every person in a family experiences it in their own way and at different times to each other. So, while I have the following memories it may not be the way my sisters feel about our childhood.
I am very different from both of my parents and often felt that maybe I was adopted – which is quite common I know – but I felt totally misunderstood. We were an extremely religious family and my father was a minister so there was a huge emphasis on appearances. I wanted to know why we should be doing things – and this troubled my parents. They wanted no questions. Intellect was/is highly valued – and luckily I could put a tick in this box – but I loved to cook and build models. I loved tinkering with cars and was probably hard to read. My parent’s marriage was never great and I was always the adult they turned to. In addition, and this is fairly extreme and not always necessary for childhood emotional neglect to occur – at the age of 14 my mother completely changed. I became her mini-me and we got attention for being sick, in a very extreme fashion. She became incredibly manipulative using illness and food and I was left feeling that if I didn’t obey the rules of the family or her that I would kill her. In fact, I still struggle with this to this day. My father is very high on the ASD spectrum, which was not a thing back when I was young, so I felt that his lack of connection was because of me. I had a very inquiring mind and was not allowed to ask questions. This is it in a very small nutshell but my parents tick two of the emotionally neglectful parent categories – one who is constantly ill and uses this to manipulate and a straight out emotionally unavailable parent.
SWY: What made you want to specialize in childhood emotional neglect and narcissistic abuse recovery?
RC: I was taken to psychologists and psychiatrists since about the age of 14. I had eating disorders and was very difficult to read, I think. What I found, was a lack of therapists who could actually understand what I was saying. There was no actual obvious abuse but I was being profoundly affected – even well into my forties. I knew I could recognize tiny signs and also show people a practical way to deal with this whole situation. I was sick of talking about it – I wanted to move beyond it. My second marriage was to a narcissist – a whole different story but basically enabled by the fact that I had suffered from childhood emotional neglect. Leaving that was contracted, extremely painful, and difficult. I felt that if nothing else came of it that if I could help someone else, I would consider it as having a purpose.
SWY: What is the difference between childhood emotional neglect and narcissistic abuse?
RC: Childhood emotional neglect is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs. Emotional neglect is, in some ways, the opposite of mistreatment and abuse. Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, emotional neglect is a parent’s failure to act. It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable. Emotional neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives. There is a category of childhood emotional neglect that is because of the presence of a narcissistic parent. But there are other types of parents who can unknowingly affect their children in this way.
"Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable."
SWY: What are some of the effects of these types of childhood abuse?
RC: Children who are emotionally neglected then grow up to have a particular set of struggles. Because their emotions were not validated as children, they may have difficulty knowing and trusting their own emotions as adults. They may have difficulty understanding their own feelings, as well as others’. Because an important part of themselves (their emotional self) has been denied, they may find themselves feeling disconnected, unfulfilled, or empty. They may have difficulty trusting or relying upon others. Many describe feeling that they are different from other people; like something is wrong with them, but they’re not sure what it is.
SWY: You are a calmness and resilience therapist - Can you tell us more about the kinds of methods you use and how they differ from other kinds of therapy?
RC: A lot of people who have encountered childhood emotional neglect also have only very vague memories of their childhood. So – initially – we try to piece it all together in a very safe environment. The number one practical support I provide is essentially that of a teacher of a whole new language. The language of emotions has often not been taught and once people find words that help them be understood in the world and by their loved ones – a whole new world opens up. Quite often they are operating on a couple of emotions – happy, sad, angry, lonely. When I show them all the different words for each of these emotions – and how finding the right one means that you can start to feel understood by other people – it is amazing how quickly things start to move. The feeling of “different” and “not understood” finally gets challenged and relationships become a lot less scary and confronting. We practice conversations and alternatives so that they have a new toolbox to go out into the world and use. These things should be taught in childhood but this is not always the case. These people often do not know what they like or dislike – they mold to fit the people they are with – and we explore this quite extensively.
SWY: What are the benefits of the type of therapy you specialize in?
RC: The benefits of my therapy are that my natural health training also helps me in making sure that people are strong enough to begin this work and are physically supported throughout it. Quite often sleep and eating has been affected. But – the primary benefit is that it is practical. There is some talking about the past at the start, we can’t skip that bit, but my whole approach is how to get you back out there living the life that you would choose if you weren’t trying to please other people. Providing actual solutions to situations that are happening in my client’s lives at the moment. Being a safe place to fall – which a lot of them have totally been missing.
SWY: What does resiliency mean and look like to you?
RC: Resiliency to me – that question makes me smile because I am often called very resilient and don’t always feel that. A willingness to keep going. A willingness to open up to the possibility of life. Regardless. Regardless of fear. Regardless of your past. Regardless of your current beliefs about yourself. It is total acceptance of what will be and going with whatever that is. It is showing up for life.