Childhood neglect is one of the more insidious forms of trauma that a client might experience.
Not only that, but it can have a unique impact on brain development that researchers don’t often see with other types of trauma.
So in the video below, Bessel van der Kolk, MD will get into one specific neurobiological consequence of neglect and share how you might approach it with your client.
Have a look.
Because we have the brains that we need in order to survive. And so if you are a neglected person, you develop a brain that can accommodate neglect and doesn’t expect to get more than you actually would like to get.
And there’s this huge issue that I think doesn’t get talked about much in our field, it’s the issue of critical periods of brain development. And that if you don’t get the right input at the right time, you may not develop that brain capacity. So if you were an ignored child, that capacity to feel people taking pleasure in you, or you taking pleasure in other people, may just have not been developed very well.
An important part of our development is, and since I have a bunch of grandchildren, I’m in the wonderful position to actually notice this, that you get a sense of pleasure out of being seen, out of showing things off. When I see my grandchildren, they show me stuff for about three minutes, and they go off and do something else. “Look what I did. Look what I can do. Look how I can dance.” The pleasure centers of your brain get developed by people taking pleasure in you. And if nobody takes pleasure in you, I think these systems don’t get developed.
But what you see clinically is there is a lack of vitality and a lack of pleasure in your interactions. So we do get a sense of pleasure from having other people be engaged with us and other people responding to us. And so if nobody responds, that sense of vitality and pleasures tends to not be very well-developed. And I don’t think in our traditional methods, we really know very much about how to deal with that. Talking, analyzing, figuring things out is not going to make those feelings go away.
I think the important thing as a clinician is to lower your expectations and to deal with your countertransference with people who are relatively passive and relatively unable to get a lot of pleasure out of engagement with other people. So I think the burden is on the therapist to be very patient and to concentrate on increasing the vitality of your interactions.
In principle, I think things that might be helpful are dancing and making music with people and being physically engaged with other people. So you get into the habit of getting the pleasure of engagement with other people.
To hear more from Bessel on working with the enduring impact of neglect and other forms of trauma, sign up for Mastering the Treatment of Trauma.
You’ll also get expert insights from Judith Herman, MD; Dick Schwartz, PhD; Janina Fisher, PhD; Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD; Karlen Lyons-Ruth, PhD; Eboni Webb, PsyD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Martin Teicher, MD, PhD; and more. Just sign up here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What strategies do you find most effective when working with clients who experienced childhood neglect? Let us know in the comments below.