It is an emotion that has inspired the rise and fall of empires and that influences the very foundation of our development. But how you approach love is dependent on your past and present associations with it. The belief that love is a many-splendored thing falls away when we step back and evaluated the collateral damage that comes from being cared for irresponsibly.
Indeed, for many of us, love is actually a many-convoluted thing: full of highs, lows, and devastation. In Healing from Neglect, Janene Baadsgaard explores the negative repercussions that arise when one is subjected to distorted versions of love — or simply to the absence of it. As an adult survivor of child abuse, I found the book useful overall, though aspects of the writing left me disappointed.
Baadsgaard explains that as social creatures we are all products of our environment. We instinctually cultivate behaviors and a belief system that model the examples we have been exposed to. When abuse and neglect are part of that example, the same toxic behaviors become rooted in us — then manifest similarly in our conduct with others. We perpetuate the cycle of abuse.
The book emphasizes that although we cannot help the environment we were raised in or the abuse we suffered in the past, we can always choose the situation in which we end up. We can resist passing on to others the pain inflicted on us.
Toward the beginning, Baadsgaard explains: “Few people start out intending to harm those they might have loved, yet many do.” This is not meant to excuse the offender’s actions by any means, but to provide affirmation to the abused reader that there is a reason unrelated to them that spurred the abuser’s behavior. Those of us who have been neglected or abused by parents or significant others tend to place blame on ourselves, so it important to address this early on.
This and several other points really hit home for me. In these instances, Baadsgaard was incredible in her ability to touch on common, veiled insecurities stemming from abuse. “We do not have to be perfect to be safe and to be loved,” Baadsgaard writes. “We have the right to make mistakes. Our mistakes do not make us mistakes.”
This sense of solidarity and “no room for argument” is wonderful. It is a shame that it is diluted by a constant regurgitation of ideas in the book. Baadsgaard would have done well to cut much of the excess and repetition in her chapters, which distracted from the most important parts, and to improve her often lukewarm writing style.
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I know firsthand how neglect can damage your future if you lack the tools or guidance to overcome toxic learning. There is no substitute for professional help, but a well articulated text has the ability to supplement your healing process immensely.
Despite the book’s shortcomings and redundancies, Healing from Neglect may be useful to survivors. It would not be among my top recommendations for someone on their path to recovery, but what is most helpful, perhaps, is Baadsgaard’s ability to articulate what many of us have trouble putting into words.
That, and her ability to give us the validation we need. Yes, you deserve happiness, she tells us. No, it wasn’t your fault.
Healing from Neglect: When Those We Love Don’t Love Us
Cedar Fort, Inc., May 2013
Paperback, 208 pages