Mind Matters: Care Starvation
Navigating and Healing from Broken Relationships
For those who feel completely disconnected and inconsequential to their existence, some part of you still cares enough to read this blog-----now please, I want to talk to that part of you...the part that seeks to understand you and your actions even while battling an unknown condition called “Care Starvation”.
Over time, as a trauma therapist, it has become apparent that so many of my clients, regardless of their current issues, have the underlying problem of experiencing unhealthy attachments to their primary caregiver. In addition, they attempt to navigate toxic relationships often with this same person. I have spent years studying attachment theory, bonding theories by Bowlby and early imprinting, but the therapist side of me keeps asking “How can I apply these theories to help someone heal and get ‘past their past’ in the present day?”
Often these clients are being negatively affected by the people in their lives that they should by now have a loving, caring relationship with? We commonly accept that our past relationships often define our current relationships and therein lies the problem. While every clients’ history, family and individual circumstances are unique, I have found there are still certain common threads that must be addressed by anyone suffering from something I have termed “Care Starvation.” So, what exactly is “Care Starvation” and are your current problems being caused from this?
The Roots of Care Starvation
Care Starvation starts very early when one does not properly bond with their primary caregiver and especially if one’s emotional or physical needs are not met early on. Often one begins to feel distrustful and hopeless. In response to these situations, a child develops behaviors that serve and protect them. They may split off this “injured part” of themselves, they may act out for attention, get “sick” often, show unstable moods or retreat into a fantasy world. As the individual ages, they may do high risk behaviors such as medicate their feelings through drugs or food or be incapable of maintaining a stable relationship. As a suffering adult, we tell ourselves to “just get over it” or there is no benefit in reliving the past. The important thing to know is that if we do not get help for our Care Starvation, it will continue to surface in ways that do not serve our higher good. The truth is that we often reject these “dissociated parts” of ourselves that are in pain and unhealed. We can only ignore them for so long.
One of the most common symptoms of Care Starvation is the feeling of disconnection or feeling shut out or distanced. Not feeling like you belong anywhere, for any purpose, in the entire universe is recurring theme during session. This is because early on you were given the message that you were not important, that you shouldn’t have been born or that you were simply not wanted. In other words, you were “inconsequential.” Even if these messages are not spoken, a child can hear them loud and clear and accept it as truth. Once this belief sets in, all kinds of unwanted, self-destructive behaviors can result.
Common Symptoms of Care Starvation
Loneliness, even when others are around, including family members that love you
Sadness and not understanding where the emotion is originating from
Feeling like you don’t fit in regardless how much people try to reassure you
Not feeling good enough even if you have over-achieved
Feeling like something bad is going to happen when everything is going well
Doing things to sabotage yourself or displaying behaviors that do not serve your higher good
Feeling on edge, constant alert and distrustful for no good reason
Worth the Risk--Treatments to Heal Care Starvation
The best way to begin healing is to be honest with yourself and give yourself permission to “feel and explore” your emotions in a safe environment with someone that will have unconditional positive regard for you—this may at times not feel so great. Often a client feels guilty about saying anything negative about their parents or care-givers and their pain is palpable, but I remind them that it’s not about “blame” but about how things affected them and their emotional self and once expressed, healing is free to happen. It’s fine for this to feel risky since we are accustomed to shoving down our own feelings and disconnecting—the payoff is almost always worth it!
Secondly, we have to be willing to accept any parts of ourselves that we have previously rejected. That means exploring the parts that we are sad about, feel disconnected from and are angry about. Then we must begin learning how to accept ourselves. In theory this sounds easy, but in real life it has to be a purposeful act and usually will need a specific path facilitated by a therapist based on your goals.
We have to grieve. Once we realize that we did not receive what so many others got by having their needs met, we have to come out of denial and come into acceptance. This can take different forms:
As the noted therapist Irvin Yalon states, “Sometimes I have to remind clients that sooner or later they will have to relinquish the goal of having a better past”.
Lastly, putting all the pieces together and letting go of shame (which never serves us) proves the catalyst that can propel us to healing and joy. This means we can see patterns over time, understand ourselves better and choose whether or not to forgive. Suddenly, we have the power we need to allow our strong, wise adult self to make healthy choices. Our rejected, immature parts no longer have to be driving our emotions and actions. At this point, we set good healthy boundaries that are right for us and when Mom calls mad and hangs up abruptly, our day is no longer ruined or defined.
To read more about the specific treatments I use to accomplish healing for Care Starvation, visit www.freeindeedtherapy.com
Renee Trimble, MS, LPC, LCDC