One of the most difficult traumas a child can experience is rejection by his/her mother. Some readers will vehemently protest that such a phenomenon does not exist. But the truth is that it does. Not all parents love or even like their children. Some parents feel burdened by their children or resentful that they are not what they "ordered" and do not fulfill their expectations.

Obviously, all parents feel frustrated, burdened, overwhelmed and exhausted at times. But some parents are downright rejecting and abusive, so immature or disturbed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to provide love and security on a consistent basis. People who are impulsive, undisciplined and self-absorbed will resent the fact that a baby caused them to lose out on a restful night's sleep, the fun of hanging out with friends, and the freedom to come and go as they please. Addictions, even seemingly "innocent" addictions like shopping or workaholism, let alone drugs or internet, leave no space in their hearts to bond with another, as the addiction eats up their self-respect, time and energy. Those with emotional disturbances, such as narcissism, Borderline Disorder, OCD, anxiety, depression or autism, may be only peripherally aware of the child's very existence and incapable of paying attention to his needs.

The brain patterns and chemical makeup of neglected and abused children are different from well-loved childrenWe all know that if children are deprived of certain vitamins during their formative years, such as Vitamins A, B or D, they suffer lifelong problems such as brittle bones or mental retardation. Likewise, the lack of vitamin "L" – love – will create emotional handicaps. Not all of this damage can be reversed, since the brain patterns and chemical makeup of neglected and abused children are different from well-loved children. For example, neglected babies have a higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and lower levels of vasopressin and oxytocin, the two “social bonding” hormones (National Academy of Sciences, Fall 2005). High cortisol levels cause them to feel anxious around people, thus reinforcing their certainty that "I can't trust. People will hurt me. Something is very wrong with me."

During the first year of life, babies are able to develop trust in people only if reliable and compassionate caregivers meet their needs for security and love. This relationship forms a template upon which his/her future relationships are built. Those who suffered neglect or rejection expect to be rejected, creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust. The handicap remains in the form of an invisible wall which springs up automatically when people come close. This does not mean that an unloved child is doomed.

How does one heal the seemingly "unhealable"? The first step is to understand the messages one imbibed in childhood. All people, including children, have a need to understand painful events and why they happen. Due to the child’s simplistic and egocentric grasp of reality, they (and many adults as well!) innocently assume, "Bad things happen because I am bad." After all, children idolize and idealize parents, certain that these "gods" know what is right, do what is right and have far more love, wisdom, power and money than they actually have. To make sense of what seems senseless, they make up their own personal narratives, such as, "I am not loved because I cannot be loved. I am inherently defective. It's because I'm not good, brilliant, obedient, beautiful or ebullient enough to deserve anyone's love." The "not good enough" belief is deeply engrained in the psyche. It seems like Absolute Truth, repeated millions of times in the mind, spoken as naturally and effortlessly as one's mother tongue.

It is typical for such a client to tell me, "My mother was always so nervous. She would get angry if I cried or asked for attention. I remember thinking, around the age of three, that if I died, she would be happy, because I would not be making messes or asking for attention. I wanted to make her happy, so I kept hoping to die. Throughout my life, I have thought, 'If my own mother could not love me, then I must be inherently unlovable. It means that no one can love me. It means I am not allowed to even love myself.' It didn't help that I married a cold and critical person."

Draw yourself as you are now, a person of compassion and wisdom, next to that suffering childIf you adopted such a false narrative, you must go back and liberate your Inner Child which has been held captive by a false belief system that is brutal and pitiless. I suggest that you draw a picture of your Inner Child confined at the age when you first remember feeling unworthy. Now, imagine that you are on a rescue mission. Draw yourself as you are now, a person of compassion and wisdom, next to that suffering child. Write down the words of love, empathy and comfort which the Inner Child needs to hear, perhaps, "I'm so sorry for all your pain. It wasn't your fault. You were just an innocent baby, a precious child. G‑d was so happy that you were born. It was part of His plan that you were given this mother. It has given you special sensitivities and understandings that many people do not possess. Your mother did her best. She gave all that she could give. Due to her own lack of emotional nourishment, you were malnourished. I will liberate you from this place of trauma and turmoil and will devote my life to healing this wound by showering you with love."

Like survivors of concentration camps, a malnourished Inner Child is not able to take in too much emotional "nourishment" at once. You must patiently teach your Child to believe in this new language of love. At first, your Inner Child will reject words of love as insincere lies. Keep practicing this language throughout the day until it becomes second nature. For example, teach yourself to think:

  • "It's okay to be imperfect and average. I don't have to be the best or the most spectacular. It is enough to just do my best. After all, everyone is imperfect in some way."
  • "I am as lovable and deserving of love as anyone on the face of this earth."
  • "I am a success – for simply figuring out how to survive."
  • "I am allowed to enjoy in this very moment. I am grateful for whatever I have, including my eyes and hands, the rain, the flowers and any caring people in my life."
  • "I will not allow myself to be exploited or abused in order to avoid being abandoned. I can take care of myself and live with dignity and self-respect."
  • "I give because giving is empowering and gives me a sense of joy and significance."
  • "I don't have to be anxious, suspicious and fearful all the time. I can relax, knowing that G‑d is taking care of me and giving me everything I need at every moment."
  • "I don't have to numb the pain with addictions. I can enjoy the pleasure of healthy food, healthy exercise and healthy disciplines. Self-discipline will build self-respect."
  • "I am far more powerful, wise and courageous than I have ever acknowledged."
  • "I won't coerce others to fulfill my needs. I feel powerful when I take charge of my mental and physical health and am protective and caring of others."
  • "G‑d loves me as I am, right this second."

Healing is a life-long task. It requires giving what we did not get. And it requires a great deal of compassion and patience. Every step is precious and important. Love heals. All G‑d asks from us is to be as loving as we can be at every given moment.