Feeling ignored can trigger something very specific in a complex trauma survivor’s nervous system.
A lot of our woundedness tends to revolve around the feeling that we were unwanted or unimportant to the people who were supposed to want us, care for us, protect us, love us.
When we get the feeling in our adult lives that we’re being ignored, that we are dispensable— it pokes at that wound. Hard.
It’s not a matter of feeling “entitled” to attention.
To the contrary: many complex trauma survivors struggle to feel they are entitled to ANY attention or care at all.
Our conditioning has often left us believing we don’t “deserve” love— or, often, even to take up the space we take up, to breathe the air we breathe.
The reason feeling ignored or unimportant triggers so many complex trauma survivors so badly is, it activates a very specific fear of abandonment that has haunted us…well, ever since we can remember.
When we’re kids, especially young kids, to be abandoned by the people who are supposed to care for us isn’t just a bummer— it’s a threat to our very existence.
Kids can’t physically survive on their own. We instinctively know that. That’s why we’re wired to attach to the people who are meeting our physical needs.
When the care and attention we receive are inconsistent or conditional, part of us is very aware that our actual lives are in danger.
Fast forward to adulthood— here we are, survivors of complex trauma, out in the world trying to hold down a job and have friendships and relationships…and our nervous system is STILL on the lookout for signs that we are about to be rejected or abandoned.
Our nervous system STILL thinks our actual LIFE is in danger if we are rejected or abandoned by the people who we’re supposed to be ale to count on for intimacy and safety.
Lots of people reading this know what I’m talking about.
It’s one of the most perplexing things in the world to many survivors, why they feel like the end of a romantic relationship actually, literally is the end of the world— how we really do feel like we can’t live without that person in our lives.
It’s confusing and discouraging to many complex trauma survivors that we get SO anxious and SO preoccupied by nightmarish fantasies of everyone we love suddenly deciding that they hate us— that we’re too much work, we’re too screwed up, we’re not worth the effort.
Why on earth are we— adults, mind you— so hypervigilant to even the most subtle or ambiguous signs that a friendship or relationship MIGHT be even a LITTLE in trouble?
It’s because our nervous system learned early on that attachment and attention might be withdrawn at any moment— without warning, without reason.
It’s because we learned early on that to be close to someone involves being ready for them to turn on us or run away from us at any given moment.
It’s because we may have internalized the idea along the way that stretches of silence can only mean one thing— that the relationship is in trouble, and we need to either scramble to save it…or preemptively blow it up to avoid being hurt.
The “lessons” we learn when we grow up with scrambled attachments tend to be pretty toxic.
Many survivors tend to blame themselves for struggling with attachment, both in the past and in their adult lives— when the truth is, no kid ASKS for inconsistent or negative attention from their caregivers.
If you weren’t cared for with consistency, patience, and love, it’s NOT because you weren’t worth caring for.
If you weren’t loved, it’s NOT because you’re unlovable or don’t deserve love.
And if you’re hypervigilant about how relationships of all sorts— professional, personal, romantic— feel, it’s NOT because you’re crazy. You’ve likely had experiences in your past that programmed you with beliefs and reactions that fuel that hypervigilance.
Unlearning those reactions and reprogramming ourselves in realistic ways takes time, patience, and compassion.
We have to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone— and return to it often enough to rest and consolidate our gains.
But more than anything we have to be open to the idea that we CAN change— that the beliefs and reactions that were conditioned in us over the course of decades can be reconditioned, with consistency, focus, and purpose.
You can change.
How you feel can change, how you react can change, what you believe can change.
Given enough time, raindrops carve canyons and glaciers reshape continents.