Sometimes we just feel like we’re taking up…all the space.
All the space, and all the oxygen.
Survivors of neglect are particularly susceptible to this feeling.
Growing up neglected is to grow up being sent repeated signals that you existence doesn’t matter; your needs don’t matter; your voice doesn’t matter.
Survivors of neglect often come away from the experience feeling as if anyone allowing them to take up space in their world is doing them a favor— that they don’t have a right to exist, let alone consume resources.
That’s a tough feeling to exist with, when we live in a world where we NEED to consume resources— in a world where we NECESSARILY take up space.
It leads survivors of neglect to this place of contradiction: I don’t have the RIGHT to take up space or to consume resources; and yet I do, every moment I’m alive.
Consequently, many survivors of neglect walk around feeling low-key guilty much of the time.
Guilty for taking up space.
Guilty for “demanding” attention. (Many survivors of neglect were specifically TOLD that they were “attention seekers”— as if there’s something unusual about children seeking attention.)
Guilty for sucking up emotional oxygen, even in their closest relationships.
The way we resolve that guilt is to realize your early experiences tricked you into believing you didn’t “deserve” time, space, resources, and attention— when, in fact you do, by virtue of being human.
But that can be a tough sell to a survivor of neglect.
Survivors of neglect are very often hesitant to believe they “deserve” even the basics that any human being deserves— after all, their early experiences led them to believe their very existence was a hassle.
It’s a particular kind of anxiety to believe that your very presence in your closest relationships is somehow a burden to the other person— but that’s very often what survivors of neglect feel like.
At the same time, many neglect survivors have a particular craving for intimacy and connection— for those things they didn’t get once upon a time from an indifferent family.
This often leads the kid we once were, and who we still carry around in our head and heart, confused.
On the one hand, all they want is a hug. To be told they matter. To be told they’re not wrong or bad for taking up space.
On the other hand, every experience that kid has ever had with someone who “should” have held them or made space for them, has resulted in that kid feeling like a burden.
Here’s the thing: you’re not a burden just for being human.
You’re not a burden for having needs.
You’re not a burden for consuming resources.
You’re not a burden for taking up space— emotional OR physical.
The world very often tries to convince us we need to “earn’ the right to our existence— that if we’re not “productive” in ways defined by the world, that we really DON’T have a right to breathe or take up space.
But you exist. You don’t have to “earn” the “right” to exist— you’re here. The right to exist is a right that cannot be taken away from you— definitely not by guilt or shame.
If you’re in a close relationship with someone, you need to know that you ADD to that relationship just by your presence. The relationship wouldn’t exist otherwise.
You need to know that that feeling that you’re a burden, you’re taking up too much space, you don’t have a right to breathe, need, or be— it’s fake news.
It’s BS. Belief Systems— but also the OTHER kind of BS.
Guilt and shame are powerful feelings that are difficult to cope with. But don’t let them bully you.
You exist, you have the right to exist— and the world is better BECAUSE you exist.
I may not even know you, but I’m willing to place exactly that bet.