Neglect: The Form Of Relational Abuse That Isn't Discussed Enough

If heart disease is the silent killer of our physical heart, neglect is the silent killer of our emotional one.

Love & Relationships

While, in many ways, I'm passionate about everything that I write (that's the joy that comes with knowing that you are high-level functioning in your purpose; if you are, it's also a good reason to read "How To Handle 'Purpose Fatigue'"), if I could get every single Black woman on the entire planet to make the time to check out just one piece that I've written, this would be it. As someone who writes a ton on relationships, I must say that if there is one thing that I don't think is discussed, even one-eighteenth as much as it should be, it's the fact that the source of a lot of unhappiness, dysfunction and relational abuse is neglect. Since we don't talk about it, it's hard to fully see it transpiring. And when something is able to go down without being detected and called out for what it is, that makes it easier for it to continue.

Personally, I know that I've been the victim of neglect in many, if not most, of my romantic relationships. I've done enough self-work to also know that it stems from my childhood. My parents divorcing. The childhood abuse that I experienced. Having a mother who professionally thrived and also traveled a lot during my formative years. And also something that I think affected—and infected—me more than I thought it did back when I was around nine or so—my mother constantly asking her second husband (I'm not keen on the word "step-parent"; maybe I'll share why at another time) and my brother's father for compliments.

I grew up going to church on Saturdays and while we all would get ready, it was practically a ritual for my mom (who is physically stunning, by the way) to stand in the mirror and ask her husband how she looked. Although he wasn't unattractive by any stretch, looking back, I do think that he felt very threatened by mom. More specifically, threatened by how men tended to view her. In response, I think he thought that if he downplayed his admiration, it would "dim her light" (at least in her mind) so that she wouldn't notice the attention of others. Hmph. While he was out here being super insecure, what it modeled to me is marriage naturally comes with levels of neglect; that that's just the way it is.

Y'all, no it's not. Thankfully, as I got older and I was able to choose the people I wanted to be around, I saw couples who affirmed one another. Husbands who absolutely adored their wife and wives who couldn't get enough of bragging on their husbands. Spouses who nurtured, supported and esteemed their partners; not just on special occasions, but as often as possible. It was the compare and contrast that brought me to the conclusion that relational neglect is just as damning and detrimental as any other form of abuse. It's also tolerated entirely too much. I want to do my part to try and stop that—right here and right now.

The Definitions of Abuse. Revisited.

Photo by Shutterstock

Whenever people ask me to explain what my childhood (and adolescence) was like, I've come to the conclusion that the easiest—and most merciful to all parties involved—way to describe it is, "My family either got an 'A' or an 'F' when it came to how I was raised." It's the truth. There are certain things that I was taught that should go into best-selling parenting books—that's the "A". At the same time, while it wasn't every day or even every week, there was also quite a bit of abuse that I experienced—physical, sexual, verbal, definitely emotional as well as spiritual (one day, we should delve into what spiritual abuse is really like; you can read some about it here)—that's where "F" comes in. A big part of the reason is because my parents and my mother's second husband were also victims of abuse. So, let me interject something right here—parents, one of the best things that you can ever do for your children is heal from your own childhood wounds; preferably before even having us. A part of the reason why generational curses exist is because un-dealt-with pain is passed on from one generation to another. It's not good enough to survive and tell yourself, "I'll never do that when I have children."

If you don't deal with your trauma, you very well could repeat what is familiar to you, simply because it's a part of the fabric of what you know—whether you want to/intended to or not.

On this side of my own continual quest for clarity and healing, if there is a silver lining that comes from my own trauma, it's that I can spot abuse in others rather quickly. And, if there's one thing that I hear, far more than I ever should, especially from women, it's "Well, at least he doesn't…" Listen, a man who calls you names isn't any better than a man who hits you. A man who constantly pressures you to have sex isn't any better than a man who sexually harasses you. And a man who neglects you isn't any better than a man who tries to control you. The fact that a lot of us believe otherwise is how we end up remaining in abusive situations. So, why is it that I see no "levels" or differences in abuse (the consequences might be different but not the abuse itself)? It's because I know what abuse means.

Abuse: (verb) use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse; treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly; (noun) the improper use of something

Please let that sink in, just as low into your spirit as it can go. If you are misused in any way, that is abuse. If you are treated with cruelty in any form, that is abuse. If you are treated improperly, period, that is abuse.

A great definition of proper is "adapted or appropriate to the purpose or circumstances; fit; suitable". Another reason why a lot of us tolerate abuse is because we don't "get" the purpose of the relationship that we are in. A marriage is supposed to be a cherished partnership; when two spouses don't honor their union as such, there is bound to be some abuse. If you're currently dating someone, they should want to help you get to a higher level as you do the same for them; if that isn't happening, there is bound to be some abuse.

In both dynamics, oftentimes, that abuse is neglect. Because just think about it—if you don't understand why you are doing what you are doing or you don't value who you are doing that something with, it's very easy to neglect both the relationship as well as them. And how do you know, for sure, that this is the type of abuse that you are experiencing?

“Neglect” Is More than Just One Thing


The fascinating thing about neglect is it's not as easy to discern as say, a bruise on your arm or face or date rape (if even your boyfriend forces you to have sex against your will, that is rape). That's because, while a lot of us hold a general definition of the word in our mind, we fail to go beneath the surface of it. Let's do that now.

Neglect: to pay no attention or too little attention to; disregard or slight; to be remiss in the care or treatment of; to omit, through indifference or carelessness; to fail to carry out or perform (orders, duties, etc.)

Now, before going deeper, it's important that I put on record that unrealistic—or worse, unvoiced— expectations is not a form of neglect. Neither is being super needy (a person is to be your partner, not your savior or superhero). The "ouch" truth that some of us need to hear is, we're the victim of self-neglect because, rather than making it a priority to cultivate our own beings, we're looking for another person to do what we won't do for ourselves. No, what I'm speaking of is when you and someone else, mutually decide what the purpose of your relationship is, when you choose to be a part of one another's intimate lives, and yet—little attention is paid, no f—ks are given, there is a constant attitude of total indifference and/or the expectations that were agreed upon don't happen. If one, some, or all of these things are happening to you (or you are doing this to someone else), that is what it means to be neglectful. And since that results in "improperly using" the relationship, that is a form of abuse.

Why Do We Tolerate Neglect in Relationships So Much?


Right on January 1, a song popped up in my YouTube suggestions, that is basically the theme song for all of this. The artist's name is Savannah Cristina (whew, her voice is totally dope) and the song's title is "SELFISH: 2020". Here are some of the lyrics:

I know you ain't right for me, 'cause you would never ride for me
F—k n—ga got pride you see, 'cause you ain't even on my line, baby
I've moved on to something that is so much better, so much better
Now I'm SELFISH 'bout my money
And I'm SELFISH 'bout my hustle
I'm SELFISH 'bout my grind
'Cause you was SELFISH 'bout my struggle
Boy, I'm SELFISH and I don't give a f—k 'cause I don't owe you s—t

Her voice is so sweet, you don't even realize how hard of a cuss-out she's actually giving, whoever ole' boy is (although, when you think about, this could apply to just about any type of relationship). But I'm sure you can see just how and why the song resonates. Savannah didn't say that her ex hit her. She didn't say that he called her out of her name either. But what she did say was he neglected her. And the reason why I recommend that you listen to all of her words, at least three times in a row, is so you can pay attention to all of the ways neglect can happen.

So, why do so many of us allow ourselves to be abused in this fashion? Aside from childhood trauma and a lack of self-love and self-care that I already touched on, there are probably a billion reasons. But I want to conclude this with one more for you to strongly consider and ponder. Caring for someone is a powerful thing and we, as women, are natural nurturers. I honestly think that a lot of us believe that the more we support and encourage the object of our affection, no matter how little we get in return, it will eventually develop them into who we want them to be—or even who they claim they want to become. But the reality is people do what they want to do, including when it comes to neglecting someone in a relationship. And so, when we experience indifference, disregard and carelessness, what we need to accept is that no, the relationship is not valued and no, neither are we.

It's like if you've got a plant in your house. No matter how much you tell it that you love and appreciate it, if you don't give it some water and let it get some light, it's going to die; if not immediately, eventually. Your words mean very little; it's your actions that matter. And, if you valued your plant, you'd give it what it needs, simply because it needs it. To deprive it is to neglect it, to neglect it is to abuse it, and to abuse it long enough is to destroy it. Anything or one who plays a direct role in destroying something or someone it claims to care about, they are being abusive. ABUSIVE.

If you listen to Savannah's song all the way through, she ends it by saying, on loop, "I'm gonna hold me down." In other words, she's going to give herself what she wasn't getting from dude (or whoever). Listen y'all—when someone agrees to be in a relationship with you, they are agreeing to hold you down as you hold them down. When that isn't happening, it ceases to be relational—at least in a healthy and beneficial way. And when you keep tolerating that reality, not only are they abusing you, but another "ouch" truth is you are abusing yourself as well. You are saying it's OK to misuse you and be cruel to you—to treat you outside of your value and purpose. And that is absolutely NOT the case.

Have mercy, I could go on and on when it comes to this. But, for now, my hope and prayer are that a seed is planted and that you will not neglect to water it. You are far too precious and worthy of love for someone to be intentional about not giving it to you. All forms of abuse are bad and again, neglect is abuse. Don't let anyone mistreat you in this fashion. If they won't hold you down, hold your own self down and bounce. Then watch who comes into your path who will match what you are doing for yourself. Promise me that, OK? OK? OK.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Recognizing The Signs: Emotional Abuse Is Still Abuse

How I Reinvented Myself After An Abusive Relationship

This Is How Emotionally Abusive Friends Act

'Red Table Talk' Reminds Us That Self-Love Is The Cure To Domestic Abuse

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Amira Unplugged / MTV

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Amira Unplugged / MTV

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