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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Worst Feeling in the World

The worst feeling in the world is that no one wants you.

One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody. -- Mother Teresa

These statements appeared on my Facebook page not long ago. And although they appeared on the page of a dog rescue group, they are just as relevant to humans, perhaps even more so. Feeling loved and wanted is crucial to the development of healthy human relationships. If a young child is separated from its mother, no matter how well cared for the child may be, the child almost certainly will have difficulty attaching to people in appropriate ways.

And consider another quote by Mother Theresa: The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. Feeling loved and accepted by others can help people avoid such problems as depression, loneliness and anxiety.

The pain of feeling unloved remains part of my family. I cannot imagine the pain my daughter, who was adopted from Russia at age 11, must have felt, knowing that her birth parents didn't want her and didn't care about her. How hurtful it must have been for this sweet little girl, who adored her mother, to be ignored and rejected by her. Imagine being a little child and being passed from one family member to another, until one day your mother takes you to an orphanage and leaves you there. You never see her again. My daughter described feeling "like a doll or toy that is passed around until you get tired of it."

Her birth mother blamed my daughter for the death of a younger sister, despite the fact the mother herself killed the baby. Another thing my daughter has mentioned several times is that her birth mother didn't bother to go to my daughter's birthday party one year. This hurt my daughter deeply, as it would any child. Although her birthday is very close to Christmas, she has had some sort of celebration every year since she became part of my family. One year it was a movie and pizza with friends; another year she chose a trip with friends to the shopping mall, with a stop to see a movie. The type of party was her choice, but we always celebrated her birthday. Now that she is an adult, the two of us go to dinner to mark her special day, and she also celebrates with friends .

When children suffer intense trauma, they invariably will have attachment problems. They are unable to trust others, and to form healthy bonds with their adult family members. They are fiercely independent and they insist on being in control. This battle for control can lead to major difficulties in the family. Early childhood brain trauma is every bit as real as is physical trauma, and the effects may be even more severe and lifelong. While this sort of trauma leaves no physical scars, the emotional damage can be debilitating. It also can have lifelong impacts on the individual's physical health.

My daughter spent years testing me to see whether I, like other adults before me, would abandon her. As she later admitted, she thought that if she could push me away, if she hurt me enough, if she refused to let me get close to her emotionally, she could spare herself  the pain of being abandoned yet again. She did everything she could think of to push me away, to make me give up on her. And she admitted that she wanted me to hurt emotionally because she was in so much pain herself.

We all need to feel loved, whether we are children or adults, orphans or part of a family, Russian, Chinese, French or American. Rejection by one's parents is a common thread running through the lives of many serial killers and other psychopaths. And sadly, our world is filled with people who feel unloved. Some are children, while countless elderly languish in nursing homes with no family or friends to visit them.

We now know a lot more about the effects of abandonment on young children. While most of us are not in a position to help, we can reach out to children we know are struggling to fit in and be accepted. We can invite the not-so-popular kids to our children's birthday parties. We can make an effort to engage them in conversation. And we as individuals can help rectify the loneliness of the elderly. We can visit them, whether they live in nursing homes or in our neighborhood. We can volunteer as drivers for programs such as Meals on Wheels. We can invite our neighbors to go out for coffee or a meal.

Sometimes even the smallest gestures can mean the world to a lonely person.