20 Questions to Raise Your Emotional Resilience

Resilient Tree

Will has no idea how he ended up in his career. In hindsight, he has some regrets….

Jonathan continually dates the wrong women, and then is completely shocked and devastated when they break up with him.

At the first sign of a problem in her pre-med program, Bella decided she wasn’t cut out for medicine and switched to a different major.

“I don’t care, whatever you’d like,” is Sandy’s standard answer whenever someone asks what she prefers.

If only Will knew that his true passion is helping others, he would never have become a computer coder.

If only Jonathan knew that he is actually very attractive and smart, he would choose different women to date, and be less vulnerable in his relationships.

If only Bella knew that her abilities in science far outweigh the small weakness she has in memorizing anatomy, she could have worked harder, hired a tutor, and continued on to become the thoracic surgeon she was meant to be.

If only Sandy knew what she likes, she wouldn’t be living in a house she doesn’t like, married to a man she doesn’t like, feeling trapped and depressed.

If only Will, Jonathan, Bella, and Sandy knew themselves, they would be less damaged by the challenges they encounter. They would have made better choices for themselves. They would be more resilient.

How Emotional Neglect Lowers Your Resilience

One of the most important qualities for resilience is self-awareness, or in other words, knowing who you are. What you like, what you feel, your strengths and weaknesses. Your preferences, needs, wishes, and proclivities. All of the positives and negatives, talents and faults, when all held in your own mind together, add up to a full and realistic, gut-held sense of who you are. That self-knowledge gives you strength and resilience, guides and informs you, and gets you through challenges, failures, and mistakes.

Sadly, a huge segment of the population lacks this level of knowledge about themselves. A huge segment of the population struggles through life mystified by why they do things, how they feel, and what they want. They give up on pursuits as soon as they hit a snag, make the wrong choices for themselves, and end up doing what everyone else wants.

How did these masses of people get this way? Why don’t they know themselves? Because as children, when they looked into their father’s or mother’s eyes, they did not see their true selves reflected there.

Their parents weren’t looking at all or were seeing only what they wanted to see, or saw a distorted picture of who their child really was. So all of these children grew up without the emotional attention and responses from their parents that would have told them so much about themselves. All of them grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Can Will, Bella, Jonathan, and Sandy, as adults, gain the self-knowledge that they need to be resilient? The answer is yes. But they may need a little extra help and guidance along the way.

So I have compiled this list of 20 questions. Write down four answers for each one. If you can’t think of four on a particular item, skip it and keep it in mind until more answers occur to you. It may take days or weeks to search inside yourself for your truths. Be sure to honor the process and do not write down glib answers that you do not feel or cannot fully own. All of your answers must be real and true.

20 Questions to Improve Your Resilience

List Four Answers to Each Question:

  1. Things people do that make you angry
  2. Things in your life that you find the most tedious
  3. Life events that have helped to define you
  4. Things that you struggle with the most in your life
  5. Words that described you in high school
  6. Words that describe you now
  7. Things you feel passionate about
  8. People you love and care about the most and why, for each
  9. Things you must have in your life to be happy
  10. People you like the least
  11. Things people like about you
  12. Things you are insecure about
  13. Jobs you think you could do well at and like
  14. Jobs you would not like or would not do well at
  15. Skills or qualities that you definitely have
  16. Things you truly believe in
  17. Things you’re most afraid of
  18. Qualities you like about yourself
  19. Things you’re naturally good at
  20. Things you’re naturally bad at

My Closing Message To You

Will, Bella, Jonathan and Sandy, and all of you who cannot see yourselves, here is my message to you:

No, your parents were not looking. No, they did not see you. But that doesn’t mean that you are not worth seeing, or that you are not worth knowing. You are.

You deserve to be known and to be loved for who you really are. You deserve to look inside yourself and know, deep down, that all of your qualities and struggles add up to something real and good.

You deserve to look in the mirror and know that you are looking at someone who is strong, someone who will thrive, someone who is lovable, someone who you love.

To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, how it leaves you less emotionally resilient, and how to heal from it, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN can be difficult to see and remember. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Kristen - April 17, 2021 Reply

This was a great exercise! I’ve been so unhappy and I couldn’t see the reason why. Now I can see it’s not just one thing that is causing all my unhappiness, I’m struggling with many things at once in my life right now.

Parvez - April 5, 2021 Reply

Hello Dr.

Thanks for the leading CEN domain.
I am going to buy you kindle version for both of your book “Running on Empty…” as I believe it will take time in delivery to me physically… I have been in the search for the cure of my emotional dis-regulations & brain fog since 1995. It is only, internet, YouTube, and lot of hours of introspection could open up the root of my issues. I do not have a proof of CEN for me from my past memory, but the symptoms and explanation of CPTSD and CEN does makes sense. Our society needs more maturity to understand what is under our skins and bones that also need due care!!! Dr. I wish all best thing for you in life.
Reaching to this inner truth with conviction itself is 50% cure.

Please help, if I ask a simple cure/practice/solution for CEN, for person who reached till this knowledge, can it be?:

**Practicing self-compassion, self-knowledge, processing stuck emotions, like grief, trauma-effects, anger etc. with somatic experiencing, meditation & same time providing your inner younger self what you missed in your childhood.

zeeky - April 5, 2021 Reply

I found that although healing emotional neglect is the easiest deficiency to fix, (once realized and acted on) out of all the ways we got messed up in childhood, it is the most important. Because without it, one has no “self” to attack and correct anything else.
I’ve read your book and am in middle of the second.
What I’ve gained hasn’t necessarily been the solution to all my problems, (Besides the CEN factor), but rather, Thank god, I’ve gained a self, attuned and alive, to be able to rise to the challenge of correcting the other problems. Thank you! Thank you for spreading this information and bringing it out to the light!

    Jonice - April 5, 2021 Reply

    What a wonderful description of what it means to recover from CEN, Zeeky. Thanks for sharing that!

Carol - April 2, 2021 Reply

I’ve been reading your posts for a while now and they always ring bells for me. Your insights have proven very valid in my own self reflection and have explained why certain things are the way they are in my life. Thank you for explaining what CEN is and how it continues to affect my life

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    You’re welcome, Carol. All my best to you.

Marianne - March 30, 2021 Reply

As a person who is very out of touch with her own emotions and has only negative self-talk I found this exercise to be useful and informative. It is a struggle to find positive things about myself but I’m working on it. The first step is to know myself. As an older person I think reflecting on this exercise again in a few weeks will help me to see that I do have positive qualities.

Stephen - March 30, 2021 Reply

Great article again! It’s very weird/funny/telling how an innocuous question can trigger such… Emotions! I’m not sure what they all are yet, and I’m sure there is a lot tangled together but definitely some anger…

Quick question: I am looking for a therapist and need advice. I went through more than CEN, such as physical neglect, verbal and minor physical abuse, alcoholism & addiction, covert insect or enmeshment, and divorce. Are they all under one umbrella of ‘abuse’, ‘neglect’, or ‘childhood trauma’…? Basically what should I be looking for the therapist to be specialized in? I realize too that therapy isn’t to go over each incident and what was wrong and that it’s more about moving forward with coping strategies, but each area of family disfunction seems to have it’s own quirks and subtleties and maybe different approaches…? Thanks!

    Jonice - March 31, 2021 Reply

    Hi Stephen, I recommend you find a trained and licensed therapist near you, perhaps your dr. could recommend one. If they have a specialty in trauma, that would cover all of your needs except the emotional neglect part. For that, you may have to follow up with a separate therapist.

      Stephen - March 31, 2021 Reply

      Thanks, will do.

Susan - March 29, 2021 Reply

I realize now that I married someone who is kind and stable, but who perpetuates my CEN (he also has CEN). When I look at him, I don’t feel that he sees me at all. I know I would be happier with someone who isn’t so afraid of being close to me, but I’m almost 60 and afraid to start over. I’m trying to find happiness in spite of living with someone who reinforces this feeling that I don’t exist. I feel myself come alive with other people, but when it’s just the 2 of us I feel so dead inside.

Isa - March 29, 2021 Reply

I also had a difficult time answering the questions and will probably revisit. When I couldn’t answer at all is that a sign of a specific shortcoming that I have or something I need to work on especially ? or is the questionnaire mostly used as a way to put down on paper my thoughts and feelings without analyzing too much the answers ?
I also find myself alternating between feeling angry and sad about my CEN, it seems silly and I hope this eases off in time. I can’t help but feel guilty about feeling sorry for myself, my whole life seems to have been held back by my childhood and I want to get on with my adult life already :))
Thank you for all that you do Jonice, you’re amazing and your work is so needed !

Jim - March 29, 2021 Reply

Thank you so much for sharing this and your other work! I’m finally starting to see what has been holding me back my entire life thanks in part to your books and articles.

Leslie - March 29, 2021 Reply

I felt a rush of anxiety when I looked at the list of questions. I had no clue where to even start and knew that I did not know the answers to many of them. And these questions are about ME! This is proof of what I have been doing to myself my entire life: pushing myself into the background, denying my own feelings and discounting myself and my feelings. My parents were good at parenting “on paper”. I had plenty to eat, went to school, went to the doctor, went to the dentist, got glasses when I needed them, took swimming and dance lession, but there was always something missing. I knew that they loved me, but I was never told that they loved me or was even shown any physical affection.

Maureen - March 29, 2021 Reply

From doing this list, I discovered the value of writing about my pain and pain related issues. Writing about painful issues, as opposed to just merely thinking about painful issues, helped me to see how writing about these issues can help to slow down my mind while addressing my pain, which helped me to remain calm and to be able to think more clearly with a decreased inclination to only spiral into anger while only thinking and reflecting on painful issues. Remaining calm while addressing my painful issues helped me to think of them in a more healing and constructive way. This writing exercise helped me a great deal and I believe will help me in the future as well.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to discover this Dr. Webb! You’ve been a great help to me in this way and so many other ways as well!

    Jonice - March 30, 2021 Reply

    You describe a great benefit of writing vs. simply thinking about difficult feelings. Thanks for sharing!

Mire - March 29, 2021 Reply

Thank you Jonice. Since the first time I read your articles it made me clear to me that I had been neglected as I child, and from there, I had all my life the terrible feeling that something was very wrong with me, I wasn´t lovably I was going to be alone of my life and so on. Since 20 years ago, I have been in therapy but reading your book made a “synthesis” of the origin of all my problems. I am still struggling with very deep believings that make my life difficult, but, nevertheless I keep trying. I also ask like the person above me What should I do with my answers to the questionaire? Thank very much.

    Jonice - March 30, 2021 Reply

    You describe a great benefit of writing vs. simply thinking about difficult feelings. Thanks for sharing!

Pasha - March 29, 2021 Reply

Jonice, I bought your book, Running on Empty. I also filled out the 20 questions. What do I do next, just reflect on it? Thank you.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Pasha, keep the questions in mind and keep refining them as you go through your life. Also, keep working on connecting with your emotions and the rest of the work involved in CEN healing.

Tracy - March 29, 2021 Reply

Thank you, Dr. Webb, I just finished reading Running on Empty, and the pages are highlighted, written on and tear stained. When I read these questions, I could feel a Hurricane of emotion welling up inside me, so I decided to give myself a day to live in that storm before answering. However, a few questions generated immediate and overwhelming reactions in my heart and mind. Those answers led to an emotional domino effect: first surprise at the clarity of a memory, then anger with my parents, and then, insight into WHY they re/acted the way they did(informed by my own struggles and triumphs as a solitary parent and the information you provided about CEN) and finally, compassion for their brokenness and how very hard they were trying (and miserably failing) to understand me. I wish your work had been available to them. Thank you

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Tracy, it sounds like you are doing the work of CEN recovery on a deep and meaningful level. I applaud you! And I wish I had been able to make this work available decades ago as well. All my best to you.

Emma - March 29, 2021 Reply

I actually sat down to write answers to your questions and this has given me profound insight as to who I really am. I now realize that I have spent my entire life working in jobs I am not good at and stayed too long in the wrong relationships. I won’t tolerate people taking advantage of me anymore. I now know where to find happiness – and that’s where I’m heading – with no looking back! Thank you so much Jonice.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Way to go, Emma! So glad.

Deb - March 29, 2021 Reply

I looked over the questions, and it pains me to say that I don’t have the answers to at least half of them. I just don’t know myself. Very frustrating and depressing.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Deb, turn that frustration into energy to direct toward changing that. You have the power to change.

    Susan - March 29, 2021 Reply

    I feel the same way. I think about a question and draw a blank.

Amy - March 28, 2021 Reply

I have no idea where to even start trying to answer these. This could take a ver, very long time.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    That’s OK, Amy. Take your time! It’s important.

Sheryl - March 28, 2021 Reply

Hello Dr. Webb,

You don’t say what to do with the list once you’ve completed it. How does answering these 20 questions improve resilience?


    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sheryl, self-knowledge makes you more resilient. Keep answering those questions over and over, as they will change over time and give you the ability to say things to yourself like, “I’m not great at socializing, but people find me warm and friendly, and those great strengths will see me through…” That’s what resilience is all about: knowing yourself thoroughly and deeply.

Tim - March 28, 2021 Reply

Thank you for this painfully insightful article.

Who am I? is a question I’ve asked therapists, because I have no ‘sense of self’. It’s a difficult feeling to explain, not really knowing who you are, or how other people perceive you.

I’m adopted, and I have recently traced and made contact with my birth mother (we were separated 57 years ago).

What has been really noticeable is her insight into my feelings and emotions. She seems to know things about my emotional state that my kind but strict adoptive parents never noticed, or didn’t respond to. Can a biological connection, separated by half a century really be that….. true?

It’s such a wierd experience, to suddenly be noticed, I mean really noticed.

Thanks for the questionnaire. It’ll be interesting to work through it.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Tim, it’s an interesting question about genetics. I wish I knew an answer. I would suggest trying to maximize your relationships with all your parents by taking what they each have to offer separately.

David - March 28, 2021 Reply

I am amazed at the number of questions I cannot answer- that leave me feeling numb, exhausted, thoroughly depleted. And that leaves me feeling utterly worthless.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    David, this tells me that you are neglecting yourself, and probably have been for decades. Your true value is there and it lies within you. You just need to find it by looking inward and connecting with your emotions.

      David - March 29, 2021 Reply

      Thanks. I’ve been trying to ‘connect with my emotions’ for – literally – 5-6 decades. Still, though, I have no idea of how to do it.
      My prevailing answer to many of these questions, i.e. – what do I want? I want to be able to sleep and cry….2 things I have never, ever been able to accomplish.

Sandra - March 28, 2021 Reply

I have read your wonderful books and learned so much from them. The problem I am dealing with now is my mother who refuses to see me for who I truly am. I have tried to explain to her so many times but she never hears what I’m saying. I am now an only child as my father has died and I lost my brother in a car accident. She is a Narcissist and is incapable of seeing anything other than her own perspective and I have finally had to cut off contact with her temporarily after her latest manipulative move to make me feel guilty because I haven’t been there “enough” for her. But no amount is ever enough and I’m so exhausted from trying to come to some place of honoring her without destroying my true self. I would deeply appreciate if you have any suggestions. Thank you so much for your work.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sandra, your responsibility in life is not to honor your mom, it’s to honor yourself. Are you harming yourself by going over and over to an empty well looking for water? Please put yourself first. You can heal your CEN on your own, you do not need to get your mom’s understanding or approval. Please read Running On Empty No More if you haven’t yet. It will give you lots of support and understanding.

Beth S - March 28, 2021 Reply

Just did this exercise and feel physically sick and shocked at how my mind and heart felt completely blank at many of the questions. Especially Q13 onwards. I drift along in life, in a poorly paid job below my capabilities and without any real knowledge of who I am or what I want in life. I think it is time I stopped avoiding getting to know myself! Thanks for this Jonice, your insights are much appreciated.

    Jonice - March 29, 2021 Reply

    Yes, Beth, it is time! ‘m very glad you have realized this.

Marcos - March 28, 2021 Reply

I like this questionnaire but having CEN means asking myself these questions wasn’t helpful, having the person closest to me answer them will be. Thank you for this

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Good point, Marcos. Be sure to check their answers against what your own gut tells you because you are the ultimate expert on yourself.

Roz - March 28, 2021 Reply

This should be taught to expectant parents.

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Agree, Roz!

Babs - March 28, 2021 Reply

I know I will love & hate answering these questions at the same time but this will be good for me. Thank you Jonice.

Anna - March 28, 2021 Reply

This article is right to the point, I can see this confusion everyday with so many children and adults. Thank you for seeing the light and revealing this important topic to so many hurting people.

Lisa - March 28, 2021 Reply

There doesn’t seem to be many cen providers that take medicare. They refer me to seasoned counselors that do ..only cause I asked. I really don’t know if I want to go down a road w a therapist who doesnt get this

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Hm, Lisa, I would be surprised if none take Medicare. I’m continually adding new therapists to the list so keep watching.

Chiemi - March 28, 2021 Reply

Hi, Dr. Jonice!
Thank you very much for your extremely insightful books and for all the helpful articles you’ve shared with us! Some of the cases in your first book resonated with me very much. I was so surprised; and at the same time, I was somewhat relieved in a way, as your book answered so many things that I wondered about myself for so many years. Your book made so much sense to me as I’m sure it did to so many others.
Since I discovered your books, I’ve been telling some of my friends about you and your books. I’ve searched online, but it seems that your books are only available in English? Perhaps, your publisher may want to start publishing in other languages like German and Japanese?
CEN is definitely universal, and your books (especially the first one) will be a tremendous help to so many people in the countries where English isn’t the primary language.
Just FYI, per your articles, I’ve started to do some little things to create new habits. I’m confident that those new, little habits will help to create new me.
Thank you very much again for all your amazing work, Dr. Jonice! I really hope your books will be published in other languages soon!

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Chiemi, my books are published in Chinese, Korean, Turkish, and Dutch. My publisher is happy to talk with any publishing company about foreign rights. I also would like to make the books available in many more countries and hope it happens. Thank you for your support!

      Chiemi - March 30, 2021 Reply

      Hi again, Dr. Jonice! Thank you for your reply!
      That’s fantastic about your books in Chinese, Korean, Turkish and Dutch. People in China, Korea, Turkey and Netherlands are lucky to be able to read your books in their own languages!
      Please ask your publisher to publish them in German and Japanese also!! You and your publisher will be helping a ton more people for sure.
      While my German friend waits to read your books in her native language, I’ll share your site with her in the meantime.
      Thank you very much again, Dr. Jonice!

Barb - March 28, 2021 Reply

These are good
I can tell by my hesitancy that it’s both exciting and it’s going to be interesting to see my answers. I like how you cautioned us to give real answers. Love that. After reading and doing a lot of your work, it’s perfect timing to sit and reflect on these and to honour myself. Thank you Jonice ⭐️

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Great, Barb. I’m glad to be helpful in your healing.

Moira - March 28, 2021 Reply

That was tough….made me face just how much I’ve cut myself offering life, as a coping strategy. I just hope I can be reeled back in, just a little way!
Thank you, very thought provoking.

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Good work, Moira. I’m glad you are working on this.

Lisa - March 28, 2021 Reply

Thank you for this insightful article. I am going to do this exercise. I also have your wonderful book! Have a great day

    Jonice - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Lisa, I’m glad. Thanks for your comment.

Alyona Karagadyan - December 8, 2017 Reply

What should I do with my answers to the questions?

    Anonymous - June 10, 2023 Reply

    I’m not Dr. Webb, but if I may, my impression is that since the answers are to answer areas of concern, they can be gone through with a trusted provider, family member, or friend for help.

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