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How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Few things have the power to hold you back in your adult life as much as abandonment. Legions of people are wondering how to overcome abandonment issues from childhood.

Sadly, there are many different ways that parents can fail their children. Thanks to research and awareness, there are many resources available to people who grew up with any form of abuse from their parents. But there are two other types of parental failure that are far less noticed or discussed: parental abandonment and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

Children are born literally “pre-wired” with some very specific emotional needs. Thanks to loads of scientific research, we now know, without a doubt, that in order to grow and thrive as an adult, children must feel loved and emotionally attached to their parents.

Childrens’ emotional needs are, in fact, so crucial that even well-meaning, physically present parents can inadvertently harm their children by not responding enough to their children’s emotions. This subtle parental failure happens far and wide, and I have given it the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN. 

Though CEN happens under the radar in most emotionally neglectful homes, it nevertheless leaves lasting effects upon the child: disconnection, lack of fulfillment, and feelings of being empty and alone, among others.

If physically present, well-meaning parents can fail their children in such a subtle way that harms them, you can imagine the powerful impact of parental abandonment.

Parental Abandonment

Parents leave their children in many different ways, and for many different reasons. Whether your parent left you because of divorce, death, or choice, the reason matters far less than the fact that he or she left you.

It is very difficult for a child’s brain to absorb the enormity of abandonment. Children often suffer problems with anger or grief after the loss of a parent. Most children have difficulty believing that it is permanent, even if their parent has passed away. But if your parent walked away by choice, you will also likely struggle with your very natural question of, “Why?”

The 3 Main Issues Of The Abandoned Child

  1. Trusting others: When your parent abandons you, he or she is violating your most basic human need, which is to have parents who value and enjoy you. If the one who is meant to love and care for you the most in this world leaves you, it becomes very difficult to believe that anyone and everyone who becomes important to you will not do the same. You may end up living your life constantly on-guard for the possibility of being abandoned again. It’s hard to trust that your partner, friend or loved one has your best interests in mind. This holds you back from forming rich, deep, trusting relationships.
  2. Guilt and shame: All abandoned children are deeply mystified about why their parents left them. Many struggle with the fact that there is no good explanation because, let’s face it, apart from death there is no good reason for a parent to leave a child. In the absence of a logical explanation, the child naturally tends to blame herself. This sets up a pattern of feeling deeply responsible for her parent’s choice to leave her. The abandoned child often grows up to struggle with guilt and shame.
  3. Self-worth: “How could my own parent leave me?” the abandoned child wonders. Being left by the one who brought you into this world naturally makes you wonder what is wrong with you. The abandoned child is set up to never feel good enough. Deeply, painfully, he feels unworthy of true love and commitment.

Many thousands of children grow up with parents who are physically present, yet emotionally absent — Childhood Emotional Neglect. These children grow up to feel less important than others, and deeply alone.

Many thousands more children experience the deep trauma of a parent physically abandoning them. If you had this experience as a child, you have probably grown up to struggle with trust, shame, and low self-worth.

Even if you are physically abandoned, if you have one parent who remains present and is emotionally attuned to you, this can greatly soften the impact of the other parent’s abandonment.

Emotional attunement from a parent is the balm that soothes all childhood hurts, and the antidote that prevents depression, anxiety, and low self-worth. If you grew up in a family that offered a shortage of this balm, you may be struggling to this day.

How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Whether you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, abandonment, or a combination of the two, it’s not too late for you to repair those childhood hurts. Now, as an adult, you can make up for what you didn’t get in childhood.

By beginning to tune in to yourself to pay attention to your feelings, by making a concerted effort to take care of your own needs, and by learning emotion management skills, you can begin the process of accepting your own true value as a human being.

If your parents failed you emotionally or abandoned you, you can become your own present, loving and attuned parent now.

It’s never too late to begin to accept that you matter.

To learn much more about the emotional needs of children, the effects of having emotionally or physically absent parents and how you can heal yourself, see Running On Empty or Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free!

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Relationships

Growing up with your feelings ignored, Childhood Emotional Neglect or (CEN), takes its toll on you. It’s true. In fact, it takes such a lasting toll that I can see its lingering effects decades later in my adult patients.

The Lingering Effects Of CEN

  • A lack of awareness of your own feelings, wishes, and needs.
  • A feeling that you are less important than everyone else.
  • A massive struggle to talk about and share your own feelings.
  • Difficulty asking for help and accepting help from others.
  • A lack of understanding of how feelings work in yourself and others.

Children who grow up with their feelings ignored take a very powerful step to get by in their childhood home. They wall off the deepest, most biological part of who they are: their emotions. That way they can stop burdening others with their feelings. What a brilliant and powerful tool for your child’s brain to make for you.

But as an adult, your life is affected greatly.

The lingering effects above are important parts of the toll of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). When your feelings are walled off, you are missing some life ingredients that will have a profound effect on your quality of life.

I know this because I see it in my office every single day.

Whether you realize it or not, this particular group of struggles affects you in many areas of your life. You are living without access to some vital life ingredient that everyone else enjoys. For example, it can make it hard to ask for a promotion or a raise at work, or to trust yourself to try new things or take risks.

But I have also seen that there is one area of life that’s affected far more than any other. It’s your relationships. As you read the 5 Important Ways below, be sure to keep in mind that none of these 5 are permanent. They are only effects from your childhood. You can fix every single one!

5 Important Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Challenges Your Relationships

  1. It makes them one-sided. Generally, CEN people are not able to be fully present in their relationships. The first two Lingering Effects of CEN all contribute to this result. When you’re not aware of your own feelings, wishes and needs enough, how can you share them with your husband, wife, partner or friend? How can you take up your fair share of space in your relationships when you view other people and their needs as more important than your own? Many of your relationships become too much about the other person, and not enough about you.
  2. Your relationships seem fewer and feel less rewarding than other people seem to have. This is partly because they’re one-sided, just as we discussed above. Since you’re not fully emotionally present in your relationships, they are naturally limited in depth and resilience. They may break apart more easily, and may not reach their full potential. You offer up so very much in your relationships, but you’re holding back the most valuable gift you can give someone: your emotional vulnerability.
  3. It makes social time more tiring than it should be. Spending time with people you care about should be rewarding, energizing and enriching. But you often find it draining instead. That’s because your relationships are one-sided (you give too much and don’t take enough for yourself), and also because you spend so much energy trying to be the person you think others want or expect you to be — instead of just being yourself. That takes a lot of energy.
  4. You feel alone, even with people who love you. All of us humans share a common bond, and that bond is largely based on our feelings. When your emotions are too blocked off, you may not have enough access to your own deep font of warm emotional energy; the source of relationship “glue” that should be connecting you. Since you are unaware of the problem, you’re left feeling, on some level, emotionally isolated at key times. Even though you are actually not!
  5. It holds your relationships back from becoming as rich and deep as they should be. Just as emotion is the glue that binds you to others, it’s also the fire that lights your passion, and the stick that should be poking you saying, “Speak up!” Without full access to this vital resource, your relationships are missing an important vital ingredient: You.

Never fear! I know these 5 challenges might seem practically insurmountable. But I have watched many people transform their relationships by working in 3 key areas.

3 Answers Taken From Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children

  1. Your Emotional Awareness: This involves being aware of what you are feeling and what the other person is feeling. It’s being able to observe your own behaviors and responses to things and understand the emotions involved.
  2. Emotion Skills: Learning to identify what you feel, accept your feelings, tolerate your feelings, manage them, and put them into words. You can learn all of them!
  3. Communication Skills: How do you tell someone they hurt your feelings? Or that you are angry at them? How do you ask someone for what you need or want? Once you get better at emotional awareness and emotion skills, you’ll have the foundation to learn how to communicate far more effectively.

You can learn far more about how to become more emotionally aware and skilled and how to communicate on an emotional level in the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. Take The CEN Test. It’s free!