5 Steps To Break Down Your Wall

AdobeStock 62923809 e1526268449455

The fuel of life is feeling. If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise we will find ourselves running on empty.


From the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

What does Empty feel like? What causes some people to feel it? In last week’s article, Not Sad Not Hurt Not Angry: Empty, we talked about how the Empty feeling is a result of having a wall inside of you which essentially blocks your emotions away.

Having a wall like this is functional in some ways. It can get you through your childhood by allowing you to cope with a family who is emotionally unavailable, ignoring, rejecting, devoid of love, or even abusive. But when you grow up and are living as an adult, you need to have access to your emotions.

When your emotions are walled off, you pay a heavy price.  You pay the price of deep, meaningful, supportive relationships, a feeling of purpose and direction in your life, and a strong sense of self-worth and confidence.

Are you thinking, “Yes, I want all that!”? If so, there is a way to get it. It involves slowly, purposefully chipping away at your wall until it no longer stands between you and your emotions. It takes commitment, effort and perseverance. And if you have those, your rewards will be great.

Here are Five Steps to Breaking Down Your Wall:

  1. Open up: Override the unspoken childhood rule DON’T TALK. Identify the trustworthy people in your life, and talk to them about difficult things in your life and difficult things in their lives. Talk about things you never would have before. Be vulnerable. Talk, talk, and talk some more.
  2. Make friends with your emotions: Several times each day, close your eyes, focus inward, and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”  Pay attention to how you feel about things, and listen to those feelings. Know that your feelings matter. If the feelings that come up are difficult to handle, please find a trained therapist to support and help you learn to tolerate and manage them.
  3. Take your own needs seriously: Override the unspoken childhood rule DON’T ASK. Tell the people in your life when you need help or support. And then let them help you.
  4. Let people in: Fill your life with quality people. Meaningful relationships are a primary source of richness, connection and meaning in life.
  5. Get to know who you are: Pay attention to everything about yourself. What do you love, dislike, excel at, struggle with? What is important to you? What are your values? What do you care about? Once you see the full picture of who you are, you will see your value and worth, and you will feel stronger.

Do these steps sound easy? Probably not. But keep in mind that you are not looking to blast through your wall. You want to chip it down slowly, gradually, bit by bit. Since that wall stands not only between you and your emotions, but also between you and the world, your life will get better and better and better, chip by chip by chip

Each time you open your heart to a chosen person in your life; each time you notice something new about yourself; each time you listen to a feeling that you are having, you are chipping away. You are breaking the childhood bonds that have held you back all these years. You are making the decision to live life your way. You are taking a chance, counting yourself worthy, and filling yourself with the most powerful fuel there is.

Finally, you will no longer live your life running on empty.

To find out if you are living with CEN, and if so, what to do about it, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty. 

This article was originally published on Psychcentral.com and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral



Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Eric - January 22, 2023 Reply

My parents had a bad divorce when I was 2 years old, my brother was 6. Custody was given to my Mother and I visited my Dad every Wednesday and every other weekend. I’ve had 4 step parents since, 3 for my Dad and 1 for my Mom (married 37yrs.). So I spent 18% of my time with my Dad and 84 % with my Mom. My Dad was a functioning alcoholic and didn’t show much emotion. Although I had a lot growing up, very fortunate, I never knew my Mom an Dad together except for a argument that some how I remember from age 2.
My question is, do children, especially younger children suffer emotionally from early divorces and mature slower than other stable family children or does it matter ?

    Jonice - January 23, 2023 Reply

    Hi Eric, divorce does affect children, for sure. I would imagine a situation like yours could give you a less stable and predictable environment to grow up and mature in, potentially causing extra challenges and/or some delays. I’m sorry you had to experience all that upheaval as a child.

Phyllis - August 23, 2021 Reply

Jonice I have a couple of questions. I believe my Mom was not emotionally neglectful, she was however somewhat critical. My Dad drank alot and that caused alot of drama in our family. My parents divorced when I was 11. So I met a boyfriend at age 14 and we married when I was 15 and had a baby right before I was 16 and at 17 had our 2nd child. I want to know if my husband could have contributed to my CEN due to my age? He was also young, only 2 yrs older than me.

    Jonice - August 23, 2021 Reply

    Dear Phyllis, have you taken the Emotional Neglect Test? It sure sounds like you grew up very fast. I encourage you to look more closely at your childhood and read Running On Empty if you haven’t already. Consult a CEN-trained therapist from the Find A Therapist List to get some help with sorting our your childhood and how it plays into your current happiness.

Jacob - June 4, 2021 Reply

godbless you.

Sophia - May 23, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice, thank you for all you are doing! When you mentioned in the article that “the Empty feeling is a result of having a wall inside of you which essentially blocks your emotions away” it made me wonder if there is an overlap with CEN and schizoid personality disorder and/or schizoid adaptations. I’ve read that schizoid personality disorder is “a condition in which people avoid social activities and interacting with others. Schizoid personality disorder typically begins in early adulthood. People with this condition don’t desire or enjoy close relationships, even with family, and are often seen as loners. They may be emotionally cold and detached” People who are diagnosed with schizoid and share their experiences often mention feeling like there is a wall or thick sheet of glass that is separating them from others.

    Jonice - May 24, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sophia, there are overlapping symptoms in many diagnoses and psychological illnesses. But schizoid and CEN are, in my opinion, unrelated, as the schizoid personality has a myriad of other symptoms that CEN people don’t have and vice-versa.

Cr - October 3, 2020 Reply

I love my wife more than anything but I’ve got a problem keeping happiness in my hart with her I loss excitement but I never want to lose her someone is roung with me how do I keep my love showing so she know it and haw do I keep from losing interest in my w married I’ve all ways put my self 1 st before others I want to stop how do I do this

Presley - September 11, 2020 Reply

i’ve held all of my emotions in. i feel like if i tell anyone i’ll be more empty. i show nothing and only when i’m alone i break down. i don’t know what to do and it is ruining my life. i’ve been trying and trying to break that wall but nothing is working

    Jonice - September 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Presley, you will need to break down that wall of yours. Please find a therapist near you on the Find A CEN Therapist List on this website. Let one person in who is trained to support and help you.

Meg - September 6, 2020 Reply

In 7 Mo I lost my mother, her parents, my boyfriend and my dads mom. It has been 5 years since their passing. I feel like I’ve come out of the black hole but I still feel empty and lonely even though I have a boyfriend (1year) who is absolutely amazing and I don’t/can’t get my wall to come down.

Khanyisa Holford - June 27, 2020 Reply

God bless you Jonice Webb

    Jonice - June 27, 2020 Reply

    Thank you Khanyisa!

Lorry - May 31, 2020 Reply

I feel I have walls up in all aspects of my life. Relationships, at work, friends, my kid. I’m constantly on defense mode. I just feel like no one sees my point of view and I feel invisible.

    Jonice - June 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lorry, please learn as much as you can about CEN from this website and, if possible, from my two books. You can get on the path to healing and recovery!

James - July 5, 2019 Reply

Hey Jonice,

I have a friend who does extremely well making friends. She has put in a lot of work on her own and has opened up quite a few of her outer walls. The problem is, her inner walls. The deepest levels of intimate connection is still extremely walled off – to the point of no emotions when discussing ideas of love, commitment, marriage, potential life partners, etc.

You said: Are you thinking, “Yes, I want all that!”

The problem is she says, “No, I don’t want any of that!”

At a very young age she made up her mind regarding the idea of romance and is still clinging to this ideology in her mid-late 20’s. Is this necessarily a bad attitude for her to have regarding potential love and commitment with anyone?

Is this her CEN at work or a personal preference?

She has walled herself around, buried so deeply – it is almost as if she is incapable of finding the desire to love romantically even when she has tried to in the past. Do you have any advice or suggestions I can pass along to her or I can actively help with as her friend?

    Jonice - July 5, 2019 Reply

    Dear James, please suggest to your friend that she read the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More in that order. If her issue is CEN, she will likely see herself in them and find answers there.

Trace - November 19, 2018 Reply

These look very difficult. Foe me trusting someone to talk to about things that are haunting me is almost impossible. Plus another difficult one is knowing who I am. I really don’t know anymore, or know how to feel happy.

Richard Kram - October 25, 2018 Reply

I find great comfort in the path Dr Webb has laid out. At 51, I hope to salvage my life, maybe salvage my marriage, hopefully salvage my relationships with my kids. Thank You

Mary - October 25, 2018 Reply

This sounds great. Step 1- talk, talk, talk. Identify a trustworthy person to talk to. What if due to your CEN you have major trust issues? I cannot think of a single soul I trust with the fragile part of me. So, where do I start?

    Jonice - October 26, 2018 Reply

    Dear Mary, start small. Choose one person you can share one small thing with, and then build from there. It will feel safer that way.

Angel - September 25, 2018 Reply

This is very helpful. I was lost in my own world unable to overcome what I’m going through. I was incapable of knowing what’s wrong with me, and having an emotionally un-supported childhood, my pieces of jig-saw of my life falls in to place.

Ann Frances Ellis - August 26, 2017 Reply

I love this. Thanks for asking us to honor our own feelings. Another approach, if you have uncomfortable feelings, is to use The Emotion Code. It is a free system, available to all, and is simple to use. You need a magnet to clear emotions once you identify them, but the chart is online and anyone can use it.

Sue F - August 23, 2017 Reply

Hi Jonice, I speak with my husband often about these issues. He is the only one I can trust as he is the only one who knows what has happened. Once you get it “out there” you can start to heal. Lots of shame in our family of origin. Even now when I visit my parents the old shaming techniques come into play. At least now I can deal with what as unknown to me for some long. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

Leave a Comment: