7 Common False Beliefs About Relationships

false beliefs

7 Common False Beliefs About Relationships

  1. Sharing your feelings with others will make you look weak.
  2. It’s best not to fight if you want to have a good relationship.
  3. Sharing your feelings or troubles with another person burdens them.
  4. Talking about a problem isn’t helpful. Only action solves a problem.
  5. Sharing your feelings or troubles with another person will chase them away.
  6. Letting others see your weaknesses puts you at a disadvantage.
  7. If you let other people see how you feel, they will use it against you.

As you read the list of beliefs above, did any jump out at you? Was there one, or two, or more, that you thought, “Hey, that one’s not false!”?

If so, you are not alone. Many, many people go through their lives following some or all of these guidelines. And many, many people are held back by them. These beliefs have the power to keep you at an emotional distance from others, damage your friendships and marriage, and leave you feeling alone in the world.

The beliefs are typically rooted in your childhood. They are often messages passed down from one generation to another. They take root in your mind and live there, sometimes outside of your awareness.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Teaches You the False Beliefs

These ideas tend to thrive in any family that struggles with emotions, either by over or under-expressing it. They’re so common among folks who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) that they’re included in my book, Running on Empty. All of the beliefs are based on false notions of how emotions work.

If you grew up in a family that didn’t understand how to manage, express or talk about emotion, you probably didn’t learn how and when to share or be vulnerable. You may have learned that it’s actually wrong to communicate about these things.

And chances are some of the 7 beliefs were communicated to you, either directly or indirectly.

The 7 False Beliefs Made True

  1. Letting people see your feelings usually makes them like you more. It also fosters intimacy.
  2. The hallmark of a strong, healthy relationship or friendship is the ability to have a conflict, process it together, and work through it together. In fact, fighting is often a sign of closeness.
  3. Sharing your feelings or troubles with the right person at the right time does not burden them. It increases warmth and caring from the other person.
  4. Talking about a problem with a well-chosen person can help you get perspective, feel less burdened, sort out your feelings and thoughts, and sometimes even provide solutions
  5. Sharing your feelings or troubles with the right person will make him/her feel closer to you.
  6. Letting another person see your weakness does not put you at a disadvantage unless the other person is the type of person to take advantage of you. Be aware of who you’re letting in. The huge majority of people will not take advantage.
  7. If you let someone see how you feel, they will know and understand you better, and that’s a good thing. The only exception to this is if they are actively trying to hurt you. Generally, if there are people like this in your life, you know who they are. Do not share with them.

How To Change Your Beliefs From False to True

  • Choose your people carefully. Take care who you choose to open your heart to, as either a friend or lover. Focus on integrity, trust, and care. Pay attention to the other person’s intentions. None of the True Beliefs apply if the person is not trustworthy.
  • Timing is everything. We all underestimate the importance of timing. Choose your moment, taking into account the other person’s mood, needs, and situation. The same message can have a very different impact given at the wrong time vs. the right one.
  • Take chances. There is no intimacy without vulnerability. To change these beliefs, you will have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
  • The Costanza Experiment (Taken from the book Running on Empty): Remember the Seinfeld episode when George decided to go through an entire week doing the opposite of what he would normally do? (If you’re under 40, you may not have seen this, but the concept will still work for you.) For you, this would mean doing the opposite of what you would normally do when it comes to sharing your feelings. Tell your friend about your work worries instead of keeping them to yourself; share your financial stress with your brother instead of pretending everything’s fine; fight it out with your husband and wife instead of avoiding conflict.

Take a chance, and see what happens. The False Beliefs will start to melt away as you begin to experience the value of trust, openness, and closeness. Your relationships will thrive, and a whole new world will open up to you.

To learn more about emotions, relationships, and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) see the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.


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Jo - April 12, 2021 Reply

I would say that most people with CEN struggle with knowing who a safe person is as if we’d have had safe role models we wouldn’t suffer CEN. My mother had a serious illness 2 years ago and despite my troubles I fully supported her but her toxic behaviour towards stepdad and myself and no ability to have insight/empathy for those trying to care for her pushed me into a nervous breakdown because I felt so guilty for needing time out. I tried to discuss the situation with my brothers; one of whom said my mum could say and behave how she wanted and the other validated my predicament but then denied ever doing so. I was called selfish, vindictive and that it was my mental health at fault – nothing to do with my mum’s behaviour. I was prevented from seeing my nephew and niece unless I agreed include my mother. I believe my family is enmeshed and codependent. They knew I was suicidal for months and I was actively punished and as a caring, introspective person; took all the blame. I constantly question whether everything was my fault despite two therapists saying not and find it hard to trust more than a handful of people.

Stephen - April 9, 2021 Reply

The 7 Common False Beliefs all feel 100% true in my gut, I know they aren’t in reality but that is my internal compass. My Dad used to point his finger menacingly and say loudly “Never Trust Anyone! They all want to screw you or will kill you if it comes down to life or death, you or them!” when I would tell him about making friends in middle school. We grew up never asking how the other person was doing. Just get in the car and say “Hi” and drive home from school and work and everything is “Fine”. Then if I did confide in my parents they could save it as leverage in the future or maybe a low-blow or backstab. I also saw and heard them explain how they would do this to others… very manipulative and scary, never knew who to trust so I trusted no one wholly, always on guard, always have an exit, never commit, never admit, never divulge, to the point of trying to maintain a poker face all day.

Maria - April 6, 2021 Reply

Thank you so much dr. Jonice Webb for all your inspiring, knowledge articles. I am more and more aware why I do not like trust to people, and I do not want express my feeling to others.
I need to choose right peron, right time and how to learn new skills.

Brie - April 6, 2021 Reply

Hi J,
The solution statements require a CEN person to select a person they trust to share with.
Trust and knowing who to trust is a challenge for a CEN person.
So not a simple thing to do

    Jonice - April 9, 2021 Reply

    True, but you have to start somewhere!

    Evie - April 10, 2021 Reply

    The solution statements could require either finding someone trustworthy (choosing carefully as mentioned) or helping the person/people in your existing relationships to understand the same things.

    Sharing your feelings or troubles with someone only burdens them if they assume they are responsible for knowing how to make things better. Helping friends/partners understand how to receive painful feelings, what you do & don’t need from them in those times, and how to listen/respond, can go a long way to relieving them of the burden (assumptions, self-expectations, pressure, helplessness, anxiety) behind feeling burdened by your feelings.

    This also contributes to feelings being less likely to chase them away. And, it makes talking more likely to be helpful for you. (It can also contribute to making times of conflict more productive, or even can help to avoid/prevent the conflict that can occur because of defensive reactions to feelings.)

Sheila - April 5, 2021 Reply

I believe my partner and I both experienced CEN. I have trusted him with my feelings and try to communicate my feelings ( which I held back during my marriage). However, I get angry and upset when he is unresponsive to my expression of how Im feeling or when I repeatedly ask for some time spent together. I haven’t learned how to self soothe. He is a workaholic.


    Jonice - April 9, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sheila, sounds like you may need to rock the boat for anything to change. I encourage you to work on your own CEN, find your voice and try to push him to change, whenever you are ready.

Emma - April 5, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice, are you familiar with the enneagram? I was wondering if you were and if you’ve thought abut how CEN and the enneagram might resonate with each other, and if you think people who have grown up with CEN are likely to be particular types, and less likely to be others. I think a lot of what you say about CEN makes sense to me and my life, and I’m just getting into the enneagram, and I think there are similarities with some aspects. Thank you.

Kathy - April 4, 2021 Reply

I honestly believe all those statements have been shown to be true in my life experience…at work, in my home and certainly with my family. Jonice, this makes my reality unreal…weird, but tolerable at this stage in life. It seems the only question is whose truth is reality?

    Jonice - April 5, 2021 Reply

    Dear Kathy, maybe you could try out some of the truths in the article and see what happens.

Makuye - April 4, 2021 Reply

Sharing feelings and talking about problems may very well take us toward what i have come to regard as a more basic evolved trait than the competitive, adversarial, strategic hidings of feelings or needs, that seem so prized in this culture.
Kindness (which with attention, is clearly love) is elicited by openness, admission of vulnerability.
I speak from a family in which the only kindness episodes were those of a mother protecting her children, and who limited even that to acute extreme distress, counseling her young to not show distress.

What Dr. Webb seems to be countering is the cultural norm. Repressed cultures in anthropological research, are always the most violent.
Here i will not allude directly to elder males or females in my family further than to mention their violence toward others, other animals, organisms.
It may well be that trauma experienced (a perpetrator experiences, registers it as well as a vulnerable victim) leads to initiation of denial of feelings, which like some communicable disease affects all subject to it, down generations.

My own mother, now foreseeing the end of her life, takes refuge in family-destroying religion, which structure (priests, ministers etc.) actually demonstrate cruelty toward others. This has been so for 100% of the priests i have encountered since early childhood.

I have reinforced to her, her kindness, while openly discussing occasions and persistence of the opposite in other family members.
If no one is kind to you in response to your open discussion, still you must strive to be kind, a trait perhaps reinforced by vulnerable offspring, but able to occur in your feelings toward any and every living thing you ever encounter.
You are the one who feels and experiences you life. If any other ever increases their kindness, even for a moment as a result, this is good. But your only control is through your own choice to think, feel, act kind. There is no score, no failure. We only model the world we want, or not.

    Jonice - April 5, 2021 Reply

    Dear Makuye, thank you for sharing your beautiful words and thoughts. I only want to make sure that you are while being kind to others, being kind to yourself above all, acknowledging and accepting, and working with all of your feelings, even the unkind ones.

Sherrie - April 4, 2021 Reply

Just wondering how autism spectrum in a parent ties into all this.. I’m beginning to wonder if THAT is why my parents have seemed like robots, couldn’t connect, don’t talk about feelings etc.. but are ‘generally nice people’ who are well meaning. Their social/ communication skills are quite weak so it all ‘fits’. The trouble now is they are aging, would never seek ‘diagnosis’ and feel like I’m the problem for wanting to ‘be emotionally close’ and validated emotionally… they see that all as ‘weakness’ and uncomfortable… Any feedback welcome! It actually helps me to consider that ASD and not a willful desire to ignore my feelings could be the issues.. But it’s definitely hard to have a ‘healthy’ relationship with them. I feel like I either have to have no emotional needs and pretend that a surface level relationship is satisfying (which isn’t very honest) or express how I feel and get rejected/ not validated again and again… (which is disheartening)

    Joyce - April 6, 2021 Reply

    Sherrie — your comment resonates with me. I have wondered the same thing about my mother. It does make it a little bit easier to “forgive” her if I believe that she is on the autism spectrum. She does seem to be a narcissist also. Do people on the autism spectrum appear to be narcissists, or could both conditions appear in the same person? It is so sad, because it does feel like she wants to be loved and even cherished, but doesn’t have any idea how to love or cherish others. The only question that she has ever asked me about myself is “What did you do/are you going to do today?” Even that question is rare. Usually she only talks about herself. And, I have come to understand that her asking me what I am doing is only to guilt me into saying that I will do something with/for her. But I feel so cruel to not give her the time/attention that she longs for as she is quite elderly.

Gregg - April 4, 2021 Reply

What happens when both people in the couple suffer from CEN, but one of them won’t admit it, and refuses marriage counseling?

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    If your partner isn’t willing to work on things, it makes sense to focus on yourself, Gregg. The stronger you become yourself, emotionally, the better choices you can make for yourself. But it does make sense to keep trying with your partner until you’re sure there’s no chance of reaching them at all.

Juan - April 4, 2021 Reply

Dr. Jonice
It is a pleasure to have someone like you at hand, in this matters .
It helps alot!
I am Juan . From Bogota,Colombia S.A
Thak you!

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    I’m glad, Juan!

Amy - April 4, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice- After reading some of your online postings I purchased and read “running on empty” cover to cover. I am sure I had CEN growing up and also recently discovered what is known as high sensitivity. I have a very busy (work from home) schedule right now but I’ve been attempting to name and write what I’m feeling each night before bed, I’m completely at a loss. I just don’t seem to be feeling anything other than pressure to get to bed on time in the hope of getting enough sleep. Can you suggest anything that might help me start feeling? I’ve been doing this each night for over two weeks.

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Amy, try mixing it up and checking in with yourself at other times of the day. And use the Feelings Word List in the back of the book to help you learn words to help label them.

Olivia - April 4, 2021 Reply

I have noticed however that when I do share my feelings with someone, it does tend to make them run away or at least back away from me, with a confused and shocked look. This has happened quite a lot so I am even more wary of sharing feelings.

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Olivia, great work learning to share your feelings. it is very important how you share your feelings. Learning how to say things in a way that other people can take it in is an additional skill to work on.

    Stephen - April 9, 2021 Reply

    I have seen this look many times. I just recently told my friend I have known for 22 years (since 10) that my childhood was pretty messed up and a few ‘light’ examples and he said “Jesus Christ dude, I had no idea…” and I feel like he didn’t really know what to say, but I didn’t need him to say anything it just felt like I had been hiding a HUGE part of myself for a long time because I was ashamed of it, but that may have felt like a betrayal from his perspective… Idk, sometimes I feel like a jaded old wise man in a young man’s body and it’s hard to relate to people my age. I don’t need to vent or let it out as much anymore, I have processed more of my past and it’s not happening right now anymore. So, instead I try to explain my behaviors and weird vestigial traits from my dysfunctional past a little bit at a time and with discretion. I have only ever met a few people that ‘get it’. I think that most people can’t understand our perspective or upbringing; we may get a little sympathy but rarely empathy. Telling the wrong person too much at the wrong time can change their opinion of you and be a pretty awkward experience… My sister is one of the only people who understands where I am coming from because we came from the same place. My ex told me on our second date that her parents were alcoholics and she had lost one at 17 and the other at 21 and that I was one of the only people who didn’t look at her with sadness, pity, confusion, or judgement that others usually had. Unfortunately people can see someone as damaged, weak and vulnerable if they have a lot of hurt and betrayal in their past and usually that person doesn’t have a supportive family so they think that damaged or CEN person might place too much importance on the new relationship and thus without doing anything, unintentionally scare the person away. Which is what I think happened to my ex because she was a catch and very extroverted and went on lots of dates before me but not much more because she said guys would literally say they were “too afraid of hurting her more”… so she didn’t even get a chance at deep connection because people were too afraid of how she was hurt in the past and it might get too intense or something… so I was her first real BF at 34.

Kobi - April 4, 2021 Reply

I think it is true that as CEN persons, we may have others in our lives who are not able to handle our emotional experiences. What I am enjoying is getting to know that it does not mean that we are wrong to reach out. And maybe those others in our lives don’t necessarily need to get the heave-ho, but that we take their emotional maturity into account as a condition of the relationship. That is so much better than letting their issues make you feel like you are wrong to express yourself! And also if you can see it for what it is, then you get to make informed choices about how you involve this person in your life.

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Kobi, yes, yes, yes.

    Chrisw - April 5, 2021 Reply

    Fantastic comment, yes!

Tracy - April 4, 2021 Reply

I read this list, and it seems right on for me. I wanted to comment on Lisa’s thoughts, not to criticize, but to offer my perspective. I noticed that at the beginning Dr Webb said that the CEN survivor/family of origin can both under AND over share, clearly, this was true for me. My UNDERSHARING, “be self sufficient!” family gave me the set of rules that are on this list. I began to understand the forces that shaped me as I was dealing with the emotional and financial devastation of having married a sociopath, I thought, “How did we (my children and I) get here!? There has to be a better way!” I was prone to overshare in an effort to be honest, and honor my injuries (“I’m fine” is the mantra of the Midwestern immigrant culture I was born in. It is beautiful and strong in many ways, but flawed, too.) Understanding and unlearning ‘the rules’, I came to appreciate the difference between seeking acceptance and approval EXTERNAL to myself, and getting that validation from WITHIN, which translates to authentically learning to self sooth and not just a self-imposing a siege mentality where I was locked behind the safety of an emotional fortress – openness vs. closed-ness. I am learning that I can survive the terror and isolation of being vulnerable until I find someone who is safe to share it with… a process of discernment rather than differentiation. This has meant learning to trust that I can hold the pain, fear and uncertainty until I find someone I trust. This is hard: I don’t DENY that I hurt or pretend that I HANDLE it alone, only that I am strong enough to HOLD it alone and keep living until I find that safe place. It’s like swimming in the water with a great white shark, sometimes… but I trust I keep if keep swimming, CONSCIOUSLY choosing my path, I will find what I need. Goodness knows, that I was MISERABLE at identifying these people at first, but as I have calmed the panic driven desperation to connect with someone, ANYONE, and learned to reassure the wounded part of me that can only be in the NOW by accepting that although I am feeling completely overwhelmed, this too shall pass. And to accept that I can survive my mistakes… each “unsafe” person offers great lessons about how NOT to choose people. Simply asking myself “what do I need? What does that situation/person look like? How will I know? What in me communicates to THEM that I am safe?” I am getting better, and have started to find my tribe… rare birds, indeed, but a little more common than 0.05%! Best to you all, and thank you, Dr Webb

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us, Tracy.

    Brie - April 6, 2021 Reply

    Hi Tracy, your comment is v helpful for me.
    I know about emotional dumping (over sharing or over behaving) as well as being zipped up and fine.
    I love your ideas about learning that I can manage without sharing everything and it’s my choice. I am strong not weak to manage, to think of what I need and to act on that.
    That’s the habit I need to cultivate.

Vheryl - April 4, 2021 Reply

It is unfortunate that some people who cannot parent become parents. And maybe they cannot parent because of
their parents behavior and/or lack of family values. It is often how a life is ruined from it’s very start. Not having the ability to parent should not be something to be ashamed of. It is just acceptance of how one grew up and concern for their own behavior. I have friends who decided not to have children because of their own difficult childhood as they are afraid to perpetuate the behavior they were subject to. I had the best intentions to have my own family, but I married, a person who is exactly like my mother, without realizing it until it was too late and after counseling. Two children in and you find out your married to a person who thinks only of themself. As long as they are happy, that is all that matters. I guess the behavior is familiar so you respond as your familiar, even comfortable with it. Making another feel cared for, never mine loved is not on their radar! It is all about them. Today in general, in the U.S. life has become quite difficult just to survive each day because as a politically managed country we do not prioritize the importance of the quality of our citizens’ lives. Quality of life is everything. And you should not have to be rich to experience it! Being intelligent, working hard, doesn’t matter when your own society is working against your success. They just allow immigrants to come into the place you lived all your life, where you were born, and the place you worked so hard to live in/sustain and replace you in the workforce with those who work cheaper and throw you away. No conscience. No values. The new America! Just like how families behave…..get someone new and different, so they can look important to someone new, or desperate. Throw away a thinking, breathing person, hard working person so you can get one who is willing to put up with you! All victimization! It starts in society. America, like american families are predatory. No responsibility to those they are suppose to be responsible to. Sad but true. You notice, the Germans, Danes, Swedes, Fins, Norse, and many other people from afar do not come to America. For they have a quality of life in their homeland they can relate to. But I as an American have no country. Because my country is everything to anybody…..even those who expect an American to be sacrificed for their comfort.

GWOR - April 4, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice , maybe it is my age in my seventies , closing my businesses after 45 years, all social meetings from charity work to recreational and professional meetings now Cancelled but sort of virtual and still keeping in touch by phone to hear a voice or mostly vs email much less personal this COVID19 since March 2020 almost like two years being April 2021 now going forward without any consistencies people need for direction and now have turned inward to save self first and outward is fenced in by the lockdown or it seems locked up rules in those communities with the higher numbers of infection.

The sense I am getting there is a big People time out until the vaccines give some sense of security and the scary part is the governments seem to seize on our freedoms in ways I am having trouble reconciling as fair but more about being under their ownership and control .

Frankly the narrative since learning and reading your so value added info looking for solutions it seems the personal connecting & caring is being suppressed and now is the time to reach out both within and without to find a sense of balance to a normality we once enjoyed even in troubling

Thank-you for reaching out to us Jonice !

The gov’t pablum is hard to swallow, choking and worrisome as the new new of this is the way it is and losing the relationships developed over the years as lockdown is like a lockup in one’s own domicile it is your caring and sharing to keep the lights on Jonice to all that comforts and gives each individual some room for hope and balance .

You are like the sun rising in the East and it’s magnificence brightly settling in the West a new day is coming tomorrow to stay in the light no matter the weather overhead or overheard .

Once we if we return to a sense of normal have an uphill battle because this overwhelming sense of being controlled is not part of the freedom those who came before fought and died for so yes it seems like a time out and what we need during these incoming eight months is more light and warmth of the self and it is a “ time in” for each other to reconnect with self first and others in emphatic caring as the vaccines give us a sense of more security and the freedom to do so.

The question is will our governments let it go so we can? Not sure they will Jonice .

This is really my concern going forward they will not, liking the control and the rules . And It makes it hard for anyone to have control of one’s own personal outcomes first daily when the sense is the skies are metaphorically dark cloudy & grey when light is what we need to see and find our direction(s) forward .

Do keep your enlightenment incoming Jonice.
If we forget to say thank you then be assured we are saying thank you in the most heartfelt of ways to keep the lights turned on.
GWOR & thank- you 04/042021

Pam - April 4, 2021 Reply

7 thumbs up. I appreciate the good work you are doing.

Rae - April 4, 2021 Reply

I imagine the journey from an emotionally neglected childhood to an emotionally abusive relationship with a partner is a fairly common path. While the above beliefs may be false, simply calling them out as such when it is all many of us have every experienced isn’t helpful.

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Rae, I did give you the actual truths as well. Perhaps you can work toward embracing them.

Marnie - April 4, 2021 Reply

I can’t have any relationships, not even friendships, because I can’t trust anyone. I have tried ‘opening up, ‘ sharing my feelings etc. and nothing has changed. I have been alone for decades. I can’t feel emotionally close to anyone. I don’t know how to learn to trust others.

    Jonice - April 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Marnie, our feelings about others often reflect how we feel about ourselves. Perhaps you could try sharing your feelings with yourself and working on trusting yourself. Just a suggestion to think about.

sarah - August 5, 2015 Reply

well these 7 signs perfectly held out for those where the two of the people in a relationship agrees to counter a problem together, in my case i am the one who is willing but my partner’s absolute reluctance is makin situation worst…

Cate - August 5, 2015 Reply

Yes this is definitely contingent on having the right people in your life. So I guess if you’re made to feel like a burden, you’ve got the wrong ones.

Joe C. - August 5, 2015 Reply

Numbers 3-7 are false, because 99.9% of people are untrustworthy.

Karma - August 5, 2015 Reply

This article describes my Husband to a T. He keeps his feelings to himself, walks away from conflict, does a lot of things for me (action) when I am feeling down when what I really need is emotional support. Always says he is “ok” when it’s obvious he is not. Also, he is majorly passive aggressive, which I believe ties into this article. Now, I have read a lot about passive aggressive types and I read this article and everything I have read says that both of these stems from a childhood where emotion is suppressed in some way. When I ask my Husband if he felt afraid or unable to express his emotions when he was growing up, he says “no”. I am wondering if he just doesn’t realize it, doesn’t want to tell me, or if all this stems from something else. I think it would help for him to know why he feels this way.

Lisa - August 5, 2015 Reply

But what if these beliefs are true? While you make mention of making sure the people you share your feelings with are capable of handling it, you neglect to talk about the very real possibility that the people in your life cannot cope with emotions, just like you. It is possible to burden others with our emotions. We cannot necessarily expect others to validate our feelings or to be there for us emotionally. We must learn to self validate & self soothe as needed. It’s called differentiation.

    Jonice Webb PhD - August 5, 2015 Reply

    Hi Lisa, actually differentiation is from your parents, not your friends or spouse. I agree with you, yes it’s important to be able to soothe and support and love yourself. But we also all need other people. Our relationships and friendships can make us stronger and help us grow, and in my article I’m trying to help all who grew up neglected to see and experience the value of healthy connections. I hope this makes sense. Thanks for your comment!

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