9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

happy family holidays

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) permeates your everyday life. And there are some situations that can make CEN struggles even more present and challenging. One of them is the holiday season.

Notice the picture accompanying this post. I chose it for a special reason, and I want to start by apologizing for it. It is a perfect example of the pressure society puts on everyone throughout the holiday season. Commercials, ads, and images abound which show warm, happy families or beautiful people smiling with gifts.

Be joyous!

Be merry!

We’re a loving, close family!

The pictures call out to us day after day.

As a specialist in Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), I see how this affects many people. There is no time of year when folks are under this much pressure to feel. And even more challenging: you’re supposed to feel happy.

I have followed many emotionally neglected people through many holiday seasons, and I have seen how they often experience them. Under pressure to feel, the holidays can seem vaguely disappointing and burdensome for those who grew up emotionally neglected.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents raise you in a way that does not pay enough attention to your emotions. Childhood Emotional Neglect leaves you with a particular set of struggles within yourself, and also with your family, throughout your adult life.

As you read the list of special challenges below, I encourage you to think about yourself and whether each one applies to you. Knowing and thinking about these challenges before they happen, or as they are happening, will help you minimize their effects on you this holiday season and beyond. First, let’s talk about the general effects of growing up with your emotions ignored.

Year-Round Struggles of the CEN Person

  • You feel deeply that something is not right with you. But you have problems understanding what’s wrong or why.
  • Your emotions are walled off, making it hard to experience the depth of feelings that other people have.
  • Being out of touch with your feelings makes your relationships seem less rewarding, leaving you feeling, on some level, alone.
  • You naturally put other people’s feelings and needs before your own.
  • You are prone to getting angry at yourself and blaming yourself.

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

  1. It makes your tendency to put others first even more exaggerated. When your parents failed to notice your feelings and emotional needs in your childhood, they give you the message that your feelings and needs are unimportant. This plays out powerfully during the holidays when you are prone to be too worried about making other people happy, and not paying enough attention to yourself.
  2. It can make you feel even more alone. With your feelings walled off, it is hard to connect with other people on a deep and meaningful emotional level. During the holiday season, you feel the expectations of the season. Portrayals of loving, warm families gathered around a fire, candles or a Christmas tree make you feel even more acutely what is missing in your own. 
  3. You are vulnerable to missing out on what matters the most. Lacking full access to your own emotions has another effect. It can result in you going all the way through the holidays focusing on gifts, decorations, and pleasing others instead of the feeling part of the experience. This is also something that is very hard to realize in yourself because it’s difficult to know what you are missing.
  4. You are prone to the Holiday Trap: Looking forward to your family holiday event and then feeling disappointed and let down. Emotionally neglectful families often can appear perfectly normal from the outside. So you are vulnerable to expecting to feel happy and connected with your people, only to feel the lack of true emotional connection when you see them. This can lead to a roller-coaster experience: happy, excited expectations followed by a disappointing letdown.
  5. Being around your family continues your CEN. If your parents emotionally neglected you in your childhood, chances are high that they are still doing so. You will feel it when you see them for the holidays, and probably you will feel it even more when surrounded by the trappings of the holidays. This is one of the main causes of the disappointment described above.
  6. Once you’re aware of CEN it makes you see your parents and siblings differently. Seeing Emotional Neglect in your family changes how you view your birth family in some powerful ways. You begin to see that what seemed benign before is actually hurtful and harmful to you. This may make you feel angry or frustrated with them.
  7. The pressure to be joyous makes you feel lacking. CEN makes it hard to feel as intensely as others do, and it also makes you prone to feeling empty at times. For many with CEN, the pressure to feel joy makes it even more obvious that something is missing in your life. You may experience the emptiness even more.
  8. Your tendency toward self-anger and self-blame gets triggered. You may feel angry at yourself for overeating, not exercising enough, or for saying something you regret. There are many opportunities to do any or all of these things during the holidays.
  9. You are more likely to find yourself running on empty. Riding the roller-coaster of disappointment, surrounded by family but feeling alone, over-focused on others at the expense of yourself, and out of touch with the energy of your feelings, you are likely to power through the holidays by sheer force of will, all the while growing ever more drained day by day.

What To Do

Although the CEN ship has already sailed through your childhood, it is never too late to turn that ship around. But to do so, you must be proactive. Now that you see what’s been dragging down your holidays for years, you are in a good position to start making things different for yourself.

In the short term, now before the holidays, start treating yourself more as if you matter. Set aside time every single day to do something that nurtures you. Pay attention to the feelings you are having each day, and accept what you feel without judgment. Make sure you get enough rest, healthy food, and fresh air, and spend time with someone you enjoy.

And most importantly, start healing the roots of what’s wrong: your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To get started, Take the CEN Test. It’s free. Then watch my Free CEN Breakthrough Video Series on YouTube!

You deserve a happy holiday season. My warmest holiday wishes to you!

A version of this article first appeared on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
L B - December 29, 2023 Reply

Very insightful. Now I can understand why some people focus too much during the holiday, on how many guests to have over, and always looking to invite more guest, because they think the more the merrier, and that cause a person not able to deal with their own feelings.

Andrew - December 28, 2023 Reply

People are expected to be aggressively happy regardless of what is going on for them and in the world. Not everyone has many people they are close to, all the compulsory cheeriness makes a whole lot of people feel seriously left out

Moa - December 26, 2023 Reply

Hi, I think my mother (she died) was emotionally neglected. That hurts more than possible consequences for her daughters. Maybe you would like to write about that sometime. Thanks 🙂

Joe - January 4, 2022 Reply

Guess I’ve got work to do, I answered yes to every question!

Liz - December 23, 2020 Reply

It was welcome just to see this email and know that there are others in the same boat. What I notice in that pic though is the sparklers the people are holding in that picture. I think that makes it perfect for my remembrances – things look perfect but there are toxic sparks beneath. I was raised by a Narcissist and believe that my other parent is either NPD or just horribly co-dependent. My husband, kids, and I no longer celebrate Christmas and thus avoid the family gatherings and craziness. It doesn’t mean that I don’t totally escape the CEN fallout due to mass mailings from my Christian family during our celebration of Chanukah. We live and let live, I still wish (and pray) they could. May we each find joy and peace in our little corner of the world whatever you are doing right now! Life in of itself should be a celebration. 🙂

    Jonice - December 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear Liz, I can see the complexity of your family layers in what you have written. I’m glad you carved out your own way of life for yourself and your husband and children. It’s a sign of strength in you. And I love your last sentence. Could not agree more. Wishing you Happy Holidays.

Lori - December 20, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,
This article is very timely–although, yes, I admit the photo you chose was a tough one just to look at.
I am a Christian so I celebrate inwardly the real “reason for the season” as they say. But emotionally? I’m a wreck inside. I DREAD the holidays each year!
When I got out of the home where I was sexually abused for years by my stepfather, I remember thinking that “it’s over, from now on I can be happy.” But it isn’t over if it’s not dealt with.
Growing up, I found some joy in giving, and yes, there were some gifts I really enjoyed, times I enjoyed but over all? It felt…FAKE. Why? Because I could COUNT on the fact that Christmas was one of two days per year where I was guaranteed not to be sexually abused. I used to think that was part of my gift from my stepfather but as an adult, I realize as pathetic as that sounds, he was too selfish to think like that. He didn’t hurt me because my mom was there all day and all night since no one worked on Christmas or holidays back then. It felt fake because I’d have to give him a hug and kiss to thank him (and my mom but that was fine, she was safe and loving). It felt fake because grandparents and others that visited later in the day, saw the beautiful tree, the pile of gifts for myself and my siblings, the smiling faces, etc and thought that everything is fine here.
Later, in 1990, my mom finally left my stepfather. A part of me felt guilty because he threatened to withhold financial support–and it was because of me, to punish me for telling. I was on my own by then and when the holidays came I felt I had to “make up for it” and so I bought like 4 or 5 gifts for each person. And have continued to do that even though my siblings are adults, my mom just turned 80, the family has enlarged etc. I can’t do it anymore. My brother doesn’t even wish me Merry Christmas half the time due to his addiction and mental health issues, the family says thanks but it’s like they don’t truly appreciate my effort to ensure THEIR joy at Christmas.
I dread it every year. I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up until the first week of January…
Lori (Velveteen Rabbit from Psych. Central)

    Jonice - December 20, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lori, I encourage you to find the true meaning of the holidays inside yourself. Your parents’ holidays are clearly not yours, and that’s a good thing. You deserve to enjoy the holidays. Look inside yourself and your feeling will help you find what’s meaningful to you. All my best wishes to you this holiday season.

Wanda - December 14, 2020 Reply

I was once told I was a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing. Finding your book is helping me realize what the piece is. I am a classic example of a perfect childhood. Parents who loved each other, 4 siblings, grandparents that lived well into my adulthood, strong holiday traditions that lasted until my dad, the last of the older generation, died at age 95 3 years ago. I was his caregiver so he could stay in his home until he had a stroke which landed him in an assisted living facility. Since then, my siblings exclude me from all family gatherings and news. Example: I was the only “Auntie” blatantly not invited to a nieces wedding in October (I was in the room when she was born 27 years ago). I no longer receive family Christmas cards or pictures or updates on graduations, expecting baby, etc. When I hear through the grapevine that there is a family milestone, I acknowledge the event with a very nice card and gift, small or large depending on the event. Anyway, I am relating to so many things in your book, however, I still can’t seem to understand it all and work through the stuff swirling around in my head. Note: I have three highly educated seemingly well adjusted adult children, 3 darling grandchildren, a lovely home and I recently married a wonderful man who I knew in high school. I internalize my emotions because I haven’t had success talking to anyone (including therapists) I have been told many times in my workplace (I am now retired) I am so compassionate, thoughtful kind and friendly and unflappable. Ha! I am 65 years old. I am grateful for my many blessings and choose joy over sadness. I want internal peace! I follow you as possible.We live in an area with inconsistent internet service. I am at a road block. Planning to commit to self care in 2021! (and re-read your book) Thank you! Stay well!

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear Wanda, thank you for sharing your story. The more work you do on CEN, the more sense it all makes. I love the idea of 2021 being your year of self-care. Keep up the good work!

Kathy - December 14, 2020 Reply

I love reading your emails and find them helpful. I wonder how many of us are also Empaths? It does exacerbate things but also provides a great perspective. You are helping me learn to live well in my own skin, thank you. My late father was a violent sociopath and mother is a codependent, hypochondriac; neither had the slightest clue that children require emotional nurture. At 61, I am learning to flourish in both my super powers and my achilles heel.

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear Kathy, I am so glad to read your description of where you come from and where you’ve reached. This is hard work, and you should be proud of yourself.

    Brittany - December 15, 2020 Reply

    I feel like I’m an empath as well. My struggle is that I feel like understand other people’s emotions very well, but when it comes to my own I struggle and can’t make the connection.
    I would love to hear how CEN and empathic tendencies relate to each other, and how CEN shows up for other empathetic people.

James - December 14, 2020 Reply

I really struggle at this time of year. Society tells me I should be jolly and happy but all i get is worry and despondency. I’m not able to share in the joy that my young children have but am left constantly worrying about upsetting my parents who just trample all over me. They want to be involved in our lives despite not bothering with me as a child and being really rude to my wife. Yet another “Happy” Christmas beckons. Any help is welcome so thank you for your article.

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear James, I have 3 words for you. Boundaries boundaries boundaries. It’s very important for you to protect yourself and your family from your parents. I wrote a lot about this in both of my Running On Empty books, especially the second one, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. I encourage you to read that book and follow the suggestions to protect yourself.

Alan - December 14, 2020 Reply

Good afternoon,

Thanks for this article. It shouted my name from beginning to end and I can totally relate to everything you say. My mood at Xmas is always one of depression. I am beginning to work through the exercises in running on empty with the hope that this year can be different.
Myself and my two brothers were sexually abused by our oldest brother in the 1980s and I now recognise the connection between this and CEN. Unfortunately when we tried to get justice at the high court this year, he was found not guilty or not proven on every charge. I am currently receiving counselling and hope that this will help me move on with my life.

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear Alan, sexual abuse is different from emotional neglect, although I would imagine that you probably experienced both. I’m so glad you are in counseling. I applaud you for your efforts to understand what happened, get perspective, and heal.

Mary - December 14, 2020 Reply

My husband is a 67 year old product of CEN 🙁 (in denial) … I have known this for a lot of years and the holidays are absolutely miserable for him. (little better than 45 years ago when we first married). I used to feel guilty for enjoying the holidays or anything as far as that goes… I came to the conclusion that I unconditionally love him, and I will always be by his side .. It’s not my place to fix him, nor should I. It just really breaks my heart to see him struggling..

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear Mary, here is where boundaries are very important. I encourage you to find your own joy and take great pleasure in your life. Your husband’s decisions need not be yours.

Jo - December 14, 2020 Reply

CEN and grief…….a very peculiar and painful experience. My husband of 48 years was killed tragically in an airplane accident……and I don’t ‘feel’ it. It’s just another abandonment and emotionally bankrupt experience following from neglectful parents and early boarding school. My memories and love for him are just locked in a box in my mind……like “oh yes, my husband was killed” as an expression of fact, but no feeling.

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    I’m so very sorry you’ve had this loss, Jo. I encourage you to work on getting access to your feelings in general. And also to allow a therapist from the Find A CEN Therapist List to help you in the process. All my best wishes you.

BettyS - December 13, 2020 Reply

Also forgot to say, I also have a problem with receiving gifts from my CEN. It sounds so spoilt and #firstworldproblems, but I spent my childhood receiving gifts for a ‘typical pink little girl’ – not me, not my tastes or interests. It demonstrated my parent’s inability to see and understand me (CEN). When I became a teenager I also received cold, impersonal gifts such as a supermarket gift voucher. In my twenties it then progressed to patronising self-help products and teeth whitening kits.

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear Betty, gifts can, sadly, be used in a hurtful way. It sounds like you are aware of what’s missing. I encourage you to give yourself the gift of attention, validation, and support.

    L B - December 29, 2023 Reply

    Very interesting, you just turned on a light bulb in my head.
    Every gift I purchased for someone for the past 22 years, they all had a problem, and it was either returned or never used, and I spent a nice amount of time and effort towards those gifts.

Rosa Flores - December 13, 2020 Reply

I appreciate all of your emails. Super enlightening. I just came back from my father’s birthday lunch and I have never felt so alone in my life. My parents have no knowledge of “who I am” as a person. Time with them (parents) gives me so much anxiety and sadness. Do you have any advice for only children that went through CEN with both parents? As an adult, I am already in therapy but I still feel sad and lonely (because as an only child that’s a real circumstance) with my interactions with my parents.

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Dear Rosa, the best thing you can do is focus on giving yourself what your parents cannot give you: emotional validation and support. And work on your boundaries too. Best wishes to you.

AnnaMarie - December 13, 2020 Reply

I have always wondered why I have looked forward to the holiday season each year and, yet, almost every time I walk away from the holidays feeling disappointed, sad, let down. I have tried lowering my expectations, tried not letting myself feel excited. However, no matter what I do I still experience this let down and emptiness, wondering why I cannot feel positive feelings during the holidays. I had never thought about how CEN might have affected me in this area. Thank you so much for bringing this up. I needed to read this. I am so glad to have this information. Thank you!

    Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Wishing you good holidays, AnnaMarie. I hope this year you’ll be able to adjust your expectations and focus on caring for yourself.

Heidi - December 13, 2020 Reply

What about the person who is a product of CEN and also a highly sensitive person? My inner child feels the feelings of lack and loss so deeply she must shut down to cope in the now. She has no friends for she can trust no one with her feelings. The holidays (or hellidays) longed for are ignored and feelings of being different from others is reality. Withdrawal and a certain pervasive numbness is required to cope. There is no joy. Best day of the year is Jan. 2nd.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    I’m so sorry, Heidi. I hope you find some joy this holiday season, but it’s okay if you don’t. Just focus on self-care, ok?

    Gregg B - December 26, 2023 Reply

    You sound a lot like me, Heidi. I wish you well. I don’t even know where my inner child is. I’m in my mid-60s now and I feel much the same as you do about the holidays. I have multiple psych diagnoses (including CEN) for which I am medicated and in therapy. My wife is also in depression (and CEN), but she denies it. (We’re both adult children of alcoholics, which just makes matters worse.) She and our daughters are somewhat estranged. They’re fine with me, so there’s a good thing.
    The holidays weren’t so bad when our daughters were younger, but they’re grown and gone. I don’t feel much of anything during the holiday season anymore, partly because I had to work them which made celebrations difficult.
    Our oldest lives nearby with her blended family, but we hardly see them. Three of the five grandkids are usually with the ex’s for major holidays. Two are college students and the others are in high school.
    This year, we invited them over for Christmas Eve dinner and got turned down at the last minute. They invited us over for a couple of hours on Christmas Day to eat some takeout food and watch a holiday movie. Our youngest and SIL live a few hours away and have obligations that will prevent them from visiting until January. No other family locally.
    So that’s a typical Christmas for us anymore. It’s been decades since I had a enjoyable, “fun” Christmas.
    I only have a couple of friends here, none deep enough that I could talk to about this. So, I somehow get through the season every year.

Krystal - December 13, 2020 Reply

Your messages help me so much thank you for continuing to send them! They are very comforting esp during these times when I’m feeling so alone. My parents both had CEN issues and my husband of 34 years is a narcissist who I am unable to be close to.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Krystal, I’m glad to be helpful. I hope you’ll work on reclaiming your own feelings and using them to empower and care for yourself.

Penny - December 13, 2020 Reply

Hi Dr Webb
Your words of experience in the understanding of CEN is extremely invaluable & validating for someone who has always come up against the wall of parental invalidation. It has been such a test of inner strength throughout my life to fight on without actually knowing that the way I am actually is actually not something I chose myself but the outcome of historical emotional neglect running through the maternal side of my family, but because I understand that my mums parenting of me is due to her mum & my nannas is due to her father I have some sort of forgiveness due to the love & compassion I have for my nanna. I really appreciate the information you put out there it helps me work through my journey of healing……thank you

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Penny, seeing the line of CEN from past generations helps to understand it better, for sure. I encourage you to do everything you can to heal.

Maria - December 13, 2020 Reply

Thank you dr. Jonice Webb, you are inspiring me to be more aware of CEN questions and making reflections on them. I appreciate.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    I’m so glad, Maria. Happy holidays to you.

kathy - December 13, 2020 Reply

I sort of knew that I had childhood emotional neglect from my parents but after finding this website, I am more convinced.

My parents did not encourage sharing emotions and hid every problem from us. My parent would always ask me “why do you lie to us” but I never learned how to express myself so I lied. But now I know that they lied to us so that is where I learned it. All my childhood I thought I was the liar and blamed myself for everything. So when I went out in the real world I did not know how to deal with problems. When I had my first argument with a boyfriend I thought that meant the relationship was over because my parents hid all arguments and emotions from us. We were encouraged to suck it up and deal with it. Or as my Father says “I didn’t have any help so why should you”

I know they both had a very hard childhood but unfortunately that was evident in the way they raised my Sister and I.

My Father hid his smoking from us our entire childhood and teenage years even though we knew he smoked because he stunk and we would find cigarettes in the garage and basement. He tries to hide it even now and if we tell him we know he smokes and its ok to smoke just stop hiding it from us because we know he gets angry and swears at us.

Now he has dementia from all his years of smoking so his behaviour is getting worse. He is lying to us and he is giving money to strangers and tell us that we are the liars not him.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Kathy, you deserved and still deserve so much better. Please do not let your father’s poor choices feel like they are yours. They are not. You decide who you want to be, and you do not need to hold your father’s pain. It’s his and his alone.

    Angelika - December 14, 2020 Reply

    Hi Kathy- Thank you for sharing your story- your words paint a vivid picture. I noticed your comment about how the smoking caused his dementia- and I would agree it sure didn’t help but I feel like the lying is what really causes the dementia.

    My parents were full of lies and coverups. I believe they were lies my Dad created and my Mom had to live by. And, at some point the stress of the lies and the lack of being authentic and all the hiding and dodging and avoiding to keep the lies going was the source of her eventual dementia. She was frought with anxiety and depression by the time I was an adult.

    People be ware of what you agree to at 30 because by 70 the weight of prison you’ve built for yourself is no longer bearable.

    Some earlier comments on this thread were about gifts from the parents who created out CEN childhoods.

    Very painful memories of my parents not “knowing” who I am. In third grade I selected my own gift because my Mom couldn’t handle it- she had no idea how to select a lunch box for a third grade daughter- really? I even had to wrap it myself and the act surprised and happy when I opened it. Just how aloof and Unpresent would a mom have to be to fail this tiny test.
    My Dad a giant narcissist and hunter constantly gave me Men’s hunting gear, binoculars, a rifle, men’s Pendleton woolen hunting shirts for years- not women’s versions but rather in men’s sizes. I was a women’s size 8 and he disregarded that detail. He couldn’t be bothered to be that exacting or even apparently set foot in the women’s section- he disregarded that detail. This went from like age 15 to 30 that he gave me men’s wear- and most years I would remind him that I was a woman. But if I, in any way rejected, or expressed disappointment with his gift, he would pout and become offended. The last thing you as a CEN child want to cause at a family holiday is a scene of any sort because the whole thing is hanging by a tiny thin little thread and if you damage that you’ve got nothing. And, all of Christmas can plunge into the dark abyss and swallow your soul whole away with it. It was that fragile and that important.

    Thanks for listening.

      Jonice - December 14, 2020 Reply

      Dear Angelika, the kind of emotional neglect you describe is the kind that threatens your very sense of personhood. I hope you will go forward to give yourself everything your parents couldn’t or didn’t. You deserve to be seen, heard, and known. And loved and cherished.

Makuye - December 13, 2020 Reply

Yes, nolidays have always seemed empty, unless for the many seasons of warmthe and love occurring in the rehearsals and performances of the ballet “The Nurtcracker” ,where so many loving people of most ages got together to work and share the higher emotions and creativity.
Awakening early this morning, my mind was flooded with those years and decades when real feelings permeated holidays and familial feelings.
Only my grandmother had ever come and seen us dance, a life of physical and romantic expression, encompassing all feelings.
I had gifted my sisters’ children with tickets, but as everyone begins to recognise, CEN is passed from generation to generation, spreading through immediate families into extended choices of mates, creating entire cultures of absent, dismissive individuals, never fulfilled.
Even teaching and interacting with families of young aspirants and dancers, it was clear this dissociation of so many, this rotten, diminishing fruit of Emotional Neglect, often replaced only with competitive jealousy.
Famed dancers fell, from inability either to deal with loving emotions in real life, or family avoidance.
Undercurrents of sorrow, swirling at the edges of lives, broken and desperate, all due to the walls and impasses, the gulfs between the people sensitive to our need for openness, and those who live lives of stone edifices, of their own making.

I speak to my mother, married at sixteen, now elder, sequestered by COVID. She had so long looked at the world as harsh, cold, able to respond only at last without the fear of intimacy constantly generated by nearly all in her extended family.
Tragedy was important in ancient plays, to help educate communities about the darkness of emotional neglect, and its replacement by truly antisocial, divisive , petty, resentments, exploding into irreparable and even violent sundering of lives and life.

Love expressed is more important than fame, wealth, status. All those final three are, in reality, are desperate attempts to fill those dark gulf with nothing more than fog, evanescence.

In the distance, courage, love. Yet right there, bridged with words of emotional truth.

Only the first step is impossibly hard, for those who had never learned or seen others rise to walk.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Makuye, thank you for sharing your beautiful sentiments with us.

Pat - December 13, 2020 Reply

I have a painful memory from a Christmas as an adult…My husband kids and I went home for Christmas and spent it with my family. My husband never bought Christmas presents so I had bought my own and wrapped them and labelled them from him to me….because I didn’t want my parents to know that he hadn’t bought me anything for Christmas….when we had all opened our presents, I noticed that there was nothing from my parents…( for the first time ever )….I can’t quite remember how this became known…but my mom was the Christmas present buyer….she tried to recover by saying that she had a perfume set that she was going to give one of the people who worked for her, and she said I could have that! And then sent me into her bedroom to get it! I did and then went over and thanked her! ( All the whole inwardly gritting my teeth, and feeling worth nothing!) So getting, ( or not getting) presents is a huge trigger for me, especially at Christmas….I must tell you that since learning about codependency and CEN, I now understand my parents much better and have forgiven them….having since discovered that they grew up in a codependent and emotionally neglected environment themselves…( and which I have also unknowingly perpetrated on my own children)….

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Pat, that sounds very painful. I’m so sorry it happened to you. And yes, I know how you feel, CEN is no one’s fault. It just silently passes down through generations. I hope you will do your best to heal your CEN. It will trickle down to your children as well.

Lexi - December 13, 2020 Reply

I cannot thank you enough for these regular emails. It’s like you know are able to describe what I am experiencing and how I am feeling in times when I can’t identify what’s wrong – starting to learn that “what’s wrong” isn’t me, but the circumstances built by CEN. This holiday season so far has been particularly anxiety provoking and I really needed this email today. Thank you Dr Webb.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    I’m glad to be helpful to you, Lexi.

Kobi - December 13, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice, I like a lot of what you have to say, but ignoring the fact that many of us are alone this season makes this post seem a little tone deaf, and I know that is not your intention.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    Hi Kobi, for most CEN people, the feeling of being alone is more of a problem than whether one is actually alone. CEN folks can feel lonely with or without other people around. I certainly did not intend to make anyone feel worse, ever. Thank you for your comment.

Christi - December 13, 2020 Reply

Thank you doctor for helping me to make a decision and offer this book to my parents as a Christmas gift. I’ve started talking about this with them, but I’m repeatedly interrupted by their protests. Now I’m more concerned with me & my voice. At the same time I really wish that my parents actually understood and/or accept CEN. I hope to have a captive audience as they learn about the message I’m sharing.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    That’s a nice idea, Christi! You can provide them with the information, but it will be up to them whether they can do anything with it. I know it’s so hard.

Barbara - December 13, 2020 Reply

Both my husband and I have CEN. He has ACOA trauma and ptsd from an extremely abusive childhood and abandonment by his mother when he was 3. At age 55 he fell apart , some would call it a midlife crisis. Our marriage was destroyed by his behaviour. We are attempting to reconcile but his avoidant attachment will never allow intimacy or a connection I long for. I could never form a connection with my mother who will only ever talk about the weather etc and has repeatedly rejected any attempt I have made . I have pursued my mother all my life and have never received what I needed from her. After much therapy , I have accepted she will never be able to be what I need and I have found peace with that. But, here I am longing desperately for that connection with an avoidant , fearful, shame filled husband . I am l am learning ( again) that I will not get what I so desperately want from him either. Finding ways to accept this or leave a 35 year marriage seems my only 2 choices. Maybe there is a third option I am not aware of. This an extremely painful way to live. Thanks for all you do.

    Jonice - December 13, 2020 Reply

    I am very sorry about your dilemma, Barbara. I am in the process of creating a CEN online training program for couples. I’m hoping that some folks who are in your position will be able to take it, with or without their reluctant spouses, and find help and solace. Take care.

Xcinia - December 10, 2018 Reply

Now that I have figured out that I have CEN and my parents probably had it and also my mother shows a lot of narcissistic tendencies, I look back at my childhood with completely different eyes. At the present when I look back I feel very frightened by this new knowledge and a great deal of anger toward my mother. She and I cannot have any deep, meaningful conversations and with my newfound knowledge, I’m starting to see how much she lied to me and still does. When I’m away from her I am not triggered, but even on the phone triggers abound because I really want to be able to speak my truth to her, but she will not hear it.
I’m starting to have an inner dialogue with my inner (still very fearful invisible) child and working on helping her better by being more mindful of what I’m feeling and eating. Emotional eating has been there for over 50 years, so it is a difficult road right now.
Thank you so much for your continued articles, Dr Webb. Every time I read one and do some more work, I feel an infinitesimal crack in the wall.

    Jonice - December 10, 2018 Reply

    I absolutely love this sentence Xcinia: “I’m starting to have an inner dialogue with my inner (still very fearful invisible) child and working on helping her better by being more mindful of what I’m feeling and eating.” It is so important. You deserve far more than your mother could ever give you. Now is your time. Keep up the good work!!

    KW - December 13, 2018 Reply

    I’m right there with you, Xcinia! Are you me? 😛

      NW hiker - December 13, 2020 Reply

      Xcinia and KW,
      Add me to your group. Totally the same.
      Thank you Jonice for all of your insights.

    BettyS - December 13, 2020 Reply

    @Xcinia I feel you! I could have written this post myself. I feel like once I realised I had experienced CEN, I feel so much anger towards my mother. Her possible narcissistic traits make her utterly unable to accept that she is anything other than a perfect mother. She gas-lights me when I have tried to have a discussion with her, she tells me I should be medicated and I need to go to therapy. She makes me feel like a burden. I have panic attacks before meeting her, and cry following almost every interaction with her (including phone as you say). It is very triggering to observe her CEN tendencies with our new perspective. I also love Dr Webb’s articles and I am going to buy the book as I have work to do with my inner child too to move beyond the blame and bitterness towards my mother. I need to grieve for the mother I needed. Bleugh.

      ClaraL - December 13, 2020 Reply

      @BettyS – I have a mother just like yours and feel your pain. @PJ – that could be my father too… To compound having two parents affected by CEN, my first boyfriend was a narcissist sociopath… I often wonder how I made it to 45 years old, married with three kids! I buried my pain deep inside until a recent burnout at work, and I couldn’t understand why my usual strong self was now crumbling. My therapist was the one who made me aware of CEN, and it’s like opening the blinds and flooding my mind with light and understanding. I have just started my ‘reparenting’ journey, but I have hope I will progress. Thank you Dr for all your good work. And thanks to Covid, and staying at home away from my parents, this is one Christmas that will be less stressful!!!

PJ - December 9, 2018 Reply

My father was kind and generous sometimes but also had a vicious temper which could be triggered by inconsequential things. It seemed to worsen with the holidays. If triggered the silent treatment was used against the offfender while he pretended you didn’t exist. He became outwardly kinder to the rest of the family to increase the pain. We all walked on eggshells. I have felt dread every Christmas related to the family gathering as an adult. My therapist and I have been working together since May 2015 when my father died. I can feel, identify the feelings, and this past year emotional incest was identified as a root cause of my anxiety. I see my family of origin very differently now. It is making me a little more outspoken. Two good things have come from this….I have built a strong, honest trusting relationship with my therapist so I feel safe for the first time, he is 78 and really cool. Second my husband of 30 years and two sons live in a happy, relaxed home a safe haven

    Jonice - December 9, 2018 Reply

    Dear PJ I applaud you for doing the great work you are doing. And I’m sure it will pay off for you through the holiday season.

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