A Secret Cause & Cure For Social Anxiety

socially anxious

The Fatal Flaw: A deeply buried, un-nameable sense that:

Something is wrong with me. I am missing some vital ingredient that other people have. I am set apart, different. I don’t quite fit in anywhere.

Fortunately, the Fatal Flaw is not as bad as it sounds, because it’s not a real flaw. Instead, it’s something far more powerful than a flaw. It’s a feeling.

Legions of people walk this earth held back by something which they cannot understand, and for which they have no words. It’s a feeling with the power to hold brilliant men back from achieving their full potential and powerful women back from becoming presidents of companies. It’s a feeling that will not break you, but it will dog you. It will keep you standing alone at the PTA meeting, or sitting pretending to work while others chat freely at a conference. Unaddressed, it can set you apart so that you feel alone, and gradually wear away your connection to the world.

The Fatal Flaw

The Fatal Flaw is a product of the invisible, subtle powerful force, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

Children who grow up in households where their feelings are ignored or discouraged push their emotions down and away, to adapt. As adults, they lack access to their own feelings, which are a vital source of richness and connection in life. Deep down, they sense something missing in them that other people have (it’s their emotions). These two results combine to form this un-nameable sense of being different, of not fitting in, of being alone and out of place; a perfect breeding ground for social anxiety.

Because its source is so invisible, many people who grew up with CEN are completely unaware, and so many with the Fatal Flaw are completely unaware. It is, in fact, your lack of awareness that gives the Fatal Flaw so much power over you.


“We’re invited to the neighborhood barbecue!” Donald’s wife Barbara says excitedly to him. They just moved into the area, and she is happy about the opportunity to meet their new neighbors. “Oh, that’s nice honey,” Donald says back. But in fact, he is cringing inside. Secretly, he is making a plan to schedule a long meeting at work that afternoon so that he will not have to attend…

Now meet Donald again. It is two years later, and he has worked on his CEN and has become aware of his Fatal Flaw:

Barbara and Donald just walked into the Johnsons’ anniversary party. They only know a few people there. Donald stands uncomfortably next to Barbara while she introduces herself to some guests. He fights the urge to excuse himself and flee the room. “I feel that I don’t fit in here, but I know that it’s not true,” he thinks to himself. “It’s not real, it’s just a feeling. It’s my Fatal Flaw.” Donald takes a deep breath and puts out his hand because he knows that as soon he puts warmth out there, it will flow back to him. And his Fatal Flaw will be neutralized for the remainder of this party.

If you have the Fatal Flaw, there are four things that you can do that will quickly and effectively put you in control of your social discomfort.

4 Ways To Take Control of Your Fatal Flaw

  1. Recognize that your social anxiety is not based upon reality, but only on a feeling. You feel you don’t belong, but it is not actually true. Don’t give the feeling so much power.
  2. Start trying to get in touch with your emotions, in general. This will begin to break through your CEN barrier and help you tap into the rich source of connection and belongingness that other people enjoy.
  3. Tell someone close to you about your Fatal Flaw, so that they can help you by reminding and supporting you in social situations.
  4. Prepare yourself before every social occasion. Close your eyes, and walk yourself through it in your mind. Imagine yourself at the gathering, behaving warmly and confidently. Remind yourself that you are worthy and that you matter.

Repeat to yourself often the words that Donald used:

I feel that I don’t fit in here, but I know that it’s not true. It’s not real, it’s only a feeling. It’s just my Fatal Flaw.

To learn more about the Fatal Flaw, CEN, and how to overcome it, see Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

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


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Frenchy - September 2, 2023 Reply

Hi, I read this article with great interest. I too have that feeling of being an outsider all through my life, especially when surrounded by people, who I perceive as all being so much better than me.

I have a question though. Does CEN create more fear in adulthood?

For instance, I feel almost constant anxiety, fear and worry when my pet is sick. I can’t sleep or eat properly, and I just always think and think, and worry. In normal people, I don’t think they feel this level of anxiety. I’ve booked a vet appointment, but this experience has made me wonder why I’m so abnormal. I wish to feel like a secure adult who can tackle issues in life instead of feeling like a wreck.

Can anyone else relate?

Thanks !

KEW - March 14, 2021 Reply

Thank you, this explains a lot about who I am and why I am this way. The pandemic has been blissful in many ways due to the lack of social interaction but I know I am capable of overcoming my fatal flaw.

    Jonice - March 21, 2021 Reply

    Yes, you are capable, Kew. The key is to be persistent and don’t give up.

Maria - March 13, 2021 Reply

Thank you dr. Jonice Webb for all your insipring, motivating, supporting expertises, professional articles, and realcases helping transforming the awarnes . I experience much anxiety you help me to find out the sense of it. Now I know it is a ground anxiety. Your words the sense is not reality .. are just feelings. I like this affirmation I am worthy and I matter it gives so much power.I appreciate.

Pamela - March 9, 2021 Reply

I feel that way with my husband. I’ve always felt that way in public but now my husband who was a mama‘s boy now tells me I’m too domineering into controlling. I suffered emotional neglect from both parents and then physical abuse from a stepparent and two uncles and stepbrother along with sexual abuse. I’ve never felt so out of place in my life because I don’t understand why my husband ignores me not come close to me he only kisses me good night. There’s been nothing between us for over 10 years probably 15 years other than being roommates and it feels like being with my dad all over again. It just stresses me out and I financially can’t afford to leave him.

    Jonice - March 13, 2021 Reply

    Dear Pamela, I urge you to find a professional CEN therapist to talk this through. You deserve some help and support to sort through this. Please go to the HELP tab of this website and look for a CEN therapist near you.

Lety - March 9, 2021 Reply

I have a very difficult time in social gatherings. When I’m there I see everyone chatting, laughing, caring on interesting conversations. I ask myself why can’t I do that?
When I do have a conversation with someone I can’t look at them in the eye or carry a conversation for very long. I feel social anxiety kicking in. I feel like going home soon after I arrive.
I am 58 years old and I still cannot seem to overcome this.

    Jonice - March 9, 2021 Reply

    Dear Lety, I recommend you pay more attention to your feelings in general, not just anxiety. What are you feeling as you go through your day? When you understand the world of emotions better you are able to understand the context and flow of conversations and relationships in a new way.

Nicky - March 8, 2021 Reply

These articles, including this one, that you have written, feel like they have been written specifically for me, except what was done to me was intentional! My mother hated me and was jealous of me recieving more attention and affection from our family members than and was afraid she would be denied their affection now that I was her. She hated my deceased father, always telling me how bad he was, how ugly, etc. and than go on to tell me how I was just like him! She would state that I acted and looked just like him. WOW, that made me feel special. She started telling everyone in our family that I was a liar and not to believe anything i said, so she could continually, mentally and physically abuse me with no one to interfere or judge her, all the while, I was a little liar, an idiot, fool, dummy, stupid, etc. etc. etc. Almost everyone in my whole entire family started teasing me, calling me these names as well, and I was disrespected and belittled every chance they got. I hid myself away from everyone, there was never a happy moment in my childhood. The Blab, Buddha, Big bird, the list goes on with the insults I endured from my mother and step-father right up until NOW!!! 48 years old and I am done having my life, my self respect, self esteem, self awareness taken from me because I just dont matter. What a horrendous traumatic experience my psychiatrist stated after a 2 hour session trying to tell her everything that I have experienced throughout my childhood right up until now. Being abandoned by my own mother for 3 years with my aunt. After I had been kidnapped by my father for a year. My wonderful mother was too busy partying with her friends to be bothered taking any initiative to be a mother, ignored, belittled and made to feel I was worthless everyday has left its mark. Internal scars that have never healed properly! But now after suppressing everything my whole life, all of the hurt, mistreatment, lies, and deciept from my own family, who claim to love me, cannot sustain being hidden any longer.
I have awakened and now I am ready to heal from all of the wrongs done to me throughout my life. I have had enough! I always knew the way I was treated wasnt right, but every time I tried to confront the abuser(s) it would end in my humiliation. I was crazy, making things up, stop causing problems, get over it, its not a bid deal. OR I would be threatened, they would outcast me from my family, noone would believe me and noone would have anything to do with me if I didnt stop causing problems for them. I was an embarrassment, a loser, I would never amount to anything. The list goes on and on and on!!! The older I became the worse the words used on my became. They graduated to say things knowing full well how upset the words would make me, smirking and enjoying the effect she had upon me. MY MOTHER!
I have decided to remove myself from these toxic people and I have started feeling like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders which always felt heavy. I cry alot for the little girl that never really got to be a little girl. I am learning how to take care of her and accept the past the way it is and try to move forward in a positive and productive way!
Thank you for these articles, they put alot of perspective on understaning why and once we are aware of why we actually feel like this, it makes it a little easier to start the healing process. Good luck everyone, and please be kind to yourself, you deserve it!

Sandy - March 8, 2021 Reply

Hi Folks,

I completely relate to everything everyone’s said about the “Fatal Flaw”, however I prefer to embrace it and think of it as a “Superpower”. Being able to distance oneself from emotional turmoil can sometimes be a huge benefit, especially when others are losing their heads. I have a tendency to force my feelings into logic–to try to make sense of what is really going on–fundamentally, so I know whether to “fight”, “flee” or “freeze”. This action is automatic and helps me to assess danger in a nano-second (what I had to learn to do as a child), however the behaviour isn’t always welcome or necessary, especially in social situations. When I pay attention to what my “logic” says to me about discomfort in social environments, among other things I eventually come around to remembering that everyone, everywhere has a “flaw” of some kind or other. While I’m busy keeping mine hidden, others are probably busy trying to make sure their’s doesn’t show either.

To deal with the discomfort I feel in social situations I try to be 1) realistic when assessing the actual risk of danger in the situation I’m in (no catastrophising), 2) forgiving about the anxiety I am feeling (understanding that it’s amplified in my case through no fault of my own, and that I have the power to “dial it down”), 3) willing to try to treat others the way I would like to be treated in that moment (with kindness, respect and no judgement). Focussing on aspects of the situation I can control helps me to curb my feelings of powerlessness. True, this seems artificial and may lead me to feel like I’m “acting”, but so what? It helps me cope with my anxious feelings while interacting with others. Before I know it, the event is over, I realize I’ve survived it and have to admit it really wasn’t so bad. You can do a lot worse than leaving the impression with others that you are a kind, respectful, non-judgemental person. Think of it as a muscle that needs to be exercised and social events provide an opportunity to practice. Before you know it, it becomes a habit.

p.s. For an added “security blanket”, before an event, I try to find 3 or 4 topics of conversation I can turn to if needed (vacation plans, current events, a particular interest, how I happen to know the host/hostess, etc.). Having a stock of subjects reduces awkward pauses and asking open-ended questions gets others talking about themselves–which most people (even some of us CENs) really enjoy doing!

Lucy - March 8, 2021 Reply

I can go out & meet people though I am anxious I will be disliked. I find it hard to ‘read’ peoples emotions because I am emotionally numb. I have tried to reconnect like you said in your book but I get nowhere. What can I do?

    Jonice - March 9, 2021 Reply

    Dear Lucy, healing is more than trying to do something. It’s a process of doing daily exercises and being persistent. You can do it if you set your mind to chipping away at your wall on a daily basis and not giving up.

Gas - March 8, 2021 Reply

In all my life I’ve been unconsciously thinking that the less people know about me the less they can harm/judge/make fun of me. But now I think that this might even qualify as a fatal flaw. It has surely killed intimacy and social interactions. Choosing the right time and degree of exposure to vulnerability is tricky thing to learn late in life.

    Jonice - March 9, 2021 Reply

    Dear Gas, yes that sounds like your fatal flaw at work. You can take many positive steps on this once you see it.

Stephen - March 8, 2021 Reply

when I was younger I diagnosed myself with a whole myriad of disparate neuroses, but I can now see they most likely stem from CEN. Social anxiety was one of my biggest. When I was in middle and high school I would have rather died than give a presentation. I would plan a sentence like “how was your summer?” and not be able to open my mouth for weeks until it was awkward to ask about summer. My hands would shake and tremble and I felt as though every eye was judging me. My dad would constantly criticize and compare me to people (even made up people) and I realize now that is where my insecurity comes from. I overcompensated to feel confident. I tried to be the best at everything and actually rose to the top of most subjects and activities I tried, but it didn’t help. Like other people have commented, social comfort seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, I only care about the opinion of myself first, my true friends and family members I value. I also realized that I shouldn’t judge others, because they might be struggling with something I don’t know about. I grew into being an introvert and that’s great, I love my company! My FOMO is gone too. I purposely picked non-judgmental friends and I feel comfortable being myself around them, which has given me more confidence. (They also know to ask me to go out twice because my first inclination is to still say ‘no’.)

For about 5 years I tried to say ‘yes’ to going out to a social situation with anyone who asked me and I also somehow ended up dating a very outgoing girl who was surrounded by healthy people. I think it is easy for CEN people to surround themselves or attract needy or narcissistic people, which further reinforces a dislike for others and social anxiety. I feel super fortunate to have had the experiences and friends I do because it has forced me to see myself as valuable. I think many CEN people are intuitive, empathetic, and people-pleasing (nice), which are great attributes when used on the right people. Force yourself to get out in as many different situations as possible and keep doing it. Eventually your anxiety will just get tired and there will be no more evidence to counter your positivity. It surprises me all the time how much I have changed in this regard.

TLDR: I used to be basically mute and terrified in company of others. Now, IDGAF and I love my friends and go out when I want.

Karen - March 7, 2021 Reply

As one with CEN, I struggle to know what I’m even feeling as well as the somatic aspect of feelings and emotions. After a fat 25 yrs of individual therapy with excellent therapists, many books read, and, on-going Spiritual journey, I continue to feel odd and ‘different’. I believe that my husband also has a double whammy of CEN and undiagnosed ADD. Jonice when you talk about being unaware, this man takes the cake which is why I can’t do #3. My closest person is so emotionally crippled that he can’t see or support me in my CEN deepest places. We have done a lot of marriage counseling to no avail. I fantasize that an Adult ADD diagnosis and treatment (medication?) could kick start a breakthrough. Wonder what experience you may have working with people like us both individually and as a couple?

    Jonice - March 9, 2021 Reply

    Dear Karen, you would both need to be motivated to change how you deal with your emotions individually. As you progress on that (the process of CEN healing), you would be able to start learning how to share and discuss your feelings together. It’s a step by step process and you would need to be each dedicated to doing the work.

Nancy - March 7, 2021 Reply

I’m in my 60’s and have felt like an outsider my whole life. I have siblings that feel the same. I dread social gatherings. At this point I realize that I just don’t enjoy the company of most people. It is beyond social anxiety at this point in my life. I’ve learned to fake my way through social situations but most times I can’t wait to get away.

    Trish - March 8, 2021 Reply

    Hi Nancy. I just wanted to let you know that I sympathise with your comment. I’m always the outsider, too and I’m tired of feeling guilty that I don’t enjoy others’ company. I’ve pretty much growing into the fact that I’m an old curmudgeon (can women be curmudgeons?) 🙂
    I gotta be me

Renae - March 7, 2021 Reply

This is so helpful. Thank you!

Sheryl - March 7, 2021 Reply

Hello Jonice,
I’m writing to let you know how the term “fatal flaw” makes me feel. Naming it a “fatal flaw” validates that there is “something wrong with me” and that it is futile to try to overcome this feeling of being “less than”. Intellectually, I know there is nothing wrong with me nor with others who suffer from CEN. It just seems to me that naming it as such, gives it power. It’s like saying, “Oh yeah. That’s what’s wrong with me. I have a fatal flaw. And it’s fatal, which means there’s nothing I can do about it.” Kind of like labeling one for life. Maybe calling it “The PERCEIVED Fatal Flaw” would be a better alternative. It would take the sting and the power out of it and make it feel as if it were surmountable. Give it a try. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.


    Jonice - March 7, 2021 Reply

    Thanks for your suggestion, Sheryl. The thing is that your “felt” Fatal Flaw does become an actual Fatal Flaw because you so believe and feel that it is real. I’m trying to help folks name it something that captures the realness of it; then start defeating it.

    Rebecca - March 8, 2021 Reply

    I must say I agree with Sheryl.

      Miss Anita - April 2, 2021 Reply

      I also agree with Sheryl.
      I didn’t realise that the only way out of social anxiety is forcing yourself to socialise. I used to socialise, but rarely got a good feeling and wasn’t liked as much as my friend – whoever it was – I was not likeable. Now I think it’s because I am not positive and run myself down. I started to do that as a defence, because i felt badly regarded by people at high school. I had already been run down a lot by my Mum and my Dad never said anything good about anyone. I found out later that he said good things about my sister, but nothing good to me. I have tried to find therapy, but therapists take the attitude that you have to do the work yourself, take responsibility for your life and realise I what you need to realise. So why do counsellors exist, exactly? I do not need them if i have to do everything myself. I have noticed that the specialists on your site charge a lot of money. I don’t know if they can help me, if the answer is to force yourself to socialise. Force yourself to work. Force yourself to do housework. Force yourself to give yourself everything you don’t get that you need? Force yourself to be grateful and happy for what you have? Force yourself to be positive. Do not tell people your feelings/problems. That’s what ordinary people say and that’s more advice than you get from counsellors or therapists.

    Jan - March 10, 2021 Reply

    I have to say I agree with Sheryl. The name feels dire and permanent and painful, reminding me how terrible I often feel. Also, discussing how to overcome a “fatal flaw” seems oxymoronic and therefore, hard to believe is possible.

      Jonice - March 13, 2021 Reply

      It is dire, Jan! It is dire and painful and is permanent until you face it and deal with it.

Keith - March 7, 2021 Reply

I have used the 4th way – preparing before a social gathering – and found it very effective.

    Jonice - March 7, 2021 Reply

    Excellent Keith, thank you fr sharing this!

Rich - March 7, 2021 Reply

I can definitely relate to Donald, and I am also the guy who “works” during a conference to kill time until the next presentation – usually just cleaning up my e-mail inbox. While I don’t enjoy big social gatherings, I am usually OK for the first couple hours, but as the night wears on my desire to “get out of here” builds exponentially. My unease turns into discomfort, which turns into unhappiness, which turns into being cranky. Unfortunately, my wife is the opposite, and she gets swept up in the momentum of the gathering, so when we finally do leave, I am agitated but relieved, and she is just agitated. I’ll take the fact that I am aware of this as a first step forward.

Gloria - March 7, 2021 Reply

I am fine when I meet strangers but feel terrible when I have to talk to them after that. I dont seem to find anyone else who has this. Most have problems with strangers.

    Jonice - March 7, 2021 Reply

    That’s not true at all, Gloria. Many, many CEN people are fine with strangers but when more depth of conversation is called for, it becomes quite challenging. It can go either way or even both ways.

    Catherine - March 8, 2021 Reply

    Gloria, I feel this way. It is as though, if they actually talked with me, they would see through me and know that the good first impression I gave, doesn’t actually hold water. Definitely a fatal flaw. Good luck Gloria. You are not alone.

    Claire - April 22, 2021 Reply

    I feel exactly the same Gloria, fine saying initial hello to people but anything past that is so hard, including with extended family. I don’t see how I can overcome this, my mind goes blank and I can barely string a sentence together. Then I feel ashamed. I force myself to do things but the same thing everytime, mind going blank and feel I have no personality that anyone would be interested in, always feel on the outside looking in. Being in this survival mode is so draining. Reading it’s a ‘fatal’ floor makes me feel even less hopeful I can ever heal in any meaningful way.

      Jonice - April 25, 2021 Reply

      “Fatal Flaw” is a feeling. It captures your own assumptions about yourself. That’s all it is. It’s not real, it’s a construction of your own making and you are in control of it.

Kobi - March 7, 2021 Reply

I would love sometime for you to address those who suffered CEN but went in another direction-being overwhelmed by the feelings they were told not to experience.

    Jonice - March 7, 2021 Reply

    Thank you Kobi, I will write about that.

    Sharon - March 8, 2021 Reply

    Thanks for this Kobi. I need it also

Anita - January 12, 2019 Reply

I have found that once I get to the event I am able to overcome my anxiety. I do enjoy groups of people now, however when it is over I cannot get certain conversations out of my head where I perceive that I may have said something that was not well received. This happened 9 months ago and I am still burdened by this thought.

    Janet - June 17, 2019 Reply

    I think there is something else going on; it is being a ‘highly sensitive person.’ It is feeling things SO DEEPLY that it seems like we’re weird; flawed that we cannot ‘cruise’ like others through life. I know I am a ‘CEN,’ but the reason for the flaw is different. I am “too much” for people, and they sense it. I am an empath, intuitive, and that is the source of being ‘on the outside.’

      Sheryl - March 7, 2021 Reply

      Hi Janet,
      Although late to the table, I just had to comment on your comment. I, too, am an HSP! Our feelings are so intense and, because we are unable to name those feelings and are unable to respond to them appropriately, we don’t know what to do with them. When I’m tired or if those feelings are left to fester, the next time intense feelings come up, I tend to get angry and am unable to express it in an appropriate way, causing a backlash, hurt feelings and strained or severed relationships. The intensity can be so overwhelming, especially when I can’t even name the feelings beyond “anger”. How can I be heard, if I can’t even express what I’m feeling??

      Kevin - March 7, 2021 Reply

      Hi Janet, I agree with your comment. I know I have elements of CEN/EDD, but I am also HSP/Empath. It is why I was effected much more by my childhood than my other siblings, have at times felt like a bad person for being effected by the emotions, or the lack thereof, of people around me. I am also INFP, an idealist. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        Mary - March 8, 2021 Reply

        Hi Kevin, I’m right there with you. I am a poster child for CEN as well as an HSP/Empath. I am also an INFP. My siblings minimize my difficulties because they are not HSP introverts and tell me to get over our childhood as they did. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my “combo.” Thanks for sharing.

      Renae - March 7, 2021 Reply

      I have felt like this too.

      Kim - March 8, 2021 Reply

      I’m so glad you brought this up! Having read so much by Dr Jonice – I’ve always thought being an hsp really caused my cen. My parents – not being hsp’s – could never validate my extreme emotions. And I’ve been left feeling like an oddball. My only defense was anger as I had to fight to justify and experience my intense feelings. Now when my emotions are triggered, the anger always comes in. Partly from habit – partly from the shame of being a neglected hsp.

Candy - August 5, 2018 Reply

Wish I would have known this sooner! I’d like to add that social anxiety can also create a self-affirming downward spiral. I’m anxious–> I behave anxiously–> others can tell–> they act anxious around me–> I read this as disapproval–> I shrink up, record it as a negative experience, and set myself up for an even more anxious future. This goes on until I just don’t go anywhere anymore — and has affected my jobs, marriage, children, ability to have fun… Thanks Jonice for the article. Love your book, too.

    Jonice - August 7, 2018 Reply

    Yes Candy, that’s a perfect description of the anxiety spiral that I’ve seen many caught in. Thanks for your comment!

    Carol - March 8, 2021 Reply

    I am fighting to move from that secluded place now.

Janet - August 5, 2018 Reply

I get this feeling very strongly and remind myself it is only a feeling based on a flawed perception. We want to trust our feelings, but truthfully, feelings can be very misleading. Just look at anyone with an extreme phobia! Their problem is completely in their own head. I flood myself with a strong imaging of how it feels to be included, to fit in, to securely know what is going on and magically, I am experiencing it more and more. When I don’t, I take a moment to recapture that security and continue. It’s exciting to overcome something that has been an obstacle for too long.

    Jonice - August 5, 2018 Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience Janet. That’s exactly how healing happens! Keep up the good work.

Ransom Flanders - August 5, 2018 Reply

All of this is pertinent and accurate but it too, is out of reach. The awareness of my shortcomings panics me and none of your methods can be used. Remedies are buried in fear….

    Jonice - August 5, 2018 Reply

    I understand. Do not give up. Just keep trying!

    Ryan - March 7, 2021 Reply

    I’ve felt that way many times as well. It is part of the process. Your shortcomings are coming into awareness and while they scare you now, over time, gradually, you will come to understand them better, their roots, remedies, coping mechanisms, etc.

      Jonice - March 7, 2021 Reply

      Very true!

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