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The Side of Grief That Nobody Talks About

Grief. No one likes it and no one wants it.

But sadly, it’s a near-universal experience. It’s difficult to get through your life without having to go through some amount of grief.

Much has been written about how grief works, the most well-known being, of course, the writings of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the world-renowned Swiss psychiatrist who identified the 5 Stages of Grief which have comforted and validated legions of people by explaining the seemingly inexplicable feelings and stages that grieving people move through and share.

But right now I want to talk about a different aspect of grief that I see in an extraordinarily large percentage of people who lose someone. It’s not a stage of grief; in fact, it can be so ubiquitous that it’s not something people move through very well even if they are an emotionally healthy person.

It’s guilt.

Guilt is not a feeling that’s usually associated with grief, even though I observe that it’s very, very common, verging on being ubiquitous.

Since most folks don’t realize that guilt is a common and somewhat natural part of grief, they assume that their own personal guilt feelings must mean that they are guilty of something. To them, their guilt seems true and important.

But, from what I have seen, it’s usually neither true nor important, it’s just a feeling most people get when they lose someone close to them.

Why Guilt and Grief Go Together

  1. Grief is a powerful emotional experience that fully engages the brain and the body. Grief is, essentially, the body’s attempt to absorb a shock (all deaths are a shock even when you know they are coming). Grief is like a combination of an earthquake and a hurricane both occurring together. In your body, all systems are activated and you are likely to feel many different feelings so it’s not surprising that guilt would be one of them.
  2. The death of a person, being the cataclysmic event described above, is an occurrence that carries great gravity. When we lose someone, it is natural to re-evaluate not only what they meant to us, but also our relationship with them. We begin to ask questions about our role in their life and in their death.
  3. Grief causes us to question ourselves. Was I there enough for them? Did I show enough care, love, concern? Did I miss their last phone call? What if I had done something just slightly differently, would they have felt better or lived longer? Could I have saved them? Could I have made them happier when they were alive? Does my secret wish for them to finally be relieved of their pain make me a bad person? These questions, plus many more variations on them, are ones that I have heard countless, blameless people torture themselves with after losing a loved one.

Are Some People More Prone To Guilty Grief?

Yes, most definitely. Although I have seen that most people are vulnerable to guilty grief, there is a large segment of the population who are far more prone to it and can get more hung up on it.

These are the ones who have a general tendency to take excessive responsibility for things, too often blaming themselves for events and situations outside of their control.

They are usually folks who have a tendency to be hard on themselves and are perhaps even highly self-critical. If you are prone to self-blame and self-criticism, you can get stuck in your guilt instead of moving through it as others would.

And, even if you are not a self-blame prone person you can end up experiencing more discomfort than is necessary. When you are already suffering from a loss, why suffer more than is absolutely necessary?

What’s The Solution?

An Ounce of Awareness + A Dose of Reality

As an expert on how Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN affects adults I work constantly with people who are out of touch with, and unaware of, their own feelings. So, I find myself saying to multiple people almost every single day, “Pay attention to what you are feeling. It matters!”

  1. The way you treat your feelings makes a big difference in how you experience and move through your grief. So, when it comes to grieving, it is extremely helpful to allow yourself to feel it. Yes, it hurts, and I know you want to escape it. But the more you escape it the more it lingers. It’s a sad fact but a true one.
  2. As you make an effort to feel your feelings, pay special attention to guilt. Watch for it so that you can be aware of when you are feeling it. Being aware of a feeling is half the battle because awareness allows you to manage it.
  3. Actively manage your guilt feelings — yes, you can do that — by tempering them with a dose of reality. I invite you to think about it this way. Wouldn’t we all behave differently if we knew the future? It’s simple. Yes, we would. This is a very important fact because some of your guilt is only happening because of your current ability to observe the past. “If only,” “I should have,” and “I shouldn’t have,” are all based on hindsight. Like the proverbial quarterback on Monday morning, everything looks different after an event than it does while you were living it.

Take This Forward

Truth be told, most people, whether they are grieving or prone to self-blame or not would benefit from following the steps above. I say this for two reasons: first, far too many people are not aware enough of their own feelings to manage them as effectively as they could. And second, guilt is a feeling that occurs the most to the people who deserve it the least. And useless guilt is draining and, well, useless.

Learn about why Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is hard to remember but so impactful and why it makes people prone to self-blame, guilt, and shame in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To find out if you grew up with CEN Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Brutal Honesty Vs. Speaking Your Truth With Compassion

What does it mean when someone describes themselves as “brutally honest?” It’s not as simple as many people think.

The idea of brutal honesty has been placed in a positive light in today’s world. Perhaps because of the word “honesty.” Because honesty is a good thing, right? Of course, it is.

We all agree that it’s important to be honest and truthful. But, in reality, the truth often hurts.

Many times in our lives we are faced with situations in which we need to share a message that may hurt the recipient. And there are many possible ways to manage those situations.

Brutal Honesty

Declaring yourself brutally honest is perhaps the easiest way around the “truth/hurt” quandary. It’s essentially a free pass to say what you think or what you feel in the moment you think it or feel it.

Chances are high that you know someone like this, who goes through life unfiltered:

You’re the most thoughtless person I know, Marcy says to her husband Edward.

What made you buy that coat? Jenny says to her friend Lori.

Only an unintelligent person would make that argument, Bill says to his colleague.

Looks like you’ve been eating a few too many cheeseburgers, Grandma Bea says to her grandson.

The upside of brutal honesty is that you seldom have to guess what the brutally honest person is thinking. The downside is that you don’t always want to know what the brutally honest person is thinking.

Brutal honesty hurts people. Long after the “honest one” has had his say, the recipient will be suffering the damages.

There is another way to deal with the conundrums of life. It involves no potshots, far less damage to the recipient, and far less hurt all around. Yet it still communicates the necessary message. It’s called Truth With Compassion.

Truth With Compassion

Truth with compassion is a way to express your truth while reducing its hurtfulness as much as possible. Hurting others immediately and automatically sparks their defenses. And once the defenses come up, you’ve lost their open ear. They will no longer hear you.

3 Steps to Speak Your Truth With Compassion

1. Clarify your message within yourself before saying anything to the other person

Example: Marcy’s You’re the most thoughtless person I know becomes: You should have checked with me before taking on that giant project at work.

2. Think about the personality and nature of your recipient. How emotionally fragile is he? How will he best hear this message?

Example: Marcy knows that Edward is normally a thoughtful person, but that he is also somewhat of a workaholic. When he’s absorbed in his work, he tends to think of nothing but the job.

3. Identify the best time, place, and words to communicate your message

Example: Marcy tells Edward she has something important to talk with him about. They agree to talk when they both get home from work. Marcy says I’m hurt that you took on this big project when I hardly get to see you as it is. Did you think about me at all when you made this commitment?

By wording her truth this way, Marcy is avoiding a common barrier to communicating difficult truths: she is not sparking Edward’s defenses. Starting with “I’m hurt,” is a good way to let the recipient know that you are talking about yourself, not him. Asking a question is a good way to open a discussion without making an accusing assumption.

While Jenny and Grandma Bea should keep their “honesty” to themselves, Bill should use a question with his colleague instead of such a blunt and shaming declaration.

Why do you think that?

What makes you say that?

Have you thought about…..?

All of these are possible ways to express doubts about a colleague’s argument. They will not spark the recipient’s defenses, and they will not hurt his feelings. Nor will they likely damage the relationship.

So speak your truth. It’s important. Express yourself and be honest. But pause first to think about the other person. Filter, filter, filter. When you respect the other person’s feelings, your message will be far more likely to be heard.

To learn much more about the importance of speaking your truth and how to show compassion for the other person, plus how to share emotions in relationships, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

A version of this article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

10 Things Childhood Emotional Neglect is NOT

One of the greatest challenges I have encountered in my pursuit to make the whole world aware of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is helping people understand exactly what it is. So, let’s begin with the definition of CEN.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Happens when you grow up in a household that generally does not notice, respond to, or talk about feelings.

Children who grow up this way receive an unspoken, yet powerful, message that feelings are irrelevant, useless, invisible, or even a burden. To cope, they naturally push away, or wall off, their feelings so they will not inconvenience or bother their parents.

While this may help children adapt to the requirements of their parents, it effectively separates them from their own emotions for a lifetime.

The consequences of this separation are great, and you can read about them in many different blog posts across this website. Today, we will focus on understanding CEN in a way that is both deeper and broader.

We will do that by identifying what Childhood Emotional Neglect is NOT.

10 Surprising Things Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is Not

  1. Physical neglect. Physical neglect can be either a shortage of food, clothing, shelter or the physical presence of a parent. Latch-key kids are considered physically neglected, as is a child who is sent to school in winter without a coat. But Childhood Emotional Neglect is not necessarily any of these things. You may have a stay-at-home parent and everything you could want, but if your parents under-respond to your emotional needs, you may still grow up with the footprint of CEN.
  2. A disease. CEN is decidedly not an illness. It’s simply something your parents couldn’t give you in childhood, emotional validation, awareness, and support. You are not sick. You just need something now that you didn’t get.
  3. A life sentence. CEN is something that can and will hang over your life for as long as you allow it. But, once you realize the problem, the solution is in your grasp.
  4. A personality disorder. Although in my observation, Childhood Emotional Neglect is one ingredient among other powerful forces (like genetics, abuse, double-bind parenting, for example) in the formation of most personality disorders, pure CEN in itself does not produce them. The vast majority of what I would call CEN people have no personality disorder at all. The most common personality disorder that I see among CEN people is avoidant.
  5. A choice. One of the most common assumptions of CEN folks is that they brought their adult struggles upon themselves. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. No child chooses to have their parents ignore their feelings. Interestingly, the vast majority of CEN parents don’t choose it either. It all boils down to one thing: you can’t get something from your parents that they do not have to give. It’s not your fault, it just is.
  6. An event. Emotional Neglect is not something your parents did to you, it’s something your parents failed to do for you. In this way, it is not an event, but a non-event. Your parents were not able to notice your feelings and ask you about them, name your feelings, validate them, or talk it over with you. Childhood Emotional Neglect is not an act but a failure to act.
  7. Memorable. Our human brains are set up to record events as memories. Things that fail to happen are not seen, noticed, or remembered. This is why legions of people are struggling through lives colored gray by Childhood Emotional Neglect, unable to pinpoint what’s wrong. Absent an explanation, they are prone to blaming themselves. “I’m flawed,” “I’m different,” “There is something wrong with me,” I’ve heard countless CEN people say.
  8. Abuse. Abuse is an active mistreatment of a child. I liken abuse to knocking a plant off of a shelf, while CEN is more like failing to water it enough day after day after day. Because they are so very different, abuse and Emotional Neglect have very different effects on the child.
  9. Less harmful than abuse. Abuse carries an impact that makes it seem more painful than the mere absence of something should be. But I have seen that the slow, subliminal, relentless effect of what didn’t happen is the equivalent of stomping out the spirit of a child.
  10. Incurable. During the last ten years of working with hundreds of emotionally neglected people in my office and in my online Fuel Up For Life CEN Recovery Program, I do know this: The wall that blocks your feelings from you can be broken down, your spirit can be reclaimed. You can get in touch with the life force that’s meant to guide, protect, and connect you, and use it to enrich your life. Yes, I know, without a doubt, it’s true. What you didn’t get in childhood can be gotten in your adulthood.

Your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be healed.

Since Childhood Emotional Neglect is so hard to see and remember it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

The 4 Different Kinds of Neglect and How They Affect You

Neglect: Fail to care for properly.

We can neglect many different things in our busy lives. We can, at different times, neglect our houses, our gardens, our vehicles, or even our own bodies by simply failing to care for them properly. And many of us human beings do one or all of the above at various times.

But there is no form of neglect more personal, more powerful, or more harmful than the neglect of a child. There are several different ways that a parent can neglect a child and we will talk about those shortly.

But first, let’s take a look at some of the factors that can lead even the most caring parents to neglect their child.

Why Neglect Happens

  • Finances: This can go all the way from parents who are fighting to survive financially by working 3 jobs or long hours, all the way to the workaholic parent who is defined by their career/income and who therefore places work above all else.
  • Knowledge: Some parents have “holes” in their knowledge of what children need. Why don’t they know? The explanation for most of these parents is in the next bullet point.
  • The influence of their own childhood: We all learn how to parent from our own parents. Most people automatically use the experience of their own childhood as a template or guide to raising their children. This makes human beings prone to repeat the mistakes of their parents upon the next generation. How do you know what your child needs if your need were not met by your parents? Your parents’ blind spots end up being translated down to your kids unless you learn what was missing and make a personal decision to correct it.
  • Personal battles: These are parents who are so taken up fighting for themselves that they have little time or energy left over for their children. They may be depressed, taking care of a sick family member, addicted, or sick themselves. Parents who are battling to keep their own heads above water may inadvertently (or purposely) allow their children to fall through the cracks.

When parents bring a new child into the world, it is their biological imperative to meet that child’s needs to the best of their ability. For that reason, none of the above reasons should be thought of as excuses. It simply does not work that way.

But, on the other hand, human beings are fallible and the world can be rough on parents. Losses, pain, health, deprivation, and struggle can harm parents and prevent them from providing what their children need.

Not all neglect is the same and, unfortunately, most people use the word “neglect” to define all types. It is also common to use the term, “abuse and neglect,” to lump neglect with abuse. This dangerous over-generalization prevents people from talking and thinking more specifically about exactly what they did not receive as a child.

Truly, it’s important. And I want you to help you become aware of what you did and did not receive. As you read the list below, I encourage you to consider which of your needs were well-met when you were a child and which needs may have been less so.

The 4 Kinds of Neglect of a Child

  1. Physical Needs — Here, we are talking about the tangible and concrete things that you need to survive and thrive. It’s the need for healthy nutrition and water, shelter, comfort, and warmth. Since this form of neglect is visible it may be witnessed by someone outside of the family, like teachers, social workers, or pediatricians. They may step in to intervene and help the child.
  2. Physical Presence — This is the classic “latch-key child.” In this kind of neglect, the primary caretakers (parents) are simply not physically available enough to you. As a child alone you must fend for yourself so, as a lonely child, you learned how to take care of your own needs. As an adult, you may feel lonely and disconnected, or have a grave fear of needing, asking for, or accepting help from anyone.
  3. Verbal Interaction — A 2019 study published by d’Apice, Latham, & von Stumm in the journal Developmental Psychology found that children who were talked with the most by their parents had higher cognitive development and fewer signs of restless, aggressive, or disobedient behavior. If your parents did not talk with you enough, you may now, as an adult, feel more alone, less stimulated, and struggle to manage and express your feelings.
  4. Emotional Neglect — Emotional Neglect is literally what it sounds like. It is the neglect of your emotions. Emotionally neglectful parents may be loving and providing for all of your needs. But these parents simply do not notice, respond, or validate your feelings enough. If you grow up with your emotions ignored, you end up with your own feelings walled off and relatively inaccessible to you. This leads to a multitude of predictable struggles in adulthood like a feeling of being different, alone, and unsatisfied with your life.

Most adults who look back on their childhoods and see that all of their physical needs were met find it hard to believe that they could have been neglected in any way. Yet “neglect” is far more complex than that.

For example, your stay-at-home mom may often be home and may drive you to every activity, yet fail to notice or respond to your feelings (Emotional Neglect). Or your dad, who talks a lot, may simply be talking about impersonal logistics and facts, and end up still emotionally neglecting you.

The opposite is also true. Your parent who is struggling and rarely home may show such emotional care and attunement with you that you feel deeply known, understood, and loved by them. In this case, the physical presence type of neglect you experience may do far less harm.

Take a few minutes to think about this. What did you get and what did you miss? Is it missing in your life now? If you are a parent or hope to be one, are you able to provide those missing ingredients to your children?

It is entirely possible to see what you didn’t get, understand why your parents could not, or did not, provide it, and fill those gaps for yourself. It is a process of providing yourself with the physical, attentional, and emotional nurturance that was missing for you.

Amazingly, once you have given yourself what you didn’t get, you can give it to others. Especially your own children. The reality is there is nothing more important than that.

CEN can be hard to see or remember so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

How Procrastination is a Form of Self-Neglect

Procrastination. Is it a choice? Is it an affliction? Or is it simply the annoying habit that most people think it is?

My answer is that it’s a little bit of all three, but not really any of those things. Does that clear things up for you? No?

OK, here’s the thing. Procrastination is actually a coping mechanism. It’s a form of avoidance that you use when you have no other option. It does not work for anyone, ever. It’s basically a coping-mechanism-gone-wrong.

The reason procrastination does not work is that it’s a set-up to bring feelings of guilt, self-blame, dread, stress, and overwhelm upon yourself. In this way, whenever you procrastinate, you are ignoring your own need to feel good about yourself and your life. You are neglecting yourself.

The Relationship Between Procrastination and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

There are many different types of emotionally neglectful parents and many different ways that parents can emotionally neglect their children. Generally, CEN is made up of some version of “not enough.”

Here are 3 different forms of CEN that set a child up to have problems with procrastination which may endure life long.

**Special Note: Most CEN parents don’t emotionally neglect their child on purpose. Your parents may have given you everything they have to give but they did not receive the 3 things below themselves when they were growing up.

  1. Not enough structure and discipline in your childhood home. Why? You don’t get to internalize the structure and discipline and make it a part of your personality. As an adult, you may find yourself lacking in self-discipline.
  2. Not enough attention or responsiveness to your feelings. This teaches you that your feelings do not matter. You do not learn that you are your own emotional steward and that it’s your responsibility to watch out for yourself by, as much as possible, making choices that bring you good feelings vs. bad ones.
  3. Not enough encouragement or reward for your strengths and accomplishments from your parents. This does not set you up with the awareness that accomplishing things should feel good and does feel good. You may lack a sense of pride in finishing things that keeps other people motivated.

A Weekend in the Life of Lisbeth, a Procrastinator

It’s Friday. Lisbeth is leaving work to meet up with her friends as planned, but she knows she hasn’t finished a report that her team needs to see first thing Monday morning. “I’ll work on it tomorrow,” she reassures herself, putting it out of her mind for the evening.

Lisbeth awakens Saturday morning feeling burdened and tired, and goes through her entire day under that dark cloud trying not to think about the fact that she must finish the report. The weight of the unfinished task drags down her energy all day. She ends up watching Netflix all day, feeling vaguely lazy and guilty all the while.

Sunday is like a repeat of Saturday except under more pressure. As the hours pass, Lisbeth feels the available time slipping away from her and grows angrier and angrier at herself for not having attacked and task and finished the report first thing Saturday morning.

Finally, at 10 p.m., the pressure moves her and she gets to work. Immersing herself in the task, she finally finds her focus and ends up finishing the report at 2 a.m. Of course, she pays the price on Monday. She feels sleep-deprived but also angry at herself for having such a burdensome, joyless, unproductive weekend overall.

Do you identify with Lisbeth? How many days or weekends have you lived like hers?

Growing up emotionally neglected teaches you many things that will color your life forever — until you address it, that is.

CEN teaches you to ignore your own feelings which are the deepest expression of who you are, plus also the loudest alarm bell that alerts you to whether your choices bring you positive or negative results.

So, in essence, CEN teaches you to emotionally neglect yourself all through your life. And procrastination is just one of the possible ways for you to emotionally neglect yourself.

Just as procrastination is not simple, the secret to getting over procrastination is also not simple. But it is definitely something you can do! It involves going directly against your childhood experience and making a conscious effort to do the opposite of the 3 forms of CEN above.

How to Start Dialing Back Your Procrastination

  1. Resolve to teach yourself discipline by providing yourself what your parents missed. In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect I shared a daily exercise that will help you reprogram your brain to become better able to control your impulses and decisions better. It’s called The 3 Things Exercise.
  2. Since your parents, probably inadvertently, under-attended to your feelings now you will do the opposite. You will pay attention to what you are feeling and start to value your feelings. This will help you make decisions that bring you positive feelings instead of negative ones.
  3. Make an effort to take pride in your accomplishments. No matter how small, everything you force yourself to do or not do, if it’s a positive decision or step, is something you should feel proud of. Try to focus more on rewarding yourself and feeling proud of yourself in small bursts throughout your everyday life.

Imagine that Lisbeth follows these 3 steps for long enough that she starts to gain better control of her avoidant tendencies.

Imagine she begins to notice her feelings more and realizes that completing tasks brings her happiness while avoiding tasks drains her energy and makes her angry at herself. Imagine that this emotional awareness enables her to start facing tasks instead of avoiding them.

Imagine that Lisbeth finds herself feeling proud of her daily accomplishments and of how she is no longer neglecting herself.

Now, imagine that instead of Lisbeth, it’s you.

You CAN do this.

You can find the 3 Things Exercise to retrain your brain in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

58 Ways to Label and Express Your Sadness

Most people don’t talk about their feelings much. In fact, most people don’t even think about their feelings much.

Usually, we just go through our days focused on our jobs, families, problems, and everything going on in our lives without paying much attention to how we feel.

But, here’s the thing. Sometimes, a situation arises that requires you to know what you are feeling. Or, even further, you may even need to express what you are feeling.

Depending on how you were raised, your family’s comfort level with emotions, and their ability to use emotion words, you may find the process of noticing, labeling, and sharing your feelings anywhere from mildly challenging to extremely difficult.

In my work as a psychologist, I encounter wonderful people every day who are stymied or terrified at the notion of having to identify, name, or share what they are feeling. Most of these people find it difficult for a very good reason. In short, when you grow up in a family that ignores, diminishes, dismisses, or discourages the expression of feelings — I call this an emotionally neglectful family — you simply do not learn how to do it.

As an adult, this can make certain things that other people take for granted very, very hard.

For example, many people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) have only one or two emotion words in their vocabularies. They may use that one word over and over again, painting the complex landscape of their own inner emotional lives with one single word.

Common emotion words that I hear used this way include:

  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Anxious
  • Depressed

How Comfortable Are You With Your Feelings?

  1. Do you notice when you are having a feeling?
  2. Do you pay attention to your feelings?
  3. When you are feeling something, do you try to identify what it is or name it?
  4. How many emotion words do you know?

There are several skills that go into using and managing your feelings the way they are meant to be used and managed. If you don’t think of your feelings as useful or if you do not know what these skills are, or whether you have them, it’s okay.

Emotional awareness and management are not automatically a part of everyone’s life. But they are things you can definitely learn. I know this because I have taught these emotion skills to many people.

Today, we will address your emotion vocabulary. Guess how many words there are for the feeling of sadness? There are many more than just “sad” or “depressed.”

Read through this list with a highlighter, and think about the subtle differences in what each word describes.

58 Ways to Label & Express Your Sadness

Sorrowful

Tearful

Pained

Grief

Anguish

Desperate

Low

Pessimistic

Unhappy

Grieved

Mournful

Grave

Dismayed

Bummed

Despondent

Heavy-hearted

Scorned

Grey

Miserable

Blue

Longing

Disappointed

Grim

Gloomy

Lost

Moody

Burdened

Discouraged

Let down

Lousy

Dysphoric

Dreary

Dark

Morose

Dour

Besieged

Morbid

Down

Accursed

Abysmal

Ashamed

Diminished

Self-destructive

Self-abasing

Guilty

Dissatisfied

Loathsome

Worn out

Repugnant

Despicable

Abominable

Terrible

Despairing

Sulky

Bad

Sense of loss

How To Use This List Going Forward

Next time you perceive a possible hint of sadness or depression, don’t paint it over with the same old color. Instead, pull out this list and read through it, and find one or more words that capture what you are feeling in a more complex way.

The more you do this, the more your vocabulary will increase and it will also enrich you in other ways. As you struggle to name your feelings, it’s the same as exercising a muscle. Your brain will begin to process feelings in a new way and, believe it or not, this is a momentous change.

Have a word for sad/depressed that’s not on this list? Please share it in a comment!

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how it plays out in your adult life, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

The 7 Emotion Skills. Do You Have Them?

Emotions may seem vague, insubstantial, or useless to many. But, in truth, they are actually very, very real and very, very useful.

Emotions are physical sensations that take place in your body. They are, in fact, messengers. They are your body’s way of alerting you to watch out, take care, protect yourself, or seek something, for some examples.

Emotions are messages from your body. It is crucial that you listen to them. It’s not that they are always right, but they tell you about your deepest self and so they matter.

What are Emotion Skills?

Most people would not put the two words “emotion” and “skill” together. In fact, every time I type “emotion skills,” the Word editor tries to correct me.

But, the truth is, that just makes me want to write about emotion skills more! They are, in fact, an incredibly key factor when it comes to your quality of life. They are also far too seldom identified and discussed.

I find myself writing and speaking about the 7 emotional skills quite often because of my specialty in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN is extremely common in today’s world. It simply involves growing up in a household where your feelings are ignored or discouraged. Folks raised with CEN tend to be disconnected from their own feelings and blind to emotions in general, so they have little opportunity to learn the 7 emotion skills in their lifetimes.

I teach these skills every single day to the clients I see in my office and discuss them with the CEN folks in my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life.

The 7 Emotion Skills

  1. Emotional Awareness — This skill involves being aware when you are having a feeling. Life is full of distractions and external events that pull your attention away from what’s going on in your body (your feelings). On top of that, society in general tends to treat feelings as annoyances and weaknesses. If you grew up in a CEN family, you may be blind to emotions in general. Yet all emotion skills are built upon this one. You must be aware when you are experiencing a feeling before you can practice any of the feeling-related skills.
  2. Identifying Your Feelings — Once you have emotional awareness you know when a feeling is present in your body. Now, it is important to be able to identify and name that feeling. This requires you to discern each feeling from every other. The more able you are to identify different kinds of feelings like angry types vs. sad types vs. fear-based types, the better. Then, you can take a step beyond that and make more subtle and specific differentiation. So, instead of settling for “I feel down,” you also take it further. Is this sadness? Is it regret? Despondence? Grief? The finer tuned your ability to identify and name a feeling, the easier it will be to take the next steps.
  3. Accepting Your Feelings Without Judgment — Once you know what you are feeling, it is crucial — and powerful — to accept that feeling, no matter what it is. If you were raised to believe that you choose your own feelings or that your emotions are shameful or a sign of weakness, you are at risk of judging your feelings and rejecting them which is harmful to you and does not work at all. Since none of us are able to choose our feelings, we cannot judge ourselves for having them. It is only by accepting our ugliest emotions that we are able to understand and manage them.
  4. Attributing Your Feeling to a Cause — Once you have noticed your feeling, identified it, and accepted it, it’s time to consider why you are having it. Many people assume it must be caused by something happening right now. But, in reality, we all carry many old feelings within us that might be touched off by a current event or situation. In this case, you may feel far more intensely or complexly about a current event than it deserves. Being able to sort out a feeling and the reason you are having it enables you to then take the following steps.
  5. Tolerating Your Emotions — All of the skills above and below this one require this skill that seems very simple but, in reality, can actually be quite hard. When you experience a feeling that is painful, intense, or unpleasant in some way, it is natural to want to escape it. But, to make full use of this message from your body, you must be able and willing to sit with it and feel it. This means you don’t use distraction, alcohol, food, shopping, or any other crutch to suppress it right away. Instead, you allow yourself to consider the feeling as you are feeling it.
  6. Managing Your Emotions — Every feeling is a message from your body. So every emotion is important, yes. But that does not mean that any emotion should be allowed to take over and run the show. We cannot choose what we feel but we are responsible to manage what we feel. This means noticing and understanding your feeling while also considering the message your body is sending you. Once you discern the message, then decide if it’s a healthy message for you and whether you need to listen. What is this feeling telling me to do? Should I do it?
  7. Expressing Your Emotions — One common message that our feelings send us: “You need to say something.” Being able to do this is a vital skill that helps you manage your feelings. Your anger may be telling you to stand up to someone. Your hurt feelings may be telling you to protect yourself. Your concern may be telling you to change something. Your warm feelings may be pushing you to tell someone you love them. We are often called upon to explain our feelings to someone, and this is a complex skill that many people struggle to develop throughout their entire lives.

The 7 Skills and You

I hope that as you read the 7 skills above you were thinking about yourself.

How often have you used any one of these skills? Are you better at some skills than others? Is there one or more of the skills that seem foreign to you or particularly difficult to understand?

Three amazing things about the 7 Emotion Skills are: first, you probably never thought about them; second, once you’re aware of them, you can learn them; and last but not least, developing and improving these skills can literally change your life from the inside.

I could write volumes on each of these skills, so I will. Watch for a future article, Examples of the 7 Emotion Skills in Action.

Wonder if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect? Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

Do you know that children have physical needs? OF COURSE, YOU DO! Virtually all parents, and all people, for that matter, understand that children must be fed, clothed, kept warm and sheltered, rested and exercised. Kids need to have all of these needs met in order to physically survive and thrive.

Most people also realize that children have emotional needs. Children need to be loved. But children’s emotional needs actually go far beyond that.

You, when you were a child, needed much more than love from your parents. One of the things you needed the most is something most parents hardly think about if they think about it at all. It’s emotional validation.

Emotional Validation

Emotional validation happens when your parents see what you are feeling, acknowledge your feelings, and seem to understand why you are having them.

Just like adults, children’s feelings are the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who they are. In order to feel seen, understood, and heard, a child must feel that their feelings are seen, understood, and heard.

What happens when you feel seen, understood, and heard as a child? You grow up to feel like a person who is seeable, understandable, and hearable. You feel knowable. You feel valid.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If your parents didn’t have the emotional awareness or emotional skills to see and accept what you were feeling, they may have, perhaps of no fault of their own, failed to validate you.

As a result, you may have grown up to feel unseen, misunderstood, and unheard. You may feel less valid than everyone else.

I call this Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

2 Ways Emotional Validation Can Go Wrong

  1. The Child’s Threshold of Emotional Need isn’t met. Many people can look back on their childhoods and remember a time when their parents emotionally validated them. But that doesn’t actually mean all that much. Here’s why. In order to grow up feeling seen, understood, and heard, you must be emotionally validated enough. Even the most well-meaning parents can “fail” their child in this way. Your parents may have loved you and tried their best with you, but they may not have had the emotional awareness or skills to meet the threshold that is enough.
  2. The Child’s Emotions are Actively Invalidated. These parents have a profound misunderstanding of how emotions work in general. Here, your parents may view your feelings as your choice, which is patently wrong, and judge them as a form of bad behavior, which is also patently wrong. Your parents’ false concept of feelings can lead them to actively invalidate your emotions in all kinds of ways. This takes us beyond not getting enough. It is a form of active emotional harm.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

  1. Your parents pretend to listen but actually don’t. When this happens enough during your childhood, you learn that you are not worth hearing.
  2. You have a learning disability or some other challenge that goes unacknowledged. This leads to misunderstandings and incorrect assessments of your strengths and weaknesses and may leave you incorrectly feeling deeply flawed.
  3. Your parents act like they are your friends instead of your parents. You don’t receive the limits and consequences that you need to have in order to have self-discipline and be able to structure yourself.
  4. Your feelings are ignored as if they don’t exist. You learn that your feelings are nothing so you build a wall to shield you (and others) from your feelings. You grow up without enough connection to your feelings. This is classic Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  5. Your natural needs to be seen, heard, and validated go unmet. This teaches you that you are not worth being seen and heard, and you feel less valid than other people.
  6. A major event in your family or home is never talked about. This may be a large or small event; divorce, illness, or even the death of a parent may be left undiscussed. This leads you to feel deeply alone in the world and also fails to teach you vital emotional expression skills.
  7. Your emotional expressions are twisted and thrown back at you. This form of gaslighting teaches you that you cannot trust yourself. It also sets you up to struggle with generalized anger throughout your life which you may end up turning at yourself.
  8. Your parent acts as if you are the parent, not them. When this happens, you learn how to be overly responsible. You are set up to be excessively caretaking of others, putting others before yourself.
  9. You receive the message that it’s not okay to have needs. Here, you will learn very well how to have no needs. You may feel it’s wrong to ask for help or accept help. Needing help of any kind may make you feel vulnerable.
  10. You are told that you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel what you feel. Also a form of emotional gaslighting, this teaches you to hide your feelings because they can and will be used against you. It also undermines your ability to trust your emotions or yourself.

Did you see yourself in any of the examples above?

Whether your emotional threshold was not met as a child or your feelings were invalidated (both constitute Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), I want you to know that it has left its mark on you. The effects are substantial and significant, and they seldom go away on their own.

But they do go away. With your awareness, attention, interest, and commitment, you can reclaim your valuable emotions and learn to listen to their messages. You can learn to understand, trust, and love yourself.

That is the process of validating yourself. It’s never too late to do it.

Let’s get started.

To learn specific ways to emotionally validate and emotionally connect with your child, toddler, teen, or adult see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. You can find helpful resources for understanding and healing Childhood Emotional Neglect throughout this website.

8 Signs That You Have Empty Feelings

It’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time.

Something is missing in me.

I have no idea how I feel about anything.

Sometimes my chest feels hollow.

I feel empty inside.

What might seem like five unrelated statements is actually five different people describing the same feeling. It’s a hard emotion to identify, and even harder to put into words. Everyone says it differently because there is no standard label for it. But for these five people, and thousands more, it is the same feeling, caused by the same problem.

The one word that sums it up best:

Emptiness

Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb.Continue reading

How Many Times Have You Asked: What’s The Point?

It’s a casual phrase, and many folks use it often.

What’s the point?

We mutter it under our breath at times of frustration. We throw it out at a person who is refusing to cooperate. We use it as a way to express hopelessness and helplessness.  In these times it can actually be quite useful as a way to vent some steam and stress.

But some people use it more often than others. For them, it becomes almost a mantra. It starts to run deeper than the current situation, reflecting not just momentary feelings, but an overall philosophy of life.

What’s the point of doing this?

What’s the point of trying?

I’ve observed that many people who frequently question The Point are doing so because they feel adrift in their lives. Why are they adrift? Because they are not listening to their greatest anchor, director, and connector. They are out of touch with their emotions, which should be telling them what they want, feel, and need, where to go and what to do.

Many of the people who ask, “What’s the point” a lot grew up in emotionally neglectful families, in homes that treated their feelings like they were irrelevant, or even burdensome.  If this is you, perhaps you feel helpless and hopeless. Or maybe you feel trapped, or stuck, or lost. Maybe you feel alone.

For some, the question of “What’s the point” runs even deeper and begins to reflect a questioning of one’s very existence.

What’s the point of being here?

What’s the point of being alive?

If any of what you are reading right now applies to you, please consider it as an alarm bell. A bell that calls you to face the fact that there is a big problem in your life and that it’s time to acknowledge it.

Steps to Find Your Answer to What’s the Point?

  1. Start paying attention to when these words come to mind. Most likely there is a general theme that brings triggers this question. Is it at work or at home? When you’re alone? When you’re in conflict with someone? When something doesn’t work out for you?  Take note because understanding this is important.
  2. Start paying attention to the words that follow: What’s the point? What’s the point of __________? This will give you information about the true nature of your question. Understanding this is key.
  3. Start paying attention to what’s the feeling you’re having when you say this. Are you, for example, frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless, afraid? Helpless, lost, alone? Identify the feeling you’re having and it will inform your next step.
  4. Start trying to figure out: What’s that feeling telling you? Feelings exist for a reason, and every feeling carries a message. The feeling, whatever it may be, is telling you that you need to change something in yourself or your life.

Examples

The Feeling                                                The Message

Alone                                                            Open your walls and let someone in

Sad                                                                Figure out why you’re sad and address the cause

Frustrated                                                    Frustration is a feeling meant to drive you to action.

Lost                                                               You are lacking direction. Start working toward finding one.

Those are only a few possibilities. The number of different feelings and situations that can bring about “What’s the Point” is endless. Understanding yours is key. How deep does yours run? Are you feeling hopeless or helpless? Or are you jumping to a simple question as a coping mechanism? Might that be actually allowing you to avoid facing the complexities in your life?

Ask yourself questions. Pay attention, and look inside yourself. Because the answer to your “What’s the Point” is likely not simple, but it’s important. And it is there.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) makes you more prone to asking “What’s The Point.” To understand why, and to learn more about CEN, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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