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What Triggers Abandonment Issues? 4 Ways to Heal

What Triggers Abandonment Issues? Anything That Hints of Abandonment.

One day, you’re going through your life just fine. Going to work, seeing your friends, and all of the normal everyday things. Then, without warning, your world turns dark.

Suddenly you feel a need to protect yourself from those you trusted yesterday, and you feel a sense of anger, hurt, and rejection in relationships that made you happy before. Suddenly, you feel lost, alone, and bereft.

Why the change? Did a random mood come over you? Did depression set in? Maybe, but probably not. What probably happened was that you encountered a surprise trigger; one you didn’t expect or see.

Someone or something triggered your abandonment issues. And your feelings about yourself, your life, and someone you love have all been cast in a different light.

Such is the power of abandonment issues.

Abandonment issues come from being wounded by an important person in your life unexpectedly leaving you. For example, in childhood a parent suddenly becomes less available (or leaves or passes away); or, in adulthood, your spouse or partner unexpectedly walks away. A significant abandonment at any time in your life can leave you with an abandonment wound.

Your abandonment wound must be acknowledged and addressed, or it will sit under the surface of your life, waiting to be triggered. Years later, someone important to you may say or do something that feels to you like they no longer care or may leave – maybe they are only going on vacation, or cancel a lunch date –  but that feeling of being walked away from, or left, gets touched off. And suddenly, your world turns dark.

What Makes You Vulnerable to Abandonment Triggers? Being Unaware

Not everyone who is abandoned ends up being vulnerable to abandonment triggers. Some people are more vulnerable than others. And what makes you more vulnerable is this: being unaware of the full importance and impact of your abandonment wound.

If you are someone who pays little attention to your own feelings in general, you are likely to minimize the emotional impact of painful events, such as your original abandonment. And being unaware of an event’s true effect on you (the wound) leaves that effect, and all its power, in its place as you move forward in your life.

Your buried, unacknowledged wound sits under the surface of your life, roiling with unaddressed feelings. Like the lava sitting in an inactive volcano, your wound waits to be touched off by any large or small thing that may happen in your current life to trigger it.

Did Your Childhood Set the Stage? Yes.

As a child, did your parents notice and respond to what you were feeling? Were emotion words used very often? Were you supported when you felt hurt, sad, or angry?

Any answer less than “all of the above” means that you did not receive enough emotional attention and support when you were growing up. You were raised with some amount of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

By not responding to your feelings enough, your parents, probably without realizing it, sent you a powerful, subliminal message each and every day:

Your feelings don’t matter.

As you grew into adulthood, you were set up to overlook your own emotions. You were set up to under-attend to your emotional wound.

Since our feelings, even very old ones, do not go away until they are at least accepted and acknowledged, still dwell there, under the surface, waiting for a trigger….

4 Steps to Heal Your Abandonment Issues

  1. To go forward, you must first look backward. Identify your first, wounding abandonment. If it seems unimportant, accept that it actually was and that you have simply been ignoring it.
  2. Talk through your original abandonment experience with someone you trust. A friend or a therapist will be a good choice for this. Try to recall how you felt when it happened. Try to understand that original event in a new way, applying the wisdom of your adult brain.
  3. Begin to work on healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Pay more attention to your emotions all the time, and start to notice and put words to what you are feeling.
  4. Own your abandonment wound. That pool of pain lies within you, waiting to be accepted, and treated as if it matters. Simply acknowledging and accepting it will make you so much stronger.

When you accept your pain and treat it as if it matters, you are doing an amazing thing. You are healing your abandonment wound, making yourself less vulnerable to what triggers your abandonment issues. But you are also doing much more. You are treating the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are (your emotions), as if they matter, and you are treating yourself as if you matter.

You are taking strides in healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect by making yourself emotionally aware. You are taking your power back and moving forward, gradually leaving your abandonment issues behind you.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, and to learn more about how CEN happens and how to heal,  Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, why it’s so invisible, and how to heal it, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

You Can Use This Video to Help Heal Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs as they raise you.

You can see from this definition that Childhood Emotional Neglect is not something that your parent does to you. Instead, it is something that your parents fail to do for you.

For example, your parents fail to notice enough when you are upset, hurt, or in need of help. Or they fail to ask you enough what you feel, what you need or what you want. So it’s not an actual event, it is quite the opposite. It is, in fact, an event that fails to happen.

This is why I have so often said that most Childhood Emotional Neglect is typically invisible and unmemorable. It weaves itself into the fabric of the family, and endures quietly in the everyday drumbeat of family life, with emotions in the family falling under the radar day after day after day after day.

No one talks about feelings or names them, no one teaches the children about feelings, and no one validates what anyone else is feeling enough. Which is not to say that none of it ever happens at all; but simply that it does not happen as much as the child needs.

But there was a 2009 experiment by Dr. Edward Tronick, a psychology professor at UMASS Boston, that shows a sudden, active, visible, and memorable version of Childhood Emotional Neglect as it happens.

After you watch the video, I have more to say. But please do not read further until you’ve watched the video.

So go to the link below and watch it. Then come right back here so that I can help you process it. Even if you have seen this video before, it is vital that you watch it now. We need it to be fresh in your mind as we use it to process your CEN.

(If you have problems with the link below, just go to Youtube and type into the search bar “Edward Tronick Still Faced Experiment.”)

Watch the Still Faced Parent Video. Then come right back!

OK, so now you’ve watched the video. And I have some questions for you.

I would like for you to take some time with each question, really thinking about it. Writing your answers is helpful instead of just thinking them.

3 Questions About the Still Faced Parent Video

  1. What feelings did you see the baby having after its mother assumed the still face? Can you name three? Please make sure you use only one word for each feeling, not phrases or descriptions.
  2. Did you have any feelings while you watched the video?
  3. Can you name the feelings you had while watching it? Again, single words, not phrases or descriptions.

Step 1 in Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

I ask you to consider how the child responded in the video, what you thought the child was feeling, and how intense her feelings were.

Then think about how it might affect an infant to grow up with a parent who is not necessarily as dramatically ON or OFF as the Still Faced Parent but is nevertheless blind to her child’s feelings.

Unlike the extremes of the still faced parent, the emotionally neglectful parent’s emotional inattention may be quite consistent and predictable. Imagine that the child continually goes to his parent for soothing or support, and can generally count on having his physical needs met. But his emotional needs fall by the wayside.

What does this child learn? She learns that when she needs to be soothed, comforted, or understood, she should keep those needs to herself. She learns that, unlike her physical needs for food, water, clothing, and shelter are important, but that her emotional needs are not. She learns that the deepest, most biological expression of who she is, her emotions, do not matter.

She learns that she does not matter.

Yet the emotionally neglected child will likely have no memory of his parent’s failure to act. Unlike the child of a more extreme or unpredictable parent who suddenly withdraws attention, rejects or abandons the child, or emotionally abuses him, he will likely be unable to see or recall the more subtle, everyday lack of action.

This is what happens in the life of the child who is growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect.

In my five-part Fuel Up For Life Recovery Program to heal Childhood Emotional Neglect, the first step is the foundation for the other four. Step one is becoming aware, and truly accepting, the reality of your Childhood Emotional Neglect: that it happened to you, how it affected you as a child, and how it’s affecting you now.

Now that you have watched the video and thought about how it pertains to you, I invite you to go back and watch it again. This time, pay attention to what you are feeling as you watch it. Watch the Still Faced Parent Video Again.

Then, keep in mind this: the feelings you have while you watch this video are likely the ones you had as a child, probably in a less intense but more chronic way, over and over throughout your childhood. These are probably also the feelings that reside in your body, now walled off but still there, in your adult life too.

Over the next few weeks, when you have a few minutes to yourself, keep picturing yourself in the place of the child in the Still Faced Parent Video. Try picturing yourself as a child, with the parents you had and in the home you grew up in.

What CEN lessons did you learn? What CEN messages did you get? How are you continuing to follow those lessons and messages now? Consider these questions for some time, and think deeply into it. Your answers form the foundation upon which your healing will be built. The deeper your understanding, the more thorough your awareness, the more ready you will be for the next step in your recovery.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable. To find out if you grew up with it, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn much more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn how to feel your feelings and express them in your relationships plus parent your children in an emotionally responsive way, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Why Do We Ignore Our Feelings? Because They’re Confusing

There is one powerful aspect of all of our lives which refuses to conform to the laws of nature. This part of your life has the ability to make or break your marriage, direct your career choices, drive your friends away, or keep them connected to you through thick and thin. It is rooted in your physiology, defines your humanness, and yet makes you a human unique from every other.

Despite its incredible power, it is nevertheless largely ignored and suppressed by many people. I am talking, of course, about emotion.

Why Do We Ignore Our Own Feelings?

Two reasons:

  1. Many of us view our feelings as an unnecessary burden. We have no idea how useful our emotions are.
  2. Emotions are confusing. They don’t make sense to us so we ignore them.

Not surprisingly, these two reasons perpetuate each other. The less attention we pay to our feelings, the less we learn how they work and how to use them. That only serves to make them more confusing.

Then the problem is perpetuated in another, even more, enduring way. If your parents were confused by your feelings and ignored them (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), then they inadvertently taught you to do the same. Growing up blind to your own feelings, you will also be blind to your children’s feelings, and you will raise them as you were raised.

On and on it goes, with one generation after another learning little about how their own feelings work and what to do with them. One generation after another, expecting feelings to be logical, make sense, and conform to the laws of nature. Causing more and more people to become frustrated and baffled and, lacking a way to cope, choose to ignore them.

The Laws of Nature

Think Newton’s Laws of Gravity, the Laws of Motion, or the Relativity Principle. These laws of physics allow us to understand, define and predict our complicated world. They’re all based on formulas and can be demonstrated by mathematics. They make sense. They’re logical.

As complex as those principles may be to thoroughly understand, basic knowledge of them at least provides us with guidelines. We know what to expect when we drop an apple or push a chair, and generally why it happens.

But many bright people have sat in my therapy office completely befuddled by their own or their spouse’s feelings. And they are confused for a very good reason. It’s usually because they’re trying to apply the logic of nature to something that does not follow them:

It’s wrong for me to be angry about this.

How can she possibly feel that way?

That’s a dumb way to feel.

You just said you’re happy, and now you’re not. Which is it?

I need to stop feeling this way.

5 Ways Emotions Defy Logic and Nature

  1. With emotion, there is no right or wrong. Our emotions are biological. They originate in our brains, and they are involuntary. Because of this, morals and ethics do not apply to them.
    The Takeaway: Never judge yourself for your feelings. Instead, judge yourself for your actions.
  2. Emotions can be both a help and a burden at the same time. Feelings can be heavy and can weigh on us. Yet they are vital sources of information. They are our body’s messages, and if we listen, we are informed and directed.
    The Takeaway: View your emotions as your friend, rather than your enemy.
  3. Opposite emotions can co-exist within the same person, about the same thing. It’s entirely possible to feel both pleased and disappointed about something; happy and sad; fascinated and repulsed, love and hate.
    The Takeaway: Don’t oversimplify your feelings or anyone else’s.
  4. The more your emotions hurt you, the more they can help you. Our most painful feelings carry the most powerful, most vital messages. “Do something,” they tell us. “Face something, say something.” Our pain wants us to look at what we’d rather not see, and accept what we’d rather not know. The more painful the message, the more important it is to listen.
    The Takeaway: Your emotions have great value, especially the most painful ones.
  5. Accepting and welcoming your emotions actually makes them go away. It’s true. Feelings that we avoid feeling have great staying power and tend to get stronger. The very best way to make a feeling fade is to welcome it, sit with it, and process it. Try to understand its cause. All of these steps take away its power. It will stop running you, and you will instead take charge of it.
    The Takeaway: Stop avoiding an emotion if you want it to go away.

Feelings cannot be true or false, right or wrong, smart or stupid. You cannot choose them. Your body chooses them for you. They just are what they are, period.

Your feelings are your greatest motivators and guides. They are messages from your body, that’s all. They may hurt, but they can’t hurt you. Listen to your feelings, but don’t give them too much power. It’s your responsibility to manage them, share them with care, and try to understand them on their terms.

It’s your responsibility to learn how your emotions work so that you’ll understand how your children’s emotions work. Then, instead of teaching them to ignore their feelings, you can teach them how to feel, name, manage and share their feelings: the exact opposite of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

That’s you, stopping the cycle of confusion and avoidance. That’s you, defying the laws of human nature. And creating a different future for us all.

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

To learn more about emotions, how they work, and what happens when you ignore them, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to use your feelings in relationships and teach your kids about emotions, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Some parts of this article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com and have been republished here with the permission of the author.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: 4 Ways to Fill Your Emptiness

Growing up with your emotions ignored is a far bigger thing than most people would ever imagine.

As a child, to cope with the unspoken demands of your childhood home, “Keep your feelings to yourself,” you push your emotions off to the other side of a wall, and this is, without a doubt, a brilliant and adaptive move. After all, now those burdensome emotions are no longer a problem for your parents or yourself.

But when you grow up, it does become a problem. Something is missing inside you; a valuable resource that you need. If only you had full access to your feelings, they would guide you, inform you, motivate and connect you. Sadly, you are operating with a dearth of this rich asset that everyone else enjoys.

The strange thing about this missing asset is that even though you don’t realize what you are missing, you feel it. When it comes to blocked-off feelings, the body knows. Somehow, in some way, you will, in your body, feel it.

Some people actually say, “I feel empty,” and they can point to a place in their belly, chest or throat where they feel it. Others say they feel numb, lost, apart, at sea, or different. And others say, “I don’t feel things as intensely as other people do.”

Emptiness is unique to its holder, but yet it is always the same. It is your body saying, “You are missing something important. Wake up. Pay attention. This matters.”

Fortunately, there are ways to make your emptiness go away. There are things you can do that will powerfully change your life for the better. No, healing your emptiness is not simple, but it is definitely possible.

The 3 Areas of Healing Your Emptiness

Thoughts/Behavior Relationships Your Inner Life  
Recognize what you didn’t get in childhood Increase emotional connections Grieve what you didn’t get
Emotional awareness & management Boundaries (distance?) with parents as needed Develop compassion for yourself
Self-care Work on trusting others Decrease self-directed anger
Decrease self-blame Therapy relationship Self-acceptance & self-love
Increase self-knowledge Share your pain with another Value your emotions
If you have depression or anxiety, let medication help Let down your walls Reclaim the parts of yourself that your parents rejected or ignored

 

If you find this Table overwhelming, please don’t be alarmed. All of these items can be done, and improvement in one of these areas often will feed into other areas. I know this because I have been through them with many people in therapy, and have witnessed amazing progress.

However, please take note of two things: It takes commitment, conscious effort and time. You may benefit from the help of a therapist. It is, though, entirely possible to fill your emptiness on your own, with the right structure and support.

4 Ways to Heal Your Emptiness

  • Accept and Grieve The first and most vital step for everyone who feels empty is to recognize that your empty space represents something that you didn’t get in childhood. Identify what is missing (emotional validation, connection and perhaps rejected parts of yourself), and grieve it all. This may involve feeling sad and/or angry. It’s okay. You have to feel it in order to move forward.
  • Break Down Your Wall Try to access your feelings. This process may seem impossible to many, but it is not. Focusing inward rather than outward, paying attention, and using various mindfulness and other emotion techniques can help you feel them more. Then it becomes vital to accept them and learn to name them, which brings us on to Step 3.
  • Learn the Emotion Skills You Missed Start tuning in to what you’re feeling and why. Working on learning how to put your emotions into words, how and when to express your feelings, and when and how to manage them. All of these skills can be learned. Depending on the depth of your empty feelings, you may be able to learn them yourself with enough guidance. If you have the deepest, most painful kind of emptiness, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is most helpful. It is designed to help you manage your feelings and impulses.
  • Deepen Your Relationships When you begin to break through your wall, you’ll be feeling more, and you will be feeling different. People in your life will start to tell you that you seem different. You’ll become more emotionally connected and emotionally available, more interesting, and more real. Now is the time to start taking risks. Share with a trusted person that you are working on getting closer to people, and on feeling more connected. Work on becoming more open, sharing more, and being more vulnerable.

An amazing result of working through the four steps is this: you will gradually learn to love yourself. Picture yourself as the child you were, growing up as you did. What parts of you did your parents ignore or reject? Know that they did so because of who they were, not because of who you were.

Have compassion for that little child, and for yourself as an adult. Your struggle is real, and you deserve more and better. You must reclaim, and learn to love, all of the different parts of who you are: your emotions, your needs, your inner you.

Your emptiness is an important part of you. It represents the old and the past, but also the future and the new.

It is not an absence but space, filled not with pain, but with possibility. It is room for your new story, the one you will write yourself. It is room for your life, your feelings, and the people who you choose.

Fill it with self-knowledge, self-care, self-compassion, self-love, and your people.

Then you will find yourself running on empty no more.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how to reclaim your feelings and use them, see the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

A version of this article was first published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with permission of the author.

How to Know if You Were Emotionally Abandoned as a Child: 4 Signs

Abandonment issues lurk under the surface of your life, often raising their ugly heads when you least expect them. Abandonment issues are caused by a painful experience of being left by someone important, like a parent, spouse, sibling or very close friend.

Any single one of these three key factors can make you more vulnerable to developing abandonment issues:

  1. The abandonment is sudden or unexpected
  2. Your abandonment experience happens in your childhood
  3. You have a general tendency to downplay or ignore your own feelings

All abandonment is not the same. There are two different types.

What is Physical Abandonment?

Most people think of abandonment as a physical experience. In other words, when a child is abandoned, it means that his parents physically left him. Many children have this painful event happen when a parent dies or leaves them for another reason. Adults can be physically abandoned by their spouse leaving them, or by another important person in their lives dying or moving away.

What is Emotional Abandonment?

Emotional abandonment is far less obvious, yet equally painful. Emotional abandonment happens when an important person who you believe cares about you and loves you, seems to stop caring about and loving you.

Abandonment Issues Are A Coping Response

The experience of being abandoned, either physically or emotionally, prompts a very predictable response in your human brain. Your brain automatically goes into high alert, becoming hyper-vigilant for any whiff of anything that could lead you to be hurt by another abandonment.

If you do not acknowledge and work through how you feel about the abandonment experience, your brain’s hypervigilance becomes more intense and continues longer. Over a much longer time than necessary, you may search for rejections or potential abandonments everywhere, and your brain may continually hold you back from taking healthy emotional risks in your life. This is the very definition of “abandonment issues.”

4 Signs You Have Abandonment Issues

  • A fear of initiating plans with people – This likely applies not only to new friends and acquaintances. You may have the same fear about suggesting plans with those you’re close to.
  • A feeling of hurt and/or anger when someone fails you, even in a small, explainable way – You may experience everyday failures of the everyday people in your life especially acutely. It’s hard for you to take in the other person’s circumstances as an explanation. Instead, you feel it personally and deeply.
  • You feel safer keeping people at a distance – Depending on others emotionally is scary, so you prefer to keep your relationships feeling safe. You may be great at taking care of others emotionally, but you’re afraid to let others take care of you.
  • You tend to downplay the importance of the people in your life – You may find yourself at times pretending that you care less than you do about certain people and what they do. “I don’t care if you’re there or not,” “Either way, it’s good with me,” “You can do whatever you want and it won’t matter to me,” are things you may hear yourself saying.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) in Abandonment Issues

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you. When you grow up this way, you receive a powerful, unspoken message throughout your childhood that your emotions do not matter.

Being raised to ignore your feelings sets you up to downplay your emotional reactions to all of the things that happen throughout your entire life, and that includes your abandonment experience.

Unfortunately, ignoring and downplaying your feelings about the abandonment prevents you from being able to work through them in a healthy way. All that old hurt, sadness, anger and fear stays right there with you, keeping your brain in high alert, and holding you back from new relationships and experiences. All of this may happen completely outside of your awareness.

What To Do if You See These Signs in Yourself

  1. Become aware of your abandonment fear – Accepting your sensitivity to abandonment, and the event that originally caused it, is an important key. Once you see your fear and what caused it, you can begin to take control of it.
  2. Become aware of the Emotional Neglect in Your Childhood – Just as Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) sets you up to be vulnerable to abandonment issues, healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect will help you resolve them. Learning to pay attention to your own feelings, and how to value and use them (all part of recovery from CEN) will not only go far toward solving your abandonment issues but will make you stronger in many other areas of your life too.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is often subtle and invisible, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To learn more about CEN and how to heal it, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal yourself see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to heal CEN in your relationships and as a parent, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Parents Follow These 3 Steps to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child

Parents, I have an important message for you. Of all the gifts you can give your children, emotional intelligence is probably the most valuable.

For decades, it was believed that IQ (Intelligence Quotient) was the primary factor in the ability of a child or adult to be successful in life. Now, thanks to lots of research, we know differently. Emotional Intelligence (also known as EQ) is more important to life satisfaction and success than IQ.

So what exactly is emotional intelligence? EQ expert Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. defines it as the ability to manage your own emotions, and also the emotions of others. If you have a high EQ, you are able to recognize your feelings when you have them and understand what they mean. You are also able to read what others are feeling and respond to them appropriately. This makes you well-equipped to manage complex interpersonal experiences.

The importance of EQ to life success has been established in study after study over the last 15 years. Research has shown that students who receive training in emotional intelligence at school try harder in classes, have better self-awareness and self-confidence and manage their stress better in school.

Not only that, high EQ adults are more effective and more successful in leadership positions in both business settings and in the military.

Despite the incredible value of these skills, they are not in the minds of most parents as they raise their children. Parents want to teach their children how to behave, but they are probably not thinking about teaching them how to handle their emotions.

But this must change. Because fortunately, although a parent may have some difficulties helping his child understand complex math or chemistry concepts, all parents have the capacity to help their children develop emotional intelligence.

3 Steps To Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children 

  1. Know that your child’s behavior is driven by his feelings. So the best way to teach her to behave is to help her learn how to manage her emotions.
  2. Set a goal to notice your child’s feelings. This step alone is enormously important.
  3. Never judge your child for having feelings. Accept his feeling, and then step in to help him name it, understand why he is having it, and manage it.

Example of The 3 Steps In Action

As Marcy stood chatting with another mom at their daughters’ soccer game, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that her 10-year-old daughter Halley was playing very aggressively. She was kicking the ball in a too-hard, undirected, and out-of-control fashion. As she watched, she saw Halley kick so hard that she missed the ball altogether, and then sit down on the field appearing to be in tears.

Macy and Halley

Marcy walked over to meet Halley on the sideline, where the coach sent her to cool down. “What’s going on Halley?” she asked her daughter. (This question tells Halley that her feelings are visible and important.)

“I hate soccer and I don’t want to play ever again,” Halley exclaimed with disgust in her voice.

“What’s making you so angry right now, Hon?” (Marcy has named the feeling for her daughter).

“Sophia and Katy were ganging up on me before practice, and they’re still doing it on the field. I hate those two,” Marcy explains, breaking into tears now.

“Aw, Halley, it always hurts so much to get ganged up on. No one likes that!” (Here Marcy has validated Halley’s feelings as understandable while also establishing that her painful experience happens to other people too.)

“You can handle this Halley. I know you’re hurt, but you can put that aside for now and finish the game. Then we’ll talk about what to do about Sophia and Katy on the way home, OK?” Putting her hand in the air for their trademark “pinky high-five,” Marcy says. “You’re strong and you got this.” Halley does the high-five with her mom and nods her head reluctantly. (Here Marcy has shown Halley that her feelings can be managed, and also how to do it.)

Years from now, at age 26, Halley will benefit from this exact experience. She will find herself feeling excluded at work, right before a meeting in which she has to present an important project. She will notice that she’s angry, and she will realize that her feelings matter. She will take a moment to identify the reason (she feels excluded).

Armed with this self-awareness of what she’s feeling and why she will now use the emotion management skills her mother taught her. She will say to herself, “I will think this through later. Right now I need to focus on this presentation.” With that, Halley will put a smile on her face and walk into the meeting looking composed and confident.

Marcy could have handled the soccer situation very differently. She might have walked over to Halley and said any of these things that any parent might say:

Pull it together, Kiddo and get back out there.

This kind of behavior will get you kicked off the team!

What the heck is the problem?

You’re really annoying the coach!

If you’re not going to play the game right, we might as well go home.

None of these responses from a parent would be horrific or unreasonable, but all would ignore the importance of the child’s feelings (the definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN). And all would miss an important opportunity to teach the child emotional intelligence.

If you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect yourself; if your parents didn’t teach you the EQ skills, then you may need to begin to learn them yourself.

But as a parent, you don’t have to be perfect at this. You only have to be willing to try. Please know that every single time you notice, respond to, and validate your child’s emotions, you are giving him the skills for a lifetime. Skills for confidence, connection, success, and motivation.

Possibly the greatest, most loving gift ever.

To learn how to emotionally connect with, and emotionally validate, a child of any age (small, teen or adult), see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, your Parents & Your Children.

CEN can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take the CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Undermines the Highly Sensitive Person’s 3 Greatest Strengths

Lucy — The Highly Sensitive Person

Lucy sits on the edge of her bed, relieved to be behind the closed doors of her bedroom. Slowly, she climbs under the covers, pulling them over her head. In complete darkness, she finally is able to relax.

Lucy — The Highly Sensitive Person With Childhood Emotional Neglect

With her covers over her head, finally, in complete darkness, Lucy wonders why she still does not feel better. Being alone feels better in one way but worse in another. The dark, safe quiet soothes her, but it also unsettles her. Somehow, it seems to intensify that uncomfortable feeling she always has somewhere in her belly: the feeling of being deeply and thoroughly alone in the world. “What is wrong with me?” she wonders.

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

In the late 1990s, it was discovered that some people are born with much greater sensitivity to sound, sight, texture, and other forms of external stimulation than others. Aron & Aron (1997) named people who are “wired” in this special way the Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.

If you are an HSP, you tend to be a deep thinker who develops meaningful relationships. You may be more easily rattled or stressed than most people, but it’s only because you feel things deeply. You may seem shy, but you have a rich and complex inner life, and you are probably creative.

HSP children like Lucy are far more affected by events in their family than their parents and siblings might be. Yelling seems louder, anger seems scarier, and transitions loom larger. And because the HSP tends to feel others’ feelings, everyone else’s sadness, pain or anxiety becomes her own.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when you grow up in a family that does not address the feelings of its members. The emotionally neglected child may feel sad, distressed, hurt, angry or anxious. And when no one notices, names, inquires about, or helps him manage those feelings, he receives a message that, though unspoken, rings loudly in his ears: your emotions do not matter.

As an adult, the CEN person, following the belief that her feelings are irrelevant, continually tries not to deal with them. She pushes them down, hides and minimizes them, and may view them as a weakness.

This is why the emotionally neglected child grows up to feel that something vital is missing. He may appear perfectly fine on the outside, but inside, without full access to his emotions, which should be stimulating, motivating, energizing and connecting him, he goes through his life with a sense of being different, flawed, empty and disconnected for which he has no words to explain.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Undermines the Highly Sensitive Person’s 3 Greatest Strengths

  • Strength #1: You feel things deeply and powerfully. If you have ever doubted that this is a strength, I want to assure you that it is. Our feelings are built into us for a reason. When we allow ourselves to feel them, they guide us. They tell us what we need and what we want. They motivate us, and they connect us to others. But when you grow up emotionally neglected, you learn that your emotions are useless and should be ignored and hidden. This takes your powerful force from within, disempowers it, and perhaps even shames you for having it.
  • Strength #2: You are a deep thinker who needs to have meaning and purpose in your life. You are not one to skim across the surface of life. You need to feel that what you are doing matters. This important strength helps you invest more deeply in your own decisions, and helps you to live your life in a more real way. But when you grow up with the CEN message that your feelings don’t matter, you internalize an even more painful message. Since your emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who you are, it’s natural for you as a child to internalize the message as, “I don’t matter,” and to take it forward with you as a deeply held, unconscious “truth.” Going through your adult life, you tend to feel less important than other people, and this undermines your ability to experience yourself, and your life, as meaningful and important.
  • Strength #3: Your intense feelings and your need to have meaning and purpose in your life both make your relationships heartfelt and genuine. But when you grow up with your feelings ignored (CEN), you miss out on the opportunity to learn how to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. This can leave you somewhat at-sea when it comes to handling your most important relationships: for example, your marriage, your children, and your closest friends. You are held back from your tremendous capacity to enjoy wonderful, whole-hearted relationships by your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Many HSPs question their 3 greatest strengths or do not even recognize them until they read about them. Even then, it can be difficult to believe or own them.

Since Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up to question your essential validity as a person, you are uprooted from your inalienable strengths, dragged away from what should be grounding you and driving you and connecting you.

Minus enough emotion skills, you are not sure what to do with the powerful force from within, your feelings. Sadly, instead of harnessing it and using it, Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up for a lifelong battle with your greatest resource.

How To Reclaim Your Greatest Strengths

  1. Once you see that Childhood Emotional Neglect is at work in your life, you are immediately on a new path. Seize the moment by learning everything you can about CEN. How it happens, why it’s so invisible and unmemorable, how it affects your relationships, and the steps to healing.
  2. Start treating your emotions differently. Instead of trying to escape, avoid or minimize your feelings, begin to pay attention to them. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and think about each emotion and what it’s telling you.
  3. Walk through the steps of CEN healing. They are clearly outlined, and thousands of people have walked the walk before you. Take one step after another, and you will begin to heal and change.

You will see how beginning to treat your most valuable resource with the regard and significance it deserves, you will be moving forward to a much more empowered future.

The future you were born to have.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it in yourself and your relationships, see the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More.

Emotional Neglect can be subtle so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

How To Know If Your Marriage is Affected By Childhood Emotional Neglect

Please enjoy this free excerpt from the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

How do you know if your marriage is affected by Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?

As you know, Childhood Emotional Neglect is invisible, and the huge majority of people who have it are completely unaware. That means that legions of relationships are weighed down by this unseen force. So how do you know if this applies to yours?

If you or your partner has already done some Childhood Emotional Neglect work, then you already know that your relationship is affected. When one partner is out of touch with his or her emotions, meaning he or she lacks emotional awareness and emotion skills, there is no way for the relationship to continue unaffected.

Even if you know that Childhood Emotional Neglect has affected your relationship, it’s important to know the specific effects. On the other hand, if you’re reading this book because you suspect your partner has CEN, then it might help to know some signs to look for.

Here are the markers I use to spot Childhood Emotional Neglect when I meet a couple for the first time for therapy. These are the main ways that it often plays out over time or can be observed in a given moment. As you read through the markers, think about whether each item is true of you, your partner, or both.

The Main Markers of CEN in a Relationship

Conflict Avoidance

Conflict avoidance is essentially an unwillingness to clash or fight and is one of the most classic signs of CEN in a couple. It’s also one of the most damaging.

Believe it or not, fighting is healthy in a relationship. There is no way for two people to closely intertwine their lives for decades without facing some important differences of opinion hundreds, or more likely thousands, of times.

Conflict avoidance has the power to severely undermine a relationship. Not only are you and your partner unable to solve problems by avoiding them; in addition, the anger, frustration and hurt from unsolved issues goes underground and festers and grows, eating away at the warmth and love that you should be enjoying with each other.

Look For:

  • You try not to bring up hurtful topics or issues that you’re angry about.
  • You are so uncomfortable with clashes or arguments that you sweep problems under the rug instead of talking about them.
  • Bringing up something negative feels like unnecessarily opening Pandora’s Box.
  • You or your spouse uses the silent treatment when unhappy or angry.

Feeling Lonely or Empty in the Relationship

Being in a long-term committed relationship is supposed to prevent loneliness. Indeed, when a relationship is going well, there is a comfort that comes from knowing that someone always has your back. You are not facing the world alone. You are not one, you are two.

But it’s entirely possible to feel deeply lonely, even when you are surrounded by people. And when emotional intimacy is not fully developed in your relationship, it can lead to an emptiness and loneliness that is far more painful than you would feel if you were actually alone.

Look For:

  • Even when you’re with your spouse, you sometimes feel a deep sense that you are all alone.
  • You lack the feeling that you and your spouse are, or that you work together as a team.

Conversation Is Mostly about Surface Topics

Every couple must talk about something. Emotionally connected couples discuss their feelings and emotional needs with relative ease. Not so with the emotionally neglected. When you have CEN, you stick with “safe” topics. Current events, logistics or the children, for example. You can plan together. You can talk about the kids. You can talk about what’s happening, but not about what you’re feeling. You seldom discuss anything that has depth or emotion involved. And when you do, it may feel awkward or difficult, and the words may be few.

A willingness to open up, to explore problems and to have an exchange about feelings, motivations, needs, and problems is essential to the health of a relationship.

Look For:

  • Talking about a topic that involves emotion is a huge struggle for one or both of you. Emotional intimacy requires vulnerability on both sides. When you have no choice but to talk about something emotional, it’s a challenge of epic proportions. Trying to put feelings into words seems impossible. You typically, as a couple, end up blowing up and/or abandoning the topic altogether.
  • It’s difficult to find things to talk about. You go out to dinner for your anniversary, and you expect it to feel warm and romantic. But instead, the table between you feels like a barrier that divides you. In general, the conversation can feel stilted or awkward, especially when it “should” be the opposite.
  • One or both of you have a limited vocabulary of emotion words.

Emotional Intimacy Is Lacking

Few couples know the term “emotional intimacy,” what it means and how to cultivate it. Yet emotional intimacy is the glue that holds a relationship together and the spice that keeps it interesting. It’s essential, but it’s also hard to tell whether you have it or not. It’s also the biggest relationship challenge of all for those who grew up with Emotional Neglect. How do you know if your relationship lacks this very important ingredient?

Look For:

  • You are uncomfortable showing emotion in each other’s presence. When you’re feeling sad, angry, anxious or upset, or hurt, lost, vulnerable or overwhelmed, you try to hide it from your partner. Maybe you don’t want to burden her, or perhaps you don’t want to appear weak. Maybe you prefer to keep things positive.
  • You are often surprised by how poorly your partner seems to understand or know you. You’ve been together long enough that you should be able to predict each other’s actions and decisions. Yet your partner frequently misinterprets what you mean, or incorrectly predicts what you will do.
  • One or both of you frequently misreads or misrepresents what he is feeling; for example, he insists, “I’m not angry,” when he is clearly, visibly angry.
  • One partner claims to be perfectly happy, even when the other expresses deep dissatisfaction in the relationship. (When a couple is emotionally connected, one cannot be happy with the relationship unless the other is also happy.)
  • It feels like something important is missing, even though you like and love your partner. Holding back your feelings in any of the ways described above leads to an absence of the very stuff that makes a relationship rich and meaningful. It’s hard to put it into words, but something key is missing, and some part of you knows it.
  • You are living very separate lives, even though you like and love each other. You are two planets revolving around each other, and only sometimes do your orbits meet. Lack of teamwork and lack of connection leaves you each pursuing paths that work for you, regardless of whether those paths bring you together or not.

Lack of Passion

If you’ve been together a long time, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on now, Dr. Webb. What long-married couple has passion?”

My answer is PLENTY. Passion changes over the years, for sure. But in an emotionally connected relationship, it does not go away. It simply mellows and becomes more complex over time. Passion goes from the desperate drive to be constantly together and having sex early in the relationship, to a feeling of comfort knowing that your partner is nearby. You look forward to seeing her after an absence. You have a desire to be physically close, a deep understanding of each other’s sexual needs, and a motivation to please each other sexually.

Passion is also most deeply felt during and after a conflict. Conflicts stir intense feelings, a form of passion. And working through them together fosters a feeling of trust and connection that also is passion.

Many couples don’t know that they can and should have passion, or what to look for to answer whether they have it or not. Here are some signs that can tell you that it’s lacking in your relationship.

Look For:

  • Very little fighting takes place in the relationship
  • Lack of physical affection on a casual or daily basis
  • Inadequate sex and/or desire for sex
  • Lack of need or desire to see each other

I hope you found this chapter from Running On Empty No More helpful. If you see some of these markers in your own marriage, please do not despair. The silver lining of Emotional Neglect in your marriage is that the cause of the problems is also a powerful path to change. See the book for much more in-depth information about what it means to have Emotional Neglect in your marriage, how to talk about it with your spouse, and exactly what to do.

How Being Raised By A Narcissist Can Make You Feel You’ve Been Neglected Your Whole Life

Can Being Raised By A Narcissist Make You Feel You’ve Been Neglected Your Whole Life?

Narcissism could best be described as an excessive focus on one’s own wants, needs, happiness and feelings over the wants, needs, happiness, and feelings of others.

When you are dealing with a true narcissist, you can bet that even when they are kind, they are being kind for a reason that serves them.

Generally, it’s not a good idea to trust a true narcissist. They will have their own interests in the front of minds and may be willing to hurt you in various ways if they deem it necessary in order to meet their own needs.

It is very important to keep in mind, though, that there are many different levels of narcissism. Some narcissists are so self-absorbed that they do not care about anyone else’s health, happiness or safety. Others can have milder versions of varying degrees, where they may act moderately narcissistically in some situations, and much less so in others.

There’s a lot of talk about narcissism these days. At last, the general population is becoming knowledgeable about what narcissism is, what it looks like, and how it forms.

But in some ways, the more you know about narcissism the more questions you may have. It can stir up a lot of doubt about the people in your life, whether one or more is a narcissist, and what you can, or should, do about it.

No one has more reason, or more right, to have such questions than the child of a narcissist. Being raised by a narcissistic parent is a very hard thing to understand and cope with. This is made even more complicated because the child of the narcissistic parent can be fooled into believing or feeling the narcissistic parents’ attention, which is actually mirroring, is love.

Raised By a Narcissist

The child of a narcissist has a life that appears one way but is actually another. This is, in many ways, a process of growing up deceived.

All children begin from a place of trust at birth. Babies are born with their brains already primed to experience love and care from their parents, and so they naturally interpret their parents’ actions through that lens.

All parents must make decisions for their child. But most parents make decisions, as best they can, based on what they feel is best for their child. In stark contrast, the narcissist makes decisions based on what’s best for herself. But children, of course, know nothing about selfishness or narcissism, so they will naturally believe that their parents’ selfish decisions arise from love and care.

Narcissistic parents are unable to see or hear their child or connect with her inner self. Because they experience their child as an extension and reflection of themselves, they are only tuned in to whether the child makes them feel bad or good. When you make your narcissistic parent feel very, very pleased, you will bask in the warm glow of her “love.” But it’s not an honest love of your true inner self; it’s simply a matter of feeling pleased with the positive mirror image you have provided for her.

This is how the child of a narcissist ends up in a school he would not choose, or practicing an instrument he does not enjoy. It is how the child of a narcissist ends up home alone, feeling unloved and poorly cared for. It is how the child of a narcissist ends up feeling like her parents’ prized possession one day, and their deepest shame the next. It is how the child of a narcissist ends up feeling unknown, unseen and unheard, but confused about why that is. And this is how the child of a narcissist grows up to feel alone, empty and lost as an adult. And despite the periodic warm glow of the Narcissists’ false love, it’s how the child ends up feeling neglected all of her life

Unaware, you are constantly a victim of your parents’ whims and needs. But inconsistent, false or absent love takes its toll, leaving you, the child, wondering, “Am I an acceptable person who is deserving of love?”

How Being Raised By A Narcissist Can Make You Feel You’ve Been Neglected Your Whole Life

The short and simple answer to this question is this: You end up feeling neglected because you truly have been. Yes, you are a victim of Emotional Neglect. This can be fairly obvious if your parents were absent, abusive, or, out of selfishness, did not provide for your essential physical, educational or physical needs.

But many lovely victims of their narcissistic parents struggle to understand or accept that they are a victim at all. Because what if your parent was not particularly abusive, appeared loving, and met at least some of your essential needs described above? This can make it very difficult to accept that you were neglected.

But you were. You were emotionally neglected. You grew up with what I call Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs. And no parent fails more on that than the narcissist.

You grew up with the deepest biological expression of your truest self, your feelings/emotions, ignored. Your narcissistic parent, if he saw your feelings at all, experienced them as an inconvenience or a burden. This conveys to you a powerful Life Rule that you will likely follow your entire life: “Your feelings are a useless burden.”

What your parents gave you in childhood will be continued through your whole life. You have grown up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. And you have learned how to neglect yourself. But the good news is this: Now that you’re an adult, the ball is in your court. You can reverse the harm your narcissistic parent did to you by treating yourself in the exact opposite way.

To learn how to reverse the harm of your narcissistic parent, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn how to deal with your narcissistic parent now in a way that allows you to become stronger and healthier, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

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

Above all, never doubt this fact for one more minute: Being raised by a narcissist does make you feel you’ve been neglected your whole life.

Why Legions of People Wonder: Do You Feel Like I Do?

Do you feel like I do?

On The Outside

There’s a deep, draining feeling that many people carry through every single day of their adult lives. But few are consciously aware of this feeling, or ever actually put into words. So please allow me to do it for you, using the words I have heard many people use to describe it.

It’s a feeling of:

Deeply different from everyone else; somehow flawed

Alone and disconnected

On the outside looking in

Unfulfilled

Empty or numb

This is a feeling that saps your energy and your joy. It lurks in the background, making it hard for you to believe that you fit in anywhere, or that you are okay.

This feeling colors your world gray and holds you back from many of the most rewarding parts of life.

When you live with this feeling you are most likely not fully aware that you have it, yet it drags on you and weighs on you day after day. This feeling can become such a constant in your everyday life that you experience it not as a feeling, but as a fact of life.

Woven into the fabric of your existence, you naturally assume it’s a basic part of the human condition.

Doesn’t everyone feel like I do?

Until one day you look around, and you see that other people seem more comfortable in their own skin. Other people seem to feel that they belong. Other people seem to be living lives filled with passion and joy and heartbreak and hurt that you, in some inexplicable way, for some unfathomable reason, seem unable to fully experience.

“What do all these people have that I lack?” you wonder. Why do they seem to be so connected, so comfortable, so driven, so fulfilled?

Why do I seldom feel like I belong? Why am I living on the outside? What makes me different from everyone else?

Believe it or not, when you ask these questions, it’s actually a good sign. It means that you have finally moved beyond your lifelong assumption that everyone feels this way.  You have progressed forward and reached a realization.

Everyone does not feel like I do. I am missing out on something important. Something that truly matters.

Now some good news. Keep reading and you will find that you can overcome this feeling. You don’t have to live with it anymore. But first, let’s talk more about what caused it in the first place, and also what it means.

What Causes This Feeling?  Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect is, unfortunately, a common childhood experience. It takes place in many unsuspecting homes and is perpetrated by many unaware adults. It’s often invisible, usually unmemorable, but yet it leaves an enduring mark upon the child.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to notice your feelings enough and respond to them. So it’s not exactly something that happens to you as a child; it’s more like something that fails to happen for you as a child.

Your emotions and feelings and emotional needs go unnoticed, unvalidated, and essentially ignored.

This was the experience that caused the feeling that you live with now.

What Does This Feeling Mean?

When you grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, you learn that your emotions are a useless burden, and you continue to treat your own feelings in exactly that way as you move forward in your life.

Going forward, whenever you have a feeling, you either question it or doubt it or minimize or reject it. You assume that your feeling is wrong, or selfish or excessive or useless so you override it or ignore it or both.

Every time you do this to one of your emotions, you are doing it to yourself. You are pushing the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are down, and away. In doing so, you are minimizing and marginalizing yourself. You are making yourself an incomplete version of yourself. You are squelching yourself.

What does this feeling mean? It means that you are continuing to neglect yourself.

How Can You Get What Other People Have?

In a way, the answer to this question is remarkably logical. To get what other people have, you must reverse the process of the Childhood Emotional Neglect you grew up with. You can start by absorbing and embracing the Emotion Facts below.

5 Emotion Facts

  • Your emotions are wired into your biology. Since you cannot choose them, you cannot judge them as wrong, excessive or bad. They are what they are and you must accept them.
  • Every feeling is a message from your body. It’s important to pay attention and listen to their message.
  • Emotions are useful sources of energy, connection, motivation, passion, and purpose. The more you embrace your feelings, the more you will have all those things.
  • Even though every feeling is important, that does not mean every feeling should be indulged. There are ways to manage your feelings, and many feelings can, and should, be managed.
  • Never judge yourself for having a feeling. It is what you do with your feelings that matter.

Once you understand and accept the 5 Emotion Facts above, you can make a vow to yourself that you will stop the pattern set up for you in childhood. And then you can fulfill that vow by treating yourself in a different way.

So when that inner voice says, “It does not matter what you feel,” you do not accept it; you talk back.

“It does matter what I feel,” you insist. “I will accept and pay attention to this feeling. I will listen to its message, I will take responsibility for it. I will manage it or, if needed, share it. I will own it as the deepest expression of myself.

No more, “Do you feel like I do?” No more “on the outside.”

My solemn vow to myself: I will not hide anymore.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect keeps you feeling disconnected from the most important people in your life, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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

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