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Your “Gut Sense” is Sending You Messages: 4 Good Reasons You Must Listen

It was a scorching hot day in Costa Rica, well over 100 degrees. My husband and I decided to take our 8-year-old son for a hike to get as close as possible to the Arenal Volcano. We walked several hours through beautiful, lush forest.

As the sun got higher and the day got hotter, we reached an endpoint marked by signs reading, DANGER, KEEP OUT. We walked around the safe side of the area for a while enjoying the beautiful birds and monkeys in the trees and then decided to head back.

As I turned to go back in the direction we had come from, my husband said, “No, let’s not go that way. We can get there by going this way.” Puzzled, I slowly turned around and followed. As we traipsed back through the forest, I had a trembly feeling in my belly that, in hindsight I realized was fear. This did not feel right.

It had taken several hours to reach the volcano, and I knew that if we went the wrong way it could be dangerous. We had consumed all of the water we had carried, and it was getting hotter by the minute.

My gut was telling me to speak up, but my brain said, “You know you’re terrible with directions. You’re almost never right about these things. Just keep quiet and follow.”

The Brain/Gut Connection

Perhaps you’ve seen the many amazing studies over the past few years that have proven that there is a direct connection between your brain and your gut.

These new studies explain many things that used to baffle us: why we get butterflies in our stomachs when we’re nervous, and why Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ulcers are both so closely connected to and influenced by the amount of stress we are under.

Here’s the most amazing thing about the new research. We now know that the brain-gut connection travels in both directions. Not only does your emotional state (and emotional health) affect your stomach; the reverse is also true. Believe it or not, recent studies have shown that the health of your gut can also affect your psychological health and your emotions.

Clearly our human brains are wired to our guts for a reason: to connect our brain with our body in a useful way.

So choosing to ignore this vital source of information is choosing to ignore a remarkable feedback system that we are meant to have, and meant to use to our benefit.

4 Ways Your Gut Can Help You

  1. That tight, pressured and unsettled feeling in your gut tells you when you’ve taken on too much in your life; when you’re over your head or unprepared for something important. It’s your body sending you a wake-up call that says, “Prepare!” “Slow down!” or “Take better care of yourself!”
  2. Your gut informs you when you’re making a mistake. You know that hesitant feeling you get in your belly when you’re about to do something? That’s your gut telling you to pause and consider. Your gut can stop you from making an impulsive error.
  3. Your gut can tell you when you’re angry. When your stomach feels tight and closed, like it’s pulled into a fist, that’s anger. Your belly is saying, “Take action.”
  4. Your gut can help you make decisions. Decisions should be made on two levels: half from your intellect (your thoughts and knowledge), and half from the feeling you have in your gut. When these two forces are working together, you’re primed to make the best possible decisions.

Did some of the “gut feelings” described above seem hard for you to grasp? That is a sign that you are not closely enough connected to your gut. Which means you’re missing out on an incredibly useful tool in your life.

It is certainly true that some folks are not as good at tuning in to their gut. If you’re out of touch with yours, there is probably an explanation for it. Your brain/gut pathway became disconnected for a reason. There are many possible ways for this to happen.

Potential Reasons You’re Missing Signals From Your Gut

  • You don’t trust yourself. Is it hard for you to imagine that your body can give you guidance? Or that the guidance your body offers could be accurate or grounding? This is a sign that you’re afraid to listen to the signals your gut is sending because you don’t believe in them.
  • You are too focused on other people’s feelings and views to tune in to your own. This is typically a product of growing up in a family that gave you the message that your feelings aren’t important or valid (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN). Since your feelings, in general, aren’t valid, the ones coming from your gut aren’t valid.
  • You greatly value thought over feeling. This value is partially a product of our culture, which tends to glorify intellectual achievement and skills, and which views emotions as unnecessary. If you believe that your feelings are a weakness (a loud and clear message of CEN), you are not likely to tune in to the feeling messages your gut is sending you.

Hopefully, as you’ve been reading this you’ve been tuning in to your gut. Perhaps you’ve attempted to feel some of the gut feelings I described. Perhaps you’ve imagined the connection between your brain and gut, or even tried to visualize it.

If you have, congratulations! You have begun the process of joining your brain with your gut.

How to Start Taking Advantage of Your Brain/Gut Feedback System

  1. Knowing about it is a good start. Now that you know messages are coming from your gut, you can make a conscious effort to listen to them. Take the time to check your gut and ask yourself what it’s feeling and what it’s saying to you.
  2. Work on believing in yourself. Knowing yourself, valuing yourself, and trusting yourself will help you value and trust the messages from your gut.
  3. Learn more about the value of your feelings in general. Some feelings originate in your belly, and others in your brain. These feelings are equally valuable and equally useful, and understanding why, and how to use them, is key.

And now to finish the Costa Rica story. As you may have guessed, we were indeed heading the wrong way. We were moving further from our destination, not closer. Eventually, dehydrated, sweaty, and covered with dust from walking down a dry road for several hours, a kind local picked us up, gave us water, and drove us back to our hotel. For me, this was an important lesson in trusting my gut.

It was a valuable lesson indeed.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect and how it leaves you disconnected from your feelings in adulthood, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn more about the newest research findings on the gut/brain connection, see:

That Gut Feeling on The American Psychological Association website.

The Gut-Brain Connection on the Harvard Health Publications Website.

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

When Two Emotionally Neglected People Marry: Part 1

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN does not go away just because you grow up.

Being raised in a family that does not address your feelings (or, in other words, an emotionally neglectful family), launches you into your adult life without two things that you absolutely need for a healthy, happy, resilient marriage. The two missing things are full access to your feelings, plus the emotional skills to manage and express them.

It’s difficult enough when one member of a couple has CEN and the other does not. But when two CEN people marry, special challenges abound. Neither spouse has full access to their emotions and neither has the necessary emotion skills.

Meet Olive and Oscar. I told their story in my second bestselling book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children. Today, I am sharing a free vignette from the book that describes exactly how it feels to be in a double-CEN marriage.

Olive & Oscar

Olive and Oscar sit across the table from each other, quietly having their Sunday morning breakfast.

“Is there any more coffee?” Olive asks absentmindedly while reading the day’s news on her laptop. Irritated, Oscar stands up abruptly and walks over to the coffee-maker to check.

“Why does she always ask me? She’s so manipulative. She just doesn’t want to have to walk over to the coffee-maker herself,” he cranks inwardly. Returning to the table with the pot, Oscar fills Olive’s cup. Placing the empty carafe on the table with a slight bit of excessive force, Oscar sits back in his chair with a sigh and an angry glance at Olive’s still-bowed head.

Olive, sensing something amiss from the placement of the carafe and the sigh, quickly looks up. Seeing Oscar already absorbed in his newspaper, she looks back down at her laptop but has difficulty focusing on her reading.

“I wonder what’s going on with Oscar,” she muses. “He seems so irritable lately. I wonder if his work stress is coming back. It must be his job pressure getting to him again.”

After thinking it through, Olive makes a plan to avoid Oscar for the day in hopes that giving him some alone time will help his mood improve (with the added bonus that she won’t have to be around him). Olive makes a plan to ask him about work at dinnertime to see if he is indeed under stress.

Later that evening Olive returns from her errands and finds that Oscar has made dinner for both of them. Sitting down to eat, Oscar seems to be in a better mood.

After a brief exchange about Olive’s errands, she asks, “So how are things at work?”

Looking at Olive quizzically, Oscar answers, “Fine, why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Olive replied, relieved to hear him say it was fine. Do you want to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones while we eat?”

The TV goes on and they eat dinner in silence, each absorbed in the show.

What’s Really Going On in Olive and Oscar’s Marriage

The double CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) couple seems much like every other couple in many ways. And yet they are very, very different. This type of relationship is riddled with incorrect assumptions and false readings. And unfortunately, neither partner has the communication skills to check with the other to actually find out what he is thinking or feeling, or why she does what she does.

Since neither partner knows how to talk about the frustrations and conflicts that naturally arise (as they do in every relationship), very little gets addressed and worked out. This is a set-up for passive-aggressive retaliation that, over time, eats away at the warmth and caring in the marriage, outside of both partners’ awareness.

Small, indirect actions like carafe-slamming, avoidance, ignoring, and forgetting can become the primary means of coping and communicating in the relationship. None of them are effective.

The Danger of Emotional Distance: Misunderstanding

In the scenario above Oscar misinterprets Olive’s thoughtless absorption in her reading as “manipulative,” and Olive misinterprets Oscar’s irritation with her as the possible result of job stress. Instead of dealing with these issues directly at the moment, Olive chooses avoidance for the day. Her question to Oscar that evening at dinner is too simple and off-target to yield any useful information. She is left with a false sense of reassurance that Oscar’s mood magically improved and that nothing was really wrong in the first place.

So forward they go, into the coming weeks, months, and years, with Oscar viewing Olive as lazy and manipulative, and Olive on constant guard against a return of Oscar’s job stress. Drastically out of tune with one another, they live in separate worlds, growing ever distant from each other.

How The CEN Marriage Feels

Olive and Oscar sometimes feel more alone when they are together than they do when they are apart. They are divided by a chasm as wide as the ocean. They each sense that something important is wrong, but sadly, neither can consciously describe nor name it.

Fortunately for Olive and Oscar, they actually have loads of potential. They each have plenty of feelings; they are simply not aware of those feelings or able to use them in a healthy, relationship-enriching way. At the heart of their marriage are companionship, history, concern, and love. All that is really missing from their marriage is emotional awareness and skills, both of which can be learned.

There is a good chance that one day, one of them will “wake up” emotionally, and knock on the other’s wall.

Watch for Olive & Oscar Part 2 in a future article, and you will see that is exactly what happened.

What This Means For You

Emotionally neglected kids grow up to emotionally neglect themselves. Then, when they get married, it is natural (not the same thing as healthy) that they will emotionally neglect their spouses.

In so many vitally important ways, the Emotional Neglect that happens in a marriage is no one’s choice and no one’s fault. It is literally programmed into the emotionally neglected child.

Every day, in my office, I help couples understand what’s missing and why. Together, we relieve them from the blame and shame and set them on the path forward.

In a future post, Part 2, I will share the continuation of Olive and Oscar’s story from the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. You will see where the path of CEN recovery took them, which was right to my office for couple’s therapy. You will learn about my work with them, and how their efforts to heal their marriage sent ripple effects through their children and their parents.

To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, what makes it so unmemorable, and how to heal yourself, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

How often do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?

The reality is, we can always find someone richer, better looking, more successful, or otherwise better off than we feel we are.

I’ve noticed that some folks are especially prone to self-comparisons. It’s folks who are unsure of their own self-worth. Folks who are looking to find some sort of proof that they are as valid and important as other people.

While some more narcissistic types of people tend to find themselves on top of their comparisons, those who are looking for evidence of self-worth are more prone to experience the opposite.

If this is you, sadly, you probably too often find yourself sadly coming up short.

If You Are a Frequent Self-Comparer

If you’re a frequent comparer, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Because current research shows that some of the things we value most in today’s world are not actually the things that make us happy, healthy, or content in our lives. So we are comparing ourselves on things that may seem like they are meaningful and important, but they are actually not.

Here are three recent psychological studies that offer some surprising things to be thankful for. They may make you re-think some of the comparisons you dwell upon and turn them topsy-turvy.

3 Ways You Compare Yourself That Have Been Debunked By Research

1.  Material Possessions

Van Boven & Gilovich (2003) conducted a fascinating study looking at what makes people happier: Is it material possessions or rewarding experiences?

These researchers gave two groups of students different instructions. Group 1 was asked to write a brief description of something they had purchased in the last year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like electronics, vehicles, clothing, etc.

Group 2 was asked to write a brief description of something they had experienced in the past year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like trips, meals out, concerts and such.

Each group was then asked to reflect on what they had just written and to rate how happy they felt as they were thinking about the purchased possession or rewarding experience.

These researchers found that the subjects felt significantly happier when they contemplated the past experience than they did when reflecting on the purchase.

They concluded that possessions may make you feel happy at the moment of purchase, but they don’t feed your overall happiness the way a positive, fun, and memorable experience does.

The Takeaway: Instead of comparing your possessions to others, try to actively bring yourself happiness by planning and participating in fun events.

2. Appearance

Although being highly attractive has been shown to offer certain clear advantages when dealing with the opposite sex, many studies have found that being beautiful gives people a tremendous disadvantage when dealing with someone of the same sex.

For instance, Agthe et al., (2011) found that when beautiful people are being interviewed for a job by a person of the same sex, they are more likely to be experienced as threatening. This puts the beautiful person at a disadvantage for being hired.

Anderson and Nida (1978) found that those of the same sex are likely to judge the beautiful as less talented than someone of average attractiveness.

Krebs and Adinolfi, (1978) showed that although we think of attractive people as more socially popular, they are actually more likely to be socially rejected by people of the same gender.

The Takeaway: Whatever your level of attractiveness, it’s okay because there are positives and negatives built into every level of appearance. Turning your energy toward appreciating yourself as you are and simply being yourself will work much better for you than meaningless comparisons.

3.  Standing in Your Family

Suitor et al., (2015) surveyed 725 grown children from 309 families.

They found that the child identified as the mother’s favorite in the family was more likely to be depressed than the other adult children. These favored children reported more depressive symptoms and experienced more tension with their adult siblings. They also felt more burdened by the emotional needs of their aging mother.

The Takeaway: Being the family favorite isn’t necessarily something to envy or strive for. Your role in your family is what you take from it and what you do with it.

What It Means When You Are a Frequent Comparer

If you tend to question your own self-worth, take a less-than position in relationships viewing the other person as more important, and come up short in your comparisons, these are all signs that you may have grown up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN undermines your ability to know, accept, and love yourself as you are. It makes you feel like a less important, less valid person once you grow up.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Some element of stopping the comparisons has to involve making a conscious effort to stop. But the most important part of correcting this tendency to compare is to grow more into yourself. And, by that, I mean owning your true strengths for what they are, appreciating your true self, and holding yourself more dearly than any material possession, favoritism, or advantage.

This is exactly what happens as you walk through the steps of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Remarkably, as you begin to feel your feelings more, you are connecting with your deepest self. You are being who you truly are and valuing your feelings which are the deepest expression of yourself.

To find out if you have CEN, take the free Emotional Neglect Test and see the book Running On Empty.

Next time you find yourself coming up short in comparisons, try to pull yourself back to look at the big picture.

After all, you’ll always be able to find someone who has more than you or seems better than you (everyone can).

And you don’t need to be favored, rich, or stunningly beautiful to be happy.

True and lasting happiness arises from holding your own values and feelings close to your heart. And your own memories, experiences, and relationships in your own high esteem.

No one and I do mean no one can take those away from you.

This article is a new version of an article previously published on Psychcentral.com. It has been updated and reprinted on this website with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

This Pandemic is a Good Time to Face Your Social Anxiety

Discomfort in groups

Are you secretly relieved that social distancing is giving you a built-in excuse? Few social demands, fewer social gatherings, canceled group activities?

Remember how you used to feel when you were invited somewhere? All kinds of things went through your head as your discomfort grew:

How many people will be there?

I prefer one-on-one.

I’d rather be alone.

I don’t like being in a group.

I don’t want to go.

Continue reading

Healing and Growing Beyond Survivor’s Guilt

What is survivor’s guilt? Google dictionary describes it this way:

A condition of persistent mental and emotional stress experienced by someone who has survived an incident in which others died. For example, “He escaped with his life but suffered from survivor’s guilt.”

This is the definition most people think of as “survivor’s guilt.” But mental health professionals and therapists know that this concept applies far more widely than this description would suggest. Because we see survivor’s guilt in our offices every single day, but it’s a slightly different type.

How Therapists Define Survivor’s Guilt

 The guilt people often experience as they make healthy choices and take steps to heal themselves emotionally, as each step takes them farther away from the dysfunctional people in their lives.

For many hard-working, well-meaning folks, there is no way around it: in order to heal yourself, you must leave someone behind.

Healing from abuse, trauma, or childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is accomplished by taking a series of small steps. As you make healthy changes in yourself and your life, each of these small steps takes you somewhere. You are literally moving forward.

Subtle shifts in your perspective on what happened to you, the sharing of your experience with another person, or the validation of your feelings; as you take these steps, bit by bit, you change.

As you change yourself, you are, in an important way, saving yourself. You may be pulling yourself out of a deep hole that you have shared with some important family or long-time friends. You may be taking steps out of an addiction or a depression or a dysfunctional social system.

Whichever it is, you will probably not be able to save everyone (more on that later in this blog). At some point, you may face a fateful choice. Do I save myself? Is it wrong to do so? What about the people I have shared dysfunction with all these years?

This is the petri dish in which your survivor’s guilt is born.

A Comment Shared By a Reader of My Blog, Unedited 

There are no words for feelings in my family and I have always been astonished when I read what you say about the role of parents in educating children as to emotions–that they’re valid, they have names, they’re normal and they can be appropriately managed without making kids feel bad about themselves.

To this day, bringing up anything emotional–and after all the self-work I’ve done, I’ve gotten bolder and more forthcoming about my feelings–is like shouting at a wall. “There’s no there there.”

My parents have zero words for emotions. No response capability. This stuff does not exist. And at last, I am seeing how it has made me feel: nowadays, pretty darn frustrated! (In childhood, just plain awful.) Learning about CEN and working on it is like finally emerging from the edge of the dark woods and seeing the sun at last, and realizing my entire family is deep in the woods, still. Do I step out, without them? that’s the choice I feel, and it’s painful either way.”

***************

This reader describes what many people feel. And it illustrates, in some very important ways, what an unfair situation survivor’s guilt is. When you have the courage to face your pain and the fortitude to take steps to save yourself, you truly have nothing to feel guilty about.

Is it hard to leave people suffering as you gain perspective, make better choices, and feel stronger? Yes. Should you try to pull your people forward with you? You can try. Will it work? In some cases, it may. But here’s the key question.

Is it your responsibility to pull your people forward with you? Unless they are your dependent children, the answer is NO. It is not.

Why It’s Not Your Responsibility to Save Your Friends or Family

This will be a very short section because the answer is very simple. It is a straightforward truth that can nevertheless take a lifetime to learn. It is this:

You cannot save another person. You can give them a boost, but ultimately, they must save themselves.

In reality, the best way to bring another person along is to give them the information they may need to have in order to take the steps themselves. Then, save yourself. In doing so, you provide them a role model, and an example of what courage, strength, and healing look like. You show them what they can do if they so choose. You make yourself available for support if they decide to follow.

There. Your job is done. Keep taking steps. Keep making yourself happier, healthier, and stronger. Fight back that survivor’s guilt.

And thrive.

Comments From Brave People Who Saved Themselves, Unedited

Both From: 3 Different Things That Cause Anxiety and Their 3 Different Solutions

Comment #1

I am having to (and had to) let several relationships go including family (not so easy) and friends (not so easy when you still have other friends (who are worth keeping) in common. Like Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” I would rather not have family or friends if they are toxic and not good for me. What is wonderful is being able to tell the difference and developing the feeling of indifference over past relationships (or even ongoing) that are not worthy of me. At any rate, all worth it.

Comment #2

As I became more determined to heal from childhood emotional neglect, I learned that telling the truth was essential. To my surprise and grief, telling the truth has cost me virtually all my friendships. It finally struck me that all of my friendships had grown out of my dysfunction. As I gained a clearer picture of myself, CEN, and dysfunctional coping strategies, I realized all of my “friends” were severely disturbed individuals (“misery loves company”). I was the only one facing the challenge of finding healthy ways of relating. Sick people run from healthy behaviors. When we turn and face the truth, and begin to choose different behaviors, our relationships begin to look very different too. I see this as evolution but it’s hard to let go of old ways and old relationships that keep you from functioning. I now have several solid friendships that feel very, very different from the old ones. I’m trying to get used to it!

To find many more resources about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see the author’s Bio below this article.

Learn about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens in the life of a child, and how to heal it in the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More.

This article was originally published in psychcentral.com. It has been updated and republished here with the
permission of the author and psychcentral.

How to Give Your Children What They Need Emotionally

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

Even though every child is different, all children are also the same in one very important way. In order to thrive, children require emotional attention, validation, and responsiveness from their parents. 

Knowing that you need to provide this to your child gives you a tremendous leg up on parenting. But knowing how to provide it is another thing altogether.

Think of parenting as a process of teaching your children how to manage their emotions. The better you handle your children’s emotions, the better they will be at managing them throughout their lives.

The 3 Essential Emotion Skills for Parenting:

  1. The parent feels an emotional connection to the child
  2. The parent pays attention to the child and sees the child as a unique and separate person, rather than, say, an extension of the parent, a possession, or a burden.
  3. Using that emotional connection and paying attention, the parent responds competently to the child’s emotional needs.

Although these skills sound simple, in combination they are a powerful tool for helping children learn about and manage their own nature, for creating a secure emotional bond that carries the children into adulthood, so that they may face the world with the emotional health to achieve happy adulthood.

In short, when parents are mindful of their children’s unique emotional nature, they raise emotionally strong adults. Some parents are able to do this intuitively, but others can learn the skills. Either way, the child will learn them.

Zach

Zach is a precocious and hyperactive third-grader, the youngest of three children in a laid-back and loving family. Lately, he has gotten into trouble at school for “talking back.” On one such day, he brings a note home from the teacher describing his infraction by stating, “Zach was disrespectful today.”

Zach’s mother sits him down and asks him what happened. In an exasperated tone, he tells her that when he was in the recess line Mrs. Rollo told him to stop trying to balance a pencil on his finger, point-side-up because he might “stab himself in the face.” He frowned and snapped back at Mrs. Rollo by telling her that he would have to bend “alllll the way over the pencil like this” (demonstrating) to stab himself in the face and that he isn’t “that stupid.” In response, Mrs. Rollo confiscated his pencil, wrote his name on the board, and sent him home with a note.

Before describing how Zach’s mother actually responded, let’s figure out what Zach needs to get from the coming parent-child interaction: he is upset by the incident with his teacher, whom he generally likes, so he needs empathy; on the other hand, he also needs to learn what is expected of him by his teachers in order to succeed at school. Finally, it would help if his mother has noticed (emotional attentiveness) that lately, he is very sensitive to “being treated like a baby” because his older brother and sister leave him out a lot due to his age. Zach’s mother needs the three skills: feeling a connection, paying attention, and responding competently, in order to help Zach with his problem.

Here is how the conversation went between mother and son:

Mother: “Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed by her thinking you could be stupid enough to poke your eye out with a pencil. But when teachers ask you to stop doing something, the reason doesn’t matter. It’s your job to stop.”

Zach: “I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”

Mother: “Yes, I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk. Mrs. Rollo doesn’t know that you’re dealing with your brother and sister not listening to you much lately.”

Zach relaxes a little in response to his mother’s understanding: “Yeah, she got me so frustrated, and then she took my pencil.”

Mother: “It must’ve been hard for you. But, you see, Mrs. Rollo’s class is very big and she doesn’t have time to talk things over like we are right now. It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away. Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zach?”

Zach: “Yeah, Mom.”

Mother: “Good! If you do what Mrs. Rollo asks, you’ll never get in trouble. Then you can come home and complain to us if you think something is unfair. That’s fine. But as a student, respect means cooperating with your teacher’s requests.”

This mother’s intuitive responses in the above conversation provide us with a complex example of the healthy, emotionally attuned parenting that leads to the sane, happy adult whom Winnicott describes. What exactly did she do?

-First, she connected with her son emotionally by asking him to tell her what happened before she reacted. No shaming.

-Then she listened carefully to him. When she first spoke, she provided him with a simple rule that an eight-year-old can understand: “When a teacher asks you to do something, you do it right away.” Here Zach’s mother is instinctively attuned to his stage of cognitive development, providing him with a general rule to use at school.

-She immediately follows the rule with empathy and naming his feeling (“Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed…”). Hearing his mom name the feeling, Zach is able to express more of his emotion to his mother (“I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”).

-Again, his mother responds to Zach by naming or labeling the emotion that drove Zach’s rude behavior towards his teacher, the behavior of contradicting the teacher that was viewed as disrespectful (“Yes. I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk…”).

-Zach, feeling understood, responds by repeating this emotion word for himself, “Yeah, she got me so frustrated, and then she took my pencil.”

-But the mother isn’t finished yet. She has, in this conversation, demonstrated to Zach that she understands him and feels for him by demonstrating that she sees his behavior differently than his teacher does. However, she can’t stop there, because his tendency to debate (the likely result of having two highly verbal older siblings) will continue to be a problem for Zach at school unless he can correct it. So his mom says, “It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away.”

-Finally, she holds her son accountable for his behavior, setting the stage for future check-ins on his feisty nature by asking him, “Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zach?”

In a conversation that appears deceptively simple, Zach’s mother has avoided shaming him for a mistake and named his feelings, creating the emotional learning that will allow Zach to sort his feelings out on his own in the future. She has also supported him emotionally, given him a social rule, and asked him to be accountable for following it. And, in the event that Zach repeats this behavior at school, she will adjust her message and her actions to adapt to the difficulty he is having in the classroom.

One of the biggest challenges for most parents in this area comes from their own lack of skills for managing their own emotions. It’s hard to give your children something that you don’t have yourself.

If this sounds like you, never fear. It’s not your fault. Most likely your parents didn’t teach you the skills because they didn’t have them. And the best part: you can learn the skills!

To find out how to learn the skills for yourself, see the bestselling books, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

This blog is adapted from the book: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It was originally published on psychcentral.com as The 3 Essential Emotion Skills For Parenting. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

Why You May Have Unclaimed Charisma: Childhood Emotional Neglect

Charisma: Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others

What makes a person charismatic? Is it a form of narcissism? No. Do you have to be born with it? Most people would say that you either have it or you don’t, but it’s not true.

I believe the truth is something far more complicated. Charisma is a special collection of personal traits that many people have. One quality that true charisma requires is being in touch with your feelings.

I see many people who grew up with their emotions ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) have many of the right qualities. But CEN people have learned how to hide their feelings. More comfortable outside the limelight, they have learned to tamp down their own light and hide.

If you grew up with CEN, with your emotions ignored or discouraged, you may have a charisma that you have not yet claimed. This is very important since an essential part of charisma is that you have to own it

As you read the list below, think about yourself and which of these qualities you may already have, which you are hiding, and which you can nurture in yourself.

The 8 Basic Qualities of Charisma

  • Integrity and authenticity – This involves being the real you and feeling good about it. When you know yourself, it allows others to know you too. When you’re knowable and visible to others (clearly not hiding anything), people know they can count on you because of who you are. People feel connected to you almost automatically. They are attracted to you.
  • Understanding and responding to emotion – When it comes to interpersonal relationships, emotion is power. When you own your own feelings and work with them, you are immediately empowered. When you recognize what others are feeling and respond to them; by validating, understanding, caring, or challenging, you naturally draw in the people around you.
  • Positive energy – Your energy is infectious. It spreads to others and stimulates and energizes them.
  • Enthusiasm – Enthusiasm gives you and others more energy. It motivates and empowers people. People are naturally drawn to those who are enthusiastic.
  • Fallibility and accountability – Social science research has shown that a speaker or leader who makes a mistake, like tripping over a power cord, for example, is immediately more liked by the audience. Everyone likes their leaders to be fallible. Owning your mistakes and showing that you’re OK with your own humanness is lovable and connecting. Trying to look like you know everything, or never make mistakes, is not.
  • Smile – Smiles hold great power, but only when they’re real; and only when they fit the situation. If you’re always smiling, people won’t connect to you, and if you never smile, people won’t like you. So smile when you feel it, and your smiles will empower you.
  • Being present in the moment – Attention is power. People can feel it when they, or an experience they are sharing with you, have your undivided attention. It’s an unspoken message to them that they matter. Everyone is drawn to this message. People can also sense divided attention, and it makes them feel less important and less connected.
  • Confidence – You can have all of the qualities above, but they will remain hidden unless you own them and project them with confidence. This is the final essential quality of the truly charismatic.

4 Best Quotes About Charisma

  1. How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are about making them feel good about you — Dan Reiland
  2. Charisma is the fancy name given to the knack of giving people your full attention. — Robert Brault
  3. The essential element in personal magnetism is a consuming sincerity–an overwhelming faith in the importance of the work that one has to do. — Bruce Barton
  4. Charisma is the transference of enthusiasm. — Ralph Archbold

The world is full of wonderful people who listen, care, and give. People who smile, own their mistakes and quietly inspire others. People with bright lights shining within them, but who lack the confidence to allow others to see it.

If some little voice within you is saying, “This might be me,” I ask you to listen to the voice and believe in yourself.

Claim your qualities and build them, trust yourself, and stop hiding your light.

Because the world needs more people like you. We need your light.

To learn how to understand and work with emotions, and get to know the real you, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

This post was initially published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and reproduced here with the permission of Psych Central and the author.

5 Ways to Improve Father’s Day With Your Emotionally Neglectful Dad

Father’s Day is easy for all of the people who feel loved by, loving, and close with their dads. If your relationship with your father is strong and uncomplicated, I hope you will give him the wonderful Father’s Day that he so deserves.

But the world is full of people who have more complex relationships with their dads. If you feel either confused or disappointed about your father, there’s a fairly good chance that it’s because of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

  • Do you get irritated or snap at your father for apparent no reason?
  • Do you cringe a little inside when you have to talk to your dad?
  • Does being alone with your father make you feel awkward or uncomfortable?
  • Are you uncertain whether your father loves you and/or is proud of you?
  • Do you sometimes feel that your dad doesn’t actually know you very well?
  • Do you look forward to seeing your father, and then often feel vaguely let down or perplexed afterward?

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3 Challenges of Having Emotionally Neglectful Parents

Having worked with hundreds of people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN, I have had a unique window into how CEN plays out in people’s adult lives and relationships.

The sad reality is that growing up in an emotionally neglectful family, with your feelings ignored or discounted, has profound effects on how you feel in your adult life, the choices you make, and your perceptions of yourself.

The Emotional Neglect you experienced as a child stays with you throughout the decades of your entire life. It hangs over your relationships, holding them back from developing the depth and resilience that you deserve to have.

But there is one relationship that is uniquely influenced by CEN. It’s affected relentlessly, even if silently, from Day One of your life. It’s your relationship with your parents.

3 Common Challenges of Having Emotionally Neglectful Parents

  1. You have spent your life feeling emotionally let down by your parents. This makes it hard for you to have full trust and love for them. You may have always blamed your lack of positive feelings on yourself and/or felt guilty about it.
  2. Your parents are the ones who birthed and raised you, so they should be the ones who know you best. But since they have overlooked your emotions all this time, they have overlooked the deepest, most personal expression of who you are. So sadly, they may not actually know you in any kind of deep or meaningful way. This is painful.
  3. Once you realize your parents emotionally neglected you, it can be hard to be around them. It’s like going to a well for water over and over again, only to find that it’s still dry. To cope with the letdown and disappointment, you may try to convince yourself that you don’t want or need their love or approval anymore.

Below is a section about emotionally neglectful parents from my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. In it, I explain how and why it’s so uncomfortable and painful to have your emotional needs thwarted by your parents.

A Passage From the Book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships

Built into our human brains from birth is an intense need for emotional attention, connection, approval, and understanding from our parents. Every baby born needs to feel emotionally connected to its parents. We do not choose to have this need, and we cannot choose to get rid of it. It is powerful and real, and it drives us throughout our lives.

I have noticed that many people with Childhood Emotional Neglect try to downplay this essential requirement by viewing it as a weakness, or by declaring themselves somehow free of it.

“I’ve given up on my parents. They mean nothing to me now.”

“My parents are incapable of giving me anything. I’m done.”

“I simply don’t care anymore.”

I fully understand why you may say these things, either out loud or just inside your own head, and believe them. After all, it’s very painful to have your deeply personal, human needs for emotional connection and emotional validation thwarted throughout your childhood. It’s a natural coping strategy to try to minimize your frustrated needs or eradicate them altogether.

But the reality is, no one, and I mean NO ONE escapes this need. You can push it down, you can deny it, and you can deceive yourself. Sometimes it may seem to be gone, but it does not go away. It will inevitably return.

That’s why growing up without being seen, known, understood, and approved by your parents leaves its mark upon you. But with all that said, growing up thwarted in this way is not a sentence to being damaged.

In fact, it is very possible if, instead of disavowing it, you accept that your need is natural and real, you can purposely manage it. In this way, you can heal the pain of growing up unseen or misunderstood.

Often, contradictory feelings plague CEN children in their relationships with their parents. Love alternates with anger, appreciation with deprivation, and tenderness with guilt. And none of it makes sense to you.

If you identify with some of these struggles and feelings with your own parents, it’s okay. You are in the company of legions of other emotionally neglected folks who are struggling in the exact same way.

And there are answers. There are some key things you can do to make this easier for you.

3 Key Steps to Start Protecting Yourself in Your Relationship With Your CEN Parents

  1. Stop viewing your emotional needs as a sign of weakness. Your need for emotional connection and approval from your parents is a sign of only one thing: your humanity. It’s neither bad nor good, it’s built into your nervous system. It just is what it is.
  2. Accept that, no matter how you feel toward your parents, it’s okay. Since you can’t choose your feelings, you are not allowed to judge yourself for any feeling you have, no matter what it is. So, acknowledge and accept your feelings as they are, because managing any feeling starts with accepting that feeling. 
  3. Shift into self-protection mode. I know this may seem uncomfortable. No one wants to think that they need to protect themselves from their parents, but, in this case, it is necessary. Consider the type of parents you have. Do they seem to hurt you on purpose? Are they too absorbed in their own needs and pursuits to notice yours? Or are they simply unaware of feelings in general and so aren’t capable of noticing or responding to yours? Then, taking into account the type of parents you have, start forming a plan to protect yourself. I am talking about boundaries.

How to Set Up Protective Boundaries

  • Take control of the time you spend with your parents. You may need to alter your patterns of phone calls and visits, keeping them shorter or more structured. You may need to say, “No,” to some of their invitations, see them only on your own home turf, or meet in neutral territory. Start taking charge of the plans, and do so without guilt, since your first responsibility is to protect yourself.
  • Create an internal boundary. Become much more mindful of what you expect from them or ask of them. Share less personal information with them as needed in order to make yourself less vulnerable. Lower your expectations for understanding and emotional support so that you will not set yourself up to be disappointed by what they are unable to give you.
  • Consider talking with your parents about CEN. Some parents, especially ones who mean well but simply don’t understand the psychology of emotions well enough to respond to you emotionally, (I call these parents the Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves or WMBNT) will at least try to understand. For extensive guidance on whether and how to have such a conversation with your parents, consult the book quoted above, Running On Empty No More.

By accepting your own needs and feelings, you have made a good start. Your first responsibility is to yourself. You must protect yourself, even if it’s from your own parents. 

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens and how to recover from it, see my books Running Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships and Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, and  Take The Emotional Neglect Test for free.

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

The 5 Hallmarks of an Emotionally Healthy Person

Do you ever wonder how emotionally healthy you are?

We all have a general idea of what we think an emotionally healthy person looks like. Maybe it’s not being depressed or anxious, not suffering, or not having a diagnosis. Maybe it’s being happy, or being able to live a good life.

All of these things are important and have great merit, of course. But what are the specific factors that make a person emotionally healthy? Here are the five hallmarks that hardly anyone thinks about.

The 5 Hallmarks of an Emotionally Healthy Person

1. You’re able to hold two opposites in your mind at the same time.

“Is she a good person or a bad person? Did you like the movie or not? Are you talented, yes or no? Who’s right, you or me?” This tendency for our minds to polarize things into opposites in order to settle on a clear solution applies to all areas of our lives. But it shows up especially starkly in very personal questions, such as how we view ourselves, how we think about our childhoods, and how we judge others.

The ability to see the gray areas is a skill that not everyone has, for sure. But here we’re talking about a step beyond that. The ability to say during a conflict with another person, “We are both right, and we are also both wrong.” To be able to conclude, in any situation, “This is both extremely good and extremely bad,” “This person is both well-intentioned and potentially harmful,” “I love you and hate you at the same time.” “My parents gave me a lot, but they also failed me terribly.” All are true.

Opposites go together far better than most people realize. And if you can hold the opposing sides in your mind together at the same time, it gives you a birds-eye view of yourself, a person, or a situation that is far more accurate and real than grasping for a one-dimensional answer.

2. You can manage your feelings while communicating.

Managing your emotions is one thing and communicating is another. Each is a difficult skill to master. Put them together and you have a great challenge. Being able to manage the hurt you are feeling so that you can explain to someone how you feel; being able to manage your anger in order to express the problem in a way that the other person can hear. These are two examples of strong psychological mental health.

3. You’re self-aware.

Everyone knows themselves. But the question is, how well? Do you understand your typical responses to things? Are you aware of what you feel, and why you’re feeling it? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Talents? Likes and dislikes? What do you need, and what do you enjoy?

The better you understand yourself, the more resilient you are in challenging situations, the better you can forgive yourself for mistakes, and the better life choices you can make for yourself.

4. You’re comfortable in your own skin.

This involves being happy to simply be you. Think of it as spending time with yourself, happily and comfortably. Can you sit alone with no entertainment and be comfortable? Can you be in the moment right now and not thinking ahead, thinking about the past, or thinking about something or someone else? Are you able to sit with a feeling, accept that feeling, and try to understand it?

These are all examples of being comfortable in your own skin.

5. You’re willing to take risks.

Being able to stretch yourself, not only within your comfort zone but beyond it, takes a great deal of strength and resilience. Are you willing to put yourself out there? Can you rely on yourself to manage failure, if it happens? Do you know yourself well enough to know what’s worth going out on a limb for? Can you forgive yourself if you don’t succeed?

The strength required to take the risk of failure, and to survive failure, is a great strength indeed.

If reading all of these qualities is somewhat intimidating, don’t worry. Few people possess all five. In fact, most of us would do well to simply be striving toward having each one.

3 Ways to Build the 5 Hallmarks and Become an Emotionally Healthier Person.

1. Become less invested in being right.

When you give up some of your connection to being right, you open up a whole new world; the birds-eye world that is an important part of being wise. You rise above the right/wrong mentality, and you start to see yourself and others differently.

Being able to see the polar opposites — the greater truths — makes it easier to understand your own feelings (which often oppose each other) and to understand others. It aids your ability to see and understand yourself.

2. Learn and practice mindfulness. 

Mindfulness, or the ability to be in the moment, with your attention turned inward at yourself, what you’re doing and what you’re feeling, is a key part of both self-awareness and being comfortable in your own skin. It has also been shown by scientific research to have multiple other psychological and health benefits.

3. Work on viewing failure differently. 

Failure is a sign of courage. Failure means that you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and took a risk. Failure, done well, is a growth experience. We can learn more from our failures than we can from our successes.

As you become more self-aware, more mindful, more emotionally communicative, and more comfortable in your own skin, you will be freer to take risks and learn from them. Your relationships will become deeper and more satisfying. This will ultimately support you to experiences and successes far beyond what you ever thought you could achieve.

Growing up in a family that avoids, ignores, or disparages your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) disconnects you from your feelings in your adult life. To find out if you grew up with CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

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