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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In the United States of America, it is a time of reckoning. As a nation, as a people, who do we want to be?
Divided? Filled with hate and judgment of each other? We must decide.
In 2016, a reader commented on my blog, and it made me think deeply about anger, hate, and the harsh way that humanity judges and treats those who are different from ourselves. That reader’s comment inspired me to write this blog post on Psychcentral. Today, in 2020, it is still highly relevant. I have updated it and republished it here.
I’m a white working-class man. I was abused physically, sexually, and emotionally by people I trusted as a child.
The unquenchable anger from the white working class is not caused by a government or system or any other institution. It is caused by neglectful and abusive parenting. You simply can’t stay that angry, resentful, and cruel all your life if you grew up with loving people, no matter what government you have.
When people call others, like millennials, “pampered” what they are really saying is that they wish they had received that kind of care when they were young. When they brag how their toys and playgrounds were unsafe and they turned out OK, what they are really saying is that they wish someone had cared enough to put rubber matting under their own swings when they were growing up.
These people’s parents, guardians, and leaders deflected their own anger from the true target, their own parents, to “others” who did not look like them.
As a child, your parents really scare you when they spit out whatever nasty words they may have used to describe people who are of different races or creeds. You get afraid of these people, and because they don’t look nor talk like you they are very easy to spot. The working-class white people’s current anger is the flip side of genuine fear. A fear you were taught before you could form words.
A man stood on my street corner the day after the election and shouted to all of us, “Those ****” are going to get what’s coming to them now.” He looked like a 60-year-old teenage boy who can’t stop being afraid.
Neglect and abuse are passed down like a family heirloom and often go side by side. Parents will often go from one to the other as the day goes on.
As a trained therapist I believe you could provide much value by teaching people with this much hate how to break the chain of hate by raising their children with attention and love.
Truth be told, I felt somewhat stunned as I read this comment. It expressed in perfect prose some things that I know, with every fiber of my being, are fundamental truths.
Yes, anger is the flip-side of fear.
Yes. The way we treat our children shapes our world.
Yes. Of course. Childhood neglect and abuse are the root causes of anger, racism, and hate.
Anger is a fascinating emotion in many ways. It flows like water, touching and affecting all who are near it. One important way that anger differs from other emotions is that it always seeks a target.
Anger is not satisfied floating freely, like sadness or other forms of pain. Anger is built into us as a self-protective measure, so it naturally needs to be directed at someone or something.
So what if that “someone” who’s the true target is our parent? Our parent who is angry or scary, or inattentive. Our parent who has hurt or neglected us, but upon whom we are completely dependent for food, clothing, shelter, and all forms of care.
A child’s own anger seeks another, safer target; one removed as far as possible from our childhood home. The farther removed the target, the safer it feels for us. It’s a natural human process that is virtually wired in.
Here’s what I believe. Racism will never go away until we all face the true source of our own fear and anger. I hope that we can stop misdirecting our feelings, and have the courage to parent our own children differently than we were parented ourselves.
Let’s face our own pain, and work through it in a healthy way. It’s for the children. It’s for our country. It’s for our world.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. To learn more about how CEN affects relationships see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
Warm thanks to Tyler, who authored the candid, thoughtful comment that inspired this article.
This article was originally posted on Psychcentral. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.
Julie loves her husband Dom very much, but lately, all they seem to do is fight. Julie wonders how Dom can possibly complain that she’s not home enough lately when he can see how many demands she is juggling.
Bill struggles to do everything right in life. He has a good job and a family that loves him. Yet he walks through his days feeling numb. As he provides for his family and responds to his boss’s every request, he sometimes wonders what it’s all for. Recently he’s been drinking more than he should.
House, job, family. Parenting, grocery shopping, errands, and social media; we are all people of the world. And in today’s world, our lives are overly full in so many ways. So it’s ironic that so many of us feel so very UN-full.
The feeling of emptiness is elusive. It’s experienced differently by different people. Hardly anyone knows how to put it into words. So you may at times say you’re stressed or down because it’s the best word you can come up with, even though it doesn’t seem to quite capture what you feel.
Even more likely, you say nothing. After all, you may have a life that is actually quite full. And you may assume that everyone feels this way.
Whatever your personal experience of emptiness, the roots of this feeling almost always can be found in your childhood.
We grow up in households that are busy or struggling, and somehow not quite emotionally nurturing enough. From this, we learn everything about how to stay busy and struggle, but little about how to nurture ourselves.
So we grow up looking in all the wrong places for support and fulfillment. We live our adult lives with a sense that something is missing, and no idea how to find it.
Julie can’t see what Dom sees: that she is hugely over-committed. In addition to her job and her two daughters, she volunteers on two committees at the school. She’s involved in a town fundraiser, and now she’s talking about starting up a small business on the side. Dom watches helplessly as Julie becomes increasingly depleted and worn.
Over-committed and joyless, Julie has lost her way. She seeks to fill herself up with activity, projects, and maybe some recognition, with perhaps a little money thrown in. On this path, Julie will never stop having those pangs of emptiness that come and go.
Bill walks through life feeling numb and knowing that something is not right. He knows he should be happier and more fulfilled. After all, he’s the man with everything. Bill has no idea that throughout his struggle to do everything right in life, he has missed the boat on what truly matters to him.
Bill knows how to walk the walk, but he doesn’t know how to feel. He’s caught up in the externals of life, and he cannot see himself. Bill is missing out on what could give his life meaning: his feelings.
No matter what type of emptiness you feel and how you’ve tried to fill it, it’s never too late or too tall a task to change your course.
Focusing inward instead of outward; noticing your own feelings and needs and trying to meet them; finding what makes you happy, and making memories with people you care about. This is the path to filling yourself.
Surprisingly, once you’re on your new path, you may find that it is actually far easier than your old one.
To learn more about how to become more self-aware and fill yourself up, see the book Running on Empty.
This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and published here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral.