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How Child Abuse and Neglect Plant the Seeds of Racism in Our Children

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.

The Comment (Slightly Edited)

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.

Anger

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.

How You Can Help Break the Cycle

  1. Be aware of your own childhood-based anger. If you grew up ignored or in any way abused, you do have anger about it. And it’s okay. In fact, it’s healthy.
  2. Listen to the messages of your own anger. What’s it trying to protect you from now? Is it really people who are different from you? Or is your anger actually trying to protect you from the people who, for whatever reason, failed to protect you or nurture you, or even actually harmed you, as a child?
  3. Work toward the courageous act of directing your anger where it truly belongs. When your anger goes toward its true target, it will at first feel painful and scary. But this is a huge step toward your own psychological and emotional health. Your tremendous courage will pay off for yourself and for your children.

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.

4 Ways You May Be Keeping Yourself Running On Empty

Julie

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

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.

4 Ways to Feel Empty

  • Numbness: This involves walking through your life with little emotion. You know you should feel more joy, more excitement, more love; and also more sadness, and perhaps more grief. You’re not sure why, but those feelings are just not quite there.
  • A physical ache: Almost no one feels this all the time. But you may at times feel an emptiness somewhere in your body. In your belly, throat, chest, or head for example. A deep, painful ache that’s difficult to name, and seems to come from nowhere.
  • A feeling of being lost and alone: Surrounded by people, and yet lonely. Lots of places to be, and yet lost. Having people around doesn’t mean you feel that you belong with them. And knowing that you love someone doesn’t mean that you can feel it.
  • Over-taxed and joyless: So many commitments and not enough of them are to yourself. You’re there for everyone else’s needs, but what about your own?

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.

4 Ways You May Be Keeping Yourself Running On Empty

  1. By Being Too Externally Focused: It’s natural in today’s world to be caught up with what’s outside of you: your house, your job, your car, successes, failures, sports, and the weather. Truly, those are all good things. They will provide for you, entertain you, and give you topics at dinner. But they will not fill you up.
  2. By Ignoring What Emotionally Fills You: Part of being too externally focused is that you may end up not seeing what’s closest to you: You and the people who love you. You may, for example, be so busy with your many commitments that you have little time to enjoy yourself with your family or children. In fact, you may not find yourself enjoying much of anything. Yet you may seldom notice that your joy is missing.
  3. By Poor Self-Care: Self-care is a way of nurturing yourself. Do you deserve to be healthy? Are you worth the time it takes to buy and prepare healthy food? To plan a family vacation so that you can enjoy your family’s company and make happy memories? Is it more important that you start another project or that you be aware of your own needs, and try to fill them?
  4. By Seeking Fulfillment in All the Wrong Places: There are many tempting ways to try to fill yourself, none of which will work: activity, alcohol, recognition, admiration, food, shopping, gambling, social media, money, drugs, and success are just a few.

Julie

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

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.

For Therapists: Creative Ways to Use the Emotions List With Emotionally Neglected Clients

How do you help an emotionally neglected (CEN) client, who grew up with their feelings ignored or suppressed, learn about emotions and how they work? 

In the process of talking, writing, and teaching about Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN, I have had many wonderful opportunities to talk with hundreds of therapists about their experiences and challenges treating CEN clients.

If you are a CEN therapist, I want to start by thanking you from the bottom of my heart. You are helping me reach my longstanding goal of providing CEN therapy to everyone throughout the world who needs it.

If you are not yet a CEN therapist, I hope that you might consider it. I am trying to make CEN therapy available to everyone who needs one.

As it stands right now, there are hundreds of therapists from all over the world listed on the Find A CEN Therapist List.

Despite the healthy numbers, more CEN therapists are clearly needed. Every day, I receive emails from people with CEN who are upset because they cannot find a CEN specialist to help them.

Throughout these few years of training therapists in the treatment of CEN, one major challenge stands out. How do you help a CEN client learn about emotions and how they work? 

Believe me, I understand this problem all too well. Since clients who grew up with their feelings ignored have their emotions walled off as a defense mechanism, they not only view their emotions as useless, harmful, or weak, they also have likely not learned some of the most basic aspects of how feelings work.

Getting a CEN client to talk about feelings in session can seem almost impossible. So how can we teach them about something they are so repelled by and try to avoid at all costs?

Over the last couple of years, one tool has begun to stand out to me as I struggle with this problem in my own work. It’s the Emotions List from the back of my first book, Running On Empty. I use it in multiple different ways that tailor to what a particular client needs. It allows us to start right where they are and get on the healing path that I know has the potential to help them enormously.

Ways to Use the Feelings List With Your CEN Clients

1. The Homework/Process — Tailor it To Your Client

  • Read through the list with your client in session and discuss with them which words they relate to or respond to.
  • Each day, choose a word from the list and use it at some point that day. This helps increase their vocabulary of emotion words and also requires them to have feelings on their mind.
  • Ask the client, when having a feeling, to use the list to help them identify and name what they are feeling.
  • Read one particular category of words or the entire list before the next session.
  • Read the list and pay attention to any words that you connect with and highlight those words as you go through. Bring the highlighted list back so we can go through it together.
  • In couple’s therapy, if an emotion word keeps triggering a spouse, have the one using the word go through the list to find a less-triggering word to use. For example, they may change “You scare me when you…” to “I feel vulnerable when you…”

2. What Was Your Client’s Experience of Doing the Homework?

  • Did they balk or “forget?” You can point out avoidance/discomfort with feelings.
  • How did the client feel while doing it? Was it really hard for them? Why? This opens up a discussion about their relationship with their own feelings and the feelings of others.

3. Look for Patterns in Your Client’s Highlighted Words

  • Only negative or only positive words?
  • None in the anger category or only mild ones like annoyed or irritated indicates their anger is especially repressed.
  • A high concentration of words in one category.
  • All very commonly used or generic types of words like “Anxious” or “Depressed.” I often explain that anxiety and depression are not feelings, but states. Then push them to identify the actual specific feelings that go into the anxiety or depression.
  • A word is missing that you see the client feel a lot.

4. Identify Your Client’s Core Feeling

  • What feelings did your client feel the most during their childhood?
  • Is there a high concentration of words in one category?
  • A word that your client says they have so often that it defines them?
  • A word that seems to characterize much of their childhood experience?

Some General Points About Using the Feelings List

Reuniting our CEN clients with their feelings is one of our greatest challenges. I find that there is something about the Feelings List that, even though it’s very long, feels manageable, and maybe even comforting to these clients.

Perhaps the notion that feelings can be labeled offers assurance that feelings are real and identifiable and understandable.

Each of the ways to use the list described above is a jumping-off point for you and your client to talk about emotions.

Special Point: Identifying a client’s core feeling — the feeling they felt most in their childhood — can be almost like a pipeline to their other feelings. I will write another blog about this process and how to use it in CEN therapy so watch for that.

I’m sure there are many other ways to use the Feelings List in CEN treatment that we have yet to discover. If you have some thoughts about this, I would love for you to share it! Just post it in the Comments section of this blog.

I would love for you to take my 2-CE therapist training, Identifying & Treating Childhood Emotional Neglect: An Overview. Learn about it here: https://drjonicewebb.com/treating-cen/.

3 Different Things That Cause Anxiety and Their 3 Different Solutions

Maryann was raised by a mother who was both emotionally intense and needy. All through her childhood, Maryann had to be very caring and supportive toward her mother to try to prevent explosions.

Because of this, Maryann grew up with strong tendencies to care for and placate others deeply entrenched in her character. But these character traits, essential survival mechanisms growing up, became a serious problem for her in her adult life. Maryann was such a placater that she wasn’t taken seriously at work. Others often took advantage of her. Maryann was not happy.

Finally, Maryann decided that she needed to change. She decided to stop placating, stop agreeing with everyone and everything, and begin to show more backbone. But it wasn’t easy. Each time Maryann tried to speak up for herself to express disagreement or assert her own needs, she felt intense anxiety come over her.

Essentially everyone knows first-hand what it means to be anxious. Few among us are spared this intense feeling of discomfort.

William James, who is considered The Father of American Psychology, described his own anxiety this way:  “a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach … a sense of the insecurity of life.”

Since anxiety is so common and troublesome, I’ve seen plenty of it in my work as a psychologist. One thing I’ve noticed is that all anxiety is not the same. The particular type of anxiety you have determines not only how it feels, but also how it should be treated and managed.

3 Causes of Anxiety

1. Biology: Research has shown that some babies are born with an anxious temperament. Babies who are observed as edgy and reactive have been seen to grow up to be edgy and reactive adults; in other words, anxious babies grow into anxious adults. This type of anxiety is genetic, and it tends to run in families.

Biology, however, is not a sentence to a lifetime of anxiety. First, because biological anxiety waxes and wanes throughout your lifetime, it may become problematic really only during times of transition or stress. And second, because you can learn to manage your biological anxiety.

Best Solution: Anxiety management techniques are plentiful and effective. The best way to learn them is to see a cognitive/behavioral therapist.  Some common anti-depressant medications are also effective in treating biological anxiety.

2. Childhood Emotional Neglect: This essentially boils down to how you handle your feelings. When you push your emotions down or suppress them, they don’t simply disappear. Instead, they remain there, buried. Repressed and suppressed feelings pool together under the surface and become a diffuse form of anxiety. This type of anxiety seems to come and go at will. It becomes your main feeling. In general, you may find yourself existing in two states: you either feel anxious, or you feel nothing at all.

Best Solution: The best solution for this type of anxiety is to break through the wall between yourself and your pool of blocked-off emotions. Pay attention to your feelings, allow yourself to feel them, learn to put them into words, and how to manage and express them. This may sound like a lot of work, but it will gradually reduce your anxiety and will have multiple other positive effects upon your life satisfaction as well.

3. Personal Growth: This is one of the most powerful, and yet least talked about, forms of anxiety. It’s the anxiety that’s naturally built into virtually every step of emotional or psychological growth that you take in your lifetime. It’s especially intense when you’re trying to give up a coping mechanism that you needed in childhood (like Maryann). This anxiety arises when you’re about to make a healthy change in yourself, and it tries to pull you backward.

Each time Maryann tries to abandon the habit that saved her life in childhood, her body screams, “No-o-o-o-o!” It does this by sending her feelings of fear, to alert her that what she’s about to do is dangerous.

Best Solution: The most helpful strategy in managing this type of anxiety is simply recognizing what it is. When you can accept that it’s only your body warning you against something that’s not dangerous, you can accept the feeling, and then override it. In Maryann’s situation, a vital step in her growth process involves not giving in to the wave of anxiety she feels, but instead letting it wash over her like a wave; and then overriding it. This means speaking up in spite of it. 

Each time Maryann manages her anxiety this way, ending with healthy action, she is reducing her anxiety’s power. She’s essentially re-programming her brain to recognize that the new behavior (speaking up) is not dangerous, but adaptive and healthy.

Every single human being, every single day receives messages from their body.

“Escape!”

“Stop!”

“Stay quiet!”

“Don’t try that,” insist the voices of your anxiety.

So now, you must begin to insist back: “I will not run away from this. I will not stop. I will not stay quiet, I will speak up. I will try that.”

Accept the feeling, understand its cause, and you can take control of what’s been controlling you.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free. To learn more about how to understand, manage, and override your emotions, see the book, Running on Empty.

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

How to Know if You Experienced Emotional Abuse or Neglect as a Child

What is Childhood Emotional Abuse?

Jack

Ten-year-old Jack walks slowly home from school, dreading the moment when he has to walk through the door of his house. He has no idea what kind of mood his mom will be in. She may greet him warmly or she may lay into him, calling him a “lazy bastard, just like your father.” Filled with a dread of what’s to come, the closer Jack gets to home, the more slowly he walks.

What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Sadie

Ten-year-old Sadie has lived in a large, mostly empty house with her mother since her parents split up. She misses her father and brother desperately. The household used to be active and busy; now it feels quiet, empty, and lonely. Sadie worries about her mother sequestered in her own room; so near and yet so far away.  “I wish Mom would talk to me sometimes like she used to,” Sadie thinks. She sits on the edge of her bed and sobs quietly so that her mother won’t hear her.

While emotionally abusing a child is like emotionally punching him, Emotional Neglect is more akin to failing to water a plant. While the emotionally abused child learns how to brace for a punch, the emotionally neglected child learns how to survive without water.

It has never stopped amazing me how often the terms emotional abuse and emotional neglect are misused. In articles, in books, and even in the professional literature and scientific studies, they’re incorrectly interchanged quite frequently. Typically emotional neglect is called emotional abuse, and far too often emotional abuse is referred to as emotional neglect.

But the reality is that they could hardly be more different. They happen differently, they feel different to the child, and they leave different imprints on the child once he or she grows up.

Emotional abuse is an act. When your parent calls you a name, insults or derides, over-controls, or places unreasonable limits on you, she is emotionally abusing you.

Emotional Neglect, on the other hand, is the opposite. It’s not an act, but a failure to act. When your parent fails to notice your struggles, issues, or pain; fails to ask or be interested; fails to provide comfort, care, or solace; fails to see who you really are; These are examples of pure Emotional Neglect.

To see the different effects of emotional abuse and emotional neglect, let’s check in on Jack and Sadie 32 years later.

Jack

At 42 Jack is an accountant and is married with two children. Jack’s employers love his work and like him as a person. Nevertheless, he has switched jobs every two years, on average, throughout his career. In every job, Jack somehow ends up locking horns with co-workers. This is because he tends to take any form of mild request or negative feedback as criticism. Then he either hides, keeping his head down, or strikes back.

At home, Jack loves his wife and children. But his wife gets upset with him because he can be very hard on his children. Jack expects perfection and can be very demanding and critical, bordering on verbally abusive but never quite crossing the line to belittling or name-calling.

Generally, Jack goes through life braced for the next “hit.” He puts one foot in front of the other, wondering what negative event will befall him next.

Sadie

At 42 Sadie is a Physician’s Assistant in a large, busy medical practice. She, like Jack, is married with two children. At work, Sadie is known as “the problem-solver.” She is able to resolve, smooth over, and answer every single problem or question that arises, so everyone goes to Sadie for help. Sadie is gratified by her reputation as super-competent, so she never says “no” to any request.

People look at Sadie and see a wonderful wife and mother. She loves her husband and children, and they love her back. But Sadie, her husband, and everyone else is puzzled about why her children are so angry and rebellious. They seem unhappy and act up in school. Sadie is exhausted by the heavy demands in her life. She’s so busy helping and giving to others she has no idea that she needs “watering” too. Sadie feels burdened, empty, and alone much of the time. 

Jack and Sadie are good examples of the differing effects of emotional abuse and emotional neglect.  Jack struggles to manage and control his own feelings and reads malice into other people’s feelings. In contrast, Sadie’s emotions are suppressed. She lacks access to her own feelings so much that she lives for other people’s feelings. She struggles to set limits at work, and at home with her own children.

What Jack and Sadie have in common shows the overlap between emotional abuse and emotional neglect. They both feel depleted and empty. They both feel confused, lost, and somewhat joyless. Neither is able to experience, manage, or express their feelings in a healthy or useful way.

And now for the great news. Both Sadie and Jack can heal.

5 Tips For Healing the Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect or Abuse

  1. Accept that your childhood lives within you. There’s a legitimate reason why you’re not happier. It’s your childhood.
  2. The effects of the neglect are subtle and hide beneath the abuse. So it’s hard to see the neglect until you’ve addressed the abuse, which is far more obvious, visible, and memorable. It helps to work on the effects of the abuse first.
  3. If you grew up with emotional abuse, it’s important to work with a trained therapist. Almost everyone who experienced childhood abuse of any kind, in any amount, needs therapy to heal.
  4. If your childhood experience was pure Emotional Neglect, you may also benefit from therapy. But you may also be able to address many aspects of the effects on your own.
  5. Emotionally abused, neglected, or both: a huge step in your recovery involves learning to recognize, own, accept and express your feelings, and realizing why they matter.

And even more importantly, it is vital that you recognize, own, accept, and learn about yourself, and realize why YOU matter.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN, sign up to Take the CEN Questionnaire.  It’s free! To learn more about recovery from Childhood Emotional Neglect, see the book, Running on Empty

**IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are a licensed therapist located anywhere in the world who would like to help people work through their Childhood Emotional Neglect and receive referrals from me, fill out this form to receive my newsletter for therapists and learn how. If you have read both of the Running On Empty books and taken one of my CEN Therapist Trainings, you can be listed on my Find A CEN Therapist Page.

A version of this post was originally posted on Psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

When Both Members of a Couple Have Childhood Emotional Neglect

What happens when two people, each of whom grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, meet and marry? They create the doubly emotionally neglected couple.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is a subtle, often invisible childhood experience that many adults experienced in their families. As children, they didn’t know it was happening. And as adults, they typically have no memory of it.

Yet its effects continue to hang over them like a gray cloud, coloring their entire adult lives. The cloud inserts itself into their marriages, causing emotional distance, miscommunication, and lack of intimacy.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs.

When you grow up with parents who do not validate or respond to your feelings, your child brain knows just what to do. It builds a wall to block off the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are: your emotions. Safely tucked behind the wall, your parents (and you) can pretend that your feelings aren’t even there, or don’t matter.

Decades later, when you are in a serious relationship, a series of very predictable problems ensue. That wall that helped you as a child interferes. It blocks off the invaluable internal resource you need to bind and connect you to your partner: your emotions.

Interestingly, those who grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect tend to be attracted to one another. When your own emotions are blocked off, you are bound to feel most comfortable with a partner whose emotions are also tucked safely away.

So what happens when two people who grew up emotionally neglected marry? How does the couple deal with two walls between them, over the years of being together?

Jason and Betsy

Meet Jason and Betsy, the double-CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) couple. They’ve been married for 10 years, and neither is aware of their CEN. It’s Saturday morning, and they are having a mundane conversation.

Betsy: I’ll drop off Curt at basketball practice at 9:30. Can you pick up Emma from gymnastics at 9:45?

As she makes this request, Betsy is secretly worried that Jason will be irritated that she’s asking him to do something. So as she asks, she watches his reaction carefully.

Jason sees Betsy giving him a look he can’t interpret, and assumes she’s trying to manipulate him somehow. He decides to call her bluff by martyring himself to make her feel bad.

Jason: What’s the big deal? Why does this require us both? I’ll do both drop-off and pick-up.

Betsy notices the edge in Jason’s tone and assumes it’s because she asked him to do a task for her. “Would it kill him to chip in on the weekend?” she thinks to herself with aggravation.

Betsy: Just forget it. I’ll do both.

As Betsy does the drop-off and pick-up that morning, she seethes inside at how unwilling Jason is to help out with the kids.

Meanwhile, Jason sits at home feeling three competing things: frustrated at his “manipulative” wife, perplexed about what really happened between them that morning, and vaguely guilty that he is sitting at home while Betsy does all the work.

Eventually, the guilt wins out. Feeling bad, he starts making a big pot of chili, which he knows Betsy likes.

The 5 Struggles of the Double CEN Couple

You are divided by your walls.

No matter how connected you are by love, companionship, children, or history, you are not able to connect enough in the most important way: emotionally. It’s not that you don’t feel emotion (both Betsy and Jason have plenty of emotions in the description above), it’s just that neither of you is well enough in touch with what you are feeling so that you can share them and use them as you are meant to as a couple.

You each lack the emotion skills to understand what’s really going on.

While your parents were busy ignoring your feelings, you were missing an important childhood experience. You were not learning how emotions work. You didn’t have the chance to learn how to know when you’re having a feeling, identify that feeling, put it into words, or share it with another. These are the skills required to build emotional intimacy with your partner, and you may not even realize that you don’t have them.

Your interactions are rife with misinterpretations.

You probably noticed how very out of touch Betsy and Jason are with each other. Betsy views Jason as unwilling to help, which isn’t true, and Jason views Betsy as trying to pull something over on him, which she isn’t. Both end up feeling upset with each other for false reasons. And neither has the communication skills to discover that his/her assumptions and readings of the other are wrong.

Over time, you end up increasingly distant from each other.

In addition to the normal conflicts that all couples encounter, incorrect readings also contribute to the wedges that drive you farther and farther apart every day. The longer you are together, the more distant you feel.

Even if you love each other, it isn’t enough.

I see many double CEN couples in my office, and one thing I often notice is that they usually have a genuine bond of love for each other. But despite the love, one or both members of the couple senses that something very important is missing. One or both of the members feel, despite the love, uncomfortably lonely in the marriage.

If you recognize yourself and your partner as you read this, do not despair. There are answers!

You can use this newfound understanding to reach out to your partner. Now that you know what divides you, you can break down your walls, and power forward to a brighter, more connected future.

Because the great thing about Childhood Emotional Neglect is that it can be healed

To learn how to take the steps to reach out to your partner and break through the walls that block you, see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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

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

The 5 Special Challenges of Adult Children of Permissive Parents

Permissive parents are difficult to spot. Many appear to be great parents to an observer, and even to the children who are raised by them. Even after those children grow up, it still appears that way.

Why? Because permissive parents are often very loving. They may provide a childhood that seems ideal to their children after they grow up.

Permissive parenting is a type of camouflage. It’s a case of the inadequate parent disguised as adequate; the conflict-avoidant parent disguised as kind.

Not that permissive parents purposely disguise themselves. Quite the opposite. In fact, most permissive parents really love their children and want to do right by them. Yet they inadvertently fail their children in the most important way.

The Permissive Parent: This is the “Don’t worry, be happy”  parent. This parent avoids conflict with the child. They view themselves and behave, more like a friend than a parent. They consult with the child on decisions that they should be making in their role as a parent. They don’t provide enough structure to the child or impose consequences when appropriate.

In short, by failing to perform the difficult role as a parent they over-empower the child. This may feel wonderful to the child but is, in fact, a form of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Psychologist Diana Baumrind was the first to describe the Permissive Parent way back in 1966. Here are Diana Baumrind’s thoughts about this type of parent:

“She presents herself to the child as a resource for him to use as he wishes, not as an ideal for him to emulate, nor as an active agent responsible for shaping or altering his ongoing or future behavior. She allows the child to regulate his own activities as much as possible, avoids the exercise of control, and does not encourage him to obey externally defined standards.”

If you weren’t raised by permissive parents, as you’re reading this you may be feeling envious of the child who was. After all, what child wouldn’t love to have that kind of freedom from responsibility and consequences?

But that kind of freedom has a dark underside. In fact, those raised by permissive parents face a particular set of challenges in adulthood.

The 5 Special Challenges of the Adult Child of Permissive Parents:

  1. Difficulties with self-discipline: We are not born with self-discipline. Instead, we learn it by internalizing the structure that our parents provide us growing up. If your parents didn’t enforce enough rules and limits and structure when you were growing up, then you’ll be far more likely to struggle with this as an adult. Making yourself exercise, eat well, go to bed, get up, and other aspects of self-control can be difficult when you didn’t learn it well enough as a child.
  2. Emotion management: By not challenging the child enough, permissive parents inadvertently miss out on lots of opportunities to teach their children how to manage their emotions. When a parent says, “No” and the child cries, this is a valuable teaching moment. Just like self-discipline, if you miss these “emotion lessons” growing up, you may struggle later on to know how to manage your feelings.
  3. Tolerance for conflict: Many permissive families are short on something that is a key part of life: conflict. Conflict is a necessary part of relationships, business, friendships, and marriage. The better you are at handling anger and disagreement, the better you will do in life. When you grow up in a conflict-avoidant household, you don’t have the opportunity to learn these skills.
  4. Perseverance and motivation for tasks that are difficult or boring: When the child of the permissive parent gets bored, the parent says, “That’s OK Honey.” When the child struggles with something that’s difficult, the parent says, “That’s OK Honey.” The child as an adult, when faced with something difficult or boring says to himself, “That’s OK,” and moves on to something else.
  5. Self-blame: I know what the child of the permissive parent says to himself because I’ve heard it over and over in my office. “I’m weak,” “I have no willpower,” “I don’t want to rock the boat,” “I don’t want to make anyone angry,” “I’m lazy.” And here’s the kicker that underlies them all, “My childhood was fine. I had great parents. So why am I struggling so much?”

Deep down, the adult child of permissive parents feels flawed. With no explanation for your struggles, you assume there is something wrong with you.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this. Recognize the source of your struggles. Recognize that it’s probably not your parents’ fault since they most likely thought they were showing you love and care by not making you angry or setting limits. They just wanted a happy child. They had no idea that they were emotionally neglecting you.

Know that all of these skills are learnable.

If you’re reading this blog and thinking you might be a permissive parent yourself, don’t despair. It’s not your fault! We all raise our children the way we ourselves were raised unless we consciously override it. And you can!

To find out more about permissive parenting, how to acquire the skills you missed, and how to make sure you don’t raise your children this way, see the books, Running on Empty, and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on Psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

9 Resources to Help and Support Your Recovery From Childhood Emotional Neglect

One of the problems I have noticed with the term “Childhood Emotional Neglect” is that it does sound so negative. It so perfectly describes the problem that it may, perhaps, give the impression that it’s a burden you’d rather not know about.

But, in reality, CEN is quite the opposite. It’s actually a remarkably hopeful concept that every parent, every husband, every wife, everyone who was raised by someone; in fact, every human being should know about.

A Few Words About Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN: Happens when parents who have an emotional blind spot fail to notice, validate, and respond enough to their child’s emotions and emotional needs.

CEN is not a form of abuse or trauma. It’s not something your parents do to you, but rather, it is something they fail to do for you. It happens in loving households all over the world simply because so many parents are unaware that CEN exists. It passes down through generations, silently transferring. It’s difficult to see and hard to remember, which serves to hide its invisible power. It seems like nothing, but its effects stay with you throughout your entire adult life.

So, that is the negative part. But there’s also an amazing and positive aspect to CEN which offers hope and solace and possibility to everyone who sees it in themselves.

In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, I outline the types of parents who have these blind spots and why they have them. But for the purposes of this article, the main point is this. Whether your parents are too focused on themselves and filling their own needs to notice yours, or are genuinely trying to do their best but simply do not have emotional awareness or understanding, you can be confident that it has affected you.

A Sampling of the 10 Effects of CEN

(As Described in the Book Running On Empty)

  1. Lack of understanding about feelings, how to recognize them, express them, or use them in the way they are meant to be used.
  2. A deep sense that something is missing in yourself and your life (it’s your emotions which you had to wall off as a child in order to cope with the need to hide your feelings in your childhood home).
  3. A tendency toward self-doubt, self-directed anger, and harsh self-criticism.

So What Now?

Many thousands of people feel a profound sense of relief when they first realize that Childhood Emotional Neglect is the explanation for the struggles they have lived with for a lifetime. I know this because I hear from more and more such folks each and every day.

But here’s the truth: Becoming aware of your Childhood Emotional Neglect is incredibly powerful. It’s a turning point and a game-changer.

But it’s not enough.

Now that you know what’s wrong, you must fix the problem. And the really great news is YOU CAN! Healing your CEN is a series of steps in which you give yourself now what you did not receive as a child: emotional attention, validation, and care.

I have worked for the last 8 years to define the exact steps it takes to reparent yourself and heal the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in adults. I’ve also helped countless numbers of CEN adults walk down the path of recovery.

My goal is to help you heal your CEN. I want to provide you with easy access to as many as possible of the resources I’ve created over the years. All right here, in one place.

**Many are free, but some are not. You’ll notice two asterisks next to the resources that are **free.

9 Resources For Help With Your CEN Recovery

  1. ** EmotionalNeglect.com. The Childhood Emotional Neglect blog. You are on it now! You can find blogs on every aspect of CEN, from feeling empty to parenting, parents, CEN in marriage and the healing steps.
  2. ** The CEN Questionnaire. Take this test if you’re not sure if CEN applies to you. A score of 6 or higher suggests that you have some Childhood Emotional Neglect at work in your life. The higher your score, the more CEN you have likely experienced.
  3. ** Resources to Share With Your Therapist to help them understand your CEN and guide you through your recovery.
  4. Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. This book describes exactly how CEN happens in a family, the way it’s experienced by children, the effects that linger through adulthood, and the basic steps to take to heal it. In this book, you will also find an exhaustive list of feeling words that are very useful in the healing process.
  5. Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. In this book, you will learn exactly how Childhood Emotional Neglect affects your marriage, your parenting and your relationship with your own parents. You’ll also learn concrete steps you can take to heal those effects and start using emotional awareness to enliven, enrich and deepen all of those relationships.
  6. ** The Find A CEN Therapist List. Many, many people can recover from CEN on their own using the two books and online help and guidance. But it’s also common to run into a snag in your healing journey. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it! I have trained almost 700 licensed/certified therapists across the world in how to identify and treat Childhood Emotional Neglect, and they are listed on this website on this list. 
  7. Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. If you would prefer to work on your CEN recovery at home or would prefer to work with me but do not live in the Boston, MA area, I created this program to offer a solution for you. The Fuel Up For Life program guides and supports you through the 5 steps of recovery. You will also have ongoing access to all aspects of the program, including a Forum for members and bi-weekly Group Q&A calls with me.
  8. ** CEN Sharing Page. Share your CEN story and questions and request articles on certain topics you’re interested in related to on CEN on the CEN Sharing Page.
  9. ** My Free Weekly Newsletter. Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and I will inform you about every new article I write, every in-person presentation and live CEN Recovery Workshop I offer across the U.S. When you sign up to take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire you will automatically receive the newsletter free.

Bookmark this article and check back periodically. I’ll add new resources as I create them! If you have an idea for a resource that would be helpful, post it in a comment on this article and I’ll see if I can provide it.

Pandemic Survival Guide For the Emotionally Neglected

Let’s start with a few questions about your own personal experience with social distancing during the pandemic.

The Questions

  1. Are you having strong feelings that you feel alone with? Are you wondering what you’re supposed to do with all the feelings you’re having?
  2. Are you feeling hemmed-in, hurt, harmed, helpless, irritated, annoyed, or otherwise overly affected by the people you are sheltering in place with?
  3. Is spending more time with your partner or spouse raising some problems and/or questions about the relationship?
  4. Is all the home-time with your kids magnifying behavior problems, making you doubt your parenting, or leaving you feeling at sea about what to do?
  5. Are you concerned about your parents but avoiding calling them?
  6. Do you wish you were able to speak up and state your feelings and needs but find you don’t know what to do or how to do it?

The Answers

Read my CEN Pandemic Survival Guide by clicking on the link or the picture below. I hope it offers you ideas, solace, helpful advice, and care.

Webb_CEN_Pandemic_Survival_Guide

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

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.

7 Reasons You May Actually Feel Better During the Pandemic

As most folks struggle and stress to get through this messy mishmash we call “pandemic,” there is a certain group of people who are living a whole different sort of life.

These folks are actually doing the opposite of struggling and stressing. There is, in fact, something about the current situation that makes them feel better in some deep and important way.

Some feel more grounded, some feel more focused, and some feel more valid than they always have. Some feel less alone, less lost, or less insecure than they have throughout their adult lives.

I know what you may be thinking: How could this be? Are these people selfish or self-centered or taking delight in other people’s struggle and worry and pain?

Absolutely, positively not.

In fact, most of the folks who are feeling better right now are genuinely caring people who, if anything, tend to over-focus on other people’s needs at the expense of their own.

Let’s take a look at the variables that explain all this.

 

7 Reasons You May Feel Better and Happier During the Epidemic

  1. Folks with Chronic FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — These are the people who walk through their lives feeling like they are somehow on the outside of things. They look around and see other people laughing and enjoying life. To these folks, it always seems that other people are living more exciting and happy lives. So finally, now, with almost the entire population trapped at home, it’s easier to relax in the knowledge that they aren’t missing anything.
  2. Those Who Have Always Felt Alone in the World — If, as a child, you did not receive enough emotional support from your parents, you are likely to go through your adult life feeling somewhat alone in the world. Perhaps you have felt alone for so long that it has become comfortably uncomfortable. Perhaps, in this global crisis, you really are alone. Perhaps you are able to tolerate being alone far better than others. Perhaps, finally, your real life on the outside mirrors what you’ve always felt on the inside and it is, on some level, validating.
  3. People Whose Specific Childhood Challenges Prepared Them — If your childhood was unpredictable, was filled with uncertainty, or required you to make decisions you weren’t prepared for or act beyond your years, then perhaps your childhood prepared you for this very moment. When you grow up this way you develop some special skills out of necessity. You learn how to hyper-focus in ambiguous situations and how to act decisively and trust yourself. Since you have a solid foundation of the exact skills needed for the pandemic, you may be feeling more focused and confident right now than you have in years.
  4. People Who Feel Numb Unless Something Extreme is Happening — If you wouldn’t describe yourself as an emotional person, or if you find yourself feeling nothing when you know you should be feeling something, you may find yourself having some real emotions as this COVID-19 pandemic unfolds. Scores of people need a novel or extreme situation to feel something. Some engage in dangerous, unpredictable, or thrill-seeking activities in order to feel. Today, the danger, unpredictability, and thrills have come to them. Finally, they are having feelings, and any feelings, even negative ones, are better than numbness.
  5. Extreme Introverts — If you’re a severe homebody who gets tired of being required to go out into the world and mix with people more than is comfortable for you, this may be your respite. Finally, instead of having to adjust to everyone else, everyone else is adjusting to you. There’s a new normal afoot, and it is you! What a nice feeling, at last.
  6. Those Already Struggling With Significant Life Challenges Before the Pandemic — Some people were already dealing with some major life crises or challenges before this epidemic hit. For them, this situation may feel like somewhat of a relief. Suddenly, with the world shut down, it’s not possible to struggle or solve. As a result, this situation may offer you a bit of rest. And you’re also seeing everyone else struggling, which may feel comforting in a certain way. It’s not that you want other people to have problems; it just feels soothing that you are no longer alone. Everyone else is having problems too.
  7. Anxious Worriers Who Have Spent Years Anticipating Disaster — Anxiety can drive people to have a grave fear of being blindsided by an unexpected, painful experience. So some people constantly anticipate what might go wrong as a way to prevent themselves from any sudden, negative shock. Now, here we are. That long-anticipated, long-prepared-for event has happened. These folks are feeling relieved that what they’ve been vigilantly watching out for their entire lives is finally here. Instead of feeling shocked, they feel relieved.

What This All Means

If any single one of the above applies to you, even in some small way, it’s possible that you may have some feelings of guilt about it. You may be concerned that it’s wrong to feel better at a time like this.

I want to assure you that it is not! Since we cannot choose our feelings, you should never judge yourself for having a feeling. But it is your responsibility to use your emotions in a healthy way. More about that in a moment. But first…

If any of the first four apply to you, if you are prone to FOMO, a feeling of aloneness, were prepared for this pandemic by your childhood, or live with a numb or empty feeling, you may want to consider the possibility that you grew up with some amount of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. CEN can be quite difficult to see or remember, yet it leaves you with these very specific burdens to carry through your adult life. And one very good thing about CEN is that once you know about it, you can heal it!

Now, about how you can use your preparedness and your positive feelings in a good way right now. You likely have more time, and you may be feeling some relief. This is your opportunity to work on understanding yourself better, owning your childhood challenges — which perhaps also made you stronger — and accepting your feelings instead of judging yourself for having them.

More Resources

It’s a tough time and, in ways we never imagined, we are all in this together. But, in another way, we are also each in it alone. What a marvelous twist it can be if you use this terrible time to heal yourself.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take The Free Emotional Neglect Test.

You will find lots of guidance and help for understanding what was missing in your childhood and healing it in yourself and your relationships in the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.