Category Archives for "Childhood Adversity"

The 4 Different Kinds of Neglect and How They Affect You

Neglect: Fail to care for properly.

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

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

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

Why Neglect Happens

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

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

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

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

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

The 4 Kinds of Neglect of a Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Why You Have it But Your Siblings Don’t

James

James has always been confused by his family. He’s always sensed that it’s dysfunctional, but he could never put his finger on what’s wrong. Until he realized that his family is riddled with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Now that he can see his own lack of emotional awareness, connection, and understanding, he also sees the CEN pattern of traits in his parents and his younger sister. But strangely, his older brother seems completely unaffected. Baffled, James wonders how he and his sister could be so deeply affected by CEN while their older brother is not. They were all three raised by the same parents, after all. 

Michelle

26-year-old Michelle sits at the table at her parents’ house for a family dinner. Looking around at her siblings she thinks about how different she is from all of them. Right now, two are laughing and talking with each other while the third sibling is having an involved conversation with her parents. Michelle has been working on her Childhood Emotional Neglect and has been paying closer attention to her family. Watching her family interact at the table she wonders why her siblings don’t seem to be affected by her parents’ lack of emotional awareness. “Maybe I don’t actually have CEN,” she wonders.

What is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?

It’s the kind of parenting that pays too little attention to the feelings of the children. Kids who grow up in this kind of family do not learn how to read, understand, or express their own emotions. In fact, they learn the opposite. They learn that their emotions are irrelevant, a burden, or a bother. And on top of that, they do not learn the useful emotional skills that they need to become happy, connected, emotionally thriving adults.

So what were Michelle and James seeing in their parents? They were seeing an emotional void, avoidance of meaningful conversation, and a tendency toward superficial interactions. James and Michelle recall feeling very alone in their families as children and they still feel this way now. It is only after discovering CEN that they are able to understand what is wrong and begin to take the steps of CEN recovery to address it.

Why Don’t My Siblings Also Have Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Of the thousands of CEN people I have met, a remarkably large number have expressed confusion about why one or more of their siblings don’t have it.

And I understand. How can two kids who grew up in the same family end up experiencing their adult emotional lives so differently? At first glance, it does not make sense.

But there are reasons. Real reasons. Let’s look at what they are.

6 Ways CEN Can Affect Siblings Completely Differently

  1. Gender. Emotional attention is a complex thing. Some CEN parents may find it easier to empathize with one gender more than the other. So, for example, the daughter may end up receiving more emotional awareness, validation, and attention than the son or vice-versa. All of this usually happens under the radar, of course, with no one realizing the differences.
  2. Changes in the Family. Some CEN parents may be struggling with a circumstance that takes their emotional energy and attention away from the children. There may be, for example, a divorce or remarriage, major move, job loss, financial problems, or death that suddenly changes the emotional ambiance and attention available in the family. Perhaps one sibling is able to receive emotional attention for a time, but due to family transition, another is not.
  3. Personality and Temperament.  No child chooses Emotional Neglect or brings it upon themselves. But all children are born with innate temperament and personality tendencies that are unique to them. And there is a harsh reality we must address. The more you are similar to your parents the better they will naturally understand you. And the converse is also true. The less you are similar to your parents the more they will need to work at understanding you. If one sibling is easier to “get,” they may receive more empathy. This gives them an emotional leg-up, even in an emotionally neglectful family.
  4. Favored Child. Truly, one of the most damaging things a parent can do is to have a favored child. It typically damages both kids but in very different ways. These are often narcissistic parents who find one child more pleasing than the others. Perhaps the favored child does better in school, has a special talent, or has just one characteristic that the narcissistic parent particularly values. That child receives extra attention and validation for, possibly, no valid reason. The favored child may grow up with far less CEN than their siblings. But scratch the surface and they likely have hidden CEN as well.
  5. Birth Order. This comes down to what’s going on with your parents when you are born. How many other siblings do you have, and were you born first, last, or middle? Research shows that firstborn and youngest children receive more attention, making middle children more susceptible to CEN. But, for example, the last child may receive less attention due to parenting fatigue. Many factors can lead to one child being more neglected than another.
  6. Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP). Some children are born with a gene that has been proven by research to make them extra emotionally sensitive. This can be a great strength in life if you grow up in a family that teaches how to recognize, understand, and use your incredible emotional resources. But if you are born to CEN parents, you will, sadly, probably be affected even more deeply by the absence of emotional attention.

Trust Your Own Emotional Truth

Almost every child receives some form of attention from their parents. The questions that define CEN are: Was it emotional attention? And was it enough?

Some siblings who receive a different form of attention can seem to be CEN-free, but their CEN may emerge later. Or perhaps, due to genetic or family factors, they may not be affected at all.

If you look around at your siblings and you have difficulty seeing the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in them, do not allow that to make you question your own.

Having grown up virtually emotionally unseen, you have been invalidated enough already without continuing to doubt your own emotional truth.

Learn much more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and how it plays out plus the steps to heal in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Find the link below.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and hard to remember. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free and you can find the link below.

Watch for a future article about how to talk to a sibling about CEN.

An Obstacle to The 5 Stages of Grief: Emotional Neglect From Childhood

The better we grieve, the better we live.

— Anonymous

I do believe that the quote above is absolutely true. It’s almost impossible to make it through your adulthood without experiencing a loss of some kind.

Being able to grieve in a healthy way requires a series of personality traits and skills that not everyone possesses. I have seen many people go to great lengths to avoid feeling their grief or get stuck in it, unable to look forward from it.

Many of these folks grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Joanne, who lost her husband four years ago is so bogged down in sadness that she enjoys very little in her life, and has problems getting out of bed every day.

Alex, whose sister died of breast cancer two years ago, lives a full and busy life, but feels dull and sad inside every time he stops running around and tries to relax.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her now-famous book called On Death and Dying. In it she described the 5 stages that she frequently saw people going through after receiving a dire medical diagnosis. Since that day the 5 Stages of Grief have been applied more broadly to all kinds of losses, like break-ups or accepting the loss of a loved one. It’s also important to note that these stages are not set in stone; everyone grieves differently, and may experience different feelings in different order at different times.

The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial: In this first stage, you refuse to accept the reality of a distressing situation. “There’s been some mistake,” or “This is all a bad dream,” you might tell yourself. This stage gives your brain time to prepare itself to begin to consider the painful truth.
  2. Anger: This stage involves becoming angry at the situation, the person who is sick, who died, or who is about to leave, or perhaps the doctor who issued the diagnosis. Your anger is a protective emotion, and essentially sets up a barrier between you and the traumatic truth.
  3. Bargaining: “If you will make this diagnosis not be true, I promise to never smoke again,” you may offer up to your version of a higher power. This phase represents your attempts to absorb the truth while also fighting it off.
  4. Depression: As the truth sinks in, you begin to feel its full impact. This can lead to a brief clinical depression as you absorb, and try to accept your loss.
  5. Acceptance: This final stage represents somewhat of a resolution, where you accept that your life has changed, and are able to begin to focus forward.

In my experience, having helped many clients through many losses, one of the greatest prolongers of each of the 5 Stages is having grown up without enough emotional attention, validation and response from one’s parents: Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN.

When your parents do not respond enough to your emotions as a child, you learn very early and well that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant (or even bad) and should be avoided. To adapt, you wall off your feelings and needs so that they will not burden your parents. Not surprisingly, when you are living with your feelings blocked off, it throws major obstacles into your path through the 5 Stages.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Blocks the 5 Stages of Grief

  1. Makes it Hard to Move Past Denial: It’s only a short jump from denying one’s feelings to using denial as a general coping mechanism. It’s easy for a CEN person who has lost a loved one to end up prolonging his grief by refusing to feel the painful feelings that need to be accepted and processed. Alex, who stays busy to avoid his sadness and loss is a perfect example of that. Over time, avoiding your feelings of loss does nothing to process them. The result: you are stuck.
  2. You Can’t Accept or Work With Your Anger: In phase 2, your anger is there to protect you. But if anger wasn’t allowed from you in your childhood home, you may have great difficulty allowing yourself to be angry as a grieving adult. You may be at risk of instead turn your anger inward at yourself, compounding your feeling of loss with even more pain.
  3. Difficulty Accepting Help and Support: CEN makes you feel guilty or weak for having normal emotional needs. It’s hard for you to ask for help or accept comfort from others even in the best of times. When you’re grieving, there are few things that can help more than the love and support of someone who cares about you.
  4. Depression Phase is Prolonged: With your emotions walled off, your anger directed at yourself, and the people most able to support you kept at bay, you are at great risk for getting stuck in a depression that won’t let go. How can Joanne move forward to the next phase, accept the painful reality of her loss and heal from it when her brain chemicals are thrown out of balance by depression?

The whole point of the 5 Stages is to move through them. Experiencing one phase, allowing yourself to be in it and face it prepares you to move to the next phase. Moving through the phases allows your brain to process the reality, preparing you for acceptance. Acceptance must happen before you can turn your attention forward to rebuilding yourself and your life.

If this is you, it’s important to re-direct and focus yourself.

4 Ways to Manage Your CEN Through Grief

  • Open up and talk to someone who can give you comfort. Ask for support and accept it. It will help.
  • Make a point to feel your feelings of grief, even if only for a brief period every day. Think about the one you’ve lost, and cry if you need to.
  • Pay attention to whether you are stuck in anger or depression. Might an anti-depressant give you a kick-start to deal with the genuine sad feelings that are waiting to be processed? Consult a professional, if needed.
  • Start addressing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It’s important to begin to feel all of your feelings, not just your grief. Just as your grief is blocked in some way, so also is your joy. You need to feel all of your emotions in order to heal and move forward.

When you are grieving something, it’s crucial to acknowledge that you only feel grief when you had something great to begin with. So a part of your grief must be appreciation and gratefulness for what you had.

And remember the words of one of the greatest authors of all time:

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.

― Leo Tolstoy

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, and how to accept and process your emotions see EmotionalNeglect.com and the book, Running on Empty.

The Painful Secret Many People Live With: The Fatal Flaw

Legions of good people live through decades of their lives harboring a painful secret. They guard it as if their life depends on it, not realizing it’s not even real.

It’s a secret that is buried deep inside them, surrounded and protected by a shield of shame. A secret that harms no one, but does great damage to themselves. A secret with immense power and endurance.

It’s their Fatal Flaw.

A Fatal Flaw is a deep-seated, entrenched feeling/belief that you are somehow different from other people; that something is wrong with you.

Your Fatal Flaw resides beneath the surface of your conscious mind. Outside of your awareness, it drives you to do things you don’t want to do and it also stops you from doing things you should do.

Rooted in your childhood, it’s like a weed. Over time it grows. Bit by bit, drop by drop, it quietly, invisibly erodes away your happiness and well-being. All the while you are unaware.

The power of your Fatal Flaw comes partially from the fact that it is unknown to you. You have likely never purposely put yours into words in your own mind. But if you listen, from time to time you may hear yourself expressing your Fatal Flaw internally to yourself or out loud to someone else.

I’m not as fun as other people.

I don’t have anything interesting to say.

When people get to know me they don’t like me.

I know that I’m not attractive.

No one wants to hear what I have to say.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not lovable.

Your Fatal Flaw could be anything. And your Fatal Flaw is unique to you.

Where did your Fatal Flaw come from, and why do you have it? Its seed was planted by some messages your family conveyed to you, most likely in invisible and unspoken ways.

The Flaw                                                             The Roots

I’m not as fun as other people. Your parents seldom seemed to want to be with you very much.
I don’t have anything interesting to say. Your parents didn’t really listen when you talked.
If people get to know me they won’t like me. You were ignored or rejected as a child by someone who was supposed to love you.
I’m not attractive. As a child, you were not treated as attractive by the people who matter – your family.
No one wants to hear what I have to say. You were seldom asked questions or encouraged to express yourself in your childhood home.
I’m not lovable. As a child, you did not feel deeply seen, known, and loved for who you truly are.

The Good News

Yes, there is some good news. Your Fatal Flaw is a belief, not a fact. A fact cannot be changed, but a belief most certainly can.

How to Defeat Your Fatal Flaw

  1. Recognize that you have it and that it’s not a real flaw. It’s just a belief/feeling.
  2. Find the words to express your own unique version of “something is wrong with me.”
  3. Identify its specific cause in your childhood. What happened, or didn’t happen, in your childhood to plant the seeds of your fatal flaw?
  4. Share your Fatal Flaw with another person; your spouse, a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist. Describe your belief, and talk about it. 
  5. Watch for evidence that contradicts your Fatal Flaw. I assure you it has been there all along. But you have been blinded to it by your Fatal Flaw.
  6. Track your Fatal Flaw. Pay attention, and take note of when it “speaks” to you.
  7. Start talking back to your Fatal Flaw.

I am fun to be with. I am interesting. People like me more as they get to know me. I am attractive, and I have important things to say. I am just as lovable as anyone else.

Your Fatal Flaw is actually neither fatal nor a flaw. It’s not even real.

It’s powered only by your supercharged belief that it is both.

To learn much more about Fatal Flaws, how they happen, and how to defeat yours, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Make You an Avoidant Adult

You shy away from the limelight. You stay out of trouble. You prefer to stay out of the way. You try not to make waves.

Of all of the kinds of anxiety people can experience, avoidance is probably one of the least studied and least talked about. I think that’s probably because avoidant folks are quiet. They do stay out of the way and they do not tend to make waves.

But, the reality is, avoidance is a serious problem to live with. Take a look at the characteristics of avoidance below. These are some of the symptoms listed in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to identify Avoidant Personality Disorder. Please note that these are not a full description of Avoidant Personality. Do not attempt to use these symptoms to diagnose yourself or someone else. Only a licensed mental health professional is qualified to make a diagnosis.

  • Secretly feeling inferior to others, and struggling with shame
  • Reluctance to pursue goals, take risks or meet new people
  • High sensitivity to criticism, and fear of rejection
  • Assuming that others see you in a negative light
  • Trying not to get too close to people
  • You suspect that you enjoy things less than other people do
  • Often having anxiety in social situations

You may read through the list above and feel that you are reading about yourself. Even if you answer yes to only some of the items above, it means that you may have an “avoidant style.”

Many people are living their lives with Avoidant Personality disorder. And many, many more folks have an avoidant style. Most avoidant folks fight their own private battles on their own, secretly and quietly.

It is very possible to suffer silently with an intense fear of rejection, closeness, or social situations but still soldier on, essentially unimpaired on the outside, but miserable on the inside.

Now let’s talk about you. Do you see yourself in this description of avoidance? We will talk more about avoidance in a moment. But first, we must discuss Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Because I have seen a remarkable connection between Childhood Emotional Neglect and avoidant tendencies in adults.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs.

What happens to a child whose parents too seldom say, “What’s wrong?” and then listen with care to their answer. How does it affect a child to have parents who are blind to what they are feeling? Parents who, through probably no fault of their own, fail to offer emotional support, or fail to truly see the child for who she is?

Childhood Emotional Neglect teaches you, the child, to avoid feeling, expressing, and needing. You are learning to avoid the very thing that makes you the most real and the most human: your emotions.

When you grow up this way, you grow up feeling invisible, and believing that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant. You grow up feeling that your emotional needs should not exist and are a sign of weakness. You grow up to feel ashamed that you have feelings and needs at all.

CEN is a breeding ground for shame, low self-worth, and yes, avoidance.

Five Important Points About Avoidance

  1. Avoidance is actually nothing more than a coping mechanism. If you avoid something that scares you, you do not have to deal with it. That feels like success.
  2. You developed this coping mechanism for a reason in your childhood. You needed it, and it probably, in some way, served you well in your childhood home. It may have been the only coping mechanism you could learn if no one was helping you learn other, more effective ways of coping.
  3. When you use avoidance enough as a way to cope, it eventually becomes your “signature move.” It becomes a solution that you go to over and over again. It becomes your style.
  4. Avoidance feeds fear. The more you avoid what you fear, the more you fear it. Then the more you avoid it. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.
  5. All of the symptoms of avoidance you saw at the beginning of this article have one common denominator that drives them. It’s a feeling and also a belief. It is this: a deep, powerful feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just don’t matter as much. This is one of the prime consequences of Childhood Emotional Neglect. (I call it The Fatal Flaw.)

It is very difficult to take on challenges in life when you don’t believe in yourself. It’s hard to be vulnerable in relationships when you don’t feel on equal footing with the other person. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you feel so secretly flawed.

This is why you must not let avoidance run your life. You must turn around and face it. Not later. Not tomorrow. But now.

You Can Become Less Avoidant

  1. Answer this question for yourself: What did you need to avoid in your childhood home?
  2. Accept that your avoidance is a coping mechanism that can be replaced by far better, healthier coping skills.
  3. Start observing yourself. Make it your mission to notice every time you avoid something. Start a list, and record every incident. Awareness is a vital first step.
  4. Look through the list, and notice the themes. Is there a trend toward avoiding social situations? Risks? Goals? Feelings? Needs?
  5. Start, little by little, one-step-at-a-time, facing things. How pervasive is your avoidance? If it is everywhere of everything, I urge you to seek a therapist’s help. If you have success on your own, be persistent. Don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets.
  6. Learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect. To find out whether CEN was a part of your childhood, I invite you to take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

The more you face things, the less scary they become, and the easier they become to face again, and the more you face. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.

But this circle is a healthy, strong one that is a reversal of the circle of avoidance that began in your childhood. This circle will take you somewhere healthy and positive and good.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and how it causes avoidance, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Your Parents: 10 Signs You May Need Some Healthy Boundaries

Few would disagree that parents have the most difficult job in the world. And the huge majority of parents are doing the very best they can for their children.

As much empathy as I have for parents (being one myself), today I will be talking with all who are on the other side of the fence: those of you who are grown up now and are feeling that your relationship with your parents is challenging in some way.

There are indeed an infinite amount of ways that a parent/child relationship can go wrong. Many are subtle or confusing and can leave all parties feeling burdened or hurt.

Especially if you know that your parents love you, you may end up baffled about your relationship with them, and wondering what is wrong.

6  Common Ways Adults Struggle With Their Parents

  1. You may feel guilty for not wanting to spend more time with them
  2. You may feel very loving toward them one minute, and angry the next
  3. You may look forward to seeing them, and then feel let down or disappointed when you’re actually with them
  4. You may find yourself snapping at them and confused about why you’re doing it
  5. You may get physically ill when you see them
  6. You may harbor anger at them, and feel there’s no reason for it

How does this happen? Why does this relationship have to be so complicated? Why can’t we just love our parents unconditionally? 

Of course, there can be endless different explanations for any of these problems. But for most people, the answer lies somewhere in the area of what psychologists call individuation.

What is Individuation?

Individuation is the natural, healthy process of the child becoming increasingly separate from the parent by developing his or her own personality, interests, and life apart from the parent.

Individuation usually starts around age 13 but can be as early as 11 or as late as 16. Behaviors we think of as “teenage rebellion” are actually attempts to separate. Talking back, breaking rules, disagreeing, refusing to spend time with the family; all are ways of saying, and feeling, “I’m me, and I make my own decisions.”

Individuation is indeed a delicate process, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. When it doesn’t, and also goes unresolved, it can create a stressful or painful relationship between parent and adult child.

4 Ways Individuation Can Go Awry

  1. The parent does not know that the child’s individuation is natural and healthy, and discourages it. This parent may feel hurt by the child’s separation, or even be angered by it, making the child feel guilty for developing normally.
  2. The parent wants the child to stay close to take care of the parent’s needs, so actively discourages the child from separating.
  3. The parent is uncomfortable with the child’s needs, and so encourages the child to be excessively independent at too early an age (an example of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN).
  4. The child is held back from healthy individuation by some conflict or issue of his or her own, like anxiety, depression, a physical or medical ailment, or guilt.

When your adolescence gets off track in any of these ways, a price is paid by both you and your parents. Much later, when you’re trying to live your adult life, you may sadly find yourself feeling burdened, pained, or held back by your parents. On top of that, you might feel guilty for feeling that way.

So now the big question. 

How Do You Know if You Need Some Healthy Distance From Your Parents?

  1. Do you feel held back from growing, developing, or moving forward in your life by your parents?
  2. Is your relationship with your parents negatively affecting how you parent your own children?
  3. Are you afraid of surpassing your parents? Would they be hurt or upset if you become more successful in life than they?
  4. Are you plagued with guilt when it comes to your parents?
  5. Are your parents manipulating you in any way?
  6. Are their needs coming before your own (the exception is if they are elderly or ill)?
  7. Were/are your parents abusive to you in any way, however subtle?
  8. Have you tried to talk with them and solve things, to no avail?
  9. Do you feel that your parents don’t really know you?
  10. Do your parents stir up trouble in your life?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, and you also feel burdened by your relationship with your parents, it may be a sign that you need some distance to maximize your own personal growth and health.

You and Your Parents

Yes, parenting truly is the hardest job in the world. But parents are meant to launch you, not limit you. If your individuation didn’t happen properly through your adolescence, you may need to work at separating from your parents now in order to have the healthy, strong, independent life that you are meant to live.

So what does distancing mean when it comes to parents? It doesn’t mean moving farther away. It doesn’t mean being less kind or loving toward them. It doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything drastically different. In fact, distance can be achieved by changing yourself and your own internal response to what happens between you. I know this sounds difficult and complicated.

Guilt is, for many, built into the adult separation process, unfortunately. So separating from your parents may be no less painful now, as an adult, than it was when you were an adolescent. But the good news is, you are grown up. You’re developed. You’re stronger. Now you can better understand what’s wrong. 

To learn more about how even loving parents can have a blind spot to their child’s feelings, disrupting individuation, and to find out what you can do about it now, see the 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.

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

9 Things the Emotionally Attuned Parent Says to Their Child

As we all swim together through the murky Sea of Parenting, I offer you some clear answers: three goals to keep in your mind at all times, and exactly how to achieve them.

If you’ve made many parenting mistakes, rest assured: You Are Not Alone.

Let’s face it, parenting is hard. For most of us, doing it right means facing our own demons. Because no one is exposed to our flaws, blind spots, or unresolved issues as much as the children who depend on us.

Unfortunately, all of those unresolved problems transfer automatically from ourselves to our children, unless we make a conscious effort to stop them. This is made more or less difficult for us parents by our own childhoods.

The Subtle But Dramatic Impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you grew up with parents who subtly discouraged or discounted your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect), for example, then you’ll have a natural inclination, outside of your awareness, to do the same with your children.  This is why Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN, is so rampant in today’s world. It transfers, unchecked and unnoticed, from one generation to the next.

This natural transfer process is aided by one simple fact: In today’s world, we are all focused primarily on how our children behave. We don’t want them to get in trouble at school or irritate others, right?

Although it’s very reasonable to assume that teaching a child to behave takes care of the emotional part, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it all happens in reverse. Our children’s behavior is driven by their emotions. So the best way to help our children to behave is to teach them how to manage their feelings.

The Keys to Emotional Intelligence

There’s another key reason to focus more on emotions with our children. In the last ten years, a large body of research has found that kids who are good at recognizing, tolerating, expressing, and managing emotions in themselves and others (high emotional intelligence) are more successful academically, make better leaders, and enjoy greater career success as adults.

I know what you’re thinking: “OK, so it’s important. How do you do it? Behavior is at least concrete and visible, but feelings are hidden, messy, and confusing. What’s a parent to do?”

So let’s get down to brass tacks. As we all swim together through the murky Sea of Parenting, I offer you some clear answers: three goals to keep in mind at all times, and exactly how to achieve them.

The Three Goals of the Emotionally Attuned Parent

  1. Your child feels a part of something. He knows he’s not alone. You’re always on his team.
  2. Your child knows that whatever she feels, it’s OK, and it matters to you. She will be held accountable for her behavior, but not for her emotions.
  3. Your child learns how to tolerate, manage, and express his feelings.

Any parent who accomplishes these skills well enough is raising an emotionally healthy child and an emotionally intelligent child. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to do it well enough.

9 Things the Emotionally Attuned Parent Says to Their Child

WHAT WE ALL TEND TO SAY WHAT THE IDEAL PARENT SAYS
Stop Crying Why are you crying?
Let me know when you’re done with your fit That’s OK. Get it all out. Then we’ll talk.
Alright, enough! I’m done with this. Let’s take a break so we can both calm down.
Fix the attitude! You sound angry or upset. Are you?
You need to think before you act! How’d this go wrong? Let’s think it through.
Go to your room until you can behave better. I see you’re angry. Is it because…?
OK, OK, stop crying now so we can go in the store. Look at me. Take a deep breath. Let’s count to five.
There’s nothing to be nervous about. Everyone gets nervous. It’s OK. Let’s talk.
Don’t talk to me with that tone. Try saying that again, but nicer so I can hear it.

All children have very intense emotions, but they do not have the skills to manage them. When we are frustrated or overwhelmed by their expression of feeling, it becomes very difficult for us parents to manage what we’re feeling so that we can respond the right way to what they’re feeling.

No one sets out purposely to shame their child for having emotions. But the way we respond can easily, in very subtle ways, communicate to a child that he shouldn’t be feeling what he’s feeling.

Keep in mind that virtually all children have heard everything in the first column many times, and it’s OK. It will only cause damage (Childhood Emotional Neglect) if the child receives the subtle, unstated messages listed below too frequently:

* Your feelings are excessive.

* Your feeling is wrong.

* I don’t want to know what you’re feeling.

* Your feelings are an inconvenience for me.

* You need to deal with this alone.

* I don’t care what you feel; I only care about your behavior.

If you wince while you read those messages above, don’t despair! It’s not your fault. You’re simply doing what human beings do, and responding to your children as you were responded to as a child. Be assured, it is never too late to start responding differently.

Try using the “Ideal Parent” responses above as regularly as possible, keeping in mind that you will never be perfect because no one is. Watch and see if over time your child starts to respond to you differently. Watch to see how her behavior changes as she learns how to manage her own feelings.

To learn more about emotionally attuned parenting, how to raise your child with high Emotional Intelligence, and how to prevent CEN from being passed down, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. To learn much more about how CEN happens and how to heal it, see the book, Running on Empty.

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

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

7 Common False Beliefs About Relationships

7 Common False Beliefs About Relationships

  1. Sharing your feelings with others will make you look weak.
  2. It’s best not to fight if you want to have a good relationship.
  3. Sharing your feelings or troubles with another person burdens them.
  4. Talking about a problem isn’t helpful. Only action solves a problem.
  5. Sharing your feelings or troubles with another person will chase them away.
  6. Letting others see your weaknesses puts you at a disadvantage.
  7. If you let other people see how you feel, they will use it against you.

As you read the list of beliefs above, did any jump out at you? Was there one, or two, or more, that you thought, “Hey, that one’s not false!”?

If so, you are not alone. Many, many people go through their lives following some or all of these guidelines. And many, many people are held back by them. These beliefs have the power to keep you at an emotional distance from others, damage your friendships and marriage, and leave you feeling alone in the world.

The beliefs are typically rooted in your childhood. They are often messages passed down from one generation to another. They take root in your mind and live there, sometimes outside of your awareness.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Teaches You the False Beliefs

These ideas tend to thrive in any family that struggles with emotions, either by over or under-expressing it. They’re so common among folks who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) that they’re included in my book, Running on Empty. All of the beliefs are based on false notions of how emotions work.

If you grew up in a family that didn’t understand how to manage, express or talk about emotion, you probably didn’t learn how and when to share or be vulnerable. You may have learned that it’s actually wrong to communicate about these things.

And chances are some of the 7 beliefs were communicated to you, either directly or indirectly.

The 7 False Beliefs Made True

  1. Letting people see your feelings usually makes them like you more. It also fosters intimacy.
  2. The hallmark of a strong, healthy relationship or friendship is the ability to have a conflict, process it together, and work through it together. In fact, fighting is often a sign of closeness.
  3. Sharing your feelings or troubles with the right person at the right time does not burden them. It increases warmth and caring from the other person.
  4. Talking about a problem with a well-chosen person can help you get perspective, feel less burdened, sort out your feelings and thoughts, and sometimes even provide solutions
  5. Sharing your feelings or troubles with the right person will make him/her feel closer to you.
  6. Letting another person see your weakness does not put you at a disadvantage unless the other person is the type of person to take advantage of you. Be aware of who you’re letting in. The huge majority of people will not take advantage.
  7. If you let someone see how you feel, they will know and understand you better, and that’s a good thing. The only exception to this is if they are actively trying to hurt you. Generally, if there are people like this in your life, you know who they are. Do not share with them.

How To Change Your Beliefs From False to True

  • Choose your people carefully. Take care who you choose to open your heart to, as either a friend or lover. Focus on integrity, trust, and care. Pay attention to the other person’s intentions. None of the True Beliefs apply if the person is not trustworthy.
  • Timing is everything. We all underestimate the importance of timing. Choose your moment, taking into account the other person’s mood, needs, and situation. The same message can have a very different impact given at the wrong time vs. the right one.
  • Take chances. There is no intimacy without vulnerability. To change these beliefs, you will have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
  • The Costanza Experiment (Taken from the book Running on Empty): Remember the Seinfeld episode when George decided to go through an entire week doing the opposite of what he would normally do? (If you’re under 40, you may not have seen this, but the concept will still work for you.) For you, this would mean doing the opposite of what you would normally do when it comes to sharing your feelings. Tell your friend about your work worries instead of keeping them to yourself; share your financial stress with your brother instead of pretending everything’s fine; fight it out with your husband and wife instead of avoiding conflict.

Take a chance, and see what happens. The False Beliefs will start to melt away as you begin to experience the value of trust, openness, and closeness. Your relationships will thrive, and a whole new world will open up to you.

To learn more about emotions, relationships, and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) see the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Got Issues? It’s All Your Parents’ Fault

Everything that’s wrong in your life is the fault of your parents. Whatever your struggles, your mistakes and your pain, you are not to blame. You are an innocent victim of those who raised you.

At least that’s the way some folks interpret my definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

The definition of CEN: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs. People who grow up this way go forward into adulthood out of touch with their own emotions, feeling empty, alone and disconnected, and are baffled about what is wrong with them.

Here’s a comment that was posted on Ten Steps to Learn Self-Discipline:

Are you saying that when a parent fails to teach their children this skill well enough, that parent is guilty of Childhood Emotional Neglect? This article was insulting.

I’ve received many such comments. They point to one of the biggest barriers I have encountered in my efforts to bring the concept of Childhood Emotional Neglect to more people: the discomfort of blaming the parents.

Despite the overwhelming body of research proving it, many people strongly resist the fact that their parents’ treatment of them in childhood had a profound effect upon who they are as adults. It is uncomfortable to blame our parents for the problems and issues that we experience in adulthood. It feels like letting ourselves off the hook. Some people consider it “whining.”Continue reading

Robin Williams and Childhood Emotional Neglect

13790103_f44dd462db_oSince Robin Williams’ sad and shocking suicide on August 11, friends, family, fellow stars, and even reporters have offered multiple explanations for the virtually inexplicable:

Why did he do it?

Some of the many possible factors which have been proposed are depression, alcohol, drugs, and Parkinsons Disease. But I see another potential factor which is never mentioned by anyone. A factor which falls between the cracks just as its sufferers do: Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).Continue reading