Category Archives for "Coping"

How Old Feelings From Your Childhood Could Be Controlling You Now

Travis

Travis’s wife notices that he becomes unnecessarily angry every time she asks him to do something, even if it’s just a small chore around the house. Frustrated by his constantly ruffled feathers, she finally points this out to him. Once Travis hears this, he begins to pay attention to his own reactions in a way that he never has before. He realizes that he indeed feels a jolt of anger just as his wife has observed. “I don’t like being told what to do,” he concludes.

Lynn

Lynn is the mother of an 8-year-old daughter, Hayley, and also a 3-year old son. Hayley is doing well in 3rd grade. Her teachers describe her as a well-adjusted, happy, well-liked child who does all of her schoolwork very well. But Lynn has a hard time accepting the teachers’ reports at face value. She finds herself asking Hayley too many questions about her playground experiences, friends, and interactions with her peers. She lives in fear that Hayley will experience bullying.

Ivan

Ivan is out to dinner with his group of friends. Everyone is talking and laughing and having a fun time. But Ivan is struggling. Glancing at his watch he yawns and wonders how long he needs to stay. Deep down, he is feeling boredom that goes beyond boredom, and a swirl of frustration that makes him want to spring out of his chair and leave. It’s a complex cocktail of emotions that, strangely, seems both curiously out-of-place and yet deeply familiar.

Driven By Unseen Forces

Travis, Lynn, and Ivan are no different from the rest of us. We all live our lives under the influence of silent currents that ripple through our lives, coming upon us unexpectedly and yanking us this way or that way. They can leave us wondering, confused, or even sometimes baffled, about why we feel what we feel or do what we do.

These currents are the real reason for Travis’s anger, Lynn’s fear, and Ivan’s urges to flee. They are old feelings. Feelings from growing up that they never faced or dealt with and of which they are unaware. All three of these people are being influenced by unresolved emotions from their childhoods.

3 Principles of How Childhood Feelings Work

  1. Squelched, walled-off, or pushed away feelings do not go away. They simply go underground and pool there, waiting to be touched off.
  2. Old feelings can be easily touched off by any current situation in your life that simulates the original cause of the feeling. This can be completely unrelated to the original cause and they may attach themselves to an event, experience, or person in your current life who does not deserve them.
  3. These old feelings can be just as powerful, or even more so, as fresh ones. They may appear to come out of nowhere. They may even make you wonder what is wrong with you.

How Travis, Lynn, and Ivan Got Their Feelings 

Travis

Travis was raised by an authoritarian father who would come home from work and bark orders at Travis. “Do this,” “Now do that,” he would command in a booming voice. Travis knew that if he didn’t hop to it he would pay a heavy price with his dad. Travis learned early and well how to squash his own feelings, wishes, and needs and do as he was told in order to keep his father from exploding.

Travis has pushed his anger at being controlled by his dad underground for so many years that they are now pooled in his body like an underground spring. When his wife asks him to do something for her, she inadvertently triggers his buried feelings.

Lynn

Lynn’s family moved around a lot when Lynn was growing up. Between grades 3 and 12 she lived in 5 different states. The middle child of 3 siblings and with two busy, working parents, Lynn was mostly left to adjust to all these changes on her own. In 2 of the schools that she attended she encountered severe bullying, targeted for being “the new kid.” With no one to help or defend her Lynn’s main coping mechanism was to simply ignore the bullying and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Lynn is going through her adult life with lots of intense feelings from the bullying that are conveniently walled off. Feelings of hurt, helplessness, and loneliness lurk on the other side of her wall waiting to be touched off. Now, her child’s age is triggering her old feelings, causing her to live in fear that Hayley will have the same experience is attaching itself to Hayley where it does not belong.

Ivan

Ivan grew up in a typical American family that was, by all accounts, “good people.” But those good people had some major shortcomings. Only positive, happy feelings and words were allowed in their house. Ivan’s parents viewed negative feelings, such as anger, sadness, hurt, or anxiety, as unnecessary complaining. They thought they were training their children to be happy, but they were actually literally banning and squelching a great deal of the most deeply personal expressions of their children’s humanity. Ivan always knew that he needed to keep any negativity to himself.

Finding himself in this happy circumstance, Ivan’s deep well of negative feelings, pushed underground by his parents, begins to threaten. He has no idea why, but whenever he should be happy, he feels bored and frustrated and needs to escape. Because his parents always required him to be happy, he now experiences happy circumstances as an unreasonable demand placed on him, and old feelings of rebellion are activated.

What To Do

  1. Become aware. Old feelings can only trigger you when you are unaware of them. Once you realize what’s happening you have the opportunity to take control.
  2. Take control. Put a label to the feeling, or mix of feelings, that are triggered and identify the kinds of situations that trigger them.
  3. Face the feelings and process them. Sit with these old feelings and allow yourself to feel them. Share your story from childhood and allow someone to help you get perspective on it.
  4. Pay attention. Watch for those old feelings to come up. When you feel them, try your best to parse them out and put them where they belong. It is your responsibility to protect those who share your life now from feelings caused by others in your past.
  5. Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Travis, Lynn, and Ivan all grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Sadly, they have no idea. Instead of walling off your feelings, you can learn how to use them in a healthy and useful way. To begin take the free CEN Test and start down the path to recovery.

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.

How to Resolve a Painful Emotion

Having intense feelings is simply a part of being alive. No one gets a free pass.

But some feelings just keep coming back again and again, like an old nemesis who refuses to leave us alone. They can drive us to do unhealthy things or make poor choices. And they can make us supremely uncomfortable.

A recent article, Eight Step Method to Manage Intense Emotion, was about how to sit with, and tolerate an intense, painful feeling. This week, we’ll talk about how to resolve the feeling so that it actually goes away.

If you find that emotions are extra challenging for you, it may be a sign that you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. If your parents didn’t know how to handle feelings, they likely were not able to teach you. Now, as an adult, you must learn these skills on your own. The good news is that you absolutely can learn them.

Did you know that being able to tolerate a feeling and resolving it in the long-term are closely related? Here’s why:

In order to make an intense feeling go away, you have to be able to sit with it and tolerate it.

Follow These 7 Steps to Resolve an Intense EmotionContinue reading

How to Use Your Emotions: 3 Real-Life Examples

I wish I knew how many times I have said, “Use your feelings.” Several times every single week I either write or say that phrase.

Even though I constantly tell people this, I am well aware that it’s not so easy to understand what it means. So, let’s talk about it now.

First, a little primer on feelings. Here are some fun feeling facts to lay the groundwork.

4 Facts About Feelings

  • Feelings are your body’s natural feedback system. Every emotion you have is a message from your body. Emotions are your body’s way of communicating with you.
  • Feelings inform you about what you want and need, and they also tell you what you don’t want and don’t need. For example, enjoyment tells you to seek more of whatever it is you’re enjoying. Anger tells you to protect yourself. Fear is the classic fight-or-flight message. Sadness says, “You’re losing/lost something.” The message of pride is, “You’ve done, or you are, something good.”
  • When you grow up in a family that does not encourage or allow for the expression and validation of your feelings, which is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), you are essentially being taught to hide and ignore your own emotions. With your feelings walled off, you will go through your entire adult life ignoring the most valuable expressions of your deepest self: your feelings.
  • Non-CEN people, on the other hand, grow up with unhindered access to the feeling messages from their deepest selves. When you have access, you have the opportunity to use your feelings as they were meant to be used: to inform, direct, guide, stimulate, and empower you.

So, now that we’ve refreshed on how your feelings can be useful to you, you may still find it difficult to imagine the process of using them. How exactly does one go about putting their feelings into practice? I have helped hundreds of people gain access to their emotions and learn to use them. I’m going to share some examples of people with Childhood Emotional Neglect who have already been through the CEN healing steps.

3 Examples Of Using Your Feelings

James

James was laid off from his job as a software developer because his company downsized due to COVID-19. Shocked, James never thought he would find himself in this position. He immediately began looking for a new job and updating his resume. But each time he began to work on the update, he got a foggy feeling in his brain that made him feel exhausted. Time and time again, it kept happening. And then James woke up. He realized his body was trying to tell him something. Allowing himself to sit with the feeling, feel it, and think deeply into what it meant, he realized that he had not enjoyed the job he was just laid off from. He had performed it like a robot, effectively going through the motions with a near absence of joy or reward. James realized that his body was telling him that looking for another software job was not a good idea. In the end, James made a conscious decision to take another software job for financial reasons, but to also take online classes on the science of climate change so that he could move in the direction of applying his computer skills to something he felt passionate about.

Kate

Kate always loved getting together with her childhood friend, Nicole. They had known each other since preschool, had gone through high school together, and had kept in touch through college and through their twenties. Now 32, Kate and Nicole tried to get together on the 3rd Friday of every month. But recently, Kate had begun to feel a low-grade, angry feeling every time the 3rd Friday was approaching. Like James did in the example above, Kate decided to pay attention. She sat down, closed her eyes, and let herself feel the anger while thinking about having dinner with Nicole. She realized that Nicole seemed to do almost all the talking while they were together. Kate became aware that their dinners had become all about Nicole, and it was difficult for Kate to get a word in about herself or her own life. Kate decided she would need to either bring this up with Nicole or purposely try to talk more to see how Nicole would react. In the end, she did both.

Jack

Jack had been divorced for 7 years, and he felt he had finally found his person. Alison had just moved in with him, and they were working on setting up his house to accommodate both of their belongings. It was a time of happiness and excitement, and they were very much in love. But Jack noticed a curious thing happening. When Alison placed one of her pieces of furniture or decorative items in a prominent spot in the house, Jack absolutely hated how it looked. Each time, he felt a sense of being encroached upon, taken over, and essentially erased. After this happened enough times, Jack finally sat down and focused on the feeling. He remembered that in his previous marriage, his wife had been a selfish, bossy sort who virtually always insisted on having things her way. Jack had eventually stopped fighting with her and had been rendered essentially helpless in that relationship. Jack’s body was warning him to never let this happen to him again. It was telling him to be careful, and to express his own wishes and needs to Alison.

How James, Kate, and Jack Used Their Feelings

In the first story, if James had ignored his feelings, that dull feeling of paralysis that overcame him every time he tried to update his resume may have spread to his next job, and with no explanation for it, he might also view it as a weakness or blame it on himself. He would also likely have ended up in another unrewarding software job and become more and more unhappy and unfulfilled.

If Kate had ignored her feelings, she may have simply drifted away from Nicole completely over time, finding their time together unrewarding and painful but without any real awareness of why, or that there might be anything she could do to correct the problem.

If Jack had continued to ignore his feelings, he may have repeated his helpless/hopeless passive stance with Alison, even though that approach was completely inappropriate in that relationship. He may have failed to speak up and stand up for his own needs and resented Alison for something she was not doing and didn’t want.

In the end, each listened to their bodies and heeded the messages of warning, and each was saved from potential mistakes, discomforts, harmed relationships, and poor decisions.

The Takeaway

If you take only one thing away from this article, I hope it is this: Your feelings are useful. There is a series of steps you can take to get in touch with your feelings and begin to honor and use them in the way James, Kate, and Jack did.

Positive feelings are useful and negative feelings are also useful. When your body talks, don’t you think you should be listening?

To learn how Childhood Emotional Neglect separates you from your feelings and sends you into adulthood with a major disadvantage, see the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is usually 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.

3 Powerful New Years Resolutions Specially Designed To Heal Your Emotional Neglect

New Year’s Resolutions are a tricky business indeed. According to recent research, 80% of people drop theirs by the second week of February every year.

I think New Year’s Resolutions are even more difficult for those who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). And for some very good reasons.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): This happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions while they are raising you.

3 Ways CEN Makes Keeping Your NY’s Resolutions More Difficult

  1. You likely struggle with self-discipline. Most emotionally neglectful parents, even the well-meaning ones, miss the importance of instilling healthy self-discipline skills in their children. So it’s no surprise that many with CEN struggle to make themselves do what they should do and to stop themselves from doing what they should not do. Your Resolutions are then threatened by an endless cycle of self-blame. “Why can’t I do the things other people can do? What is wrong with me?!”
  2. You under-value your own needs. Resolutions to eat healthily or go to the gym, for example, require you to pay attention to your own needs. If you grew up with your needs under-attended, you probably now struggle to pay attention to your own needs. This struggle can tank your efforts.
  3. You may question, on some deep level, whether you are worth the effort. A deep feeling of not being as valid as everyone else undermines your efforts to treat yourself as if you matter.

I know, I know, everything above sounds so negative. You may be feeling discouraged about setting resolutions for 2021. You may be wondering the classic CEN question: “Why bother?”

If so, good news! I have thought this through, and I have some answers for you.

First, set only one resolution. Trying to do more is distracting and can be overwhelming. Second, make resolutions that will be immediately rewarding and bring quick and positive results. That way, you will set up a positive cycle that will feed itself, becoming more and more powerful every day of the year.

3 Powerful CEN-Healing Resolutions for 2021

Purposely Look For Joy in Your Everyday Life

— Research has shown that Emotional Neglect in childhood slows the development of the ventral striatum in the brain. The ventral striatum is your brain’s reward center, so if it’s under-developed, the concept of feeling joy may seem like a distant one for you. But a remarkable thing:  I have asked many CEN people to start purposely seeking happiness and enjoyment, and I have watched it make a significant difference in their lives. You may find it in a small, rewarding task that you never gave much thought, a small child who smiles at you for no reason, or a beautiful orange leaf falling from a tree. At other times you may need to make something happen to bring yourself joy: call a friend, see a movie, schedule a trip, or take a day away. The more you choose joy, the more it will choose you. You will be setting yourself on a very rewarding path that will pay off in spades.

Your 2021 Resolution: I will find at least one moment of enjoyment in every day of this year.

Use More Feeling Words

When you have CEN, one of the most powerful ways of changing your life is to simply learn and use more emotion words every day. Using a word like dismayed, despondent, incensed, blissful, morose, bland, raw, depleted, wary, strained, deflated, perky, free, quiet, devoted, or feisty adds dimension and realness to your life. Both are necessary things that you were denied in your childhood. Making this change in the way you speak on the outside will change the way you think and feel on the inside. It will also carry the added bonus of improving the quality and depth of your relationships. It is a win-win-win at very little cost to you. You can find an exhaustive list of Feeling Words in the book Running on Empty, or you can download it from the Running on Empty Page of my website.

Your 2021 Resolution: I will use one new feeling word every day of this year.

Do The Three Things

— I designed this exercise to help people with CEN develop the pathways for self-discipline in their own brains. I do not have brain scans to prove that it works, but I can honestly assure you that it does. It is a way to give yourself the ability to make yourself do things you should do and to stop yourself from doing things you shouldn’t do. These two skills together form the foundation for all self-discipline. Overriding what you want to do or not do 3 times per day, in some small way, trains your brain to be able to do so in situations when you need to. The overrides do not need to be big. They can be very small and still count. You can learn more about this exercise in the book Running on Empty.

Your 2021 Resolution: Every day of this year I will, three times, in some small way, make myself do something I don’t want to do, or stop myself from doing something I should not do.

No matter where you go, and no matter what you do in 2021, you can re-program your brain and take control of your life. Keep it simple, take control, and find your joy. Take your needs seriously, and let yourself feel.

This will be your way to treat yourself to a changing, more positive life through 2021.

This will be your way to finally, definitively, realize, and believe that you are worth the effort. And you matter.

To find out if you have CEN, Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and how to heal it to improve your relationships, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

The Side of Grief That Nobody Talks About

Grief. No one likes it and no one wants it.

But sadly, it’s a near-universal experience. It’s difficult to get through your life without having to go through some amount of grief.

Much has been written about how grief works, the most well-known being, of course, the writings of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the world-renowned Swiss psychiatrist who identified the 5 Stages of Grief which have comforted and validated legions of people by explaining the seemingly inexplicable feelings and stages that grieving people move through and share.

But right now I want to talk about a different aspect of grief that I see in an extraordinarily large percentage of people who lose someone. It’s not a stage of grief; in fact, it can be so ubiquitous that it’s not something people move through very well even if they are an emotionally healthy person.

It’s guilt.

Guilt is not a feeling that’s usually associated with grief, even though I observe that it’s very, very common, verging on being ubiquitous.

Since most folks don’t realize that guilt is a common and somewhat natural part of grief, they assume that their own personal guilt feelings must mean that they are guilty of something. To them, their guilt seems true and important.

But, from what I have seen, it’s usually neither true nor important, it’s just a feeling most people get when they lose someone close to them.

Why Guilt and Grief Go Together

  1. Grief is a powerful emotional experience that fully engages the brain and the body. Grief is, essentially, the body’s attempt to absorb a shock (all deaths are a shock even when you know they are coming). Grief is like a combination of an earthquake and a hurricane both occurring together. In your body, all systems are activated and you are likely to feel many different feelings so it’s not surprising that guilt would be one of them.
  2. The death of a person, being the cataclysmic event described above, is an occurrence that carries great gravity. When we lose someone, it is natural to re-evaluate not only what they meant to us, but also our relationship with them. We begin to ask questions about our role in their life and in their death.
  3. Grief causes us to question ourselves. Was I there enough for them? Did I show enough care, love, concern? Did I miss their last phone call? What if I had done something just slightly differently, would they have felt better or lived longer? Could I have saved them? Could I have made them happier when they were alive? Does my secret wish for them to finally be relieved of their pain make me a bad person? These questions, plus many more variations on them, are ones that I have heard countless, blameless people torture themselves with after losing a loved one.

Are Some People More Prone To Guilty Grief?

Yes, most definitely. Although I have seen that most people are vulnerable to guilty grief, there is a large segment of the population who are far more prone to it and can get more hung up on it.

These are the ones who have a general tendency to take excessive responsibility for things, too often blaming themselves for events and situations outside of their control.

They are usually folks who have a tendency to be hard on themselves and are perhaps even highly self-critical. If you are prone to self-blame and self-criticism, you can get stuck in your guilt instead of moving through it as others would.

And, even if you are not a self-blame prone person you can end up experiencing more discomfort than is necessary. When you are already suffering from a loss, why suffer more than is absolutely necessary?

What’s The Solution?

An Ounce of Awareness + A Dose of Reality

As an expert on how Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN affects adults I work constantly with people who are out of touch with, and unaware of, their own feelings. So, I find myself saying to multiple people almost every single day, “Pay attention to what you are feeling. It matters!”

  1. The way you treat your feelings makes a big difference in how you experience and move through your grief. So, when it comes to grieving, it is extremely helpful to allow yourself to feel it. Yes, it hurts, and I know you want to escape it. But the more you escape it the more it lingers. It’s a sad fact but a true one.
  2. As you make an effort to feel your feelings, pay special attention to guilt. Watch for it so that you can be aware of when you are feeling it. Being aware of a feeling is half the battle because awareness allows you to manage it.
  3. Actively manage your guilt feelings — yes, you can do that — by tempering them with a dose of reality. I invite you to think about it this way. Wouldn’t we all behave differently if we knew the future? It’s simple. Yes, we would. This is a very important fact because some of your guilt is only happening because of your current ability to observe the past. “If only,” “I should have,” and “I shouldn’t have,” are all based on hindsight. Like the proverbial quarterback on Monday morning, everything looks different after an event than it does while you were living it.

Take This Forward

Truth be told, most people, whether they are grieving or prone to self-blame or not would benefit from following the steps above. I say this for two reasons: first, far too many people are not aware enough of their own feelings to manage them as effectively as they could. And second, guilt is a feeling that occurs the most to the people who deserve it the least. And useless guilt is draining and, well, useless.

Learn about why Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is hard to remember but so impactful and why it makes people prone to self-blame, guilt, and shame in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

10 Things Childhood Emotional Neglect is NOT

One of the greatest challenges I have encountered in my pursuit to make the whole world aware of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is helping people understand exactly what it is. So, let’s begin with the definition of CEN.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Happens when you grow up in a household that generally does not notice, respond to, or talk about feelings.

Children who grow up this way receive an unspoken, yet powerful, message that feelings are irrelevant, useless, invisible, or even a burden. To cope, they naturally push away, or wall off, their feelings so they will not inconvenience or bother their parents.

While this may help children adapt to the requirements of their parents, it effectively separates them from their own emotions for a lifetime.

The consequences of this separation are great, and you can read about them in many different blog posts across this website. Today, we will focus on understanding CEN in a way that is both deeper and broader.

We will do that by identifying what Childhood Emotional Neglect is NOT.

10 Surprising Things Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is Not

  1. Physical neglect. Physical neglect can be either a shortage of food, clothing, shelter or the physical presence of a parent. Latch-key kids are considered physically neglected, as is a child who is sent to school in winter without a coat. But Childhood Emotional Neglect is not necessarily any of these things. You may have a stay-at-home parent and everything you could want, but if your parents under-respond to your emotional needs, you may still grow up with the footprint of CEN.
  2. A disease. CEN is decidedly not an illness. It’s simply something your parents couldn’t give you in childhood, emotional validation, awareness, and support. You are not sick. You just need something now that you didn’t get.
  3. A life sentence. CEN is something that can and will hang over your life for as long as you allow it. But, once you realize the problem, the solution is in your grasp.
  4. A personality disorder. Although in my observation, Childhood Emotional Neglect is one ingredient among other powerful forces (like genetics, abuse, double-bind parenting, for example) in the formation of most personality disorders, pure CEN in itself does not produce them. The vast majority of what I would call CEN people have no personality disorder at all. The most common personality disorder that I see among CEN people is avoidant.
  5. A choice. One of the most common assumptions of CEN folks is that they brought their adult struggles upon themselves. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. No child chooses to have their parents ignore their feelings. Interestingly, the vast majority of CEN parents don’t choose it either. It all boils down to one thing: you can’t get something from your parents that they do not have to give. It’s not your fault, it just is.
  6. An event. Emotional Neglect is not something your parents did to you, it’s something your parents failed to do for you. In this way, it is not an event, but a non-event. Your parents were not able to notice your feelings and ask you about them, name your feelings, validate them, or talk it over with you. Childhood Emotional Neglect is not an act but a failure to act.
  7. Memorable. Our human brains are set up to record events as memories. Things that fail to happen are not seen, noticed, or remembered. This is why legions of people are struggling through lives colored gray by Childhood Emotional Neglect, unable to pinpoint what’s wrong. Absent an explanation, they are prone to blaming themselves. “I’m flawed,” “I’m different,” “There is something wrong with me,” I’ve heard countless CEN people say.
  8. Abuse. Abuse is an active mistreatment of a child. I liken abuse to knocking a plant off of a shelf, while CEN is more like failing to water it enough day after day after day. Because they are so very different, abuse and Emotional Neglect have very different effects on the child.
  9. Less harmful than abuse. Abuse carries an impact that makes it seem more painful than the mere absence of something should be. But I have seen that the slow, subliminal, relentless effect of what didn’t happen is the equivalent of stomping out the spirit of a child.
  10. Incurable. During the last ten years of working with hundreds of emotionally neglected people in my office and in my online Fuel Up For Life CEN Recovery Program, I do know this: The wall that blocks your feelings from you can be broken down, your spirit can be reclaimed. You can get in touch with the life force that’s meant to guide, protect, and connect you, and use it to enrich your life. Yes, I know, without a doubt, it’s true. What you didn’t get in childhood can be gotten in your adulthood.

Your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be healed.

Since Childhood Emotional Neglect is so hard to see and remember it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

How Procrastination is a Form of Self-Neglect

Procrastination. Is it a choice? Is it an affliction? Or is it simply the annoying habit that most people think it is?

My answer is that it’s a little bit of all three, but not really any of those things. Does that clear things up for you? No?

OK, here’s the thing. Procrastination is actually a coping mechanism. It’s a form of avoidance that you use when you have no other option. It does not work for anyone, ever. It’s basically a coping-mechanism-gone-wrong.

The reason procrastination does not work is that it’s a set-up to bring feelings of guilt, self-blame, dread, stress, and overwhelm upon yourself. In this way, whenever you procrastinate, you are ignoring your own need to feel good about yourself and your life. You are neglecting yourself.

The Relationship Between Procrastination and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

There are many different types of emotionally neglectful parents and many different ways that parents can emotionally neglect their children. Generally, CEN is made up of some version of “not enough.”

Here are 3 different forms of CEN that set a child up to have problems with procrastination which may endure life long.

**Special Note: Most CEN parents don’t emotionally neglect their child on purpose. Your parents may have given you everything they have to give but they did not receive the 3 things below themselves when they were growing up.

  1. Not enough structure and discipline in your childhood home. Why? You don’t get to internalize the structure and discipline and make it a part of your personality. As an adult, you may find yourself lacking in self-discipline.
  2. Not enough attention or responsiveness to your feelings. This teaches you that your feelings do not matter. You do not learn that you are your own emotional steward and that it’s your responsibility to watch out for yourself by, as much as possible, making choices that bring you good feelings vs. bad ones.
  3. Not enough encouragement or reward for your strengths and accomplishments from your parents. This does not set you up with the awareness that accomplishing things should feel good and does feel good. You may lack a sense of pride in finishing things that keeps other people motivated.

A Weekend in the Life of Lisbeth, a Procrastinator

It’s Friday. Lisbeth is leaving work to meet up with her friends as planned, but she knows she hasn’t finished a report that her team needs to see first thing Monday morning. “I’ll work on it tomorrow,” she reassures herself, putting it out of her mind for the evening.

Lisbeth awakens Saturday morning feeling burdened and tired, and goes through her entire day under that dark cloud trying not to think about the fact that she must finish the report. The weight of the unfinished task drags down her energy all day. She ends up watching Netflix all day, feeling vaguely lazy and guilty all the while.

Sunday is like a repeat of Saturday except under more pressure. As the hours pass, Lisbeth feels the available time slipping away from her and grows angrier and angrier at herself for not having attacked and task and finished the report first thing Saturday morning.

Finally, at 10 p.m., the pressure moves her and she gets to work. Immersing herself in the task, she finally finds her focus and ends up finishing the report at 2 a.m. Of course, she pays the price on Monday. She feels sleep-deprived but also angry at herself for having such a burdensome, joyless, unproductive weekend overall.

Do you identify with Lisbeth? How many days or weekends have you lived like hers?

Growing up emotionally neglected teaches you many things that will color your life forever — until you address it, that is.

CEN teaches you to ignore your own feelings which are the deepest expression of who you are, plus also the loudest alarm bell that alerts you to whether your choices bring you positive or negative results.

So, in essence, CEN teaches you to emotionally neglect yourself all through your life. And procrastination is just one of the possible ways for you to emotionally neglect yourself.

Just as procrastination is not simple, the secret to getting over procrastination is also not simple. But it is definitely something you can do! It involves going directly against your childhood experience and making a conscious effort to do the opposite of the 3 forms of CEN above.

How to Start Dialing Back Your Procrastination

  1. Resolve to teach yourself discipline by providing yourself what your parents missed. In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect I shared a daily exercise that will help you reprogram your brain to become better able to control your impulses and decisions better. It’s called The 3 Things Exercise.
  2. Since your parents, probably inadvertently, under-attended to your feelings now you will do the opposite. You will pay attention to what you are feeling and start to value your feelings. This will help you make decisions that bring you positive feelings instead of negative ones.
  3. Make an effort to take pride in your accomplishments. No matter how small, everything you force yourself to do or not do, if it’s a positive decision or step, is something you should feel proud of. Try to focus more on rewarding yourself and feeling proud of yourself in small bursts throughout your everyday life.

Imagine that Lisbeth follows these 3 steps for long enough that she starts to gain better control of her avoidant tendencies.

Imagine she begins to notice her feelings more and realizes that completing tasks brings her happiness while avoiding tasks drains her energy and makes her angry at herself. Imagine that this emotional awareness enables her to start facing tasks instead of avoiding them.

Imagine that Lisbeth finds herself feeling proud of her daily accomplishments and of how she is no longer neglecting herself.

Now, imagine that instead of Lisbeth, it’s you.

You CAN do this.

You can find the 3 Things Exercise to retrain your brain in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

How COVID-19 May Be Affecting Your Relationship With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents at the Holidays

Two things are going on right now that are causing more pain in adults’ relationships with their emotionally neglectful parents. Care to guess what they are? It’s the holidays plus the COVID-19 Pandemic. Mixed together, they create a cocktail of uncertainty, worry, emotional distance, and feelings of emptiness.

COVID-19 is affecting many people in many different ways. But one effect that is shared by most, perhaps virtually all, of us these days is that it, especially combined with the holidays during this unusual year, is making us feel more vulnerable.

Exactly what do I mean by vulnerable? I mean many different flavors of vulnerable feelings.

In this unprecedented time, you may be feeling more physically, socially, and emotionally vulnerable than usual and perhaps more so than ever before in your life.

You may feel physically vulnerable due to the risk of getting sick.

You may feel socially vulnerable due to being cut off or distanced from your family and friends.

And you may be feeling emotionally vulnerable, a product of all three of the factors above. On top of all that, most of us are spending more time alone with fewer distractions. The pandemic, with its social distancing, requires you to sit with yourself more, so it’s difficult to escape your feelings, anxieties, doubts, and fears. And they may be many.

Your Relationships

As COVID-19 drags on, the holidays approaching, and the world awaiting a vaccine, many relationships have been affected. Some have been enlivened or deepened or enriched. Marriages, friendships, and families have become closer, more mutually dependent, and more supportive.

Other relationships have been strained by the present situation we are in. They have been challenged, weakened, frustrated, broken, or pained.

As someone who hears from hundreds of people every week who are doing their best to cope with the pandemic, as well as the holidays, one of the relationship types that I have noticed taking a lot of boosts, as well as hits, are the relationships between CEN adults and their parents.

Whatever your situation with your parents, the pandemic may be complicating it. Your parents may live nearby or far away. You may have had issues with your parents before COVID-19. Your parents may be healthy emotionally and physically or they may be elderly and frail. They may be living in a facility.

Whatever the circumstances, I believe that millions of people are feeling extra vulnerable right now and are finding themselves struggling with their parents in some new way. And it is all due to circumstances that are completely out of their control.

7 Ways COVID-19 + the Holidays are Affecting Adults’ Relationships With Their Parents

  1. You may feel a need to reconnect. As the 2020 holidays approach, you may have become somewhat distant from your parents. Whether that was intentional or unintentional, you may find yourself feeling a longing to be more in touch with them.
  2. You may worry about their physical and mental health. The Pandemic may be making it hard for you to communicate with or see your parents. You may feel less able to be involved in their choices or care.
  3. You may feel more in need of validation. All human beings need to feel seen and known and loved by their parents. We need to hear certain things from our parents that assure us that our feelings and needs matter. If we don’t receive enough of that in our childhoods (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), our brains automatically continue to seek it as adults. To need this from your parents is not a sign of weakness, but of your humanity. Feeling vulnerable right now in general may make you need this validation from your parents even more. It’s painful.
  4. You may feel afraid of losing them. Will your parents get COVID? You may find yourself worrying about or imagining how you would feel if you lost them.
  5. You may find yourself appreciating them more. There’s nothing like a fear of loss to make you more appreciative. You may be feeling more love, more warmth, or gratefulness for what your parents have done for you.
  6. You may experience them as needy. Are your parents calling you more often, asking you for help or advice or support? Do they need to connect with you more often than has been typical of them? This is likely because they are feeling vulnerable or worrying about you.
  7. Family dynamics may be intensified. Not surprisingly, stress aggravates previously existing problems of all kinds. So, in many families, old anger or frustration, or resentment has been fomenting and increasing under the powerful pressure and strain of COVID-19.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you grew up in an emotionally unavailable (CEN) family, you may be experiencing several of the effects above. You may feel a longing to receive the ingredients that were missing from your childhood, while also feeling distant and helpless and disappointed in your parents.

When you do not receive enough emotional attention, empathy, meaningful conversation, or validation from your parents as a child, (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) you are naturally, as an adult, continually driven back to try to capture it. But your CEN parents may simply not have it to give, and this compounds your pain.

3 Ways to Cope

  • Put yourself first. Your parents are important people, of course, but your primary responsibility in life is to yourself. So be sure to prioritize your own needs during this stressful time. Your physical, mental and emotional needs must be addressed before you can give to others, even your parents.
  • Try to accept what you cannot change. This wise principle is one of the tenets of 12-Step Programs and it applies here. You do not have control over your parents and you cannot change their choices. You also cannot get from your parents what that they do not have to give, like emotional validation, empathy, or connection. Accepting your powerlessness in this relationship can be quite painful, but it does protect you from the wheel-spinning and frustration of continually going back to an empty well, looking for the emotional connection that never appears.
  • Take note of what your feelings are telling you. Your feelings are communications from your body. Every feeling carries a specific message. For example, the feeling of longing drives you to contact them more, whereas anger/frustration tells you to take protective action. Your feelings are trying to guide you, but there is a second question to ask yourself: Is this feeling telling me to do something healthy for me or something that may be unhealthy or damaging? It is important to notice and listen to your feelings, but it’s important to process them first. Sometimes, it can help to run this by someone you trust to gain a more objective opinion of what is healthy for you.

Most likely, this pandemic is affecting many of your relationships for better or for worse. And now, with the holidays upon us too, the one thing you can do right now that will make you stronger in every area of your life: nurture yourself, care for yourself, and pay attention to what you are feeling.

When you feel vulnerable, treat yourself as if you are your own number one. Because you are.

Wonder if you grew up in an emotionally neglectful family? Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. See the book Running On Empty to learn what CEN is and how it affects you now; and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships to learn how you can heal CEN with your partner, parents, and children.

This Pandemic is a Good Time to Face Your Social Anxiety

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

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

How many people will be there?

I prefer one-on-one.

I’d rather be alone.

I don’t like being in a group.

I don’t want to go.

Most people enjoy parties, reunions, conferences, and group activities of all kinds. But there’s a fairly large subset of people who feel so exquisitely uncomfortable in a group that all they can think about is:

When can I escape?

How many times have you thought, or said, one of the sentences above? If your answer is, “Many,” I want to assure you that you are not alone. Being in a group requires a different level of confidence and different social skills than spending time with someone one-on-one.

Having talked with countless numbers of folks who avoid groups, I can say with confidence that most likely it’s not the group itself that you’re avoiding.

Actually, you’re avoiding a particular feeling or set of feelings that you have when you’re in a group.

Here are some of the feelings I’ve heard described over the years by folks who are uncomfortable in groups:

  • Left out
  • Trapped
  • Lost
  • Overlooked
  • Freaked out
  • Anxious
  • Sad
  • Ignored
  • Judged
  • Panicked
  • Confused
  • Self-conscious
  • Alone
  • Invisible
  • Inferior

What causes these feelings? What is it about being among a number of people that would cause a person to have any of these uncomfortable emotions? Is it a result of anxiety or depression? A social phobia? Is it a weakness or a fault?

Sure, some of these can be possible. Depression can make you feel like isolating yourself, and anxiety or social phobia can make you too nervous to enjoy the company of others.

But if you’re reading this looking for answers, I want you to dispose of the idea that your discomfort is a result of personal weakness or fault. Neither of those is the answer.

And now I’d like to give you a far better explanation than any of those. Chances are high that your discomfort in groups is caused by one of three factors.

3 Reasons You May Be Uncomfortable or Anxious in Groups of People

  1. The prevailing feeling in your first group.  And by this, I mean your family group. I have seen that those who grow up feeling uncomfortable in their family group often carry those uncomfortable feelings with them. So think back to when you were growing up. When your family was together did you feel ignored? Overlooked? Left out? Alone? Invisible? (All of those feelings are typically a result of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN). Or did you feel trapped? Inferior? Targeted? Were you constantly preparing for some unpredictable eruption of anger or erratic behavior of a family member? Whatever your prevailing feelings were, you naturally carry them forward into your adult life. These old feelings then arise in situations that mimic the family experience. Like being in a group.
  2. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Research has shown that when we expect people to treat us a certain way, we can unwittingly pull for it from other people. We actually unconsciously bring it upon ourselves. In a landmark study, it was shown that children who were labeled and treated as extra smart by their teachers actually acted smarter, and did better in school, regardless of what their IQ truly was (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). Since 1968 it’s been discovered that self-fulfilling prophecy happens in many different ways and in interpersonal arenas of all kinds. So expect to be treated as an outsider by a group of people, and you may actually bring about exclusionary behavior in the people around you.
  3. The Fatal Flaw. The Fatal Flaw is a feeling that something is wrong with you. It’s a sense of being different; of being missing some vital ingredient that everyone else seems to have. A surprisingly large number of people walk around with this feeling. It can lie there, under the surface, making you feel on the outside at social events both professional and personal. The Fatal Flaw can make you feel you don’t belong, even when you really, really do. It has the power to make you avoid group situations.

Notice that none of these potential causes of your discomfort are a product of the group itself. The actual people in the actual group are not the problem. The problem is a feeling that you have; a feeling that you bring with you wherever you go. 

And now the good news.

You can’t control other people (except perhaps unconsciously, thanks to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy). But you can control your feelings. Feelings can be managed. And now, during the pandemic, while the pressure is off, it’s an excellent time to start working on your discomfort!

Steps to Overcome Your Discomfort in Groups

  1. Come to grips with the true nature of your discomfort. The people are not the problem. It’s a feeling inside of you that’s the problem. Is it Cause #1, 2, or 3 above? Or is it a mixture of several? Understanding what you’re truly bothered by, and why, is a powerful Step One toward resolving it.
  2. Put words to your uncomfortable feeling. Choose them from the list above and/or add your own. Naming a feeling instantly reduces its power.
  3. Talk with a trusted person about the feeling and how it makes you want to avoid group events. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with a friend or family member, talk with a therapist about it. Sharing your feeling with another person will even further reduce its power over you.
  4. Start exposing yourself to group situations a little at a time, with support.
  5. Before you go to the group event, set an amount of time you will be there. Remind yourself that you have to manage your feeling while you are there. Talk back to the feeling when you feel it:

These people are fine. They’re not the problem.

You’re an adult, and no one in this group can hurt you.

You’re a good person and you belong here.

It doesn’t matter what other people think.

It’s just a feeling. It’s old, and you don’t need it anymore.

You’re a person, on equal footing with everyone else here. And you matter.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, The Fatal Flaw, and how to overcome both, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

The 5 Hallmarks of an Emotionally Healthy Person

Do you ever wonder how emotionally healthy you are?

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

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

The 5 Hallmarks of an Emotionally Healthy Person

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

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

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

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

2. You can manage your feelings while communicating.

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

3. You’re self-aware.

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

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

4. You’re comfortable in your own skin.

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

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

5. You’re willing to take risks.

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

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

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

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

1. Become less invested in being right.

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

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

2. Learn and practice mindfulness. 

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

3. Work on viewing failure differently. 

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

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

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

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

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