Category Archives for "emotion skills"

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.

The 7 Emotion Skills. Do You Have Them?

Emotions may seem vague, insubstantial, or useless to many. But, in truth, they are actually very, very real and very, very useful.

Emotions are physical sensations that take place in your body. They are, in fact, messengers. They are your body’s way of alerting you to watch out, take care, protect yourself, or seek something, for some examples.

Emotions are messages from your body. It is crucial that you listen to them. It’s not that they are always right, but they tell you about your deepest self and so they matter.

What are Emotion Skills?

Most people would not put the two words “emotion” and “skill” together. In fact, every time I type “emotion skills,” the Word editor tries to correct me.

But, the truth is, that just makes me want to write about emotion skills more! They are, in fact, an incredibly key factor when it comes to your quality of life. They are also far too seldom identified and discussed.

I find myself writing and speaking about the 7 emotional skills quite often because of my specialty in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN is extremely common in today’s world. It simply involves growing up in a household where your feelings are ignored or discouraged. Folks raised with CEN tend to be disconnected from their own feelings and blind to emotions in general, so they have little opportunity to learn the 7 emotion skills in their lifetimes.

I teach these skills every single day to the clients I see in my office and discuss them with the CEN folks in my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life.

The 7 Emotion Skills

  1. Emotional Awareness — This skill involves being aware when you are having a feeling. Life is full of distractions and external events that pull your attention away from what’s going on in your body (your feelings). On top of that, society in general tends to treat feelings as annoyances and weaknesses. If you grew up in a CEN family, you may be blind to emotions in general. Yet all emotion skills are built upon this one. You must be aware when you are experiencing a feeling before you can practice any of the feeling-related skills.
  2. Identifying Your Feelings — Once you have emotional awareness you know when a feeling is present in your body. Now, it is important to be able to identify and name that feeling. This requires you to discern each feeling from every other. The more able you are to identify different kinds of feelings like angry types vs. sad types vs. fear-based types, the better. Then, you can take a step beyond that and make more subtle and specific differentiation. So, instead of settling for “I feel down,” you also take it further. Is this sadness? Is it regret? Despondence? Grief? The finer tuned your ability to identify and name a feeling, the easier it will be to take the next steps.
  3. Accepting Your Feelings Without Judgment — Once you know what you are feeling, it is crucial — and powerful — to accept that feeling, no matter what it is. If you were raised to believe that you choose your own feelings or that your emotions are shameful or a sign of weakness, you are at risk of judging your feelings and rejecting them which is harmful to you and does not work at all. Since none of us are able to choose our feelings, we cannot judge ourselves for having them. It is only by accepting our ugliest emotions that we are able to understand and manage them.
  4. Attributing Your Feeling to a Cause — Once you have noticed your feeling, identified it, and accepted it, it’s time to consider why you are having it. Many people assume it must be caused by something happening right now. But, in reality, we all carry many old feelings within us that might be touched off by a current event or situation. In this case, you may feel far more intensely or complexly about a current event than it deserves. Being able to sort out a feeling and the reason you are having it enables you to then take the following steps.
  5. Tolerating Your Emotions — All of the skills above and below this one require this skill that seems very simple but, in reality, can actually be quite hard. When you experience a feeling that is painful, intense, or unpleasant in some way, it is natural to want to escape it. But, to make full use of this message from your body, you must be able and willing to sit with it and feel it. This means you don’t use distraction, alcohol, food, shopping, or any other crutch to suppress it right away. Instead, you allow yourself to consider the feeling as you are feeling it.
  6. Managing Your Emotions — Every feeling is a message from your body. So every emotion is important, yes. But that does not mean that any emotion should be allowed to take over and run the show. We cannot choose what we feel but we are responsible to manage what we feel. This means noticing and understanding your feeling while also considering the message your body is sending you. Once you discern the message, then decide if it’s a healthy message for you and whether you need to listen. What is this feeling telling me to do? Should I do it?
  7. Expressing Your Emotions — One common message that our feelings send us: “You need to say something.” Being able to do this is a vital skill that helps you manage your feelings. Your anger may be telling you to stand up to someone. Your hurt feelings may be telling you to protect yourself. Your concern may be telling you to change something. Your warm feelings may be pushing you to tell someone you love them. We are often called upon to explain our feelings to someone, and this is a complex skill that many people struggle to develop throughout their entire lives.

The 7 Skills and You

I hope that as you read the 7 skills above you were thinking about yourself.

How often have you used any one of these skills? Are you better at some skills than others? Is there one or more of the skills that seem foreign to you or particularly difficult to understand?

Three amazing things about the 7 Emotion Skills are: first, you probably never thought about them; second, once you’re aware of them, you can learn them; and last but not least, developing and improving these skills can literally change your life from the inside.

I could write volumes on each of these skills, so I will. Watch for a future article, Examples of the 7 Emotion Skills in Action.

Wonder if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect? Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

Do you know that children have physical needs? OF COURSE, YOU DO! Virtually all parents, and all people, for that matter, understand that children must be fed, clothed, kept warm and sheltered, rested and exercised. Kids need to have all of these needs met in order to physically survive and thrive.

Most people also realize that children have emotional needs. Children need to be loved. But children’s emotional needs actually go far beyond that.

You, when you were a child, needed much more than love from your parents. One of the things you needed the most is something most parents hardly think about if they think about it at all. It’s emotional validation.

Emotional Validation

Emotional validation happens when your parents see what you are feeling, acknowledge your feelings, and seem to understand why you are having them.

Just like adults, children’s feelings are the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who they are. In order to feel seen, understood, and heard, a child must feel that their feelings are seen, understood, and heard.

What happens when you feel seen, understood, and heard as a child? You grow up to feel like a person who is seeable, understandable, and hearable. You feel knowable. You feel valid.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If your parents didn’t have the emotional awareness or emotional skills to see and accept what you were feeling, they may have, perhaps of no fault of their own, failed to validate you.

As a result, you may have grown up to feel unseen, misunderstood, and unheard. You may feel less valid than everyone else.

I call this Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

2 Ways Emotional Validation Can Go Wrong

  1. The Child’s Threshold of Emotional Need isn’t met. Many people can look back on their childhoods and remember a time when their parents emotionally validated them. But that doesn’t actually mean all that much. Here’s why. In order to grow up feeling seen, understood, and heard, you must be emotionally validated enough. Even the most well-meaning parents can “fail” their child in this way. Your parents may have loved you and tried their best with you, but they may not have had the emotional awareness or skills to meet the threshold that is enough.
  2. The Child’s Emotions are Actively Invalidated. These parents have a profound misunderstanding of how emotions work in general. Here, your parents may view your feelings as your choice, which is patently wrong, and judge them as a form of bad behavior, which is also patently wrong. Your parents’ false concept of feelings can lead them to actively invalidate your emotions in all kinds of ways. This takes us beyond not getting enough. It is a form of active emotional harm.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

  1. Your parents pretend to listen but actually don’t. When this happens enough during your childhood, you learn that you are not worth hearing.
  2. You have a learning disability or some other challenge that goes unacknowledged. This leads to misunderstandings and incorrect assessments of your strengths and weaknesses and may leave you incorrectly feeling deeply flawed.
  3. Your parents act like they are your friends instead of your parents. You don’t receive the limits and consequences that you need to have in order to have self-discipline and be able to structure yourself.
  4. Your feelings are ignored as if they don’t exist. You learn that your feelings are nothing so you build a wall to shield you (and others) from your feelings. You grow up without enough connection to your feelings. This is classic Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  5. Your natural needs to be seen, heard, and validated go unmet. This teaches you that you are not worth being seen and heard, and you feel less valid than other people.
  6. A major event in your family or home is never talked about. This may be a large or small event; divorce, illness, or even the death of a parent may be left undiscussed. This leads you to feel deeply alone in the world and also fails to teach you vital emotional expression skills.
  7. Your emotional expressions are twisted and thrown back at you. This form of gaslighting teaches you that you cannot trust yourself. It also sets you up to struggle with generalized anger throughout your life which you may end up turning at yourself.
  8. Your parent acts as if you are the parent, not them. When this happens, you learn how to be overly responsible. You are set up to be excessively caretaking of others, putting others before yourself.
  9. You receive the message that it’s not okay to have needs. Here, you will learn very well how to have no needs. You may feel it’s wrong to ask for help or accept help. Needing help of any kind may make you feel vulnerable.
  10. You are told that you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel what you feel. Also a form of emotional gaslighting, this teaches you to hide your feelings because they can and will be used against you. It also undermines your ability to trust your emotions or yourself.

Did you see yourself in any of the examples above?

Whether your emotional threshold was not met as a child or your feelings were invalidated (both constitute Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), I want you to know that it has left its mark on you. The effects are substantial and significant, and they seldom go away on their own.

But they do go away. With your awareness, attention, interest, and commitment, you can reclaim your valuable emotions and learn to listen to their messages. You can learn to understand, trust, and love yourself.

That is the process of validating yourself. It’s never too late to do it.

Let’s get started.

To learn specific ways to emotionally validate and emotionally connect with your child, toddler, teen, or adult see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. You can find helpful resources for understanding and healing Childhood Emotional Neglect throughout this website.

How Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You More Emotionally Intelligent

Having a high IQ sets you up for success in life, right?

Well, sure, it certainly helps.

But, over the last decade, research has shown that there’s a kind of intelligence that’s even more important than the Intelligence Quotient traditionally measured by IQ tests. People who have this other kind of intelligence have better leadership qualities, are more productive, more satisfied, and are more successful at work and home. They are overall happier in their lives.

Here’s the real truth: Studies show that the higher your Emotional Quotient the better you are set up for success in life.

Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence (also called EI) consists of 5 skills. As you read the 5 skills below think about yourself and your own abilities in each of these areas.

The 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness of your own feelings: This is the ability to know when you are having a feeling, plus being aware of what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Example: “I feel sad right now because it’s the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death.”
  2. Self-regulation: Once you’re aware of what you’re feeling and why (Skill #1), you are set up to then take responsibility for your feelings and manage your feelings. Example: “I’m not going to let my sadness interfere with my day. I’m going to call my sister before work so we can comfort each other.”
  3. Empathy: This involves applying your emotion skills to others. Knowing what other people are feeling and understanding why they are feeling it gives you the ability to help them manage their feelings. This is an invaluable skill for parents, leaders, husbands, and wives; basically everyone. Example: “You look annoyed. Tell me what’s wrong.”
  4. Motivation: This skill consists of being driven by what truly inspires you. When you are driven by your own passion rather than by external requirements you are more energized and directed. You’re also most likely to inspire and motivate others. Example: “I’m going to start this boring task now because it’s a vital step toward achieving what really matters to me.”
  5. Social skills: Social skills involve a process of taking all of the 4 skills above and using them to manage complex social situations. When you have good social skills other people sense you are operating from your heart. They trust you, respect you, and are inspired by you. You are able to connect and lead and enjoy overall good relationships with others. Example: “I see what’s going on between my two daughters. I’m going to talk with them about it and see if we can nip it in the bud.”

And now it’s time for another definition. This definition helps answer the natural question: Why do some people seem to have higher EI than others. Even folks with incredible academic skills and high IQ can have very low EI.

In my clinical work, as well as the data I’ve collected on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) since I wrote my book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, one thing is clear to me. The biggest root cause of low EI is Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect & Emotional Intelligence

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Growing up in a family that is unaware of your feelings and does not respond to them enough.

Yes, just as you may be thinking, CEN is rampant in today’s world. It is very easy for even loving families to fail to realize the extreme importance of their child’s feelings.

The signature challenge of adults who grew up with CEN is a marked lack of access to their feelings which impacts their lives deeply in multiple ways.

Having been subtly discouraged from having emotions as kids, they are not able to feel, identify, listen to, or be motivated, directed, and connected by their feelings.

And perhaps just as importantly, by growing up with their feelings ignored, they were not able to learn the 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence.

Now, here’s the good news. Just as CEN lowers your EI, healing your CEN raises your EI. And you absolutely can heal your CEN!

5 Ways Healing Your CEN Increases Your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness: In both of my books, my clinical work, and my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life, the first thing I do to help people heal their CEN is to work with them to break through the wall that blocks their emotions. Then we work on increasing their awareness and acceptance of their own feelings. Being able to turn your attention inward, ask yourself what you’re feeling, name your feelings and make sense of them is not only the foundational step to healing CEN, it’s also the first skill of EI.
  2. Self-regulation: As you heal your CEN you begin to feel your feelings more. So Step 2 of CEN healing is learning how to soothe yourself, listen to your own feelings, and manage them. In essence, you are learning self-regulation.
  3. Empathy: All the skills above that you are learning for yourself and your own emotions as you go through the steps of CEN recovery can also be applied to others. As you learn about your own feelings, you’ll be far better able to tell what your spouse, children, family, and co-workers are feeling too. You’ll become more comfortable with feelings in general, as well.
  4. Motivation: What’s the greatest source of energy that drives you, directs you to make good choices that are authentic to yourself, and pushes you to act and create? Your feelings. Clearly, walking through the CEN recovery steps allows your own inner supply of passion to inform and drive you.
  5. Social Skills: A familiarity and acceptance of emotions and how they work opens up a whole new world to you. You can use all of these skills and newfound emotional energy to improve your relationships and your leadership skills. This is why I wrote my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. The more you heal your own CEN the better your personal social skills become.

The Takeaway

Living authentically and close to your own heart requires paying attention to the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are: your emotions. And when you live this way, you will connect and inspire others. You will make good choices that move you and connect you to others.

In short, you will be emotionally intelligent. 

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free!

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and affects you through your adult life see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to honor your feelings in your most primary relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

5 Challenges of Valentine’s Day and How to Overcome Them

Is Valentine’s Day just one big commercial created by the card companies? Actually, no, it is not. It’s a holiday that is rooted in ancient history. Valentine’s Day is thought to originate from the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia that was held each year in the middle of February. It was a happy occasion which, in addition to celebrating spring, also included fertility rites and a lottery that paired men and women together based on the drawing of names.

Sounds fun, right?

Society has changed since ancient times, and Valentine’s Day has transitioned through the centuries into something quite different. It’s supposed to be a happy celebration of love and, for many, it is. But it also poses unique challenges to people married and single, dating or not dating, wishing for a relationship, or happy alone.

Let’s start by taking a look at the various challenges of Valentine’s Day. You may identify one, several, or even all as applying to you. Either way, no worries. There are answers!

5 Ways You May Be Challenged By Valentine’s Day

  1. You are uncomfortable with emotions. Valentine’s Day is, without a doubt, an emotional holiday. With its emphasis on love and relationships, it practically commands you to have, share, and express feelings with your significant other. But not everyone is comfortable with emotions. If you grew up in an emotionally inexpressive, emotionally repressed, or emotionally neglectful family, you may be particularly uncomfortable with an emotion-based holiday like this.
  2. You are set up with high expectations. This is how V Day is like every other holiday. As a designated day to celebrate your relationship, V Day sets you up with high expectations to feel loved, cared for, and valued by your partner. Since these feelings cannot be summoned on demand, this can be a setup for disappointment.
  3. You are in a struggling relationship or are looking for a relationship. As a holiday that’s focused exclusively on couples, Valentine’s Day makes you hyper-aware of your relationship status. That’s why for every person who’s looking forward to Valentine’s as a way to celebrate their love, there are several who are dreading the holiday because of the way it makes them feel. You may wish you were in a relationship, or you may be in a struggling marriage. How do you celebrate a non-existent or unhappy relationship?
  4. You are content being single. Being in a couple is not a requirement for happiness. Many people purposely and comfortably choose not to be in a relationship. If this is you, you may find yourself receiving sympathy you don’t need or want as a result of this holiday. That can be very uncomfortable.
  5. The holiday brings up grief over past or current losses. Valentine’s Day has a way of reminding you of everyone you have loved. If you have lost a past loved one via death, break-up, or divorce, or are in the process of transition in your life, you may experience some fresh grief on this day.

You Are Not Alone

All of these challenges can affect anyone, of course. But they are especially problematic for you if you did not receive enough emotional validation and emotional connection from your parents during your childhood or, in other words, if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

If you struggle with any or all of these challenges this Valentine’s Day, I want to first tell you sincerely that you are not alone!

And it is surely not a bad thing to be challenged. Every challenge you encounter in your life is actually an opportunity for growth. And this holiday is no exception. I’m going to prepare you for Valentine’s Day by helping you use it as a way to flourish and progress forward in your life.

3 Ways to Prepare For the Challenges of Valentine’s Day

 

  • Let yourself feel whatever you feel this holiday. Your emotions emanate from your central nervous system so you cannot — and do not — choose what you feel. It’s vital to pay attention to what you are feeling in your relationship. Your feelings will guide you; they’ll tell you when you need to reach out to your partner, give more, speak up for yourself, set limits, or protect yourself. Feelings can be painful or positive but, in the end, they are only feelings. Feelings do not follow a moral code, they are not always “right,” they don’t always make sense, and you can feel two opposite things at once. You are responsible for knowing and managing your feelings, but not for having them. You can learn much more about how emotions work both in and out of relationships in the two Running On Empty books.
  • Don’t get caught up in the trappings of the holiday. If you are celebrating with your partner, be thoughtful about what you feel toward them. Whether you offer a card, a gift, or a plan, focus less on impressing your person and more on communicating your true feelings to them. That is what this holiday is actually about.
  • Allow yourself to acknowledge and grieve what you have lost. Grief has a way of coming and going. It is easily touched off by holidays such as this. When you try to avoid your grief, it only makes it stronger. The best way to deal with your grief is to allow yourself to feel it. Set aside a specific time in your day to sit alone and think about what you have lost. Feel your feelings, and consider what you’ve lost; then engage in something healthy and soothing. Allow yourself to move forward with your day.

The Takeaway

Whether you are happily single or actively seeking your person, use this day as an appreciation day for yourself. Consider the gifts you were born with and the qualities you are able to offer others. Think about what you like, what makes you happy, and what you want and need. Consider who the important people in your life are, and allow yourself to feel grateful for them. This day is your day to love and appreciate yourself.

Overall, keep this holiday in perspective. Try not to expect your partner to make you feel a certain way and, conversely, try not to expect to make your partner feel any particular way. Instead, keep your focus on simply having an enjoyable time. And keep in mind that it’s no one else’s role to make you happy. We are each responsible for our own happiness.

Relationships have extraordinary power to bring us happiness and fulfillment, yes. But they cannot be the primary source of our feelings about ourselves or our lives. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own feelings and for making sure our own needs are met. Also, it’s hard for others to love us when we don’t yet love ourselves.

So, paradoxically, this holiday about couples is best spent focused on the very most important person in your life: yourself.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is invisible and hard to remember so it can be difficult to know if you have it. If you struggle to understand and express feelings in your relationships, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about getting comfortable having and sharing feelings in your relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships

Struggle With Self-Discipline? Follow This System Every Single Day

Many people struggle with self-discipline in many different ways and for many different reasons.

Do you struggle with:

Poor eating habits?

Overdrinking?

Overspending?

Getting yourself to exercise?

Wasting time?

Keeping a clean and organized house?

Making yourself do things that are boring or uninteresting?

Do you sometimes feel like you have no control over your own choices or actions in certain areas of your life? If so, rest assured that you are in the good company of countless others who feel the same way.

Most of those who struggle simply assume they are lazy or weak or defective in some way, but when you believe any of these things about yourself you are walking down a one-way street to nowhere.

Feeling defective makes you believe in yourself even less which makes you struggle even more. Feeling weak makes you hopeless and helpless to solve the problem, setting up an endless cycle of pain.

The reality is that almost no one who contends with self-control is doing so because they are weak or defective. Truth be told, I have often found the real cause of these problems to be Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your needs and feelings as they raise you.

“What could this possibly have to do with self-discipline?” you might ask. Here is the answer.

The Link Between CEN and Self-Discipline Problems

Actually, all self-discipline problems boil down to one simple mechanism that’s the foundation for it all. It’s the ability to make yourself do things you don’t want to do and to stop yourself from doing things you shouldn’t do.

We humans are not born with our “mechanism” fully functioning and developed. Instead, it is developed by our parents as they raise us.

When your mother calls you in from playing with your neighborhood friends because it’s dinnertime or bedtime, she is teaching you an important skill. She’s teaching you that some things must be done, even if you don’t feel like it.

When your dad gives you the weekly chore of cutting the grass and then follows up in a loving but firm way to make sure you do it, he’s teaching you how to make yourself do something you don’t want to do and he’s teaching you the rewards of that.

When your parents make sure you brush your teeth twice a day, when they say no to dessert, when they set aside and enforce “homework hour” every day after school because you’ve been slacking on homework, when they continue to love you but set your curfew earlier as a consequence of thoughtlessly breaking it; all of these parental actions and responses are internalized by you, the child.

Emotional Attunement = Teaching Discipline

All of these loving and attentive actions of your parents, when done with enough emotional attunement, structure, and love — in other words, the opposite of Childhood Emotional Neglect, literally program your brain. They set up neural pathways that you can use all your life to make yourself do things you don’t want to do and stop yourself from doing what you should not do.

Now, here’s another very important thing. When all of this happens as it should in your childhood, you not only internalize the ability to make yourself do things and to stop yourself from doing things, you internalize your parents’ voices, which later, in your adulthood, become your own.

Unfortunately, the opposite of everything we just discussed is also true. If you grow up in an emotionally neglectful home and do not receive enough of this emotionally attuned structure and discipline, you will emerge into adulthood without enough of the neural pathways you need. It’s not that you have none of these neural pathways. It’s just that you do not have enough.

I know what you are probably thinking so let’s talk about it:

So Is This All My Parents’ Fault?

No, not necessarily at all. All parents have their own personal struggles. Many grew up in emotionally neglectful homes themselves. Most parents do their best (not all, for sure)  and give their children what they have to give. But sadly, in many cases of Emotional Neglect, the parents can’t give you what they did not have themselves: emotional attunement, structure, and discipline.

Another side of this to consider in all of this is you.

I hope that realizing that you are not defective takes you out of that destructive loop of self-blame. I hope now that you see that your parents failed you in this way it will free you up to think in new ways. I hope that understanding the underlying mechanism of self-discipline will inspire you.

For what? For taking responsibility for this problem now. For building your own neural pathways. For change.

It is never too late. As an adult, you can essentially re-parent yourself by rewiring your own brain. You can do it by using a remarkably simple but amazingly effective rewiring program I am sharing directly from my book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

The 3 Things Practice for Building Your Self-Discipline

In this skill-building exercise, you will be wiring your brain with the hardware that’s essential to have in order to be able to make yourself do what you don’t want to do and vice-versa. To take full advantage of its power, you absolutely must do it every single day.

  • Three times, every single day, make yourself do something you don’t want to do; or stop yourself from doing something you shouldn’t do.

It’s best to choose small, doable items that do not feel overwhelming. The size of the item does not matter, it’s the act of overriding what you want that programs your brain.

Three times. Without exception. Every single day. And don’t just do them, write them down.

To help you get a feel for this, I’ll give you some examples of Three Things that have worked for others:

Examples of Things to Make Yourself Do: Face-washing, bill-paying, exercise, floor-sweeping, shoe-tying, phone-calling, dishwashing or task-starting.

Examples of Things to Stop Yourself From Doing: eating a piece of chocolate devil’s food cake, buying a pretty necklace online, having that one more drink when out with friends, or skipping class.

Try to do this program regularly. If you slip, start right back up again. If you keep at it, you’ll notice that it will become easier and easier for you to self-regulate, manage your impulses, and complete unrewarding but necessary tasks. Your self-discipline will build and grow and eventually become an active, hard-wired part of who you are.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, and to read more about the relationship between Emotional Neglect and self-discipline, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Three things. Every day. You can do it.

The 4 Personal Traits That Make it Hard To Take Criticism

Scott

“Scott, I feel uncomfortable at parties sometimes when you tell a story real loud. I know you’re not doing it on purpose, but it embarrasses me. Can you try not to talk so loud?” Andrea said to her husband.

Immediately, Scott’s face turned red. He felt a combination of shock, rage and hurt. “I-I-I-,” he stuttered. Then he ran down the steps to the basement, slamming the door behind him. Downstairs, he turned his music up as loudly as he could and started lifting weights furiously.

Rebecca

“So now that I’ve explained all the great strengths you bring to the job, Rebecca, there is one thing I’d like you to try to improve over the next year,” her supervisor said as they discussed Rebecca’s 6-month job evaluation. “I want you to work on giving your direct reports more clear feedback about their performance.”

As her supervisor explained that she wasn’t challenging her employees enough, Rebecca’s field of vision literally went blank. Her thoughts were swirling so quickly in her head that she barely heard anything else her boss said. “How can she say that?! I just gave someone feedback yesterday. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I’m going to start looking for a new job.”

Do you identify with Scott or Rebecca? Is it especially difficult for you to hear negative comments about yourself, your actions or your performance, even from people who you know deep down have your best interests in mind?

4 Personal Traits That Make it Hard to Accept and Respond Well to Criticism

  1. Lack of self-knowledge. How well do you know yourself? Do you know your own strengths and weaknesses, talents and challenges, preferences and tendencies? What do you want? What do you like? And why? Not knowing yourself deeply and well leaves you overly vulnerable to other people’s opinions. It also leaves you with little to call upon when you need it. If you knew yourself well enough, when your wife gives you a specific critique, it’s OK. Because you know you have plenty of other strengths that make you good enough as a person even if you make a mistake. If Scott had enough self-knowledge he would feel somewhat hurt by Andrea’s comment, but he would be able to think it through and realize that people generally like him, that he has natural good humor, and that Andrea’s discomfort is more about herself than him. He would say, “Oh, OK Andrea. I’ll try to be aware.”
  2. Low compassion for yourself. Everybody makes mistakes, no exceptions. It is what we do with those mistakes that matters. When you have compassion for yourself, there’s a voice in your head that helps you think through criticism, take responsibility for your mistake while at the same time having compassion for your humanness. I call it the Voice of Compassionate Accountability. It steps in when you receive criticism and talks you through it. If Rebecca had the Voice of Compassionate Accountability, instead of thinking about a new job, she would have been thinking: “OK, so she thinks I’m not giving negative feedback to my people. I do know I’ve always struggled to say difficult things. Even though I’ve been trying, maybe I need to try even more. My overall communication skills are good. I can rely on those to help me. This will be a work in progress.”
  3. Difficulty managing your feelings. Scott and Rebecca both have this challenge in common. They are each when receiving criticism, flooded by emotions that render them helpless at the moment. Both feel a combination of shame and anger immediately upon hearing the criticism, and neither knows what to do with it. Neither has the skills to notice what they are feeling, name those feelings or manage them so that they can have a conversation.
  4. Lack of assertiveness. Assertiveness is a skill. It is the ability to speak your truth in a way that the other person can hear it. To be assertive you must first know what you feel and manage those feelings, as described in #3. When you’re aware of your anger you can listen to its message. It may be telling you to speak up and protect yourself, and it is vital that you listen. If Scott had assertiveness skills, he might say to Andrea, “Everyone was loud at the party, and I didn’t think I was any louder than anyone else.” Andrea would respond by speaking her truth. They would have a back-and-forth conversation, and this might enable them to learn about each other, listen to each other, and perhaps forge some kind of mutual understanding.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

These four character traits are all hallmarks of one common childhood experience. In fact, they are essentially the footprint of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Growing up in a family that does not address the feelings of its members (the definition of CEN) leaves the children to move into, and through, adulthood lacking some vital skills.

How can you learn who you are when the deepest expression of that, your feelings, are ignored by your parents as they raise you?

How can you have empathy for yourself when your parents were unable to show you compassion and empathy while they raised you?

How can you learn how to manage your emotions when your emotions were ignored in your childhood home?

How can you know how to speak your truth when, as a child, your truth was not accepted by your parents?

How to React Well to Criticism

Before you start to think it is too late for you, I want to assure you that it is absolutely not.

You can begin to work on thinking of criticism in a new way: like someone’s opinion, which may or may not be true, and may or may not be useful to you. You can realize that criticism is often a useful and valuable way to become a stronger and better person.

You can start to pay more attention to the best source of strength, purpose, connection, validation and direction available to you, your feelings.

To learn much more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and the struggles it leaves you with throughout your adulthood, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, available in bookstores and online everywhere.

Most people who grew up with CEN have no idea that it happened. To find out if you grew up with CEN, visit EmotionalNeglect.com and take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Can Childhood Emotional Neglect Make You Passive-Aggressive?

“Lingering, bottled-up anger never reveals the ‘true colors’ of an individual. It, on the contrary, becomes all mixed up, rotten, confused, forms a highly combustible, chemical compound, then explodes as something foreign, something very different, than one’s natural self.” 
― Criss Jami, Healology

“Passive aggressive behavior is counterproductive. Communication is key to a healthy personal and work relationship.” 
― Izey Victoria Odiase

What Does it Mean to be Passive-Aggressive?

“Being marked by, or displaying, behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way (as through procrastination and stubbornness)” — Merriam-Webster dictionary

6 Examples of Passive-Aggressive Behaviors

  • Showing up late
  • Making a joke with a hurtful barb in it
  • Forgetting something important
  • Ignoring
  • Canceling a plan
  • Behaving irritably while claiming nothing is wrong

All of the events above happen to everyone often, of course. And they are not necessarily examples of passive-aggression unless they are accompanied by, or an expression of, one key factor. Anger.

So now, I ask you to re-read the list above but add the phrase “out of anger, to punish someone” at the end of each one. These common, everyday behaviors now become ideal examples of passive-aggression.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect in Passive-Aggression

We are all born with the emotion of anger wired into us for a reason. It is a feeling that is essential to our survival.

Feelings of anger are nothing more than messages from your body. When you feel angry, your body is saying, “Watch out! Pay attention! Someone or something is threatening or hurting you! You need to protect yourself!”

That’s why anger has a motivational component to it. Anger is an emotion with energy built into it. Think about how anger is often described as fire or passion. It’s an emotion that pushes you to take action.

Legions of children grow up in homes that are intolerant of their anger. Every day, emotionally unaware parents ignore their children’s anger, trump it with their own anger, or send them their children to their rooms for expressing anger. These are all examples of Childhood Emotional Neglect in action.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when parents fail to notice, respond or validate their child’s feelings enough.

When you grow up in a home that treats your anger this way, your developing brain and body absorb a powerful and damaging lesson: Your anger is useless, excessive or bad.

As a child, probably without your knowledge, your brain does what is necessary to protect you. It blocks your feelings of anger from reaching your awareness. It virtually walls them off to protect you from this “useless, bad, excessive” force from within you.

What happens then? Several unfortunate things.

  1. You lose the ability to fully benefit from this energizing, protective force from within.
  2. You do not learn the anger skills you were meant to learn in your childhood.
  3. Unprocessed anger does not go away. It sits there, fomenting, on the other side of the wall that your child brain built to block it.

Anger must be felt, understood, listened to and, in many situations, expressed before it goes away. Imagine what happens inside of you when so much fire and energy is left to fester in your body.

The very thing that is meant to empower and protect you instead saps your energy and leaves you more vulnerable. This is not what nature intended.

How Your Unprocessed Anger Can Hurt Others

Unprocessed, walled-off, fomenting anger has a way of finding its way to the surface. This is what puts those who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect(CEN) at greater risk than others for behaving passive aggressively.

Believing that your anger is irrelevant and that it is wrong to express it, plus not knowing even how to do so even if you chose to do it, leaves you essentially at its mercy.

So what does a CEN adult do when a friend hurts his feelings, when she’s not given a salary raise she deserves, or when he feels targeted or mistreated? What does a CEN adult do when she senses a conflict brewing or walks into a room where one is already happening?

The answer is, avoid. Avoid letting your anger show, avoid saying anything, avoid the person who has hurt you, or avoid by leaving the room.

But, as we know, this does not make your anger go away. It will now leak around the edges of the block and come out in ways you never expected, possibly at people who do not deserve it. Just like the 6 ways described above or an infinite number of others. And, worst of all, you may not even realize that it’s happening. But many, many other people may.

If you see yourself, or someone close to you in this post, do not worry. There are answers. It is possible to become less passive-aggressive!

4 Steps To Stop Being Passive-Aggressive

  1. Start viewing your anger as a helper instead of a burden. Begin to pay attention to when you feel it. Even if you think you’re never angry, I guarantee you that you do. As strange as it sounds, you only need to relentlessly try to feel it.
  2. Start learning how to be assertive. Being assertive is expressing your feelings, thoughts and needs to others in a way that they can take it in. Assertiveness is a group of skills that you can learn. And this is a skill that will help you express your anger in moments of hurt, upset and conflict. When you can express yourself, your anger becomes useful instead of leaking around the edges passive-aggressively.
  3. Start building your tolerance for conflict. You have spent your life feeling unprepared and overwhelmed by potentially conflictual situations. Your tendency has been to avoid or ignore them. As you welcome your anger and build your assertiveness skills, you can begin to go toward conflict instead of away.  Redefine these difficult situations as opportunities to practice your skills.
  4. Start learning all of the other emotion skills too. It’s not just anger. All of your feelings are messages from your body and can help you substantially in your life. Having grown up in a home that ignored or discouraged your emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), you have likely been under attending and undervaluing yours for your entire life. Now, as your view of your emotions shifts, you can harness the energy, direction, motivation, and connection that you were always meant to enjoy.

The process of becoming less passive-aggressive is actually a process of healing yourself. It involves looking inward instead of outward and accepting the most deeply personal expression of who you are: your emotions.

This process may sound hard, but you can do it. Just as thousands of people before you have already done, you can take the steps and walk the path. You can honor your feelings, and yourself, in a way that you never knew was possible. You can learn to express how you feel.