Growing up with your feelings ignored, Childhood Emotional Neglect or (CEN), takes its toll on you. It’s true. In fact, it takes such a lasting toll that I can see its lingering effects decades later in my adult patients.
Children who grow up with their feelings ignored take a very powerful step to get by in their childhood home. They wall off the deepest, most biological part of who they are: their emotions. That way they can stop burdening others with their feelings. What a brilliant and powerful tool for your child’s brain to make for you.
But as an adult, your life is affected greatly.
The lingering effects above are important parts of the toll of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). When your feelings are walled off, you are missing some life ingredients that will have a profound effect on your quality of life.
I know this because I see it in my office every single day.
Whether you realize it or not, this particular group of struggles affects you in many areas of your life. You are living without access to some vital life ingredient that everyone else enjoys. For example, it can make it hard to ask for a promotion or a raise at work, or to trust yourself to try new things or take risks.
But I have also seen that there is one area of life that’s affected far more than any other. It’s your relationships. As you read the 5 Important Ways below, be sure to keep in mind that none of these 5 are permanent. They are only effects from your childhood. You can fix every single one!
Never fear! I know these 5 challenges might seem practically insurmountable. But I have watched many people transform their relationships by working in 3 key areas.
You can learn far more about how to become more emotionally aware and skilled and how to communicate on an emotional level in the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. Take The CEN Test. It’s free!
Consider this. Would you rather live a life filled with ups and downs, joy and sadness, frustrations and pride and surprise? Or a life that goes along, one day after another, with few disruptions or changes or shake-ups?
Choice 1 might seem scary; a little like a roller-coaster ride. On the other hand, Choice 2 might seem a little disappointing.
Don’t get me wrong, they are both mixed bags. The roller-coaster can deliver some shocks to the system, and it can be hard to sometimes feel that you are not in control of everything in your life. If you are living without the emotional disruptions and shake-ups, you may feel “safer” and more in control of things, but you may also find yourself feeling bored and unstimulated.
As a psychologist, I have come to realize that people living in the Choice 1 scenario are typically overall happier. That’s because if you are on the roller coaster, you are living life in a more powerful way. You are more connected with your emotions, and so you are probably far more fulfilled.
Choice 2 is a sign that you are disconnected from your feelings. Probably you grew up in an emotionally neglectful family. Probably you learned at an early age that your emotions were irrelevant or burdensome. Probably you have walled off your feelings as a coping mechanism.
No doubt, though, the way you are living seems normal to you. After all, it’s the way you have always lived. It’s probably the way you were raised to be. So how do you know if you’re emotionally numb?
If you see yourself in any of these 10 signs, do not despair! There are answers. Your feelings are not gone. They are still there, inside you, waiting for you to reclaim them.
You can break down the wall that blocks them, and welcome them back into your life. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, in a way that feels safe and healthy, you can reverse your numbness, and fill your life with color and energy.
Growing up with CEN you were taught to ignore and marginalize your own feelings. But now that you’re an adult, you don’t have to continue that. You can welcome your feelings back into your life and learn the skills to manage and use them.
You CAN overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect. For help, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. When you sign up for the free test you will also receive my free newsletter which is chockfull of helpful information. I’ll let you know when my free CEN Recovery Videos start.
For even more help into and through the CEN recovery process see my two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.
For the realtor, the world revolves around Location Location Location. But psychologists, psychiatrists, and social scientists everywhere know that what really matters is validation.
And the absence of it.
A friend of mine woke up one morning and literally felt a bomb go off in her head. There was a sense of an explosion, cymbals, fireworks all in one split-second cacophony. Then, suddenly, it was over.
Needless to say, my friend was worried on the verge of panic. What was this? What does it mean? “Is this the start of some kind of neurological degenerative disorder?” she wondered. So she did what any of us would do in this situation. She typed it into google.
She only typed a few words, and the answer appeared under the search bar. Exploding Head Syndrome. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s unexplained and rare, but harmless. My friend read postings by dozens of people who have had the same experience. She felt immediately relieved, and never worried about it again.
Because she felt validated.
When my friend told me this story months later, it made me think about validation, and how powerful it is. It’s possible to go from panic to calm by simply being validated. Validation has the ability to save marriages, cement friendships, and decrease depression. It’s scientifically proven.
I recently came across a study by Marigold et al., 2014, which looked at how people with low self-esteem experience different kinds of support, compared with people who have healthy self-esteem.
The researchers found that both groups of people responded well to validation of their negative feelings. That’s these kinds of statements:
I would feel that way too.
Anyone who went through that would be sad.
Your feelings are normal.
Of course you’re angry.
But only the folks with healthy self-esteem also responded well to the kind of support that did not validate their feelings. That’s statements like:
At least you’re learning something from this.
I know someone who went through the same thing, and he’s fine now.
You’ll beat this.
Everything will be okay.
So the only kind of supportive statements that are helpful for people with all levels of self-esteem is the kind that validates their negative feelings. Across the board, we all need to know that the feelings we have are normal and reasonable in the situation.
We all feel better when we’re validated.
I’m sitting in my office in a therapy session with a couple who is on the verge of divorce. Karen and Tom are both lovely people, but they hate each other. Our work together over the past two months has been trying to figure out why.
On this day, one powerful reason emerges. Here’s the story Karen told me:
I was on the phone with my mother, and she told me that her doctor’s appointment didn’t go well. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. I was so upset! I hung up the phone, and I was in shock. Tom was in the other room. I walked in and told him what I had just heard.
Tom stopped typing on his laptop and came over to me. He gave me a huge hug, which was just what I needed. Then he said, “OK, let’s stop with the tears and talk about this rationally. It’s not like anyone has died.”
Tom did several things exactly right in this moment. He gave Karen his full attention and a big hug. And he thought he said the right thing. Clearly, Tom’s intentions were loving.
But sadly, Tom missed the boat. His statement was intended to calm Karen, but instead it contributed to the pool of anger and rage that she already had toward him. What Karen heard in his statement was, “You’re wrong to be so upset. You’re over-reacting. You are irrational.”
Karen’s anger toward Tom had built up over many years of such responses from him. Incidents big and small ended the same, with Karen getting MORE upset and walking out of the room, leaving Tom baffled and angry himself in return.
“She’s impossible. I can’t do anything right for her. It’s never enough,” Tom lamented in our session.
Fortunately, there was an answer for Karen and Tom, and the answer was fairly straightforward. In fact, Tom learned quickly and easily. He learned to say instead, in a situation like this, “Oh no, that’s terrible, Honey. I’m so sorry. I’m here for you.”
When Tom handled Karen’s feelings by responding to them instead of trying to minimize or banish them, Karen felt validated.
The Unvalidated Child
Imagine a little child growing up without the kind of validation that my friend got from google; without the kind of validation that the subjects got in the self-esteem study. Without the kind of validation that Karen was finally able to get from Tom.
Imagine this little child trying to understand himself, his world, and all the other people in it. Imagine that he doesn’t feel he can ask questions when he needs help. No one notices his feelings or emotional needs. No one says, “Let me explain this to you.” No one says, “Your feelings are normal.” No one says, “I’m here for you,” or “I see your emotions,” either by words or actions.
This child is being sentenced to an entire life of seeking answers. An entire life of feeling like a non-person. An entire life of feeling less-than. An entire life of feeling angry or baffled or untethered, or all three.
An entire lifetime of feeling invalid.
To learn more about validation, how it affects people who live without it, and how to heal, see the book Running on Empty.
This article was originally published on Psychcentral.com and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral
Lets face it. For us human beings, often the most difficult struggles in our lives come from inside of us.
We are all essentially walking, talking bundles of emotions and issues. We can’t sleep, we’re in conflict, we get obsessed or we suffer from anxiety. We’re angry, sad or grief-stricken. We are in pain.
Fortunately, science comes to the rescue. Psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists are busy giving us answers. What makes us happy? What coping techniques work best? How do our emotions work, and what do we do with them?
Here are three new studies that offer important and helpful information about how we can all live our lives happier and healthier.
A huge study in the UK by Kinderman et al., 2013 surveyed over 32,000 adults about their levels of anxiety and depression, and the potential causes. They found that traumatic life events were the largest factor in creating both.
But here’s the surprise. They also found that people’s coping styles contributed to anxiety and depression almost as much as the traumatic events themselves.
Here are the three coping flaws that were identified as major contributors:Continue reading
Will has no idea how he ended up in his career. In hindsight, he has some regrets….
Jonathan continually dates the wrong women, and then is completely shocked and devastated when they break up with him.
At the first sign of a problem in her pre-med program, Bella decided she wasn’t cut out for medicine, and switched to a different major.
“I don’t care, whatever you’d like,” is Sandy’s standard answer whenever someone asks what she prefers.
If only Will knew that his true passion is helping others, he would never have become a computer coder.
If only Jonathan knew that he is actually very attractive and smart, he would choose different women to date, and be less vulnerable in his relationships.
If only Bella knew that her abilities in science far outweigh the small weakness she has in memorizing anatomy, she could have worked harder, hired a tutor, and continued on to become the thoracic surgeon she was meant to be.
If only Sandy knew what she likes, she wouldn’t be living in a house she doesn’t like, married to a man she doesn’t like, feeling trapped and depressed.
If only Will, Jonathan, Bella and Sandy knew themselves, they would be less damaged by the challenges they encounter. They would have made better choices for themselves. They would be more resilient.
One of the most important qualities for resilience is self-awareness, or in other words, knowing who you are. What you like, what you feel, your strengths and weaknesses. Your preferences, needs, wishes and proclivities. All of the positives and negatives, talents and faults, when all held in your own mind together, add up to a full and realistic, gut-held sense of who you are. That self-knowledge gives you strength and resilience, guides and informs you, and gets you through challenges, failures and mistakes.
Sadly, a huge segment of the population lacks this level of knowledge about themselves. A huge segment of the population struggles through life mystified by why they do things, how they feel, and what they want. They give up on pursuits as soon as they hit a snag, make the wrong choices for themselves, and end up doing what everyone else wants.
How did these masses of people get this way? Why don’t they know themselves? Because as children, when they looked into their father’s or mother’s eyes, they did not see their true selves reflected there.
Their parents weren’t looking at all, or were seeing only what they wanted to see, or saw a distorted picture of who their child really was. So all of these children grew up without the emotional attention and responses from their parents that would have told them so much about themselves. All of them grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
Can Will, Bella, Jonathan and Sandy, as adults, gain the self-knowledge that they need to be resilient? The answer is yes. But they may need a little extra help and guidance along the way.
So I have compiled this list of 20 questions. Write down four answers for each one. If you can’t think of four on a particular item, skip it and keep it in mind until more answers occur to you. It may take days or weeks to search inside yourself for your truths. Be sure to honor the process and do not write down glib answers that you do not feel or cannot fully own. All of your answers must be real and true.
20 Questions to Improve Your Resilience
List Four Answers to Each Question:
Will, Bella, Jonathan and Sandy, and all of you who cannot see yourselves, here is my message to you:
No, your parents were not looking. No, they did not see you. But that doesn’t mean that you are not worth seeing, or that you are not worth knowing. You are.
You deserve to be known, and loved for who you really are. You deserve to look inside yourself and know, deep down, that all of your qualities and struggles add up to something real and good.
You deserve to look in the mirror and know that you are looking at someone who is strong, someone who will thrive, someone who is lovable, someone who you love.
To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, how it leaves you less resilient, and how to heal from it, see the book, Running on Empty.
This article was originally published on Psychcentral.com and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral
Ten-year-old Jasmine lies alone on her bed, glad to be sequestered behind the closed doors of her room. “It could happen,” she whispers quietly to herself. In her mind she’s reliving the fantasy that’s helped her to get her through her life so far: her father answers the doorbell and a kind, well-dressed couple explains to him that Jasmine was accidentally sent home with the wrong family at birth, and that she actually belongs to them. They then take her back to their home, where she feels loved, nurtured and cared for…
Jasmine doesn’t know it, but this is only the beginning of her struggle. She will spend the next twenty years wishing that she had different parents, and feeling guilty about it.
After all, her parents are basically good people. They work hard, and Jasmine has a house, food, clothing and toys. She goes to school every day, and does her homework every afternoon. She has friends at school, and plays soccer. By all accounts, she is a very lucky child.
But despite Jasmine’s luck, and even though her parents love her, even at age ten she knows, deep down, that she is alone in this world.
How could a ten-year old know this? Why would she feel this way? The answer is as simple as it is complicated:Continue reading
Guest Post: By Joanna Rogowska
I am 32 years old, and as weird as it might sound, I have recently discovered that I have emotions.
This discovery has changed my life. It sent me on a journey to find a way to live my life more fully and at peace with myself.
I am still learning how to deal with my emotions. There are still times when they get the best of me. But now, as I am much more prepared for times of crisis, I do not let them take over.
Let me tell you a story about one of those moments when things got a bit much and I had to put my newly acquired emotion management skills to use.Continue reading
“I scored high on the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire, but I actually grew up in a family that was the opposite of what you describe. My family was constantly yelling and screaming. How can this be?” –A question posted by a reader on PDAN.
Six-year-old Marcus feels invisible as he sits between his two older sisters in the back seat of the car. He actually hopes he IS invisible, because he doesn’t want to be the target of either of his angry parents. Marcus’ sister Marsha is sobbing loudly on his left. On his right, Blair stares ahead stone-faced with her headphones on, purposely shutting herself off from the brutal but familiar battle between their parents which is taking place in the front of the car.
Eight-year-old Marsha tries to sob loudly enough that her parents will hear her over their yelling, hoping they’ll realize what they are doing to their children and stop fighting.
Eleven-year-old Blair appears to be listening to music. Instead she is acutely aware that her mother will scream and hurl insults at her father until she “wins,” as she always does. Blaire repeats over and over in her head, “I hate these people. I’m going to run away from here as soon as I can.”
Here we have three children who are all responding differently to what is happening in their family. None of the three are experiencing direct verbal abuse, and no one is purposely harming them. But each suffers alone, unheard and unseen, in the back seat of the car. Each one is experiencing Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).Continue reading
Fifteen years ago a colleague dragged me to a Mindfulness Training for mental health professionals. At that time, mindfulness was not considered a fully valid concept in psychology.
As a psychologist who valued science, I viewed it as nothing other than new age, mystical hippy nonsense. I anticipated a flaky conference, and I was not disappointed. At one point, they had us all stand up and mill about aimlessly while humming for 20 minutes. Then we had to ask and answer some very personal questions with the strangers next to us.
Fast forward to 2015, where Mindfulness and Science have met and married. And oh, what a glorious union it is! Mindfulness studies are pouring from many of the best researchers in the world. And the meaning of mindfulness has matured from simply “being in the moment” to a richer, more complex definition.Continue reading
Do you feel bored in your life?
Do you enjoy happy occasions less than you should?
Do you sometimes feel emotionally numb?
Do other people seem to experience more intense joy, love or closeness than you do?
Do you sometimes question the purpose and value of your life?
Do you put others’ needs before your own?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of the questions above, it may be a sign that you’re on autopilot. What does this mean? It means that you do not have enough access to your true emotions.
In my work as a psychologist, I have heard many people express these concerns. Almost all have been fine, good-hearted people who are successful in many areas of their lives. But for them, something is missing. Some mysterious ingredient that makes life feel full, rich and stimulating is simply not there for them.Continue reading