Category Archives for "Emotional Awareness"

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 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.

Raised To Have No Emotional Needs

How do you raise a child to have no emotional needs? Turns out, it’s remarkably, shockingly easy. It’s so easy that many parents do it by accident, despite wanting everything good for their child, and despite trying to do everything right as a parent.

In fact, raising a child to have no emotional needs is so easy that it’s scary.

You just have to do a few special things. Or, rather, you just have to not do a few special things. We will talk about those special things in a minute, but first, I have a question for you.

Might you think this sounds like a desirable outcome, or a sign of strength, to have no emotional needs? If so, you are joined by lots of other people who think that adults should be “strong,” meaning need little from other people, especially not emotionally.

Yet we humans are emotional beings. Our emotions are built into the deepest parts of our central nervous system. They are the deepest, most biological expression of our past and present experiences, wants, responses, reactions, and needs. Our emotions are the expression of our deepest selves.

What connects two people together in a love relationship? Emotions. What has motivated some of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time? Emotions. What enables every single human being to make decisions that are authentic to themselves? Emotions.

What makes life mean something? Yes, you are right. It’s emotions.

What It Means to Have Emotional Needs

Let’s take a moment to consider what it means to have emotional needs. It means that you are human, and it also means two more things. That you are open to messages from your inner self and that you are open to connections with others that are based on vulnerability and emotional honesty. These are the ingredients that make relationships feel true, resilient, and rich, all of which are paramount to being able to emotionally thrive.

Do you have emotional needs? Yes, you do, because you are human. But the real question is whether you allow yourself to know, express, and try to meet them. 

Raised to Have No Emotional Needs

So, back to our initial question: How do you raise a child to have no emotional needs? Essentially, you raise your child to ignore, hide, or be ashamed of their emotional needs. This enables your child, once grown, to believe that they have none. 

Many well-meaning, caring parents do this without intending it or knowing. Sadly, when you ignore, hide, or belittle (even if only subtly) your child’s feelings, you inadvertently teach your child how to suppress their own emotions and emotional needs. This is a lesson that will endure throughout children’s entire lifetime.

I call it Childhood Emotional Neglect. If Childhood Emotional Neglect (or CEN) sounds like the intentional act of an unloving parent, I assure you it’s usually not the case at all. Many CEN parents are simply missing the emotional awareness, understanding, and knowledge their child needs because they didn’t receive it from their own parents.

The bottom line, we can only give our children what we have to give.

The CEN Adult’s Fear of Being Seen as “Needy”

One crucial point, having emotional needs, and sharing them is not the same as being needy. Nor does it make you appear needy. 

Quite the contrary, having emotional needs and expressing them makes you appear, and be, stronger.

Kasey

At age 24, Kasey has never had a boyfriend. Deep down, she’s always wanted a relationship, but on the surface, she has worked hard to hide that wish. She has told many friends and family members that she has more important things to do than to date. When the subject came up with her friends, she turned beet red and changed the subject. 

Jackson

Jackson visits his parents with his partner and children dutifully every major holiday. Each time they visit, Jackson experiences the absence of emotional connection in his relationship with his parents. Jackson’s family is great about discussing sports, news, and weather, but no one talks about anything genuinely important or real. Jackson is vaguely aware that he is hurt by his parents’ lack of interest in his personal life, struggles, or feelings, but he also learned from the way he was raised that to admit that his parents’ emotional void is hurtful, even to himself, would make him weak and needy. So he works hard to never let himself feel it, and he never expresses a word about it to his spouse or anyone else.

What It Means to Let Yourself Have Emotional Needs

  • First, it means accepting that your own feelings are real and worth attending to. 
  • Second, it means realizing that emotional needs are normal and healthy, and expressing them is a sign of strength.
  • Third, it means that you are willing to take some risk, let down your walls, and let yourself be seen as human and vulnerable.

It’s okay to want things like understanding, comfort, and support. It’s okay to need things like love, attention, warmth, and connection. 

It’s powerful to allow your true feelings to be seen, heard, and felt by others. It’s what makes others able to know you, and what makes you able to feel empathy for others.

Most importantly, acknowledging your emotional needs, and expressing them, is the single best, if not only, way to actually get them met.

To learn much more about how to recognize, accept, and express your emotional needs to others see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: How Marriages Go Wrong When Both Partners Have It

This week, I am sharing a segment of my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. It’s a vignette from the book that, I wrote for couples and families who are living with Childhood Emotional Neglect. This particular passage from the book explains what it’s like when a couple is living with, and harmed by, the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Olive and Oscar are a likable, caring couple who love each other and they clearly want to make their marriage work. But they have been experiencing a severe challenge. They both grew up in emotionally neglectful homes. Unbeknownst to them, they have been living under separate “CEN clouds” when they met, and they have lived under that cloud together for decades.

When Oscar and Olive married, they each lacked the emotion skills needed to make their marriage work. This led to a loving but emotionally devoid relationship that was functional, yet empty; loving, yet distant.

You can read the entire story of Oscar and Olive in the book, Running On Empty No More.

Oscar & Olive in Couples Therapy

An Excerpt From the Book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships

Olive and Oscar

By the time Olive and Oscar came to my office for couples therapy, their marriage was in serious trouble. Years had gone by with little communication, while misinterpretations and false assumptions grew like weeds in an unkempt garden. Each partner sat fairly expressionless on my couch, struggling to explain why they had come to see me.

“I’m pretty much done with this marriage,” Olive finally said flatly. “We’ve been married all these years, and Oscar still doesn’t know me at all.”

“I do know her extremely well, in fact,” Oscar said. “And that’s the real reason she’s ‘done’ with our marriage.” (Yes, Oscar put sarcastic finger quotes around the word “done.”) “She never admits the real reason she does things.”

As I listened and observed this exchange in our first session, I was amazed.

Interestingly, I was able to tell after only a brief interaction with Olive that she was not the manipulator that Oscar described. I also saw the level of anger that Oscar carried, and how Olive seemed to be quite oblivious to it.

Olive’s abrupt announcement in the session that she was done with the marriage is typical of a person with CEN. Lacking the skills to communicate about subtle and varied emotions, and unable to understand or put the myriad of problems into words, she said the only thing she could formulate to communicate the intensity of her feelings in that moment. I have found that many CEN folks are prone to such extreme statements once they finally decide to voice their pain.

Olive and Oscar, in their double CEN marriage, had two emotional walls to contend with. Sadly, in this marriage, no one was knocking on anyone’s wall. Their chasm had been widening for many years and was now double-wide. They were both intelligent, good-hearted, and likable people, and they seemed like they should make a good couple. Despite the misinterpretations and despite the anger, I could sense the love between them.

Olive and Oscar had no opportunity as children to learn that emotional intimacy exists. Neither of them experienced it in their families or saw it between their parents. Both were intelligent, good, and caring people, but neither had access to their emotions, and neither had the emotion skills necessary to create and maintain true emotional intimacy with a partner.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) teaches you as a child to ignore and hide your feelings from others, and even from yourself. You learn very early in your life that emotions are useless, troublesome inconveniences and you take this philosophy forward into your adult life. You essentially wall off your feelings so that they will not bother you, and this may seem like a relief.

But, in actuality, you need your emotions to guide and connect you in your life, but the place you need them the most is your marriage.

Feelings are the spice in a relationship, the fireworks, and the glue. It is by working through feelings together that you connect as a couple and become close. An intimate marriage requires emotional exchange, emotional awareness, and emotional vulnerability.

There’s a particular feeling that I get when I work with a CEN couple. It’s similar to the experience of trying to push two magnets together that are facing the wrong directions. It’s like there’s a powerful force field between them, pushing them apart.

The only way to break the force field is to begin to help each partner to better access their own emotions in some small way. By talking about their feelings and their relationship in more nuanced, emotionally enriched ways, they each make a slight turn, followed by another slight turn, followed by another. Bit by bit, they gradually end up turning their faces enough that a slight pull can begin to form.

And when that happens, the real repair work has begun.

How To Learn More

Watch for a future post about Olive & Oscar Part 4 where you will learn how their couple’s therapy went and how they broke down the walls that divided them.

To read the rest of Olive and Oscar’s story and learn how they faced the Emotional Neglect with their children and with their own parents, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Brutal Honesty Vs. Speaking Your Truth With Compassion

What does it mean when someone describes themselves as “brutally honest?” It’s not as simple as many people think.

The idea of brutal honesty has been placed in a positive light in today’s world. Perhaps because of the word “honesty.” Because honesty is a good thing, right? Of course, it is.

We all agree that it’s important to be honest and truthful. But, in reality, the truth often hurts.

Many times in our lives we are faced with situations in which we need to share a message that may hurt the recipient. And there are many possible ways to manage those situations.

Brutal Honesty

Declaring yourself brutally honest is perhaps the easiest way around the “truth/hurt” quandary. It’s essentially a free pass to say what you think or what you feel in the moment you think it or feel it.

Chances are high that you know someone like this, who goes through life unfiltered:

You’re the most thoughtless person I know, Marcy says to her husband Edward.

What made you buy that coat? Jenny says to her friend Lori.

Only an unintelligent person would make that argument, Bill says to his colleague.

Looks like you’ve been eating a few too many cheeseburgers, Grandma Bea says to her grandson.

The upside of brutal honesty is that you seldom have to guess what the brutally honest person is thinking. The downside is that you don’t always want to know what the brutally honest person is thinking.

Brutal honesty hurts people. Long after the “honest one” has had his say, the recipient will be suffering the damages.

There is another way to deal with the conundrums of life. It involves no potshots, far less damage to the recipient, and far less hurt all around. Yet it still communicates the necessary message. It’s called Truth With Compassion.

Truth With Compassion

Truth with compassion is a way to express your truth while reducing its hurtfulness as much as possible. Hurting others immediately and automatically sparks their defenses. And once the defenses come up, you’ve lost their open ear. They will no longer hear you.

3 Steps to Speak Your Truth With Compassion

1. Clarify your message within yourself before saying anything to the other person

Example: Marcy’s You’re the most thoughtless person I know becomes: You should have checked with me before taking on that giant project at work.

2. Think about the personality and nature of your recipient. How emotionally fragile is he? How will he best hear this message?

Example: Marcy knows that Edward is normally a thoughtful person, but that he is also somewhat of a workaholic. When he’s absorbed in his work, he tends to think of nothing but the job.

3. Identify the best time, place, and words to communicate your message

Example: Marcy tells Edward she has something important to talk with him about. They agree to talk when they both get home from work. Marcy says I’m hurt that you took on this big project when I hardly get to see you as it is. Did you think about me at all when you made this commitment?

By wording her truth this way, Marcy is avoiding a common barrier to communicating difficult truths: she is not sparking Edward’s defenses. Starting with “I’m hurt,” is a good way to let the recipient know that you are talking about yourself, not him. Asking a question is a good way to open a discussion without making an accusing assumption.

While Jenny and Grandma Bea should keep their “honesty” to themselves, Bill should use a question with his colleague instead of such a blunt and shaming declaration.

Why do you think that?

What makes you say that?

Have you thought about…..?

All of these are possible ways to express doubts about a colleague’s argument. They will not spark the recipient’s defenses, and they will not hurt his feelings. Nor will they likely damage the relationship.

So speak your truth. It’s important. Express yourself and be honest. But pause first to think about the other person. Filter, filter, filter. When you respect the other person’s feelings, your message will be far more likely to be heard.

To learn much more about the importance of speaking your truth and how to show compassion for the other person, plus how to share emotions in relationships, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

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

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.

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.

Help For the Emotionally Neglected at Thanksgiving

It’s that time again, the holidays are coming. First comes Thanksgiving so let’s start preparing now.

Since Thanksgiving is generally a family holiday, you may be excited about Thanksgiving or not-so-much. And that is likely determined by the type of family you have.

How do you feel when you get together with your family? Is it enriching and enjoyable? Or is it more draining and challenging? Or is your family experience somewhere in between?

If your family has any kind of abuse, grief, or addiction in it, for example, this family-focused holiday may be extra challenging for you.

There is one very large group of folks who either look forward to Thanksgiving and then find themselves disappointed every year, or have learned to dread it because of its draining, disheartening nature.

This large group of people struggles to identify why Thanksgiving is disappointing each year. And the answer is not anything that happens at Thanksgiving dinner. It is actually because of what does not happen when their family gets together. 

What’s missing is a real, substantial emotional connection.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN: Growing up with CEN is essentially growing up in a family that has “emotion blindness.” These families are not able to see and respond to the feelings of the children enough. They may avoid meaningful discussion and tamp down or negate strong feelings instead of responding in a helpful, instructive, and supportive way to emotions.

CEN Families at Thanksgiving

  • In a CEN family’s Thanksgiving gathering, things may appear to be normal and fine. But there is a sense that something is missing. Some vital ingredient that’s hard to name.
  • CEN families avoid talking about the most important things: things that are conflictual, painful, or difficult. If a topic like that comes up it may feel awkward or somehow wrong or unacceptable. This can make your holiday either awkward, superficial, or boring.
  • Thanksgiving, a holiday in which you are supposed to be thankful for the good things in your life, can end up actually emphasizing what’s missing. So if you do not have a healthy family, you are destined to end up disappointed.

Recent research studies have found that feeling gratitude makes people happy. So Thanksgiving is a special opportunity to focus on what you are grateful for.

And there is a silver lining to growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Being raised in a family that ignores your emotions forces you to adapt. You learn some life skills that will be useful throughout your lifetime.

So now, at Thanksgiving, you have some valuable things in your life to be thankful for. And when you do, I hope it will help to bring you some of the happiness that you deserve this holiday season.

5 Things You Can Be Thankful For When You Have Childhood Emotional Neglect

  1. Your inner guide for directing you. Having grown up without adequate emotional attention and personalized guidance from your parents, you had to learn how to make choices for yourself without much outside help. So you learned. Making decisions may be a struggle for you now. But on some level, somehow, you often do make good choices. I have seen that most CEN people, even if they agonize over personal decisions, even if they make some mistakes in their choices, generally have good judgment and common sense. And a good gut sense, if only they would listen to their gut more. Your helpful inner guide is something to be thankful for.
  2. Your ability to do what needs to be done. As a child, you couldn’t be confident that your parents would provide you help when you needed it. Now as an adult you are remarkably capable. You learned how to take care of things as a child and you are still good at it. These useful life skills are something to be thankful for.
  3. Your willingness to help others. By overlooking your feelings as they raised you your parents inadvertently taught you how to overlook your own feelings and needs as an adult. This leaves you too focused on other people and their feelings and needs. But there is a silver lining to this. You are there to help others, and you likely ask for little back. Other people can see your good heart and they appreciate how giving and reliable you are. You can be thankful for possessing this lovable quality.
  4. Your parents for the things they did give you. If your parents were abusive or extremely neglectful to you then you do not owe them any thanks. But perhaps they struggled to provide you with life’s necessities; perhaps they loved you in the only way they could. Perhaps they gave you more than they had in their own childhoods. You can be thankful for what they did give you while also recognizing what they did not.
  5. One person in your life who has understood and supported you. Was one of your parents more emotionally responsive than the other? Was there a teacher or friend who showed you understanding or a friend who validated you? A therapist who has guided you through some painful moments or transitions? You can feel thankful for this one special person who offered you something vital when you needed it.

Think about whether there might be one person in your family you can connect with more; it may be a sibling, a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or in-law. Just one person you can perhaps share your CEN experience with. You can ask them to read this blog or the Running On Empty books. It helps enormously to have an understanding person in your family.

Wondering if this blog applies to you? Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable when it happens in childhood so, as an adult, it can be difficult to know. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Yes, Childhood Emotional Neglect left its mark on you. Yes, it will color your holidays gray if you let it. But there is a silver lining to your CEN. And now, at Thanksgiving, you can set your sights on healing and give yourself the emotional attention you never got. You are worth it.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving from me to you.

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

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