Category Archives for "Emotional Needs"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Powerful CEN-Healing Resolutions for 2021

Purposely Look For Joy in Your Everyday Life

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

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

Use More Feeling Words

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

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

Do The Three Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) permeates your everyday life. And there are some situations that can make CEN struggles even more present and challenging. One of them is the holiday season.

Notice the picture accompanying this post. I chose it for a special reason, and I want to start by apologizing for it. It is a perfect example of the pressure society puts on everyone throughout the holiday season. Commercials, ads, and images abound which show warm, happy families or beautiful people smiling with gifts.

Be joyous!

Be merry!

We’re a loving, close family!

The pictures call out to us day after day.

As a specialist in Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), I see how this affects many people. There is no time of year when folks are under this much pressure to feel. And even more challenging: you’re supposed to feel happy.

I have followed many emotionally neglected people through many holiday seasons, and I have seen how they often experience them. Under pressure to feel, the holidays can seem vaguely disappointing and burdensome for those who grew up emotionally neglected.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents raise you in a way that does not pay enough attention to your emotions. Childhood Emotional Neglect leaves you with a particular set of struggles within yourself, and also with your family, throughout your adult life.

As you read the list of special challenges below, I encourage you to think about yourself and whether each one applies to you. Knowing and thinking about these challenges before they happen, or as they are happening, will help you minimize their effects on you this holiday season and beyond. First, let’s talk about the general effects of growing up with your emotions ignored.

Year-Round Struggles of the CEN Person

  • You feel deeply that something is not right with you. But you have problems understanding what’s wrong or why.
  • Your emotions are walled off, making it hard to experience the depth of feelings that other people have.
  • Being out of touch with your feelings makes your relationships seem less rewarding, leaving you feeling, on some level, alone.
  • You naturally put other people’s feelings and needs before your own.
  • You are prone to getting angry at yourself and blaming yourself.

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

  1. It makes your tendency to put others first even more exaggerated. When your parents failed to notice your feelings and emotional needs in your childhood, they give you the message that your feelings and needs are unimportant. This plays out powerfully during the holidays when you are prone to be too worried about making other people happy, and not paying enough attention to yourself.
  2. It can make you feel even more alone. With your feelings walled off, it is hard to connect with other people on a deep and meaningful emotional level. During the holiday season, you feel the expectations of the season. Portrayals of loving, warm families gathered around a fire, candles or a Christmas tree make you feel even more acutely what is missing in your own. 
  3. You are vulnerable to missing out on what matters the most. Lacking full access to your own emotions has another effect. It can result in you going all the way through the holidays focusing on gifts, decorations, and pleasing others instead of the feeling part of the experience. This is also something that is very hard to realize in yourself because it’s difficult to know what you are missing.
  4. You are prone to the Holiday Trap: Looking forward to your family holiday event and then feeling disappointed and let down. Emotionally neglectful families often can appear perfectly normal from the outside. So you are vulnerable to expecting to feel happy and connected with your people, only to feel the lack of true emotional connection when you see them. This can lead to a roller-coaster experience: happy, excited expectations followed by a disappointing letdown.
  5. Being around your family continues your CEN. If your parents emotionally neglected you in your childhood, chances are high that they are still doing so. You will feel it when you see them for the holidays, and probably you will feel it even more when surrounded by the trappings of the holidays. This is one of the main causes of the disappointment described above.
  6. Once you’re aware of CEN it makes you see your parents and siblings differently. Seeing Emotional Neglect in your family changes how you view your birth family in some powerful ways. You begin to see that what seemed benign before is actually hurtful and harmful to you. This may make you feel angry or frustrated with them.
  7. The pressure to be joyous makes you feel lacking. CEN makes it hard to feel as intensely as others do, and it also makes you prone to feeling empty at times. For many with CEN, the pressure to feel joy makes it even more obvious that something is missing in your life. You may experience the emptiness even more.
  8. Your tendency toward self-anger and self-blame gets triggered. You may feel angry at yourself for overeating, not exercising enough, or for saying something you regret. There are many opportunities to do any or all of these things during the holidays.
  9. You are more likely to find yourself running on empty. Riding the roller-coaster of disappointment, surrounded by family but feeling alone, over-focused on others at the expense of yourself, and out of touch with the energy of your feelings, you are likely to power through the holidays by sheer force of will, all the while growing ever more drained day by day.

What To Do

Although the CEN ship has already sailed through your childhood, it is never too late to turn that ship around. But to do so, you must be proactive. Now that you see what’s been dragging down your holidays for years, you are in a good position to start making things different for yourself.

In the short term, now before the holidays, start treating yourself more as if you matter. Set aside time every single day to do something that nurtures you. Pay attention to the feelings you are having each day, and accept what you feel without judgment. Make sure you get enough rest, healthy food, and fresh air, and spend time with someone you enjoy.

And most importantly, start healing the roots of what’s wrong: your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To get started, Take the CEN Test. It’s free. Then learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect: how it happens, how it affects you, and the 4 Steps to CEN Recovery. Start working on Step 1, and do not stop. You can learn much more about all of these things in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

You deserve a happy holiday season. My warmest holiday wishes to you!

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

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Adult Friendships

I have lots of acquaintances, but not enough close friends.

I’m always there for my friends when they need me, but then when I need them they seem to let me down.

My friendships seem to gradually drift apart.

I usually feel drained after spending time with my friends.

I feel like people take me for granted.

I have heard the statements above, in various forms and combinations, expressed by hundreds of people. Those people all share one primary trait. They all grew up in emotionally neglectful homes.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents do not notice or respond enough to your feelings as they raise you.

CEN happens under the radar in many, many otherwise loving families. It also happens in obvious ways in many dysfunctional families, but since it’s subtle and essentially a “failure to act,” it usually gets upstaged by the more apparent dysfunctional events and actions in those families.

The result? We have legions of people walking through their lives being good friends to others while deeply mystified about why their friendship is not returned in kind.

How Growing Up With CEN Affects Your Friendships Now

As a child, day after day you received a subtle message from your parents: your feelings don’t matter.

Growing up with the most important people in your life (your family) ignoring or squelching the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are (your emotions), you have no choice but to adapt.

As a child, your brain walled off your feelings to “protect” you and your parents from them. This childhood coping mechanism, which was remarkably adaptive at the time, set up a cascade of future struggles for you.

That childhood wall is still there now. But instead of protecting you, it is isolating you. It is blocking off the one ingredient most vital to having rich, mutually rewarding friendships. Yes, it’s your feelings.

Contrary to those CEN messages from your parents, your feelings are not your enemies. They are, in fact, your best friends. They will connect, enrich and deepen your friendships if only you begin to allow it to happen.

The 3 Most Impactful Effects of CEN On Your Friendships

  • Along with undervaluing your feelings comes undervaluing yourself. You are giving too much, and asking for too little. This makes your friendships weighted in the favor of the other person.
  • Your lack of access to your own emotions makes you seem somehow unknowable to others. Your friends can’t connect with the deepest, most authentic part of you: your feelings.
  • You didn’t get to learn some vital emotion skills in your childhood that your parents should have been teaching you. This makes it hard to accurately interpret and respond to your own and your friends’ feelings, behaviors, and needs.

These 3 challenges may seem insurmountable as you read them, but I assure you they are not. I have seen many CEN people change their friendships from sparse and anemic to rich and rewarding.

And if they can do it, you can do it too!

3 Ways to Improve Your Friendships

3 Ways to Improve Your Friendships

  1. Force yourself to take up more space with your friends. Start by assessing each friendship for the amount of time you talk when you’re together vs. the amount they talk. Are you sharing enough? Start talking more until it’s 50/50.
  2. Focus on using the words “I feel,” “I want,” and “I think” at least once per day each. Using these words forces you to assert yourself in a way that you probably do not do naturally.
  3. Feel. This one may seem to be the least direct solution, but it is actually the most effective one overall. It involves beginning the first step of healing the effects of the Emotional Neglect you grew up with. It’s the simplest, yet most powerful thing you can do for your friendships. Begin to pay attention to your own feelings. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Download the free Feelings Sheet from my website here: http://drjonicewebb.com/the-book/.

Step 2: Choose a time of day when you reliably have a few minutes alone; for example in the morning right before you go to work or school; on your drive home in the afternoon; or right before you go to bed in the evening. Commit to doing the following exercise every single day at that time.

Step 3: At the designated time every day, while alone, sit comfortably and close your eyes if you can. Turn your attention inward and ask yourself what you are feeling. If you come up with anything, write down the word for the feeling(s) on your sheet. If you’re not feeling anything, write that down too.

The Takeaway

These 3 ways and 3 steps are all so very important. They will help you not only with your friendships, but they will also help you in so many other ways too. When you treat yourself as if you matter you begin to feel as if you matter.

Now here is a key point. The way you feel about yourself and treat yourself shows. Other people will start to see and feel that you are a person who matters. They will naturally treat you differently.

You will begin to draw people closer. You will realize that you are talking about substantial things that previously you would have avoided. You will find yourself getting what you want and need far more often. Gradually, you will notice that you are energized by your friendships, and supported by them.

By doing the direct opposite of those emotionally neglectful messages from your childhood, you may be surprised how very different you feel.

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

To learn how to repair Emotional Neglect with your partner, your parents, and your children, see the new book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

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