Category Archives for "Emotional Needs"

4 Tips For Dealing With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents

Now that I see what my parents didn’t give me, how do I continue to interact with them?

How do I handle the pain that I feel now, as an adult, each time my parents treat me as if I don’t matter?

I feel sad or disappointed every time I see my parents. Then I end up feeling guilty because I know that I should feel happy to see them. How do I handle that?

If you were raised by parents who were not tuned in enough to your emotional needs, then you have likely lived your life feeling vaguely (or maybe even clearly) uncomfortable around the two people with whom you are supposed to be the most comfortable. Your parents.

One of the hardest things about being raised by emotionally neglectful parents is that they seldom change. They continue to emotionally neglect you all the way into and through your adulthood. So you have probably experienced the pain of your parents’ failure to see and respond to you over and over throughout the years.

This is one of the greatest complications of recovering from CEN. Once you realize how deeply you have been affected by Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), it can become quite difficult to interact with the parents who neglected you.

So back to the questions at the top of this article. What should an emotionally malnourished adult child do? What can be done to protect yourself in this most important relationship?

4 Tips For Dealing With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents

  1. Ask your parents about their own childhoods – If you are unsure about why your parents were blind to your emotional needs, ask them some questions about their own parents and their own childhoods. You may be able to see whether and how your parents were failed by their parents. If you can see your own parents more clearly, you may be able to understand why they failed you. Understanding how they got their emotional blind spots may help you feel less hurt when you are affected by them.
  2. Try to find some compassion for your parents (within limits) – Often, when you can see how your own parents were emotionally neglected, you can feel some compassion for what they didn’t get. This can help you to feel less angry and frustrated with them for failing you. One important caveat, however: be careful with compassion because it can go too far. If your compassion for your parents makes you feel worse, it means you should dial it back, and turn it toward yourself instead. Holding your parents accountable, at least in your own mind, for the ways they failed you, is a necessary part of healing yourself.
  3. Prepare yourself before you interact with your parents – Your human brain has some default settings. One of those settings is an automatic, unconscious expectation that you will receive emotional nurturance from your parents. Since your parents are serving up a watered down version of nurturance, there is simply no way for you to not end up feeling disappointed. When you are about to interact with your parents, purposely lower your expectations. Remind yourself that your parents will not fulfill your natural human needs, and this will help you prevent that feeling of sadness and letdown.
  4. Consider talking with your parents about how they emotionally neglected you – This is not a necessary step to take for your happiness and health.  And for many, it can cause more pain. So this is not a decision to be taken lightly. But for some, when done with care, it can be healing and enlightening for all parties. To make the decision about whether to broach this topic with your parents, it helps to know which type of emotionally neglectful parents you have. To learn more about making this decision, check back for a near future article, Should I Talk With My Parents About Emotional Neglect?

IN SUMMARY:  It is certainly not necessary to talk to your parents about CEN. You can heal yourself without ever involving them. Learning more about your parents’ childhoods and having compassion for them may help make their emotionally neglectful ways less painful to you now. However, sharing the concept of CEN with them can be helpful in some families, and may be a way for you to improve your relationship with them. Be sure to take into account the type of CEN parents that you have when making the decision to talk with them. 

To learn whether CEN is a part of your life, and how it has affected you, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

And above all else, remember that your feelings are important. And your needs are important.

Yes, you matter.

To learn much more about healing the Emotional Neglect in your relationships, see my new book,  Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Photo by THX0477

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Adult Work Life

Barry is good at his job as the manager of a department store, so he continues to do it year after year. But in the back of his mind, he wonders how he ended up here.

Sharon received the Most Dedicated Salesperson Award.

Francesca watched in frustration, feeling overlooked, as her co-workers were promoted over her head, one after another.

Simon’s manager appreciates how quickly he has adapted to his new role in the company, and how little support he’s needed.

Will’s boss gave him a “Needs Improvement” rating, citing inadequate communication with co-workers.

Elizabeth toils away behind the scenes in her customer service job, trying not to call attention to herself. She has no idea that she is capable of much more.

If you have ever been in one of the situations above, you know how it feels. Barry, Francesca, and Elizabeth are in painful situations in their jobs, while Sharon, Simon and Will are thriving in theirs.

You may be surprised to learn that all six of these folks’ job experiences, as different as they are, arise from a common underlying cause. All six grew up in households where their parents overlooked their emotions. They all grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

The funny thing about CEN is that it leaves you with a particular set of challenges. But in some situations, those challenges can actually become your strengths. When it comes to the workplace, CEN is a double-edged sword.

The Advantages of CEN in the Workplace

  1. You give a lot, and ask for little. Since your emotional needs were treated as unimportant when you were growing up, you now have a hard time feeling okay about having needs, like a day off, a vacation or a raise. This makes you a highly dedicated and desirable employee.
  2. You are self-contained. When you needed help as a child, no one was there for you enough. Now, you are afraid to need help, for fear that you will be let down or viewed as weak. Your default setting is, “I can do this on my own,” and everyone around you can see it.
  3. You are remarkably responsible and reliable as an employee. As a child, you knew that you were mostly on your own, so you became ultra competent. Someone needs something? You’ll make it happen. A problem came up? You’ll fix it. Others know they can rely on you.

The Disadvantages of CEN in the Workplace

  1. Inaccurate self-appraisal:  Growing up, you didn’t get enough feedback about your true nature; nor were you encouraged to pay attention to who you are. So now, it’s hard for you to know what you want, what you enjoy, and what you are good at. This can make it hard for you to choose the right career that will feel fulfilling and gratifying for you.
  2. Difficulty asking for things: Asking for things that inconvenience others feels somehow wrong to you, so you err on the side of giving too much of yourself. It’s harder for you to ask for a vacation, a raise or a promotion than it is for most people, and this puts you at a disadvantage.
  3. Communication is not your strong point: Talking was not encouraged in your childhood home. So now it may not come naturally to you. If your job requires you to manage difficult situations with others, or talk about interpersonal problems, you may struggle to make yourself talk, and it may be hard for you to know what to say.

The folks who are the most rewarded by, and successful in, their jobs are strong communicators. They know themselves well, and they pay attention to what they are feeling and why. They ask for what they want, and they accept help when they need it.

You can become this way too.

Begin right now to focus more on learning who you are. What do you enjoy? What do you like? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Begin right now to pay more attention to your needs. Have you earned a raise? Do you deserve a promotion? Are you due a vacation? If so, ask for it.

Begin right now to change how you relate to others. Talk more, take on more interpersonal challenges. Watch how others discuss difficult topics, learn from it, and practice.

Others have seen your strong points for years, and have benefited from your competence, and your giving, independent nature. Now it is time for you to recognize what you have to offer, and ask for what you deserve.

You are worth it. 

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), how it happens and how to learn the skills you missed, visit EmotionalNeglect.com and Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free!

Got Kids? 6 Ways to Make Them Emotionally Resilient

Noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way that you can say, “I love you.”

As parents we want, more than anything, to do right by our children. We know that the way we treat our children matters.

But parenting is probably the most complex role any of us will ever have in our lives, and few of us enter parenthood fully equipped to meet all our children’s needs.

Especially when it comes to their emotional ones.

In truth, the way a child is treated emotionally by his parents determines how he’ll treat himself as an adult. For example, a child who does not receive enough realistic, heartfelt acknowledgment from his parents for his accomplishments may grow up with low self-esteem and little confidence in his own abilities.

You probably love your child “all the way to the moon and back,” as the classic children’s book says. But love simply isn’t enough. Because if you don’t attend enough to your child’s emotions, your child will feel ignored on some level, no matter how much attention you pay to him in other ways.

Emotions are literally a part of your child’s physiology. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who he is. So noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way for you to say, “I love you.”

Why It’s Hard

As a parent, it is not easy to know when and how to respond emotionally to your child. And it’s one hundred times harder when you grew up in a household that under-responded to your emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN).

As a psychologist who has worked with thousands of parents, I have seen firsthand that the best time to learn emotion skills is during your childhood. When your parents don’t have these skills, they can’t teach them to you. Then what do you do when it’s your turn to teach your kids?

Add to that challenge the fact that emotion hides behind behavior. It’s easier to get angry with a child who is sulking than to look for the underlying emotion that’s causing the behavior.

6 Ways to Raise an Emotionally Resilient Child

  1. Pay attention to who your child really is. Observe your child’s true nature–and reflect it back to her. What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with? Feed these observations back to your child in a nonjudgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.
  2. Feel an emotional connection to your child. Strive to feel what your child is feeling, whether you agree with it or not. Put the feelings into words for him and teach him how to use his own words to express them.
  3. Respond competently to your child’s emotional needs. Don’t judge your child’s feelings as right or wrong. Look beyond the feeling, to the source that’s triggering it. Help your child name and manage her emotion. Give her simple, age-appropriate rules to live by.
  4. Teach self-forgiveness by modeling compassion. When your child makes a poor choice or mistake, help him understand what part of the mistake is his, what part is someone else’s, and what part is the circumstance. That helps him figure out how to correct his mistake without feeling blame from you or automatically blaming himself.
  5. Show your child that you like as well as love her. It’s vital that your child not only knows but feels that you like and love her. Warm, caring hugs, laughter, and truly enjoying your child’s personality all go a long way toward conveying that feeling to your child. Knowing that she’s loved is not the same as feeling loved.
  6. Don’t miss small opportunities to give attention. Childhood is composed of many small emotional moments, and the more of these that you share, the better off your child will be when he or she grows up.

Wondering if you received enough emotional attention and true empathy as a child to give your children what they need? Since CEN is subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens and how to recover from it, see my books Running Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships and Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect .

3 Surprising Reasons People Feel Lonely on Valentine’s Day

Do you have a stereotypical picture of a person who feels lonely on Valentine’s Day?  You might imagine someone who wishes to be in a relationship and is sitting alone feeling sad.

In truth, most of us know how this stereotypical picture feels since we have been there ourselves at some point. Navigating the complicated world of relationships is not easy, so it’s likely that you have spent one or more Valentine’s Days alone, or perhaps for you, this year is this one.

Surprisingly, however, this image of loneliness is often highly inaccurate. A 2010 study by John Cacioppo published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that feelings of loneliness were unrelated to marital status or the number of relatives and friends nearby.

It’s not only possible but common, to feel lonely when you’re not alone. And to be alone, but to not feel lonely. It’s because loneliness is not a state, it’s a state of mind. Loneliness is not a situation, it’s a feeling.

Yes, indeed, scores of people feel lonely on Valentine’s Day, and many are in relationships or surrounded by people. Many have no idea why they feel alone.

Whether you are actually alone this holiday or not, it is possible for you to change how you feel this Valentine’s Day. Start by understanding where your alone feelings originate.

3 Reasons You Might Feel Lonely on Valentine’s Day

  1. You are afraid to let people know the real you: I have seen this fear in many, many people who are actually quite likable and lovable. I call this fear the Fatal Flaw because it stems from a belief that something is inherently wrong with you. The Fatal Flaw can fester under the surface of your life, preventing you from letting anyone get close. “If they get to know me they won’t like me,” says the voice of your Fatal Flaw. You can be married, or you can be surrounded by people, but it does not help you feel less alone because none of those people truly knows or feels who you are. You have not let them.
  2. Counter-Dependence: Counter-dependence is a fear of needing or depending on someone. You are afraid to seek love because, to you, seeking love makes you feel, or appear weak. Counter-dependence has great power to influence your life. It can make you feel ashamed for wanting a partner. It can make you feel weak for having emotional needs. This leads to self-imposed isolation, of which you may not be aware. Even though you are the one preventing yourself from closeness, you may perceive it the opposite way; that others are keeping you at bay.
  3. You are holding yourself back from true emotional connections: For some people, emotional intimacy feels threatening. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you hold your emotions separate, fearful of using your feelings as they were intended: to connect you with people. So when you have an emotional connection, you feel vulnerable, and when you don’t have it, you feel safe. But along with “safe” comes “lonely.” True love requires a true emotional connection. Emotional connection requires vulnerability. You cannot have one without the other.

3 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely

Did you notice the one common element that unites these three factors that lead to loneliness? It’s fear. Fear of being known, fear of having needs, and fear of being vulnerable.

These fears are powerful and can do great damage to your quality of life. If you want to stop feeling lonely, you must battle your fear. The good news is, you can!

  1. Let someone in. You’ve been living your life closed off, because of your fear. Choose one person, and take a risk. Start trying to let someone know what you want, what you need, and most importantly what you feel. This may seem like a risk to you, but in reality, there is very little risk involved. Choose a trustworthy person and make a conscious effort to open up to her or him. You will be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Accept that there is no shame in needing someone. Wanting a relationship is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Needing to feel close, wanting to rely on someone is a normal, healthy sign of your humanity. Being able to develop a relationship is a sign of confidence in yourself, not weakness.
  3. Make emotional connection your goal. Adjust your view of emotional connection from negative to positive. This is the ultimate way to face your fears. Next time you have a conflict with someone, make an effort to talk about it with that individual. Start paying attention to what other people are feeling, and see if you can respond to their feelings. Becoming more aware of emotions in yourself and others is an excellent way to move toward emotional connection.

The Takeaway

Once you realize why you feel lonely, an opportunity automatically presents itself. You realize that fixing your loneliness has nothing to do with anyone else, and everything to do with you.

Whether you find yourself on your own, a part of a couple, or surrounded by friends this Valentine’s Day, you can face your fears and see that there is no need to feel lonely.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible and is often the root cause of these kinds of fears. To learn more about it, see the book, Running on Empty. To learn how CEN prevents deep emotional connections in adulthood see Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Since CEN is so subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you have it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

An Obstacle to The 5 Stages of Grief: Emotional Neglect From Childhood

The better we grieve, the better we live.

— Anonymous

I do believe that the quote above is absolutely true. It’s almost impossible to make it through your adulthood without experiencing a loss of some kind.

Being able to grieve in a healthy way requires a series of personality traits and skills that not everyone possesses. I have seen many people go to great lengths to avoid feeling their grief or get stuck in it, unable to look forward from it.

Many of these folks grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Joanne, who lost her husband four years ago is so bogged down in sadness that she enjoys very little in her life, and has problems getting out of bed every day.

Alex, whose sister died of breast cancer two years ago, lives a full and busy life, but feels dull and sad inside every time he stops running around and tries to relax.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her now-famous book called On Death and Dying. In it she described the 5 stages that she frequently saw people going through after receiving a dire medical diagnosis. Since that day the 5 Stages of Grief have been applied more broadly to all kinds of losses, like break-ups or accepting the loss of a loved one. It’s also important to note that these stages are not set in stone; everyone grieves differently, and may experience different feelings in different order at different times.

The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial: In this first stage, you refuse to accept the reality of a distressing situation. “There’s been some mistake,” or “This is all a bad dream,” you might tell yourself. This stage gives your brain time to prepare itself to begin to consider the painful truth.
  2. Anger: This stage involves becoming angry at the situation, the person who is sick, who died, or who is about to leave, or perhaps the doctor who issued the diagnosis. Your anger is a protective emotion, and essentially sets up a barrier between you and the traumatic truth.
  3. Bargaining: “If you will make this diagnosis not be true, I promise to never smoke again,” you may offer up to your version of a higher power. This phase represents your attempts to absorb the truth while also fighting it off.
  4. Depression: As the truth sinks in, you begin to feel its full impact. This can lead to a brief clinical depression as you absorb, and try to accept your loss.
  5. Acceptance: This final stage represents somewhat of a resolution, where you accept that your life has changed, and are able to begin to focus forward.

In my experience, having helped many clients through many losses, one of the greatest prolongers of each of the 5 Stages is having grown up without enough emotional attention, validation and response from one’s parents: Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN.

When your parents do not respond enough to your emotions as a child, you learn very early and well that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant (or even bad) and should be avoided. To adapt, you wall off your feelings and needs so that they will not burden your parents. Not surprisingly, when you are living with your feelings blocked off, it throws major obstacles into your path through the 5 Stages.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Blocks the 5 Stages of Grief

  1. Makes it Hard to Move Past Denial: It’s only a short jump from denying one’s feelings to using denial as a general coping mechanism. It’s easy for a CEN person who has lost a loved one to end up prolonging his grief by refusing to feel the painful feelings that need to be accepted and processed. Alex, who stays busy to avoid his sadness and loss is a perfect example of that. Over time, avoiding your feelings of loss does nothing to process them. The result: you are stuck.
  2. You Can’t Accept or Work With Your Anger: In phase 2, your anger is there to protect you. But if anger wasn’t allowed from you in your childhood home, you may have great difficulty allowing yourself to be angry as a grieving adult. You may be at risk of instead turn your anger inward at yourself, compounding your feeling of loss with even more pain.
  3. Difficulty Accepting Help and Support: CEN makes you feel guilty or weak for having normal emotional needs. It’s hard for you to ask for help or accept comfort from others even in the best of times. When you’re grieving, there are few things that can help more than the love and support of someone who cares about you.
  4. Depression Phase is Prolonged: With your emotions walled off, your anger directed at yourself, and the people most able to support you kept at bay, you are at great risk for getting stuck in a depression that won’t let go. How can Joanne move forward to the next phase, accept the painful reality of her loss and heal from it when her brain chemicals are thrown out of balance by depression?

The whole point of the 5 Stages is to move through them. Experiencing one phase, allowing yourself to be in it and face it prepares you to move to the next phase. Moving through the phases allows your brain to process the reality, preparing you for acceptance. Acceptance must happen before you can turn your attention forward to rebuilding yourself and your life.

If this is you, it’s important to re-direct and focus yourself.

4 Ways to Manage Your CEN Through Grief

  • Open up and talk to someone who can give you comfort. Ask for support and accept it. It will help.
  • Make a point to feel your feelings of grief, even if only for a brief period every day. Think about the one you’ve lost, and cry if you need to.
  • Pay attention to whether you are stuck in anger or depression. Might an anti-depressant give you a kick-start to deal with the genuine sad feelings that are waiting to be processed? Consult a professional, if needed.
  • Start addressing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It’s important to begin to feel all of your feelings, not just your grief. Just as your grief is blocked in some way, so also is your joy. You need to feel all of your emotions in order to heal and move forward.

When you are grieving something, it’s crucial to acknowledge that you only feel grief when you had something great to begin with. So a part of your grief must be appreciation and gratefulness for what you had.

And remember the words of one of the greatest authors of all time:

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.

― Leo Tolstoy

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, and how to accept and process your emotions see EmotionalNeglect.com and the book, Running on Empty.

The Painful Secret Many People Live With: The Fatal Flaw

Legions of good people live through decades of their lives harboring a painful secret. They guard it as if their life depends on it, not realizing it’s not even real.

It’s a secret that is buried deep inside them, surrounded and protected by a shield of shame. A secret that harms no one, but does great damage to themselves. A secret with immense power and endurance.

It’s their Fatal Flaw.

A Fatal Flaw is a deep-seated, entrenched feeling/belief that you are somehow different from other people; that something is wrong with you.

Your Fatal Flaw resides beneath the surface of your conscious mind. Outside of your awareness, it drives you to do things you don’t want to do and it also stops you from doing things you should do.

Rooted in your childhood, it’s like a weed. Over time it grows. Bit by bit, drop by drop, it quietly, invisibly erodes away your happiness and well-being. All the while you are unaware.

The power of your Fatal Flaw comes partially from the fact that it is unknown to you. You have likely never purposely put yours into words in your own mind. But if you listen, from time to time you may hear yourself expressing your Fatal Flaw internally to yourself or out loud to someone else.

I’m not as fun as other people.

I don’t have anything interesting to say.

When people get to know me they don’t like me.

I know that I’m not attractive.

No one wants to hear what I have to say.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not lovable.

Your Fatal Flaw could be anything. And your Fatal Flaw is unique to you.

Where did your Fatal Flaw come from, and why do you have it? Its seed was planted by some messages your family conveyed to you, most likely in invisible and unspoken ways.

The Flaw                                                             The Roots

I’m not as fun as other people. Your parents seldom seemed to want to be with you very much.
I don’t have anything interesting to say. Your parents didn’t really listen when you talked.
If people get to know me they won’t like me. You were ignored or rejected as a child by someone who was supposed to love you.
I’m not attractive. As a child, you were not treated as attractive by the people who matter – your family.
No one wants to hear what I have to say. You were seldom asked questions or encouraged to express yourself in your childhood home.
I’m not lovable. As a child, you did not feel deeply seen, known, and loved for who you truly are.

The Good News

Yes, there is some good news. Your Fatal Flaw is a belief, not a fact. A fact cannot be changed, but a belief most certainly can.

How to Defeat Your Fatal Flaw

  1. Recognize that you have it and that it’s not a real flaw. It’s just a belief/feeling.
  2. Find the words to express your own unique version of “something is wrong with me.”
  3. Identify its specific cause in your childhood. What happened, or didn’t happen, in your childhood to plant the seeds of your fatal flaw?
  4. Share your Fatal Flaw with another person; your spouse, a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist. Describe your belief, and talk about it. 
  5. Watch for evidence that contradicts your Fatal Flaw. I assure you it has been there all along. But you have been blinded to it by your Fatal Flaw.
  6. Track your Fatal Flaw. Pay attention, and take note of when it “speaks” to you.
  7. Start talking back to your Fatal Flaw.

I am fun to be with. I am interesting. People like me more as they get to know me. I am attractive, and I have important things to say. I am just as lovable as anyone else.

Your Fatal Flaw is actually neither fatal nor a flaw. It’s not even real.

It’s powered only by your supercharged belief that it is both.

To learn much more about Fatal Flaws, how they happen, and how to defeat yours, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Make You an Avoidant Adult

You shy away from the limelight. You stay out of trouble. You prefer to stay out of the way. You try not to make waves.

Of all of the kinds of anxiety people can experience, avoidance is probably one of the least studied and least talked about. I think that’s probably because avoidant folks are quiet. They do stay out of the way and they do not tend to make waves.

But, the reality is, avoidance is a serious problem to live with. Take a look at the characteristics of avoidance below. These are some of the symptoms listed in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to identify Avoidant Personality Disorder. Please note that these are not a full description of Avoidant Personality. Do not attempt to use these symptoms to diagnose yourself or someone else. Only a licensed mental health professional is qualified to make a diagnosis.

  • Secretly feeling inferior to others, and struggling with shame
  • Reluctance to pursue goals, take risks or meet new people
  • High sensitivity to criticism, and fear of rejection
  • Assuming that others see you in a negative light
  • Trying not to get too close to people
  • You suspect that you enjoy things less than other people do
  • Often having anxiety in social situations

You may read through the list above and feel that you are reading about yourself. Even if you answer yes to only some of the items above, it means that you may have an “avoidant style.”

Many people are living their lives with Avoidant Personality disorder. And many, many more folks have an avoidant style. Most avoidant folks fight their own private battles on their own, secretly and quietly.

It is very possible to suffer silently with an intense fear of rejection, closeness, or social situations but still soldier on, essentially unimpaired on the outside, but miserable on the inside.

Now let’s talk about you. Do you see yourself in this description of avoidance? We will talk more about avoidance in a moment. But first, we must discuss Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Because I have seen a remarkable connection between Childhood Emotional Neglect and avoidant tendencies in adults.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs.

What happens to a child whose parents too seldom say, “What’s wrong?” and then listen with care to their answer. How does it affect a child to have parents who are blind to what they are feeling? Parents who, through probably no fault of their own, fail to offer emotional support, or fail to truly see the child for who she is?

Childhood Emotional Neglect teaches you, the child, to avoid feeling, expressing, and needing. You are learning to avoid the very thing that makes you the most real and the most human: your emotions.

When you grow up this way, you grow up feeling invisible, and believing that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant. You grow up feeling that your emotional needs should not exist and are a sign of weakness. You grow up to feel ashamed that you have feelings and needs at all.

CEN is a breeding ground for shame, low self-worth, and yes, avoidance.

Five Important Points About Avoidance

  1. Avoidance is actually nothing more than a coping mechanism. If you avoid something that scares you, you do not have to deal with it. That feels like success.
  2. You developed this coping mechanism for a reason in your childhood. You needed it, and it probably, in some way, served you well in your childhood home. It may have been the only coping mechanism you could learn if no one was helping you learn other, more effective ways of coping.
  3. When you use avoidance enough as a way to cope, it eventually becomes your “signature move.” It becomes a solution that you go to over and over again. It becomes your style.
  4. Avoidance feeds fear. The more you avoid what you fear, the more you fear it. Then the more you avoid it. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.
  5. All of the symptoms of avoidance you saw at the beginning of this article have one common denominator that drives them. It’s a feeling and also a belief. It is this: a deep, powerful feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just don’t matter as much. This is one of the prime consequences of Childhood Emotional Neglect. (I call it The Fatal Flaw.)

It is very difficult to take on challenges in life when you don’t believe in yourself. It’s hard to be vulnerable in relationships when you don’t feel on equal footing with the other person. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you feel so secretly flawed.

This is why you must not let avoidance run your life. You must turn around and face it. Not later. Not tomorrow. But now.

You Can Become Less Avoidant

  1. Answer this question for yourself: What did you need to avoid in your childhood home?
  2. Accept that your avoidance is a coping mechanism that can be replaced by far better, healthier coping skills.
  3. Start observing yourself. Make it your mission to notice every time you avoid something. Start a list, and record every incident. Awareness is a vital first step.
  4. Look through the list, and notice the themes. Is there a trend toward avoiding social situations? Risks? Goals? Feelings? Needs?
  5. Start, little by little, one-step-at-a-time, facing things. How pervasive is your avoidance? If it is everywhere of everything, I urge you to seek a therapist’s help. If you have success on your own, be persistent. Don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets.
  6. Learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect. To find out whether CEN was a part of your childhood, I invite you to take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

The more you face things, the less scary they become, and the easier they become to face again, and the more you face. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.

But this circle is a healthy, strong one that is a reversal of the circle of avoidance that began in your childhood. This circle will take you somewhere healthy and positive and good.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and how it causes avoidance, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Three Amazing Ways You Can Re-Parent Yourself

The First Way – Compassionate Accountability

In my office, I’ve heard from clients stories of broken phones, punched walls, and even bent steering wheels. All in the name of anger.

At themselves.

For making a mistake.

What You Didn’t Get

When a parent sits down with a child who has behaved badly, used poor judgment, or made a mistake, and says, “Let’s figure out what happened,” that parent is teaching her (or his) child Compassionate Accountability.

e833b5092cf0013ecd0b470de7444e90fe76e6d21db7124997f2c3_640_parents-and-childBut many parents don’t know that it’s their job to teach their child how to process a mistake; how to sift through what happened and sort out what part of it belongs to circumstances, and what part belongs to the child. What can we learn from this? What should you do differently next time?

There is a balance between all of these factors which must be understood. The parent holds the child accountable, but also helps him (or her) understand himself and have compassion for himself and his mistake.

What To Give Yourself

If your parents were too hard or too easy on you for mistakes, or failed to notice them at all, it’s not too late for you now. You can learn Compassionate Accountability today. Follow these steps when you make a mistake.

  1. Remind yourself that you are human, and humans are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.
  2. Think through the situation. What went wrong? Are there things you should have known, or realized, or thought about? Those are the parts that you own. Those are where you’ll find the lessons for you to take away from this. Take note of what you can learn, and etch it into your memory. This can be the growth that results from your error.
  3. Have compassion for your humanness: Your age, your stress level, and the many factors that contributed to this mistake.
  4. Vow that next time you’ll use your new knowledge to do better. Then put this behind you.

The Second Way – Self-Discipline

We are not born with the ability to manage our impulses. Self-discipline is not something that you should expect yourself to have automatically. Self-discipline is learned. In childhood.

What You Didn’t Get

When parents have rules, and enforce them firmly and with love, they are naturally teaching their childre how to do this for themselves. Do your homework before you go out to play. Fill the dishwasher, even though you don’t want to. You are not allowed to have a second dessert. Balanced, fair requirements enforced with care by your parents teach you how, years later, to do this for yourself.

What To Give Yourself

If you struggle with self-discipline more than most other people, it does not mean that you are weak-willed or less strong than others. It only means that you didn’t get to learn some important things in childhood. Never fear, you can learn them now. Follow these steps.

  1. Stop blaming yourself for your struggles with self-discipline. When you accuse yourself of being weak or deficient, you make it harder to get a foothold on making yourself do things you don’t want to do, and on stopping yourself from doing things that you shouldn’t do.
  2. If you are too hard on yourself at times, chances are high that you also, at other times, go too far in the opposite direction. Do you sometimes let yourself off the hook when you don’t follow your own rules? This, too, is damaging.
  3. Use the Compassionate Accountability skills you are building by applying them each time you fall down on self-discipline.

The Third Way – Learn to Love the Real You

We all learn to love ourselves in childhood; that is, when things go well. When we feel our parents’ love for us, it becomes our own love for ourselves, and we carry that forward through adulthood.

What You Didn’t Get

We tend to assume that if our parents loved us, that’s enough. But it isn’t necessarily, at all. There are many different ways for a parent to love a child. There’s the universal type of parental love: “Of course, I love you. You’re my child.” Then there’s real, substantive, meaningful parental love. This is the love of a parent who really watches the child, really sees and knows the child, and really loves the person for who he or she truly, deeply is.

What to Give Yourself

Most people receive at least some of the first type of love. Far fewer receive the second type. Do you feel that your parents truly know the real you? Do they love you for who you are? Do you love yourself this way? Truly and deeply? If you sense something is missing in your love for yourself, it may be because you didn’t receive enough genuine, deeply felt love from your parents. But it’s not too late for you to get it. You can give it to yourself.

  1. Accept that it’s not your fault that your parents couldn’t love you in the way you needed.
  2. Start paying more attention to yourself. Who are you? What do you love and hate, like and dislike, care about, feel, think? These are the aspects of you that make you who you are.
  3. Pay special attention to what’s good about you. Make a list and keep adding to it. Are you a loyal friend? A hard worker? Dependable? Caring? Honest? Write down everything that occurs to you, even if it’s very small. Re-read the list often. Take these qualities in and own them. They are you.

Growing up with mostly Type 1 Love has a far more serious impact than you think. It’s highly correlated to not learning Compassionate Accountability and self-discipline. If you see yourself in this article, read more at EmotionalNeglect.com and the book, Running on Empty.

Why Some People Can’t Change. 5 Ways to Move Forward

There’s no such thing as standing still in life. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.

Do you ever wonder why some people seem to identify a problem in their lives, decide they want to change themselves, and start changing, whereas others don’t seem to be able to take positive steps like that?

Some folks seem to stay stuck no matter how hard they try. They might read self-help books, talk to friends and family, go to therapy, or even see multiple therapists. But nevertheless, their issues don’t seem to improve much.

If this is someone you care about, you might watch helplessly from the sidelines as they continue to be their own worst enemy. They may seem to be repeating patterns that are self-destructive, unable to hear or take others’ advice, or distant and unreachable. It is painful to watch.

It’s even more painful when it’s you, and you are watching yourself live this way.

In my 20 years of experience as a psychologist, I’ve identified six personal traits that can stymie and stall even the most deserving and lovable people. The last one, number 6, is the least recognized and, I think, the most powerful obstacle of all.

6 Obstacles to Growth

1. You Can’t See the Path.

When you’ve spent years living a certain way, that way becomes your reality and your worldview. Other people seem to be living on a different planet, and you can’t understand how they got there. It’s hard to attain something that you can’t even imagine.

2. You are Walled Off From Your Feelings.

If you grew up in a family that devalued or discounted your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect), then you likely learned that your emotions are useless or a burden. You probably walled off your feelings as a child and have been living for years without full access to the richness and guidance they should have been providing in your life. 

Although the wall blocking your feelings may have been necessary for your childhood, it now blocks out a vital source of information for making good, authentic choices for your life; it also holds at a distance the people who could help you the most. You may find it difficult to trust the people who could be supporting you. You find yourself “safe” but alone; trapped within walls that are holding you back.

3. You are Comfortably Uncomfortable.

Self-destructive or damaging life patterns can be so entrenched that they’ve become a part of who you are. No matter what’s wrong in your life, you can get accustomed to it. Our brains store life patterns, and we have a natural tendency to settle into them. We are who we are, and on some level, we get comfortable with that, even if it makes us miserable. The idea of changing can feel very discomfiting and scary. It feels easier and safer to choose “the devil you know.”

4. You are Depressed.

Depression interferes with growth in three important ways. It saps your energy and motivation, which makes it harder to take on a challenge; it makes you isolate yourself so that you have less support to change, and it makes you feel hopeless, so there seems no point in trying to change.

5. You are Angry at Yourself.

Self-directed anger has a way of breaking you down. Like drops of water on a stone, there is a gradual erosion of your self-worth. How can you change when you don’t feel you’re worth the effort it requires?

And now for the big one.

6. Your Past Mistakes or Misdeeds. 

In order to truly change, you have to acknowledge and face your own painful history. Who have you hurt? What damage have you done to yourself or others? The guilt and pain that can result from looking at the past is a powerful force that can hold back even the most courageous people. I have seen that this factor alone is a tremendous obstacle in the recovery of anyone who has a personality disorder, or any other long-standing destructive life pattern.

If you catch even a glimpse of how your past choices or mistakes have affected others, it may be so painful and guilt-inducing that you immediately look away. And there you are, right back where you started.

What to do? Don’t feel helpless! You’re not. Read on below.

5 Essential Ingredients for Personal Change

  • Motivation
  • Enough discomfort with how things are now
  • Persistence
  • Willingness to face painful events and feelings
  • Support

What to Do

  1. Read the list of obstacles, and think about which one (or ones) applies to you.
  2. Is “walled off” on your list? This one must be overcome first. Your walls are keeping you away from the support that you need. So start trying to let at least one helpful person in.
  3. Think through all the ins and outs of how your destructive pattern is harming your life. If you get pangs of pain or guilt, remind yourself that you are human and that all humans are fallible. Treat yourself with kindness and take your time, but do everything you can to face the pain.
  4. Know that there is a path to a better place. The more you accept support and face your pain, the more clearly you will see your path.
  5. Put one foot in front of the other. Move forward.

One step at a time.

To learn much more about how your childhood wall may be blocking you from growing now, plus how to accept, manage and face your feelings and mistakes, see the book, Running on Empty.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

Why and How You Should Trust Your Gut

e136b80929f71c3e81584d04ee44408be273e4d01db9164891f3_640_stomachIt was a scorching day in Costa Rica. My husband and I decided to take our 8-year-old son for a hike to get as close as possible to the Arenal Volcano. We walked several hours through beautiful, lush forest.

As the sun got higher and the day got hotter, we reached an endpoint marked by signs reading, DANGER, KEEP OUT. We walked around the safe side of the area for a while enjoying the beautiful birds and monkeys in the trees, and then decided to head back.

As I turned to go back in the direction we had come from, my husband said, “No, let’s not go that way. We can get there by going this way.” Puzzled, I slowly turned around and followed. As we traipsed back through the forest, I had a trembly feeling in my belly that, in hindsight I realized was fear. This did not feel right.

It had taken several hours to reach the volcano, and I knew that if we went the wrong way it could be dangerous. We had consumed all of the water we had carried, and it was getting hotter by the minute.

My gut was telling me to speak up, but my brain said, “You know you’re terrible with directions. You’re almost never right about these things. Just keep quiet and follow.”

———————————–

Perhaps you’ve seen the many amazing studies over the past few years that have proven that there is a direct connection between your brain and your gut.

These new studies explain many things that used to baffle us: why we get butterflies in our stomachs when we’re nervous, and why Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ulcers are both so closely connected to and influenced by the amount of stress we are under.

Here’s the most amazing thing about the new research. We now know that the brain-gut connection travels in both directions. Not only does your emotional state (and emotional health) affect your stomach; the reverse is also true. Believe it or not, recent studies have shown that the health of your gut can also affect your psychological health and your emotions.

Clearly our human brains are wired to our guts for a reason: to connect our brain with our body in a useful way.

So choosing to ignore this vital source of information is choosing to ignore a remarkable feedback system that we are meant to have, and meant to use to our benefit.

4 Ways Your Gut Can Help You

  1. That tight, pressured and unsettled feeling in your gut tells you when you’ve taken on too much in your life; when you’re over your head or unprepared for something important. It’s your body sending you a wake-up call that says, “Prepare!” “Slow down!” or “Take better care of yourself!”
  2. Your gut informs you when you’re making a mistake. You know that hesitant feeling you get in your belly when you’re about to do something? That’s your gut telling you to pause and consider. Your gut can stop you from making an impulsive error.
  3. Your gut can tell you when you’re angry. When your stomach feels tight and closed, like it’s pulled into a fist, that’s anger. Your belly is saying, “Take action.”
  4. Your gut can help you make decisions. Decisions should be made on two levels: half from your intellect (your thoughts and knowledge), and half from the feeling you have in your gut. When these two forces are working together, you’re primed to make the best possible decisions.

Did some of the “gut feelings” described above seem hard for you to grasp? That is a sign that you are not closely enough connected to your gut. Which means you’re missing out an incredibly useful tool in your life.

It is certainly true that some folks are not as good at tuning in to their gut. If you’re out of touch with yours, there is probably an explanation for it. Your brain / gut pathway became disconnected for a reason. There are many possible ways for this to happen.

Potential Reasons You’re Missing Signals From Your Gut

  • You don’t trust yourself. Is it hard for you to imagine that your body can give you guidance? Or that the guidance your body offers could be accurate or grounding? This is a sign that you’re afraid to listen to the signals your gut is sending because you don’t believe in them.
  • You are too focused on other people’s feelings and views to tune in to your own. This is typically a product of growing up in a family that gave you the message that your feelings aren’t important or valid (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN). Since you’re feelings in general aren’t valid, the ones coming from your gut aren’t valid.
  • You greatly value thought over feeling. This value is partially a product of our culture, which tends to glorify intellectual achievement and skills, and which views emotions as unnecessary. If you believe that your feelings are a weakness (a loud and clear message of CEN), you are not likely to tune in to the feeling messages your gut is sending you.

Hopefully as you’ve been reading this you’ve been tuning in to your gut. Perhaps you’ve attempted to feel some of the gut feelings I described. Perhaps you’ve imagined the connection between your brain and gut, or even tried to visualize it.

If you have, congratulations! You have begun the process of joining your brain with your gut.

How to Start Taking Advantage of Your Brain/Gut Feedback System

  1. Knowing about it is a good start. Now that you know messages are coming from your gut, you can make a conscious effort to listen to them. Take the time to check your gut and ask yourself what it’s feeling and what it’s saying to you.
  2. Work on believing in yourself. Knowing yourself, valuing yourself and trusting yourself will help you value and trust the messages from your gut.
  3. Learn more about the value of your feelings in general. Some feelings originate in your belly, and others in your brain. These feelings are equally valuable and equally useful, and understanding why, and how to use them, is key.

And now to finish the Costa Rica story. As you may have guessed, we were indeed headed the wrong way. We were moving further from our destination, not closer. Eventually, thirsty, sweaty and covered with dust from walking down a dirt road for several hours, a kind local picked us up, gave us water, and drove us back to our hotel.

For me, this was an important lesson in trusting my gut.

And I have never forgotten it.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect and how it leaves you disconnected from your feelings in adulthood, see EmotionalNeglect.com and the book, Running on Empty.

To learn more about the newest research findings on the gut/brain connection, see:

That Gut Feeling on The American Psychological Association website.

The Gut-Brain Connection on the Harvard Health Publications Website.

Photo by apairandaspare