Category Archives for "Emotional Neglect"

Emotional Neglect-Childhood Emotional Neglect-Jonice Webb, PhD-Dr. Jonice Webb-Psychologist-Shame-Self Compassion-anger at self-self directed anger-emptiness-feelings-emotions-feelings-self blame-running on empty-overcome your childhood emotional neglect-jwebbphd.com-runningonempty-emotionalneglect-webb-shame-fatal flaw-emotional neglect questionnaire-golden rule-golden rule in reverse-attachment theory-happiness-fulfillment

The Unique Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect on Your Happiness

Most psychotherapists’ first question to their clients: “What do you want to accomplish in therapy?”

Most Clients’ first answer: “I just want to be happy.”

Direct, succinct and clear, this answer cuts to the chase. It makes perfect sense, and we therapists fully concur. We want you to be happy too.

But this understandable request raises a far more complex question with which the greatest minds of all time have grappled:

What is the secret formula for making people happy?

Here are the short versions of a few great thinkers’ answers from the distant past.

Aristotle: Happiness depends on ourselves.

Buddha: Happiness results from mindful thought and action.

Socrates: Happiness comes from gaining rational control over your desires, and harmonizing the different parts of your soul.

Epicurus: To gain happiness, abstain from unnecessary desires to achieve inner tranquility; be content with simple things.

These are all powerful observations, of course. But now, lets fast forward to today’s world and talk about who struggles with happiness and why.

The Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect on Your Potential For Happiness

I have found that the people who struggle with the pursuit of happiness in a most unique way are those with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). It’s because their questions about their own happiness are tainted and complicated by self-blame.

Yes, it’s true. People with CEN actually blame themselves for not being happier.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is far more common than you may think. It happens when your parents ignore or discourage your feelings too much as they are raising you. Even if you have a fine childhood in every other way, you grow up feeling ignored or discouraged on some deep and harmful level. This has a profound effect on your life.

People with Childhood Emotional Neglect, having been raised to ignore their emotions and themselves, are highly prone to self-blame. CEN folks have a tendency to feel at fault for most everything that does not go right. Their own happiness is no exception.

And what do you think happens when you blame your lack of happiness on yourself? It erects a giant barrier between you and happiness. It makes you even less able to feel happy.

Current research on happiness tells us that material wealth has a surprisingly limited effect on human happiness. Three other factors have a much more powerful impact and they are factors that you can cultivate in your life.

3 Life Factors Research Shows are Keys to People’s Overall Happiness

(Plus a #4 Especially for Childhood Emotional Neglect)

  1. Deep and meaningful relationships. Think about your spouse, your children, your supervisor, your colleagues, neighbors, and friends. Looking at your relationships is somewhat like looking into an emotional mirror. Your relationships offer a reflection of who you are. Nurture and strengthen them, and you nurture and strengthen yourself. The happier your relationships, the happier you will be.
  2. Learning and practicing mindfulness. Practicing being in the moment is a way to train your brain to be more under your control. It also makes you more self-aware and more present.  While the past and future are important to consider, learn from and plan, the most important place to live is in the moment, right now. In addition to learning meditation, try to be aware of what you’re doing and how and why you’re doing it. Be aware of what you’re feeling, and how and why you’re feeling it. Research shows that the more mindful you are, the happier you will be.
  3. Increasing your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has been found to contribute more to success and general well-being than intellectual intelligence. Understanding your own feelings and the feelings of others gives you the power to manage yourself and complex situations effectively. To increase your emotional intelligence learn more about emotions and how they work.
  4. Stopping the self-blame. Self-blame is a road to nowhere at all. It will actually prevent you from being happier. It will be much more helpful to accept that there have been real reasons for your lack of happiness and that you did not choose them. In many emotionally neglectful families, the CEN is no one’s fault. Parents are not able to give you emotional awareness, emotional understanding, and emotional knowledge if they did not receive it themselves from their own parents. CEN is a blind spot that gets passed down through generations. It’s not your fault that you grew up with it, but it is your choice what to do with it. 

If the four factors above seem overwhelming there is something important I want you to know. While none of them can be achieved suddenly they all can be achieved gradually. If you keep your mind on these 4 goals you can gradually make yourself happier in a deep, meaningful, and lasting way.

To learn more about achieving happiness by facing your self-blame, increasing your emotional intelligence, and using your emotions to enrich your relationships, see the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

A version of this article originally appeared on psychcentral.com. It has been rewritten and reproduced here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

How Every Feeling You Have Carries a Message and Has a Purpose

Have you ever wondered why we have emotions? In reality, our feelings are a more basic part of us than are our thoughts. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist, and author of My Stroke of Insight said:

“Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.”

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist, and author of My Stroke of Insight

Sure, scientists know. But most people do not! In fact, we have all kinds of ways of demeaning and belittling our own feelings and those of others. We call them sappy or sloppy or label them drama; we consider them insipid, tiresome, wimpy, sappy, or lame. These are some of the ways we convince ourselves and others that feelings are useless and in the way.

As a psychologist, I see a widespread lack of tolerance for feelings, which are a deeply personal, biological part of who we are as humans. Indeed, if you grew up in one of the many, many households where emotion was discouraged or poorly tolerated (Childhood Emotional Neglect), you may now, as an adult, have a negative relationship with feelings of all kinds.

You may view feelings as a sign of weakness. You may hide your feelings from yourself and others; even the people you care about the most. You may regard the expression or sharing of feelings as maudlin, illogical, or just plain useless. You may have no idea what you feel or why because you have buried your emotions so deeply, even from yourself.

Why did emotion evolve in the first place? Sometimes, especially to emotionally neglected people, emotions feel like a burden. Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to feel sad when we had a conflict with a friend, angry when someone cuts us off in traffic, or anxious before a job interview? On the surface, maybe it would seem easier if we didn’t have to feel those things. But my belief is that if we didn’t have emotions, life would not be better. In fact, it would not be sustainable.

Emotion is necessary for survival. Emotions tell us when we are in danger, when to run, when to fight, and what is worth fighting for. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating with us and telling us to do things. Below are some examples of the purposes of just a few emotions.

       FEELING                                 FUNCTION
Fear Tells us to escape/self-preservation
Anger Pushes us to fight back/self-protection
Love Drives us to care for spouse, children, others
Passion Motivates us to create and invent
Hurt Pushes us to correct a situation
Sadness Tells us we are losing something important
Compassion Pushes us to help others
Disgust Tells us to avoid something
Curiosity Motivates us to explore and learn

You get the idea. For every emotion, there is a purpose. Emotions are incredibly useful tools to help us adapt, survive and thrive. People who were emotionally neglected were trained to try to erase, deny, push underground, and in some cases, be ashamed of, this invaluable built-in feedback system. Because they are not listening to their emotions, they are operating at a disadvantage from the rest of us. Pushing away this vital source of information makes you vulnerable and potentially less productive. It also makes it harder to experience life to its fullest.

Emotions do more, though, than drive us to do things. They also feed the human connections that give life the depth and richness that make it worthwhile. It is this depth and richness which I believe provides the best answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Emotional connections to others help us stave off feelings of emptiness as well as existential angst.

If you have spent a lifetime trying to deny your natural, biological emotional responses, you may at times feel disconnected, empty, or unfulfilled in life. The people who love you may find you distant, self-contained, or even arrogant. You may find yourself irritable or angry more often than you would like.

To learn more about the value of your emotions, how to identify them, manage them, express them, and use them as they were meant to be, see the books, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take the Free Emotional Neglect Test.

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

Childhood Emotional Neglect: What Your Parents Didn’t Say and Why It Matters

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is, by definition, nothing. How can nothing be something? How can nothing be a source of enduring pain and struggle? It seems unfathomable… until you see it day after day, in your office, as I have.

What do you wish your parents had said to you? Answers Posted On Facebook

Anything much. I don’t remember being talked to at all.

You have a right to your feelings, & the right to be heard & have them considered.

We believe in you.

How do you feel? What do you want? I will help you figure life out.

I love you. You are enough. I am proud of you.

There is nothing wrong with who you are.

Are you okay?

Do you want to talk about it? You look upset.

 My love for you is unconditional.

There’s nothing in this world you cannot do. So stand up, shoulders back and go out there.

 I’m sorry…

I wish they meant what they said.

That I was beautiful.

You can make mistakes and I will not think any less of you. You don’t have to be perfect.

 Don’t be scared. It will be alright. Things will go wrong but it doesn’t matter. We’re all the same.

It’s OK to get angry/sad/mad.

Anything that wasn’t emotional abuse ……anything that didn’t leave me feeling worthless or that I had to please them for their attention.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Recently I posted this blog’s title question on my Facebook Page. I got many thoughtful and heartfelt responses. The quotes above are a direct sampling of them.

Why did I ask this particular question? Because in my experience as a psychologist, I have found that people are naturally far more able to think about and describe what they wish their parents had not done or said to them than what they wish their parents had done or said to them.

This distinction is also a fair description of the difference between abuse and neglect. Abuse is an action, whereas neglect is a lack of action. Our brains record and remember things that happened (like abuse), whereas our brains do not notice things that don’t happen (neglect).

Which seems worse: a parent who screams and yells at a child and calls him names? Or a parent who simply does not talk to or engage the child at all?

I have seen that failure to engage, notice and affirm a child does just as much damage to him or her as abuse, but the effects are different.  An abused child will feel “hit,” verbally, physically or emotionally; whereas a neglected child will feel simply “at sea,” invalid and alone.

I see Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) as one of the greatest potential threats to future generations. It is difficult to stop something that is invisible, intangible, unnoticeable and unmemorable.

The subtlety of CEN gives it extra power. Many adults who grew up with an absence of emotionally attentive observations and questions like those listed above do not recognize the damage that this absence has done them. And even when they recognize it, they can’t quite believe or grasp it.

People with CEN vastly underestimate its effects on them.  CEN is, by definition, nothing. How can nothing be something? How can nothing be a source of enduring pain and struggle? It seems unfathomable… until you see it day after day, in your office, as I have.

A few reviewers of my book, Running on Empty, have said that the recovery chapters are unrealistic because they are about helping readers give themselves the attention, validation, and structure that they did not get in childhood. But I know that people with CEN can make tremendous progress toward this. It requires effort and motivation, but it is very much possible. I know this because I have watched it happen many times.

All of the emotionally neglected people who offered those many requests in response to my question hold a secret key. A key to fulfilling their own needs; a key that offers healing, solace, and fuel.

How to Give Yourself What You Never Got

  1. If your parents didn’t talk to you, then talk more to yourself. Put yourself in situations where you will be required to talk.
  2. If your parents never told you that you were good enough, then you must resolve this question for yourself. Are you good enough? Listen to your answer, and trust it.
  3. If your parents never meant what they said, then you must pledge to yourself to always mean what you say. Always speak the truth, no matter how difficult it may be.
  4. If your parents never asked you if you were okay, then you must ask yourself this often, and listen carefully to your answer.
  5. If your parents didn’t notice when you were upset, then you must try to always notice what you are feeling and why.

And so on and so on, the answer lies within you. The beginning is self-awareness.

Because once you realize what you didn’t get, this tells you what you need. And once you know what you need, I hope you will also realize that you can get it. I hope that you will fight for what you didn’t get. Ask for help and accept support because you deserve it. And then you will have it to give to your own children.

To learn more about how to give yourself and your children what you never got yourself, see the books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

A version of this article was first published on Psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of Psychcentral.

10 Question Quiz: Do You Need Better Boundaries With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents?

It is definitely true that parenting is an incredibly complex job. We can all see that the huge majority of parents are honestly working hard to offer the very best they possibly can to their children.

As much empathy as I have for parents, being one myself, today I will be talking with all who are on the other side of the fence: those of you who are grown up now and are feeling that your relationship with your parents is a problem in your life.

There are indeed an infinite amount of ways that a parent/child relationship can go wrong. Many are subtle or confusing and can leave all parties feeling burdened or hurt.

Especially if you know that your parents love you, you may end up baffled about your relationship with them, and wondering what is wrong.

6 Different Ways You May Feel About Your Parents 

  • You may feel guilty for not wanting to spend more time with them
  • You may feel very loving toward them one minute, and angry the next
  • You may look forward to seeing them, and then feel let down or disappointed when you’re actually with them
  • You may find yourself snapping at them and confused about why you’re doing it
  • You may get physically ill when you see them
  • You may harbor anger at them, and feel there’s no reason for it

How does this happen? Why does this relationship have to be so complicated? Why can’t we just love our parents unconditionally? 

Of course, there can be endless different explanations for any of these problems. But for most people, the answer lies somewhere in the area of what psychologists call individuation.

Individuation: The natural, healthy process of the child becoming increasingly separate from the parent by developing his or her own personality, interests, and life apart from the parent.

Individuation usually starts around age 13 but can be as early as 11 or as late as 16. Behaviors we think of as “teenage rebellion” are actually attempts to separate. Talking back, breaking rules, disagreeing, refusing to spend time with the family; all are ways of saying, and feeling, “I’m me, and I make my own decisions.”

Individuation is indeed a delicate process, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. When it doesn’t, and also goes unresolved, it can create a stressful or painful relationship between parent and adult child.

4 Ways Individuation Can Go Awry

  1. The parent does not know that the child’s individuation is natural and healthy, and discourages it. This parent may feel hurt by the child’s separation, or even be angered by it, making the child feel guilty for developing normally.
  2. The parent wants the child to stay close to take care of the parent’s needs, so actively discourages the child from separating.
  3. The parent is uncomfortable with the child’s needs, and so encourages the child to be excessively independent starting from an early age.
  4. The child is held back from healthy individuation by some conflict or issue of his or her own, like anxiety, depression, a physical or medical ailment, or guilt.

When your adolescence gets off track in any of these ways, a price is paid by both you and your parents. Much later, when you’re trying to live your adult life, you may sadly find yourself feeling burdened, pained, or held back by your parents. On top of that, you might feel guilty for feeling that way.

So now the big question. How do you know when you need some distance from your parents?

10 Questions About Your Boundaries With Your Parents

  1. Do you feel held back from growing, developing, or moving forward in your life by your parents?
  2. Is your relationship with your parents negatively affecting how you parent your own children?
  3. Are you afraid of surpassing your parents? Would they be hurt or upset if you become more successful in life than they?
  4. Are you plagued with guilt when it comes to your parents?
  5. Are your parents manipulating you in any way?
  6. Are their needs coming before your own (the exception is if they are elderly or ill)?
  7. Were/are your parents abusive to you in any way, however subtle?
  8. Have you tried to talk with them and solve things, to no avail?
  9. Do you feel that your parents don’t really know you?
  10. Do your parents stir up trouble in your life?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, and you also feel burdened by your relationship with your parents, it may be a sign that you need some distance to maximize your own personal growth and health.

Yes, parenting truly is the hardest job in the world. But parents are meant to launch you, not limit you. If your individuation didn’t happen fully through your adolescence, you may need to work at separating from your parents now in order to have the healthy, strong, independent life that you are meant to live.

So what does distancing mean when it comes to parents? It doesn’t mean moving farther away. It doesn’t mean being less kind or loving toward them. It doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything drastically different. In fact, distance can be achieved by changing yourself and your own internal response to what happens between you.

Watch for a future article sharing some of the basics of how to make those changes for yourself. In the meantime, you can learn much, much more about exactly how to do this in the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Guilt is, for many, built into the adult separation process, unfortunately. So separating from your parents may be no less painful now, as an adult, than it was when you were an adolescent. But the good news is, you are grown up. You’re developed. You’re stronger. Now you can better understand what’s wrong. 

To learn more about the parent/child relationship and how it can go wrong emotionally, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

A version of this article was first published on Psychcentral.com. It has been revised and reproduced here with the permission of psychcentral.

How to Know When You Are Having a Feeling

How do you know when you are having a feeling?

As the pioneer of the concept and full theory of CEN — or Childhood Emotional Neglect — I receive hundreds of questions every week about CEN, what it means, how it works, its effects, and how to heal.

Many readers of my books and blogs have very personal, thoughtful observations and questions to share. In fact, I have learned quite a lot from receiving, reading, and answering them.

Of all those many questions there is one that I receive over and over and over again. And then again. And the next day, there it is again. I get it so often because it’s a key piece of the cause of CEN and a key building block for CEN healing too. In fact, it would be hard to overstate its importance.

How do you know when you are having a feeling?

My answer to this question is not quite as simple as most would like. It’s complicated by the fact that every human being is different.

How Do You Know When You Are Having A Feeling? 3 Signs

Note: Any one of these signs is an alert that you are having a feeling. You do not need to have all three.

  1. Physical sensation: Emotions are literally physical sensations that reside in your body. If you know that you are someone who is unaware of your feelings it may help to pay more attention to your body, paying special attention to the sensations that may come and go. Emotions are often felt in the belly or chest or throat but they can also be in your arms, legs, hands, head, or any other part of your body. Watch for a physical sensation and when one happens, stop and take note.
  2. Physical pain or symptoms: Emotions that are not acknowledged or attended do not go away. They hang around under the surface of your life and can cause physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, fatigue, restlessness, jaw clenching, chest tightness or an almost endless list of other physical symptoms. In fact, research shows that, for example, repressed anger has been linked to heart attacks. When you notice a physical symptom, stop and ask yourself if you might be repressing an emotion.
  3. Surprised or confused by your own behavior: Our actions are driven by our feelings. When you are aware of what you’re feeling, you have the opportunity to use your brain to consider the feeling you are having and plan your actions. This puts your behavior under your control. If you are surprised or confused by something you do, consider the possibility that you are having a feeling of which you are unaware. Pause to think about this.

What To Do If You Notice One of the 3 Signs of Having a Feeling

The 3 signs above will, hopefully, alert you to the possibility that you may be feeling something and that is an excellent start! But the signs will not tell you what you are feeling or what it means. To help you with that, I created an exercise to guide you. I first shared it in my book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It’s called The Identifying & Naming Exercise.

The Identifying and Naming Exercise

Step 1: Close your eyes. Picture a blank screen that takes over your mind, banishing all thoughts. Focus all of your attention on the screen, turning your attention inward.

Step 2: Ask yourself the question: “What am I feeling right now?”

Step 3: Focus on your internal experience. Be aware of any thoughts that might pop into your head, and erase them quickly. Keep your focus on: “What am I feeling right now?”

Step 4: Try to identify feeling words to express it. You may need more than one word.

Step 5: If you’re having difficulty identifying any feelings, skim through the Feeling Word List in the Resources at the end of the Running On Empty book, and see if one or more words jump out at you.

Step 6: Once a word jumps out at you, say it out loud. “I feel ______.” Does it sound right when you say it? Does it feel right when you say it? Does it feel partially right but you need more words to describe it?

Step 7: When a feeling word seems like it may be accurate, you are ready to move on to the next step, which is trying to figure out why you are feeling that.

We will save Step 7 for another day because right now we’re trying to help you know when you’re feeling something. Learning the other feeling skills is easier once you have become more skilled at this first one.

The Takeaway

Your emotions are literally physical sensations that reside in your body. When you fail to notice and acknowledge a feeling, it can become a physical problem for you or it can make you act in ways that may be undesirable or regrettable or simply confusing.

Learning how to identify when you are having a feeling is a vital skill for living a happy and healthy life. When you grow up in an emotionally neglectful family you sadly do not have the opportunity to learn it. In fact, you learn the opposite: how to ignore, deny, belittle, and block off your feelings.

Now, as the adult you are, you have the power to make some new choices for yourself. You can choose to focus, choose to learn and choose to feel.

You can choose to start valuing your feelings and using them to know and understand yourself better. You can start down the path of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It’s never too early or too late to choose yourself.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Works and Why It Transfers Through Generations

And how it affects your day-to-day life now.

Emotional Neglect: A parent’s failure to respond sufficiently to your emotional needs. In other words, Emotional Neglect is something that failed to happen in your childhood.

To demonstrate why emotional neglect as a child is so invisible, let’s do an experiment.

First, I’d like you to think of an event that happened yesterday. It can be anything, big or small, just something that happened.

Second, I’d like you to think of something that didn’t happen yesterday.

My guess is that the second request was quite a bit more difficult than the first. That’s because our brains record events as memories. Things that fail to happen go unnoticed, unseen, and unremembered.

We have long been aware of the fact that what happens to us in childhood has a tremendous effect on who we become as adults. But the opposite is also true. What doesn’t happen for us in childhood has an equal or greater effect.

Remember that Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs. Because it’s a parent’s failure to act, rather than a parent’s act; just like we saw in our little experiment, it goes unseen, unnoticed, and unremembered.

Emotional Neglect comes in an infinite variety of forms. It can be incredibly subtle, such that 50 people could be watching it not happen, and be completely unaware.

An Example of Emotional Neglect in Action:

Joey’s friends gang up on him on the soccer field one day. So Joey comes home from school feeling sad. Joey’s parents don’t notice his sadness. Neither says, “Joey are you OK?” or “Did anything happen at school today?” No one seems to notice that anything is wrong.

This probably seems like nothing. Indeed, it happens in every home, and it generally is nothing.

So how could an incident like this damage a child and leave scars that remain into his adulthood? The answer lies in the natural, developmental needs of children.

In order for a child to grow up with a complete and solid sense of himself, who he is, and what he’s capable of, he (or she) must receive enough awareness, understanding, and acceptance of his emotions from his parents. If there is a shortage from the parents in any one of these areas, the child will grow up feeling incomplete and lacking some of the skills and self-knowledge and self-care that are necessary to fully thrive in this world.

And now back to our boy Joey, who came home from school feeling sad. If this happens on occasion, it’s no problem. If it happens with enough frequency and depth — that what Joey feels is not noticed, responded to or validated by his parents — Joey will grow up with a hole in his emotional development. He may deeply believe that his feelings are irrelevant, unimportant, or even shameful or unacceptable.

As a psychologist, I have seen time and time again that these subtle parental failures in childhood leave the adult with a feeling of being incomplete, empty, unfulfilled, or even questioning his own purpose and value.

This becomes even more difficult when the emotionally neglected adult looks back to his childhood for an explanation for why he feels this way. I have heard many emotionally neglected people say, “I had a great childhood. I wasn’t mistreated or abused. My parents loved me and provided me with a nice home, clothing, and food. If I’m not happy, it’s my own fault. I have no excuse.”

These people can’t remember what didn’t happen in their childhoods. So as adults, they blame themselves for whatever is wrong in their lives. They have no memory of what went wrong for them, so they have no way of seeing it or overcoming it, to make their lives happier.

In addition to self-blame, another unfortunate aspect of emotional neglect as a child is that it’s self-propagating. Emotionally neglected children grow up with a blind spot when it comes to emotions, their own as well as those of others.

When emotionally neglected children become parents themselves, they’re unaware of the emotions of their own children, and they raise their children to have the same blind spot. And so on and so on and so on, through generation after generation.

My goal is to make people aware of this subtle but powerful factor. To give everyone the ability to look back and see the invisible; have the words to talk about it, and an opportunity to correct it and stop blaming themselves.

I want to make the term Emotional Neglect a household term so that parents will know how important it is to respond sufficiently to their children’s emotional needs and understand how to do it.

I want to stop this insidious force from sapping peoples’ happiness and connection to others throughout their lives and to stop the transfer of Emotional Neglect from one generation to another to another. I want to give answers to those many people who are living their lives feeling disconnected and unfulfilled, and wondering what is wrong with them.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens and how to recover from it, see the books, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. Since CEN is so subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you have it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test.

A version of this article first appeared on YourTango.com. It has been reprinted here with the permission of YourTango.

The 3 Unique Challenges of the Parentified Child in Adulthood

Marc

Marc’s parents divorced when Marc was seven.  From that point on, he was raised by his mother, with occasional “check-ins” by his father. Marc’s mother owned and managed a deli, and had to work long hours to support Marc and his two younger siblings. Marc hurried home from school to pick up his siblings at the bus stop, made dinner for them, and often was responsible for getting them to bed.

Alise

When Alise was nine, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As Alise grew into middle school and high school, her mother was at home, getting sicker and sicker. The more disabled her mother got, the more Alise picked up the slack at home. She cared for her mother, did the grocery shopping, and even fought with insurance companies over her mother’s medical needs.

There are many ways in which the child can become what therapists call, “parentified.” Addicted, depressed, financially pressured, physically ill, or bereaved parents are some examples.

Believe it or not, there is a silver lining to being parentified. Marc, for example, grew up to be a very responsible man. He worked his own way through college because he was determined to have a career. He didn’t want to struggle financially, as his mother did. Marc is now a giving, caring husband and father. He knows how to parent because he did it as a child.

Like Marc, Alise is also a very responsible adult. She’s a research scientist in the medical field. Alise is driven to find cures for incurable diseases, and she works long hours by choice to meet her passionate goal. She is a loving mother and wife. Alise is excellent at giving and care-taking, for her family and for the world. Because her childhood prepared her to be.

Yes, there are far worse things that one’s childhood can prepare her to be. In many ways, Marc and Alise are in an excellent position to live happy, productive lives.

However, there is a serious downside to being parentified.

The 3 Unique Challenges of the Parentified Child

  1. Excessive self-sacrifice: If you grew up caring for others, you may not have learned how to care properly for yourself. You may not have learned something that everyone else knows: that your first and primary responsibility in your life is your own health and happiness. Unless you take care of yourself first, you will be depleted by your life.
  2. Regret: When the child becomes the parent, she grows up far too soon. This leaves you with a feeling of sadness and loss when you look back on your childhood. “I never got to be a kid,” you lament. You hear stories of other peoples’ childhoods, and you feel envious and sad. You are sentenced to a lifetime of regret.
  3. Co-Dependence: When you are programmed as a caretaker, it becomes difficult to step out of the caretaker role. This, in some ways, is a set-up. You are more likely to form friendships with or marry people who need care, and stay with them far too long. At your own expense.

Marc

Marc learned many lessons from his childhood. He works long hours and supports his family well. Yet as those around Marc thrive and grow, Marc does not. His wife, and the mother of his children, is an alcoholic. So while she repeatedly drinks, passes out, and drops the ball in caring for the children, Marc quietly picks up the slack. He tries and tries to help her get sober. He lives under a black cloud, and cannot see that he has simply re-created his childhood.

Alise

Alise is busy saving the world, and this is her blessing and her curse. She enjoys success and the love of her family, yet she grows more and more tired every day. Alise learned everything she needs to thrive in her childhood, except for one key thing. She did not learn that her needs are important. In fact, she didn’t learn that she even has needs. Alise lives under the same cloud as Marc. Each day she wonders what joy is. Each day she longs for what’s missing in her life.

3 Steps for Marc, Alise, and You

  1. Put yourself first. Accept that you have needs, and pay attention to what they are. When you need healthy food, fun, rest, fresh air or alone time, take it.
  2. Replace the joy you missed as a child by finding it now. You didn’t get to run free through the neighborhood with your friends, or be doted on by two caring parents? Maybe you didn’t learn the feeling of emotional freedom? Learn it now. Discover what you love, and pursue it. Seek joy, and know that you’ve earned yours.
  3. Stop over-caring for those around you. Life is short, and you are living yours for others. This is your time to turn your powerful caring skills toward yourself.

If you were in the role of the parent as a child, your life is about to change. You are about to re-parent yourself in a way that you missed as a child. You’re going to start living as you were always meant to live and experiencing the joy, happiness, and care that you’ve always deserved.

To learn more about the parentified child as well as other forms of Childhood Emotional Neglect and how to heal from them, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free on this website. 

A version of this article was originally published on psychcentral as When the Child Becomes the Parent. It has been reproduced here with the permission of psychcentral.

The Importance of Self-Acceptance & 4 Ways to Achieve It

Here are ten everyday habits that have been proven, in study after study, to make people happier. As you read the list, think about how often you practice each one:

  • Giving: doing things for others
  • Relating: connecting with people
  • Exercising: taking care of your body
  • Appreciating: noticing the world around
  • Trying out: continuing to learn new things
  • Direction: having goals to look forward to
  • Resilience: finding ways to bounce back
  • Emotion: taking a positive approach
  • Self-acceptance: being comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning: feeling part of something bigger

A charity called Action for Happiness, in collaboration with another organization, Do Something Different, surveyed 5,000 people to determine how many people practice each of these habits on a regular basis.

Interestingly, in the sample of people surveyed, they found that one of the habits that makes the most powerful contribution to happiness was practiced the least:

Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance can be described as simply liking yourself. It requires forgiving yourself for your own mistakes and having compassion for yourself. Knowing who you are, your own strengths and weakness, and feeling deeply that, after it’s all added up, you are good enough.

In my 20 years of practicing psychology, two things have always been very clear to me. First, self-acceptance, or self-love, is not only a primary building block for happiness, but it’s also a requirement. And second, the huge majority of people who don’t have self-acceptance lack it for exactly one reason: they don’t know themselves.

And you can’t like and fully accept someone who you do not know.

In my experience, I’ve seen that the majority of people actually would like themselves, if they could actually see the full picture of who they are. But if your self-view is distorted, shallow or missing big pieces, then you are missing not only self-knowledge but also the opportunity for self-acceptance, the foundation for happiness.

Self-knowledge starts in childhood. Lucky children who are raised by parents who truly see them, notice their personalities, their preferences, their emotions, their needs, strengths, and weaknesses, learn who they are through their parents’ reactions to them. When this lucky child looks into his parents’ eyes, he sees his true self reflected there. Because his parent sees him and understands him realistically, he gets a realistic view of himself, and a true understanding of who he is.

Unfortunately, though, the world is full of parents who are too busy, too depressed, too addicted, too self-absorbed, too overwhelmed or too achievement-focused to actually see their children in this very real, truly meaningful way. Many of these parents are none of the above, but they simply are unaware of the emotions of themselves and their children, and end up emotionally neglecting them for that reason. Whatever the cause, these are families of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Many emotionally neglectful parents love their children and are good parents in many ways. But because they miss the “feeling” part of parenting, they simply lack the ability to fully see and know their child. Often, they are not able to do so because their own parents did not see or know them either. Typically, it’s no one’s fault, it just is.

Unfortunately, however, no matter the impediment on the part of the parent, the effect upon the child is the same. He grows up not seeing himself, not knowing himself. So how can he truly like himself? And how can he find true happiness?

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you feel that you truly know yourself, inside and out?
  • Do you like who you are?
  • Do you love yourself?

If you’re not sure, or if you answered “No” to any of those three questions, it’s okay. Because this is one impediment to your happiness on which you can make great progress yourself.

And the answer is far simpler than you might think.

The 4 Goals to Reach Self-Acceptance

1. Pay attention to yourself.

  • Your likes and dislikes
  • What bothers you?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What is your temperament?
  • What are your values?
  • What are your talents?
  • What are your weaknesses?

2. Identify the things you don’t like about yourself. Are there areas in which you can self-improve? If you can change it to become a better person, set a goal to improve in that area. Self-improvement is likable. And trying is likable, even when you sometimes fail.

3. Have compassion for yourself. You are human, and you have faults and weaknesses, just like every other human being. Learn from every mistake you make, and give yourself credit for trying. Accept that you cannot be perfect.

4. Pay attention to what you feel, and why. Your emotions are the most deeply personal part of who you are. Take responsibility for your feelings. Judge yourself in the big picture, not for one small mistake, weakness or lapse.

Going through life without knowing yourself does plenty of harm to your ability to enjoy life. But since that lack of self-knowledge will chronically hold you back from self-acceptance, and therefore, happiness, it’s triply important to work on the Four Goals above.

After all, you have nothing to lose. And you have self-knowledge, self-love, and happiness to gain.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, how it affects adults and families, and how you can heal, see the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free!

A version of this article was originally posted on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of Psychcentral.

2 Kinds of Lonely Feelings and How to Cope With Them

It was Thanksgiving, twenty-some years ago, and I was in graduate school. I decided not to go home to visit my family that year. Unexpectedly, my close friend and roommate told me that she was going to spend the holiday at her fiancé’s house in another city.

“Come with me,” she said. “It will be fun!” I knew that it would be, but somehow, I just didn’t feel like it. “No, I’ll be okay. I feel like being alone,” I assured her.

The morning of Thanksgiving, I got up in an empty house, and instantly knew I had made a mistake. The house felt empty, and so did I. I walked into the empty kitchen, and filled an empty cup with coffee. I sat down with an empty thud, and stared down at the empty table.

Thus began one of the loneliest days of my life.

Almost everyone feels lonely sometimes. It’s an unavoidable part of the human condition. Few are so surrounded by people at all times that they never feel left on their own.

But it does seem that loneliness is becoming a serious problem that threatens us all. New research from the American Psychological Association has established that far more people are living alone than was true in the past. New studies also show that loneliness can significantly harm your health, and decrease the length of your life.

This new research suggests that we should begin to pay more attention to the spread of “alone.” We need to take a closer look at “alone,” and “lonely.” What do they mean? How do they feel? Can we prevent ourselves from experiencing them?

First I would like to assert this one vital point: You needn’t be alone to be lonely. And you can easily be alone, and not be lonely. In other words, “lonely” is not a state, it’s a state of mind. Actually, it’s a feeling; a feeling that visits some folks more than others.

The 2 Kinds of Loneliness

1.  The kind you feel when you are actually alone. This “alone” is situational. It happens when you acutely recognize that there are no people with you. You may feel this when, for example, you weren’t invited to a party, or you just moved and haven’t made any friends yet, or are sitting at home alone on a Saturday night. This alone is painful, and difficult to tolerate. But it goes away when people arrive.

2. The kind that’s more lonesome than being alone. You can feel this kind of loneliness anywhere, even when surrounded by people. This “lonely” can happen when you are actually alone. But it can also happen when you are in the company of people who genuinely love and care about you. This type of loneliness can follow you wherever you go, and it often does. This loneliness can come at any time, under any circumstances. In fact, it may be so woven into the fabric of your life that you feel it all the time. It’s a feeling that can become a part of your everyday experience of yourself and your life.

This kind of loneliness comes from your childhood. It comes from growing up in a household where the deepest, most personal expression of who you are, your feelings, are ignored or squelched by your parents (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN).

Having your feelings ignored or discouraged while your brain is developing sends you a deeply-felt, never-understood message:

You are alone in this world.

This is one of the powerful messages of Childhood Emotional Neglect. And it does not leave you simply because you grow up. It stays there, visiting at will, and often when you least expect it.

The Solution to the Loneliest Lonely

The amazing thing about CEN is that its solution is the exact opposite of its cause.

As a child, your emotions were squelched or regarded as “nothing.” So now, you must encourage your own feelings, and make a choice to treat them as “something.”

Your walled off emotions are keeping you walled off from the people who could be occupying your heart and mind right now. Your walled off feelings represent your true self, and they have waited for you long enough.

When you begin to pay attention to them, you are paying attention to your true self. When you listen to them and take them seriously, you are listening to yourself, and taking yourself seriously.

Once you become aware of your CEN, and how it’s affecting you, you can begin to use your emotions in a way that connects you to people. It can literally change the way you feel inside, and the way you live your life.

You can begin by putting words to all of the emotions that go into “lonely” for you. Here is what I felt that day, some 20-odd years ago:

Sad

Singular

Rejected

Empty

Lost

Isolated

Bereft

Unloved

Uncared-for

On my own

On the outside

I now understand that I wasn’t rejected by others that day. No. I was rejecting myself.  I now know that taking down the wall that your child self built is one of the most important things you can do in your life. And beginning to use your emotions to connect with others in a new way is the icing on the cake.

It does take work and perseverance, but it will change you for the better in significant ways. You can defeat your Type 2 Lonely. You can take this on, and win, I assure you. 

On your mark. Get set. Go.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To learn more, Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn more about how to use your emotions in a new way to connect with the central people in your life, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

A version of this article was initially posted on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of psychcentral.

The Painful Education of the Emotionally Neglected Child: 10 Harmful Lessons Learned

Growing up in an emotionally neglectful household takes its toll on you.

When, as a child, no one notices enough what you are feeling or when you need emotional support, you receive covert messages that are never stated outright, but which will nevertheless guide your life going forward.

Silent, unintended, usually invisible, these messages take root early and well. As you go through adolescence, they undermine the self-confidence and self-knowledge you should be gathering.

As you grow into adulthood, they prevent you from making the choices that are right for you. As you form relationships and fall in love, they prevent you from valuing yourself. As you have children and raise them, they weigh you down and leave you feeling mystified about what you are missing and why.

The only way to reduce their power over you is to realize the signs you were emotionally neglected as a child and understand they are there and how you got them. And to make a conscious choice to stop letting them hold you back and push you down.

10 Painful Lessons Childhood Emotional Neglect Teaches You

1. It’s not good to be too happy or too sad.

As a child, you naturally had intense feelings, as this is how all children are wired. Exuberant one moment, intensely frustrated the next, you needed someone to teach you how to understand and manage your emotions.

But what you got instead was a covert message that your emotions were excessive. What you learned was to dampen your feelings, not the skills you needed to manage them.

2. You are overly sensitive.

As a child, you naturally felt upset when things upset you. You naturally felt angry when you were hurt. What you needed was to have your upset feelings soothed by a loving parent so that you could learn how to soothe yourself.

But what you got was a message that your feelings were a weakness. What you learned was to judge yourself for having them.

3. Your needs and preferences are irrelevant.

As a child, you had needs, just as all children do. You had things that felt important to you, and things that felt good or bad to you. What you needed was for someone to notice, or to ask what you needed or wanted, so that you would feel that you mattered.

When no one asked you enough, you learned instead that you don’t.

4. Talking about a problem will unnecessarily burden other people.

Growing up, you had problems with school, with siblings and with friends. What you needed was to know that you could talk to a parent.

Instead, you knew that they, for whatever reason, could not handle it. What you learned was that others couldn’t handle your problems, and so you’d best keep it to yourself.

5. Crying is a weakness.

All humans cry, and for a reason. Crying is a way to release and process your emotions. As a child, you cried sometimes (maybe often). What you needed was for this to be okay.

Instead, your family didn’t know that crying has a purpose, so they ignored your tears or shamed you for having them. Perhaps they never showed tears themselves. You learned that crying is negative and should be avoided, one of the biggest signs you were neglected as a child.

6. Others will judge you for showing your feelings.

Were you judged for showing feelings in your childhood home? This powerful message has been carried forth with you. “Hide your emotions from others” is the message, “or others will think less of you.” Or, worse, they will use your feelings against you.

7. Anger is a negative emotion and should be avoided.

As a child, of course you often felt angry, as this feeling is a natural part of life. As a child, what you needed was help to name, understand and manage your anger.

Perhaps instead your anger was squelched or overwhelmed by another’s. Maybe you were punished for showing it. What you learned was that anger is bad and that you should suppress it.

8. Relying on another is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Children need help, period. So do adolescents and adults. As a child, you needed support, direction, suggestions, and assistance. But you could see that your parents were not up to that.

What you learned was that it is best not to ask for help in general because you are setting yourself up for a letdown.

9. Others are not interested in what you have to say.

As a young child, you had endless wonder at the world around you. As you grew, you had endless things that you wanted and needed to ask and say. Yet talking was not valued in your family, and you were not asked or listened to enough.

What you learned is that your questions and words are not valuable and that you should keep them to yourself.

10. You are alone in the world.

As a child, you needed to feel that an adult had your back; that no matter what happened, there was support and help for you. Instead, when you needed something you discovered that your adult(s) were busy, overwhelmed or not aware. What you learned was that you were all alone.

The Truth

These lessons all seem so real and so true when you grew up receiving them in such a subliminal, global way. But do not forget that they are merely lessons of your family, not truths. The fact that you learned them does not make them right.

The truth is…

Strong feelings connect us to ourselves and to each other, and being able to have them is a sign of health and strength.

Knowing your own needs and preferences and expressing them is a key to living a happy, fulfilled life.

Talking about your problems helps you solve them.

Crying is a healthy way of coping.

Letting others see your feelings helps them know you better.

Anger is an important message from your body that empowers you.

Mutual dependence is a form of teamwork that makes you stronger.

What you have to say is important, and you should say it.

You are human. You are connected, you are important.

You are not, in fact, by any stretch, alone.

Since CEN is so subliminal and unmemorable, it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out if CEN may be getting in the way of your happiness, health, and well-being, Sign Up to Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

A version of this article originally appeared on YourTango. It has been reproduced here with the permission of YourTango.

1 2 3 7