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Why Legions of People Wonder: Do You Feel Like I Do?

Do you feel like I do?

On The Outside

There’s a deep, draining feeling that many people carry through every single day of their adult lives. But few are consciously aware of this feeling, or ever actually put into words. So please allow me to do it for you, using the words I have heard many people use to describe it.

It’s a feeling of:

Deeply different from everyone else; somehow flawed

Alone and disconnected

On the outside looking in

Unfulfilled

Empty or numb

This is a feeling that saps your energy and your joy. It lurks in the background, making it hard for you to believe that you fit in anywhere, or that you are okay.

This feeling colors your world gray and holds you back from many of the most rewarding parts of life.

When you live with this feeling you are most likely not fully aware that you have it, yet it drags on you and weighs on you day after day. This feeling can become such a constant in your everyday life that you experience it not as a feeling, but as a fact of life.

Woven into the fabric of your existence, you naturally assume it’s a basic part of the human condition.

Doesn’t everyone feel like I do?

Until one day you look around, and you see that other people seem more comfortable in their own skin. Other people seem to feel that they belong. Other people seem to be living lives filled with passion and joy and heartbreak and hurt that you, in some inexplicable way, for some unfathomable reason, seem unable to fully experience.

“What do all these people have that I lack?” you wonder. Why do they seem to be so connected, so comfortable, so driven, so fulfilled?

Why do I seldom feel like I belong? Why am I living on the outside? What makes me different from everyone else?

Believe it or not, when you ask these questions, it’s actually a good sign. It means that you have finally moved beyond your lifelong assumption that everyone feels this way.  You have progressed forward and reached a realization.

Everyone does not feel like I do. I am missing out on something important. Something that truly matters.

Now some good news. Keep reading and you will find that you can overcome this feeling. You don’t have to live with it anymore. But first, let’s talk more about what caused it in the first place, and also what it means.

What Causes This Feeling?  Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect is, unfortunately, a common childhood experience. It takes place in many unsuspecting homes and is perpetrated by many unaware adults. It’s often invisible, usually unmemorable, but yet it leaves an enduring mark upon the child.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to notice your feelings enough and respond to them. So it’s not exactly something that happens to you as a child; it’s more like something that fails to happen for you as a child.

Your emotions and feelings and emotional needs go unnoticed, unvalidated, and essentially ignored.

This was the experience that caused the feeling that you live with now.

What Does This Feeling Mean?

When you grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, you learn that your emotions are a useless burden, and you continue to treat your own feelings in exactly that way as you move forward in your life.

Going forward, whenever you have a feeling, you either question it or doubt it or minimize or reject it. You assume that your feeling is wrong, or selfish or excessive or useless so you override it or ignore it or both.

Every time you do this to one of your emotions, you are doing it to yourself. You are pushing the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are down, and away. In doing so, you are minimizing and marginalizing yourself. You are making yourself an incomplete version of yourself. You are squelching yourself.

What does this feeling mean? It means that you are continuing to neglect yourself.

How Can You Get What Other People Have?

In a way, the answer to this question is remarkably logical. To get what other people have, you must reverse the process of the Childhood Emotional Neglect you grew up with. You can start by absorbing and embracing the Emotion Facts below.

5 Emotion Facts

  • Your emotions are wired into your biology. Since you cannot choose them, you cannot judge them as wrong, excessive or bad. They are what they are and you must accept them.
  • Every feeling is a message from your body. It’s important to pay attention and listen to their message.
  • Emotions are useful sources of energy, connection, motivation, passion, and purpose. The more you embrace your feelings, the more you will have all those things.
  • Even though every feeling is important, that does not mean every feeling should be indulged. There are ways to manage your feelings, and many feelings can, and should, be managed.
  • Never judge yourself for having a feeling. It is what you do with your feelings that matter.

Once you understand and accept the 5 Emotion Facts above, you can make a vow to yourself that you will stop the pattern set up for you in childhood. And then you can fulfill that vow by treating yourself in a different way.

So when that inner voice says, “It does not matter what you feel,” you do not accept it; you talk back.

“It does matter what I feel,” you insist. “I will accept and pay attention to this feeling. I will listen to its message, I will take responsibility for it. I will manage it or, if needed, share it. I will own it as the deepest expression of myself.

No more, “Do you feel like I do?” No more “on the outside.”

My solemn vow to myself: I will not hide anymore.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect keeps you feeling disconnected from the most important people in your life, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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

The Sad Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

Believe it or not, there is a sad connection between Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and narcissism. If you know very much about either, you probably find that difficult to believe.

After all, people who grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect have a strong tendency to view themselves and their own needs as unimportant and secondary to others whereas, in contrast, those with narcissism are known for putting themselves and their own needs first.

How, then, could these two opposite personality styles be related? Actually, in quite a few very important ways.

But before we talk about how these two are linked, let’s first define them both.

Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs as they raise you. This sends you, a child, a subtle message, “Your feelings don’t matter.” Children who receive this message automatically push their feelings down, basically walling them off, so that they will not be troubled by them.

This may allow you to cope in your childhood home, but in adulthood, having your feelings blocked causes all kinds of problems in your life. Having your feelings walled off is basically a recipe for feeling disconnected and unfulfilled in your adult life. It makes emotions puzzling, keeps your relationships lacking, and makes you feel less important, less valuable, and less valid than other people.

Narcissistic Personality

Narcissism exists on a continuum, all the way from having some narcissistic traits all the way to the other end, the more extreme narcissistic personality disorder which is an official clinical diagnosis.

A person with narcissistic traits is likely seen as self-centered and somewhat grandiose. For example, they may tout their own accomplishments often, be willing to step on others to get to the top, and thrive in the limelight.

A person with narcissistic personality disorder takes all of those a few steps further. But some other likely qualities of the personality disorder include a desperate need to be admired, inability to feel empathy for others, arrogance, plus a willingness to exploit others to achieve their own needs for power and control.

5 Sad Connections Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

  1. One of the causes of CEN is being raised by a narcissistic parent. Narcissistic parents are a major source of Childhood Emotional Neglect. Narcissistic parents are unable to see the true nature of their children or respond to them emotionally. They are taken up trying to get their own needs met, and are not capable of giving emotionally to anyone, and that includes their child. So children of narcissistic parents often have their emotional needs ignored or discouraged, the very root cause of CEN.
  2. Most narcissists grew up with an extreme variety of Emotional Neglect. The extreme type of CEN that contributes to narcissism happens when your parents not only ignore your emotions, they actively squelch your feelings and your true self.  Narcissism may be partly determined by genetics, but to become a narcissist, you generally must grow up with a complex mix of being emotionally squelched (CEN) in some ways, and overly indulged or excessively praised in some kind of superficial or inaccurate way. CEN is at the core of every narcissist.
  3. People with pure Childhood Emotional Neglect are drawn to narcissists and vice-versa. When you have CEN, you tend to take up little space. Deep down you feel unimportant and invalid, so you don’t ask for much, and you don’t allow yourself to want or need much. On the other hand, those with narcissism are the opposite. Narcissists put their own feelings and needs first, and feel most comfortable when taking up lots of space. This predisposes people with CEN and narcissists to feel comfortable with each other. They often fall in love with each other, but it seldom works out well.
  4. Many Emotionally Neglected people have a narcissistic sibling. This is because when the parents are emotionally neglectful, the various levels of sensitivity of the children combine with the differing ways the emotional neglect comes across to each child. One may grow up with the struggles of pure CEN and another sibling may end up with narcissism.
  5. The hidden inner cores of narcissistic people and those with Childhood Emotional Neglect are very much the same. Since CEN is a contributing part of the development of narcissism, this is not surprising. The shared inner core of these two very different styles is a shared inner feeling of being empty, alone, and insignificant. This is how adults end up feeling when they grow up with the most deeply personal, biological expression of who they are (their feelings) squelched or ignored.

Yes, There is a Sad Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

If you were to meet a CEN person and a narcissistic person on the same day, you would see how truly opposite they are. Yet these two disorders, though so very different, in a strange and paradoxical way, cause and perpetuate each other.

Both narcissism and Childhood Emotional Neglect could be wiped off the planet if all of the parents in the world did one crucial thing: noticed, validated, and responded to their children’s emotional needs.

Then the sad connection between CEN and Narcissism would not matter at all. Because every child would know, deep down, and without a doubt, that he matters.

To learn much more about the relationship between CEN and narcissism plus how to raise your children with awareness and validation of their emotional needs, see the books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More.

The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms In Adults

Why does it matter if you grew up with your feelings ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect)? To you, it may not seem to be all that important. So let’s talk about the 3 most tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect symptoms in adults.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A subtle, often invisible childhood experience that happens when your parents fail to notice or respond to your feelings enough.

In all of my years as a psychologist, I have never seen anything so seemingly innocuous, yet so powerfully damaging as the simple failure of your parents to notice or respond to what you are feeling as they are raising you. It’s a “simple failure” that becomes a part of your everyday life forever.

Growing up with your emotions disregarded automatically communicates a silent, but powerfully effective, message to your deepest self: as a child, you accept, on a very deep level, that in your childhood home, your feelings do not matter. As a child, you must wall off your own feelings so that you will never appear sad, hurt, needy or emotional to your parents.

Going through life ignoring and undervaluing your emotions has some very predictable effects on your life as an adult. I have seen the pattern play out in the lives of countless lovely, otherwise healthy people. Always the same silent struggles, the same unanswered questions, the same deep sense of being different from everyone else.

When you grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, you end up experiencing the worst of two worlds. First, you are disconnected from your feelings, which should be stimulating and guiding you. You are living without enough access to this marvelous, powerful, energizing feedback system: your emotions.

Second, your walled off emotions remain unaddressed and unmanaged. Those blocked emotions just sit there, unattended, roiling and waiting, perhaps emerging at times which seem to make little sense to you. Or maybe seldom emerging at all, but instead causing you to make poor decisions or develop health problems, like headaches or back pains, or worse.

In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect I identified 10 struggles of the emotionally neglected adult. They are feelings of emptiness, counter-dependence, unrealistic self-appraisal, poor self-compassion, guilt and shame, self-directed anger/self-blame, the Fatal Flaw, difficulty nurturing self and others, poor self-discipline and alexithymia.

If left unaddressed, all these silent struggles work together to cause some powerful effects on your life.

The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms In Adults

1. You will never get what you want unless it’s by chance

Not knowing what you feel makes it hard to know what you want. That’s because “want” is a feeling, not a thought. I have watched scores of talented, capable people drift in their lives, making decisions that are not quite right for them, or going where the tide takes them. Sometimes they get what they want, but it’s often a matter of chance, not choice.

2. You never get to know yourself

When you are disconnected from your own feelings, you are blocked from the most deeply personal part of who you are. You are probably good at noticing and attending to other people, but you are not paying attention to yourself.

In fact, you continue to squelch your true self in exactly the way your parents, maybe unintentionally, squelched you as a child. You have hurts and triumphs, loss and accomplishment, pains and love, anger and pleasure, sadness and joy, all inside you. If you would listen, you would learn who you really are.

3. You hide your light

Of the 3 most tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect symptoms, this is the one that makes me the most sad.

Other people catch glimpses of your light, although you probably have no idea that you have it. You have caught glances of it in the past, when you have surprised yourself by doing something you thought impossible for you to do, faced a fear, felt a warm glow of connection from someone important to you, or been vulnerable in a brave way. If you think deeply about this you will remember.

Your light is special because it is uniquely you. It is a product of your genes, your emotions, and your life experiences. Other people see it, even though you hide it. Putting yourself on the sidelines or trying to stay invisible; avoiding conflict and being afraid to “rock the boat” are all ways to hide your light.

Sadly, as you continue to squelch your light, you are holding yourself back from being your best and true self. What feels “safe” is actually “dark.”

You deserve better. And you can allow yourself to have it.

The Good News — The Answer To The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms

Just as the cause of all of these struggles seems simple — your parents didn’t respond enough to your emotions as they raised you — so also seems the solution.

You grew up with your feelings ignored, and now you must do the exact opposite. You can start right away simply paying attention to your feelings.

Take the time to notice when you are feeling something, learn how to name what you are feeling, and begin to learn how to use your feelings to inform, direct, motivate and guide you.

When you do the work, you get to reap the rewards. You will gradually start to know yourself, get what you want, and let your light shine.

And all that’s actually happening is that you are becoming more authentically your true self, and that is everything.

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

To learn much more about how Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, see the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To find out how Childhood Emotional Neglect holds your relationships back and how you can solve it, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Answering The Question: How Does Emotional Neglect Affect A Child

Emotional Neglect is the silent killer of a child’s spirit.

How Does Emotional Neglect Affect A Child?

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when the parent fails to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs.

The truth is that parents fail to notice their children’s emotions in every family in every household in the world every single day. And that is A-Okay. No parent can, or should, be 100% aware of his child’s feelings all the time, and that is not a requirement to be a good parent.

Childhood Emotional Neglect only happens when the parent fails to notice the child’s emotions enough.

Every child is born with a certain threshold of need for emotional connection, validation, and responsiveness from his or her parents. As a child, your parents may meet your needs sometimes, in some ways. But they may fail you in small, everyday ways that add up over time. And this may leave the footprint of Childhood Emotional Neglect upon you.

First, let’s take a painful peek at Emotional Neglect in action, actually happening to a child.

Althea, Age 4

Happily skipping to her mother’s car, Althea gets distracted by the neighbor’s dog Bruno, who she loves, and in whom she takes great delight. Seeing that her mom is looking for her keys in her purse, she runs over to Bruno and says in a voice she usually uses only for dolls and dogs, “Hi Cutie, what are you gonna do today, huh Boy?” Bruno responds with licks and kisses and love, and Althea is instantly absorbed in the delight of Bruno. But this warm moment is disrupted suddenly by Althea’s mom.

“Althea!” she yells in a frustrated and impatient voice. “What are you doing? I told you it’s time to go! Get in the back seat right now. I’m tired of waiting for your distractions!”

Startled and taken from joy to hurt in the period of 2 seconds, Althea withdraws her hand from the licks and runs rapidly to the car, feeling ashamed. Strapped into the back seat, she tries to catch a glimpse of her mom’s face in the rearview mirror as they’re driving to see if she’s still angry. All she sees is a blank expression in the reflection, making it impossible to tell.

Althea, Age 11

Althea lies on her bed trying to do her homework but it’s impossible for her to focus. Her brain keeps replaying an incident that happened earlier that day in which her teacher singled her out in science class, calling her a “slow learner” in front of her friends and classmates. Althea knew she had an A average in the class, and her dream was to become a doctor. She was having a great deal of trouble swallowing the humiliation, disappointment, and unfairness of it all.

Through the walls of her room came the sounds of her father and sister laughing and talking. Everyone else in the world seemed happy and fine to Althea at that moment.

“I don’t understand. What did I do wrong? What should I do? What does this mean?” These questions kept replaying over and over and over in Althea’s head. Deep down she knew there were no answers.

Emotional Neglect is seldom dramatic. Instead, it is usually small and subtle and dwells in everyday events like those we just saw in Althea’s life. As you can see, Althea is not experiencing abuse or attacks. An outsider would see a typical mom in a hurry in the first scenario, and a typical “moody teen” in the second. But for Althea, there is far more going on.

The problem for Althea is that scenes like the two above do not punctuate her growing up years, they define her growing up years. Althea’s mom is usually irritable and almost always in a hurry, breaking up Althea’s joy as if there is something selfish or indulgent about being happy.

Initially a bright, happy child, Althea has learned that she should keep her joy under wraps, and her needs minimal. At age 11 she has already learned that she is on her own.

How Does Emotional Neglect Affect A Child? 5 Steps

  1. The child receives the message that all or some of his feelings and emotional needs are not tolerated or accepted in his childhood home.
  2. The child builds a wall to block off her emotions, so as not to burden her parents.
  3. The child realizes that he is alone in the world, and must solve his own problems and meet his own needs.
  4. Likely the child’s parents do come through for him emotionally sometimes, in certain situations.
  5. The child grows up recalling the times her parents were there for him. She has little to no awareness of the endless everyday moments when her joy was killed, her anger squelched or her needs ignored.

Emotional Neglect can happen in an infinite variety of different ways. But no matter how it happens in your household, Emotional Neglect is the silent killer of a child’s spirit. Althea’s well-meaning parents worked hard and provided their children with all they needed materially. They took care of everything externally, but they could not give their children what they did not have themselves: emotional awareness, emotional validation, and true emotional nurturance.

To learn if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how CEN plays out over a child’s adult life and how to heal it, see the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More.

The Story of CEN: Childhood Emotional Neglect

About 10 years into my psychology career, I noticed a curious pattern beginning to emerge among my patients.

I began to realize that many, most of whom seemed to have little in common with each other, were reporting the same group of ambiguous struggles: feelings of emptiness or numbness, a sense of being disconnected and alone, a secret feeling of being deeply flawed in some way, and a general lack of fulfillment.

I saw this pattern in so many people that I began to wonder what was causing it. Could it be that they were all abused in the same way, or shared a common type of childhood trauma? Could it be something in their current lives that was making them feel this way? In searching to understand this intriguing pattern, I finally was able to identify the one thing these patients all shared in common, and I was surprised. It wasn’t abuse or trauma, or anything that had happened to them. 

The single thing these folks all shared in common was a childhood characterized by a lack of response to, and validation of, their emotions.

It was nothing their parents had done to them. It was instead what their parents had failed to do for them. It wasn’t their parents’ act, but their failure to act. Not abuse, not mistreatment. Just nothing.

When these folks were sad, hurt, scared or angry as children, no one noticed. No one asked them what was wrong, or stepped in to validate what they were feeling, reassure them, guide them, or teach them about emotions. Their parents may have responded sometimes, in certain situations, but it simply was not enough.

The one factor these folks had in common was the fact that they had all grown up in an emotional wasteland, surrounded by people who perhaps loved and cared about them, but who failed to notice or respond enough to their emotional needs. As adults, they were all running on empty.

I gave this childhood experience the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN.

It took me several years to begin to understand the breadth and depth of this problem. The more aware I became of CEN, the more I saw it, not only among my patients, but everywhere. I also gradually became aware that in my growing realization of Childhood Emotional Neglect, I was alone.

This made me even more curious. Why didn’t I hear other therapists talking specifically about what had failed to happen for their clients in childhood? Why hadn’t I seen this concept in research studies or articles? I began to search the vast databases of the American Psychological Association. Journals, books, articles and research studies alike; and what I found was very interesting.

When the term “emotional neglect” was used in the professional literature (which was remarkably seldom), it was invariably used in this way: “emotional abuse and neglect.” By lumping these two very different childhood experiences together, these articles were virtually always talking about emotional abuse, which is active mistreatment of a child — a very different thing from the form of emotional neglect that I was so concerned about. Indeed, emotional neglect was falling through the cracks. Just like the children who lived with it, it resided under the radar.

Thus began my 7-year odyssey, trying to call attention to this under-recognized, under-talked-about, under-studied, yet powerful childhood experience. I began to write, and talk. And write and talk some more.

In 2012, I published my first book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. In this book, I introduced the acronym CEN, and outlined my observations of why it’s so unmemorable and invisible, as well as walked readers through the steps needed for recovery.

In 2014, I began the Childhood Emotional Neglect blog on Psychcentral. As people read about this concept, they resonated deeply with it. Thousands who had lived their entire lives feeling deeply, inexplicably un-validated finally felt validated when they took the CEN Questionnaire, or read about CEN.

As I reached more and more people with the CEN message, requests flowed in for referrals to therapists worldwide who knew how to help people through the steps of CEN recovery. There was a terrible shortage, and I knew then that I needed to do more. So I did two things.

In 2015, after fine-tuning the powerful steps to heal CEN by treating a myriad of CEN clients in my office, I created the first online Childhood Emotional Neglect Recovery Program, Fuel Up For Life. The program is designed to walk participants through the 4 stages of CEN recovery with guidance, homework, videos, and plenty of support. The response has been tremendous, and the demand for slots in the program continues to grow and grow.

In 2016, I did a Continuing Education training for therapists about how to identify and treat CEN in their patients, and began to create an international list of CEN-savvy therapists on my website. That list has grown to 200 strong, and continues to build.

On Nov. 7, 2017 my second book was released. In response to the thousands of people asking how to manage and heal CEN in their relationships, I wrote Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Now, at the end of 2017, I see many other writers, therapists and authors using the words “Emotional Neglect” and talking about empty feelings, validation, the importance of getting in touch with your emotions. I am so very pleased that the word is spreading, and that people are finally talking and thinking and writing about this long-overlooked cloud that has been coloring so many lives gray.

What will 2018 hold? I want to continue to give answers to the thousands, or millions, of people who are secretly feeling flawed. I want to train more therapists and reach more and more people with this valuable message. I want parents to realize the awesome power that lies in emotionally attending to and responding to their children’s emotions.

In 2018 and beyond I will relentlessly continue this work. I will not stop until most therapists are familiar with this concept, and know how to treat it.

I will not stop until “Childhood Emotional Neglect” is a household term.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and invisible when it happens, so it may be difficult to know if you have it. I invite you to Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

Emotional Neglect and Emotional Deprivation are Not the Same

Most people, even mental health professionals, do not think about emotional deprivation and emotional neglect as two separate things. And I understand why. In some ways, these two childhood experiences are very much the same. But in some very important ways they are very, very different.

And I’m on a mission to make sure everyone knows just that.

Childhood Emotional Deprivation: Happens when there is an extreme absence of emotional attention and/or response given to an infant or child by her primary caretakers. Has been documented in orphanages, and in families where there are extreme physical absence of caretakers, abuse and trauma.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when a child’s primary caretakers (usually his parents) fail to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs. Happens often in normal homes all over the world, even when the parents are physically present, and all the child’s material needs are met.

So both emotional neglect and emotional deprivation involve a shortage of emotional attention and response from caregivers, but they tend to happen in different types of situations, and can play out very differently in the children’s lives as they grow into adulthood.

If you think about it, almost everything is most noticeable in its more extreme forms, right? It makes sense that emotional deprivation would be noted and studied long before emotional neglect is identified as a true issue.

Emotional Deprivation

Emotional Deprivation was first identified as a problem in Romanian orphanages, in 1952 by Dr. Rene Spitz. His heartbreaking video taken inside an orphanage, shows the devastating effects of emotional deprivation upon infants. 

The Symptoms

Since that time, multiple studies have found negative effects of emotional deprivation upon the infant brain. They include reduced brain volume, changes in the prefrontal cortex, and high, disregulated levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) in their brains.

In 1999, Megan Gunnar studied the effect of emotional deprivation upon post-institutionalized kids. She found that they tend to have difficulty with executive functions such as cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and working memory. They are often impaired in their ability to understand the mental states of others and regulate their own emotions. She found that many of the children suffered from high anxiety.

The Great News

Happily, studies have also found that many of these neurological and social effects are reversed over time for emotionally deprived children when they are adopted by loving, emotionally attentive parents.

Emotional Neglect

During ten years of working in my private practice, talking with client after client, I began to see a specific pattern of struggles emerge. I saw the pattern in clients who had grown up wealthy or poor, who were married or single, successful or struggling, men and women alike, and regardless of age.

The Symptoms

Here is the pattern I noticed: A deep feeling of disconnection from self and others, feelings of emptiness, extreme independence, low self-knowledge, low self-compassion, excessive self-blame and shame, low emotional awareness, and struggles with self-discipline.

The clients in whom I saw this pattern seemed to have little in common other than this special group of symptoms. After seeking answers in my clients’ childhoods to no avail, I realized I was looking in the right place, but for the wrong thing.

I had been asking what had happened to them in all of these people’s childhoods to lead them to feel this way in adulthood. But what I actually found was that something had failed to happen for them in childhood.

Each of these folks had grown up in households that somehow, for whatever reason, were not attentive or responsive to their feelings enough.

It’s hard to believe that a non-experience like this can lead to such significant effects, but believe me, I and many others have now seen that it does.

The Great News

In the last 5 years, since I became aware of Childhood Emotional Neglect, I have helped scores of people recover from it. I have seen, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you can fill the gaps left by your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

I have watched lovely people work themselves from a place of living their lives in a CEN bubble, feeling isolated, disconnected, alone, and in some indescribable way, deeply flawed, to a place of feeling alive, feeling their feelings, feeling the warmth of connection, and seeing the bright colors in their world.

Emotional Deprivation vs. Emotional Neglect

In my opinion, the primary difference between these two childhood experiences is that one is more extreme than the other. Emotional deprivation happens when a child is literally deprived of emotional nurturance during his formative years. This has happened in institutions where children are left on their own. But sadly, it can also happen in families. Real homes, real parents, completely ignoring their children and their needs for comfort and happiness and love.

Emotional Neglect, on the other hand, is a milder version of being emotionally deprived. It happens in homes all across the world, often inadvertently delivered by otherwise loving, caring parents. It can be subtle when it happens, but it usually leaves the child feeling, in some indescribable way, deeply inconsequential, and deeply alone in the world.

Is the emotional dis-regulation, impaired ability to understand the mental states of others, and difficulty regulating their own emotions that Megan Gunnar saw in the severely emotionally deprived children simply a more extreme version of the lack of emotional awareness and low emotional intelligence of those who grew up with Emotional Neglect? It’s a question that I hope will, one day soon, be answered with research.

I do strongly believe, based on the research combined with my own experience as a psychologist, that in one important way, Emotional Deprivation and Emotional Neglect are alike. Just as the effects of emotional deprivation can be reversed by a loving adopted family, the effects of emotional neglect can be reversed by purposely making a decision to treat yourself as if you matter. By listening to your own inner voice, caring about your own feelings, and attending to your own needs, you become your own emotionally attuned, and emotionally attentive parent.

Since emotional deprivation and emotional neglect are not the same, affecting different people in different ways, my goal is to make more therapists aware of the far more subtle, far more widespread effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), how to identify it in their clients, and how to heal it.

One thing that I can say with confidence true and clear is that if your brain can recover from emotional deprivation in childhood, you can reverse the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in your adulthood.

The most important uniting quality of these two painful childhood experiences is that they both can be healed.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable, so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

6 Sad Reasons Why A Family Creates A Black Sheep

I’m the black sheep of my family,”

said the young man who sat before me in my therapy office. I tried to imagine this adorable, sad young man being the “black sheep” of anything. I couldn’t.

Generally considered the outcast of the family, the black sheep is typically assumed to be an oddball. Furthermore, the rest of the family believes that the black sheep brought this upon himself.

It is true that sometimes the black sheep is indeed “odd” by anyone’s standards (sometimes the result of a hidden mental illness). Or she may be a sociopath who violates the family’s boundaries and care, so that the family has to exclude her to rightfully protect themselves.

But surprisingly, very seldom is either of these scenarios actually the case. Many, many black sheep are lovable folks with much to offer their families and the world. In fact, they are often the best and brightest. They may be the most creative of the family, or the one with the most powerful emotions.

In truth, the world is full of black sheep. Think hard. Does your family have one? This question is not as easy to answer as it may seem, for many black sheep are not physically excluded from the family. For most, it’s much more subtle. The exclusion is emotional. 

Three Signs That Your Family Has a Black Sheep: Continue reading

Big Boys Don’t Cry: The Emotionally Neglected Man

 

Luke prepares himself to walk into the office party. Despite his reputation as the most helpful and productive salesperson in the company, his self-confidence flies out the window when he has to face people socially. “I never fit in anywhere,” he thinks to himself.

Often they are referred to as, “the strong, silent type.” They are giving, reliable, stand-up guys. They may be excessively driven, but that drive is mostly to provide for their families. They are there for others but ask for little in return. They are baffled by other people’s emotions, and typically just want to escape when anyone cries, yells or shows intense feelings of any kind. They live in dread of the moment when their wife says, “I need to talk with you about something.”

Feeling numb, isolated, empty and alone, these men mistake their intense individuality for strength.  But since they are out of touch with their own feelings, they sense that they lack some vital ingredient that other people have; and deep down, they feel overlooked and unseen.Continue reading

Man vs. Woman: The Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Do boys and girls respond differently to the same childhood experiences? How do those differences play out as the boy becomes a man, and the girl grows into a woman?

In my work as a psychologist, I have seen remarkable gender differences in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). First, a quick review.

CEN in a nutshell:

When children’s emotions are not validated enough by their parents, they minimize and push down their feelings in order to get along in their family. As adults, they lack enough access to their own emotions. Since emotions are a primary source of connection and richness in life, these folks end up going through their lives feeling vaguely empty or numb,  disconnected, and confused about what is wrong with them. You can see other results of CEN in the table below. (To learn more about CEN, visit EmotionalNeglect.com).

When boys and girls grow up this way, are they affected differently? Does a CEN man feel differently than a CEN woman? The answer is yes.

First, two caveats: The masculine effects often appear in women and vice-versa, so please do not take these differences as absolute. Second, these observations are based upon my own clinical experience and have not been specifically researched.Continue reading

4 Things Psychologists Know That You Should Know Too

It’s fun being a psychologist. Just as an engineer is fascinated by the true mechanics of electrical circuitry, we mental health professionals are intensely curious about the human brain.

What people feel and what those feelings mean; why people do what they do; it’s all of interest to us. In the process of doing our job day after day, we can often pick up on patterns and connections that give us flashes of a bigger picture. We see causes and effects and develop insights, understandings and intuitions that tell us basic human truths.

Sometimes new research studies come out that make us say, “Aha! I knew it!” Below are four such psychological principles. All four are the common knowledge of most mental health professionals. All are currently being studied and proven, and all are immensely useful information that everyone should have.Continue reading

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