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The 7 Emotion Skills. Do You Have Them?

Emotions may seem vague, insubstantial, or useless to many. But, in truth, they are actually very, very real and very, very useful.

Emotions are physical sensations that take place in your body. They are, in fact, messengers. They are your body’s way of alerting you to watch out, take care, protect yourself, or seek something, for some examples.

Emotions are messages from your body. It is crucial that you listen to them. It’s not that they are always right, but they tell you about your deepest self and so they matter.

What are Emotion Skills?

Most people would not put the two words “emotion” and “skill” together. In fact, every time I type “emotion skills,” the Word editor tries to correct me.

But, the truth is, that just makes me want to write about emotion skills more! They are, in fact, an incredibly key factor when it comes to your quality of life. They are also far too seldom identified and discussed.

I find myself writing and speaking about the 7 emotional skills quite often because of my specialty in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN is extremely common in today’s world. It simply involves growing up in a household where your feelings are ignored or discouraged. Folks raised with CEN tend to be disconnected from their own feelings and blind to emotions in general, so they have little opportunity to learn the 7 emotion skills in their lifetimes.

I teach these skills every single day to the clients I see in my office and discuss them with the CEN folks in my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life.

The 7 Emotion Skills

  1. Emotional Awareness — This skill involves being aware when you are having a feeling. Life is full of distractions and external events that pull your attention away from what’s going on in your body (your feelings). On top of that, society in general tends to treat feelings as annoyances and weaknesses. If you grew up in a CEN family, you may be blind to emotions in general. Yet all emotion skills are built upon this one. You must be aware when you are experiencing a feeling before you can practice any of the feeling-related skills.
  2. Identifying Your Feelings — Once you have emotional awareness you know when a feeling is present in your body. Now, it is important to be able to identify and name that feeling. This requires you to discern each feeling from every other. The more able you are to identify different kinds of feelings like angry types vs. sad types vs. fear-based types, the better. Then, you can take a step beyond that and make more subtle and specific differentiation. So, instead of settling for “I feel down,” you also take it further. Is this sadness? Is it regret? Despondence? Grief? The finer tuned your ability to identify and name a feeling, the easier it will be to take the next steps.
  3. Accepting Your Feelings Without Judgment — Once you know what you are feeling, it is crucial — and powerful — to accept that feeling, no matter what it is. If you were raised to believe that you choose your own feelings or that your emotions are shameful or a sign of weakness, you are at risk of judging your feelings and rejecting them which is harmful to you and does not work at all. Since none of us are able to choose our feelings, we cannot judge ourselves for having them. It is only by accepting our ugliest emotions that we are able to understand and manage them.
  4. Attributing Your Feeling to a Cause — Once you have noticed your feeling, identified it, and accepted it, it’s time to consider why you are having it. Many people assume it must be caused by something happening right now. But, in reality, we all carry many old feelings within us that might be touched off by a current event or situation. In this case, you may feel far more intensely or complexly about a current event than it deserves. Being able to sort out a feeling and the reason you are having it enables you to then take the following steps.
  5. Tolerating Your Emotions — All of the skills above and below this one require this skill that seems very simple but, in reality, can actually be quite hard. When you experience a feeling that is painful, intense, or unpleasant in some way, it is natural to want to escape it. But, to make full use of this message from your body, you must be able and willing to sit with it and feel it. This means you don’t use distraction, alcohol, food, shopping, or any other crutch to suppress it right away. Instead, you allow yourself to consider the feeling as you are feeling it.
  6. Managing Your Emotions — Every feeling is a message from your body. So every emotion is important, yes. But that does not mean that any emotion should be allowed to take over and run the show. We cannot choose what we feel but we are responsible to manage what we feel. This means noticing and understanding your feeling while also considering the message your body is sending you. Once you discern the message, then decide if it’s a healthy message for you and whether you need to listen. What is this feeling telling me to do? Should I do it?
  7. Expressing Your Emotions — One common message that our feelings send us: “You need to say something.” Being able to do this is a vital skill that helps you manage your feelings. Your anger may be telling you to stand up to someone. Your hurt feelings may be telling you to protect yourself. Your concern may be telling you to change something. Your warm feelings may be pushing you to tell someone you love them. We are often called upon to explain our feelings to someone, and this is a complex skill that many people struggle to develop throughout their entire lives.

The 7 Skills and You

I hope that as you read the 7 skills above you were thinking about yourself.

How often have you used any one of these skills? Are you better at some skills than others? Is there one or more of the skills that seem foreign to you or particularly difficult to understand?

Three amazing things about the 7 Emotion Skills are: first, you probably never thought about them; second, once you’re aware of them, you can learn them; and last but not least, developing and improving these skills can literally change your life from the inside.

I could write volumes on each of these skills, so I will. Watch for a future article, Examples of the 7 Emotion Skills in Action.

Wonder if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect? Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

Do you know that children have physical needs? OF COURSE, YOU DO! Virtually all parents, and all people, for that matter, understand that children must be fed, clothed, kept warm and sheltered, rested and exercised. Kids need to have all of these needs met in order to physically survive and thrive.

Most people also realize that children have emotional needs. Children need to be loved. But children’s emotional needs actually go far beyond that.

You, when you were a child, needed much more than love from your parents. One of the things you needed the most is something most parents hardly think about if they think about it at all. It’s emotional validation.

Emotional Validation

Emotional validation happens when your parents see what you are feeling, acknowledge your feelings, and seem to understand why you are having them.

Just like adults, children’s feelings are the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who they are. In order to feel seen, understood, and heard, a child must feel that their feelings are seen, understood, and heard.

What happens when you feel seen, understood, and heard as a child? You grow up to feel like a person who is seeable, understandable, and hearable. You feel knowable. You feel valid.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If your parents didn’t have the emotional awareness or emotional skills to see and accept what you were feeling, they may have, perhaps of no fault of their own, failed to validate you.

As a result, you may have grown up to feel unseen, misunderstood, and unheard. You may feel less valid than everyone else.

I call this Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

2 Ways Emotional Validation Can Go Wrong

  1. The Child’s Threshold of Emotional Need isn’t met. Many people can look back on their childhoods and remember a time when their parents emotionally validated them. But that doesn’t actually mean all that much. Here’s why. In order to grow up feeling seen, understood, and heard, you must be emotionally validated enough. Even the most well-meaning parents can “fail” their child in this way. Your parents may have loved you and tried their best with you, but they may not have had the emotional awareness or skills to meet the threshold that is enough.
  2. The Child’s Emotions are Actively Invalidated. These parents have a profound misunderstanding of how emotions work in general. Here, your parents may view your feelings as your choice, which is patently wrong, and judge them as a form of bad behavior, which is also patently wrong. Your parents’ false concept of feelings can lead them to actively invalidate your emotions in all kinds of ways. This takes us beyond not getting enough. It is a form of active emotional harm.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

  1. Your parents pretend to listen but actually don’t. When this happens enough during your childhood, you learn that you are not worth hearing.
  2. You have a learning disability or some other challenge that goes unacknowledged. This leads to misunderstandings and incorrect assessments of your strengths and weaknesses and may leave you incorrectly feeling deeply flawed.
  3. Your parents act like they are your friends instead of your parents. You don’t receive the limits and consequences that you need to have in order to have self-discipline and be able to structure yourself.
  4. Your feelings are ignored as if they don’t exist. You learn that your feelings are nothing so you build a wall to shield you (and others) from your feelings. You grow up without enough connection to your feelings. This is classic Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  5. Your natural needs to be seen, heard, and validated go unmet. This teaches you that you are not worth being seen and heard, and you feel less valid than other people.
  6. A major event in your family or home is never talked about. This may be a large or small event; divorce, illness, or even the death of a parent may be left undiscussed. This leads you to feel deeply alone in the world and also fails to teach you vital emotional expression skills.
  7. Your emotional expressions are twisted and thrown back at you. This form of gaslighting teaches you that you cannot trust yourself. It also sets you up to struggle with generalized anger throughout your life which you may end up turning at yourself.
  8. Your parent acts as if you are the parent, not them. When this happens, you learn how to be overly responsible. You are set up to be excessively caretaking of others, putting others before yourself.
  9. You receive the message that it’s not okay to have needs. Here, you will learn very well how to have no needs. You may feel it’s wrong to ask for help or accept help. Needing help of any kind may make you feel vulnerable.
  10. You are told that you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel what you feel. Also a form of emotional gaslighting, this teaches you to hide your feelings because they can and will be used against you. It also undermines your ability to trust your emotions or yourself.

Did you see yourself in any of the examples above?

Whether your emotional threshold was not met as a child or your feelings were invalidated (both constitute Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), I want you to know that it has left its mark on you. The effects are substantial and significant, and they seldom go away on their own.

But they do go away. With your awareness, attention, interest, and commitment, you can reclaim your valuable emotions and learn to listen to their messages. You can learn to understand, trust, and love yourself.

That is the process of validating yourself. It’s never too late to do it.

Let’s get started.

To learn specific ways to emotionally validate and emotionally connect with your child, toddler, teen, or adult see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. You can find helpful resources for understanding and healing Childhood Emotional Neglect throughout this website.

8 Signs That You Have Empty Feelings

It’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time.

Something is missing in me.

I have no idea how I feel about anything.

Sometimes my chest feels hollow.

I feel empty inside.

What might seem like five unrelated statements is actually five different people describing the same feeling. It’s a hard emotion to identify, and even harder to put into words. Everyone says it differently because there is no standard label for it. But for these five people, and thousands more, it is the same feeling, caused by the same problem.

The one word that sums it up best:

Emptiness

Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb.Continue reading

How Many Times Have You Asked: What’s The Point?

It’s a casual phrase, and many folks use it often.

What’s the point?

We mutter it under our breath at times of frustration. We throw it out at a person who is refusing to cooperate. We use it as a way to express hopelessness and helplessness.  In these times it can actually be quite useful as a way to vent some steam and stress.

But some people use it more often than others. For them, it becomes almost a mantra. It starts to run deeper than the current situation, reflecting not just momentary feelings, but an overall philosophy of life.

What’s the point of doing this?

What’s the point of trying?

I’ve observed that many people who frequently question The Point are doing so because they feel adrift in their lives. Why are they adrift? Because they are not listening to their greatest anchor, director, and connector. They are out of touch with their emotions, which should be telling them what they want, feel, and need, where to go and what to do.

Many of the people who ask, “What’s the point” a lot grew up in emotionally neglectful families, in homes that treated their feelings like they were irrelevant, or even burdensome.  If this is you, perhaps you feel helpless and hopeless. Or maybe you feel trapped, or stuck, or lost. Maybe you feel alone.

For some, the question of “What’s the point” runs even deeper and begins to reflect a questioning of one’s very existence.

What’s the point of being here?

What’s the point of being alive?

If any of what you are reading right now applies to you, please consider it as an alarm bell. A bell that calls you to face the fact that there is a big problem in your life and that it’s time to acknowledge it.

Steps to Find Your Answer to What’s the Point?

  1. Start paying attention to when these words come to mind. Most likely there is a general theme that brings triggers this question. Is it at work or at home? When you’re alone? When you’re in conflict with someone? When something doesn’t work out for you?  Take note because understanding this is important.
  2. Start paying attention to the words that follow: What’s the point? What’s the point of __________? This will give you information about the true nature of your question. Understanding this is key.
  3. Start paying attention to what’s the feeling you’re having when you say this. Are you, for example, frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless, afraid? Helpless, lost, alone? Identify the feeling you’re having and it will inform your next step.
  4. Start trying to figure out: What’s that feeling telling you? Feelings exist for a reason, and every feeling carries a message. The feeling, whatever it may be, is telling you that you need to change something in yourself or your life.

Examples

The Feeling                                                The Message

Alone                                                            Open your walls and let someone in

Sad                                                                Figure out why you’re sad and address the cause

Frustrated                                                    Frustration is a feeling meant to drive you to action.

Lost                                                               You are lacking direction. Start working toward finding one.

Those are only a few possibilities. The number of different feelings and situations that can bring about “What’s the Point” is endless. Understanding yours is key. How deep does yours run? Are you feeling hopeless or helpless? Or are you jumping to a simple question as a coping mechanism? Might that be actually allowing you to avoid facing the complexities in your life?

Ask yourself questions. Pay attention, and look inside yourself. Because the answer to your “What’s the Point” is likely not simple, but it’s important. And it is there.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) makes you more prone to asking “What’s The Point.” To understand why, and to learn more about CEN, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

What Does it Mean When Your Partner is Emotionally Unavailable

What does the term “emotionally unavailable” mean to you? It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.

Have you ever been in a relationship or marriage with someone who you felt was emotionally unavailable? Has any friend or romantic partner ever described you this way?

The term, in my opinion, carries some irony. Because if you are truly emotionally unavailable, it will be very difficult to understand the meaning of the term. In other words, it really helps to be emotionally available if you want to understand what it means to be unavailable.

Much of this has to do with how a person deals with his or her own emotions. This typically goes back to how your emotions were treated as a child. Did your parents notice what you were feeling enough of the time? Did they ask? Did they care what you felt and what you needed, and do their best to meet your true needs? Did they succeed?

Surprisingly, it matters less whether your parents tried. What really matters is whether or not they succeeded. If your parents weren’t able, for any reason, to notice and respond to your feelings and meet your emotional needs, then you are at risk of being an emotionally unavailable adult.

Here’s why. When a child’s feelings and emotional needs are treated as if they matter, that child receives a loud and clear message: “Your feelings are real, and they matter.” This encourages the child to pay attention to his emotions, and teaches him how to manage, express, and use them throughout his adult life. The converse is also true. When a child’s emotional needs are treated as if they don’t matter, the message to the child is, “Your feelings don’t matter.”

A child who receives this message will not be consciously aware of it and will not remember it. This is because typically it was never stated outright; it was a subliminal message delivered by the absence of response and validation from the parents. But that child will accommodate, as children do. She will suppress her emotions by pushing them far and away so that they will not bother her parents or herself.

Years later, in relationships, that child will continue to lack access to his emotions. To his friends or romantic partner, he may seem to be difficult to connect with. Others can see his depth and quality but have trouble reaching it.

Here are some of the complaints that I have heard from various patients about their emotionally unavailable boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife:

“He just shuts down and refuses to talk to me when there’s a problem.”

“She’s a great person, but she doesn’t tell me what she needs or feels.”

“I know that he loves me, but I can’t feel the love from him.”

If you identify with this description of “emotionally unavailable,” do not despair. There are solutions to this problem. And the solution lies with you. The solution is to get in touch with your feelings, accept them, and use them. It sounds simple, but it is not. It’s a process that requires purpose and effort and work. But it can be done.

If, on the other hand, you are in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, you are in an even more difficult spot because it is easier to change yourself than it is to convince someone else to change. However, there are somethings that you can do.

Six Steps to Reach Your Emotionally Unavailable Partner:

  1. Express to your partner that something is bothering you.
  2. Explain what you feel is missing in the relationship (emotional connection and communication).
  3. Tell your partner that it’s not their fault, that it’s simply because of their childhood experiences.
  4. Explain that there is a way to heal from it.
  5. Offer your support.
  6. The rest is up to him.

To learn much more about how to recognize CEN in your marriage and talk with your spouse about it, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

This article was initially posted on Psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

4 Reasons It’s Hard For You to Say No to People’s Requests

Is it hard for you to say, “No?” Do you feel the need to explain yourself and give reasons followed by excuses followed by more reasons? Would you be surprised if I told you that you do not need to give a reason?

All the people of the world can be divided into two groups: those who can say “no” easily, and those who cannot.

To the folks in the first group, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would have a problem with it. Like the famous line from the old movie, To Have or To Have Not, “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow,” people in the first group might say, “What’s so hard about it? Start with N, and end with O.”

But for many, many people, it’s just not that simple. Saying “no” for them carries enormous baggage. This is especially true for those who grew up in households which offered them little opportunity to say no. This is a version of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

4 Reasons it’s Hard For You to Say No

  1.  Guilt: People who struggle with this often tell me that they feel guilty for hours after saying “no” to someone, even if that person’s request was unreasonable. The guilt comes from feeling that they should always be helpful and willing and that if they are not, then they are a bad person.
  2. Low Self-worth: This is a general sense that you are not as important as other people. Your needs, your feelings, come second. Others’ needs and feelings are more deserving than your own. You don’t have the right to put your own before theirs.
  3. Lack of Skill: If you have spent your entire life always saying “yes,” then you may not know how to say anything different. The idea of saying no may feel foreign and just plain wrong. How do you do it? How do you say it?
  4. False Belief: This is a false idea that you have to give a reason for saying no. If a friend asks you to pick up her dry-cleaning, do you have to explain to her the reasons why you can’t do it? Do you have a good excuse? This false belief often leads to long, detailed, unnecessary explanations.

4 Principles For Saying No

  1. All of the people in your life have every right to ask you for anything. In return, you have every right to say “no.” Your guilt will dissipate if you understand and accept your true rights.
  2. Your needs and feelings are every bit as important as everyone else’s. You are the guardian of your own feelings and needs. You have a responsibility to yourself to prioritize them.
  3. Saying “no” does not involve skill. It only involves a willingness to make yourself uncomfortable. The more you do it, the easier it will feel; not because you learned how to do it, but because you’re getting accustomed to it.
  4. You do not need to give a reason. An extension of your right to say “no” is that you can do so with no explanation, no excuse. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” “I’m not able to do it,” or just simply, “No,” are all it takes.

Read these principles over and over. Post them on your bathroom mirror. Digest them. Remember them.

For they will set you free.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how to feel more confident and honor your own needs and feelings more, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

This book was originally posted on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

Your “Gut Sense” is Sending You Messages: 4 Good Reasons You Must Listen

It was a scorching hot day in Costa Rica, well over 100 degrees. My husband and I decided to take our 8-year-old son for a hike to get as close as possible to the Arenal Volcano. We walked several hours through beautiful, lush forest.

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

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

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

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

The Brain/Gut Connection

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

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

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

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

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

4 Ways Your Gut Can Help You

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

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

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

Potential Reasons You’re Missing Signals From Your Gut

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

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

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

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

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

And now to finish the Costa Rica story. As you may have guessed, we were indeed heading the wrong way. We were moving further from our destination, not closer. Eventually, dehydrated, sweaty, and covered with dust from walking down a dry road for several hours, a kind local picked us up, gave us water, and drove us back to our hotel. For me, this was an important lesson in trusting my gut.

It was a valuable lesson indeed.

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

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

That Gut Feeling on The American Psychological Association website.

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

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

How often do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?

The reality is, we can always find someone richer, better looking, more successful, or otherwise better off than we feel we are.

I’ve noticed that some folks are especially prone to self-comparisons. It’s folks who are unsure of their own self-worth. Folks who are looking to find some sort of proof that they are as valid and important as other people.

While some more narcissistic types of people tend to find themselves on top of their comparisons, those who are looking for evidence of self-worth are more prone to experience the opposite.

If this is you, sadly, you probably too often find yourself sadly coming up short.

If You Are a Frequent Self-Comparer

If you’re a frequent comparer, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Because current research shows that some of the things we value most in today’s world are not actually the things that make us happy, healthy, or content in our lives. So we are comparing ourselves on things that may seem like they are meaningful and important, but they are actually not.

Here are three recent psychological studies that offer some surprising things to be thankful for. They may make you re-think some of the comparisons you dwell upon and turn them topsy-turvy.

3 Ways You Compare Yourself That Have Been Debunked By Research

1.  Material Possessions

Van Boven & Gilovich (2003) conducted a fascinating study looking at what makes people happier: Is it material possessions or rewarding experiences?

These researchers gave two groups of students different instructions. Group 1 was asked to write a brief description of something they had purchased in the last year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like electronics, vehicles, clothing, etc.

Group 2 was asked to write a brief description of something they had experienced in the past year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like trips, meals out, concerts and such.

Each group was then asked to reflect on what they had just written and to rate how happy they felt as they were thinking about the purchased possession or rewarding experience.

These researchers found that the subjects felt significantly happier when they contemplated the past experience than they did when reflecting on the purchase.

They concluded that possessions may make you feel happy at the moment of purchase, but they don’t feed your overall happiness the way a positive, fun, and memorable experience does.

The Takeaway: Instead of comparing your possessions to others, try to actively bring yourself happiness by planning and participating in fun events.

2. Appearance

Although being highly attractive has been shown to offer certain clear advantages when dealing with the opposite sex, many studies have found that being beautiful gives people a tremendous disadvantage when dealing with someone of the same sex.

For instance, Agthe et al., (2011) found that when beautiful people are being interviewed for a job by a person of the same sex, they are more likely to be experienced as threatening. This puts the beautiful person at a disadvantage for being hired.

Anderson and Nida (1978) found that those of the same sex are likely to judge the beautiful as less talented than someone of average attractiveness.

Krebs and Adinolfi, (1978) showed that although we think of attractive people as more socially popular, they are actually more likely to be socially rejected by people of the same gender.

The Takeaway: Whatever your level of attractiveness, it’s okay because there are positives and negatives built into every level of appearance. Turning your energy toward appreciating yourself as you are and simply being yourself will work much better for you than meaningless comparisons.

3.  Standing in Your Family

Suitor et al., (2015) surveyed 725 grown children from 309 families.

They found that the child identified as the mother’s favorite in the family was more likely to be depressed than the other adult children. These favored children reported more depressive symptoms and experienced more tension with their adult siblings. They also felt more burdened by the emotional needs of their aging mother.

The Takeaway: Being the family favorite isn’t necessarily something to envy or strive for. Your role in your family is what you take from it and what you do with it.

What It Means When You Are a Frequent Comparer

If you tend to question your own self-worth, take a less-than position in relationships viewing the other person as more important, and come up short in your comparisons, these are all signs that you may have grown up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN undermines your ability to know, accept, and love yourself as you are. It makes you feel like a less important, less valid person once you grow up.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Some element of stopping the comparisons has to involve making a conscious effort to stop. But the most important part of correcting this tendency to compare is to grow more into yourself. And, by that, I mean owning your true strengths for what they are, appreciating your true self, and holding yourself more dearly than any material possession, favoritism, or advantage.

This is exactly what happens as you walk through the steps of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Remarkably, as you begin to feel your feelings more, you are connecting with your deepest self. You are being who you truly are and valuing your feelings which are the deepest expression of yourself.

To find out if you have CEN, take the free Emotional Neglect Test and see the book Running On Empty.

Next time you find yourself coming up short in comparisons, try to pull yourself back to look at the big picture.

After all, you’ll always be able to find someone who has more than you or seems better than you (everyone can).

And you don’t need to be favored, rich, or stunningly beautiful to be happy.

True and lasting happiness arises from holding your own values and feelings close to your heart. And your own memories, experiences, and relationships in your own high esteem.

No one and I do mean no one can take those away from you.

This article is a new version of an article previously published on Psychcentral.com. It has been updated and reprinted on this website with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

This Pandemic is a Good Time to Face Your Social Anxiety

Are you secretly relieved that social distancing is giving you a built-in excuse? Few social demands, fewer social gatherings, canceled group activities?

Remember how you used to feel when you were invited somewhere? All kinds of things went through your head as your discomfort grew:

How many people will be there?

I prefer one-on-one.

I’d rather be alone.

I don’t like being in a group.

I don’t want to go.

Most people enjoy parties, reunions, conferences, and group activities of all kinds. But there’s a fairly large subset of people who feel so exquisitely uncomfortable in a group that all they can think about is:

When can I escape?

How many times have you thought, or said, one of the sentences above? If your answer is, “Many,” I want to assure you that you are not alone. Being in a group requires a different level of confidence and different social skills than spending time with someone one-on-one.

Having talked with countless numbers of folks who avoid groups, I can say with confidence that most likely it’s not the group itself that you’re avoiding.

Actually, you’re avoiding a particular feeling or set of feelings that you have when you’re in a group.

Here are some of the feelings I’ve heard described over the years by folks who are uncomfortable in groups:

  • Left out
  • Trapped
  • Lost
  • Overlooked
  • Freaked out
  • Anxious
  • Sad
  • Ignored
  • Judged
  • Panicked
  • Confused
  • Self-conscious
  • Alone
  • Invisible
  • Inferior

What causes these feelings? What is it about being among a number of people that would cause a person to have any of these uncomfortable emotions? Is it a result of anxiety or depression? A social phobia? Is it a weakness or a fault?

Sure, some of these can be possible. Depression can make you feel like isolating yourself, and anxiety or social phobia can make you too nervous to enjoy the company of others.

But if you’re reading this looking for answers, I want you to dispose of the idea that your discomfort is a result of personal weakness or fault. Neither of those is the answer.

And now I’d like to give you a far better explanation than any of those. Chances are high that your discomfort in groups is caused by one of three factors.

3 Reasons You May Be Uncomfortable or Anxious in Groups of People

  1. The prevailing feeling in your first group.  And by this, I mean your family group. I have seen that those who grow up feeling uncomfortable in their family group often carry those uncomfortable feelings with them. So think back to when you were growing up. When your family was together did you feel ignored? Overlooked? Left out? Alone? Invisible? (All of those feelings are typically a result of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN). Or did you feel trapped? Inferior? Targeted? Were you constantly preparing for some unpredictable eruption of anger or erratic behavior of a family member? Whatever your prevailing feelings were, you naturally carry them forward into your adult life. These old feelings then arise in situations that mimic the family experience. Like being in a group.
  2. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Research has shown that when we expect people to treat us a certain way, we can unwittingly pull for it from other people. We actually unconsciously bring it upon ourselves. In a landmark study, it was shown that children who were labeled and treated as extra smart by their teachers actually acted smarter, and did better in school, regardless of what their IQ truly was (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). Since 1968 it’s been discovered that self-fulfilling prophecy happens in many different ways and in interpersonal arenas of all kinds. So expect to be treated as an outsider by a group of people, and you may actually bring about exclusionary behavior in the people around you.
  3. The Fatal Flaw. The Fatal Flaw is a feeling that something is wrong with you. It’s a sense of being different; of being missing some vital ingredient that everyone else seems to have. A surprisingly large number of people walk around with this feeling. It can lie there, under the surface, making you feel on the outside at social events both professional and personal. The Fatal Flaw can make you feel you don’t belong, even when you really, really do. It has the power to make you avoid group situations.

Notice that none of these potential causes of your discomfort are a product of the group itself. The actual people in the actual group are not the problem. The problem is a feeling that you have; a feeling that you bring with you wherever you go. 

And now the good news.

You can’t control other people (except perhaps unconsciously, thanks to Self-Fulfilling Prophecy). But you can control your feelings. Feelings can be managed. And now, during the pandemic, while the pressure is off, it’s an excellent time to start working on your discomfort!

Steps to Overcome Your Discomfort in Groups

  1. Come to grips with the true nature of your discomfort. The people are not the problem. It’s a feeling inside of you that’s the problem. Is it Cause #1, 2, or 3 above? Or is it a mixture of several? Understanding what you’re truly bothered by, and why, is a powerful Step One toward resolving it.
  2. Put words to your uncomfortable feeling. Choose them from the list above and/or add your own. Naming a feeling instantly reduces its power.
  3. Talk with a trusted person about the feeling and how it makes you want to avoid group events. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with a friend or family member, talk with a therapist about it. Sharing your feeling with another person will even further reduce its power over you.
  4. Start exposing yourself to group situations a little at a time, with support.
  5. Before you go to the group event, set an amount of time you will be there. Remind yourself that you have to manage your feeling while you are there. Talk back to the feeling when you feel it:

These people are fine. They’re not the problem.

You’re an adult, and no one in this group can hurt you.

You’re a good person and you belong here.

It doesn’t matter what other people think.

It’s just a feeling. It’s old, and you don’t need it anymore.

You’re a person, on equal footing with everyone else here. And you matter.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, The Fatal Flaw, and how to overcome both, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

This article was initially published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

How to Give Your Children What They Need Emotionally

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

Even though every child is different, all children are also the same in one very important way. In order to thrive, children require emotional attention, validation, and responsiveness from their parents. 

Knowing that you need to provide this to your child gives you a tremendous leg up on parenting. But knowing how to provide it is another thing altogether.

Think of parenting as a process of teaching your children how to manage their emotions. The better you handle your children’s emotions, the better they will be at managing them throughout their lives.

The 3 Essential Emotion Skills for Parenting:

  1. The parent feels an emotional connection to the child
  2. The parent pays attention to the child and sees the child as a unique and separate person, rather than, say, an extension of the parent, a possession, or a burden.
  3. Using that emotional connection and paying attention, the parent responds competently to the child’s emotional needs.

Although these skills sound simple, in combination they are a powerful tool for helping children learn about and manage their own nature, for creating a secure emotional bond that carries the children into adulthood, so that they may face the world with the emotional health to achieve happy adulthood.

In short, when parents are mindful of their children’s unique emotional nature, they raise emotionally strong adults. Some parents are able to do this intuitively, but others can learn the skills. Either way, the child will learn them.

Zach

Zach is a precocious and hyperactive third-grader, the youngest of three children in a laid-back and loving family. Lately, he has gotten into trouble at school for “talking back.” On one such day, he brings a note home from the teacher describing his infraction by stating, “Zach was disrespectful today.”

Zach’s mother sits him down and asks him what happened. In an exasperated tone, he tells her that when he was in the recess line Mrs. Rollo told him to stop trying to balance a pencil on his finger, point-side-up because he might “stab himself in the face.” He frowned and snapped back at Mrs. Rollo by telling her that he would have to bend “alllll the way over the pencil like this” (demonstrating) to stab himself in the face and that he isn’t “that stupid.” In response, Mrs. Rollo confiscated his pencil, wrote his name on the board, and sent him home with a note.

Before describing how Zach’s mother actually responded, let’s figure out what Zach needs to get from the coming parent-child interaction: he is upset by the incident with his teacher, whom he generally likes, so he needs empathy; on the other hand, he also needs to learn what is expected of him by his teachers in order to succeed at school. Finally, it would help if his mother has noticed (emotional attentiveness) that lately, he is very sensitive to “being treated like a baby” because his older brother and sister leave him out a lot due to his age. Zach’s mother needs the three skills: feeling a connection, paying attention, and responding competently, in order to help Zach with his problem.

Here is how the conversation went between mother and son:

Mother: “Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed by her thinking you could be stupid enough to poke your eye out with a pencil. But when teachers ask you to stop doing something, the reason doesn’t matter. It’s your job to stop.”

Zach: “I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”

Mother: “Yes, I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk. Mrs. Rollo doesn’t know that you’re dealing with your brother and sister not listening to you much lately.”

Zach relaxes a little in response to his mother’s understanding: “Yeah, she got me so frustrated, and then she took my pencil.”

Mother: “It must’ve been hard for you. But, you see, Mrs. Rollo’s class is very big and she doesn’t have time to talk things over like we are right now. It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away. Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zach?”

Zach: “Yeah, Mom.”

Mother: “Good! If you do what Mrs. Rollo asks, you’ll never get in trouble. Then you can come home and complain to us if you think something is unfair. That’s fine. But as a student, respect means cooperating with your teacher’s requests.”

This mother’s intuitive responses in the above conversation provide us with a complex example of the healthy, emotionally attuned parenting that leads to the sane, happy adult whom Winnicott describes. What exactly did she do?

-First, she connected with her son emotionally by asking him to tell her what happened before she reacted. No shaming.

-Then she listened carefully to him. When she first spoke, she provided him with a simple rule that an eight-year-old can understand: “When a teacher asks you to do something, you do it right away.” Here Zach’s mother is instinctively attuned to his stage of cognitive development, providing him with a general rule to use at school.

-She immediately follows the rule with empathy and naming his feeling (“Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed…”). Hearing his mom name the feeling, Zach is able to express more of his emotion to his mother (“I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”).

-Again, his mother responds to Zach by naming or labeling the emotion that drove Zach’s rude behavior towards his teacher, the behavior of contradicting the teacher that was viewed as disrespectful (“Yes. I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk…”).

-Zach, feeling understood, responds by repeating this emotion word for himself, “Yeah, she got me so frustrated, and then she took my pencil.”

-But the mother isn’t finished yet. She has, in this conversation, demonstrated to Zach that she understands him and feels for him by demonstrating that she sees his behavior differently than his teacher does. However, she can’t stop there, because his tendency to debate (the likely result of having two highly verbal older siblings) will continue to be a problem for Zach at school unless he can correct it. So his mom says, “It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away.”

-Finally, she holds her son accountable for his behavior, setting the stage for future check-ins on his feisty nature by asking him, “Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zach?”

In a conversation that appears deceptively simple, Zach’s mother has avoided shaming him for a mistake and named his feelings, creating the emotional learning that will allow Zach to sort his feelings out on his own in the future. She has also supported him emotionally, given him a social rule, and asked him to be accountable for following it. And, in the event that Zach repeats this behavior at school, she will adjust her message and her actions to adapt to the difficulty he is having in the classroom.

One of the biggest challenges for most parents in this area comes from their own lack of skills for managing their own emotions. It’s hard to give your children something that you don’t have yourself.

If this sounds like you, never fear. It’s not your fault. Most likely your parents didn’t teach you the skills because they didn’t have them. And the best part: you can learn the skills!

To find out how to learn the skills for yourself, see the bestselling 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.

This blog is adapted from the book: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It was originally published on psychcentral.com as The 3 Essential Emotion Skills For Parenting. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

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