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The Painful Secret Many People Live With: The Fatal Flaw

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

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

It’s their Fatal Flaw.

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

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

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

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

I’m not as fun as other people.

I don’t have anything interesting to say.

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

I know that I’m not attractive.

No one wants to hear what I have to say.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not lovable.

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

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

The Flaw                                                             The Roots

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

The Good News

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

How to Defeat Your Fatal Flaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Make You an Avoidant Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Important Points About Avoidance

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

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

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

You Can Become Less Avoidant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Obstacles to Growth

1. You Can’t See the Path.

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

2. You are Walled Off From Your Feelings.

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

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

3. You are Comfortably Uncomfortable.

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

4. You are Depressed.

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

5. You are Angry at Yourself.

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

And now for the big one.

6. Your Past Mistakes or Misdeeds. 

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

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

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

5 Essential Ingredients for Personal Change

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

What to Do

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

One step at a time.

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

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

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

The 5 Greatest Myths About Emotional Neglect

Of the hundreds of psychological and emotional conditions, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is, in my opinion, among the least widely understood.

That’s because we have spent decades talking about and studying the negative things that can happen to a child. As we’ve done all of this vital and important work, we have overlooked, and essentially ignored, an equal but opposite force: what fails to happen for a child.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (or CEN): A parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

Here are five natural, automatic assumptions that are frequently held and expressed, even by mental health professionals.

5 Common CEN Myths

Myth 1 — CEN is a form of child abuse.

This has been the default assumption of many people for many years. In professional articles and research studies, Emotional Neglect is typically lumped in with the various forms of child abuse. It’s assumed that all of these forms of childhood mistreatment belong in the same category, and have similar effects upon the child.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. While abuse is a parental act; something a parent does to a child, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act. The emotionally neglectful parent may never hit the child or call her (or him) a name. A mother (or father) simply fails to notice or respond enough to her child’s emotional needs.

Not only does CEN happen differently, it also has different and distinct effects. Since the cause and effects are all different from abuse, the path to healing is also different.

Myth 2 — CEN happens more often in single-parent, divorced, or widowed families.

Contrary to how logical this assumption may seem, it’s not at all true. CEN is not about the number of available parents, or even the time available to spend with parents. It’s a matter of the emotional quality of the parent/child connection. Does the parent truly know the child on a deeply personal, emotional level? Does the parent notice, validate and respond to the child’s feelings? Does the parent teach the child how to tolerate, manage and express her emotions? These emotional aspects of parenting are not necessarily related to whether a parent is single or married.

In fact, many single parents are aware that their single parenthood, divorce, or loss has affected their children, and take extra care to notice what their children are feeling and support them.

Myth 3 — CEN is not as damaging as abuse.

It is true that CEN causes a different set of challenges than the experience of childhood abuse. But it’s not true that the effects of abuse are worse.

CEN is a quieter, less visible childhood experience than abuse so, as you might expect, its effects are quieter and less visible. But this is also what makes its effects more pernicious. Those who experience abuse will be impacted by it. They will grow up feeling perhaps violated, unsafe, and mistrusting. They may struggle to feel emotionally (or even physically) safe in relationships.

The effects of CEN are more like carrying around a weight. The CEN child must push away his emotions. In adulthood, he lacks access to this highly connecting, grounding, and enriching part of his life. He finds himself living in a gray world, feeling alone. Since he likely can’t recall the subtle and invisible emotional neglect from his childhood, he feels innately flawed. He assumes that he is to blame for these struggles.

Myth 4 — CEN is the result of a lack of love from your parents.

Ironically it’s often the most loving parents who emotionally neglect their children. This is because love and emotional attention are not the same thing and do not naturally go together.

In my experience, the single factor that most predicts a parent’s likelihood of emotionally neglecting her children is not whether she loves them. It’s having been raised with Emotional Neglect herself.

Myth 5 — All therapists know about CEN and how to treat it.

Virtually every therapist understands the foundation of CEN: that when a child’s emotional needs are not met, the child will suffer negative effects into adulthood.

However, there is far more to the concept of CEN than this general foundational point.  What are the specific effects of CEN? Exactly how and why do they happen? How do you know when a patient has CEN? How do you treat CEN specifically? The answers to these questions are not common knowledge in the professional mental health community. Nor have they been the subject of research. My goal is to change this in the near future.

The Takeaway

CEN is real. When your parents fail to respond sufficiently to your emotional needs, it does not matter why. It leaves a mark on you as you grow into your adulthood. This mark you share with others who grew up in a similar way. This mark can be healed.

CEN can be invisible when it happens and also hard to remember once you grow up. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free!

To see a list of therapists who understand CEN, visit the Find A CEN Therapist List.

To learn much more about how to reclaim your feelings and use them, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Your Parents: 10 Signs You May Need Some Healthy Boundaries

Few would disagree that parents have the most difficult job in the world. And the huge majority of parents are doing the very best they can for their children.

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

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

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

6  Common Ways Adults Struggle With Their Parents

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

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

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

What is Individuation?

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

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

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

4 Ways Individuation Can Go Awry

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

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

So now the big question. 

How Do You Know if You Need Some Healthy Distance From Your Parents?

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

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

You and Your Parents

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

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

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

To learn more about how even loving parents can have a blind spot to their child’s feelings, disrupting individuation, and to find out what you can do about it now, see the books Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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

4 Ways You Can Use Your Anger to Make Yourself More Powerful

Of all human emotions, the one that people struggle with the most is anger. That’s understandable!

After all, it’s the emotion with the most potential to get us into trouble. It can be exquisitely uncomfortable, and it’s the most difficult to control.

Many people find it easier to push anger down altogether (or suppress it) to avoid discomfort and conflict and to stay out of trouble.

Some wear anger like armor in hopes it will protect them from being hurt or mistreated.

Others go back and forth between pushing it down and erupting. In fact, these two things go together. The more you suppress your anger, the more intense it will be when it finally erupts.

If you were raised by parents who had low tolerance for your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), then you may be all too good at pushing your anger away; suppressing it and repressing it so that you don’t even have to feel it.

In fact, you may – especially if you have CEN – be so uncomfortable with the A-Word that you can’t even say it.

I’m frustrated

I’m annoyed

I’m anxious

you may say instead of, I’m angry.

If you’re not comfortable with your anger, you’re more likely to misread and mislabel it as something milder or more diffuse.

“Isn’t stopping yourself from feeling angry a good skill to have?” you may be wondering.

The answer is actually NO.

Research has shown how very important anger is to living a healthy life.

4 Reasons to Make Friends With Your Anger

  1. Anger is a beautiful motivator

Aarts et al. (2010) found that people who were shown a picture of an angry face were more driven to obtain an object that they were shown later. Anger is like a driver that pushes you to strive for what you want or need. Anger carries with it the message, “Act!”

Example Without Anger: Alana was getting weary of being overlooked at work. She was well-known to be skilled and reliable, and yet she was repeatedly passed over for promotion to manager. Silently she watched younger, less experienced employees move past her, one by one.

Example With Anger: Alana became angry when a less-experienced colleague was promoted. “I deserve an explanation for this. I have to get myself promoted or leave the company,” she realized. The next day she walked into her supervisor’s office and asked why she was passed over. She was promised the next promotion slot.

2. Anger can make your relationship better and stronger

Anger, when used appropriately, can be very helpful in communication:

Baumeister et al. (1990) found that hiding anger in intimate relationships can be detrimental. When you hide your anger from your partner, you’re bypassing an important message that he or she may very much need to hear.

Of course, it’s important to take great care in how you express your anger. Try your best to calibrate it to the situation and express it with as much compassion for your partner as you can.

Example Without Anger: Lance was tired of his wife Joanne’s clutter. She kept, it seemed to Lance, virtually everything. There were stacks of newspapers on the dining room table, five pairs of sneakers of various ages in their closet, and a roomful of clothes that their children had outgrown. Lance wanted that room for an office. “I’ll never get that room,” he thought resignedly. All this time Joanne had no idea that there was a problem.

Example With Anger: Lance was fed up with the clutter. He told Joanne that it was making him feel stressed and unhappy, and also angry at her. After several heated discussions, Joanne removed her personal clutter from the spare room so that Lance could make it his office. They made a truce to try to meet each other in the middle.

3. Anger can help you better understand yourself

Anger can provide insight into ourselves if we allow it.

Kassinove et al. (1997) asked a large sample of people how recent outbursts of anger had affected them. Fifty-five percent said that getting angry had led to a positive outcome. Many respondents said that the anger episode had provided them with some insight into their own faults.

Anger can help you see yourself more clearly. And it can motivate self-change.

Example Without Anger: Joanne was surprised when Lance told her how angry her clutter was making him. “That’s too bad, you’ll just have to deal with it,” she said dully while exiting the room. She promptly put it out of her mind because she didn’t want to think about it.

Example With Anger: “That’s too bad, you’ll just have to deal with it,” Joanne fired back immediately. She stormed out of the room and slammed the bedroom door. Sitting on her bed she felt enraged and criticized.

The next day Joanne woke up with a different perspective on the conflict. She looked around and saw her home as though through Lance’s eyes. She realized that she felt criticized by Lance’s request. “I need to get better at taking criticism,” she thought.

4. Anger helps you negotiate

Anger can help you get what you want.

In a study of negotiation by Van Kleef et al. (2002), people made larger concessions and fewer demands of participants who were angry than ones who were not angry.

Anger makes you more powerful, especially when it’s justified and expressed with thought and care. Lets revisit Alana, who needed to have a difficult conversation with her supervisor.

Example Without Anger: Alana walked timidly into her supervisor’s office. After chatting about the weather, she said casually, “So what do I need to do to get promoted?” Her boss answered her question and went on with her day.

Example With Anger: Alana knew she was angry and that she needed to manage her anger when talking with her boss if she wanted to be effective. She walked into her boss’s office and said, “I need to talk to you about something important.” Alana explained how upset she was by her co-worker’s promotion. Her boss explained that the promoted co-worker was an excellent employee. This made Alana even angrier. She pushed, “Yes, he’s really good. But so am I, and I have more experience and excellent skills,” she stated clearly. Her boss paused, surprised at Alana’s persistence. “You’re right,” she said. Her boss then promised Alana the next available promotion.

If you grew up emotionally ignored or in an environment that did not have the room or tolerance for you to get angry (CEN), some small part of your brain probably screams “STOP!” as soon as you get an inkling of anger. The reality is that it’s not easy to turn that around.

But you can do it. Start thinking of anger as a helpful emotion, not something to avoid. Pay attention to your anger, and try to notice when you’re feeling it. Stop saying “STOP!” to your anger. Instead, listen to your anger’s message, consciously manage your angry feeling, and let your anger motivate and energize you.

Anger, when properly managed and expressed, is power.

So when you suppress your anger, you’re suppressing your power.

And why would you do that?

To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect makes you unaware of your feelings of anger see the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Everyday Struggle of a Notorious People Pleaser

Guest post by Joanna Rogowska:

I like to reward myself at the end of the week with a delicious meal with friends. It’s my weekly treat. I also like to check out new restaurants. So when my two good friends Lucy and Jane suggested meeting in our favorite burger place, I proposed a new Japanese restaurant instead. I had heard good things about the food and what caught my interest was their new interactive ordering system with overhead projection technology.

I’d read that each table in the restaurant was equipped with a built-in tablet. You could select your virtual tablecloth, explore the menu, project a picture of the meal onto your table, and of course, also order your food. I love new technological gadgets!

When we arrived, I fell in love with this place straight away – beautiful and authentic Japanese decor, lotus flowers, cherry blossoms, bamboo benches, and high-tech tables. A fantastic combination of traditional and modern Japan.

Lucy and I started ordering the meal, getting all excited about it. It was a really cool experience to be able to project the picture of each meal onto the plate in front of you. We played around with changing virtual table cloths, debating which one we were going to choose for our table. I realized that I was feeling something.

Playful, connected, excited, and happy.

As we were exploring the technological possibilities at our table, Jane suddenly called the waiter over and asked for a paper menu. “I really don’t know how to make this digital stuff work!” she told us. “It’s really not intuitive and annoying. I prefer a normal menu.”

Suddenly my pleasant feelings disappeared and a big sense of heaviness took their place. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly bad. I looked at Lucy and she seemed to continue enjoying looking through the menu and ordering her meal. But for me, as soon as Jane asked for a paper menu, I stopped enjoying the evening.

In the past, before learning how to master my emotions, I would have sat miserably throughout the rest of the meal feeling confused and simply “bad.” I would have let this ruin my evening. Now I knew better, and it was time to check in with my feelings to investigate what was going on. So I tuned in to my emotions.

Annoyed, Irritable.

Makes sense. I was looking forward to dinner today and suddenly I was not able to enjoy it. My intention was to relax and have a good time and now I was far from that, so I felt angry. But the big question was, why was I not enjoying the evening? I knew I had to dig deeper to find the right feelings.

Insecure, awkward, guilty, and ashamed.

As soon as I identified shame, I felt a sense of relief. It made so much sense for two reasons. First of all, I know I am a compulsive people pleaser. I tend to always put other people’s needs in front of my own. I cannot have a good time if I see that my friends are not enjoying themselves. So seeing Jane not enjoying the technology made me feel guilty for suggesting to go there.

But I knew there was more behind this feeling so I dug deeper. I had known that Jane was not a big fan of technology, yet I had still suggested this restaurant. How could I have been so inconsiderate? All I could think of was the fact that I was stupid because I couldn’t even pick the right restaurant for my friends…

Going through these feelings in my head brought me a sense of relief. I was feeling less and less overwhelmed and uncomfortable and beginning to feel some new feelings.

Clear, confident, and capable.

My feelings reminded me that the well-being of my friends was important to me. So I thanked my feelings for drawing my attention to the situation. I accepted my feelings and released them. I also accepted that my inner critic blew the situation slightly out of proportion, as things were actually going well. It was difficult to accept that, but it felt liberating to do so.

Finally, I reassured myself that Jane, having received her paper menu, was enjoying selecting her meal in a more traditional way and no one was thinking any less of me for choosing this location.

I once again felt what I had felt at the beginning of the evening.

Connected, joyful, and excited.

The dinner turned out to be fantastic. We had a great time and we were pleased with the new discovery we made and the food we ate.

How quickly I could have let my emotions take over and ruin my evening if I hadn’t paid attention to them and made the effort to understand them. That was a reminder to me once again of how important it is for me to observe myself and try to understand my feelings.

The author, Joanna Rogowska, is a researcher for  FeelingMagnets.com. Feeling Magnets are a helpful tool to get you more in touch with your emotions and learn how to use them.

To learn more about how to recognize, use, and express your emotions see the book, Running on Empty.

9 Things the Emotionally Attuned Parent Says to Their Child

As we all swim together through the murky Sea of Parenting, I offer you some clear answers: three goals to keep in your mind at all times, and exactly how to achieve them.

If you’ve made many parenting mistakes, rest assured: You Are Not Alone.

Let’s face it, parenting is hard. For most of us, doing it right means facing our own demons. Because no one is exposed to our flaws, blind spots, or unresolved issues as much as the children who depend on us.

Unfortunately, all of those unresolved problems transfer automatically from ourselves to our children, unless we make a conscious effort to stop them. This is made more or less difficult for us parents by our own childhoods.

The Subtle But Dramatic Impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you grew up with parents who subtly discouraged or discounted your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect), for example, then you’ll have a natural inclination, outside of your awareness, to do the same with your children.  This is why Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN, is so rampant in today’s world. It transfers, unchecked and unnoticed, from one generation to the next.

This natural transfer process is aided by one simple fact: In today’s world, we are all focused primarily on how our children behave. We don’t want them to get in trouble at school or irritate others, right?

Although it’s very reasonable to assume that teaching a child to behave takes care of the emotional part, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, it all happens in reverse. Our children’s behavior is driven by their emotions. So the best way to help our children to behave is to teach them how to manage their feelings.

The Keys to Emotional Intelligence

There’s another key reason to focus more on emotions with our children. In the last ten years, a large body of research has found that kids who are good at recognizing, tolerating, expressing, and managing emotions in themselves and others (high emotional intelligence) are more successful academically, make better leaders, and enjoy greater career success as adults.

I know what you’re thinking: “OK, so it’s important. How do you do it? Behavior is at least concrete and visible, but feelings are hidden, messy, and confusing. What’s a parent to do?”

So let’s get down to brass tacks. As we all swim together through the murky Sea of Parenting, I offer you some clear answers: three goals to keep in mind at all times, and exactly how to achieve them.

The Three Goals of the Emotionally Attuned Parent

  1. Your child feels a part of something. He knows he’s not alone. You’re always on his team.
  2. Your child knows that whatever she feels, it’s OK, and it matters to you. She will be held accountable for her behavior, but not for her emotions.
  3. Your child learns how to tolerate, manage, and express his feelings.

Any parent who accomplishes these skills well enough is raising an emotionally healthy child and an emotionally intelligent child. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to do it well enough.

9 Things the Emotionally Attuned Parent Says to Their Child

WHAT WE ALL TEND TO SAY WHAT THE IDEAL PARENT SAYS
Stop Crying Why are you crying?
Let me know when you’re done with your fit That’s OK. Get it all out. Then we’ll talk.
Alright, enough! I’m done with this. Let’s take a break so we can both calm down.
Fix the attitude! You sound angry or upset. Are you?
You need to think before you act! How’d this go wrong? Let’s think it through.
Go to your room until you can behave better. I see you’re angry. Is it because…?
OK, OK, stop crying now so we can go in the store. Look at me. Take a deep breath. Let’s count to five.
There’s nothing to be nervous about. Everyone gets nervous. It’s OK. Let’s talk.
Don’t talk to me with that tone. Try saying that again, but nicer so I can hear it.

All children have very intense emotions, but they do not have the skills to manage them. When we are frustrated or overwhelmed by their expression of feeling, it becomes very difficult for us parents to manage what we’re feeling so that we can respond the right way to what they’re feeling.

No one sets out purposely to shame their child for having emotions. But the way we respond can easily, in very subtle ways, communicate to a child that he shouldn’t be feeling what he’s feeling.

Keep in mind that virtually all children have heard everything in the first column many times, and it’s OK. It will only cause damage (Childhood Emotional Neglect) if the child receives the subtle, unstated messages listed below too frequently:

* Your feelings are excessive.

* Your feeling is wrong.

* I don’t want to know what you’re feeling.

* Your feelings are an inconvenience for me.

* You need to deal with this alone.

* I don’t care what you feel; I only care about your behavior.

If you wince while you read those messages above, don’t despair! It’s not your fault. You’re simply doing what human beings do, and responding to your children as you were responded to as a child. Be assured, it is never too late to start responding differently.

Try using the “Ideal Parent” responses above as regularly as possible, keeping in mind that you will never be perfect because no one is. Watch and see if over time your child starts to respond to you differently. Watch to see how her behavior changes as she learns how to manage her own feelings.

To learn more about emotionally attuned parenting, how to raise your child with high Emotional Intelligence, and how to prevent CEN from being passed down, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. To learn much more about how CEN happens and how to heal it, see the book, Running on Empty.

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

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

7 Common False Beliefs About Relationships

7 Common False Beliefs About Relationships

  1. Sharing your feelings with others will make you look weak.
  2. It’s best not to fight if you want to have a good relationship.
  3. Sharing your feelings or troubles with another person burdens them.
  4. Talking about a problem isn’t helpful. Only action solves a problem.
  5. Sharing your feelings or troubles with another person will chase them away.
  6. Letting others see your weaknesses puts you at a disadvantage.
  7. If you let other people see how you feel, they will use it against you.

As you read the list of beliefs above, did any jump out at you? Was there one, or two, or more, that you thought, “Hey, that one’s not false!”?

If so, you are not alone. Many, many people go through their lives following some or all of these guidelines. And many, many people are held back by them. These beliefs have the power to keep you at an emotional distance from others, damage your friendships and marriage, and leave you feeling alone in the world.

The beliefs are typically rooted in your childhood. They are often messages passed down from one generation to another. They take root in your mind and live there, sometimes outside of your awareness.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Teaches You the False Beliefs

These ideas tend to thrive in any family that struggles with emotions, either by over or under-expressing it. They’re so common among folks who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) that they’re included in my book, Running on Empty. All of the beliefs are based on false notions of how emotions work.

If you grew up in a family that didn’t understand how to manage, express or talk about emotion, you probably didn’t learn how and when to share or be vulnerable. You may have learned that it’s actually wrong to communicate about these things.

And chances are some of the 7 beliefs were communicated to you, either directly or indirectly.

The 7 False Beliefs Made True

  1. Letting people see your feelings usually makes them like you more. It also fosters intimacy.
  2. The hallmark of a strong, healthy relationship or friendship is the ability to have a conflict, process it together, and work through it together. In fact, fighting is often a sign of closeness.
  3. Sharing your feelings or troubles with the right person at the right time does not burden them. It increases warmth and caring from the other person.
  4. Talking about a problem with a well-chosen person can help you get perspective, feel less burdened, sort out your feelings and thoughts, and sometimes even provide solutions
  5. Sharing your feelings or troubles with the right person will make him/her feel closer to you.
  6. Letting another person see your weakness does not put you at a disadvantage unless the other person is the type of person to take advantage of you. Be aware of who you’re letting in. The huge majority of people will not take advantage.
  7. If you let someone see how you feel, they will know and understand you better, and that’s a good thing. The only exception to this is if they are actively trying to hurt you. Generally, if there are people like this in your life, you know who they are. Do not share with them.

How To Change Your Beliefs From False to True

  • Choose your people carefully. Take care who you choose to open your heart to, as either a friend or lover. Focus on integrity, trust, and care. Pay attention to the other person’s intentions. None of the True Beliefs apply if the person is not trustworthy.
  • Timing is everything. We all underestimate the importance of timing. Choose your moment, taking into account the other person’s mood, needs, and situation. The same message can have a very different impact given at the wrong time vs. the right one.
  • Take chances. There is no intimacy without vulnerability. To change these beliefs, you will have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
  • The Costanza Experiment (Taken from the book Running on Empty): Remember the Seinfeld episode when George decided to go through an entire week doing the opposite of what he would normally do? (If you’re under 40, you may not have seen this, but the concept will still work for you.) For you, this would mean doing the opposite of what you would normally do when it comes to sharing your feelings. Tell your friend about your work worries instead of keeping them to yourself; share your financial stress with your brother instead of pretending everything’s fine; fight it out with your husband and wife instead of avoiding conflict.

Take a chance, and see what happens. The False Beliefs will start to melt away as you begin to experience the value of trust, openness, and closeness. Your relationships will thrive, and a whole new world will open up to you.

To learn more about emotions, relationships, and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) see the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

5 Simple Steps to Learn Mindfulness That Really Work

Quite some years ago a colleague dragged me to a mindfulness training for mental health professionals. At that time, mindfulness was not considered a fully valid concept in psychology.

As a psychologist who valued science, I viewed it as nothing other than new age, mystical hippy nonsense. I anticipated a flaky conference, and I was not disappointed. At one point, they had us all stand up and mill about aimlessly while humming for 20 minutes. Then we had to ask and answer some very personal questions with the strangers next to us.

Ugh. Not my cup of tea.

Fast forward to 2021, where mindfulness and science have met and married. And oh, what a glorious union it is! Mindfulness studies have been pouring from many of the best researchers in the world for over a decade. And the meaning of mindfulness has matured from simply “being in the moment” to a richer, more complex definition.Continue reading