Category Archives for "Emotionally Neglectful Parents"

The 4 Different Kinds of Neglect and How They Affect You

Neglect: Fail to care for properly.

We can neglect many different things in our busy lives. We can, at different times, neglect our houses, our gardens, our vehicles, or even our own bodies by simply failing to care for them properly. And many of us human beings do one or all of the above at various times.

But there is no form of neglect more personal, more powerful, or more harmful than the neglect of a child. There are several different ways that a parent can neglect a child and we will talk about those shortly.

But first, let’s take a look at some of the factors that can lead even the most caring parents to neglect their child.

Why Neglect Happens

  • Finances: This can go all the way from parents who are fighting to survive financially by working 3 jobs or long hours, all the way to the workaholic parent who is defined by their career/income and who therefore places work above all else.
  • Knowledge: Some parents have “holes” in their knowledge of what children need. Why don’t they know? The explanation for most of these parents is in the next bullet point.
  • The influence of their own childhood: We all learn how to parent from our own parents. Most people automatically use the experience of their own childhood as a template or guide to raising their children. This makes human beings prone to repeat the mistakes of their parents upon the next generation. How do you know what your child needs if your need were not met by your parents? Your parents’ blind spots end up being translated down to your kids unless you learn what was missing and make a personal decision to correct it.
  • Personal battles: These are parents who are so taken up fighting for themselves that they have little time or energy left over for their children. They may be depressed, taking care of a sick family member, addicted, or sick themselves. Parents who are battling to keep their own heads above water may inadvertently (or purposely) allow their children to fall through the cracks.

When parents bring a new child into the world, it is their biological imperative to meet that child’s needs to the best of their ability. For that reason, none of the above reasons should be thought of as excuses. It simply does not work that way.

But, on the other hand, human beings are fallible and the world can be rough on parents. Losses, pain, health, deprivation, and struggle can harm parents and prevent them from providing what their children need.

Not all neglect is the same and, unfortunately, most people use the word “neglect” to define all types. It is also common to use the term, “abuse and neglect,” to lump neglect with abuse. This dangerous over-generalization prevents people from talking and thinking more specifically about exactly what they did not receive as a child.

Truly, it’s important. And I want you to help you become aware of what you did and did not receive. As you read the list below, I encourage you to consider which of your needs were well-met when you were a child and which needs may have been less so.

The 4 Kinds of Neglect of a Child

  1. Physical Needs — Here, we are talking about the tangible and concrete things that you need to survive and thrive. It’s the need for healthy nutrition and water, shelter, comfort, and warmth. Since this form of neglect is visible it may be witnessed by someone outside of the family, like teachers, social workers, or pediatricians. They may step in to intervene and help the child.
  2. Physical Presence — This is the classic “latch-key child.” In this kind of neglect, the primary caretakers (parents) are simply not physically available enough to you. As a child alone you must fend for yourself so, as a lonely child, you learned how to take care of your own needs. As an adult, you may feel lonely and disconnected, or have a grave fear of needing, asking for, or accepting help from anyone.
  3. Verbal Interaction — A 2019 study published by d’Apice, Latham, & von Stumm in the journal Developmental Psychology found that children who were talked with the most by their parents had higher cognitive development and fewer signs of restless, aggressive, or disobedient behavior. If your parents did not talk with you enough, you may now, as an adult, feel more alone, less stimulated, and struggle to manage and express your feelings.
  4. Emotional Neglect — Emotional Neglect is literally what it sounds like. It is the neglect of your emotions. Emotionally neglectful parents may be loving and providing for all of your needs. But these parents simply do not notice, respond, or validate your feelings enough. If you grow up with your emotions ignored, you end up with your own feelings walled off and relatively inaccessible to you. This leads to a multitude of predictable struggles in adulthood like a feeling of being different, alone, and unsatisfied with your life.

Most adults who look back on their childhoods and see that all of their physical needs were met find it hard to believe that they could have been neglected in any way. Yet “neglect” is far more complex than that.

For example, your stay-at-home mom may often be home and may drive you to every activity, yet fail to notice or respond to your feelings (Emotional Neglect). Or your dad, who talks a lot, may simply be talking about impersonal logistics and facts, and end up still emotionally neglecting you.

The opposite is also true. Your parent who is struggling and rarely home may show such emotional care and attunement with you that you feel deeply known, understood, and loved by them. In this case, the physical presence type of neglect you experience may do far less harm.

Take a few minutes to think about this. What did you get and what did you miss? Is it missing in your life now? If you are a parent or hope to be one, are you able to provide those missing ingredients to your children?

It is entirely possible to see what you didn’t get, understand why your parents could not, or did not, provide it, and fill those gaps for yourself. It is a process of providing yourself with the physical, attentional, and emotional nurturance that was missing for you.

Amazingly, once you have given yourself what you didn’t get, you can give it to others. Especially your own children. The reality is there is nothing more important than that.

CEN can be hard to see or remember so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

How COVID-19 May Be Affecting Your Relationship With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents at the Holidays

Two things are going on right now that are causing more pain in adults’ relationships with their emotionally neglectful parents. Care to guess what they are? It’s the holidays plus the COVID-19 Pandemic. Mixed together, they create a cocktail of uncertainty, worry, emotional distance, and feelings of emptiness.

COVID-19 is affecting many people in many different ways. But one effect that is shared by most, perhaps virtually all, of us these days is that it, especially combined with the holidays during this unusual year, is making us feel more vulnerable.

Exactly what do I mean by vulnerable? I mean many different flavors of vulnerable feelings.

In this unprecedented time, you may be feeling more physically, socially, and emotionally vulnerable than usual and perhaps more so than ever before in your life.

You may feel physically vulnerable due to the risk of getting sick.

You may feel socially vulnerable due to being cut off or distanced from your family and friends.

And you may be feeling emotionally vulnerable, a product of all three of the factors above. On top of all that, most of us are spending more time alone with fewer distractions. The pandemic, with its social distancing, requires you to sit with yourself more, so it’s difficult to escape your feelings, anxieties, doubts, and fears. And they may be many.

Your Relationships

As COVID-19 drags on, the holidays approaching, and the world awaiting a vaccine, many relationships have been affected. Some have been enlivened or deepened or enriched. Marriages, friendships, and families have become closer, more mutually dependent, and more supportive.

Other relationships have been strained by the present situation we are in. They have been challenged, weakened, frustrated, broken, or pained.

As someone who hears from hundreds of people every week who are doing their best to cope with the pandemic, as well as the holidays, one of the relationship types that I have noticed taking a lot of boosts, as well as hits, are the relationships between CEN adults and their parents.

Whatever your situation with your parents, the pandemic may be complicating it. Your parents may live nearby or far away. You may have had issues with your parents before COVID-19. Your parents may be healthy emotionally and physically or they may be elderly and frail. They may be living in a facility.

Whatever the circumstances, I believe that millions of people are feeling extra vulnerable right now and are finding themselves struggling with their parents in some new way. And it is all due to circumstances that are completely out of their control.

7 Ways COVID-19 + the Holidays are Affecting Adults’ Relationships With Their Parents

  1. You may feel a need to reconnect. As the 2020 holidays approach, you may have become somewhat distant from your parents. Whether that was intentional or unintentional, you may find yourself feeling a longing to be more in touch with them.
  2. You may worry about their physical and mental health. The Pandemic may be making it hard for you to communicate with or see your parents. You may feel less able to be involved in their choices or care.
  3. You may feel more in need of validation. All human beings need to feel seen and known and loved by their parents. We need to hear certain things from our parents that assure us that our feelings and needs matter. If we don’t receive enough of that in our childhoods (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), our brains automatically continue to seek it as adults. To need this from your parents is not a sign of weakness, but of your humanity. Feeling vulnerable right now in general may make you need this validation from your parents even more. It’s painful.
  4. You may feel afraid of losing them. Will your parents get COVID? You may find yourself worrying about or imagining how you would feel if you lost them.
  5. You may find yourself appreciating them more. There’s nothing like a fear of loss to make you more appreciative. You may be feeling more love, more warmth, or gratefulness for what your parents have done for you.
  6. You may experience them as needy. Are your parents calling you more often, asking you for help or advice or support? Do they need to connect with you more often than has been typical of them? This is likely because they are feeling vulnerable or worrying about you.
  7. Family dynamics may be intensified. Not surprisingly, stress aggravates previously existing problems of all kinds. So, in many families, old anger or frustration, or resentment has been fomenting and increasing under the powerful pressure and strain of COVID-19.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you grew up in an emotionally unavailable (CEN) family, you may be experiencing several of the effects above. You may feel a longing to receive the ingredients that were missing from your childhood, while also feeling distant and helpless and disappointed in your parents.

When you do not receive enough emotional attention, empathy, meaningful conversation, or validation from your parents as a child, (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) you are naturally, as an adult, continually driven back to try to capture it. But your CEN parents may simply not have it to give, and this compounds your pain.

3 Ways to Cope

  • Put yourself first. Your parents are important people, of course, but your primary responsibility in life is to yourself. So be sure to prioritize your own needs during this stressful time. Your physical, mental and emotional needs must be addressed before you can give to others, even your parents.
  • Try to accept what you cannot change. This wise principle is one of the tenets of 12-Step Programs and it applies here. You do not have control over your parents and you cannot change their choices. You also cannot get from your parents what that they do not have to give, like emotional validation, empathy, or connection. Accepting your powerlessness in this relationship can be quite painful, but it does protect you from the wheel-spinning and frustration of continually going back to an empty well, looking for the emotional connection that never appears.
  • Take note of what your feelings are telling you. Your feelings are communications from your body. Every feeling carries a specific message. For example, the feeling of longing drives you to contact them more, whereas anger/frustration tells you to take protective action. Your feelings are trying to guide you, but there is a second question to ask yourself: Is this feeling telling me to do something healthy for me or something that may be unhealthy or damaging? It is important to notice and listen to your feelings, but it’s important to process them first. Sometimes, it can help to run this by someone you trust to gain a more objective opinion of what is healthy for you.

Most likely, this pandemic is affecting many of your relationships for better or for worse. And now, with the holidays upon us too, the one thing you can do right now that will make you stronger in every area of your life: nurture yourself, care for yourself, and pay attention to what you are feeling.

When you feel vulnerable, treat yourself as if you are your own number one. Because you are.

Wonder if you grew up in an emotionally neglectful family? Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. See the book Running On Empty to learn what CEN is and how it affects you now; and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships to learn how you can heal CEN with your partner, parents, and children.

Help For the Emotionally Neglected at Thanksgiving

It’s that time again, the holidays are coming. First comes Thanksgiving so let’s start preparing now.

Since Thanksgiving is generally a family holiday, you may be excited about Thanksgiving or not-so-much. And that is likely determined by the type of family you have.

How do you feel when you get together with your family? Is it enriching and enjoyable? Or is it more draining and challenging? Or is your family experience somewhere in between?

If your family has any kind of abuse, grief, or addiction in it, for example, this family-focused holiday may be extra challenging for you.

There is one very large group of folks who either look forward to Thanksgiving and then find themselves disappointed every year, or have learned to dread it because of its draining, disheartening nature.

This large group of people struggles to identify why Thanksgiving is disappointing each year. And the answer is not anything that happens at Thanksgiving dinner. It is actually because of what does not happen when their family gets together. 

What’s missing is a real, substantial emotional connection.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN: Growing up with CEN is essentially growing up in a family that has “emotion blindness.” These families are not able to see and respond to the feelings of the children enough. They may avoid meaningful discussion and tamp down or negate strong feelings instead of responding in a helpful, instructive, and supportive way to emotions.

CEN Families at Thanksgiving

  • In a CEN family’s Thanksgiving gathering, things may appear to be normal and fine. But there is a sense that something is missing. Some vital ingredient that’s hard to name.
  • CEN families avoid talking about the most important things: things that are conflictual, painful, or difficult. If a topic like that comes up it may feel awkward or somehow wrong or unacceptable. This can make your holiday either awkward, superficial, or boring.
  • Thanksgiving, a holiday in which you are supposed to be thankful for the good things in your life, can end up actually emphasizing what’s missing. So if you do not have a healthy family, you are destined to end up disappointed.

Recent research studies have found that feeling gratitude makes people happy. So Thanksgiving is a special opportunity to focus on what you are grateful for.

And there is a silver lining to growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Being raised in a family that ignores your emotions forces you to adapt. You learn some life skills that will be useful throughout your lifetime.

So now, at Thanksgiving, you have some valuable things in your life to be thankful for. And when you do, I hope it will help to bring you some of the happiness that you deserve this holiday season.

5 Things You Can Be Thankful For When You Have Childhood Emotional Neglect

  1. Your inner guide for directing you. Having grown up without adequate emotional attention and personalized guidance from your parents, you had to learn how to make choices for yourself without much outside help. So you learned. Making decisions may be a struggle for you now. But on some level, somehow, you often do make good choices. I have seen that most CEN people, even if they agonize over personal decisions, even if they make some mistakes in their choices, generally have good judgment and common sense. And a good gut sense, if only they would listen to their gut more. Your helpful inner guide is something to be thankful for.
  2. Your ability to do what needs to be done. As a child, you couldn’t be confident that your parents would provide you help when you needed it. Now as an adult you are remarkably capable. You learned how to take care of things as a child and you are still good at it. These useful life skills are something to be thankful for.
  3. Your willingness to help others. By overlooking your feelings as they raised you your parents inadvertently taught you how to overlook your own feelings and needs as an adult. This leaves you too focused on other people and their feelings and needs. But there is a silver lining to this. You are there to help others, and you likely ask for little back. Other people can see your good heart and they appreciate how giving and reliable you are. You can be thankful for possessing this lovable quality.
  4. Your parents for the things they did give you. If your parents were abusive or extremely neglectful to you then you do not owe them any thanks. But perhaps they struggled to provide you with life’s necessities; perhaps they loved you in the only way they could. Perhaps they gave you more than they had in their own childhoods. You can be thankful for what they did give you while also recognizing what they did not.
  5. One person in your life who has understood and supported you. Was one of your parents more emotionally responsive than the other? Was there a teacher or friend who showed you understanding or a friend who validated you? A therapist who has guided you through some painful moments or transitions? You can feel thankful for this one special person who offered you something vital when you needed it.

Think about whether there might be one person in your family you can connect with more; it may be a sibling, a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or in-law. Just one person you can perhaps share your CEN experience with. You can ask them to read this blog or the Running On Empty books. It helps enormously to have an understanding person in your family.

Wondering if this blog applies to you? Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable when it happens in childhood so, as an adult, it can be difficult to know. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Yes, Childhood Emotional Neglect left its mark on you. Yes, it will color your holidays gray if you let it. But there is a silver lining to your CEN. And now, at Thanksgiving, you can set your sights on healing and give yourself the emotional attention you never got. You are worth it.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving from me to you.

A version of this article first appeared on Psychcentral.com. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

Unintentional Harm: The Most Common Type of Emotionally Neglectful Parents

The most common type of emotionally neglectful parents is also the most difficult kind to identify.

They lurk in fine neighborhoods, fine jobs, and fine houses. They create fine families, and if you are friends with them, they appear to be absolutely fine.

They may drive their children from one sports activity to another, stay on top of schedules, take family vacations, and help their kids with homework. They may even love their children and strive to do their best to raise them.

Yet they make one crucial mistake that, even though not their fault, leaves a lasting mark on their child.

Many are mostly kind and welcoming when their adult child comes to visit. But despite all this, there are telltale signs. There are ways to know if your parents are of this ilk. We will get to that later.

First, we must talk a little bit more about how emotionally neglectful parents are made, where they come from, and how they parent.

The Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves (WMBNT) Parent

The key to the most common type of emotionally neglectful parent, the Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves or WMBNT parent, is summed up by their title. These parents want to do right by their children, but they can’t. It’s because they grew up emotionally neglected themselves. WMBNT parents cannot give their children what they do not have. Unfortunately, it is that simple.

Because Childhood Emotional Neglect is so very common, so are emotionally neglectful parents. And since emotionally neglectful parents are so common, so are emotionally neglected children. It’s because these children grow up to be parents. The cycle continues, and on and on it goes, passing down through generations until someone finally sees what’s happening and calls a halt to its insidious process.

The WMBNT Cycle

  1. A child is raised by parents who are blind to emotions.
  2. That child grows up with his or her emotions ignored and under-validated.
  3. The child is not able to learn that his emotions are real or have value. The child is not able to learn how to identify, name, express, tolerate or use his feelings.
  4. Emotionally “blind,” the child grows into adulthood without adequate connection to her emotions. She is lacking the emotion skills she needs to thrive and is blind to feelings in general.
  5. Once she becomes a parent, the emotionally neglected adult is blind to the emotions of her own children, and she cannot teach her children the emotion skills she doesn’t have herself.

There are so many different varieties of WMBNT parents that we cannot possibly talk about them all. But here are the three common categories.

3 Types of WMBNT Parents

  • The Struggling Parent: These parents want to be there for their child but they can’t. They may be working several jobs trying to keep food on the table, trying to care for a special needs child or family member, or struggling with a physical or mental illness. The struggling parent may have good intentions but is simply too drained, distracted, or busy to notice what their child is feeling and respond to it.
  • The Physically Present But Emotionally Absent Parent: These parents are around. He or she may be a stay-at-home mom or dad, a parent who coaches your Little League team, or the room parent of your class. In this situation, you can see your parent but you cannot feel your parent. You may see that your parent loves you through their actions, but it’s hard to feel that love.
  • The Achievement-Oriented (or AP) Parent: The AP Parent is heavily invested in your success. Many genuinely want to see you excel at something you are passionate about. Others are earnestly trying to give you the opportunities that they didn’t have themselves while they were growing up. Either way, in the process, they can become overly focused on one aspect of the child and miss the essence that makes him who he is: his feelings.

Unintentional Harm

What makes these parents qualify for Well-Meaning status? They think that they are doing what’s best for their children. They are acting out of love, not out of self-interest. Most are simply raising their children the way they themselves were raised.

This is what we human parents do. We automatically follow the “programming” that our parents set up for us, and to change that programming, we must first be aware, and then we must make a conscious choice to do something different from what our parents did.

Children of Well-Meaning parents generally grow into adulthood with heavy doses of three things: all the symptoms of CEN — emptiness, lack of fulfillment, and feelings of disconnection —  a great deal of confusion about where those symptoms came from, and a wagonload of self-blame. That’s because when, as an adult, you look back at your childhood for an explanation for your problems, you may see a benign-looking upbringing.

Everything you can remember about your childhood may seem fairly normal and fine. That’s because you remember what your well-meaning parents gave you, but you cannot recall how what they were unable to provide.

“It must be me. I’m flawed,” you decide. You blame yourself for what is not right in your adult life. You may feel guilty for the seemingly irrational anger that you sometimes have at your well-meaning parents. You also struggle with a lack of emotion skills since you had no opportunity to learn them in childhood.

Since WMBNT are difficult to identify, how do you know if you have them? Look for these signs, taken from my book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children (link below this article).

6 Signs That You Have WMBNT Parents

  1. You have a love for your parents and are surprised by the sudden anger you sometimes have toward them.
  2. You feel confused about your feelings about your parents.
  3. You feel guilty for not loving your parents as much as you think you should.
  4. Being with your parents seems boring or flat.
  5. Your parents don’t see or know the real you, as you are today.
  6. You know that your parents love you, but you don’t necessarily feel it.

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: If I have WMBNT parents, does this mean that I am one? Do not panic, but the answer is that you may well be. It is very, very important for you to remember that this is a legacy handed down to you by the generations that came before you. It is not your fault. And it can be reversed!

What To Do

  • First, learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), what it means, how it happens, and how it affects you. Visit emotionalneglect.com for lots of free information and to take the CEN Test, and see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (link below) for in-depth guidance about healing your own CEN. 
  • For clear guidelines on how to cope with your own emotionally neglectful parents and concrete solutions to change your interactions with your own children, toddlers to adults, see the book  Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children (link below).

You did not ask for this, yet you have been coping with it all your life. Now, you are in a unique position to change everything. Your grandmother, grandfather, mom, and dad simply did not know.

But, now you do. And you are the one who will refuse to pass it down.

In an act of emotional heroism, you are the one who, in your family, will stop Childhood Emotional Neglect in its tracks.

To learn much more about how CEN plays out in families and passes down through generations and concrete ways to heal it in family systems, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children 

Raised By Struggling Parents: The Invisible Child

Some people were raised by narcissists, and some were raised by addicts. Some were raised by parents who were emotionally immature, and others were raised by workaholics.

As a psychologist, I, along with virtually all of the other therapists, have seen how all of these different kinds of parenting, almost without exception, produce children who grow up to grapple with the aftermath in their adult lives.

But I have also seen that some of the most struggling people in the world are the ones raised by parents who were struggling as they raised them. Why? Because children raised by struggling parents grow up with the most invisible form of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Many are raised by parents who may be well-meaning and caring, but who are so busy fighting their own fight that they have little emotional energy left over for their child.

Types of Struggling Parents

  • Working multiple jobs or long hours trying to make ends meet financially
  • Depressed
  • Grieving
  • Adjusting to a divorce
  • Coping with (or stuck in) volatile or conflictual marriage
  • Caring for a disabled child, parent, or family member
  • Physically ill
  • Mentally ill
  • Addicted

These are some common examples, but there are many other kinds of well-meaning parents who are simply not able to provide their children with the emotional validation and responsiveness that their child, like all children, naturally and biologically, needs.

The Invisible Child of Struggling Parents

Many children of struggling parents grow up with all of their physical needs met. For example, they may have a home, food on the table, clothing, and adequate education. But the problem is, their parents are so busy fighting their own battles that they lack the energy, focus, or ability to notice what their child is feeling.

The surprising thing about growing up with your feelings unseen is that it’s impossible to grow up this way without feeling, in some heartfelt and profound way, that you, as a child and a person, are also unseen. You are invisible.

The Invisible Adult

This is why, when I meet these children in my office, decades later and fully grown, I usually see adults who not only often feel invisible in the outside world but, even more tragically, continue to treat themselves as if they are invisible.

Not only that, children of struggling parents, when they look back at their childhoods, remember how hard their parents worked or how much they suffered. Most have a warm empathy and awareness of what their parents went through to raise them. As children, many tried to ease their parents’ load by cooking, cleaning, or taking care of younger siblings.

But almost ubiquitous among children of struggling parents, and probably the saddest and impactful, is the way the emotionally neglected child of the struggling parent tries hard to have as few needs as possible as a way to reduce the burden on his parents.

If This Is You

If this is you, you may have a memory of hiding certain things from your parents. Perhaps you didn’t mention anything when you were being bullied in your neighborhood, struggling in math or gym class, or fighting with friends.

Perhaps you even kept your accomplishments to yourself. Did you fail to mention your good grades, an award you won, or funny things that happened at school for fear that they might somehow make your struggling parents feel worse? It’s not uncommon for the child of struggling parents to try to keep their own light dim so that their parents will never feel outshone.

What did you learn from growing up this way? Several very pivotal things.

Simply put, you learned to hide your feelings, and you learned to hide your needs. You learned to hide your light. You learned to hide your self.

It is not easy to go through your life feeling invisible and wondering why.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN happens when your parents fail to notice, validate, and respond to your feelings enough. Since CEN is not an active form of mistreatment, but instead the result of your parents’ failure to act enough, it can be extremely subtle, invisible, and unmemorable.

With struggling parents, the CEN you grew up with is probably not your parents’ fault. They were likely well-meaning and wanted to do what’s best for you.

But when you grow up with your parents’ attention elsewhere, it does not matter the reason. It does not matter that they were struggling, or why. It does not matter where their focus and energy were directed. It only matters that they did not notice and respond to your feelings enough.

Whether your parents were grieving, depressed, or working several jobs, if they were not able to notice what you were going through and what you felt and needed enough, then you were likely left with the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Yet when you look back at your childhood, it may appear quite fine. As a child, you saw your parent sacrificing, and you saw your parent’s pain. Your parents may, in some circumstances, seem almost heroic in their efforts, and perhaps they truly were.

But that does not change the fact that they failed you in this one very important way. That does not, in your adulthood, relieve you of the consequences of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

How To Become Visible – 3 Steps

  1. Accept that you are missing a vital ingredient and that it is not your fault. You are missing the feeling of being valid and important that everyone else walks around enjoying. It’s not because you’re actually not important; it’s just those old CEN messages at work, whispering, “You don’t matter,” and “Don’t let yourself shine too bright.”
  2. Start giving yourself the very thing you missed in childhood: emotional attention and validation. Start paying attention to yourself in a way you never have before. Ask yourself often, “What do I feel? What do I want? What do I need? What do I think?” These questions will begin to inform you and allow you to start seeing and knowing yourself. And this is a key step toward being seen by others.
  3. Set yourself free of the struggle: Being raised by parents who are struggling does not obligate you to live that struggle. Your parents’ lives belong to them, and your life belongs to you. It is your duty to live for yourself, free of the chains and pain that your struggling parents unwittingly handed down to you.

What Now?

As you let go of the burdensome sense that you have brought your own struggles upon yourself, you can begin to see yourself, your own strengths and weaknesses, wishes, needs, feelings, and passions as things that are real and that matter.

As you let go of the battles that your parents, perhaps even lovingly, fought for you, you will feel yourself coming alive and taking up space in ways that will surprise you.

You will find yourself walking around just as other people do: knowing, in a deep and unshakeable way, that you are valid, you are important, and you matter. 

Knowing, without a doubt, that you were not born to be invisible, not at all. You were, in fact, born to be seen.

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

To learn more about your emotionally neglectful parents, their struggle and yours, and how to heal it, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) permeates your everyday life. And there are some situations that can make CEN struggles even more present and challenging. One of them is the holiday season.

Notice the picture accompanying this post. I chose it for a special reason, and I want to start by apologizing for it. It is a perfect example of the pressure society puts on everyone throughout the holiday season. Commercials, ads, and images abound which show warm, happy families or beautiful people smiling with gifts.

Be joyous!

Be merry!

We’re a loving, close family!

The pictures call out to us day after day.

As a specialist in Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), I see how this affects many people. There is no time of year when folks are under this much pressure to feel. And even more challenging: you’re supposed to feel happy.

I have followed many emotionally neglected people through many holiday seasons, and I have seen how they often experience them. Under pressure to feel, the holidays can seem vaguely disappointing and burdensome for those who grew up emotionally neglected.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents raise you in a way that does not pay enough attention to your emotions. Childhood Emotional Neglect leaves you with a particular set of struggles within yourself, and also with your family, throughout your adult life.

As you read the list of special challenges below, I encourage you to think about yourself and whether each one applies to you. Knowing and thinking about these challenges before they happen, or as they are happening, will help you minimize their effects on you this holiday season and beyond. First, let’s talk about the general effects of growing up with your emotions ignored.

Year-Round Struggles of the CEN Person

  • You feel deeply that something is not right with you. But you have problems understanding what’s wrong or why.
  • Your emotions are walled off, making it hard to experience the depth of feelings that other people have.
  • Being out of touch with your feelings makes your relationships seem less rewarding, leaving you feeling, on some level, alone.
  • You naturally put other people’s feelings and needs before your own.
  • You are prone to getting angry at yourself and blaming yourself.

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

  1. It makes your tendency to put others first even more exaggerated. When your parents failed to notice your feelings and emotional needs in your childhood, they give you the message that your feelings and needs are unimportant. This plays out powerfully during the holidays when you are prone to be too worried about making other people happy, and not paying enough attention to yourself.
  2. It can make you feel even more alone. With your feelings walled off, it is hard to connect with other people on a deep and meaningful emotional level. During the holiday season, you feel the expectations of the season. Portrayals of loving, warm families gathered around a fire, candles or a Christmas tree make you feel even more acutely what is missing in your own. 
  3. You are vulnerable to missing out on what matters the most. Lacking full access to your own emotions has another effect. It can result in you going all the way through the holidays focusing on gifts, decorations, and pleasing others instead of the feeling part of the experience. This is also something that is very hard to realize in yourself because it’s difficult to know what you are missing.
  4. You are prone to the Holiday Trap: Looking forward to your family holiday event and then feeling disappointed and let down. Emotionally neglectful families often can appear perfectly normal from the outside. So you are vulnerable to expecting to feel happy and connected with your people, only to feel the lack of true emotional connection when you see them. This can lead to a roller-coaster experience: happy, excited expectations followed by a disappointing letdown.
  5. Being around your family continues your CEN. If your parents emotionally neglected you in your childhood, chances are high that they are still doing so. You will feel it when you see them for the holidays, and probably you will feel it even more when surrounded by the trappings of the holidays. This is one of the main causes of the disappointment described above.
  6. Once you’re aware of CEN it makes you see your parents and siblings differently. Seeing Emotional Neglect in your family changes how you view your birth family in some powerful ways. You begin to see that what seemed benign before is actually hurtful and harmful to you. This may make you feel angry or frustrated with them.
  7. The pressure to be joyous makes you feel lacking. CEN makes it hard to feel as intensely as others do, and it also makes you prone to feeling empty at times. For many with CEN, the pressure to feel joy makes it even more obvious that something is missing in your life. You may experience the emptiness even more.
  8. Your tendency toward self-anger and self-blame gets triggered. You may feel angry at yourself for overeating, not exercising enough, or for saying something you regret. There are many opportunities to do any or all of these things during the holidays.
  9. You are more likely to find yourself running on empty. Riding the roller-coaster of disappointment, surrounded by family but feeling alone, over-focused on others at the expense of yourself, and out of touch with the energy of your feelings, you are likely to power through the holidays by sheer force of will, all the while growing ever more drained day by day.

What To Do

Although the CEN ship has already sailed through your childhood, it is never too late to turn that ship around. But to do so, you must be proactive. Now that you see what’s been dragging down your holidays for years, you are in a good position to start making things different for yourself.

In the short term, now before the holidays, start treating yourself more as if you matter. Set aside time every single day to do something that nurtures you. Pay attention to the feelings you are having each day, and accept what you feel without judgment. Make sure you get enough rest, healthy food, and fresh air, and spend time with someone you enjoy.

And most importantly, start healing the roots of what’s wrong: your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To get started, Take the CEN Test. It’s free. Then learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect: how it happens, how it affects you, and the 4 Steps to CEN Recovery. Start working on Step 1, and do not stop. You can learn much more about all of these things in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

You deserve a happy holiday season. My warmest holiday wishes to you!

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

4 Tips For Dealing With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Tips For Dealing With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents

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

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

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

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

Yes, you matter.

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

Photo by THX0477

The Painful Secret Many People Live With: The Fatal Flaw

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

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

It’s their Fatal Flaw.

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

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

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

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

I’m not as fun as other people.

I don’t have anything interesting to say.

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

I know that I’m not attractive.

No one wants to hear what I have to say.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not lovable.

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

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

The Flaw                                                             The Roots

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

The Good News

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

How to Defeat Your Fatal Flaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Make You an Avoidant Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Important Points About Avoidance

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

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

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

You Can Become Less Avoidant

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

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

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

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

Three Amazing Ways You Can Re-Parent Yourself

The First Way – Compassionate Accountability

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

At themselves.

For making a mistake.

What You Didn’t Get

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

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

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

What To Give Yourself

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

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

The Second Way – Self-Discipline

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

What You Didn’t Get

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

What To Give Yourself

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

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

The Third Way – Learn to Love the Real You

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

What You Didn’t Get

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

What to Give Yourself

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

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

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