Category Archives for "Family Issues"

The Sad Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

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

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

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

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

Childhood Emotional Neglect

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

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

Narcissistic Personality

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

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

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

5 Sad Connections Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Few things have the power to hold you back in your adult life as much as abandonment. Legions of people are wondering how to overcome abandonment issues from childhood.

Sadly, there are many different ways that parents can fail their children. Thanks to research and awareness, there are many resources available to people who grew up with any form of abuse from their parents. But there are two other types of parental failure that are far less noticed or discussed: parental abandonment and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

Children are born literally “pre-wired” with some very specific emotional needs. Thanks to loads of scientific research, we now know, without a doubt, that in order to grow and thrive as an adult, children must feel loved and emotionally attached to their parents.

Childrens’ emotional needs are, in fact, so crucial that even well-meaning, physically present parents can inadvertently harm their children by not responding enough to their children’s emotions. This subtle parental failure happens far and wide, and I have given it the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN. 

Though CEN happens under the radar in most emotionally neglectful homes, it nevertheless leaves lasting effects upon the child: disconnection, lack of fulfillment, and feelings of being empty and alone, among others.

If physically present, well-meaning parents can fail their children in such a subtle way that harms them, you can imagine the powerful impact of parental abandonment.

Parental Abandonment

Parents leave their children in many different ways, and for many different reasons. Whether your parent left you because of divorce, death, or choice, the reason matters far less than the fact that he or she left you.

It is very difficult for a child’s brain to absorb the enormity of abandonment. Children often suffer problems with anger or grief after the loss of a parent. Most children have difficulty believing that it is permanent, even if their parent has passed away. But if your parent walked away by choice, you will also likely struggle with your very natural question of, “Why?”

The 3 Main Issues Of The Abandoned Child

  1. Trusting others: When your parent abandons you, he or she is violating your most basic human need, which is to have parents who value and enjoy you. If the one who is meant to love and care for you the most in this world leaves you, it becomes very difficult to believe that anyone and everyone who becomes important to you will not do the same. You may end up living your life constantly on-guard for the possibility of being abandoned again. It’s hard to trust that your partner, friend or loved one has your best interests in mind. This holds you back from forming rich, deep, trusting relationships.
  2. Guilt and shame: All abandoned children are deeply mystified about why their parents left them. Many struggle with the fact that there is no good explanation because, let’s face it, apart from death there is no good reason for a parent to leave a child. In the absence of a logical explanation, the child naturally tends to blame herself. This sets up a pattern of feeling deeply responsible for her parent’s choice to leave her. The abandoned child often grows up to struggle with guilt and shame.
  3. Self-worth: “How could my own parent leave me?” the abandoned child wonders. Being left by the one who brought you into this world naturally makes you wonder what is wrong with you. The abandoned child is set up to never feel good enough. Deeply, painfully, he feels unworthy of true love and commitment.

Many thousands of children grow up with parents who are physically present, yet emotionally absent — Childhood Emotional Neglect. These children grow up to feel less important than others, and deeply alone.

Many thousands more children experience the deep trauma of a parent physically abandoning them. If you had this experience as a child, you have probably grown up to struggle with trust, shame, and low self-worth.

Even if you are physically abandoned, if you have one parent who remains present and is emotionally attuned to you, this can greatly soften the impact of the other parent’s abandonment.

Emotional attunement from a parent is the balm that soothes all childhood hurts, and the antidote that prevents depression, anxiety, and low self-worth. If you grew up in a family that offered a shortage of this balm, you may be struggling to this day.

How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Whether you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, abandonment, or a combination of the two, it’s not too late for you to repair those childhood hurts. Now, as an adult, you can make up for what you didn’t get in childhood.

By beginning to tune in to yourself to pay attention to your feelings, by making a concerted effort to take care of your own needs, and by learning emotion management skills, you can begin the process of accepting your own true value as a human being.

If your parents failed you emotionally or abandoned you, you can become your own present, loving and attuned parent now.

It’s never too late to begin to accept that you matter.

To learn much more about the emotional needs of children, the effects of having emotionally or physically absent parents and how you can heal yourself, see Running On Empty or Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free!

6 Sad Reasons Why A Family Creates A Black Sheep

I’m the black sheep of my family,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotionally Neglected in a Highly Emotional Family

“I scored high on the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire, but I actually grew up in a family that was the opposite of what you describe. My family was constantly yelling and screaming. How can this be?”    –A question posted by a reader on PDAN.

Six-year-old Marcus feels invisible as he sits between his two older sisters in the back seat of the car. He actually hopes he IS invisible, because he doesn’t want to be the target of either of his angry parents.  Marcus’ sister Marsha is sobbing loudly on his left. On his right, Blair stares ahead stone-faced with her headphones on, purposely shutting herself off from the brutal but familiar battle between their parents which is taking place in the front of the car.

Eight-year-old Marsha tries to sob loudly enough that her parents will hear her over their yelling, hoping they’ll realize what they are doing to their children and stop fighting.

Eleven-year-old Blair appears to be listening to music. Instead she is acutely aware that her mother will scream and hurl insults at her father until she “wins,” as she always does. Blaire repeats over and over in her head, “I hate these people. I’m going to run away from here as soon as I can.”

Here we have three children who are all responding differently to what is happening in their family. None of the three are experiencing direct verbal abuse, and no one is purposely harming them. But each suffers alone, unheard and unseen, in the back seat of the car. Each one is experiencing Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).Continue reading

Love and Wealth are Not Enough

What’s the most important ingredient for a happy life?

Philosophers, clergy, psychologists and researchers of all kinds have offered opinions on this question over the last five decades. Some say wealth, some say religion. Still others say family is the most important thing.

But one factor emerges over and over in study after study as a primary ingredient which must be present in childhood to produce a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult. That factor is emotional attachment, warmth and care. In a word, love.

This factor was recently studied very specifically by Harvard researchers (Vaillant, 2012) who wanted to compare the effects of childhood financial wealth with childhood warmth. By following over 200 men (yes, only men) over an extended period of 70+ years, they were able to identify clear patterns. They saw that childhood financial wealth has little to do with adult success, satisfaction and adjustment. And that parental warmth and care throughout childhood is a much more powerful contributor.

Some may wonder, “What’s the big deal? Don’t virtually all parents automatically love their children?”

In my years as a psychologist, I have seen for myself that money is not enough to raise a healthy child. But I’ve also seen that love is not enough. At least not the generic, “I love you because you’re my child” kind of love.Continue reading

Stressful Family? 10 Mantras to Get You Through the Holidays

Is your family happy and supportive? Are your holiday family gatherings warm, loving and festive? If so, that is wonderful. And you can stop reading this article now.

Is your family complicated? Do you often feel hurt, pained, disappointed, damaged, or let down when your family is together? If so, this article is for you. Never fear, help is here. (For more about painful family dynamics, take a look at last week’s article, 4 Subtle Family Dynamics That Can Ruin Your Holidays.)

No, of course we can’t fix your family issues before this year’s holiday gathering. But we can give you some new tools to get you through it. One of the most powerful tools to cope with a painful family is a mantra. It’s a sentence that you repeat inside your head over and over throughout the day. You can call upon it whenever you need to feel calmer and stronger.  It serves to remind you what’s really going on in your family. It focuses your attention, and it provides you with the strength and resolve to get you through the day.

While going through the list below, choose the one that feels most right to you. It should be one that you can feel in your gut. It should make you feel a little stronger as you say it.

Here are Ten Mantras to choose from:Continue reading

When the Narcissist Becomes Dangerous

Recently at a dinner party, talk turned to the current news story about Bill Cosby. As the only psychologist at the table, everyone looked at me as one person asked with intense curiosity, “How could anyone victimize women all those years, and still live with himself? How could you sleep at night?”

Since I don’t know Bill Cosby, I can’t speak for him; nor do I know if he is guilty of the accusations against him or not. But generally, in an actual situation like this, there is an answer to the question. The answer is one word: narcissism.

In many ways, it seems like it would be fun to be narcissistic. Wouldn’t it be great to go through life feeling superior to other people, and with unwavering self-confidence? Yes!

But as we all know, there is a dark side to narcissism. That unwavering self-confidence is as brittle as an eggshell. Narcissists don’t move back and forth on a continuum of self-esteem as the rest of us do. Instead, they run on full-tilt until something taps that protective shell of self-importance hard enough. Then, they fall into a million pieces. Under that fragile, brittle cover lies a hidden pool of insecurity and pain. Deep down, the narcissist’s deepest and most powerful fear is that he is a nothing.Continue reading

4 Subtle Family Dynamics That Can Ruin Your Holidays

Do you look forward to seeing your family at the holidays, but then often come away feeling vaguely disappointed, confused, angry or guilty?

If this is true of you, then you need answers to what is truly going on in your family.  And you need them quickly since The Holidays are here. Is it possible to make this year’s family gathering less disappointing?

Yes.

As a psychologist I have found that as adults, family dynamics have the power to make or break our holidays. And that family dynamics have the most power when they run under the surface, unseen and unknown by the family members themselves.

The bad news: it is often very difficult to change your family dynamics. The good news: it is usually not necessary to change them. Being able to see what is really going on between family members is enough to make you less vulnerable.

Here are Four Subtle Family Dynamics that can ruin your holidays:Continue reading

What No One Tells You About Personality Disorders

16-year-old Bruce is feeling lonely and bored on this Saturday. After buying a soda and candy bar for breakfast at the convenience store, he stops by his only friend Joe’s house to hang out. A couple of hours later, he starts to feel annoyed by Joe’s “childish” sense of humor. After several irritating jokes from Joe, Bruce loses his temper. “Grow up you loser. You’re boring,” he blurts suddenly on his way out the door, leaving a surprised and hurt Joe behind him.

Bruce walks slowly around the neighborhood, bored again. “Maybe I should go home and play my guitar,” he thinks. But then realizes that his mom may be up by now, and he doesn’t want to run into her. No telling what mood she might be in. So he decides to try to sneak in and up to his room by going in the back door. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

“Where the h—  have you been you  lazy little punk?!” his mother yells from the kitchen when she hears his footsteps. Bruce turns on his heel and goes straight back out the door. Back to Joe’s house, he knocks on the door, walks in and says, “What’s up?” as if this morning’s hurtful insult never happened.Continue reading

Born Under the Gaslight: Five Steps to Heal

Reject the lie, and start living in the truth.

14-year-old Olivia sits at the dinner table with her family, picking at her food. While the others talk in the background, she is absorbed in her own thoughts, trying to sort out in her head why her math teacher seems to hate her. “Why don’t teachers like me? I try so hard, but I must be doing something wrong that I don’t know about,” she worries for the six hundredth time.

“Olivia!” her father says suddenly, breaking through her reverie. “When your mother talks, you listen!” Startled and overwhelmed in the moment, tears come to Olivia’s eyes. “There you go again,” her mother says. “You don’t even bother to listen when I talk, and then you pull out the tears. I’ve never seen such a selfish kid.”

Olivia has been called selfish many times by her parents. They use this word often when they are not happy with something that she did or said or felt. In reality, Olivia is anything but selfish. She is by nature a kind and caring child. She worries a lot, and she feels things deeply. She keeps it all inside because she knows that there is not room for her worries and feelings and problems in her childhood home.

As Olivia goes forward with her life, grows into a young adult, and then gets married and has children herself, she will be troubled by a contradiction that she can’t resolve. Deep down, she knows that she’s not selfish. But she was labelled that at every turn by the people who are supposed to love and care for her most, her parents.

Last week’s blog, Were You Born Under the Gaslight?, was about the effects of growing up in a family that delivers messages that contradict each other, and/or contradict reality. In such a family you grow up walking on shaky ground, unable to trust yourself, your world or the people around you, and feeling deeply invalid and alone.

Is the Gaslight Effect a life sentence? How can a child like Olivia, once grown, get her feet back on the firm, solid surface of earth? How can she learn to trust herself? How can she realize that she’s not crazy?

There are seven billion people on the earth, and no two childhood experiences are the same. Everyone born under the gaslight takes with him his own unique set of challenges. But there are some particular steps that you can take to move yourself toward health, strength, self-confidence and happiness.

Five Steps To Move Forward From the Gaslight

  1. Tune Into Yourself: As a child, you were taught that you’re perceptions and feelings were wrong, but it’s not true. Now you will have to fully accept that you’re not crazy, and that your feelings and perceptions have value. Pay attention to yourself.
  2. Learn and Practice Meditation / Mindfulness: Mindfulness is helpful for many emotional issues. But here it offers an extra bonus. It will not only help you focus your attention inward to accomplish the first step, it will also help you to ground yourself. If you’re riddled by self-doubt, question the reliability of your own perceptions, or are out-of-touch with your own feelings, mindfulness can help. The mindfulness skill allows you to focus your attention inward whenever you need to check in with yourself.
  3. Accept That You’re Not Flawed: You’ve spent much of your life wondering about yourself. What’s wrong with me? Or maybe even, “Am I crazy?” Now it’s time for you to let go of that. Put the real problem in its actual place: your childhood.
  4. Start Trusting Yourself: No matter how strong your feelings are, they are there for a reason, and they make sense. Your perceptions are real, and they matter. Stop believing the gaslight, and trust yourself and your feelings instead.
  5. Reach Out For Help: It’s difficult to do this kind of recovery all alone. Did others made you think that reaching out is wrong? Guess what. They are wrong. Talk to a friend or family member who has a proven history of trustworthiness. Or find a trained mental health professional who you feel a click with. Then talk to that person, and let him or her be your guide as you walk away, farther and farther from the gaslight and toward your own inner truth and light.

Healing from the gaslight is a special challenge, mostly because it’s hard to trust yourself (and maybe others too). And trust is the foundation of everything.

Essentially, living under the gaslight is like living under a lie. The lie is, “The world doesn’t make sense.” The truth is, the world does make sense. And you make sense, if you only start to understand yourself.

So now, it’s your turn. It’s your time to shine. Do the work, and you’ll feel your feet meeting the ground. You’ll feel the warmth of your own emotions, and your own reality.

You’ll be living in the truth, not the lie.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable when it happens. To find out if you grew up with CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

This article was originally published on Psychcentral.com and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral