Category Archives for "Family Issues"

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

Seven Steps to Speak Your Uncomfortable Truth

Abigail needs to tell her adult son Mark that she thinks he has a drinking problem.

Simon needs to tell his wife Lisa that he’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore.

From time to time, we all find ourselves in a tough spot. Something looks wrong or feels wrong, and we need to say something difficult. Something painful that may hurt someone we care about, but which nevertheless must be said.

Abigail and Simon have some tough decisions to make. Do they speak up and risk hurting their loved ones? How do they say it? Would it be better to just keep it to themselves? At least then they wouldn’t cause anyone pain.

Many people in these situations choose the last option. Sometimes it feels easier and kinder. Unfortunately, that is typically the worst choice. Uncomfortable truths seldom disappear on their own. And they have far more power to hurt when they remain unspoken.

The Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you grew up in a family that discouraged frank discussion, emotional expression, or honest discourse (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), having a conversation like this may feel simply wrong to you. And even if you do decide to speak your truth, you may not have been able to learn the emotion skills you need to do it right.

Abigail and Simon could easily do this wrong. Abigail could blurt out her message when Mark has been drinking. Simon could pick a fight with Lisa, and leave the house angrily, never explaining why and leaving Lisa baffled and unresolved.

Or each could go about speaking his truth in a caring and compassionate way.

7 Guidelines for Speaking Your Uncomfortable Truth

  1. Choose your moment: timing is everything. Choose a quiet, open moment to maximize being heard.
  2. Imagine being the other person: put yourself in her shoes. If you were to receive this message, how would you want to hear it?
  3. Keep your own emotions in check: practice helps with this. Practice relaying the message, either in your own head, in the mirror, or to a friend, until you’re able to say it in a compassionate and caring tone. If you are angry or accusing when you relay your message, the other person will feel immediately defensive. And defensive people lose their hearing. They do not take things in.
  4. Avoid extreme words.  The words “always” and “never” raise defenses. Avoid accusations. Use “I feel,” not “you always,” for example.
  5. Listen: after you speak your truth, be quiet and listen to the other person. Avoid arguing, because that will bury your message in anger.
  6. Recognize that most difficult things require more than one conversation: your goal in this first talk is to plant the seed. Don’t expect a plant to spring immediately from the earth. Give it some time to take root, and then have another talk.
  7. Accept that the other person may be hurt: it is okay. Often, the most loving thing we can do is hurt someone. Because honesty shows respect and care, even when it hurts.

The Takeaway

Don’t shy away from speaking your truth. That is not loving, and it will not help.

Make yourself uncomfortable. Do the background work. Take the time, put in the effort, and sit together through the pain. Wait for the seed to sprout, and then revisit the topic with care.

That is what true love and care look like.

To learn more about emotions, emotional needs, and Childhood Emotional Neglect, Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn how to use your emotions to communicate and connect in your most important relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Are You An Invisible Hero?

The world is full of Invisible Heroes. People who are changing the world. People who do not realize how courageous they are. Quiet, unsung Emotional Warriors, who avoid the spotlight, even though they should have it.

How do I know this? I meet them every day.

The truth is you may be one yourself.

Maybe you’ve never saved anyone from a burning building, and maybe you never will. But still, you may be one of the most courageous among us.

How? By breaking through the bonds that were placed upon you in childhood, and looking your own weaknesses straight in the face. By seeing and owning and believing and working. By having the courage to sit with your pain.

All of these are the most difficult things to do in life. We celebrate the heroes who take risks, or sacrifice themselves to physically save others, as we surely should. But what about the ones who save others emotionally, even while they are suffering themselves?

We don’t see them. We don’t hear them. We don’t give them awards, and they don’t get written up in any newspaper. Yet they are quietly making a tremendous contribution to the health and happiness of the human race.

Do you treat others better than your parents treated you? Do you give your children what you never got yourself?

A man whose parents never said “I love you” makes a point to say it to his own children every day.

A woman struggles to face her own anxieties so that she won’t pass them down to her children.

A man who grew up watching his father verbally abuse his mother purposely takes great care in how he treats his wife.

A woman goes into rehab because she doesn’t want to be an alcoholic, as her mother was.

All of these people are Invisible Heroes. All of them are soldiers of care. Each deserves credit and recognition, but few will seek it, and most will not even accept credit if offered.

A stanza from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about heroism, A Psalm of Life:

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime

And departing leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time

Of course we now know that women are just as heroic as men.  And we know that if we are to make our own lives better, we must face not dragons or enemies, but the most painful parts of ourselves. And when we do, we offer those near us, our husbands and wives, our friends and family, and especially our children, more than we ever received ourselves.

So this is a tribute to all of you Invisible Heroes. May you, at least inside yourself, know that you are a possessor of true courage and strength. Know that you are making a great difference in our world.

And be proud of the footprints that you leave upon the sands of time.

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To learn more about how to give what you never got, see Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.  

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

Are You Living Life On The Outside?

Real belonging requires us to be authentically ourselves.

Brene Brown

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

People who grew up with CEN end up feeling on the outside. It’s a sense of being alone, unable to join, separate, different. This feeling is compounded by the fact that the cause of it all, Childhood Emotional Neglect, doesn’t get talked about.

But in the last month I’ve noticed several news stories and articles that touch upon CEN, addressing it indirectly. They are all important and teach us something new. Here they are:

  1. The Story: In the Boston Globe, a headline says, “For Neglected Children, Path to Recovery is Difficult.” The article is about a house in Massachusetts in which two children, one 3 years old and the other 5 months, had been hidden away from the world by their mother. No one, not even the children’s father, knew that they even existed. They had been traumatically physically neglected.

In the article, Dr. Charles Nelson, a Harvard professor, is quoted as saying, “Depriving the brain very early in life has very insidious effects.” Dr. Ann Easterbrooks, a Tufts University professor, is also quoted: “In cases of chronic, severe neglect, you see smaller brains and difficulties in emotion regulation. You might see serious depression, anxiety disorders, and negativity,” including blunted positive emotions and emotional flatness.

The Takeaway: We know, and science has established, that extreme physical neglect in childhood affects the brain’s wiring, and has severe and damaging effects that endure into adulthood. But this article, and the research it cites, focuses upon physical neglect, not Emotional Neglect.

The Question: Let’s study the brains of Emotionally Neglected children. Let’s look at the separate effects of Emotional Neglect from the physical type of neglect.

  1. The Story: The Monitor on Psychology (Jan., 2014) referred to a study by psychologist John Cacioppo,PhD  from Social Science and Medicine, 2012. The study found a connection between feelings of loneliness and increased likelihood of death. They also found that feelings of loneliness were unrelated to marital status or the number of relatives and friends nearby. In other words, being alone is not a health risk. Feeling lonely is. And it is possible to feel very alone, even when surrounded by family and friends.

The Takeaway: Loneliness is a feeling, not a state.  It is possible to experience powerful feelings of loneliness while surrounded by people who love you. And beyond that, those feelings of loneliness can have a profound effect upon your physical health. This study validates the importance of the empty, “on the outside” feelings that so often go along with CEN.

The Question: The deeper question is: Why would a person feel lonely while surrounded by people who love him? I believe that often, the answer is CEN. So is it a jump to hope that taking on your CEN and breaking down your walls could improve your physical health? I don’t think so.

  1. The Story: A study by O’Reilly, Robinson and Berdahl, 2014, looked at the effects of workplace ostracism (being excluded or ignored) vs. bullying. They found several very interesting and relevant findings:  First, they found that office workers view ostracizing a co-worker as more socially acceptable than bullying him/her. But surprisingly, they found that ostracized workers suffer more than bullied ones, and are more likely to leave their job than their bullied colleagues.

The Takeaway: If grown-ups are more affected by being ignored (the adult form of Emotional Neglect) than they are by bullying (the adult form of abuse), imagine what it’s like for a child who is being ignored by his family.

The Question: Could this have implications for the impact of abuse vs. Emotional Neglect upon children? Abuse is a terrible thing for a child to endure. It has lasting effects throughout adulthood which must be addressed. But if you grew up emotionally neglected, you may suffer even more than the abused. You, like the ostracized adult in his work environment, did not feel like an important part of your family. Your suffering is real.

So children’s brain development is effected by physical neglect. It is possible to feel intensely lonely while surrounded by loving people. And being ignored is worse for adults than being bullied.

Yet widespread, subtle Emotional Neglect continues to erode the lives of thousands of children and adults. Unfortunately, since it is not visible, tangible, memorable, or dramatic, it receives no headlines and no research grants of its own.

What is it like to fall between the cracks? What is it like to feel that you don’t belong? Let’s pay attention to the children who know. Let’s ask the adults who can tell us. Let’s put our time and money into research, and give validation and a voice to those who feel on the outside.

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To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, its causes and effects, and how to heal, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. 

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

Raised By A Narcissist

Few phrases sum up the idea of narcissism better than:

It’s all about me. 

But the most defining feature of a person with narcissism is actually not his self-involvement. It’s his deeply concealed fear of being exposed as inadequate.

Underneath the bluster and arrogance of the narcissist lies a hurt and fragile core. Deep down, narcissists fear others will see that they are not special or superior (they are just human beings after all), so many of their grandiose behaviors are designed to prevent that exposure. Surprisingly, this deeply buried vulnerability is the trait that can do the greatest damage to the narcissist’s child.

What is it like to grow up with a narcissistic parent? Meet Lucy, who was raised by a narcissistic father.

The Child

Lucy 

Lucy grew up knowing that she was her father’s favorite. A straight-A student and accomplished athlete, she made sure to never let him down by making a B or dropping a ball in a game, like her brother did. Lucy noticed early that she was special in her father’s eyes. She saw how enraged and embarrassed her father was when her older brother got in trouble at school, and she made sure never to make him feel that way. 

Lucy made many decisions in her life that were designed to please her father. She felt that if she let him down he would stop loving her, so she followed in his footsteps to take over his dry cleaning business. Lucy never thought about what she herself wanted as a career because her father made it clear to her from birth that he had already set up her life for her. 

At age 23, Lucy was feeling bored behind the counter of the dry-cleaner and yearned to go back to college and get an MBA. It took her months to gather the nerve to tell her father her plan. When she did, he was enraged. “I’ve given you everything, and this is how you repay me? You have no idea what you’re doing. When you’re broke and miserable, don’t come to me for help.” 

From that point on, Lucy’s father treated her coldly, as if he no longer loved her. She was no longer the apple of his eye. Her brother finally got his turn as the favorite, and Lucy was on her own. 

The Parent

The narcissistic parent is not able to see his child as a separate person. The child is an extension of himself; an object to deliver admiration, but also capable of bringing shame. These parents often choose one child who they feel most likely to reflect positively upon them and lavish favoritism upon that child, as Lucy’s father did. This leaves the other children jockeying for attention and love.

Since the narcissist’s child is seen as an extension of the parent, any normal failure, struggle, or flaw of a the child poses a threat to the narcissist of being exposed as imperfect. So he keeps a tight rein upon the children, especially the favored one, out of fear of being exposed. When any child, particularly the chosen one, expresses his own wants, feelings or needs, this makes the parent feel vulnerable. The child is likely to meet with harsh rejection.

The Result

Throughout childhood, Lucy’s own identity was neglected while she toiled to be the perfect child to protect her father’s vulnerable core from exposure. This is one of the many ways in which Childhood Emotional Neglect can happen. As an adult, Lucy will struggle to define her own wants and needs. In fact she may feel selfish for simply having wants and needs. As an adult, that long ago child will be trapped in her father’s mirror, yearning for his lost love and approval.

Healing 

  1. Separate Yourself:  Your parent probably gave you what he/she could, but it was limited, and some of it was painful. If you need distance from your narcissistic parent, take it. The more you can do so with compassion for his/her deeply buried vulnerability, the better.
  2. Discover yourself: You are behind on discovering who you are. As an adult, you now have to define yourself and what you want. Start paying attention to your feelings, wants and needs in a way that your parents never could.
  3. Lose the guilt: This is not your fault. You are not responsible for your parent’s needs and issues. But you are now responsible for your own healing. Now is the time for you to stop feeling guilty and take control of your life.
  4. Seek help:  Enlist the support and guidance of an experienced therapist. Follow the recovery steps set out in Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Or both.

Today, for your healing and for yourself, it’s your turn. Right here, right now:

It’s all about you.

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

To learn much more about how to deal with your narcissistic or self-centered parent, especially how to protect yourself in a way that won’t make you feel guilty, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

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

How to Know if You Were an Overly Needy Child (Spoiler Alert: You Weren’t)

The Question

(Posted on my CEN Sharing Page by Anonymous)

My mother has complained about my behavior as a child for YEARS. When I was little, she says I “always wanted to be held,” and was “so dramatic” as a teen, acting out to get attention. I was nearly held back in Kindergarten for lack of social skills; I hadn’t been around children my age regularly until then. In occasional situations with peers, she reports that I clung to the wall.

She was faithful to pass along my father’s criticisms because he rarely spoke. He had no friends and didn’t participate in social activities. He was hospitalized this January, and my mother didn’t even tell me! He passed away 3 weeks after I found out he was sick. I have no tears; I barely knew him. He hasn’t been gone 6 months and the house I grew up in is already on the market.

Perhaps they assumed that if their kids were fed, clothed, sheltered, and in school, their work was done. My mother said once that it never occurred to her that she should be teaching her children to take care of themselves. We were her job.

I’ve struggled for over 50 years to find my strengths, and am scared and frustrated to be without a career (or job) at an age when most people are preparing for retirement.

The Answer

Dear Anon,

Reading your mother’s description of you as a child breaks my heart. She thought you were excessively needy. I can, without even knowing you, say with 100% certainty, that you were not needy or poorly behaved.

You were emotionally starving.

In reality, there is no such thing as a needy child simply because there is no such thing as an un-needy child. All children are emotionally needy by definition. It is the parents’ responsibility to try their best to understand what their child needs and to try their best to provide it. Whether it be structure, limits, freedom of expression, emotional validation or social skills, it’s all part of the job.

Growing up emotionally ignored results in growing up with a tendency to ignore yourself. When you ignore yourself, you don’t have a chance to truly know yourself. What career should you be in? What kind of job would you excel at and enjoy? Not knowing yourself makes you feel lost, alone and at sea. The answers are there inside of you, but you were not taught how to find them.

Many parents (yours included) don’t realize that their job is not simply to provide for their children and raise them; they’re also supposed to respond to their children’s emotions. Wanting to be held is a healthy and normal requirement that all children have. “Drama” is nothing other than a judgmental word for emotions. Teenagers act out when they’re either over-controlled or under-attended to by their parents.

How can you know yourself when your parents never knew you? How can you feel that you’re lovable when you didn’t experience enough feeling of love from those who brought you into this world and are supposed to love you first and best?

Fortunately, dear Anon, you can still get where you want to be! Accept that you are worth knowing, and start giving yourself the attention you didn’t get as a child. Notice what you like, love, hate, enjoy, prefer, and need. Start noticing what you feel, and start using those feelings to guide and connect you.

If you haven’t yet read the book Running on Empty, please do so as soon as you can. If you don’t have a therapist, please consider finding one. The social and emotional skills you missed can be learned. You are a classic example of Childhood Emotional Neglect. And you can heal.

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

Three Tips to Teach Your Child Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI): Your ability to manage and understand emotions and relationships, your own as well as others’.

Research has shown that Emotional Intelligence is more vital to life success and satisfaction than general intelligence. This makes EI a very important skill for parents to teach their children.

The good news: Children automatically learn EI when they are raised by parents who have it themselves. Parents with EI are able to understand what their child is feeling and why. Their emotionally attuned responses to the child model and teach him how to read, understand, and respond to his own and others’ feelings in a healthy way.

The bad news: A parent who struggles with EI himself may lack the skills necessary to be able to teach them to his child. In other words, you can’t teach your child what you don’t know. This is why low EI is self-perpetuating through generations of families.

One way to make sure that you do not teach your child about emotion is to simply ignore his emotions while you are raising him (Childhood Emotional Neglect). If you seem not to notice that your child is upset, sad, angry, hurt, or anxious, you are subtly telling him that his sadness, anger, pain, or anxiety don’t matter. You are teaching him to ignore his own feelings.

Emotionally neglected children grow up to experience a variety of challenges, only one of which is low Emotional Intelligence. As adults, these children also struggle with excessive guilt and self-blame, feelings of emptiness, and a general lack of joy in life.

No loving parent wants to set her child up for that scenario. But parenting is probably the most complicated job in the world. In fact, it is built into the natural process of parenting that even the most loving parents will pass their own strengths and weaknesses on to their children. Often, the only way to stop that cycle is to consciously make the effort to override it.

Three Parenting Tips to Maximize Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

  1. Pay attention.  Work hard to see your child’s true nature.  What does your child like, dislike, get angry about, feel afraid of, or struggle with?  Feed these observations back to your child in a non-judgmental way so that your child can see herself through your eyes, and so that she can feel how well you know her.

Life Advantage: Your child will see herself reflected in your eyes, and she will know who she is. This will give her confidence in her life choices and will make her resilient to life’s challenges.

  1. Feel an emotional connection to your child.  Strive to feel what your child is feeling (empathy), whether you agree with it or not.  When you feel your child’s emotion, he will feel an instant bond with you.

Life Advantage: Your child will learn empathy and will have healthier relationships throughout his life.

  1. Respond competently to your child’s emotional needs.  Do not judge your child’s feeling as right or wrong.  Look beyond the feeling, to the source. Help your child name her emotion.  Help her manage the emotion.

Life Advantage: Your child will have a healthy relationship with his own emotions. He will naturally know that his feelings are important and how to put them into words and manage them.

No parent can follow these tips perfectly, of course. This is not about perfection; it’s about making the effort. Effort in itself shows love and care. When your child sees you trying to understand his feelings or feel his feelings, whether you succeed or not, he receives a powerful message:

Your feelings matter to me.

And what your child will hear:

You matter.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is often invisible and unmemorable. To find out if it is at work in your life, Take The CEN 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

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.

How Fathers Can Change the World One Child at a Time

It is a well-known fact that the style of parenting that we received as children automatically repeats itself in our own parenting. Unless we consciously make a decision to parent differently and work hard to do so, we will simply repeat the negative patterns of our parents. 

— Quote from the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children

Father’s Day is meant to be a positive, happy holiday. It’s an opportunity to honor our fathers for all that they have done for us. After all, they gave us life. They worked to feed and clothe us. They cared for us and raised us. Virtually all parents deserve appreciation for the positive things that they have done for the world, simply by nurturing children.

But in reality, parenting is far more complicated than these holidays want us to admit. Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. There are an infinite number of ways to parent a child wrong, and if we allow ourselves to truly contemplate that, it is scary indeed.

Let’s use the example of Lily to see three different parenting styles, how they look in action in childhood, and how they play out in that child’s adult life.

Lily

Two-year-old Lily has a head full of dark, silky hair and big brown eyes. She has a happy, energetic nature, especially in the mornings. Lily sits in her high chair while her parents are at the kitchen table eating breakfast. In front of Lily, on the tray of her high chair, is a selection of cheese cubes and pieces of banana, all cut to the exact right size for her to pick up and pop into her mouth. On this morning, however, Lily is feeling particularly exuberant. She is trying to get her parents’ attention by being silly.

“Cheese pweeze!” she yells as she picks up a cheese cube and squeezes it until it smashes into a blob which she then drops back on her tray. With her eye on her father, who is looking at the TV, she picks up another cube. “Cheese pweeze!” she yells again.

This scenario, or one very similar, has played out in the household of almost every toddler in the world. There is nothing remarkable or unique about it. However, what makes this scene matter is Lily’s parents’ response to their toddler’s age-appropriate behavior on this morning. Let’s take a look at the various response options for Lily’s parents, and how those responses might affect Lily now and in the future.

Style 1Lily’s father senses that Lily is trying to get her parents’ attention. Glancing at his wife, he realizes she is exhausted, absorbed in the newspaper, and not aware of Lily’s antics. With laughter in his eyes at his daughter’s mischievousness, he stands up, walks over to Lily and says, “What are you doing young lady? Cheese is to eat, not to play with.” He hands Lily a piece of cheese and watches to ensure that she doesn’t squish it. Lily sees her father’s expression and senses that he thinks that she is cute and silly, but also that he means business. Lily is not to squish the cheese. She begins to eat it.

Style 2: Lily’s mother is engrossed in her television show. She ignores Lily for a while, hoping that she will stop her bad behavior if she doesn’t get attention for it. However, Lily only escalates, yelling “Cheese pweeze!” even louder, over and over. Finally, Mom looks over and sees a pile of squished cheese and banana on the tray of the high chair. “What the hell are you doing?!” she yells loudly, startling Lily. She runs over, snatches Lily from her chair and places her roughly on the floor. “You made this mess. Now you can clean it up!” She stalks off angrily, leaving the wailing Lily sitting on the floor surrounded by a mess of food.

Style 3: Lily’s father is engrossed in reading the newspaper. He says, without taking his eyes off of the TV, “Lily, stop making a mess of your breakfast. You need to eat it.” Lily continues to yell exuberantly, trying to get her parents’ attention. “Eat your breakfast or I’m going to give you a time-out,” Dad says absent-mindedly. After a few more efforts to get her parents to pay attention, Lily realizes that they are not going to notice her and engage. She grows tired and hungry and begins to quietly eat her breakfast instead of squishing it.

In these examples, it is probably fairly easy to see that Style 1 is healthy, nurturing parenting and that Style 2 is abusive and will, sadly, likely cause some enduring damage to little Lily. Style 3, however, isn’t quite so clear. It is not abusive, and it doesn’t seem particularly remarkable in any way. Actually, it probably mostly seems like a loving but tired mom who just needs to get breakfast done.

Most good parents reading Style 3 can probably relate to it quite well. And truly, that is nothing to worry about. In fact, Style 3 is not a problem at all unless it happens enough. If it happens enough to send Lily clear messages that her feelings and needs don’t matter, then Style 3 becomes emotionally neglectful parenting.

Let’s track how Lily’s development will progress if she grows up receiving, overall, the Healthy parenting style depicted in Style 1, the Abusive parenting style of Style 2, or Style 3, the Emotionally Neglectful parenting style.

Adult Lily

Style 1 – Healthy, Nurturing Parenting: Lily is a confident woman.

  • She knows that she is lovable (because she saw the love in her father’s eyes, even when she was being silly and causing trouble).
  • She knows that her needs for attention, love, and care are healthy and normal (because they were met in childhood).
  • She is able to give and receive love and care (because she was able to do both as a child).
  • She has good control over her impulses (because her father gave her simple, age-appropriate rules like “cheese is to eat, not to play with,” to live by and clear, healthy consequences).
  • She is typically able to determine what she feels and why (because her feelings were noticed, validated and responded to throughout her childhood).
  • She experiences the full range of natural human emotion and is usually able to manage, name, share and use her feelings (because she learned all of this as a child)

Style 2 – Abusive Parenting: Lily is a traumatized woman.

  • Lily doesn’t trust people (because her mother often flew off the handle in a startling, scary way).  She has anxiety because of this.
  • She feels that if she is not vigilant, others will hurt or take advantage of her (because her mother did).
  • She has anger (because she was mistreated as a child) simmering beneath the surface, ready to protect her if needed.
  • In relationships and friendships, she can be difficult to get along with (because she is guarded, anxious and angry).
  • Generally, she feels beaten-down by life (because she was beaten down as a child). She knows that if she wants something in life, she will have to fight for it.
  • Lily does not know what she is feeling or why, much of the time (because her emotions were not considered as a child; in fact, her basic emotional needs, such as her need for attention from her mother, often led to punishment and hurt).
  • She experiences the full range of natural human emotions, but often very intensely (because she grew up in an intense household where emotions ruled the family).
  • Lily does not have good control over her feelings and impulses (because her mother gave her excessively harsh punishments when she was a child instead of giving her simple, age-appropriate rules).

Style 3 – Emotionally Neglectful Parenting:  Lily is well-adjusted, but feels empty inside.

  • Lily thinks that she is lovable, but she is not sure (because her parents didn’t look at her with love in her eyes enough).
  • Lily tries not to need anything from anyone (because her basic emotional needs were not met enough in her childhood).
  • She typically does not know what she is feeling, or why (because her feelings were not noticed, validated, named or responded to enough as a child).
  • Lily often feels empty and numb inside (she has pushed her feelings down and out of her awareness because they were not accepted or noticed by her parents).
  • Secretly, Lily feels that something is wrong with her (because she lacks access to her emotions, and she knows that something is missing in herself and her life).
  • She feels alone no matter who she is with (because she lacks the emotion that would connect her to other people in a meaningful way).
  • Lily looks at other people laughing and talking as they walk down the street and wonders, “What do they have that I don’t?” (Because she can see that other people are living a richer, more meaningful life than she is able to have without access to her own feelings).

Of course, we all know that no parent is perfect. The majority of parents strive to do their best. But some parents do not. And even of those who try hard, some fail their children in ways which will cause pain in their children throughout their lives.

Over recent decades, fathers have become more physically present and emotionally aware. Dads are just as able to show their children emotional attachment and validation as parents. Dads have the power to change the world, one child at a time.

As children and as parents, we all have choices. Will we pass on the abuse or the emotional neglect that we grew up with to our children, who will, in turn, pass it on to theirs? Or will we face our own missing pieces and hurt and pain? Because that is the only way to offer our children the healthy parenting they deserve.

If all of the parents in the world could work to heal themselves, then all of the children of the world could grow up receiving an improved, healthier version of parenting than their parents got. And in the next generation, the world would be a healthier, happier place for all of us.

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

To learn how to stamp out Emotional Neglect in your parenting, your relationships with your parents, and in your marriage, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

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