It’s a casual phrase, and many folks use it often.
What’s the point?
We mutter it under our breath at times of frustration. We throw it out at a person who is refusing to cooperate. We use it as a way to express hopelessness and helplessness.In these times it can actually be quite useful as a way to vent some steam and stress.
But some people use it more often than others. For them, it becomes almost a mantra. It starts to run deeper than the current situation, reflecting not just momentary feelings, but an overall philosophy of life.
What’s the point of doing this?
What’s the point of trying?
I’ve observed that many people who frequently question The Point are doing so because they feel adrift in their lives. Why are they adrift? Because they are not listening to their greatest anchor, director, and connector. They are out of touch with their emotions, which should be telling them what they want, feel, and need, where to go and what to do.
Many of the people who ask, “What’s the point” a lot grew up in emotionally neglectful families, in homes that treated their feelings like they were irrelevant, or even burdensome. If this is you, perhaps you feel helpless and hopeless. Or maybe you feel trapped, or stuck, or lost. Maybe you feel alone.
For some, the question of “What’s the point” runs even deeper and begins to reflect a questioning of one’s very existence.
What’s the point of being here?
What’s the point of being alive?
If any of what you are reading right now applies to you, please consider it as an alarm bell. A bell that calls you to face the fact that there is a big problem in your life and that it’s time to acknowledge it.
Steps to Find Your Answer to What’s the Point?
Start paying attention to when these words come to mind. Most likely there is a general theme that brings triggers this question. Is it at work or at home? When you’re alone? When you’re in conflict with someone? When something doesn’t work out for you?Take note because understanding this is important.
Start paying attention to the words that follow: What’s the point? What’s the point of __________? This will give you information about the true nature of your question. Understanding this is key.
Start paying attention to what’s the feeling you’re having when you say this. Are you, for example, frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless, afraid? Helpless, lost, alone? Identify the feeling you’re having and it will inform your next step.
Start trying to figure out: What’s that feeling telling you? Feelings exist for a reason, and every feeling carries a message. The feeling, whatever it may be, is telling you that you need to change something in yourself or your life.
The Feeling The Message
Alone Open your walls and let someone in
Sad Figure out why you’re sad and address the cause
Frustrated Frustration is a feeling meant to drive you to action.
Lost You are lacking direction. Start working toward finding one.
Those are only a few possibilities. The number of different feelings and situations that can bring about “What’s the Point” is endless. Understanding yours is key. How deep does yours run? Are you feeling hopeless or helpless? Or are you jumping to a simple question as a coping mechanism? Might that be actually allowing you to avoid facing the complexities in your life?
Ask yourself questions. Pay attention, and look inside yourself. Because the answer to your “What’s the Point” is likely not simple, but it’s important. And it is there.
How often do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?
The reality is, we can always find someone richer, better looking, more successful, or otherwise better off than we feel we are.
I’ve noticed that some folks are especially prone to self-comparisons. It’s folks who are unsure of their own self-worth. Folks who are looking to find some sort of proof that they are as valid and important as other people.
While some more narcissistic types of people tend to find themselves on top of their comparisons, those who are looking for evidence of self-worth are more prone to experience the opposite.
If this is you, sadly, you probably too often find yourself sadly coming up short.
If You Are a Frequent Self-Comparer
If you’re a frequent comparer, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Because current research shows that some of the things we value most in today’s world are not actually the things that make us happy, healthy, or content in our lives. So we are comparing ourselves on things that may seem like they are meaningful and important, but they are actually not.
Here are three recent psychological studies that offer some surprising things to be thankful for. They may make you re-think some of the comparisons you dwell upon and turn them topsy-turvy.
3 Ways You Compare Yourself That Have Been Debunked By Research
Van Boven & Gilovich (2003) conducted a fascinating study looking at what makes people happier: Is it material possessions or rewarding experiences?
These researchers gave two groups of students different instructions. Group 1 was asked to write a brief description of something they had purchased in the last year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like electronics, vehicles, clothing, etc.
Group 2 was asked to write a brief description of something they had experienced in the past year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like trips, meals out, concerts and such.
Each group was then asked to reflect on what they had just written and to rate how happy they felt as they were thinking about the purchased possession or rewarding experience.
These researchers found that the subjects felt significantly happier when they contemplated the past experience than they did when reflecting on the purchase.
They concluded that possessions may make you feel happy at the moment of purchase, but they don’t feed your overall happiness the way a positive, fun, and memorable experience does.
The Takeaway: Instead of comparing your possessions to others, try to actively bring yourself happiness by planning and participating in fun events.
Although being highly attractive has been shown to offer certain clear advantages when dealing with the opposite sex, many studies have found that being beautiful gives people a tremendous disadvantage when dealing with someone of the same sex.
For instance, Agthe et al., (2011) found that when beautiful people are being interviewed for a job by a person of the same sex, they are more likely to be experienced as threatening. This puts the beautiful person at a disadvantage for being hired.
Anderson and Nida (1978) found that those of the same sex are likely to judge the beautiful as less talented than someone of average attractiveness.
Krebs and Adinolfi, (1978) showed that although we think of attractive people as more socially popular, they are actually more likely to be socially rejected by people of the same gender.
The Takeaway: Whatever your level of attractiveness, it’s okay because there are positives and negatives built into every level of appearance. Turning your energy toward appreciating yourself as you are and simply being yourself will work much better for you than meaningless comparisons.
3. Standing in Your Family
Suitor et al., (2015) surveyed 725 grown children from 309 families.
They found that the child identified as the mother’s favorite in the family was more likely to be depressed than the other adult children. These favored children reported more depressive symptoms and experienced more tension with their adult siblings. They also felt more burdened by the emotional needs of their aging mother.
The Takeaway: Being the family favorite isn’t necessarily something to envy or strive for. Your role in your family is what you take from it and what you do with it.
What It Means When You Are a Frequent Comparer
If you tend to question your own self-worth, take a less-than position in relationships viewing the other person as more important, and come up short in your comparisons, these are all signs that you may have grown up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
CEN undermines your ability to know, accept, and love yourself as you are. It makes you feel like a less important, less valid person once you grow up.
How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Some element of stopping the comparisons has to involve making a conscious effort to stop. But the most important part of correcting this tendency to compare is to grow more into yourself. And, by that, I mean owning your true strengths for what they are, appreciating your true self, and holding yourself more dearly than any material possession, favoritism, or advantage.
This is exactly what happens as you walk through the steps of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Remarkably, as you begin to feel your feelings more, you are connecting with your deepest self. You are being who you truly are and valuing your feelings which are the deepest expression of yourself.
One of the problems I have noticed with the term “Childhood Emotional Neglect” is that it does sound so negative. It so perfectly describes the problem that it may, perhaps, give the impression that it’s a burden you’d rather not know about.
But, in reality, CEN is quite the opposite. It’s actually a remarkably hopeful concept that every parent, every husband, every wife, everyone who was raised by someone; in fact, every human being should know about.
A Few Words About Childhood Emotional Neglect
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN: Happens when parents who have an emotional blind spot fail to notice, validate, and respond enough to their child’s emotions and emotional needs.
CEN is not a form of abuse or trauma. It’s not something your parents do to you, but rather, it is something they fail to do for you. It happens in loving households all over the world simply because so many parents are unaware that CEN exists. It passes down through generations, silently transferring. It’s difficult to see and hard to remember, which serves to hide its invisible power. It seems like nothing, but its effects stay with you throughout your entire adult life.
So, that is the negative part. But there’s also an amazing and positive aspect to CEN which offers hope and solace and possibility to everyone who sees it in themselves.
In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, I outline the types of parents who have these blind spots and why they have them. But for the purposes of this article, the main point is this. Whether your parents are too focused on themselves and filling their own needs to notice yours, or are genuinely trying to do their best but simply do not have emotional awareness or understanding, you can be confident that it has affected you.
A Sampling of the 10 Effects of CEN
(As Described in the Book Running On Empty)
Lack of understanding about feelings, how to recognize them, express them, or use them in the way they are meant to be used.
A deep sense that something is missing in yourself and your life (it’s your emotions which you had to wall off as a child in order to cope with the need to hide your feelings in your childhood home).
A tendency toward self-doubt, self-directed anger, and harsh self-criticism.
So What Now?
Many thousands of people feel a profound sense of relief when they first realize that Childhood Emotional Neglect is the explanation for the struggles they have lived with for a lifetime. I know this because I hear from more and more such folks each and every day.
But here’s the truth: Becoming aware of your Childhood Emotional Neglect is incredibly powerful. It’s a turning point and a game-changer.
But it’s not enough.
Now that you know what’s wrong, you must fix the problem. And the really great news is YOU CAN! Healing your CEN is a series of steps in which you give yourself now what you did not receive as a child: emotional attention, validation, and care.
I have worked for the last 8 years to define the exact steps it takes to reparent yourself and heal the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in adults. I’ve also helped countless numbers of CEN adults walk down the path of recovery.
My goal is to help you heal your CEN. I want to provide you with easy access to as many as possible of the resources I’ve created over the years. All right here, in one place.
**Many are free, but some are not. You’ll notice two asterisks next to the resources that are **free.
9 Resources For Help With Your CEN Recovery
** EmotionalNeglect.com. The Childhood Emotional Neglect blog. You are on it now! You can find blogs on every aspect of CEN, from feeling empty to parenting, parents, CEN in marriage and the healing steps.
** The CEN Questionnaire. Take this test if you’re not sure if CEN applies to you. A score of 6 or higher suggests that you have some Childhood Emotional Neglect at work in your life. The higher your score, the more CEN you have likely experienced.
Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. This book describes exactly how CEN happens in a family, the way it’s experienced by children, the effects that linger through adulthood, and the basic steps to take to heal it. In this book, you will also find an exhaustive list of feeling words that are very useful in the healing process.
** The Find A CEN Therapist List. Many, many people can recover from CEN on their own using the two books and online help and guidance. But it’s also common to run into a snag in your healing journey. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it! I have trained almost 700 licensed/certified therapists across the world in how to identify and treat Childhood Emotional Neglect, and they are listed on this website on this list.
Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. If you would prefer to work on your CEN recovery at home or would prefer to work with me but do not live in the Boston, MA area, I created this program to offer a solution for you. The Fuel Up For Life program guides and supports you through the 5 steps of recovery. You will also have ongoing access to all aspects of the program, including a Forum for members and bi-weekly Group Q&A calls with me.
** My Free Weekly Newsletter. Sign up for my free weekly newsletter and I will inform you about every new article I write, every in-person presentation and live CEN Recovery Workshop I offer across the U.S. When you sign up to take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire you will automatically receive the newsletter free.
Bookmark this article and check back periodically. I’ll add new resources as I create them! If you have an idea for a resource that would be helpful, post it in a comment on this article and I’ll see if I can provide it.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is, by definition, nothing. How can nothing be something? How can nothing be a source of enduring pain and struggle? It seems unfathomable… until you see it day after day, in your office, as I have.
What do you wish your parents had said to you? Answers Posted On Facebook
Anything much. I don’t remember being talked to at all.
You have a right to your feelings, & the right to be heard & have them considered.
We believe in you.
How do you feel? What do you want? I will help you figure life out.
I love you. You are enough. I am proud of you.
There is nothing wrong with who you are.
Are you okay?
Do you want to talk about it? You look upset.
My love for you is unconditional.
There’s nothing in this world you cannot do. So stand up, shoulders back and go out there.
I wish they meant what they said.
That I was beautiful.
You can make mistakes and I will not think any less of you. You don’t have to be perfect.
Don’t be scared. It will be alright. Things will go wrong but it doesn’t matter. We’re all the same.
It’s OK to get angry/sad/mad.
Anything that wasn’t emotional abuse ……anything that didn’t leave me feeling worthless or that I had to please them for their attention.
Recently I posted this blog’s title question on my Facebook Page. I got many thoughtful and heartfelt responses. The quotes above are a direct sampling of them.
Why did I ask this particular question? Because in my experience as a psychologist, I have found that people are naturally far more able to think about and describe what they wish their parents had notdone or said to them than what they wish their parents had done or saidto them.
This distinction is also a fair description of the difference between abuse and neglect. Abuse is an action, whereas neglect is a lack of action. Our brains record and remember things that happened (like abuse), whereas our brains do not notice things that don’t happen (neglect).
Which seems worse: a parent who screams and yells at a child and calls him names? Or a parent who simply does not talk to or engage the child at all?
I have seen that failure to engage, notice and affirm a child does just as much damage to him or her as abuse, but the effects are different. An abused child will feel “hit,” verbally, physically or emotionally; whereas a neglected child will feel simply “at sea,” invalid and alone.
I see Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) as one of the greatest potential threats to future generations. It is difficult to stop something that is invisible, intangible, unnoticeable and unmemorable.
The subtlety of CEN gives it extra power. Many adults who grew up with an absence of emotionally attentive observations and questions like those listed above do not recognize the damage that this absence has done them. And even when they recognize it, they can’t quite believe or grasp it.
People with CEN vastly underestimate its effects on them. CEN is, by definition, nothing. How can nothing be something? How can nothing be a source of enduring pain and struggle? It seems unfathomable… until you see it day after day, in your office, as I have.
A few reviewers of my book, Running on Empty, have said that the recovery chapters are unrealistic because they are about helping readers give themselves the attention, validation, and structure that they did not get in childhood. But I know that people with CEN can make tremendous progress toward this. It requires effort and motivation, but it is very much possible. I know this because I have watched it happen many times.
All of the emotionally neglected people who offered those many requests in response to my question hold a secret key. A key to fulfilling their own needs; a key that offers healing, solace, and fuel.
How to Give Yourself What You Never Got
If your parents didn’t talk to you, then talk more to yourself. Put yourself in situations where you will be required to talk.
If your parents never told you that you were good enough, then you must resolve this question for yourself. Are you good enough? Listen to your answer, and trust it.
If your parents never meant what they said, then you must pledge to yourself to always mean what you say. Always speak the truth, no matter how difficult it may be.
If your parents never asked you if you were okay, then you must ask yourself this often, and listen carefully to your answer.
If your parents didn’t notice when you were upset, then you must try to always notice what you are feeling and why.
And so on and so on, the answer lies within you. The beginning is self-awareness.
Because once you realize what you didn’t get, this tells you what you need. And once you know what you need, I hope you will also realize that you can get it. I hope that you will fight for what you didn’t get. Ask for help and accept support because you deserve it. And then you will have it to give to your own children.
Growing up in an emotionally neglectful household takes its toll on you.
When, as a child, no one notices enough what you are feeling or when you need emotional support, you receive covert messages that are never stated outright, but which will nevertheless guide your life going forward.
Silent, unintended, usually invisible, these messages take root early and well. As you go through adolescence, they undermine the self-confidence and self-knowledge you should be gathering.
As you grow into adulthood, they prevent you from making the choices that are right for you. As you form relationships and fall in love, they prevent you from valuing yourself. As you have children and raise them, they weigh you down and leave you feeling mystified about what you are missing and why.
The only way to reduce their power over you is to realize the signs you were emotionally neglected as a child and understand they are there and how you got them. And to make a conscious choice to stop letting them hold you back and push you down.
10 Painful Lessons Childhood Emotional Neglect Teaches You
1. It’s not good to be too happy or too sad.
As a child, you naturally had intense feelings, as this is how all children are wired. Exuberant one moment, intensely frustrated the next, you needed someone to teach you how to understand and manage your emotions.
But what you got instead was a covert message that your emotions were excessive. What you learned was to dampen your feelings, not the skills you needed to manage them.
2. You are overly sensitive.
As a child, you naturally felt upset when things upset you. You naturally felt angry when you were hurt. What you needed was to have your upset feelings soothed by a loving parent so that you could learn how to soothe yourself.
But what you got was a message that your feelings were a weakness. What you learned was to judge yourself for having them.
3. Your needs and preferences are irrelevant.
As a child, you had needs, just as all children do. You had things that felt important to you, and things that felt good or bad to you. What you needed was for someone to notice, or to ask what you needed or wanted, so that you would feel that you mattered.
When no one asked you enough, you learned instead that you don’t.
4. Talking about a problem will unnecessarily burden other people.
Growing up, you had problems with school, with siblings and with friends. What you needed was to know that you could talk to a parent.
Instead, you knew that they, for whatever reason, could not handle it. What you learned was that others couldn’t handle your problems, and so you’d best keep it to yourself.
5. Crying is a weakness.
All humans cry, and for a reason. Crying is a way to release and process your emotions. As a child, you cried sometimes (maybe often). What you needed was for this to be okay.
Instead, your family didn’t know that crying has a purpose, so they ignored your tears or shamed you for having them. Perhaps they never showed tears themselves. You learned that crying is negative and should be avoided, one of the biggest signs you were neglected as a child.
6. Others will judge you for showing your feelings.
Were you judged for showing feelings in your childhood home? This powerful message has been carried forth with you. “Hide your emotions from others” is the message, “or others will think less of you.” Or, worse, they will use your feelings against you.
7. Anger is a negative emotion and should be avoided.
As a child, of course you often felt angry, as this feeling is a natural part of life. As a child, what you needed was help to name, understand and manage your anger.
Perhaps instead your anger was squelched or overwhelmed by another’s. Maybe you were punished for showing it. What you learned was that anger is bad and that you should suppress it.
8. Relying on another is setting yourself up for disappointment.
Children need help, period. So do adolescents and adults. As a child, you needed support, direction, suggestions, and assistance. But you could see that your parents were not up to that.
What you learned was that it is best not to ask for help in general because you are setting yourself up for a letdown.
9. Others are not interested in what you have to say.
As a young child, you had endless wonder at the world around you. As you grew, you had endless things that you wanted and needed to ask and say. Yet talking was not valued in your family, and you were not asked or listened to enough.
What you learned is that your questions and words are not valuable and that you should keep them to yourself.
10. You are alone in the world.
As a child, you needed to feel that an adult had your back; that no matter what happened, there was support and help for you. Instead, when you needed something you discovered that your adult(s) were busy, overwhelmed or not aware. What you learned was that you were all alone.
These lessons all seem so real and so true when you grew up receiving them in such a subliminal, global way. But do not forget that they are merely lessons of your family, not truths. The fact that you learned them does not make them right.
The truth is…
Strong feelings connect us to ourselves and to each other, and being able to have them is a sign of health and strength.
Knowing your own needs and preferences and expressing them is a key to living a happy, fulfilled life.
Talking about your problems helps you solve them.
Crying is a healthy way of coping.
Letting others see your feelings helps them know you better.
Anger is an important message from your body that empowers you.
Mutual dependence is a form of teamwork that makes you stronger.
What you have to say is important, and you should say it.
You are human. You are connected, you are important.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs.
This small, seemingly insignificant non-event seems like nothing to most people. Indeed it happens in every household, every family, every childhood that ever happened throughout the world. It’s true.
Every parent fails his child emotionally many times, and usually it’s not a big problem at all. This is where the word “enough” becomes important. When these small failures of the parent happen often enough and/or in situations that are serious or intense enough, this non-event, leaves it’s invisible yet impactful footprint on the child’s life.
Just like the sprinkles of pepper over food change the experience of the food itself, the life of the Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) child becomes flavored by the sprinkle of CEN incidents over her childhood. But the effects are so difficult to see and remember that the CEN child has no idea that her life should feel any different than it does.
“Doesn’t everyone feel this way?” she’ll probably someday wonder. Because she has no idea that the answer is no. They most surely do not.
6 Examples Of Childhood Emotional Neglect In Action
A mother fails to notice her child is sad and hurt about a problem he had with his teacher at school that day.
A child’s parents decide it’s not necessary to talk with her very much about her having tried to skip school since the school already punished her.
A man dreads visiting his parents because every time he sees them, he feels deeply uncomfortable and irritable for no apparent reason.
A woman walks through decades of her life wondering what everyone else has that she lacks; feeling, on some deep level, lost and alone; and baffled about what is wrong with her.
A husband and wife pretend last night’s argument never happened because they don’t know what else to do.
A supervisor sends his crew home at midnight without acknowledging that they have gone far above and beyond the call of duty to help him meet a deadline.
When parents fail to notice their child’s emotions and respond to them they are, by definition, emotionally neglecting her. Children who grow up with their feelings ignored receive a strong subliminal message from their parents:
Your feelings do not matter.
What does a child do when she receives this message over and over again? What does she do with her emotions, the most deeply personal, biological expression of her true self? Fortunately, her child brain takes care of it for her. It pushes her emotions away. Away from her mom and dad and anyone they might burden or bother. And that, unfortunately, includes herself.
Parents who are unaware of the importance of their child’s emotions always fail their child’s feelings in other important ways. Consider the parents above who let the school teach their child not to skip class. They missed an incredible opportunity to learn more about her and her feelings, to talk her through a bad choice, and to teach her how her feelings and behavior work together.
So now our CEN child is growing up with her feelings pushed away, a lack of awareness and understanding of her own feelings and behavior, and likely also a sense that her parents don’t really know or understand her. This will drive an invisible wedge that will divide her from her parents emotionally forever, causing her to feel inexplicably alone and uncomfortable when she’s around them.
When our girl grows up, she will feel a deep discomfort within herself and a deep feeling that something is missing – (it’s her emotions). Lacking the emotion skills that her parents failed to teach her, her marriage may tend to be distant and lacking in intimacy, and her ability to recognize and respond to others’ emotional needs may be as difficult as recognizing and responding to her own.
The Great News
Behind the gray cloud that hangs over our CEN girl, a silver lining glows. Since we know what caused her gray cloud, we also know how to get rid of it.
Since her parents ignored her feelings, she can begin to pay attention to what she feels and accept that her feelings not only matter but are essential to her health and well-being.
Since her parents failed to teach her how to name, tolerate, listen to, manage and share her emotions, she can now learn those emotion skills for herself. And she can begin to use them.
Since she’s been blaming herself for her deep feelings of emptiness and discontent, she can now realize that it’s not her fault. She didn’t ask for it or cause it. This will free her up to attack the problem and correct it.
As soon as our girl looks carefully enough she will see that her emotions are a reflection of her deepest self. She will see that her emotions are her friends, and will fill her, direct her and connect her. She will find the answers to the questions that she never knew to ask. And she will realize that the answers were inside her all along.
Lucy sits on the edge of her bed, relieved to be behind the closed doors of her bedroom. Slowly, she climbs under the covers, pulling them over her head. In complete darkness, she finally is able to relax.
Lucy — The Highly Sensitive Person With Childhood Emotional Neglect
With her covers over her head, finally, in complete darkness, Lucy wonders why she still does not feel better. Being alone feels better in one way but worse in another. The dark, safe quiet soothes her, but it also unsettles her. Somehow, it seems to intensify that uncomfortable feeling she always has somewhere in her belly: the feeling of being deeply and thoroughly alone in the world. “What is wrong with me?” she wonders.
The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
In the late 1990s, it was discovered that some people are born with much greater sensitivity to sound, sight, texture, and other forms of external stimulation than others. Aron & Aron (1997) named people who are “wired” in this special way the Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.
If you are an HSP, you tend to be a deep thinker who develops meaningful relationships. You may be more easily rattled or stressed than most people, but it’s only because you feel things deeply. You may seem shy, but you have a rich and complex inner life, and you are probably creative.
HSP children like Lucy are far more affected by events in their family than their parents and siblings might be. Yelling seems louder, anger seems scarier, and transitions loom larger. And because the HSP tends to feel others’ feelings, everyone else’s sadness, pain or anxiety becomes her own.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when you grow up in a family that does not address the feelings of its members. The emotionally neglected child may feel sad, distressed, hurt, angry or anxious. And when no one notices, names, inquires about, or helps him manage those feelings, he receives a message that, though unspoken, rings loudly in his ears: your emotions do not matter.
As an adult, the CEN person, following the belief that her feelings are irrelevant, continually tries not to deal with them. She pushes them down, hides and minimizes them, and may view them as a weakness.
This is why the emotionally neglected child grows up to feel that something vital is missing. He may appear perfectly fine on the outside, but inside, without full access to his emotions, which should be stimulating, motivating, energizing and connecting him, he goes through his life with a sense of being different, flawed, empty and disconnected for which he has no words to explain.
How Childhood Emotional Neglect Undermines the Highly Sensitive Person’s 3 Greatest Strengths
Strength #1: You feel things deeply and powerfully. If you have ever doubted that this is a strength, I want to assure you that it is. Our feelings are built into us for a reason. When we allow ourselves to feel them, they guide us. They tell us what we need and what we want. They motivate us, and they connect us to others. But when you grow up emotionally neglected, you learn that your emotions are useless and should be ignored and hidden. This takes your powerful force from within, disempowers it, and perhaps even shames you for having it.
Strength #2: You are a deep thinker who needs to have meaning and purpose in your life. You are not one to skim across the surface of life. You need to feel that what you are doing matters. This important strength helps you invest more deeply in your own decisions, and helps you to live your life in a more real way. But when you grow up with the CEN message that your feelings don’t matter, you internalize an even more painful message. Since your emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who you are, it’s natural for you as a child to internalize the message as, “I don’t matter,” and to take it forward with you as a deeply held, unconscious “truth.” Going through your adult life, you tend to feel less important than other people, and this undermines your ability to experience yourself, and your life, as meaningful and important.
Strength #3: Your intense feelings and your need to have meaning and purpose in your life both make your relationships heartfelt and genuine. But when you grow up with your feelings ignored (CEN), you miss out on the opportunity to learn how to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. This can leave you somewhat at-sea when it comes to handling your most important relationships: for example, your marriage, your children, and your closest friends. You are held back from your tremendous capacity to enjoy wonderful, whole-hearted relationships by your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Many HSPs question their 3 greatest strengths or do not even recognize them until they read about them. Even then, it can be difficult to believe or own them.
Since Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up to question your essential validity as a person, you are uprooted from your inalienable strengths, dragged away from what should be grounding you and driving you and connecting you.
Minus enough emotion skills, you are not sure what to do with the powerful force from within, your feelings. Sadly, instead of harnessing it and using it, Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up for a lifelong battle with your greatest resource.
How To Reclaim Your Greatest Strengths
Once you see that Childhood Emotional Neglect is at work in your life, you are immediately on a new path. Seize the moment by learning everything you can about CEN. How it happens, why it’s so invisible and unmemorable, how it affects your relationships, and the steps to healing.
Start treating your emotions differently. Instead of trying to escape, avoid or minimize your feelings, begin to pay attention to them. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and think about each emotion and what it’s telling you.
Walk through the steps of CEN healing. They are clearly outlined, and thousands of people have walked the walk before you. Take one step after another, and you will begin to heal and change.
You will see how beginning to treat your most valuable resource with the regard and significance it deserves, you will be moving forward to a much more empowered future.
Why are Emotional Neglect and depression often experienced together?
Let’s start with a brief refresher on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), how it happens, and how it plays out through the neglected child’s adult life.
Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you.
This usually unmemorable childhood experience is deceptively powerful. It gains its impact from the fact that it happens daily, subliminally, and under the radar. The child receives the message:
Your emotions are not important, not relevant, or not welcome here in your childhood home.
Children who receive this message often as their brains are developing naturally adapt to their situation. They automatically wall off their feelings so that they will not be a burden to their parents in their childhood home.
This naturally adaptive step is truly an amazing solution. But, sadly, it backfires in many ways as the child grows into adulthood. One of those ways is by making you more vulnerable to depression.
5 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You More Vulnerable to Adult Depression
You’ve walled off your pain and it now weighs you down.
When you were a child, you learned to push all of your feelings away. This became your primary way of dealing with difficult emotions. When your feelings were hurt, instead of using this as an important message from your body, you tended to push it away. Throughout the decades of your life, this is how you have managed most of your sadness, loss, anger and other pain. But, unfortunately, blocked off feelings never really go away. They collect, all swirled together, on the other side of your wall. Since you’re unaware of them you can’t process them. They may arise at times when you least expect them, and they also weigh you down, sapping your energy and making your world feel heavy or gray. They make you more vulnerable to depression.
Your joy is blocked off, along with all your other emotions.
Blocking off feelings is usually not possible to do in a discriminating way. Unfortunately, you cannot choose to wall off some emotions and not others. So when you block of negative emotions you also lose your positive ones. You may find it difficult to experience happiness, enjoyment, and reward as intensely as other people can. This makes you more vulnerable to becoming depressed.
You are out of touch with what you want, need or enjoy.
Why don’t you know these things well enough? Because the way to know what you want is by feelings like desire, craving or longing; the way to know what you need is by feeling deprived or needy; and the way to know what you enjoy is by feeling rewarded, pleased, happy or pleased. When you are cut off from your own feelings, you are not able to know these things as well as you should. This makes it difficult to seek what you should be seeking, or make yourself happy. This makes you more likely to become depressed.
Even when you know what you would enjoy, it’s hard for you to prioritize your own needs.
Since few folks are 100% removed from all of their feelings, there are probably times when you do know what you want, need or will enjoy. But when you grew up with Emotional Neglect, you learned to keep your wants and needs to yourself. So even if you do know what you would like, something deep inside stops you from requesting it. Other people’s wants and needs always seem more important or more legitimate, and you allow your own to fall between the cracks. Unlikely to prioritize your own wishes, you are unwittingly making yourself more likely to become depressed.
You may have made some life decisions that aren’t right for you.
A funny thing happens when you are not connected with your feelings: you don’t get to make major life decisions based on your feelings. And, after all, our feelings are our most effective guides to our true selves. This is why so many people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect end up in jobs, marriages, and locations that are not quite right for them. Going through the motions, living the life that chose you instead of the life you chose to live, you may find yourself feeling off-kilter, unfulfilled, and somewhat at-sea in your adult life. This lowers your defenses to depression.
What You Can Do If You Are Prone To Depression
Not all people who grew up with Emotional Neglect end up with depression, but many do. The reality is that the feelings that we allow ourselves to feel, even if they hurt, inform us. They tell us what to do to fix things, and how to make ourselves happy. But feelings that are walled off are able to do none of those things for us. Instead, they hang over our lives like a dark cloud.
But that dark cloud need not be a part of your life forever. You can access those old feelings and process them now, and they will lose their power over you.
You can learn a new way to allow yourself to feel and use your current feelings too. And both of these new skills will not only make you less depressed, but they will also make you less likely to become depressed in the future.
Start paying attention to your feelings as your friends and helpers.
It’s fun being a psychologist. Just as an engineer is fascinated by the true mechanics of electrical circuitry, we mental health professionals are intensely curious about the human brain.
What people feel and what those feelings mean; why people do what they do; it’s all of interest to us. In the process of doing our job day after day, we can often pick up on patterns and connections that give us flashes of a bigger picture. We see causes and effects and develop insights, understandings and intuitions that tell us basic human truths.
Sometimes new research studies come out that make us say, “Aha! I knew it!” Below are four such psychological principles. All four are the common knowledge of most mental health professionals. All are currently being studied and proven, and all are immensely useful information that everyone should have.Continue reading
After Robin Williams’ sad and shocking suicide, friends, family, fellow stars, and even reporters offered multiple explanations for the virtually inexplicable:
Why did he do it?
Some of the many possible factors which have been proposed are depression, alcohol, drugs, and Parkinsons Disease. But I see another potential factor which is never mentioned by anyone. A factor which falls between the cracks just as its sufferers do: Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).Continue reading