Category Archives for "General"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect

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

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

3 Ways to Cope

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

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

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

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

When Two Emotionally Neglected People Marry: Part 1

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN does not go away just because you grow up.

Being raised in a family that does not address your feelings (or, in other words, an emotionally neglectful family), launches you into your adult life without two things that you absolutely need for a healthy, happy, resilient marriage. The two missing things are full access to your feelings, plus the emotional skills to manage and express them.

It’s difficult enough when one member of a couple has CEN and the other does not. But when two CEN people marry, special challenges abound. Neither spouse has full access to their emotions and neither has the necessary emotion skills.

Meet Olive and Oscar. I told their story in my second bestselling book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children. Today, I am sharing a free vignette from the book that describes exactly how it feels to be in a double-CEN marriage.

Olive & Oscar

Olive and Oscar sit across the table from each other, quietly having their Sunday morning breakfast.

“Is there any more coffee?” Olive asks absentmindedly while reading the day’s news on her laptop. Irritated, Oscar stands up abruptly and walks over to the coffee-maker to check.

“Why does she always ask me? She’s so manipulative. She just doesn’t want to have to walk over to the coffee-maker herself,” he cranks inwardly. Returning to the table with the pot, Oscar fills Olive’s cup. Placing the empty carafe on the table with a slight bit of excessive force, Oscar sits back in his chair with a sigh and an angry glance at Olive’s still-bowed head.

Olive, sensing something amiss from the placement of the carafe and the sigh, quickly looks up. Seeing Oscar already absorbed in his newspaper, she looks back down at her laptop but has difficulty focusing on her reading.

“I wonder what’s going on with Oscar,” she muses. “He seems so irritable lately. I wonder if his work stress is coming back. It must be his job pressure getting to him again.”

After thinking it through, Olive makes a plan to avoid Oscar for the day in hopes that giving him some alone time will help his mood improve (with the added bonus that she won’t have to be around him). Olive makes a plan to ask him about work at dinnertime to see if he is indeed under stress.

Later that evening Olive returns from her errands and finds that Oscar has made dinner for both of them. Sitting down to eat, Oscar seems to be in a better mood.

After a brief exchange about Olive’s errands, she asks, “So how are things at work?”

Looking at Olive quizzically, Oscar answers, “Fine, why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Olive replied, relieved to hear him say it was fine. Do you want to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones while we eat?”

The TV goes on and they eat dinner in silence, each absorbed in the show.

What’s Really Going On in Olive and Oscar’s Marriage

The double CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) couple seems much like every other couple in many ways. And yet they are very, very different. This type of relationship is riddled with incorrect assumptions and false readings. And unfortunately, neither partner has the communication skills to check with the other to actually find out what he is thinking or feeling, or why she does what she does.

Since neither partner knows how to talk about the frustrations and conflicts that naturally arise (as they do in every relationship), very little gets addressed and worked out. This is a set-up for passive-aggressive retaliation that, over time, eats away at the warmth and caring in the marriage, outside of both partners’ awareness.

Small, indirect actions like carafe-slamming, avoidance, ignoring, and forgetting can become the primary means of coping and communicating in the relationship. None of them are effective.

The Danger of Emotional Distance: Misunderstanding

In the scenario above Oscar misinterprets Olive’s thoughtless absorption in her reading as “manipulative,” and Olive misinterprets Oscar’s irritation with her as the possible result of job stress. Instead of dealing with these issues directly at the moment, Olive chooses avoidance for the day. Her question to Oscar that evening at dinner is too simple and off-target to yield any useful information. She is left with a false sense of reassurance that Oscar’s mood magically improved and that nothing was really wrong in the first place.

So forward they go, into the coming weeks, months, and years, with Oscar viewing Olive as lazy and manipulative, and Olive on constant guard against a return of Oscar’s job stress. Drastically out of tune with one another, they live in separate worlds, growing ever distant from each other.

How The CEN Marriage Feels

Olive and Oscar sometimes feel more alone when they are together than they do when they are apart. They are divided by a chasm as wide as the ocean. They each sense that something important is wrong, but sadly, neither can consciously describe nor name it.

Fortunately for Olive and Oscar, they actually have loads of potential. They each have plenty of feelings; they are simply not aware of those feelings or able to use them in a healthy, relationship-enriching way. At the heart of their marriage are companionship, history, concern, and love. All that is really missing from their marriage is emotional awareness and skills, both of which can be learned.

There is a good chance that one day, one of them will “wake up” emotionally, and knock on the other’s wall.

Watch for Olive & Oscar Part 2 in a future article, and you will see that is exactly what happened.

What This Means For You

Emotionally neglected kids grow up to emotionally neglect themselves. Then, when they get married, it is natural (not the same thing as healthy) that they will emotionally neglect their spouses.

In so many vitally important ways, the Emotional Neglect that happens in a marriage is no one’s choice and no one’s fault. It is literally programmed into the emotionally neglected child.

Every day, in my office, I help couples understand what’s missing and why. Together, we relieve them from the blame and shame and set them on the path forward.

In a future post, Part 2, I will share the continuation of Olive and Oscar’s story from the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. You will see where the path of CEN recovery took them, which was right to my office for couple’s therapy. You will learn about my work with them, and how their efforts to heal their marriage sent ripple effects through their children and their parents.

To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, what makes it so unmemorable, and how to heal yourself, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

A version of this post was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

How Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You More Emotionally Intelligent

Having a high IQ sets you up for success in life, right?

Well, sure, it certainly helps.

But, over the last decade, research has shown that there’s a kind of intelligence that’s even more important than the Intelligence Quotient traditionally measured by IQ tests. People who have this other kind of intelligence have better leadership qualities, are more productive, more satisfied, and are more successful at work and home. They are overall happier in their lives.

Here’s the real truth: Studies show that the higher your Emotional Quotient the better you are set up for success in life.

Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence (also called EI) consists of 5 skills. As you read the 5 skills below think about yourself and your own abilities in each of these areas.

The 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness of your own feelings: This is the ability to know when you are having a feeling, plus being aware of what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Example: “I feel sad right now because it’s the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death.”
  2. Self-regulation: Once you’re aware of what you’re feeling and why (Skill #1), you are set up to then take responsibility for your feelings and manage your feelings. Example: “I’m not going to let my sadness interfere with my day. I’m going to call my sister before work so we can comfort each other.”
  3. Empathy: This involves applying your emotion skills to others. Knowing what other people are feeling and understanding why they are feeling it gives you the ability to help them manage their feelings. This is an invaluable skill for parents, leaders, husbands, and wives; basically everyone. Example: “You look annoyed. Tell me what’s wrong.”
  4. Motivation: This skill consists of being driven by what truly inspires you. When you are driven by your own passion rather than by external requirements you are more energized and directed. You’re also most likely to inspire and motivate others. Example: “I’m going to start this boring task now because it’s a vital step toward achieving what really matters to me.”
  5. Social skills: Social skills involve a process of taking all of the 4 skills above and using them to manage complex social situations. When you have good social skills other people sense you are operating from your heart. They trust you, respect you, and are inspired by you. You are able to connect and lead and enjoy overall good relationships with others. Example: “I see what’s going on between my two daughters. I’m going to talk with them about it and see if we can nip it in the bud.”

And now it’s time for another definition. This definition helps answer the natural question: Why do some people seem to have higher EI than others. Even folks with incredible academic skills and high IQ can have very low EI.

In my clinical work, as well as the data I’ve collected on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) since I wrote my book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, one thing is clear to me. The biggest root cause of low EI is Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect & Emotional Intelligence

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Growing up in a family that is unaware of your feelings and does not respond to them enough.

Yes, just as you may be thinking, CEN is rampant in today’s world. It is very easy for even loving families to fail to realize the extreme importance of their child’s feelings.

The signature challenge of adults who grew up with CEN is a marked lack of access to their feelings which impacts their lives deeply in multiple ways.

Having been subtly discouraged from having emotions as kids, they are not able to feel, identify, listen to, or be motivated, directed, and connected by their feelings.

And perhaps just as importantly, by growing up with their feelings ignored, they were not able to learn the 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence.

Now, here’s the good news. Just as CEN lowers your EI, healing your CEN raises your EI. And you absolutely can heal your CEN!

5 Ways Healing Your CEN Increases Your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness: In both of my books, my clinical work, and my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life, the first thing I do to help people heal their CEN is to work with them to break through the wall that blocks their emotions. Then we work on increasing their awareness and acceptance of their own feelings. Being able to turn your attention inward, ask yourself what you’re feeling, name your feelings and make sense of them is not only the foundational step to healing CEN, it’s also the first skill of EI.
  2. Self-regulation: As you heal your CEN you begin to feel your feelings more. So Step 2 of CEN healing is learning how to soothe yourself, listen to your own feelings, and manage them. In essence, you are learning self-regulation.
  3. Empathy: All the skills above that you are learning for yourself and your own emotions as you go through the steps of CEN recovery can also be applied to others. As you learn about your own feelings, you’ll be far better able to tell what your spouse, children, family, and co-workers are feeling too. You’ll become more comfortable with feelings in general, as well.
  4. Motivation: What’s the greatest source of energy that drives you, directs you to make good choices that are authentic to yourself, and pushes you to act and create? Your feelings. Clearly, walking through the CEN recovery steps allows your own inner supply of passion to inform and drive you.
  5. Social Skills: A familiarity and acceptance of emotions and how they work opens up a whole new world to you. You can use all of these skills and newfound emotional energy to improve your relationships and your leadership skills. This is why I wrote my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. The more you heal your own CEN the better your personal social skills become.

The Takeaway

Living authentically and close to your own heart requires paying attention to the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are: your emotions. And when you live this way, you will connect and inspire others. You will make good choices that move you and connect you to others.

In short, you will be emotionally intelligent. 

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

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and affects you through your adult life see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to honor your feelings in your most primary relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

5 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Feel Unloved as an Adult

Here is a fact that may surprise you. When you grow up in a family that ignores, devalues, or eclipses your feelings, it damages your ability to feel loved as an adult.

Hard to believe, I know, but it is true. I have seen it over and over and over again in my therapy office as I work with folks who grew up in emotionally neglectful families.

I see good, loving people with a lot to offer and much about them to love, who are incapable of fully accepting and experiencing the love that naturally comes their way.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is, in fact, the silent killer of love. It undermines the feeling of love in a family in myriad invisible but powerful ways. It raises children who are emotionally restrained and disconnected from themselves and held back from becoming who they are meant to be.

Growing up with your feelings ignored requires you as a young child to develop some special skills. You must learn how to hide your emotions, the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who you are, from your family.

Pretending you don’t have feelings is like pretending you have no right arm. To make them invisible, you must make sure you do not have them. And this comes at a great cost to you.

So perfectly lovable people walk the earth feeling unloved and people drag their CEN spouses to couples therapy because they feel shut out. And none of it is okay.

5 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Makes it Hard to Feel Loved as an Adult

You didn’t experience enough deep and personalized love as a child.

All children have a basic need to feel seen, known, and loved for who they really are. In an emotionally neglectful family, living under the “hold your feelings back” mandate, you are forced to hide this key part of yourself. How can you feel a depth of meaningful love from your family when the deepest, most meaningful part of you is never seen? So you may grow up knowing that your parents love you, but not feeling truly loved. Since the love we receive as children sets up our expectations for love as adults, you are now set up with a lowered ability to absorb and feel love. Having experienced a watered-down version of love from the people who were supposed to love you the most, it is all you know.

You are walled off from love.

As a child, you had to harden yourself against your own natural need to feel loved. Above, I said: “All children have a basic need to feel seen, known, and loved for who they really are.”  All children also need emotional validation and nurturance from their parents. As a child, you naturally looked to your parents, over and over again, for those things. And, as a child, over and over again, you were disappointed. Eventually, you learned that there was no water in the well and stopped seeking it. You walled yourself off from your need for validation and love. Where is your wall now? You still have it. And it is blocking you off from the genuine love coming your way.

You don’t trust feelings in general, and that includes the feeling of love.

When your parents discouraged your emotions, they inadvertently taught you some false lessons about emotions. They taught you that emotions, in general, are useless burdens that are best avoided. Now, as an adult, it’s difficult for you to feel that feelings, including love, have value. Some part of you automatically rejects the love that comes your way.

Disconnected from your emotions, it’s hard to feel your feelings, in general.

Your solution as a child was to wall off your feelings as best you could. This is the reason so many adults who grew up with CEN experience a sense of emptiness or numbness: their feelings are still blocked off. When it comes to our feelings, we cannot pick and choose. Unfortunately, out the door goes your anger, happiness, joy, and pain, and along with it goes your love. All of these feelings are sitting on the other side of your wall waiting for you to accept and acknowledge them.

Fear of vulnerability.

To love is to be vulnerable, there is no way around it. When you don’t quite trust feelings in general and you are not accustomed to being seen, validated, and known, love can feel more like a challenge than a gift. It’s scary. You may hold back parts of yourself, fearing that if people see the real you, they will leave. Perhaps you see rejection lurking around every corner. Perhaps you are afraid to initiate friendships or activities because you fear that doing so may be burdening the other person or chasing them away. Fear of vulnerability may be holding you back from the satisfying connections you deserve.

The Solution

One thing I have learned from working with hundreds, perhaps thousands of CEN people is that it is never too late to change and heal. All of the ways that CEN happened to you as a child can be reversed by you, an adult. Begin to follow these steps now.

You can do it. It’s never too late. And, most importantly, you deserve it.

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

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

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

Be joyous!

Be merry!

We’re a loving, close family!

The pictures call out to us day after day.

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

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

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

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

Year-Round Struggles of the CEN Person

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

9 Traps of Childhood Emotional Neglect During the Holidays

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

What To Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Number 1 Way to Become Less Vulnerable to Narcissists and Sociopaths

For centuries people have been baffled about why particular people in their lives continually hurt or manipulate them. For centuries they have searched for answers.

After years of being concerned about labeling people and causing harm, we mental health professionals finally realized that we were failing to educate people about how to manage these challenging and damaging relationships. By not talking openly about narcissism and sociopathy, we were failing to validate and protect the people who needed it the most.

Today, fortunately, you can find plentiful articles about narcissism and sociopathy throughout this entire psychcentral site as well as in many other sources on the internet.

But one thing you will not find much information about is the question of what makes some people more vulnerable to narcissistic and sociopathic people in their lives. What makes you unintentionally gravitate toward people who will manipulate you and use you strictly to fulfill their own needs? Why is it so hard to see how they are harming you or to say, “No more,
to them? Or why do you seem to attract them?

Childhood Emotional Neglect: The childhood experience of growing up with your emotions ignored or discouraged by your parents.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN is far more common than most people would think. It happens in homes that seem caring and supportive, but where the parents are simply emotionally unaware. It also happens in homes with addicted, self-absorbed, depressed, or personality disordered parents.

But no matter why it happens, its effects on the child are the same. It leaves behind a child who grows into an adult disconnected from her own emotions and her own emotional needs. It creates an adult who asks for little, and who unconsciously continues the pattern of neglecting himself.

This is a perfect draw for a narcissist.

4 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Vulnerable to Narcissists & Sociopaths

  1. Your feelings, which should be informing and guiding you, are not accessible to you. We are born with emotions wired into our biology for a reason. They are meant to help us survive and thrive. Our feelings warn us when we are in danger, and tell us when we need to protect ourselves. When your feelings are blocked, you are not able to properly access and use this resource, you may not feel angry when you should feel angry. You may not believe or trust that your pain is real, or you may not even feel entitled to have it. This makes you easy to manipulate and keeps you in damaging relationships much longer than you should be.
  2. Being unaware of your own wants and needs makes you susceptible to theirs. Narcissists and sociopaths are drastically UN-self-aware. But there is one way in which they are excessively so: they are overly concerned with, and immersed in, their own wants and needs. And they will do pretty much anything required to fulfill them. Narcissistic and sociopathic people do not mind harming others, and some of them, mainly sociopaths, actually enjoy it. People with these personality disorders are equipped with a special sonar. They can pick out of the crowd the person who will not say, “I want,” “I feel,” or “I need” very often. They can see that with you, there will be plenty of room for their own wants, feelings, and needs. So sociopaths and narcissists will be attracted to you. They will befriend you or approach you or ask you for a date. You will probably say yes or befriend them back because, thanks to your Childhood Emotional Neglect, you are vulnerable to them.
  3. Living in an emotionless world can make you feel empty and drab. Those who grew up with CEN often express a deep sense that they are not like everyone else. They say they feel emotionally numb, or empty. They say that they feel they are living in a black and white world, where everyone else seems filled with color and life. Being disconnected from your emotions can make life seem somewhat dull. In contrast, narcissistic and sociopathic folks tend to live large. Because they indulge their own feelings and are not burdened by any feelings of conscience or guilt, they can seem to shine brightly with charisma. They may seem to have what you do not have, and this makes you naturally drawn to them.
  4. There is no way to grow up with your feelings ignored without feeling deeply unimportant. Having CEN as an adult you tend to take up little space. In a way, you may feel most at home when you are on the sidelines, but also at the same time feel sad about the lack of acknowledgment from others. In contrast, narcissistic and sociopathic folks seek and require constant admiration, applause, and acclaim. Everywhere they go they seek the limelight. Because of your unfulfilled (but completely healthy and normal) need to feel that you matter, you may be naturally drawn to the “limelight feeling” of specialness that you never got in childhood. This makes you vulnerable to the narcissist.

How To Become Less Vulnerable

If you saw yourself in the description above, then I have one thing to say to you: it’s time. It is time to make yourself less vulnerable.

And the good news is, you can! You can heal the Emotional Neglect from your childhood and this will help you stop attracting emotionally harmful people into your life.

You can start by beginning to pay attention to yourself in all the ways that did not happen when you were a child. To do this, pause for a moment twice each day and ask yourself some very important questions that you were not asked enough as a child:

What do I want?

What do I feel?

What do I need?

Your next step will be to start saying those words, “I want, I feel, and I need,” out loud to others, finally expressing your wants, feelings and needs more.

Through all of these steps, you will be creating your own limelight. A limelight of your own making. A reflection of your inner self that you are finally allowing to shine. A limelight that is healthy and real, and that has been there all along.

The more you pay attention to yourself, the less attention you will get from narcissists or sociopaths.

The more you like and care about yourself, the less you will feel drawn to narcissists.

The more you learn to express yourself, the easier it will be for you to say, “No more” to a narcissist or sociopath in your life.

Starting down the path of recovery from your Childhood Emotional Neglect is the start to your new life. A life free of manipulation and emotional harm. A life in which you are finally protected in exactly the way you were always meant to be.

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

To learn how to set limits with a narcissistic parent without feeling guilty, and also why CEN makes you more likely to enter relationships with narcissists see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

3 Surprising Reasons People Feel Lonely on Valentine’s Day

Do you have a stereotypical picture of a person who feels lonely on Valentine’s Day?  You might imagine someone who wishes to be in a relationship and is sitting alone feeling sad.

In truth, most of us know how this stereotypical picture feels since we have been there ourselves at some point. Navigating the complicated world of relationships is not easy, so it’s likely that you have spent one or more Valentine’s Days alone, or perhaps for you, this year is this one.

Surprisingly, however, this image of loneliness is often highly inaccurate. A 2010 study by John Cacioppo published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that feelings of loneliness were unrelated to marital status or the number of relatives and friends nearby.

It’s not only possible but common, to feel lonely when you’re not alone. And to be alone, but to not feel lonely. It’s because loneliness is not a state, it’s a state of mind. Loneliness is not a situation, it’s a feeling.

Yes, indeed, scores of people feel lonely on Valentine’s Day, and many are in relationships or surrounded by people. Many have no idea why they feel alone.

Whether you are actually alone this holiday or not, it is possible for you to change how you feel this Valentine’s Day. Start by understanding where your alone feelings originate.

3 Reasons You Might Feel Lonely on Valentine’s Day

  1. You are afraid to let people know the real you: I have seen this fear in many, many people who are actually quite likable and lovable. I call this fear the Fatal Flaw because it stems from a belief that something is inherently wrong with you. The Fatal Flaw can fester under the surface of your life, preventing you from letting anyone get close. “If they get to know me they won’t like me,” says the voice of your Fatal Flaw. You can be married, or you can be surrounded by people, but it does not help you feel less alone because none of those people truly knows or feels who you are. You have not let them.
  2. Counter-Dependence: Counter-dependence is a fear of needing or depending on someone. You are afraid to seek love because, to you, seeking love makes you feel, or appear weak. Counter-dependence has great power to influence your life. It can make you feel ashamed for wanting a partner. It can make you feel weak for having emotional needs. This leads to self-imposed isolation, of which you may not be aware. Even though you are the one preventing yourself from closeness, you may perceive it the opposite way; that others are keeping you at bay.
  3. You are holding yourself back from true emotional connections: For some people, emotional intimacy feels threatening. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you hold your emotions separate, fearful of using your feelings as they were intended: to connect you with people. So when you have an emotional connection, you feel vulnerable, and when you don’t have it, you feel safe. But along with “safe” comes “lonely.” True love requires a true emotional connection. Emotional connection requires vulnerability. You cannot have one without the other.

3 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely

Did you notice the one common element that unites these three factors that lead to loneliness? It’s fear. Fear of being known, fear of having needs, and fear of being vulnerable.

These fears are powerful and can do great damage to your quality of life. If you want to stop feeling lonely, you must battle your fear. The good news is, you can!

  1. Let someone in. You’ve been living your life closed off, because of your fear. Choose one person, and take a risk. Start trying to let someone know what you want, what you need, and most importantly what you feel. This may seem like a risk to you, but in reality, there is very little risk involved. Choose a trustworthy person and make a conscious effort to open up to her or him. You will be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Accept that there is no shame in needing someone. Wanting a relationship is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Needing to feel close, wanting to rely on someone is a normal, healthy sign of your humanity. Being able to develop a relationship is a sign of confidence in yourself, not weakness.
  3. Make emotional connection your goal. Adjust your view of emotional connection from negative to positive. This is the ultimate way to face your fears. Next time you have a conflict with someone, make an effort to talk about it with that individual. Start paying attention to what other people are feeling, and see if you can respond to their feelings. Becoming more aware of emotions in yourself and others is an excellent way to move toward emotional connection.

The Takeaway

Once you realize why you feel lonely, an opportunity automatically presents itself. You realize that fixing your loneliness has nothing to do with anyone else, and everything to do with you.

Whether you find yourself on your own, a part of a couple, or surrounded by friends this Valentine’s Day, you can face your fears and see that there is no need to feel lonely.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible and is often the root cause of these kinds of fears. To learn more about it, see the book, Running on Empty. To learn how CEN prevents deep emotional connections in adulthood see Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Since CEN is so subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you have it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

The Painful Secret Many People Live With: The Fatal Flaw

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

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

It’s their Fatal Flaw.

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

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

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

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

I’m not as fun as other people.

I don’t have anything interesting to say.

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

I know that I’m not attractive.

No one wants to hear what I have to say.

I’m not worthy.

I’m not lovable.

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

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

The Flaw                                                             The Roots

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

The Good News

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

How to Defeat Your Fatal Flaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Make You an Avoidant Adult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Important Points About Avoidance

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

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

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

You Can Become Less Avoidant

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

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

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

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

Three Amazing Ways You Can Re-Parent Yourself

The First Way – Compassionate Accountability

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

At themselves.

For making a mistake.

What You Didn’t Get

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

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

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

What To Give Yourself

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

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

The Second Way – Self-Discipline

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

What You Didn’t Get

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

What To Give Yourself

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

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

The Third Way – Learn to Love the Real You

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

What You Didn’t Get

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

What to Give Yourself

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

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

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