Category Archives for "Relationship & Marriage Advice"

Give Your Kids What You Never Had: 5 Ways to Stop Childhood Emotional Neglect

You can give your kids what you never had.

Few things can make a difference in your parenting as much as healing your emotional neglect.

It’s true! To explain why we must first take a look at your own parents.

Emotional neglect (CEN) happens when your parents, even if they loved and cared about you, failed to validate your emotions enough while they were raising you.

This seemingly small failure seems so simple, and yet its effects on you, the child, were profound. In fact, they still run deep within you to this day.

When your parents did not notice, respond to, or validate your feelings enough, they sent you a powerful, subliminal message:

Your feelings do not matter.

When you received this message over and over again, your adaptive child brain knew just what to do. It walled off your emotions so that they would not burden your parents, or yourself.

This may have worked to cope in your childhood home, but as you grew into an adult, you needed access to your feelings. Now, the emotions that should be energizing, connecting, directing, and informing you are less accessible than you need them to be.

This fundamental disconnection within you affects your life in many important ways. But none of the effects are as great as the ones in your parenting.

Your CEN, invisible, unmemorable, and not your fault, quietly transfers itself from you to your children. Mostly because it’s so very hard to give your child something that you never got yourself.

There are clear ways for you to heal your emotional neglect, and as you do, you will naturally become a better parent.

How CEN Can Affect Your Parenting

  • If your parents didn’t notice, respond to and validate your feelings enough, it’s hard for you to notice, respond to, and validate your child’s feelings enough.
  • Emotion skills are meant to be learned in childhood. Did your parents teach you how to recognize, name, manage and express your feelings? Are you able to teach your child those skills now?
  • Did you feel enough empathy and emotional support from your parents as a child? If not, you are probably quite hard on yourself to this day. How does this treatment of yourself affect your parenting?
  • Did your parents see you clearly as they raised you? Do they now? If your parents have not seen and understood your true nature as a person, you may now struggle to understand yourself. And, by extension, your child.
  • Did you feel fully accepted and loved when you were growing up? Do you truly accept yourself, and love yourself now? It is not your fault at all, but this may make it a struggle to fully accept your child in the way she needs it.

Believe it or not, there is a remarkable thing about childhood emotional neglect (CEN). You can begin to treat yourself in the exact opposite ways that you were treated as a child.

As you give yourself what you never got, you will then have it to give to your children.

5 Ways Healing Your Emotional Neglect Makes You a Better Parent

1. The more you begin to value and attend to your own emotions, the more attuned you will be to your child’s feelings.

When you say, “Are you angry right now?” or “You look sad,” to your child, you are automatically teaching her about her feelings. She will grow up attuned to herself.

2. As you work to learn emotion skills, you will automatically teach them to your child.

Learning to name your feelings, sit with them, manage and express them when needed are all skills your child will see and experience in her relationship with you.

3. As you treat yourself with more compassion, you can help your child have more compassion for himself.

As you learn to accept that you are human and that you, like all humans, make mistakes, you will stop being so hard on yourself.

You’ll be able to show and teach your children how to learn from their missteps, forgive themselves, and move forward, instead of harshly judging themselves.

4. Beginning to pay attention to what you feel, need, like, and dislike will set a great example for your child.

You will be showing him that you are worth paying attention to, and this will make you better able to see him clearly too. You will be teaching him to pay attention to himself, and he will see himself reflected in your eyes.

He will grow up knowing himself and feeling deep down that he matters.

5. Working to accept yourself and love who you are can set your child up to feel this way about herself.

Armed with healthy self-love, and a sense that you are good enough, your child will learn self-love too and will grow up feeling strong, and knowing, deep down, that she is lovable. You did not choose to grow up with emotional neglect. In fact, as a child, you very likely didn’t even realize it was happening to you.

But now, as an adult, you can choose to heal your emotional neglect. And when you do, you are setting yourself on a clear path to being happier and healthier and being a more connected, effective parent to your children.

Making the decision to heal your emotional neglect is like saying to many generations going back in your family line: “The buck stops here. I will not deliver this burden to my children.”

And what could be more important, or more worthwhile, than that?

To learn more about how CEN affects your parenting and other relationships, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire and see Jonice Webb’s book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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

How to Use the Vertical Questioning Technique to Strengthen and Deepen Your Marriage

“Sometimes I just feel like walking away and never coming back,” Craig finally said haltingly, after a long uncomfortable pause.

When he looked up into his wife Liz’s eyes, he was shocked at what he saw…

As a couple’s therapist, I’ve worked with hundreds of couples over the years. If I had to name the one most ubiquitous challenge that I see couples facing, it’s this:

How to know what you’re feeling, and manage those feelings so you can share them with your partner.

It’s just so much easier to talk about logistics and happy things. The kids, our jobs, finances, vacation plans; these are all important. And they all share one common factor: they mostly happen at the surface.

The real glue that holds two people together in a way that is strong and true does not dwell there on the surface. That glue is made of emotion, feeling, conflict and, yes sometimes pain. These can only be accessed by courageously wading deeper, into the messy world of emotions with your partner.

Literally, all couples struggle with this to some degree. But the ones who I see having the most difficulty with it are couples in which one or both partners grew up with CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect). When you grow up in a household where feelings are ignored or discouraged, you have little opportunity to learn about your emotions: how to manage, express and work with them. This can pose a formidable challenge to any committed relationship.

Here is an easy-to-learn technique that you and your partner can use to access each other’s hearts and emotions, and build that valuable relationship glue. It’s called The Vertical Questioning Technique.

The Vertical Questioning Technique

First, it’s important to understand the opposite of vertical questions: horizontal questions. These are the questions that you ask your partner on a day-to-day basis. Here are some examples:

Why are you home late?

What are the plans this weekend?

How much did you buy?

Where were you?

What do you think we should do?

All of these questions have value, yes. But they are geared toward gathering information, not deepening your relationship.

In contrast, vertical questions are geared toward accessing emotions. They are challenging questions that make your partner look inside, not outside. They challenge him to go deeper by looking more deeply into himself. Here are some examples of vertical questions:

How do you feel about that?

No, really…why did you really say/do that?

Are you angry? Why?

You look sad. Are you?

Do you realize that your expression (or body language) doesn’t match your words?

Yes, it’s true, these questions are not for the faint of heart. They are challenging and can be difficult to give and to receive. But they will take you somewhere real and meaningful.

Now let’s revisit Craig and Liz so that you can find out why Craig was shocked by what he saw in Liz’s eyes. Here is the full story.

Liz had noticed that for weeks, Craig had been coming home from work unusually late. She was worried that he continued to be angry about a disagreement they’d had several weeks ago. Several times she had asked him if anything was wrong. Each time he’d smiled and said, “No, not at all, everything’s fine.” Yet he continued to be distant and disconnected from her. He talked easily about logistics and plans but seemed uninterested in her. Try as she might, she ended up feeling frozen out.

Liz Tries Vertical Questioning With Craig

Liz: You’ve been coming home late, and you seem kind of distant. Is anything wrong?

Craig: (With a smile) Don’t be silly. I’m just tired, everything’s fine. I’m going to bed.

Liz: Wait a second. Do you realize that your words don’t match your body language? Your smile doesn’t look real, and you’re walking away as you tell me that everything’s fine. Could there be something else going on with you?

Craig pauses and looks annoyed for a moment. Then the annoyance passes, and he looks perplexed. Liz waits while she sees his attention turn inward.

Craig: I-I don’t know. What’s the big deal? (but he is clearly flustered by Liz’s questions).

Liz: I’ve been sad lately because you seem so distant and disconnected. Can you please try to figure this out for me? I don’t want to live like this.

Craig: (Looking truly concerned for the first time, as he sees his wife’s sadness) Well, believe me, I’m over it. But I still can’t believe you talked to my mother about my drinking problem behind my back. It was a total violation of my trust. I can’t imagine why you would do that to me. Obviously, you don’t care how I feel.

Liz waits while Craig looks at the floor, tears welling in his eyes.

“Sometimes I just feel like walking away and never coming back,” he finally says.

Craig doesn’t see it, but while he’s talking Liz’s eyes are also filling with tears. She feels a combination of sad because she hurt Craig, angry that it’s taken him so long to say this, but relieved and grateful that he’s finally saying it. When he finally looks up, Craig sees how much Liz truly does care what he needs, feels and thinks.

Believe it or not, it almost doesn’t matter what happens from here. Liz’s Vertical Questioning (and her willingness to be vulnerable by sharing her own sad feelings) has helped Craig access his true feelings. And now they have shared what I call an emotional-meeting-of-the-minds.

It is truly a golden moment. Craig and Liz have both sat with their strong emotions together and felt each other’s pain. This moment forms the glue that will bind them together and keep their love and their passion strong.

So don’t be afraid. Ask those hard questions. Challenge your partner, and challenge yourself. It’s the best way to show, and strengthen your love.

To learn more about Horizontal and Vertical Questioning, Childhood Emotional Neglect, and how to build the emotional skills that are needed for a strong marriage, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children.

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

Childhood Emotional Neglect: A Guide For Therapists & Clients

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents fail to validate and respond to your emotions enough as they raise you.

Growing up this way leaves you with some significant challenges throughout your entire adult life.

As I have said many times before, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be healed. Even beyond that, therapists and laypeople alike are realizing that taking the steps to heal CEN is a powerful way to change your life from the inside.

One of my greatest goals in writing and speaking and teaching about Childhood Emotional Neglect is to give both mental health professionals and CEN sufferers a common language to talk about what failed to happen, the gaps that are left by that, and what it takes to fill them.

This route to healing is both validating and compelling for those who grew up with Emotional Neglect. And more and more therapists are finding that walking their clients through the 4 CEN Recovery Steps is remarkably rewarding work.

For Clients

Looking For a CEN Trained Therapist?

If you are looking for a therapist who is familiar with the CEN concept and is trained in the recovery process, see my Find A CEN Therapist Page. It lists almost 500 licensed therapists located all over the world who have either read my books or have attended one of my CEN Therapist Continuing Education Trainings. And if there are none located in your area, many of the therapists on the list do Skype treatment.

Want Your Therapist to Learn About CEN?

If you are in treatment with a therapist who is not trained in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect, you can share this article with your therapist as a way to introduce him or her to the CEN concept and the kind of work you would like to do together.

About Childhood Emotional Neglect — For Therapists

  • Your client may have read self-help books, or even seen other therapists in the past. Nevertheless, he/she has found the awareness of Childhood Emotional Neglect deeply validating, and offering answers not found before.
  • If you can join your client in this conceptualization of what is wrong, I believe you will find that the CEN concept also offers you both a meaningful path forward in your work together.
  • The primary problem is this: Your client grew up in a non-emotionally-aware family. Even though you are quite likely already aware of this, it is important to acknowledge it as the center of what’s wrong for your client now.
  • As a child, your client had to wall off their emotions in order to get by in their emotionally empty home.
  • Now, as an adult, your client’s emotions remain walled off. CEN adults do not have enough access to the emotions that should be stimulating, connecting, guiding and enriching them through adulthood. They know that something is not right, but they do not know what it is until they find the explanation of CEN.
  • CEN adults struggle with a particular pattern of symptoms: emptiness or numbness, a feeling of separateness, a deep sense of being fundamentally flawed, lack of self-knowledge, and low emotional intelligence.

Free Resources For Therapists

Become a CEN Specialist: You can find many more Resources and Tools For CEN Therapists on the For Therapists Page.

Fill out this Brief Form to apply to become a CEN Specialist and get listed on the Find A CEN Therapist Page.

The 4 Steps of Childhood Emotional Neglect Treatment

The treatment of Childhood Emotional Neglect is a process of 4 steps, all of which build upon each other. When you are aware of the natural progression of these steps you will be able to guide your client through them in a meaningful way.

  1. Help your client become aware of the exact way that Emotional Neglect happened in her childhood home. The goal is for your client to understand, on a deep level, what she did not get in her childhood (emotional validation, awareness, and skills), and how it has affected her in her adult life.
  2. Break down the wall blocking your client’s emotions so that he can begin to have more feelings. Helping your client break down his wall involves exercises of emotional awareness, plus meditation/mindfulness and monitoring practices that consciously attempt to reach and identify emotions, as well as building the client’s emotional vocabulary.
  3. Teach your client how to name, tolerate, manage, express, and use her feelings. As your client’s wall begins to break down, he will begin to feel more variety, complexity, and depth of emotions. This is your opportunity to begin to fill in the emotion skills that he wasn’t able to learn in his childhood home. If your client has read the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, he will be aware of the special structured exercises to help guide him through this. He will need you to learn about them so you can guide him through this process of learning what to do with feelings.
  4. Help your client start applying her newfound emotions to strengthen and deepen her relationships. Since your client has lived without enough access to her emotions, her friendships and relationships are likely either too few, lacking in depth, or both. You can now guide your client into the process of inserting her feelings into her relationships and beginning to change them into something more meaningful and resilient.

For Therapists & Clients

CEN Resources To Assist Your Work Together

CEN Therapist List: Clients can find a CEN trained therapist near them. If you are a therapist, you can request to be added to the list to receive more referrals of CEN folks, which I am sure you will find to be some of the most rewarding people to work with.

Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect: This book presents the concept of CEN in depth to readers, how it happens, why it can be so unmemorable, and how it affects the child, plus many aspects of the recovery process. It also has a special chapter for therapists.

Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children: This book is all about how to identify and heal the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in couples and families. It also offers lots of specific information for parents on exactly how to emotionally validate and respond to their children. I wrote this book to use as a guide for clients and therapists to go through together. It is especially helpful for Treatment Step 4.

Whether you are a CEN sufferer looking for a therapist who understands you in this deep and meaningful way or a therapist who wants to learn about Childhood Emotional Neglect and how to walk your clients through the 4 Stages of Recovery, there are many answers and resources for you.

One of my biggest goals is to provide a well-trained therapist who is passionate about treating Childhood Emotional Neglect to every man, woman and child everywhere in the world who needs one.

How To Know If Your Marriage is Affected By Childhood Emotional Neglect

Please enjoy this free excerpt from the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

How do you know if your marriage is affected by Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?

As you know, Childhood Emotional Neglect is invisible, and the huge majority of people who have it are completely unaware. That means that legions of relationships are weighed down by this unseen force. So how do you know if this applies to yours?

If you or your partner has already done some Childhood Emotional Neglect work, then you already know that your relationship is affected. When one partner is out of touch with his or her emotions, meaning he or she lacks emotional awareness and emotion skills, there is no way for the relationship to continue unaffected.

Even if you know that Childhood Emotional Neglect has affected your relationship, it’s important to know the specific effects. On the other hand, if you’re reading this book because you suspect your partner has CEN, then it might help to know some signs to look for.

Here are the markers I use to spot Childhood Emotional Neglect when I meet a couple for the first time for therapy. These are the main ways that it often plays out over time or can be observed in a given moment. As you read through the markers, think about whether each item is true of you, your partner, or both.

The Main Markers of CEN in a Relationship

Conflict Avoidance

Conflict avoidance is essentially an unwillingness to clash or fight and is one of the most classic signs of CEN in a couple. It’s also one of the most damaging.

Believe it or not, fighting is healthy in a relationship. There is no way for two people to closely intertwine their lives for decades without facing some important differences of opinion hundreds, or more likely thousands, of times.

Conflict avoidance has the power to severely undermine a relationship. Not only are you and your partner unable to solve problems by avoiding them; in addition, the anger, frustration and hurt from unsolved issues goes underground and festers and grows, eating away at the warmth and love that you should be enjoying with each other.

Look For:

  • You try not to bring up hurtful topics or issues that you’re angry about.
  • You are so uncomfortable with clashes or arguments that you sweep problems under the rug instead of talking about them.
  • Bringing up something negative feels like unnecessarily opening Pandora’s Box.
  • You or your spouse uses the silent treatment when unhappy or angry.

Feeling Lonely or Empty in the Relationship

Being in a long-term committed relationship is supposed to prevent loneliness. Indeed, when a relationship is going well, there is a comfort that comes from knowing that someone always has your back. You are not facing the world alone. You are not one, you are two.

But it’s entirely possible to feel deeply lonely, even when you are surrounded by people. And when emotional intimacy is not fully developed in your relationship, it can lead to an emptiness and loneliness that is far more painful than you would feel if you were actually alone.

Look For:

  • Even when you’re with your spouse, you sometimes feel a deep sense that you are all alone.
  • You lack the feeling that you and your spouse are, or that you work together as a team.

Conversation Is Mostly about Surface Topics

Every couple must talk about something. Emotionally connected couples discuss their feelings and emotional needs with relative ease. Not so with the emotionally neglected. When you have CEN, you stick with “safe” topics. Current events, logistics or the children, for example. You can plan together. You can talk about the kids. You can talk about what’s happening, but not about what you’re feeling. You seldom discuss anything that has depth or emotion involved. And when you do, it may feel awkward or difficult, and the words may be few.

A willingness to open up, to explore problems and to have an exchange about feelings, motivations, needs, and problems is essential to the health of a relationship.

Look For:

  • Talking about a topic that involves emotion is a huge struggle for one or both of you. Emotional intimacy requires vulnerability on both sides. When you have no choice but to talk about something emotional, it’s a challenge of epic proportions. Trying to put feelings into words seems impossible. You typically, as a couple, end up blowing up and/or abandoning the topic altogether.
  • It’s difficult to find things to talk about. You go out to dinner for your anniversary, and you expect it to feel warm and romantic. But instead, the table between you feels like a barrier that divides you. In general, the conversation can feel stilted or awkward, especially when it “should” be the opposite.
  • One or both of you have a limited vocabulary of emotion words.

Emotional Intimacy Is Lacking

Few couples know the term “emotional intimacy,” what it means and how to cultivate it. Yet emotional intimacy is the glue that holds a relationship together and the spice that keeps it interesting. It’s essential, but it’s also hard to tell whether you have it or not. It’s also the biggest relationship challenge of all for those who grew up with Emotional Neglect. How do you know if your relationship lacks this very important ingredient?

Look For:

  • You are uncomfortable showing emotion in each other’s presence. When you’re feeling sad, angry, anxious or upset, or hurt, lost, vulnerable or overwhelmed, you try to hide it from your partner. Maybe you don’t want to burden her, or perhaps you don’t want to appear weak. Maybe you prefer to keep things positive.
  • You are often surprised by how poorly your partner seems to understand or know you. You’ve been together long enough that you should be able to predict each other’s actions and decisions. Yet your partner frequently misinterprets what you mean, or incorrectly predicts what you will do.
  • One or both of you frequently misreads or misrepresents what he is feeling; for example, he insists, “I’m not angry,” when he is clearly, visibly angry.
  • One partner claims to be perfectly happy, even when the other expresses deep dissatisfaction in the relationship. (When a couple is emotionally connected, one cannot be happy with the relationship unless the other is also happy.)
  • It feels like something important is missing, even though you like and love your partner. Holding back your feelings in any of the ways described above leads to an absence of the very stuff that makes a relationship rich and meaningful. It’s hard to put it into words, but something key is missing, and some part of you knows it.
  • You are living very separate lives, even though you like and love each other. You are two planets revolving around each other, and only sometimes do your orbits meet. Lack of teamwork and lack of connection leaves you each pursuing paths that work for you, regardless of whether those paths bring you together or not.

Lack of Passion

If you’ve been together a long time, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on now, Dr. Webb. What long-married couple has passion?”

My answer is PLENTY. Passion changes over the years, for sure. But in an emotionally connected relationship, it does not go away. It simply mellows and becomes more complex over time. Passion goes from the desperate drive to be constantly together and having sex early in the relationship, to a feeling of comfort knowing that your partner is nearby. You look forward to seeing her after an absence. You have a desire to be physically close, a deep understanding of each other’s sexual needs, and a motivation to please each other sexually.

Passion is also most deeply felt during and after a conflict. Conflicts stir intense feelings, a form of passion. And working through them together fosters a feeling of trust and connection that also is passion.

Many couples don’t know that they can and should have passion, or what to look for to answer whether they have it or not. Here are some signs that can tell you that it’s lacking in your relationship.

Look For:

  • Very little fighting takes place in the relationship
  • Lack of physical affection on a casual or daily basis
  • Inadequate sex and/or desire for sex
  • Lack of need or desire to see each other

I hope you found this chapter from Running On Empty No More helpful. If you see some of these markers in your own marriage, please do not despair. The silver lining of Emotional Neglect in your marriage is that the cause of the problems is also a powerful path to change. See the book for much more in-depth information about what it means to have Emotional Neglect in your marriage, how to talk about it with your spouse, and exactly what to do.

Why Legions of People Wonder: Do You Feel Like I Do?

Do you feel like I do?

On The Outside

There’s a deep, draining feeling that many people carry through every single day of their adult lives. But few are consciously aware of this feeling, or ever actually put into words. So please allow me to do it for you, using the words I have heard many people use to describe it.

It’s a feeling of:

Deeply different from everyone else; somehow flawed

Alone and disconnected

On the outside looking in

Unfulfilled

Empty or numb

This is a feeling that saps your energy and your joy. It lurks in the background, making it hard for you to believe that you fit in anywhere, or that you are okay.

This feeling colors your world gray and holds you back from many of the most rewarding parts of life.

When you live with this feeling you are most likely not fully aware that you have it, yet it drags on you and weighs on you day after day. This feeling can become such a constant in your everyday life that you experience it not as a feeling, but as a fact of life.

Woven into the fabric of your existence, you naturally assume it’s a basic part of the human condition.

Doesn’t everyone feel like I do?

Until one day you look around, and you see that other people seem more comfortable in their own skin. Other people seem to feel that they belong. Other people seem to be living lives filled with passion and joy and heartbreak and hurt that you, in some inexplicable way, for some unfathomable reason, seem unable to fully experience.

“What do all these people have that I lack?” you wonder. Why do they seem to be so connected, so comfortable, so driven, so fulfilled?

Why do I seldom feel like I belong? Why am I living on the outside? What makes me different from everyone else?

Believe it or not, when you ask these questions, it’s actually a good sign. It means that you have finally moved beyond your lifelong assumption that everyone feels this way.  You have progressed forward and reached a realization.

Everyone does not feel like I do. I am missing out on something important. Something that truly matters.

Now some good news. Keep reading and you will find that you can overcome this feeling. You don’t have to live with it anymore. But first, let’s talk more about what caused it in the first place, and also what it means.

What Causes This Feeling?  Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect is, unfortunately, a common childhood experience. It takes place in many unsuspecting homes and is perpetrated by many unaware adults. It’s often invisible, usually unmemorable, but yet it leaves an enduring mark upon the child.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to notice your feelings enough and respond to them. So it’s not exactly something that happens to you as a child; it’s more like something that fails to happen for you as a child.

Your emotions and feelings and emotional needs go unnoticed, unvalidated, and essentially ignored.

This was the experience that caused the feeling that you live with now.

What Does This Feeling Mean?

When you grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, you learn that your emotions are a useless burden, and you continue to treat your own feelings in exactly that way as you move forward in your life.

Going forward, whenever you have a feeling, you either question it or doubt it or minimize or reject it. You assume that your feeling is wrong, or selfish or excessive or useless so you override it or ignore it or both.

Every time you do this to one of your emotions, you are doing it to yourself. You are pushing the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are down, and away. In doing so, you are minimizing and marginalizing yourself. You are making yourself an incomplete version of yourself. You are squelching yourself.

What does this feeling mean? It means that you are continuing to neglect yourself.

How Can You Get What Other People Have?

In a way, the answer to this question is remarkably logical. To get what other people have, you must reverse the process of the Childhood Emotional Neglect you grew up with. You can start by absorbing and embracing the Emotion Facts below.

5 Emotion Facts

  • Your emotions are wired into your biology. Since you cannot choose them, you cannot judge them as wrong, excessive or bad. They are what they are and you must accept them.
  • Every feeling is a message from your body. It’s important to pay attention and listen to their message.
  • Emotions are useful sources of energy, connection, motivation, passion, and purpose. The more you embrace your feelings, the more you will have all those things.
  • Even though every feeling is important, that does not mean every feeling should be indulged. There are ways to manage your feelings, and many feelings can, and should, be managed.
  • Never judge yourself for having a feeling. It is what you do with your feelings that matter.

Once you understand and accept the 5 Emotion Facts above, you can make a vow to yourself that you will stop the pattern set up for you in childhood. And then you can fulfill that vow by treating yourself in a different way.

So when that inner voice says, “It does not matter what you feel,” you do not accept it; you talk back.

“It does matter what I feel,” you insist. “I will accept and pay attention to this feeling. I will listen to its message, I will take responsibility for it. I will manage it or, if needed, share it. I will own it as the deepest expression of myself.

No more, “Do you feel like I do?” No more “on the outside.”

My solemn vow to myself: I will not hide anymore.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect keeps you feeling disconnected from the most important people in your life, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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

How To Prevent Emotional Neglect In Marriage

How do you prevent Emotional Neglect in your marriage? Fortunately, it’s quite easy.

But unfortunately, it’s also easy for Emotional Neglect to take over your marriage, leaving one or both partners feeling empty and alone. All it takes is for one or both of you to grow up with it in your family.

When Emotional Neglect happens in a marriage, it doesn’t look the same as other relationship problems, like conflict or fighting. Instead, it’s more likely to look like nothing.

Failing to notice when your partner is upset.

Failing to ask, “What’s wrong?”

Refusing to answer when your partner asks, “What’s wrong?”

Ignoring the problems between you in hopes they will go away on their own.

Avoiding conflict.

Keeping your festering anger to yourself.

Failing to notice or respond to your partner’s emotional needs.

Emotional Neglect in a marriage is like a quiet monster hiding under the rug. It’s not a “problem” so much as an empty space; an absence of some essential ingredient that no one knows about, but everybody misses.

If you or your partner grew up in a family that was blind to the feelings of its members, there’s a good chance that one or both of you didn’t have the chance to learn what true emotional intimacy is.

Emotional intimacy requires emotional work; like paying attention to your own feelings and the feelings of the other person, being willing to fight things out even when it hurts, and being vulnerable to the other person: all things that are NOT done in an emotionally neglectful family. All things that are NOT learned by the child growing up in it.

As a specialist in marriage therapy, I have worked with hundreds of couples, many of them experiencing Emotional Neglect in their relationships.

3 Ways Emotional Neglect Plays Out in Marriages Over Time

  • Important topics, not only negative ones but maybe even positive ones too, are not talked about.
  • One or both partners end up feeling deeply alone in the marriage.
  • Gradually, over time, the two partners drift apart.

In these ways, the emotionally neglectful marriage gradually emotionally starves its members. Some husbands and wives feel it happening to them, while others seem to go through their days blissfully unaware.

One thing is clear: if the Emotional Neglect goes unchecked, it will eat away at the heart of the couple’s love and passion, eroding that magnetic chemistry that brought them together in the first place. They are likely, after decades of living like this, to end up feeling more like roommates than love mates.

How To Prevent Emotional Neglect In Marriage

  1. Ask yourself this question once every day: “What is my partner feeling right now?” Simply focusing on your husband or wife’s feelings will help you begin to tune in to him/her emotionally. You do not have to be right. When it’s possible, follow up your guess with a question to your spouse such as, for example, “You look frustrated right now. Are you?” Or, “You seem a little sad today. What’s going on?”
  2. Make quality time together. Emotional Neglect is not dependent upon the quantity of time. It’s all about the quality. Quality time requires a true connection, like walking and talking about something meaningful; not just taking a walk together. Bring up something you’re worried or concerned or hurt or angry or sad about. Talking with your partner about something that has feelings connected to it will deepen your connection.
  3. If you feel lonely in your marriage, tell your partner. The worst thing you can do is try to “protect” your partner by keeping silent about what’s wrong or what is missing for you. Tell your spouse how much you love him, and then explain that you want a more meaningful, intimate connection. If your spouse has no idea what you mean, have her read about Childhood Emotional Neglect on this blog or EmotionalNeglect.com. If she begins to understand what this means, and how it applies to her, it will open doors for you and your spouse that you never imagined were possible.

Strive to notice when your partner is upset.

Be sure to ask, “What’s wrong?”

Always give an answer when your partner asks, “What’s wrong?”

Address the problems between you in a direct and honest, but caring and compassionate way.

Accept that conflict is a healthy part of every strong relationship.

Voice your anger to your partner so it will not have a chance to fester.

Do your best to notice and respond to your partner’s emotional needs.

Usually invisible in your childhood and in your marriage, Emotional Neglect has the power to drain your energy, dampen your joy, and make you feel disconnected, lost and alone.

But this means that you have the power to make the invisible visible and the unspeakable speakable. Drag the Emotional Neglect in your marriage out from under the rug, shine a light on it and say:

“ I love you and I want to be closer to you. Can we please work on this together?”

How do you prevent Emotional Neglect in your marriage? Ask your partner for help. That is what true love is all about.

To learn much more about Emotional Neglect in marriage, how it looks and how to heal it, see Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Relationships

Growing up with your feelings ignored, Childhood Emotional Neglect or (CEN), takes its toll on you. It’s true. In fact, it takes such a lasting toll that I can see its lingering effects decades later in my adult patients.

The Lingering Effects Of CEN

  • A lack of awareness of your own feelings, wishes, and needs.
  • A feeling that you are less important than everyone else.
  • A massive struggle to talk about and share your own feelings.
  • Difficulty asking for help and accepting help from others.
  • A lack of understanding of how feelings work in yourself and others.

Children who grow up with their feelings ignored take a very powerful step to get by in their childhood home. They wall off the deepest, most biological part of who they are: their emotions. That way they can stop burdening others with their feelings. What a brilliant and powerful tool for your child’s brain to make for you.

But as an adult, your life is affected greatly.

The lingering effects above are important parts of the toll of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). When your feelings are walled off, you are missing some life ingredients that will have a profound effect on your quality of life.

I know this because I see it in my office every single day.

Whether you realize it or not, this particular group of struggles affects you in many areas of your life. You are living without access to some vital life ingredient that everyone else enjoys. For example, it can make it hard to ask for a promotion or a raise at work, or to trust yourself to try new things or take risks.

But I have also seen that there is one area of life that’s affected far more than any other. It’s your relationships. As you read the 5 Important Ways below, be sure to keep in mind that none of these 5 are permanent. They are only effects from your childhood. You can fix every single one!

5 Important Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Challenges Your Relationships

  1. It makes them one-sided. Generally, CEN people are not able to be fully present in their relationships. The first two Lingering Effects of CEN all contribute to this result. When you’re not aware of your own feelings, wishes and needs enough, how can you share them with your husband, wife, partner or friend? How can you take up your fair share of space in your relationships when you view other people and their needs as more important than your own? Many of your relationships become too much about the other person, and not enough about you.
  2. Your relationships seem fewer and feel less rewarding than other people seem to have. This is partly because they’re one-sided, just as we discussed above. Since you’re not fully emotionally present in your relationships, they are naturally limited in depth and resilience. They may break apart more easily, and may not reach their full potential. You offer up so very much in your relationships, but you’re holding back the most valuable gift you can give someone: your emotional vulnerability.
  3. It makes social time more tiring than it should be. Spending time with people you care about should be rewarding, energizing and enriching. But you often find it draining instead. That’s because your relationships are one-sided (you give too much and don’t take enough for yourself), and also because you spend so much energy trying to be the person you think others want or expect you to be — instead of just being yourself. That takes a lot of energy.
  4. You feel alone, even with people who love you. All of us humans share a common bond, and that bond is largely based on our feelings. When your emotions are too blocked off, you may not have enough access to your own deep font of warm emotional energy; the source of relationship “glue” that should be connecting you. Since you are unaware of the problem, you’re left feeling, on some level, emotionally isolated at key times. Even though you are actually not!
  5. It holds your relationships back from becoming as rich and deep as they should be. Just as emotion is the glue that binds you to others, it’s also the fire that lights your passion, and the stick that should be poking you saying, “Speak up!” Without full access to this vital resource, your relationships are missing an important vital ingredient: You.

Never fear! I know these 5 challenges might seem practically insurmountable. But I have watched many people transform their relationships by working in 3 key areas.

3 Answers Taken From Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children

  1. Your Emotional Awareness: This involves being aware of what you are feeling and what the other person is feeling. It’s being able to observe your own behaviors and responses to things and understand the emotions involved.
  2. Emotion Skills: Learning to identify what you feel, accept your feelings, tolerate your feelings, manage them, and put them into words. You can learn all of them!
  3. Communication Skills: How do you tell someone they hurt your feelings? Or that you are angry at them? How do you ask someone for what you need or want? Once you get better at emotional awareness and emotion skills, you’ll have the foundation to learn how to communicate far more effectively.

You can learn far more about how to become more emotionally aware and skilled and how to communicate on an emotional level in the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. Take The CEN Test. It’s free!

The Hallmarks Of A Resilient Relationship: Harmony Rupture Repair

“Happily Ever After.”

How many times have you heard that phrase?

Speaking for myself, it is many, many, many. And every single time I hear it, I wince.

Since the phrase is used so often to describe the hopes and expectations of people in relationships, I do find myself wincing a lot.

Every couples therapist knows that happiness in a long-term relationship does not come easily. Both members of every couple must fight for their love each and every day. Anyone who has successfully navigated a successful long-term relationship or marriage knows that there is no such thing as happily ever after.

Nevertheless, common culture continues to promote the notion that when you find the right person, things should naturally flow in a positive direction. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the worst enemies of happiness in a relationship is stagnation. The couple that stops growing together ends up growing apart. In every successful relationship, each member of the couple must be challenging the other to grow and change in meaningful ways.

It’s not about changing into a different person for your partner; it’s only about listening to your partner’s feelings and needs and making an honest effort, out of love, to meet them. As long as your partner is asking for healthy things (even if they’re painful or difficult), this is a process of pushing each other to grow. That is the hallmark of a successful relationship.

When you are truly in a relationship that is working, there must be friction to keep both partners growing. The friction shows that you are being honest with each other and that you are willing to fight for the relationship. The changes you make for each other are both an expression of your love and a product of your love.

Every healthy relationship follows a predictable, productive pattern. This pattern is the hallmark of a healthy, stimulating, growing, resilient relationship.

Harmony — Rupture — Repair

  • Harmony: This is everyone’s favorite part of the relationship cycle. It’s the feeling you have when things are going smoothly between you and your partner. You’re enjoying each other’s company and you are getting along. No fighting, no friction. This is what people are imagining when they utter the phrase “happy ever after.” And it’s the picture that popular culture likes to paint of successful relationships. Everyone would like to believe that this is how relationships are supposed to be. But actually, this stage must be earned not just once, but over and over again.
  • Rupture: It is actually not humanly possible for the Harmony stage to last forever. Every single coupling of human beings on this earth is on a path toward rupture. It’s not a matter of whether a rupture will occur; it is a matter of when. But the good news is that ruptures are not bad. They are actually opportunities to deepen, enrich and enliven the relationship. The rupture holds the passion and the clash brings out the feeling. And feeling is the glue and spice that makes every relationship valuable and worthwhile.
  • Repair: The Repair phase is where the real work happens. What do you need your partner to do to fix this problem, and what can you do to make him happy? Working out a new understanding or a compromise, or deciding to work toward a change communicates love and care, shows commitment and builds trust with each other. When you do this phase right, you continually learn more and more relationship skills that you can use over and over again, making problems become less and less painful as they happen. Going through rough waters together and coming through to the other side intact propels you into the Harmony phase, where you enjoy the love and dedication and care that has been there all along.

If you grew up in a family that avoided conflict, squelched emotions or discouraged meaningful conversation (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you are at great risk of avoiding or squelching the healthy rupture your relationship needs or being unable to initiate and/or tolerate the meaningful conversation to repair it.

If you grew up with CEN, learning that rupture in your adult relationship is not a failure but an opportunity can open doors to building valuable communication and emotion skills and to a much more rewarding and resilient relationship.

Harmony – Rupture – Repair – Harmony – Rupture – Repair – Harmony – Rupture – Repair. On and on it goes, one phase following another. It’s not a sign of a problem, but a sign of health and love and commitment.

The harmony brings the joy, the rupture stokes the passion and the repair builds the trust.

And that’s what “Happily Ever After” actually looks like.

To learn exactly how to take the steps to connect emotionally with your partner, see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, your Parents & Your Children.

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

The Incredible Power of Validation and How To Do It

What Does Validation Look Like?

Tim and Barbie sat slumped in their chairs feeling exhausted and hopeless. A full hour of talking had failed to make progress toward resolving their conflict. In fact, they were now much farther apart than they were when they started.

I see it all the time and everywhere. In families, marriages, friendships, politics, and the workplace. People going head-to-head and toe-to-toe, often with the best intentions to reach a resolution, only to find that their attempts to discuss it make things worse.

If all these people knew that there is a simple, almost magical thing they can do to reach through the conflict, connect with the other person, and forge forward, I’m sure that they would do it right away.

As she slumped in her chair, Barbie realized that she was perseverating on her own point of view. She became aware of how angry she was at Tim for not listening and not seeming to care how she felt. Then suddenly, a lightbulb went on in her head, and she said,” Tim, please tell me again why you refuse to spend the holiday weekend with my family.”

It’s Not About Giving In

Validation is not about compromising your own point of view. It’s not about giving in. It’s not about manipulation, or agreeing, or even resolving. Validation is something that can happen in one sentence, in one moment. It’s a blip that occurs in a conversation that can make all the difference in where that conversation goes.

“As I already explained multiple times, I cannot stand being around your brother that long,” Tim explained. “He is the most boorish, obnoxious, unpleasant person I have ever met. He will ruin the holidays for me, and I don’t want our children around him,” Tim repeated with exasperation.

Keep reading, because validation has not happened yet. Barbie is, however, listening intently to Tim’s words, looking directly into his eyes as he talks. This is something she did not do for the entire hour of their previous conversation.

“I get it,” Barbie said. “I totally understand why you feel that way.”

This was the moment of validation. If you were watching this conversation happen between Barbie and Tim, you would see Tim’s angry posture slightly relax as he took in Barbie’s words. At that moment, he feels unexpectedly heard and understood. He feels validated.

To validate someone is not at all the same as agreeing with them. It’s only a way to say that you understand their feelings. That one moment of understanding has the power to change the course of your interaction, sending you on the road to a resolution.

3 Steps to Validate Someone

  1. Change to a listening posture. Listen to what the person is saying, and try to grasp the feelings behind it. When Barbie did this, she realized that Tim finds her brother far more offensive than she does. She puts a realization together in her head: Tim didn’t grow up with her brother and doesn’t understand him as she does. Tim takes her brother’s behavior at face value and is greatly offended by it.

  2. Try your hardest to feel what the other person is feeling, especially if you don’t agree with it. When Barbie actually listens and imagines being Tim, she is able to feel his frustration and irritation. As she feels Tim’s feelings for just that moment, he experiences a moment of validation. In that moment, he finally feels heard and understood.
  3. Tell the other person you understand why they would feel that way. You don’t need to say, “I feel the same way,” “I agree,” or “You are right.” You only need to say that you get it.

The Takeaway

When you give someone a moment of validation, you are accomplishing several goals simultaneously. You are establishing a meeting-of-the-minds, you are connecting, and you are helping the other person open up to your point of view as well.

People who feel validated are far more open to the opinions of others. Now that Barbie has validated Tim’s feelings, he will be far more able to hear what she has to say, and imagine what she is feeling.

If you grew up with a lack of validation yourself (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you will likely have a hard time validating others, especially during times of conflict or anger. Yet validation has the power to turn a negative cycle into a positive one.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can leave you devoid of many emotion skills like validation. To learn more, Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn many more ways to improve your relationships with the people you care about, see my new book,  Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

How To Validate Someone’s Feelings

For the realtor, the world revolves around Location Location Location. But psychologists, psychiatrists, and social scientists everywhere know that what really matters is validation.

And the absence of it.

Validation 1

A friend of mine woke up one morning and literally felt a bomb go off in her head. There was a sense of an explosion, cymbals, fireworks all in one split-second cacophony. Then, suddenly, it was over.

Needless to say, my friend was worried on the verge of panic. What was this? What does it mean? “Is this the start of some kind of neurological degenerative disorder?” she wondered. So she did what any of us would do in this situation. She typed it into google.

She only typed a few words, and the answer appeared under the search bar. Exploding Head Syndrome. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s unexplained and rare, but harmless. My friend read postings by dozens of people who have had the same experience. She felt immediately relieved, and never worried about it again.

Because she felt validated.

When my friend told me this story months later, it made me think about validation, and how powerful it is. It’s possible to go from panic to calm by simply being validated. Validation has the ability to save marriages, cement friendships, and decrease depression. It’s scientifically proven.

Validation 2

I recently came across a study by Marigold et al., 2014, which looked at how people with low self-esteem experience different kinds of support, compared with people who have healthy self-esteem.

The researchers found that both groups of people responded well to validation of their negative feelings. That’s these kinds of statements:

I would feel that way too.

Anyone who went through that would be sad.

Your feelings are normal.

Of course you’re angry.

But only the folks with healthy self-esteem also responded well to the kind of support that did not validate their feelings. That’s statements like:

At least you’re learning something from this.

I know someone who went through the same thing, and he’s fine now.

You’ll beat this.

Everything will be okay.

So the only kind of supportive statements that are helpful for people with all levels of self-esteem is the kind that validates their negative feelings. Across the board, we all need to know that the feelings we have are normal and reasonable in the situation.

We all feel better when we’re validated.

Validation 3

I’m sitting in my office in a therapy session with a couple who is on the verge of divorce. Karen and Tom are both lovely people, but they hate each other. Our work together over the past two months has been trying to figure out why.

On this day, one powerful reason emerges. Here’s the story Karen told me:

I was on the phone with my mother, and she told me that her doctor’s appointment didn’t go well. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. I was so upset! I hung up the phone, and I was in shock. Tom was in the other room. I walked in and told him what I had just heard.

Tom stopped typing on his laptop and came over to me. He gave me a huge hug, which was just what I needed. Then he said, “OK, let’s stop with the tears and talk about this rationally. It’s not like anyone has died.”

Tom did several things exactly right in this moment. He gave Karen his full attention and a big hug. And he thought he said the right thing. Clearly, Tom’s intentions were loving.

But sadly, Tom missed the boat. His statement was intended to calm Karen, but instead it contributed to the pool of anger and rage that she already had toward him. What Karen heard in his statement was, “You’re wrong to be so upset. You’re over-reacting. You are irrational.”

Karen’s anger toward Tom had built up over many years of such responses from him. Incidents big and small ended the same, with Karen getting MORE upset and walking out of the room, leaving Tom baffled and angry himself in return.

“She’s impossible. I can’t do anything right for her. It’s never enough,” Tom lamented in our session.

Fortunately, there was an answer for Karen and Tom, and the answer was fairly straightforward. In fact, Tom learned quickly and easily. He learned to say instead, in a situation like this, “Oh no, that’s terrible, Honey. I’m so sorry. I’m here for you.”

When Tom handled Karen’s feelings by responding to them instead of trying to minimize or banish them, Karen felt validated.

The Unvalidated Child

Imagine a little child growing up without the kind of validation that my friend got from google; without the kind of validation that the subjects got in the self-esteem study. Without the kind of validation that Karen was finally able to get from Tom.

Imagine this little child trying to understand himself, his world, and all the other people in it. Imagine that he doesn’t feel he can ask questions when he needs help. No one notices his feelings or emotional needs. No one says, “Let me explain this to you.” No one says, “Your feelings are normal.” No one says, “I’m here for you,” or “I see your emotions,” either by words or actions. 

This child is being sentenced to an entire life of seeking answers. An entire life of feeling like a non-person. An entire life of feeling less-than. An entire life of feeling angry or baffled or untethered, or all three.

An entire lifetime of feeling invalid.

To learn more about validation, how it affects people who live without it, and how to heal, see the book Running on Empty

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