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5 Roadblocks to Dating Caused By Childhood Emotional Neglect

Recently, I wrote an article called Raised To Have No Emotional Needs. In the article, I gave an example of Kasey, who hid her desire to have a boyfriend because it made her feel ashamed of letting other people see that she had needs.

This topic, plus the example of Kasey, lit up somewhat of a firestorm of candid and expressive shares from readers who had extensive personal experience with feeling ashamed of their own feelings and needs — a natural result of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), unfortunately.

Let’s now use these real CEN adults’ actual shared comments to illustrate how being raised with your feelings ignored can lead to some difficulties years later, when it’s time to date, find your partner, and commit to a lifelong relationship. 

Below I am sharing with you several reader’s comments in italics, each followed by my commentary about it. We will cover some of the biggest roadblocks CEN sets up when it comes to dating and relationships.

5 Roadblocks to Dating & Relationships

1. Feeling and Accepting Love

Reader’s Comment

This article explains so clearly why I have always ‘muted’ my feelings to those close to me. Why would anyone be interested anyway in how I feel, my parents weren’t when I was a child, and nor was my ex-husband. It has come so naturally for me to deal with everything I feel myself yet I feel crippled with depression. Having started a new relationship with a loving, caring man, I am struggling to accept his love, I just don’t feel worthy of it.

My Thoughts

When your parents show low interest in your feelings and emotional needs, it creates a kind of emotional desert inside of you. I call it a desert because it’s an emotionally dry spot that is virtually unable to absorb the “water” or emotionally validating love, that you may later encounter in your adult life. Even when you find the ingredient you need the most, it may make you feel uncomfortable. You do not know what to do with it.

2. Fear of Rejection 

Reader’s Comment

For many people regardless of CEN plucking up the courage to ask someone out for a date, even if it is just a cup of coffee is a big deal. Many people with CEN feel very rejected by their parents and also feel unlovable because they did not get that emotional warmth and validation at a vital time. Therefore when they feel “tempted” to ask someone out part of them – in a bid to protect them slams the brakes on to stop themselves from being rejected and left alone again. It is like an overprotective parent in the mind and it can be there in other relationships too. My therapist asked me once why I always decided when our session was over and it was time to leave rather than her. I think she knew the answer! It was because if she had told me the time was up and I had to leave I would have interpreted that as rejection. I think the way around this for me, at any rate, is to admit that if someone you like doesn’t want a certain relationship with you that can be tough and maybe a bit painful. However, it does not have to be an absolutely appalling catastrophe as it is for a three-year-old when their mother is not with them and they are left with unfeeling adults. One can survive it – indeed grow stronger from it – and although some people are very lovely by human standards, nobody is completely right in every way for a person anyway.

My Thoughts

When, as a child, you go to your parents for the natural emotional support that all children need, and you do not receive it, you automatically feel rejected. In this way, children of Emotional Neglect may end up feeling fear of rejection at their very core. As an adult with CEN, you can organize your choices and actions around that fear, making it difficult to initiate a date, or even believe that someone would want to be with you.

3. Lack of Feeling

Reader’s Comment

Miserable situation. It is like being dead but alive. You’re so shut off from anything that gives connection and value to your “connections” in life.

Living with CEN is probably like being raised to be a sociopath, feel nothing, experience nothing, don’t connect with others.

My Thoughts

Children growing up in families that don’t deal with feelings learn one feeling skill and one only. It’s this: Don’t have feelings. The CEN child automatically walls their feelings off in order to cope in their childhood home. As an adult, you need your emotions to connect. This makes forming a meaningful, emotional connection with a partner very difficult.

4. Sexual Neglect 

Reader’s Comment

There is a thing like sexual neglect where parents hesitate or avoid any talk about romance and sex. Children then bury love and sex-related emotions deep in themselves and maybe abstain from sexual relationships. You might want to write an article about CEN and dating issues in adult life.

My Thoughts

Parents who do not discuss or demonstrate positive emotions, such as love, warmth, or affection, and parents who avoid mention of sex or do not educate their children about it set their children up to feel ashamed of their own positive, loving feelings and sexual needs. Many CEN children grow up to be blocked by a wall of shame from pursuing a partner and sharing romantic and sexual feelings with another person.

5. How CEN Happens + Hope 

Reader’s Comment

CEN is like having your legs kicked out from under you. You’re told, either openly or subtly, you don’t matter. You, your feelings, wants, and needs are unimportant. It is very hard to un-convince yourself of this mindset, but not impossible. Try to see yourself as a friend you want the best for in life. Value this person against all the negative, dismissive, hurtful lies you were “raised” with. “Raised with.” When it comes to CEN, we weren’t raised, we were thwarted. Step by step, year by year, we grew up in homes when we were not allowed to BE. Very possibly, our “caregivers” were abused as well. If you can SEE it, you can NAME it and give it back, not bring it forward. You have to find hope where hope was not allowed. Day by day, moment by moment, whatever it takes. You have to be the accepting, kind loving parent you never had. What have you got to lose? More of Your Life.

The Takeaway

Yes, Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up with some challenges in your adult life. If you find yourself experiencing any of the above roadblocks in your dating and relationships, I want to assure you that there is hope. 

Just as you were separated from your feelings as a child, you can reunite with your feelings now. Just as you were blocked from accepting your normal emotional needs, you can begin accepting them now. Just as you learned to be ashamed, you can learn to welcome and believe in your emotional needs now.

By valuing your own feelings and being invested in learning how to understand and use them, you are actually becoming invested in yourself; in how to understand and value yourself.

When you care about your own true feelings, you can care about another’s true feelings. And that is the source of emotional connection. In the words of the wise reader above: “Day by day, moment by moment, whatever it takes. You have to be the accepting, kind loving parent you never had. What have you got to lose? More of Your Life.”

What have you got to gain? Love, support, partnership. Everything.

To learn much more about how to heal the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect on your relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

How to Use Your Emotions: 3 Real-Life Examples

I wish I knew how many times I have said, “Use your feelings.” Several times every single week I either write or say that phrase.

Even though I constantly tell people this, I am well aware that it’s not so easy to understand what it means. So, let’s talk about it now.

First, a little primer on feelings. Here are some fun feeling facts to lay the groundwork.

4 Facts About Feelings

  • Feelings are your body’s natural feedback system. Every emotion you have is a message from your body. Emotions are your body’s way of communicating with you.
  • Feelings inform you about what you want and need, and they also tell you what you don’t want and don’t need. For example, enjoyment tells you to seek more of whatever it is you’re enjoying. Anger tells you to protect yourself. Fear is the classic fight-or-flight message. Sadness says, “You’re losing/lost something.” The message of pride is, “You’ve done, or you are, something good.”
  • When you grow up in a family that does not encourage or allow for the expression and validation of your feelings, which is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), you are essentially being taught to hide and ignore your own emotions. With your feelings walled off, you will go through your entire adult life ignoring the most valuable expressions of your deepest self: your feelings.
  • Non-CEN people, on the other hand, grow up with unhindered access to the feeling messages from their deepest selves. When you have access, you have the opportunity to use your feelings as they were meant to be used: to inform, direct, guide, stimulate, and empower you.

So, now that we’ve refreshed on how your feelings can be useful to you, you may still find it difficult to imagine the process of using them. How exactly does one go about putting their feelings into practice? I have helped hundreds of people gain access to their emotions and learn to use them. I’m going to share some examples of people with Childhood Emotional Neglect who have already been through the CEN healing steps.

3 Examples Of Using Your Feelings

James

James was laid off from his job as a software developer because his company downsized due to COVID-19. Shocked, James never thought he would find himself in this position. He immediately began looking for a new job and updating his resume. But each time he began to work on the update, he got a foggy feeling in his brain that made him feel exhausted. Time and time again, it kept happening. And then James woke up. He realized his body was trying to tell him something. Allowing himself to sit with the feeling, feel it, and think deeply into what it meant, he realized that he had not enjoyed the job he was just laid off from. He had performed it like a robot, effectively going through the motions with a near absence of joy or reward. James realized that his body was telling him that looking for another software job was not a good idea. In the end, James made a conscious decision to take another software job for financial reasons, but to also take online classes on the science of climate change so that he could move in the direction of applying his computer skills to something he felt passionate about.

Kate

Kate always loved getting together with her childhood friend, Nicole. They had known each other since preschool, had gone through high school together, and had kept in touch through college and through their twenties. Now 32, Kate and Nicole tried to get together on the 3rd Friday of every month. But recently, Kate had begun to feel a low-grade, angry feeling every time the 3rd Friday was approaching. Like James did in the example above, Kate decided to pay attention. She sat down, closed her eyes, and let herself feel the anger while thinking about having dinner with Nicole. She realized that Nicole seemed to do almost all the talking while they were together. Kate became aware that their dinners had become all about Nicole, and it was difficult for Kate to get a word in about herself or her own life. Kate decided she would need to either bring this up with Nicole or purposely try to talk more to see how Nicole would react. In the end, she did both.

Jack

Jack had been divorced for 7 years, and he felt he had finally found his person. Alison had just moved in with him, and they were working on setting up his house to accommodate both of their belongings. It was a time of happiness and excitement, and they were very much in love. But Jack noticed a curious thing happening. When Alison placed one of her pieces of furniture or decorative items in a prominent spot in the house, Jack absolutely hated how it looked. Each time, he felt a sense of being encroached upon, taken over, and essentially erased. After this happened enough times, Jack finally sat down and focused on the feeling. He remembered that in his previous marriage, his wife had been a selfish, bossy sort who virtually always insisted on having things her way. Jack had eventually stopped fighting with her and had been rendered essentially helpless in that relationship. Jack’s body was warning him to never let this happen to him again. It was telling him to be careful, and to express his own wishes and needs to Alison.

How James, Kate, and Jack Used Their Feelings

In the first story, if James had ignored his feelings, that dull feeling of paralysis that overcame him every time he tried to update his resume may have spread to his next job, and with no explanation for it, he might also view it as a weakness or blame it on himself. He would also likely have ended up in another unrewarding software job and become more and more unhappy and unfulfilled.

If Kate had ignored her feelings, she may have simply drifted away from Nicole completely over time, finding their time together unrewarding and painful but without any real awareness of why, or that there might be anything she could do to correct the problem.

If Jack had continued to ignore his feelings, he may have repeated his helpless/hopeless passive stance with Alison, even though that approach was completely inappropriate in that relationship. He may have failed to speak up and stand up for his own needs and resented Alison for something she was not doing and didn’t want.

In the end, each listened to their bodies and heeded the messages of warning, and each was saved from potential mistakes, discomforts, harmed relationships, and poor decisions.

The Takeaway

If you take only one thing away from this article, I hope it is this: Your feelings are useful. There is a series of steps you can take to get in touch with your feelings and begin to honor and use them in the way James, Kate, and Jack did.

Positive feelings are useful and negative feelings are also useful. When your body talks, don’t you think you should be listening?

To learn how Childhood Emotional Neglect separates you from your feelings and sends you into adulthood with a major disadvantage, see the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

Raised To Have No Emotional Needs

How do you raise a child to have no emotional needs? Turns out, it’s remarkably, shockingly easy. It’s so easy that many parents do it by accident, despite wanting everything good for their child, and despite trying to do everything right as a parent.

In fact, raising a child to have no emotional needs is so easy that it’s scary.

You just have to do a few special things. Or, rather, you just have to not do a few special things. We will talk about those special things in a minute, but first, I have a question for you.

Might you think this sounds like a desirable outcome, or a sign of strength, to have no emotional needs? If so, you are joined by lots of other people who think that adults should be “strong,” meaning need little from other people, especially not emotionally.

Yet we humans are emotional beings. Our emotions are built into the deepest parts of our central nervous system. They are the deepest, most biological expression of our past and present experiences, wants, responses, reactions, and needs. Our emotions are the expression of our deepest selves.

What connects two people together in a love relationship? Emotions. What has motivated some of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time? Emotions. What enables every single human being to make decisions that are authentic to themselves? Emotions.

What makes life mean something? Yes, you are right. It’s emotions.

What It Means to Have Emotional Needs

Let’s take a moment to consider what it means to have emotional needs. It means that you are human, and it also means two more things. That you are open to messages from your inner self and that you are open to connections with others that are based on vulnerability and emotional honesty. These are the ingredients that make relationships feel true, resilient, and rich, all of which are paramount to being able to emotionally thrive.

Do you have emotional needs? Yes, you do, because you are human. But the real question is whether you allow yourself to know, express, and try to meet them. 

Raised to Have No Emotional Needs

So, back to our initial question: How do you raise a child to have no emotional needs? Essentially, you raise your child to ignore, hide, or be ashamed of their emotional needs. This enables your child, once grown, to believe that they have none. 

Many well-meaning, caring parents do this without intending it or knowing. Sadly, when you ignore, hide, or belittle (even if only subtly) your child’s feelings, you inadvertently teach your child how to suppress their own emotions and emotional needs. This is a lesson that will endure throughout children’s entire lifetime.

I call it Childhood Emotional Neglect. If Childhood Emotional Neglect (or CEN) sounds like the intentional act of an unloving parent, I assure you it’s usually not the case at all. Many CEN parents are simply missing the emotional awareness, understanding, and knowledge their child needs because they didn’t receive it from their own parents.

The bottom line, we can only give our children what we have to give.

The CEN Adult’s Fear of Being Seen as “Needy”

One crucial point, having emotional needs, and sharing them is not the same as being needy. Nor does it make you appear needy. 

Quite the contrary, having emotional needs and expressing them makes you appear, and be, stronger.

Kasey

At age 24, Kasey has never had a boyfriend. Deep down, she’s always wanted a relationship, but on the surface, she has worked hard to hide that wish. She has told many friends and family members that she has more important things to do than to date. When the subject came up with her friends, she turned beet red and changed the subject. 

Jackson

Jackson visits his parents with his partner and children dutifully every major holiday. Each time they visit, Jackson experiences the absence of emotional connection in his relationship with his parents. Jackson’s family is great about discussing sports, news, and weather, but no one talks about anything genuinely important or real. Jackson is vaguely aware that he is hurt by his parents’ lack of interest in his personal life, struggles, or feelings, but he also learned from the way he was raised that to admit that his parents’ emotional void is hurtful, even to himself, would make him weak and needy. So he works hard to never let himself feel it, and he never expresses a word about it to his spouse or anyone else.

What It Means to Let Yourself Have Emotional Needs

  • First, it means accepting that your own feelings are real and worth attending to. 
  • Second, it means realizing that emotional needs are normal and healthy, and expressing them is a sign of strength.
  • Third, it means that you are willing to take some risk, let down your walls, and let yourself be seen as human and vulnerable.

It’s okay to want things like understanding, comfort, and support. It’s okay to need things like love, attention, warmth, and connection. 

It’s powerful to allow your true feelings to be seen, heard, and felt by others. It’s what makes others able to know you, and what makes you able to feel empathy for others.

Most importantly, acknowledging your emotional needs, and expressing them, is the single best, if not only, way to actually get them met.

To learn much more about how to recognize, accept, and express your emotional needs to others see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Brutal Honesty Vs. Speaking Your Truth With Compassion

What does it mean when someone describes themselves as “brutally honest?” It’s not as simple as many people think.

The idea of brutal honesty has been placed in a positive light in today’s world. Perhaps because of the word “honesty.” Because honesty is a good thing, right? Of course, it is.

We all agree that it’s important to be honest and truthful. But, in reality, the truth often hurts.

Many times in our lives we are faced with situations in which we need to share a message that may hurt the recipient. And there are many possible ways to manage those situations.

Brutal Honesty

Declaring yourself brutally honest is perhaps the easiest way around the “truth/hurt” quandary. It’s essentially a free pass to say what you think or what you feel in the moment you think it or feel it.

Chances are high that you know someone like this, who goes through life unfiltered:

You’re the most thoughtless person I know, Marcy says to her husband Edward.

What made you buy that coat? Jenny says to her friend Lori.

Only an unintelligent person would make that argument, Bill says to his colleague.

Looks like you’ve been eating a few too many cheeseburgers, Grandma Bea says to her grandson.

The upside of brutal honesty is that you seldom have to guess what the brutally honest person is thinking. The downside is that you don’t always want to know what the brutally honest person is thinking.

Brutal honesty hurts people. Long after the “honest one” has had his say, the recipient will be suffering the damages.

There is another way to deal with the conundrums of life. It involves no potshots, far less damage to the recipient, and far less hurt all around. Yet it still communicates the necessary message. It’s called Truth With Compassion.

Truth With Compassion

Truth with compassion is a way to express your truth while reducing its hurtfulness as much as possible. Hurting others immediately and automatically sparks their defenses. And once the defenses come up, you’ve lost their open ear. They will no longer hear you.

3 Steps to Speak Your Truth With Compassion

1. Clarify your message within yourself before saying anything to the other person

Example: Marcy’s You’re the most thoughtless person I know becomes: You should have checked with me before taking on that giant project at work.

2. Think about the personality and nature of your recipient. How emotionally fragile is he? How will he best hear this message?

Example: Marcy knows that Edward is normally a thoughtful person, but that he is also somewhat of a workaholic. When he’s absorbed in his work, he tends to think of nothing but the job.

3. Identify the best time, place, and words to communicate your message

Example: Marcy tells Edward she has something important to talk with him about. They agree to talk when they both get home from work. Marcy says I’m hurt that you took on this big project when I hardly get to see you as it is. Did you think about me at all when you made this commitment?

By wording her truth this way, Marcy is avoiding a common barrier to communicating difficult truths: she is not sparking Edward’s defenses. Starting with “I’m hurt,” is a good way to let the recipient know that you are talking about yourself, not him. Asking a question is a good way to open a discussion without making an accusing assumption.

While Jenny and Grandma Bea should keep their “honesty” to themselves, Bill should use a question with his colleague instead of such a blunt and shaming declaration.

Why do you think that?

What makes you say that?

Have you thought about…..?

All of these are possible ways to express doubts about a colleague’s argument. They will not spark the recipient’s defenses, and they will not hurt his feelings. Nor will they likely damage the relationship.

So speak your truth. It’s important. Express yourself and be honest. But pause first to think about the other person. Filter, filter, filter. When you respect the other person’s feelings, your message will be far more likely to be heard.

To learn much more about the importance of speaking your truth and how to show compassion for the other person, plus how to share emotions in relationships, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

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

10 Things Childhood Emotional Neglect is NOT

One of the greatest challenges I have encountered in my pursuit to make the whole world aware of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is helping people understand exactly what it is. So, let’s begin with the definition of CEN.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Happens when you grow up in a household that generally does not notice, respond to, or talk about feelings.

Children who grow up this way receive an unspoken, yet powerful, message that feelings are irrelevant, useless, invisible, or even a burden. To cope, they naturally push away, or wall off, their feelings so they will not inconvenience or bother their parents.

While this may help children adapt to the requirements of their parents, it effectively separates them from their own emotions for a lifetime.

The consequences of this separation are great, and you can read about them in many different blog posts across this website. Today, we will focus on understanding CEN in a way that is both deeper and broader.

We will do that by identifying what Childhood Emotional Neglect is NOT.

10 Surprising Things Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is Not

  1. Physical neglect. Physical neglect can be either a shortage of food, clothing, shelter or the physical presence of a parent. Latch-key kids are considered physically neglected, as is a child who is sent to school in winter without a coat. But Childhood Emotional Neglect is not necessarily any of these things. You may have a stay-at-home parent and everything you could want, but if your parents under-respond to your emotional needs, you may still grow up with the footprint of CEN.
  2. A disease. CEN is decidedly not an illness. It’s simply something your parents couldn’t give you in childhood, emotional validation, awareness, and support. You are not sick. You just need something now that you didn’t get.
  3. A life sentence. CEN is something that can and will hang over your life for as long as you allow it. But, once you realize the problem, the solution is in your grasp.
  4. A personality disorder. Although in my observation, Childhood Emotional Neglect is one ingredient among other powerful forces (like genetics, abuse, double-bind parenting, for example) in the formation of most personality disorders, pure CEN in itself does not produce them. The vast majority of what I would call CEN people have no personality disorder at all. The most common personality disorder that I see among CEN people is avoidant.
  5. A choice. One of the most common assumptions of CEN folks is that they brought their adult struggles upon themselves. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. No child chooses to have their parents ignore their feelings. Interestingly, the vast majority of CEN parents don’t choose it either. It all boils down to one thing: you can’t get something from your parents that they do not have to give. It’s not your fault, it just is.
  6. An event. Emotional Neglect is not something your parents did to you, it’s something your parents failed to do for you. In this way, it is not an event, but a non-event. Your parents were not able to notice your feelings and ask you about them, name your feelings, validate them, or talk it over with you. Childhood Emotional Neglect is not an act but a failure to act.
  7. Memorable. Our human brains are set up to record events as memories. Things that fail to happen are not seen, noticed, or remembered. This is why legions of people are struggling through lives colored gray by Childhood Emotional Neglect, unable to pinpoint what’s wrong. Absent an explanation, they are prone to blaming themselves. “I’m flawed,” “I’m different,” “There is something wrong with me,” I’ve heard countless CEN people say.
  8. Abuse. Abuse is an active mistreatment of a child. I liken abuse to knocking a plant off of a shelf, while CEN is more like failing to water it enough day after day after day. Because they are so very different, abuse and Emotional Neglect have very different effects on the child.
  9. Less harmful than abuse. Abuse carries an impact that makes it seem more painful than the mere absence of something should be. But I have seen that the slow, subliminal, relentless effect of what didn’t happen is the equivalent of stomping out the spirit of a child.
  10. Incurable. During the last ten years of working with hundreds of emotionally neglected people in my office and in my online Fuel Up For Life CEN Recovery Program, I do know this: The wall that blocks your feelings from you can be broken down, your spirit can be reclaimed. You can get in touch with the life force that’s meant to guide, protect, and connect you, and use it to enrich your life. Yes, I know, without a doubt, it’s true. What you didn’t get in childhood can be gotten in your adulthood.

Your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be healed.

Since Childhood Emotional Neglect is so hard to see and remember it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

58 Ways to Label and Express Your Sadness

Most people don’t talk about their feelings much. In fact, most people don’t even think about their feelings much.

Usually, we just go through our days focused on our jobs, families, problems, and everything going on in our lives without paying much attention to how we feel.

But, here’s the thing. Sometimes, a situation arises that requires you to know what you are feeling. Or, even further, you may even need to express what you are feeling.

Depending on how you were raised, your family’s comfort level with emotions, and their ability to use emotion words, you may find the process of noticing, labeling, and sharing your feelings anywhere from mildly challenging to extremely difficult.

In my work as a psychologist, I encounter wonderful people every day who are stymied or terrified at the notion of having to identify, name, or share what they are feeling. Most of these people find it difficult for a very good reason. In short, when you grow up in a family that ignores, diminishes, dismisses, or discourages the expression of feelings — I call this an emotionally neglectful family — you simply do not learn how to do it.

As an adult, this can make certain things that other people take for granted very, very hard.

For example, many people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) have only one or two emotion words in their vocabularies. They may use that one word over and over again, painting the complex landscape of their own inner emotional lives with one single word.

Common emotion words that I hear used this way include:

  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Anxious
  • Depressed

How Comfortable Are You With Your Feelings?

  1. Do you notice when you are having a feeling?
  2. Do you pay attention to your feelings?
  3. When you are feeling something, do you try to identify what it is or name it?
  4. How many emotion words do you know?

There are several skills that go into using and managing your feelings the way they are meant to be used and managed. If you don’t think of your feelings as useful or if you do not know what these skills are, or whether you have them, it’s okay.

Emotional awareness and management are not automatically a part of everyone’s life. But they are things you can definitely learn. I know this because I have taught these emotion skills to many people.

Today, we will address your emotion vocabulary. Guess how many words there are for the feeling of sadness? There are many more than just “sad” or “depressed.”

Read through this list with a highlighter, and think about the subtle differences in what each word describes.

58 Ways to Label & Express Your Sadness

Sorrowful

Tearful

Pained

Grief

Anguish

Desperate

Low

Pessimistic

Unhappy

Grieved

Mournful

Grave

Dismayed

Bummed

Despondent

Heavy-hearted

Scorned

Grey

Miserable

Blue

Longing

Disappointed

Grim

Gloomy

Lost

Moody

Burdened

Discouraged

Let down

Lousy

Dysphoric

Dreary

Dark

Morose

Dour

Besieged

Morbid

Down

Accursed

Abysmal

Ashamed

Diminished

Self-destructive

Self-abasing

Guilty

Dissatisfied

Loathsome

Worn out

Repugnant

Despicable

Abominable

Terrible

Despairing

Sulky

Bad

Sense of loss

How To Use This List Going Forward

Next time you perceive a possible hint of sadness or depression, don’t paint it over with the same old color. Instead, pull out this list and read through it, and find one or more words that capture what you are feeling in a more complex way.

The more you do this, the more your vocabulary will increase and it will also enrich you in other ways. As you struggle to name your feelings, it’s the same as exercising a muscle. Your brain will begin to process feelings in a new way and, believe it or not, this is a momentous change.

Have a word for sad/depressed that’s not on this list? Please share it in a comment!

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 Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how it plays out in your adult life, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

What Does it Mean When Your Partner is Emotionally Unavailable

What does the term “emotionally unavailable” mean to you? It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.

Have you ever been in a relationship or marriage with someone who you felt was emotionally unavailable? Has any friend or romantic partner ever described you this way?

The term, in my opinion, carries some irony. Because if you are truly emotionally unavailable, it will be very difficult to understand the meaning of the term. In other words, it really helps to be emotionally available if you want to understand what it means to be unavailable.

Much of this has to do with how a person deals with his or her own emotions. This typically goes back to how your emotions were treated as a child. Did your parents notice what you were feeling enough of the time? Did they ask? Did they care what you felt and what you needed, and do their best to meet your true needs? Did they succeed?

Surprisingly, it matters less whether your parents tried. What really matters is whether or not they succeeded. If your parents weren’t able, for any reason, to notice and respond to your feelings and meet your emotional needs, then you are at risk of being an emotionally unavailable adult.

Here’s why. When a child’s feelings and emotional needs are treated as if they matter, that child receives a loud and clear message: “Your feelings are real, and they matter.” This encourages the child to pay attention to his emotions, and teaches him how to manage, express, and use them throughout his adult life. The converse is also true. When a child’s emotional needs are treated as if they don’t matter, the message to the child is, “Your feelings don’t matter.”

A child who receives this message will not be consciously aware of it and will not remember it. This is because typically it was never stated outright; it was a subliminal message delivered by the absence of response and validation from the parents. But that child will accommodate, as children do. She will suppress her emotions by pushing them far and away so that they will not bother her parents or herself.

Years later, in relationships, that child will continue to lack access to his emotions. To his friends or romantic partner, he may seem to be difficult to connect with. Others can see his depth and quality but have trouble reaching it.

Here are some of the complaints that I have heard from various patients about their emotionally unavailable boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife:

“He just shuts down and refuses to talk to me when there’s a problem.”

“She’s a great person, but she doesn’t tell me what she needs or feels.”

“I know that he loves me, but I can’t feel the love from him.”

If you identify with this description of “emotionally unavailable,” do not despair. There are solutions to this problem. And the solution lies with you. The solution is to get in touch with your feelings, accept them, and use them. It sounds simple, but it is not. It’s a process that requires purpose and effort and work. But it can be done.

If, on the other hand, you are in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, you are in an even more difficult spot because it is easier to change yourself than it is to convince someone else to change. However, there are somethings that you can do.

Six Steps to Reach Your Emotionally Unavailable Partner:

  1. Express to your partner that something is bothering you.
  2. Explain what you feel is missing in the relationship (emotional connection and communication).
  3. Tell your partner that it’s not their fault, that it’s simply because of their childhood experiences.
  4. Explain that there is a way to heal from it.
  5. Offer your support.
  6. The rest is up to him.

To learn much more about how to recognize CEN in your marriage and talk with your spouse about it, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

This article was initially posted on Psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Undermines the Highly Sensitive Person’s 3 Greatest Strengths

Lucy — The Highly Sensitive Person

Lucy sits on the edge of her bed, relieved to be behind the closed doors of her bedroom. Slowly, she climbs under the covers, pulling them over her head. In complete darkness, she finally is able to relax.

Lucy — The Highly Sensitive Person With Childhood Emotional Neglect

With her covers over her head, finally, in complete darkness, Lucy wonders why she still does not feel better. Being alone feels better in one way but worse in another. The dark, safe quiet soothes her, but it also unsettles her. Somehow, it seems to intensify that uncomfortable feeling she always has somewhere in her belly: the feeling of being deeply and thoroughly alone in the world. “What is wrong with me?” she wonders.

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

In the late 1990s, it was discovered that some people are born with much greater sensitivity to sound, sight, texture, and other forms of external stimulation than others. Aron & Aron (1997) named people who are “wired” in this special way the Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.

If you are an HSP, you tend to be a deep thinker who develops meaningful relationships. You may be more easily rattled or stressed than most people, but it’s only because you feel things deeply. You may seem shy, but you have a rich and complex inner life, and you are probably creative.

HSP children like Lucy are far more affected by events in their family than their parents and siblings might be. Yelling seems louder, anger seems scarier, and transitions loom larger. And because the HSP tends to feel others’ feelings, everyone else’s sadness, pain or anxiety becomes her own.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when you grow up in a family that does not address the feelings of its members. The emotionally neglected child may feel sad, distressed, hurt, angry or anxious. And when no one notices, names, inquires about, or helps him manage those feelings, he receives a message that, though unspoken, rings loudly in his ears: your emotions do not matter.

As an adult, the CEN person, following the belief that her feelings are irrelevant, continually tries not to deal with them. She pushes them down, hides and minimizes them, and may view them as a weakness.

This is why the emotionally neglected child grows up to feel that something vital is missing. He may appear perfectly fine on the outside, but inside, without full access to his emotions, which should be stimulating, motivating, energizing and connecting him, he goes through his life with a sense of being different, flawed, empty and disconnected for which he has no words to explain.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Undermines the Highly Sensitive Person’s 3 Greatest Strengths

  • Strength #1: You feel things deeply and powerfully. If you have ever doubted that this is a strength, I want to assure you that it is. Our feelings are built into us for a reason. When we allow ourselves to feel them, they guide us. They tell us what we need and what we want. They motivate us, and they connect us to others. But when you grow up emotionally neglected, you learn that your emotions are useless and should be ignored and hidden. This takes your powerful force from within, disempowers it, and perhaps even shames you for having it.
  • Strength #2: You are a deep thinker who needs to have meaning and purpose in your life. You are not one to skim across the surface of life. You need to feel that what you are doing matters. This important strength helps you invest more deeply in your own decisions, and helps you to live your life in a more real way. But when you grow up with the CEN message that your feelings don’t matter, you internalize an even more painful message. Since your emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who you are, it’s natural for you as a child to internalize the message as, “I don’t matter,” and to take it forward with you as a deeply held, unconscious “truth.” Going through your adult life, you tend to feel less important than other people, and this undermines your ability to experience yourself, and your life, as meaningful and important.
  • Strength #3: Your intense feelings and your need to have meaning and purpose in your life both make your relationships heartfelt and genuine. But when you grow up with your feelings ignored (CEN), you miss out on the opportunity to learn how to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. This can leave you somewhat at-sea when it comes to handling your most important relationships: for example, your marriage, your children, and your closest friends. You are held back from your tremendous capacity to enjoy wonderful, whole-hearted relationships by your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Many HSPs question their 3 greatest strengths or do not even recognize them until they read about them. Even then, it can be difficult to believe or own them.

Since Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up to question your essential validity as a person, you are uprooted from your inalienable strengths, dragged away from what should be grounding you and driving you and connecting you.

Minus enough emotion skills, you are not sure what to do with the powerful force from within, your feelings. Sadly, instead of harnessing it and using it, Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up for a lifelong battle with your greatest resource.

How To Reclaim Your Greatest Strengths

  1. Once you see that Childhood Emotional Neglect is at work in your life, you are immediately on a new path. Seize the moment by learning everything you can about CEN. How it happens, why it’s so invisible and unmemorable, how it affects your relationships, and the steps to healing.
  2. Start treating your emotions differently. Instead of trying to escape, avoid or minimize your feelings, begin to pay attention to them. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and think about each emotion and what it’s telling you.
  3. Walk through the steps of CEN healing. They are clearly outlined, and thousands of people have walked the walk before you. Take one step after another, and you will begin to heal and change.

You will see how beginning to treat your most valuable resource with the regard and significance it deserves, you will be moving forward to a much more empowered future.

The future you were born to have.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it in yourself and your relationships, see the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More.

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

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.

Eight Step Method to Manage Intense Emotion

Recently I received this request from a reader:

What I have found lacking is books or articles on the process of revealing my feelings, the associated pain, and some kind of plan to work through the feelings that would help DURING the healing process. Knowing the common steps of healing would be very encouraging and provide both patience and hope.

When you push your feelings down as a child in order to cope with an environment that cannot tolerate them (Childhood Emotional Neglect), you grow up lacking access to your emotions. A large part of the process of healing involves breaking down the wall between yourself and your feelings and welcoming them.

But what if many of those old feelings are painful? What if the process is so painful that it’s too hard to let the wall down? What if you lack the skills needed to cope with the pain because no one ever taught you?

Managing painful feelings happens on Two Levels:

  1. In the Moment: Coping
  2. The Long-Term: Resolving

Next week’s article will be about Level 2: Long-Term Resolving. So check back!

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