Childhood Emotional Neglect Discussion Page

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**This page is not intended to provide psychotherapy advice or professional services of any kind or to replace a clinical relationship with a psychologist or therapist. It is meant only to share understanding, information and support about Childhood Emotional Neglect.

I’m sorry that I can’t answer individual questions on this page. But I have found that CEN people benefit greatly from sharing their CEN experiences, goals and challenges with each other. I hope you will participate in the general discussion, which is filled with insightful, thoughtful comments and responses.

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Anonymous - December 5, 2014 Reply

I read the book and took the test. I answered yes to all the questions. All 22. I truly believe this is the place to start therapy. How do I find a therapist who can guide me in this journey? I am so tired of this feeling of “not being”. Thank you.

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    I’m glad to hear that you are ready and motivated to take on your CEN. Take a look at this article I wrote about how to find a therapist to help with CEN:

    I hope it helps! All my best wishes for you.

. - December 4, 2014 Reply

What do you do when both partners have CEN?

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    When both partners have CEN, it’s doubly difficult to pull yourselves out of it as a couple. I have two suggestions: First is get a therapist. It often requires a third person who is trained in pulling out emotion and educating about emotion. Second is a suggestion that has worked for other couples: read Running on Empty together, and set up structured meetings every day or every week in which you talk about the section you just read, and how it applies to each of you. Also, I do plan to write an article about that very topic sometime soon. I hope this is helpful! Take care.

Sara - December 2, 2014 Reply

I live in Europe and purchased your book couple of days ago, really looking forward to reading it. I was bullied by the adults who were in charge of me day and night for years as a child. I was neglected while also being physically, sexually and emotionally abused. I know that I’m affected by it but I wonder if there is anything specific that I suffer from after encountering all that. Being bullied by everyone in the household was the worst i could ever go through, I was partly bullied in school but that was nothing compared to being bullied at home. And yes I had no close relationship with those adults, they were family but they treated me worse than strangers. I also didn’t live with my parents back then. I’m a teenager girl right now and I don’t live with them. I think what’s even worse of all that is that they don’t think or know they did something bad. And that their actions are the reason why I’m going through this crisis of realizing this now and having a hard time to just live my life, I want to but it is and seems very hard. Everytime I hear or see them i get anxiety and fear and just want to get away from them but people don’t understand. My question is, what do I suffer from specifically after being abused in every possible way as a child? ESPECIALLY being bullied? Because I haven’t come across much regarding the effects of children being bullied by their very own. That made me very confused too as a child to be bullied by my family. Sorry for the long post btw. Thanks in advance

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    Hello Sara, I am so sorry for what you have endured in your life. Bullying within a family is not called bullying; it’s called abuse. That’s probably why you’ve had problems finding anything about it as bullying. Based upon what you are describing, I’m glad to hear that you are no longer living with your abusive family. I think distance from them, both physical and emotional, will be the best thing to help you heal. Do you have a therapist? If not, please tell an adult that you want one. It’s very important that you have a caring, supportive, predictable adult who can help you through this. I hope Running on Empty helps you with the neglect part. And I wish you all the best.

Betty - November 30, 2014 Reply

Dear Dr Webb, First of all. I will listen to and read your steps to help me through this.
I have been emotionally tormented since 8 and am now 53. I can’t seem to be internally powerful enough to crawl out of my mothers control.
She is a narcissist and demands all attention.
I have moved away from her and have only made it one year. Even when she has hurt me terribly emotionally I will still contact within a week. The longest of no contact is one month. Of course she never makes first contact.
My father has picked up alot of her behavior, yet when he is alone with me he cries. It breaks my heart that my 80 year old father has accepted the role of his abused children.
I am the middle of five and cannot seem to move on. I have three brothers that are alcoholics and crave her love but use the alcohol and stay distant.
I want to move on and cannot seem to. At my worse points in life I contemplated suicide because I felt like I had no value. But I didn’t want to hurt my family. So as I get older I try to figure out how to break away from this negative, bitter, angry, sarcastic, non loving human. And again I believe in my heart that it will hurt her so it prevents me from staying away.
Although I think that I have this need for my mother to love me that I keep trying. My therapist told me that I look for sparkles. I have trained myself that when my mother calls me “Hun” it means that she loves me.
I realize her illness but now realize I am ill due to this.
I’m sad. Thanks for listening.

    Jonice Webb - December 1, 2014 Reply

    Dear Betty, you are caught in the classic trap of the narcissist’s child. Your brain, as all human brains, is programmed from birth to seek the love and approval of your parents. Unless you actively over-ride your brain’s natural program, it will keep running you. I say this with full understanding that this is extremely difficult! I’m sorry to say that the answer lies in you. Which is more important? Your mother’s love, or your own health and well-being? Because you cannot seek both at the same time, so you must make a choice. I hope you will choose the latter, and work to built yourself based upon who you are, not upon who your mother thinks you are. I wish you all the best in your journey.

anonymous - November 27, 2014 Reply

I really resonated with your writing about CEN. I believe I have it. I remember crying myself to sleep many nights as a child, and always feelings of deep shame. I am 43 now and really sad because i can’t seem to find a family or relationship. I am surrounded by people who have kids, partners and I feel I am looking through a glass wall. My negative self- talk is so pervasive it’s overwhelming, especially now with the holidays. The things that seem to help my negative self- talk are being at the Buddhist monastery, being with really kind and loving people, and being in the wilderness. I feel like a zombie much of the time. People say I am kind and easy-going, easy to work with. I have an inner voice that tells me I am defective and damaged beyond fixing. I have a history of physical abuse and a lot of yelling and name calling in my house growing up. My brother seems unscathed. I am the oldest. He is married with kids. A lot more functional in society’s eyes. I feel unworthy of love and a normal life…so much shame I feel inside. I have been in therapy for years. My therapist now is going to do EMDR which will be good. I just want to be able to fulfill my dreams and live a normal life…Thank you for your post and your book and getting it out there.

    Jonice Webb - December 1, 2014 Reply

    Dear Anonymous, I hear some very positive things in your comment. You have found a place where you feel better (the monastery); it sounds like you are very likable and a good person; you are in therapy; and you’re about to do EMDR, which can be very helpful for working through childhood abuse. I assure you that your brother may have had a very different experience growing up than you did. He’s younger and a different gender, and your parents may have provided him with a different childhood. Please don’t hold that against yourself. Just keep focusing forward and doing the work, as you are. I send you my best wishes!

Gai - November 24, 2014 Reply

im 55 and have struggled my entire life. I know I have BPD but still have managed to remain undiagnosed. I answered yes to every question. I’ve always loved animals over people. I have my beloved who adores me and I’ve healed so much but I still struggle with being here every day of my life. My father was violent and my mum has BPD too. I was recently told by one shrink that I could’ve gone either way: totally sinister or so aware of my pain i’d never want to inflict it on anyone. I don’t lash out often coz I was beaten to internalise it. I’m on norspan for violent chronic pain and Duloxetine for major depressive disorder and am saddened terribly that my life is over and I’m destined to this end of violent pain. The same as my beginning. I don’t know what to do and think of ending my life often.

    Jonice Webb - December 1, 2014 Reply

    You have experienced much pain, for sure. And it sounds like you’ve done your best to not pass it on to others. But I wonder if you have compassion for yourself? I sense that you may be very hard on yourself. Growing up abused physically and emotionally is a call to give yourself extra compassion and nurturing. Please focus on that and on maximizing the good things in your life. Also, I hope you are in therapy now as well, as you deserve help and support. Please take care.

Arthur Laiseon - November 24, 2014 Reply

(Not using my real name)

So when I saw the 20 questions, I apparently got 20 of them.
I haven’t gone to any doctor because my parents would tell me to pray.
My friend recommended me this site and I’m just feeling a plastic joy all over me.
So… yeah… any advice?
I’m 16 btw.

    Jonice Webb - December 1, 2014 Reply

    Hello Arthur, yes! Can you get Running on Empty and read it? Even though you are 16, the book will still apply to you and would be a good place to start, especially if you don’t have access to therapy. It sounds like you’re in a difficult spot. But understanding the problem is a huge first step, and you have taken it! Check back and let us know if reading more about CEN is helpful, OK? Wishing you the best.

Chrissy Cooper - November 23, 2014 Reply

Help me. I am in my 50’s and it still hurts. I still have my parents. The pain is not so much from my Dad as my Mom. I dread the holidays. I have to go see them T-giving and Xmas. It is so hurtful. I am still ignored. I have to go. They are getting older and not in good health. I just want a normal parent/child relationship. I have OCD, depression, and mood swings, and a horrible TYPE A personality. It affects my husband and my only son, who is 25. I am a mess.

    Jonice Webb - December 1, 2014 Reply

    Dear Chrissy, everyone wants a normal parent/child relationship! Your wish is very human and understandable. But it doesn’t sound like your mother is capable of it. Please consider the price that you, your husband and son are paying to preserve your parents’ egos. I don’t think it’s worth it. If you don’t have a therapist, I hope you will get one to help you set some boundaries with your mother to protect yourself so that you can heal and move forward. Being ignored is one of the most damaging experiences that a human being can have. Please protect yourself from it.

Lynn - November 19, 2014 Reply

I want to thank you for all the work you have accomplished on this topic. I could check almost everyone of the items you listed….I thought I had these feelings due to sexual abuse, but I also realize that I, and my siblings were neglected. Our parents were always into their own hot mess of drinking, leaving and their problems. We were more of a burden to them. It’s sad for all of us. I am ordering your book as I go through the healing process.

    Jonice Webb - November 20, 2014 Reply

    Good for you Lynn. It sounds like you’ve been handed plenty of challenges in life, and you are facing them all head-on. I hope you find Running on Empty helpful. I send you my best wishes for a happy, strong future.

Anonymous - November 18, 2014 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb – Do you have any comments about the role of religion and CEN?
I’d be interested to know if you have encoutered clients who have experienced ‘well-meaning’ religious people who discourage feelings and emotions, as this is seen as a weakness, ‘distrust’ of God and having lack of ‘faith’.

    Jonice Webb - November 18, 2014 Reply

    Yes, I have definitely seen families in which this has happened. Usually the parents are simply treating their children the way that they were treated by their own parents. But having said that, of course there are plenty of parents who are able to value both emotion and religion with their children. I hope this answers your question! Take care.

    Rachel - November 18, 2014 Reply

    Hi Anonymous, I was at a church where we were taught that you couldn’t trust emotions, but instead had to rely on what the bible said and the way it was interpreted by leaders. Submission to authority was emphasised. It was my first introduction to religion and I lost faith some years later.

    by leaders at the church.

      Jonice Webb - November 18, 2014 Reply

      Rachel, that does sound like an “emotionally neglectful church.”

Helen Gaye Brewster - November 17, 2014 Reply

Dr. Webb,
I’ve had panic attacks and GAD for 35 years, and like many people, didn’t think my childhood was a strong contributing factor. Recently I started EMDR and am slowly realizing I was emotionally neglected as a child. Along with my anxiety I have somatic symptoms that are no fun to manage. Heart palpitations, chest pain, tightness in the throat, lump in the throat, etc. The list goes on, but they’re all centered around heart, chest, and throat and happen even when I’m not having a panic attack. Of course, I’ve had these checked by doctors and nothing has ever been found. My therapists agree it’s all part of my anxiety. Have you found these types of somatic symptoms to be common in patients who experienced childhood emotional neglect?
Thanks for your response, and I look forward to purchasing and reading your book.

    Jonice Webb - November 17, 2014 Reply

    Hi Helen, two things: First, I can’t say that I’ve seen a correlation between somatic anxiety and CEN. Second, anxiety has been found by research to be largely biologically based. So my guess is that you have both. You grew up with CEN, and you also inherited the “anxiety gene.” Having CEN makes it more difficult to manage anxiety because you may be less in touch with your feelings overall, and perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to learn emotion management skills in childhood. The good news is that both CEN and anxiety can be managed. I hope you will keep working on both. I am sure that it will pay off for you. Keep up the good work you are doing.

Katie - November 17, 2014 Reply

Hi Jonice

I am incredibly grateful to have come across your book. It aptly described the internal struggle I’ve had for years, but never been able to articulate. Thank you.
I’m fairly certain my parents fit into the ‘well-meaning but neglected themselves’ category. The thing I find difficult about this category, is just that – they are indeed well meaning, but simply don’t have the skills to meet me at an emotional level.
Do you have any advice (or could you recommend any books) for how to achieve a level of relationship with parents that suits all parties? I have learned to lower my expectation of what they can offer me, but I sense they are still expecting a high level of relationship from me. I don’t want to hurt them, but due to my current vulnerability (as I’ve started the process of realising I have feelings (allowing myself to feel them)) and have found I’ve needed to distance myself from my parents.
I don’t feel that confronting the CEN issue with them would be appropriate due to their emotional fragility.

    Jonice Webb - November 17, 2014 Reply

    Dear Katie, I can see that you are in a difficult phase in your recovery. Sometimes its necessary to distance from parents when the relationship is too painful. That’s especially difficult when your parents are well-meaning, for sure. I wish I had a solution to offer. The best I can suggest is to find new ways to interact with them. For example, what do they view as love? Many CEN parents feel loved when they see certain actions. Buying them something? Compliments? Taking them out to lunch? Spend less time, but make it time that costs you less emotionally but gives to them what they need. It is not being manipulative or fake. You are just loving them the way that they can accept and that you can give. Above all take care of yourself and keep healing. I wish you the best.

      SarahMac - January 25, 2015 Reply

      I’m not sure how I found your blog Jonice but it resonates strongly with me. What Katie says about her parents is exactly how I feel about mine.
      I’ve recently been diagnosed, in my mid 30s, with Borderline Personality Disorder and have struggled with unhappiness GAD and depression nearly my whole life. My brother struggles too and has little contact with any of us.
      My parents had an unhappy marriage and when they divorced (i was 12), my father, who i think had borderline tendencies, used my from an early age as a sounding board for his emotions. He would weep and cry and talk about suicide sometimes. My mother grew up in a weird house where she was the youngest of four who were all basically grown when she was born. She always had issues with my Nana, and there are famous stories we always heard like how Nana or Grandpa never realised Mum was severely short sighted (like almost blind) until she was about 10, and when Mum had an accidental teenage pregnancy Nana went to bed basically until Mum had a miscarriage and the problem was over.
      Although my dad was the overtly crazily emotional parent it is Mum who I have terrible feelings about. She has always identified me as the difficult, overly emotional one, in fact she has gone as far to suggest that it was because i was such a difficult kid that she feels now she neglected my brother. I feel really guilty about this.
      Mum repartnered very quickly and there was very little emotional space left for us, and my brother lived with my dad and I lived with her.
      My parents lived for a long time next door to each other when we were teenagers and did try their best to do some family things together. They do love me. It’s weird how even though we lived next door to each other my brother and I have still experienced a gulf between us. This makes me saddest of all.
      When we were in our twenties my mum and stepfather moved to a remote area and it was weird because mum always talked about having me to visit but when I did I felt utterly excluded and weird. They had one of those completely obsessed with each other sort of relationships it was hard to cope with. Mum spent a lot of time talking about the ways in which my stepfather was superior to my dad whilst also managing to remind me how like my dad I am. I look back as an adult now and wonder what the hell they all thought they were doing! They lived a lot like a John Updike novel.
      Unbelievably my stepfather died a couple of years ago meaning my mum was utterly bereft and has relied again on me and my children for emotional support. Now she lives back in the house next to my dad who reaches his hand of friendship to her only to have it alternately accepted and bitten. She can be weirdly flirtatious with him or completely cold.

      I was a successful student and have had a pretty good life really but once I had children of my own my feelings of almost hatred for my parents surfaced and I have no idea how to deal with it. I had a horrible Christmas this year and have had to try to distance myself mainly so I don’t say anything I regret.

      My dad and I have always been close despite his history of poor regulation of his emotions and he has improved with age, so he sort of seems ok about the distance although can’t help himself from texting me or ringing or emailing almost every day.
      My mum seems to have taken the emotional distance as a decision to stop her seeing her grandchildren which I would never do, so if she does contact me it’s to talk to my little girl. She has almost given up on me and is concentrating on them which frankly hurts.

      What hurts most of all is that I miss and love my parents but can’t be around them. It’s causing me terrible grief.

        Jonice Webb - January 27, 2015 Reply

        Dear Sarah, you indeed grew up in a very dysfunctional family. Please remind yourself daily, or more, that your mother’s lack of connection to you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with her. She does now sound capable of loving a child in the real way that a child needs. That is not your fault! Please focus on your own children, loving them, and take what you can get from your father. You are not responsible for either parent. Focus on yourself, and meeting your own needs. Have compassion for yourself and what you didn’t get, and work to love and care for yourself because none of this is your fault. You deserve happiness and love, and I wish you both!

          SarahMac - January 28, 2015 Reply

          Thank you. I’m sorry I wrote such a long comment/question but I do appreciate your response. I’ve bought your book now on my kindle and am finding it very enlightening. So far I think I can see a bit of my parents in a good number of the types!

          Jonice Webb - January 28, 2015 Reply

          I’m glad to hear it Sarah! Take care.

Cleopaddera - November 14, 2014 Reply

An after thought: My mother keeps telling me that I am resilient and always bounce back. She seems to have me confused with a superball that needs no help to bounce through life. In reality I feel more like an insect splattered on a windshield.

    Bridget - November 15, 2014 Reply

    I’ve gotten this too. I think this is something my mother tells herself because she doesn’t want to see the truth and telling herself that I am strong – “lets her off the hook”.

Rachel - November 14, 2014 Reply

Dr. Webb,

We are planning to use the CEN questionnaire for our degree paper. If we have your permission, May we ask the validity and the reliability of the questionnaire? Thank you so much and God bless. 🙂

    Jonice Webb - November 14, 2014 Reply

    Hi Rachel, it is fine for you to use it, but unfortunately I have no validity and reliability to offer. I’m in the process of working on access to large subject pools to develop norms. I’m interested in hearing anything you are using it for and any findings. Thank you for your interest.

Christine - November 10, 2014 Reply

Dr. Webb,

I’m curious, if CEN are often told by a parent that they are ” too sensitive” or “too emotional” when
they seek out a connection with that parent or try to confide in them. I was relentlessly told this growing
up and still am at 47 by my mother. I was basically ignored emotionally by my father. I have been sufferkng
with depression for so long. I have 3 wonderful sons, one who I have also called “dramatic” at times. I
don’t want to repeat any of the same parenting crap, i feel more aware of it and yet i still struggle. I just want
to be happy.


    Jonice Webb - November 11, 2014 Reply

    “Too sensitive,” “overly emotional” and dramatic are all ways of shaming someone for having feelings. They are all common in CEN families. Explain to your son how you were raised, and I think he will probably understand. Three wonderful sons are a sign that you have done something right! Work on yourself to heal and learn to value, express and manage your feelings. Accept that you matter, and so do your emotions and needs. That’s the road to happiness, and you can do it, I am sure.

Christine emery - November 10, 2014 Reply

This book really has helped me all the years of thinking there was really something wrong with me. I always knew deep down that the problem was with my mom. I totally get it, I even know it wasn’t all my moms fault as she to was treated this way by her mother but fortunately for my mom she had her father ( my grandad) whom validated her, I had no one. I could have forgiven my mom for this but she continued to treat me as if I didn’t matter even when she knew my ex husband was emotionally cruel she enabled him. Never has my mom asked me how I am, never has my mom been interested in anything I have done. She thinks I am a tough person, she knows nothing about me. My mom is getting on in years now and I cannot be the daughter I should be, this goes against my natural personality but I simply can’t do it.

    Jonice Webb - November 11, 2014 Reply

    “She thinks I’m a tough person, she knows nothing about me.” That is a classic description of a CEN relationship. There is nothing wrong with you. Keep working on yourself and healing, and you can have the positive and love-filled life that you deserve.

      Bridget - November 11, 2014 Reply

      Exactly. This statement basically defines me. My mother has even perpetuated this myth among the family and my siblings vacillate between accepting it and doubting it. In my hour(s) of need, when I’ve looked for support, it has not been forthcoming…because I don’t think my mom or perhaps even others, cannot see me in that role (recipient). The role they (mom and others) are most comfortable thrusting me in – is me as the all knowing, all powerful, needless one. Maybe I project this myself in how I act, although in my later years, I’ve consciously tried to explain that I need as much support as I have given over the years. I am not sure Dr. Webb if you have considered any differences in CEN based on birth order. Just a thought that occurred to me.

        Jonice Webb - November 11, 2014 Reply

        Yes, I have thought about birth order, for sure. Something else to explore, and hopefully research. Take care Bridget!

          Darby - October 27, 2015 Reply

          I am the youngest of four. My experience is that of Bridget’s.

Dorothy - November 10, 2014 Reply

I am so thankful for your book; finding there was a name for what I experienced. I have a question about invisibility. I was at a study group and afterwards everyone was chatting with each other except me. I had this overwhelming feeling of being invisible. It brought me almost to tears. Just this past Saturday at a funeral I was standing with my husband and other men when a lady I knew came up, stood right next to me and asked where all the wives were. I said “I’m right here” and she replied “I didn’t see you”. I’m not sure of what to make of this. I’ve been shut down emotionally for decades because of neglect but also because of not being allowed to have emotions in the family. In their eyes I had to be toughened up to face life. I am also a Highly Sensitive Person and wonder if the combination is why I’m sensing this so much. Is “invisible” a description of what you would list under Alone in your feeling words list or is something else going on?

    Jonice Webb - November 10, 2014 Reply

    Dear Dorothy, your question brings up a very important and powerful experience amongst CEN people. In fact, you’ve inspired me to write a blog post about it. I plan to feature parts of your comment (nothing that could allow anyone to identify you) and to call it “Invisible You.” I will post it on my PsychCentral Emotional Neglect Page, so check it over the coming weeks if you can.

    But until then, I want to explain that part of how we see people is feeling them. In other words, we feel their presence. CEN people, like you, have shut away their emotions, causing them to “disappear.” It is a terribly painful experience to go unseen. I encourage you to work on getting in touch with your feelings; learning how they work, how to tolerate them, and what they mean. You will become more and more visible, not just to others, but also to yourself.

      Dorothy - November 10, 2014 Reply

      Thank you so much. I thought your book was such an eye opener I purchased an extra book and gave it to my counselor. We are going through the book together.

        Jonice Webb - November 11, 2014 Reply


Mulva - November 10, 2014 Reply

I don’t know why I’m writing this (my ph is messing up so I hope you get all this). Maybe to vent or finally confirm why I’m “crazy”. But its definay because I have two beautiful kids that I always give & show them love & support so I hope to NOT treat them like I was. I am the oldest of three girls with 7 & 12 yr age diff from my sisters. My mom wasn’t/isn’t able to say she loves us until we (mostly her &I) got into horrible agruments. She always knew how to find what was bugging us (homework, body image, etc) to start our arguments. And no matter how much we would agree with her (just to avoid the arguments) she just berated us til we or mainly I would try to defend myself. Once dad got home she would tell him a completely different account of whatiy had happened so we could get punished. She would never say “I love you” or anything supportive or positve. Whenever we would try to give her hugs or any sort of affection she would push us away and say “Leave me alone”, to this day that still hurts. My parents would ground me in high school for grades from report card to report card. No tv, no phone, no radio, no friends over, and I couldn’t come out of my room unless it was to eat or go to bathroom. Im all for punishment when due, but was that
little much? Could that be the reason why Im socially awkward? I have a hard time meeting new people?Don’t have friends and I avoid social functions as much as possible. I used to be social but it was hard keeping up that facade

    Jonice Webb - November 10, 2014 Reply

    Dear Mulva, the childhood you describe is much more that “a little much.” It sounds like abuse plus severe Emotional Neglect. I don’t think you’re crazy, I think you’re struggling with the effects of such a childhood. I hope you are in therapy or will seek it. Getting a perspective on all of this could help very much. Being socially awkward and anxious goes along with CEN. Please take it on, and learn to give yourself the same love and support that you heroically give your children. I wish you all the best.

      Mulva - November 11, 2014 Reply

      Thank you sooo much for your reply. I feel like FINALLY someone else agrees with me about the neglet. Didn’t know it was severe. I just wonder why it was me who got more of the neglet than my sisters. I didn’t go to a university like my youngest sister did because I “would end up getting murdered &/or raped”; passed on a great job opp out of town in my 20’s for same reason and I “probably wont last more than a month & we’ll.end up having to support” me. But you better believe I took the next opp 10 yrs ago got my own place. Invited my parents to my new place I got on my own. Only my dad came. My mom didn’t because its was too far, it was only a 2 hr drive. Well I ended up losing that job and moved back . I told my mom that I didnt get murdered I did it and her response was “you still didnt last”. At this time my youngest sister got a job out of state and my parents were driving to see her every other weekend
      lastr EVERY other weekend! Anyways, Thank you again for your reply. I’m trying to find a counselor and build up courage to go.

        Jonice Webb - November 11, 2014 Reply

        I hope you will follow through with counseling. I think there is more in your childhood than you realize. Take care!

Bridget - November 10, 2014 Reply

I’m in my early 50s and I can say that these thoughts and feelings don’t go away with time, unfortunately. As a matter of fact, depending on what else is going on in your life at the moment, they can’t rise up again and cause a lot of grief. I went through a divorce several years ago and I could not understand why I wasn’t recovering as well or as soon as some of my friends going through the same thing. Over time, I realized it was because my issues surrounding the divorce were wrapped up in and made worse by my childhood experience.

Incidentally, my father died unexpectedly when I was a young adult and my mother found a new partner within a matter of weeks and they married not long after. My stepfather has been a witness to this dysfunction for years…whenever he mentions to my mother that she is cold and hurtful to her children (particularly her oldest ones) – her response is always the same: “they just need to get over it”…..I think she denies it as a coping mechanism to avoid the truth….and yet in spite of it all, I know I will miss her one day when she’s gone. Thankfully, the cycle is broken in this generation – my siblings and I enjoy close, affectionate relationships with our children, for the most part.

    Jonice Webb - November 10, 2014 Reply

    Hi Bridget, thank you for sharing your story. I think it is understandable that your childhood feelings of loss and pain would return while you’re dealing with a divorce. There is no timeline for recovery from such a life event. Everyone is different. It sounds like you have compassion for your mother. I hope you apply it toward yourself as well (even more). Congratulations for breaking the cycle with your own children. That is a wonderful thing, truly. Take care!

Rachel - November 9, 2014 Reply

How do I get my mother to acknowledge just how damaging her behaviour was, without it seeming like I am guilt-tripping her? She neglected me compared to younger half-siblings she had with a new partner. I’ve had twenty years of mental illness which I know was caused by mainly their, but also my biological father’s behaviour. We have had more contact lately, although I moved some distance away. She can be pleasant to be with, which keeps pulling me back, but my stepfather never contacts me and rarely visits with her. She too, limits her visits to once a month whereas she spends most of her time supporting a younger half-sibling with child-care.
I have talked to her before, but she seems to have all these defence mechanisms in place. When I tried to mention about me leaving home at 17 compared to my siblings staying till they were in their 30’s, she said ‘that could have been the making of you’. I was just speechless to this.
I feel I should have been over this by now – I am nearly 50, but the reality is my relationships with my parents deeply affected me.

    Jonice Webb - November 10, 2014 Reply

    Dear Rachel, you are not alone here. We are all deeply affected by our parents’ treatment of us, even as adults. I’m sorry to say that your mother sounds to have a very limited capacity for any healing. It’s natural to seek that feeling of love from her, but her ability to love you is limited, by her not you. Some mothers just don’t have it to give. It’s not your fault. I know how difficult it would be to stop going to her “dry well” for water, so to speak. But I encourage you to put your focus and energy into loving yourself and maximizing your relationships with people who are more capable of loving. You deserve far better than your mother can give you. I hope you’ve read Running on Empty. If not, please do so, and do the book’s exercises for healing, OK? Take care of yourself. I wish you a bright, loved and loving future.

twincess - November 9, 2014 Reply

Dear Lonely, please read the book and never give up hope. This book gives people like you and me hope, and when life is rough it’s all we have. I am suffering through a horrible mental illness right now and when I read this book so many things made sense. I will work through the worksheets when I am ready with my therapist. Making it easier to work on is working together. Please hold onto this book it gives guidance and hope. Good luck to you and all those struggling with CEN.

    Jonice Webb - November 9, 2014 Reply

    Dear Twincess, thank you for your helpful words for Alonely. I will post a reply to Alonely so she’ll be sure to see your comment. Take care!

Alonely - November 8, 2014 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
I accidentally (?) stumbled upon your concept of CEN on facebook, and was utterly astounded. Not only do I fit the worst type perfectly, but I know it’s too late for me to heal since I’m too old (50) and probably a total loss by now. My question is simple: is your book relevant for me as a single woman with no past or present relationships, no family and no friends to speak of? I mean – is it meant to be a guide only for fully functioning adults with families and careers, or can someone like me benefit from it as well. Thanks.

    Jonice Webb - November 8, 2014 Reply

    Dear Alonely, I cannot stress enough to you that it is not too late! I work with people in their sixties who finally change their lives, and benefit greatly from doing this work. I assure you that Running on Empty applies to you. After you read it, please let me know if you agree, OK? I wish you all the best in your future healing.

    Jonice Webb - November 9, 2014 Reply

    Hello Alonely, please see Twincess’ comment to you! All the best.

Gracie - November 5, 2014 Reply

Love your book BUT What do I do now? Now that we’ve identified and analyzed so much about CEN – how do we correct our misplaced guilt and emotions? Seems like I need a “brain clean up.”

    Jonice Webb - November 5, 2014 Reply

    Hi Gracie, did you see the guidelines and exercises for healing in the last section of the book? They will help guide you through the healing process. Also, it often helps to have a skilled therapist to work with. Much of the process involves getting in touch with your feelings, and learning to accept them, express and listen to them. Going through that process will pay off, I assure you! Take care.

Kim - November 5, 2014 Reply

While reading “Running on Empty” here’s a question: Chapter 1 talks about 3 essential parenting skills (i.e. responding/paying attention to child’s needs). My family always told me I was SPOILING my son when I would bring him to our bed at night when he would cry constantly (infant years). Were they wrong?

    Jonice Webb - November 5, 2014 Reply

    Hi Kim, there is no right or wrong answer to that question. I’m sorry that I can’t give you a clear answer without knowing you and your son. It depends on the child’s age, personality, and individual needs. The key is to truly see your son, and provide him with what he needs. It is not true that taking care of your son in any particular way is spoiling him.

Julie - November 5, 2014 Reply

My childhood emotional neglect and other forms of abuse(sexual, molestation, mental) has really made my life a living hell. I have so many of the “symptoms” listed. So much self blame and hatred. I have been married to a God sent man for 30 years. Because of my neglect that I could never understand, I was totally and completely abusive to this man. Belittling, disrespecting, just downright mean….and never understood why or how to stop! We did have lots of good times, don’t get me wrong, but I always went back into my shell and things would go wrong again. A couple of years ago he rekindled a friendship with an old childhood love. Needless to say she was there for him these last months every time I broke his heart. He planned a trip back to our home state just to see her in person. Of course they ended up having a very emotionally and physically satisfying weekend affair. He came home and told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. He was tired of “trying” to make things good for us. It took 3 days for me to figure out he had had an affair. By the grace of God I got him to stay in our home and we have really started working on all of the healing that we both have needed. I have been in therapy myself for 3 years. Was working on my “feeling” issues and getting better….for me…but not for the “US” part of my life. I take no responsibility for his bad judgement call of infidelity. I do understand how he got to that point though. She is out of the picture and WE are really opening up to each other. We havent’ totally done that in years. I knew I was emotionally neglected. We’ve talked about it in my sessions….but I don’t think until now that I ever realized just how much control that had on my life. I’ve ordered your book and intend to share it with my therapist and I go through it. Thanks.

    Jonice Webb - November 5, 2014 Reply

    Julie, good for you that you are facing your past and dealing with these problems. I hope you are able to work things out with your husband. Keep working on opening up, as that will be a major key to healing. And I think Running on Empty will help you with that very much. Wishing you all the best!

Anonymus - October 31, 2014 Reply

Thank you for your blog, very useful to me and many.
My sister and I grew up in acute CEN. We were not raped, nor beaten-up and we were even were fed caviar occasionally, sounds very much like a little rich girls’ problem. We were moved around, displaced, manipulated. One day dad fetched us at school (I still wonder how he even found the name of the school. Although we were living under his roof he did not know our age nor which grade we were in), he took us to another country that day for 6 months, until mom terrified not knowing where we were signed the divorce papers –without children custody. We lived under the roof of 3 successive step moms. A bit chaotic one might say, but the caviar was good, rest assured. My sister took her life 7 years ago at the age of 45 after 27 attempts. The context is a bourgeois family with both parents (including throughout my sister –uh, difficult times) claiming that they always did “the best they could”.
Both my parents are demanding my love, affection and are craving my family’s company, particularly as the only surviving child I suppose. For many years I did see them regularly, hosted them for weeks, visited them. Always hated it but did it years after years. For one thing my children should not be deprived of their grand-parents because mom has issues with them (exactly what my parents did to us which I always resented) and grand-parents should not be deprived of their grand-children regardless of their poor parenting skills. At this point in my life however, simply put, I cannot stand their company. It makes me miserable, uncomfortable, bitter and I came to the conclusion that the less I see them, the better. I live in Asia where this is culturally unacceptable for the sake of Confucian filial piety. However I have discussed this with good friends: in modern society filial piety is problematic when parents failed their children. Respect is not due it is gained (in my selfish view).
In any event, I have taken my distance with mom and she is so miserable! I am revolted of her acceptance of an abusive husband (once again). She claimed to be so relieved when I sent my heart to her, arranged for a house above her head and the relief of any other material concerns, she said she was so much looking forward to her new life, her freedom and peace after 20 years of unhappy marriage. Then, she took it all back and claimed she could not live without a husband (socially unacceptable). Her decision was a shock to me and I came to realise that abuse is OK for her, no need to fight it, to defend herself. She is a victim, but does not defend herself, not recently, nor years ago against our dad, as a consequence she did not defend us. I am so mad.
I wonder if I should discuss my feelings about CEN with her, it would break her already broken heart, or not (as mentioned she has always claimed she did the best she could, maybe I a afraid she would say that again). Tough call…

    Jonice Webb - October 31, 2014 Reply

    I am so sorry that you had to go through all of this, and to lose your sister, on top of it. I encourage you to focus on yourself, what you need, and your own healing and health. That is not selfish, it is self-preservation. You cannot help your mother. I doubt it would be helpful to talk about CEN with her, but that’s just a guess, since I don’t know her. Please read Running on Empty. Some people have asked their parents to read it with good results. But perhaps it would be too much for her. Please just focus on yourself and your own happiness. I wish you all the best.

Bridget - October 31, 2014 Reply

I just finished reading your book, once I started, I couldn’t put it down – it’s the first time I’ve seen written or verbalized what I have felt or suspected my entire life…what a relief to know that a name can be put to this. My parents didn’t fall squarely into one of the categories in the book, but surely I know they fit the description…in their case, they were in an enmeshed relationship. Most of the time, there was only enough oxygen in the room for the two of them, none left over for me, my brother or sister. I think another name for this would be co-dependence? Talk about irony, when I read the description of the parents who saw their children as an extension of themselves, I was jealous! what we would have given for some of their undivided attention!…My guess is that I’ve paid and continue to pay a high price for these circumstances that at least now I am beginning to see, were largely beyond my control. I think I need to find someone to work with on resolution…do you train other professionals in this? thank you for reading/listening and your book – to say that it enlightened me is an understatement.

    Jonice Webb - October 31, 2014 Reply

    Yes, Bridget, it was beyond your control! Yours sounds like a classic Emotionally Neglectful childhood. I have not trained other professionals yet, but please see this blog post which describes how to get help with CEN.

    I’m so glad that Running on Empty has been helpful. Wishing you the best!

Bob Lyons - October 23, 2014 Reply

I just purchased your book. I struggled through depression and dysthemia since I was 16. I never dated in high school or college. I discovered when I was 35 that my father was a child molester who had been abusing my older sister since she was 8. This came out when he molested his granddaughter. I have been on antidepressants for 25 years. Both of my wife’s parents were alcoholics. I think that is why we understand each other so well. Now I know that our family’s “secret” was why I feel this way, and not genetics as I believed for decades.

    Jonice Webb - October 31, 2014 Reply

    Hi Bob, clearly from your story, you have had lots of challenges in your family. I’m glad that you are seeing that the problems came from your parents, not you. You were an innocent child, simply absorbing what surrounded you. I’m sure that aside from all of this, no one was paying much attention to you or your emotional needs. I hope you find Running on Empty helpful in getting to that part of things. Keep working on this and it will pay off.

twincess - October 22, 2014 Reply

Hi dr webb. I recently suffered a severe case of depression and anxiety, my therapist linked alot of my emotional pain to CEN. I was raised by absentee parents who were extremely critical and now trying to raise my own family I completely feel apart. What my greatest concern is not repeating their mistakes. I am seeing a therapist and read your book but I’m wondering what exercise would benefit me most at this time. Thank you.

    Jonice Webb - October 22, 2014 Reply

    Hi Twincess, at the beginning of the Parenting Chapter, I talked about identifying your own empty spaces and starting to work on filling them. I think it’s a question of which missing piece is most essential to you right now and for your children. Has your therapist read Running on Empty? Since he/she knows you more thoroughly, he/she would be the best guide for deciding the order t work on things. One of the most important first steps for most CEN folks is the Identifying and Naming Exercise, followed by the IAAA. Take a look and see if that’s a good place for you to start, OK? I admire your resolve to give your children what you never got. Best wishes to you!

Yechiel Goldson - October 21, 2014 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb
I was excited to learn about your work as I finally have good ‘words’ to express what I experience. I’ve relied on Roger’s (lack of) ‘unconditional positive regard’ as a way of explaining my feelings but your phraseology and explanation of the symptoms of CEN hits the nail on the head so much better!
In trying to understand myself better, I’ve applied your concepts to the educational institutions I went through as I believe there was a lot of EN going on there as well (and I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way.) It gets even more complicated when those institutions are religious as children are exposed to a whole new dimension of emotional support/neglect.
I’ve gained a lot from your work and I thank you wholeheartedly for it!

    Jonice Webb - October 21, 2014 Reply

    Hi YG, I know what you mean about schools being emotionally neglectful. Roger’s Unconditional Positive Regard is a treatment technique for therapist and I’m sure it has not worked to try to apply it across the board. Getting in touch with your own feelings and believing that they matter are key. I hope you will follow the process through. Your work will pay off! Best wishes!

gracie - October 20, 2014 Reply

I’ve often felt awkward in my own skin – unable to feel at ease within myself. No matter where I am I can’t feel the joy in being. Being overly disciplined as a child I feel a heightened sense of self when shopping which makes me feel alive and energized – to later regret my lack of self discipline. I’m my own worst enemy.

    Jonice Webb - October 21, 2014 Reply

    Hi Gracie, thank you for your comment. Awkward in your own skin is often caused by being out of touch with your feelings. Getting to know yourself is a way to settle in to yourself. Shopping is an escape from all that. As you know, it’s not the best coping technique. Please work your way from your “own worst enemy” to your “own best friend.” Knowing what you feel and why, and that it matters, will get you there. All my best!

paul - October 16, 2014 Reply

Hi Jonice

Could you talk a little about the CEN/bipolar connection please? I have a diagnosis of bipolar, with depressive symptoms completely predominating and am not entirely convinced of its organic basis – I see it more as a constellation of symptoms and unhelpful adaptive behaviours as a result of childhood emotional neglect / trauma.


    Jonice Webb - October 17, 2014 Reply

    Hi Paul, I agree that bipolar can be murky. The most primary form of it does seem (from research) to be purely chemical/biological. But it’s possible to appear “bipolar-ish” due to childhood trauma and neglect. I have not done any work on how neglect plays into bipolar specifically, but I suspect that being out of touch with one’s own emotions (due to CEN), can lead to moodiness and extreme feeling states which may look “bipolar-ish”. I hope this answers your question! Take care.

Cher - October 14, 2014 Reply

Hi Jonice,

What a relief to come across your work! I just couldn’t understand the source of my depression and low self-esteem, when my root family wasn’t “all that bad”. But, I see myself and my childhood in the pages of your book, and with the relief of gaining knowledge and understanding, I’m excited to learn more, and get into action in creating for myself what was not provided for me as a child. My husband is in a similar boat, and is eager to learn how to self-regulate and implement self-discipline into his life.

We’ve worked with a great “attachment theory” based therapist in the past, however, we have since moved cities. I see in the comments above you directed another person inquiring about how to find a CEN therapist t to a blog post you’ve written on the topic. I didn’t see the blog post on Psych Central. Is there another place I should look?

Thanks so much for your response and for your life-changing work on Emotional Neglect.


    Jonice Webb - October 15, 2014 Reply

    Hi Cher, I’m so happy to hear that you’re ready to tackle your CEN (and your husband too!) Here’s the link to the How to Find a Therapist Blog:

    It’s not on PsychCentral, it’s one of the older blog posts on my own website. Thanks for your comment, and all the best to you.

John - October 13, 2014 Reply

Hi Dr Webb, I have been struggling with the results of chronic childhood abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) for the last 25 years. I got stuck in the mental ‘health’ system here in the UK which got me stuck in the ‘vivtim’ mode and as a rescuer of others as a way of avoiding my own needs. I have realised I still feel like a needy kid, waiting for others to provide for myself what my parents couldn’t. I have felt very insecure with the therapists I could afford privately, including the present one, who is sympathetic and supportive, bu seems to not understand how profoundly I was affected by my childhood experiences. I have read about others who have found social support in childhood at school or youth group or extended family. Isolation was the way my late Dad prevented that. My older brother was seen as rebellious for making friends and was out the house as soon as he could and is an alcoholic in a bad marriage and continues emotional abuse with me as a result. I have finally cut contact with my family now my mom is dead after I looked after her and her emotional/physical ill health for 18 years. I still get floored by every day problems and have never been able to cope with work for long. I have been mostly on sick benefit for the last 25 years. I have ditched the National Health Service as they have also neglected my treatment by using medication or CBT and never addressed the abuse. Please can you advise me on how to find a therapist that can help with this? Thankyou for your video that inspired me to reach out.

    Jonice Webb - October 13, 2014 Reply

    Dear John, thank you for sharing your story. Finding a good therapist is definitely important! Please read this blog post about how to find a good CEN therapist:

    I think it will help. I hope you will work on your CEN. I wish you all the best.

Pat - October 10, 2014 Reply

Hello, thank you so much for the fast reply . I really appreciated what you said. Thank you too for validating my strength. I will ask them if they want to read your book.
Kind Regards,

Pat - October 10, 2014 Reply

Hello, I have rea question for you or maybe more than one. My daughter was psyically and verbally abused and emotionally, financially and many other ways been neglected by her Dad. We are divorced and they are not speaking at this time .She has BPD and is now 31 years old has self harmed by cutting seriously on her body. She lives with me and my son. Her life is not the life I imagined for her, she is intelligent and beautiful and deserves to be happy and be living a good life. she is obeses drinks too much and stays home all the time. dosent take care of her health, in ther words she hates herself. Her dad has never acknowledged any of the abuse and when she told him sometime ago that she had been raped twice, his reaction was to say NOTHING !!. He showed no empathy not even the simple words of “im sorry that happened to you or a hug nothing only silence. My son and I saw his non=reaction. He allowed his partner to verbally abuse my daughter when she lived with them for a short time and to this day when my daughter needed somewhere to stay( complicated story) took her to his sisters house instead of his own place because the partner said “shes not coming here”, my son heard her whilst he was on the phone to his dad asking him why she cant stay with him. He chooses his partner over his own daughter who has never done anything to him. he is never wrong and is a alcoholic selfish man who is very hard to communicate with.My daughter has had many years of theraphy and we found out a few months ago that she never talked about all of the above abuses her dad did to her during the years of therapy, so as you would see the healing has not happenend . What I want to ask advice on is , So my daughter can make a start to heal and hopefully want to make chnages in her life. Does she need to confront him and tell him everything he has caused her to suffer since the first time he hit her and called her ‘fat’?. He has taken her self esteem , her self worth everything for her to love herself away from her and it still continues now. Does she need to make a police report and have him charged for domestic violence and childhood abuse?. I know your not a lawyer, but we dont know where to start the process to help her resolve all this mess that is ruining her life.My son is affected too and we think because his dad never it him but did verbally abuse him and to this day dosent acknowledge him as an adult who is very capable and intelligent person. He has no respect for his dad and he thinks we should confront him about all that went of during their childhoods. .As a person myself who grew up emotionally neglected in a family of nine children back in the 50’s in an abusive home where incest occurred and domestic abuse.Put into a childrens home. I too have my own bpd traits and depression and anxiety. I recently had a breakdown where i wanted to end my life.Thankfully I have a new Doctor and therapist and I am on a new medication and working hard to get back to my old self. I am 63. The pain still continues in seeing my daughter suffering everyday. My becoming suicidal has of course also impacted my relationship with my daughter and my son.I see myself in her and i know the pain she feels. We talk about their childhood and I acknowledged my faults and mistakes with apologies to them both, We have family counselling to work through that. a work still in progress. This is a short version of our situation . I have read and re read you book on emotional neglect which opened my eyes so much to why I felt the way I have all of my life.

Any advice that you can offer would be appreciated.

Yours with great appreciation for writng such an incredible book on a subject that has been kept in the dark for far too long. Thank you.
Warm regards,


never apologised or ever talked about any of these issues with her. She told last year that she

    Jonice Webb - October 10, 2014 Reply

    Dear Patricia, you and your children have been through a lot. But I can hear how you’re struggling to make things better for your kids, and I applaud you for that! I can’t give you clinical advice on what to do for your children except to keep supporting them as you are. The fact that you talk with them about what’s gone wrong and take responsibility for whatever you can will go miles toward helping them heal. Often, when it comes to trauma and abuse, it does help the child to confront the parent, but it’s a very personal and individual decision. Since you have a family counselor who knows you, that would be the best person to ask. Also, I hope your daughter is in individual therapy as well? And it would also be good if you could get both of your children to read Running on Empty. Keep up the good work Patricia! I admire your strength.

Delaine - October 10, 2014 Reply

Hi, I read your list of areas people who were neglected as a child may have. I am ashamed to say I fit in each and every one. I have always known all the facts you listed and have struggled my entire life trying to let it go. I saw therapists for years, took their advise on ways to “get past” all the hurt and pain that it caused and still causes me today. I faced it, I talked about it, I confronted my parents(one denied everything) and nothing has helped. I still share every feeling of your list and I am now 52 years old. I have never been able to have a good relationship nor able to fully show the love I feel for my own child. I have expressed my painful past to hopefully make her understand, but I know that doesn’t help her. I can’t show love as I never felt it a day in my life except for the love I have for my child and my grandchild which I can’t even express or show. I am so empty inside except for this constant pain of the knowing my mother never wanted me and never once touched me, said she loved me or even acknowledged me. To this day, it is as painful as ever. How can I know all this but not be able to get past it? Family gatherings are complete torture for me. I always end up leaving in tears. I have a younger sibling that was never treated this way. She is their “princess” and I am the intruder. I can’t function normally. I can’t trust. I can’t show love. Everyday I feel anger, depression, and this horrible dark mean person inside me. I have no friends. I hate having to leave my house. I don’t want to talk to anyone anymore. For some reason my granddaughter sees past it all and loves me anyway. I want to be able to have ONE day of no pain or sadness. I am so tired of crying and hating. I want to be happy for ONE day and most important, I want to show my granddaughter how much I love her not just say the words. She calls me MOM as I raised her by myself, but I feel like the worst mother ever and I don’t want her to feel the way I have all my life. I have tried everything doctors suggest. I take my meds as prescribed and keep hoping but so far, after 40 years of meds and therapy, I still feel the same. Can your book help that? Can it make me better for my granddaughter who is now 11 and growing up too fast? I will miss every good part of her life if I can’t get past this.

    Jonice Webb - October 10, 2014 Reply

    Dear Delaine, I can hear the pain through your entire message. I am so sorry that you grew up this way. I think that boundaries are the answer for you. Have you worked on that? It’s not your fault that your mother treated you this way, or that your family does. Are you really taking care of yourself when you spend time with those people? I suggest that you identify the people who actually do see you for who you are, and put your time and energy into them. I think Running on Empty can help, when you are ready. First and foremost, don’t forget that some mothers and families are incapable of love. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT!

    Jeanette - February 9, 2015 Reply

    For Delaine, Just wanted to say that reading your post, I was struck that it seemed you took the words right out of my mouth. I am going to read it again because it is the first time that all you said and how you feel is just the way I feel. I suppose it helps knowing we are not the only ones feeling this way.

Anonymous - October 9, 2014 Reply

Dear Dr Webb,
I am a 50 year old mother of wonderful young adults, married to a wonderful, loving man. I am blessed with a loving family and a blessed life.
Your book has helped me to see that I have experienced CEN, having had a cold, very depressed, disinterested and resentful mother and a rigid, controlling father.
I am an introvert, a perfectionist, I am unusually private, and I have low self esteem and continual feelings of guilt and unworthiness.
I have struggled with an eating disorder all my life. It’s a daily, even hourly battle, much of it private and hidden ( although of course my low weight is obvious). I allow it to limit my life because food and exercise are time-sapping compulsions, as is incessant online reading of things I research for no reason.
I am desperate to live my life more fully and to contribute to the community. I feel so guilty about my self indulgence.
I am fortunate to have therapy, but nothing seems to help. My strange and secret behaviors and habits are so entrenched.
Could that be related to CEN?
Please could you explain whether there is a link between eating disorders and CEN? Perhaps there is an angle in that would be helpful.
Thankyou for your time and for the wonderful work that you do

    Jonice Webb - October 13, 2014 Reply

    I don’t CEN as a particular cause of eating disorders. But I do see that some people respond to the empty feelings by trying to “fill” themselves with various things, including food. Controlling parents (like your father) have been shown by research to be a cause of eating disorders. It seems that you have both factors going on. I urge you to address the CEN, and see where that takes you. I wish you all the best!

    cali - July 15, 2015 Reply

    THis the first time I’m hearing any of this and I deffinetly feel This cen is connected to weight disorders… All my life I realiz now when I started to get the attention I had always craved it is scared me. I would run and hide by either gaining weight or procrastinating till I sabotoged myself into failure. But I would hide that I did it from everyone else and myself. When I was a teen bombshell at twelve I hunched my shoulders and got very shy. Older I said no to playboy and black velvet and agressive great guys because it scared me and I ran away. Now I have regrets because it was my dreams, but even better too much too soon I hid. I wasn’t prepared to actually get what wanted I guess.

      Jonice Webb - July 16, 2015 Reply

      Hi Cali, you probably needed support and help from your parents, to empower you about your appearance. I’m guessing you did not get that. It’s not too late, you can give it to yourself!

Suz - October 8, 2014 Reply

I grew up in a house of silence. My dad used the silent treatment equally. After nearly 3 year in my own recovery, I can see that he was not able to handle his own emotions. So he would go silent. His body language spoke in rage and anger.

My dad would go silent for days or weeks. I grew up on a farm, so neighbors would stop in unannounced. It was like a light switch would turn on. My dad would be personable, polite. He’d chat. He would even speak to the family like he hadn’t been treating us to silence just before this neighbor had sat down for coffee and cookies. The neighbor would leave and the switch would move from speaking to silence.

His silence would just evaporate the way fog burns off as the sun rises. He’d never resolve why he had been silent. No one was singled out. It was like the light switch was turned to “speak” again.

There was no physical or sexual abuse. Just silence.

My mother is a steamroller. Her way or the highway. Authoritarian.

My parents seemed to fit together in an ugly dance. She’d steam roll. He’d retreat into silence. I never saw them fight or argue or resolve anything or kiss or hug or say “I love you” to each other or to us. There is nothing to resolve if two people don’t argue.

Three kids. None of us rebelled. We were good kids who succeeded at what we did. My sister is 9 years older. She was my dad’s favorite. Never said. I could feel it in my bones. I would have done anything to be her. She played clarinet and piano well. I played 3 well. I tried to be better than her so I could be loved and matter to my dad.

My mom. Mother. She was the one who’d let my dad’s moods roll off her back. she advised me at 7 or 8 to let his mood roll off my back. What 7 or 8 year old even understands what that means?

When I married an upgraded version of my family, my dad walked me down the aisle at the chapel. I fretted all the way down the aisle whether it would look weird if he and I shook hands before I went to stand at the altar with my fiancee. We never had hugged before then – my dad and I. We made an awkward A-frame hug. It was the last one I got.

I chased “I love you” from my dad. I never got it. Even the last time I saw him. It was 2 weeks before he died, April 12, 2009 (easter Sunday was when he died). He was on hospice – he suffered from COPD. I worked a trip in to visit that was in conjunction with a business trip to a nearby city. When they took me to the airport, my mother hugged for the first time ever – I was 44 years old. I went around to tell my dad I’d call when I got to the hotel. He said ‘call when you get there.’ Not even goodbye.

My brother, 2-1/2 years younger, was my mom’s favorite. Parents don’t realize that kids know who is favorited. I know my parents loved me. I don’t feel it. I don’t believe it. I felt like an obligation. An expectation of someone to provide for.

When I’d fly home from grad school to visit my family, they’d pick me up at the airport and wave “hello”. No hugs, kisses, and certainly no “I love you”. Everyone is warm in a “how’s the weather in the Midwest” kind of way. But not connecting. When they’d drop me off at the airport, my mother usually was the one who would take me to the airport since my dad had chores on the farm. She’d wave goodbye (no hugs, no “I love you”) and I’d head in to ticketing and bag drop off as she would leave. Practical.
I never knew it was “different” to not hear “I love you” or to not get hugs and kisses from parents or family. My parents apples didn’t fall far from the tree. My dad’s father died when I was 2 (he was in his 70s) and my dad’s mother died in a nursing home when I was 11, so I never knew them. My mom’s parents were divorced and neither was warm.

I was born on my parent’s 10th wedding anniversary. We didn’t have much money. Birthdays really weren’t much to celebrate. We did have a cake. It said “Happy Anniversary, Connie and Kathy” and “Happy Birthday, Sue” on top of it. I guess it should have felt special to share a cake. Sounds silly to say that I always wanted my very own birthday cake. Some other kid might have thought it was awesome.

My parents met my future husband 2 days before I married him. He and I didn’t date. Even if we had dated, I would have been yucked out taking him home to meet them. YUCK. My then future husband and I lived 1000 miles apart. We knew each other in high school briefly. I was in grad school. He was in the military. He was divorcing and reached out to talk. We started talking every day. Emails flowed like water. The internet was fledgling then. We IM’d. I visited 8 weeks after we started chatting heavily. We were engaged a month later after he pushed, prodded, begged me to marry him. I caved in and said yes despite wanting to date a couple of years before marrying. We married just a week after his divorce finalized – state of California has a 6 month waiting period once a dissolution of marriage request is on file (the terminology might not be right, but the gist is). His daughter, 7, would live with us. I was 30. I quit graduate school – 9 months shy of finishing a PhD in chemistry. He persisted that he wouldn’t allow me to go back to finish my experiments. He did it in a needy, “I’m an albatross of expectation” kind of way that was gross and sickening now as I write this. It was COMFORTABLE. It felt like HOME. *red flag* It was a sense of loss. I made a choice. I did it. I chose to leave grad school.

My husband told me a year after we married that since he had one kid already, he didn’t want anymore. But if I wanted a baby, he would gladly have a child with me. My sister didn’t have any kids. The people pleaser I am coupled with his wish for no children and my desire to emulate my sister (or be better than her) meant I went along with my husband’s desire of no children. He got a vasectomy. I got a tubal ligation at 33. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of children – my longest dating situation was 2-3 months before I married. He and I really never dated. We talked. I visited twice and we got married. In retrospect, it felt like he married me to be his “live in whore” and babysitter. My husband isn’t a bad man – not cruel or mean or physically or sexually abusive. He just wanted what he wanted. Me being a people pleaser, I made it happen. I chose to do what I did. It’s like he sensed he could get what he wanted from me.

My husband and I were married for 18 years. Our divorce finalized earlier this spring. I’m still recovering. My step-daughter and I had a strained relationship most of the time I was married to her dad. Ironically, after her dad and I separated, we’ve become close in ways I never could have expected. She’s a wonderful 26 year old. She’s been really supportive. More than I ever could have thought I deserved. I have to focus on connecting with her. I think about it – I should reach out to say hello. Or to call. Of course, I feel that way about almost anyone. I have to think about connecting. It’s easier for me to disconnect and be alone.

I’m successful in my work. Devoted people pleaser as an overused skill. I worked myself to a complete breakdown about 4 years ago at work. Ironically, my now ex-husband said his favorite time in our marriage was when I was in the throes of the complete breakdown. I hid it well. I never let him see my unhappiness as he would go into freak out mode and become an even more leaden weight about my neck – the albatross in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. He clung to me in fear that I’d leave him.
It took me another 14 months after my crash at work before I got into therapy. We use an eclectic approach with bits and pieces from DBT, ACT, IFS, skill building, Zen, etc. I learned absolutes from my parents. Rules rules rules. I can bend myself into a pretzel. I’d even tell people I’d like it whether I did or not.

I learned rules. I learned in childhood that if I wanted attention meant I strove for flawless perfection and execution. I am a devoted hobbyist outside of work. I am learning to paint. I’m creative. I knit, design knitwear, sew, quilt, cook, bake, make metal jewelry, write fiction, decorate cakes, landscape design, driving enthusiast, run, do yoga, walk, cycle. I’m not professional at any of these pursuits. I tend to be highly focused and gain a strong set of skills quickly.
I feel that I cannot be enough.

I’ve started dating again. I’ve met someone kind and decent. I find myself striving to show him I’m worthy. He has mentioned it in a caring way. I realize that I’m always hustling to be worthy, to be attractive, to be good enough.

I’ve read a lot of stuff. I crave emotional connection and I completely fear it. I’ve recently finished reading Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight and John Gottman’s What Makes Love Last. I’m learning to be real more often and to share my feelings, my real feelings and to not stuff the feelings I’ve got when they don’t match my boyfriend’s. It’s a damn struggle.

I have a few close friends and a lot of acquaintances. I’m an introvert (last Myers Briggs I took showed a preference for INFP).

I was dating someone who told me we were looking for different things when I told him I missed him when he had been traveling for a couple of weeks– I wanted emotional connection and he wanted a “friend with benefits”. I still like him. He floats back into my life here and there and I find myself wanting to please the old flame even though my new boyfriend is a better fit period.

My mother is a control freak. Us kids are EXPECTED to be home for Christmas, barring any exceptional issue. I decided that after my separation that I would stay home for Christmas. I avoided mentioning Christmas. My mother offered to buy my plane ticket for me and the dog to visit for Christmas. I make a fine wage and can afford my own damn ticket. I ignored her email. Ten days before Christmas, I got a note asking when the dog and I were flying in. I replied, politely, that I would be staying home as I wouldn’t schlep the dog through a couple of airports and my step-daughter was coming to my house for Christmas eve dinner. And I wasn’t going to drive the 13 hours (it IS 13 hours and 800 mile drive) by myself.
Five days before Christmas, my brother sends an email as I wake up that morning with impetigo and hand foot mouth disease. My mother was buying him a plane ticket to fly down to drive me home for Christmas – no shit. I’m 48 years old. I replied to the entire family (I had to add everyone) the reality. I told them I would not be steam rolled and that if my brother actually did fly into the airport near my home that he would need a ticket back because I was NOT coming there for Christmas. I told them all to leave me alone. I’ve never told them off before. EVER. It felt right then. It feels right now. I am an adult. It’s about time my mother realized it. She finally apologized this summer for going about it in the “wrong way”. I acknowledged it.

Friends I met at OnSite in summer 2013 have been surprised most by my progress. The four of them have all said that I made the most progress in our group of friends. It’s the first network of people I’ve shared the realness of my life – even the hidden things. I’ve spent a lifetime compartmentalizing and letting people in. Only my therapist has been to the catacombs. My OnSite friends have been in the basement. Even my friends who are “close” haven’t been that far.

My ex-husband was surprised to meet the real me during our marriage counseling sessions as the therapist worked with us to help us connect emotionally. My ex learned about my childhood and he was angry that I hadn’t shared. When you don’t know what you were missing, how can one share what one missed? It took me getting broken into a pile of rubble and discovering a lack of self-trust, continuous caving in to please everyone else before pleasing myself, etc to be able to get to a point of sharing it. I feel angry about it still sometimes.

It’s been a difficult as hell experience these last several years. I’m still grieving the death of my marriage as I rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I celebrate connecting to my step-daughter. I celebrate taking better care of myself and be aware enough to notice when things don’t feel right.

Despite my capabilities and successes, I feel empty and lost often. I’m in a better place than where I was. I’m awake. I’m living more of a life that suits me. I’m healthier than I was in many ways. I’m still unfolding and learning. I’ve got better skills today than I did have two years ago, or even six months ago.
I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I can be enough. I can cope better with it as I grow and give myself the things I need. I can be aware and be ok to know that the emotions pass through and the feelings that ride with will flow along with it. The weather changes.

All I have is this moment. Today has been a rough one. These happen less often than they did.

    Jonice Webb - October 9, 2014 Reply

    Dear Suz, you describe a childhood (and adult life) of classic CEN. Clearly you see what’s wrong and are working your way through it. I’m sure many readers can identify with your experiences and struggles. Please keep working, and the rough days will continue to become fewer and fewer. Wishing you a happy and healed future, Dr. Webb

      Suz - October 10, 2014 Reply

      Thanks. I feel I’m in a better place as I have worked through a lot of stuff. I’ve learned new skills that took a while to take hold. I learned that insight is nice, but the skills are what have won the day.

      I have decided to share what I’ve learned about Silent Treatment, a form of emotional abuse, and other things I’ve learned as I proceed through my recovery because I think others need to see it’s ok to just realize that life is messy. was very helpful in looking at different types of emotional disorders. There’s a good section on the Silent Treatment.

      I chose to share here on your site partly because I know others are struggling as I still do. It’s ok to struggle. We’re wired for that – humans are wired to adapt. It’s why we are darned amazing and terrifying all in the same breath. Learning new skills helps immensely.

      Overall, I’m living a better life. It’s my life I’m living. Not someone else’s. How I used to cope with life and how I am unwinding into new ways to cope just shows how resilient and able to adapt we humans are. I went in for a major overhaul almost 3 years ago with the therapist I have been working with. I’ll probably be back for tune ups as I need them.

        Jonice Webb - October 13, 2014 Reply

        That’s wonderful Suz. Thanks for sharing!

        mp - October 16, 2015 Reply

        Suz: Your story is so well written, heartfelt and unfortunately so familiar. The details are of course different but the gist is the same for me. I’m 56 and just scratching the surface of how I got here from there. Emotional neglect is so powerful and yet so invisible. Hopefully you’re past reading comments on this site but if you ever read this, thanks for sharing. It is a testament to the power of the web too – through the stories of people we’ll never meet we feel a sense of camaraderie and that others have felt that elusive unease, and eventually understanding and healing if we’re lucky.

    Lisa - February 8, 2015 Reply

    There are many similarities between you and I:
    1. My mother regularly gave me the silent treatment. When I did something that displeased her, I would skulk around until she gave me the subtle signal that I was back in a neutral position again.
    2. My mother was frequently in a bad mood (despite my good behaviour) but would perk up amazingly when she answered the phone.
    3. My step-father was an extreme authoritarian. It was always “his way or the highway”.
    4. I never rebelled. I wouldn’t have dreamed of it.
    5. No cuddles, no kind touches, no kindness at all. Never told “I love you”. I remember returning home from a trip to see my father at 13 and my mother kissing me for the first time. She appeared to have missed me and I thought “Maybe she does love me after all.”
    6. I was the “favourite” which only meant that I generally managed to stay in a neutral position. Whereas my brother was always in trouble. But that caused it’s own issues. I felt sorry for my brother and guilty that I was always in a better position than him with my parents.
    7. My birthday is 1/1 and I usually got combined birthday and Christmas presents. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me anything on my 9th birthday and did not acknowledge that birthday at all. I had one party on my 7th birthday. My brother had no parties.
    8. My first relationship lasted 19 years and was pretty good but I left him for an alcoholic who I had become addicted to. The alcoholic didn’t follow through.
    9. I too have strived for perfection. I earned a double degree with first class honours and became a “high flying lawyer” in my country’s top law firm. I worked extremely long hours, even while I had a young baby who breastfed during the night.
    10. It all came crashing down about 5 years ago when I had a psychotic break and was hospitalised. I lost custody of my two children and had 7 stints in hospital (including 3, 4, and 6 months) between then and March 2013. I never regained custody.
    11. My relationships since my divorce then have mostly involved control and manipulation. My immediate ex-boyfriend resented the time I spent with my children and friends. He was very possessive and needy and expected me to always put his needs ahead of my own.
    12. And, like you, I’m working on my recovery using many of the techniques you have described. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s comforting to know that there are other people out there who have the same struggles as I do. Because sometimes I feel like an absolute freak.

Anonymous - October 7, 2014 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
I stumbled across your blog on PsychCentral and now I have been reading through Running on Empty and it is honestly the first time I feel like I have found something that actually fits and explains what I have experienced both as a child and feelings/behaviors I now have as an adult. I have a therapist that I have been working with for about 3 years for issues related to depression/anxiety and I really like and respect her. My problem is that I’m struggling with how to bring up CEN with her. She focuses on much more day to day type things and doesn’t seem to really notice the family of origin stuff. I have previously been in therapy with a psychodynamically trained therapist and he was the first to open my eyes to some things that happened during childhood. Unfortunately during my therapy with him, I had to move out of state for employment reasons and haven’t had much luck finding a psychodynamically trained therapist here. The majority are CBT. So I am asking 1) How do I bring up CEN with my therapist and 2) Will a CBT therapist generally approach this area or do I need to find a therapist with a different type of background like systems or psychodynamic theory? Thank you.

    Jonice Webb - October 7, 2014 Reply

    Those are very good questions. First, let me say that being afraid to bring up CEN with your therapist is probably your CEN at work, making you feel that you don’t have the right to ask to have your needs met. So just the act of bringing it up to your therapist is step one of taking it on. I suggest that you bring the book to your appointment, and tell your therapist that you just read it and feel that it explains a lot about you. Describe the CEN concept to her as best you can, and leave the book with her. Ask her to take a look at it. Hopefully, it should open up a new door for the two of you to work together. Keep in mind that CBT therapists do not typically exclude childhood connections and issues at all. She may be focusing upon the present day because she thinks it’s what you want. If she responds poorly, then read my blog post called “How to Find a Good CEN Therapist” and find a new therapist who is more open. Thanks for your questions! I hope this helps.

Finny - October 6, 2014 Reply


Is CEN what killed Robin Williams or were there many, many different problems he committed suicide over.

    Jonice Webb - October 7, 2014 Reply

    No one can know why Williams killed himself. My article about his death was to highlight how CEN can cause suicidal feelings and thoughts, to educate people about it. I have no way of knowing the specific causes or problems. Thanks for your comment, and take care!

    Lisa - February 8, 2015 Reply

    I understand that Robin Williams had Bipolar Disorder (manic depression). The depression which comes with the disorder is partly caused by the grief that the high mood has gone and the wreckage caused. Some people with the disorder get to the point where they can no longer cope with the “swings” and decide they want off “the roller coaster”. Because it is a very painful ride to be on. I have done a lot of research into the disorder and spoken to many people who have it (I met them in hospital, support groups etc) and I have concluded that it is caused by CEN or some sort of major childhood trauma. I do not know of one person with BP or Schizophrenia who has had a childhood where they felt happy and safe. I realise that some “experts” say that mental illness has “genetic” causes but (unless a particular gene has been identified) it is notoriously difficult to separate those from environmental factors because abuse and neglect tends to run in families. For example, my grandfather (with CEN) had BP. My mother, raised by him, had CEN. She raised my brother and I who have CEN and BP.

      Jonice Webb - February 8, 2015 Reply

      Hi Lisa, I do agree with you in that I think CEN is the foundation for many different diagnosable disorders, like anxiety, depression, personality disorder and bipolar. But I think CEN does need to be combined with other factors, like genetics, abuse, or trauma, etc. to create personality disorder or severe mood swings, etc. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Finny - October 6, 2014 Reply

Dr. Webb,

Is CEN at the core of mental issues like social anxiety, depression?

    Jonice Webb - October 7, 2014 Reply

    Anxiety and depression encompass many different causes, and both involve brain chemicals and biology. But I have found that many depressed people are depressed because deep down, they feel unlovable, helpless and hopeless, and sometimes the cause is CEN. So CEN can definitely be at the core of depressed or anxious people, but it’s definitely not always a factor for everyone. Thank you for your question Finny!

      Cindy - May 6, 2015 Reply

      i have suffered from depression my whole life and i’m sure it’s from pushing my feelings down for so long most of my life because I was made to feel they didn’t matter and I really felt that way myself. My father is an alcoholic and my mother was a CEN and her mother was one also. It’s generic in my family. My question is; how does a child get their emotional needs met? I think I’m trying to understand why I did what I did, what I was shamed for by my family. my mother accused me of going after anything with pants on. I’ve been in recovery for years, but still don’t understand it all. I feel like there was a part of my life where I simply unconscious simply acting on biological and emotional needs. Is this possible? Thank you for this website. I hope there is more research done in this area.

        Jonice Webb - May 13, 2015 Reply

        Dear Cindy, children are not responsible for getting their emotional needs met. That’s the parent’s job. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know how to recognize or respond to their children (like your parents!). Chapter 1 of Running on Empty is about specifically how parents can do it right. I hope you’ll stop the cycle here, and treat yourself with the respect and care that you deserve. Because you do matter.

Anonymous - October 6, 2014 Reply

Dr. Webb,

I am unsure if what happened to me in my childhood constitutes as neglect. I have put in a lot of effort into understanding and coping with my childhood but I am at an impasse because I am not certain what to call what happened to me and my siblings. My biological mother and father did not want to raise me or my siblings, so they gave up their rights and sent us to live with our grandparents. While we lived with them, they often made us eat expired food and wouldn’t let us come in the house on hot, summer days. On weekends we worked for hours on end either taking care of the garden or detailing the house from early in the mornings until the evening. Also, we were only allowed to shower once a week. They often assumed that we should just “know” how we were supposed to behave without any real guidance. When they were displeased with us, they would often speak about our shortcomings to each other very loudly, but never to our faces directly. It always seemed to be a huge guessing game, wondering what would set them off. At one point, my grandfather left me and my sister at church because we took too long to get to the car. It was January and very cold, and the building was locked. No one called them and he didn’t come back for us until evening service. They never helped with homework, hugged us, or told us they loved us. They never threw us birthdays and rarely gave us Christmas presents. One Christmas everyone got a present besides my brother until our houseguest at the time convinced my grandpa to buy him one. They would often run us down to other members of our church while we were standing right there and would be angry with us for being ill. These events happened between the ages of 7 up until about 12. They were in their 70s’s at the time, so even to this day as an adult, I don’t know if this was neglect or just the way they behaved because they came from a different time with different practices for raising children. Is what my siblings and I experienced considered neglect and/or abuse?

Thank you for your time.

    Jonice Webb - October 7, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I think that what you went through is emotional neglect of the extreme variety. In fact it is so extreme that it crosses the boundary and becomes abuse. It doesn’t sound like your parents OR your grandparents were equipped to love children, period. It has nothing to do with how lovable you and your siblings were (or are today!). Please see a therapist to work through this, as this type of neglect can trouble you throughout your lifetime until you deal with it. I wish you a healthy, loved and happy life ahead!

    Cleopaddera - November 14, 2014 Reply

    I experienced much of what you detail. My parents also told us that our rooms were not ours. They just let us use them. No birthdays. My mother would take back Christmas gifts or throw them away after a few months. We were not allowed to eat unless they gave us food and then we had to eat it, even if inproperally cooked or in mammoth quantity. I could go on and on, so I won’t.

      Jonice Webb - November 15, 2014 Reply

      That sounds like more than Emotional Neglect. It seems that your parents were more deliberately withholding which is a form of abuse. I’m sure that all of this affected you greatly, and I hope you are working to heal from it. No one is a “superball,” and only an emotionally blind parent could view her child that way.

        Cleopaddera - November 16, 2014 Reply

        I have been working on it, but whenever I go through a rough stretch, it all comes back as if it happened yesterday.

    Lisa - February 8, 2015 Reply

    Your post really touched me. Some very similar things happened to my brother and I. Shortly after my parents separated when I was 3 1/2 and my brother was not yet 2, I distinctly remember my mother and father arguing on his doorstep about who was going to look after us. Neither of them wanted us. We were taken in by our loving grandparents and then 18 months later our mother and her new partner took us away to live in another town. I didn’t get in touch with the grief of being taken away from my grandparents until I was 34 when I spent hours under my covers crying “Nanny… I want my Nanny”. My mother was cold and emotionally unavailable and required my brother and I to be on our best behaviour at all times. When I hurt myself she would say “What do you expect me to do about it?” When I wet the bed (from 5-8) and didn’t tell her (I was too ashamed), she would smack my bottom until I wet myself. My brother was regularly physically abused in front of me in ways which were very scary and made me feel extreme empathy and guilt that I couldn’t protect him. I was constantly controlled as a teenager and given no freedom or privacy. I was not allowed to be “moody” or express any opinions of my own. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at 41 and spent 4 years in and out of mental institutions. My brother also has it and has had many stints in hospitals himself. We are also both addicts – in recovery. I have had extensive periods (up to six months at a time) with no access to my children. I am currently in therapy, where I am learning how many of my behavioral patterns and attitudes towards myself and others are linked to my childhood (and more recent) trauma. I am going through the process of bringing the unconscious feelings of not being good enough, being afraid of making other people angry and guilt/shame to the surface so that I can deal with them and learn to accept and love myself unconditionally. In my opinion abandonment by one or both parents is the worst type of CEN because it says to the child “You don’t matter to me”. When the message is repeated in more subtle ways throughout the rest of childhood, the belief that you don’t matter becomes ingrained. You DO matter. You always did.

      Jonice Webb - February 8, 2015 Reply

      Lisa, I’m so sorry you experienced all of this as a child. It sounds terrible, and both neglectful AND abusive. You and your brother deserved far more and better. I’m glad to hear that you are coming to grips with all of this past trauma and pain. It takes courage and strength to do what you are doing. I agree that abandonment is the most extreme way to give a child the message that he/she doesn’t matter. I’m glad you know that you DO matter. Yes, you always did. Keep doing the work and it will pay off in spades for you and your children. Wishing you all the best.

Amélie - September 29, 2014 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

I’m so grateful for your recognition of this invisible but problematic psychological condition and for all the professional advices you’ve given in your web posts. I’ve slowly recognized this problem in myself. I’ve always struggled to live in the present and therefore have trouble remembering a lot of things I’ve done or said just recently, mostly because of my childhood experiences with an emotionally neglectful and verbally abusive mother who had beat me into repressing my emotions so much (I honestly can only recall painful memories from my childhood and feeling isolated/”independent” a lot). A continuing problem I have is that I think and overanalyze a lot before I feel, and I haven’t seen you addressing this much. And because of this I have brought a lot of stress on my partner who doesn’t know I have CEN but do think that I tend to “overthink” my emotions. I panic easily when I “think” my partner gives me what I perceive as some form of rejection, so much so that it distresses me and affects my normal functioning. Sometimes I just feel like I’m living on the edge clinging onto my partner who can act as my primary care giver (emotionally) and I care more about how my partner thinks and feels about me rather than my own emotions. Is this something you see in your CEN patients? I feel as though no one shares the same problem as I do. And how do you think I can get rid of this problem I have?

Thank you very much for your help.

    Jonice Webb - September 29, 2014 Reply

    Hi Amelie,

    Believe me, you are not alone! Overthinking your feelings is definitely part of CEN. So is caring more about your partner’s feelings and needs than your own. And so is being with a partner who does not know some very important things about you. If you trust your partner, I encourage you to open up and talk. Tell your partner what you’re going through, and what you experienced as a child. And/or start to talk in other relationships, or find a good therapist. This is the process of healing for you. Please try your best. I will pay off. And I’ll plan on writing an article about overthinking, so thank you for that idea!

Sami - September 29, 2014 Reply

Hello Dr. Webb,

My husband and I have been married for seven years, and the road has been a very long, winding, bumpy one. We’re struggling, and based on new information I’ve learned from his past, I believe he’s been suffering from CEN. I want to help him, but I don’t know where to start. How do I bring it up in conversation and get him the help that he needs?

    Jonice Webb - September 29, 2014 Reply

    Sami, please read my newest blog post about this exact topic. I hope this helps. Let us know how it goes. Best wishes!

Amy - September 28, 2014 Reply

Hi I found your book and am thankful to put a name to what happened to me. But now I have realized that not only did this happen to me during childhood, but most all of my adult life as well (I am 46) as I have probably unconsciously sought out relationships that are similar to try and “correct” what has happened to me. I married (and divorced) two men who were just as emotionally neglectful and abusive as my parents. I have also had a number of close friendships (that are no longer) where this happened as well. Unfortunately I still have contact with my parents and they are still the same sociopathic, narcissistic, authoritarian people and still say and do the same things, even now, even though I have confronted them and asked them to stop. I am having a hard time recovering when I feel like there are people around me that continue this cycle. Do you have any advice for me?

    Jonice Webb - September 28, 2014 Reply

    Hi Amy, it is common to seek out relationships which recreate our relationships with parents. Our brains are “programmed” to experience love the way we got it from our parents. Unfortunately, your brain directs you to gravitate toward that same type of “love.” To find healthier friends and a healthier man, it will be important for you to make a conscious effort to seek something different. Keep your distance from your parents if you can (guilt-free!). I recommend a good therapist to help you with this process, if you don’t already have one. You understand what’s wrong. Now you can take it on! Best wishes for your continued recovery.

    Trish - September 28, 2015 Reply

    Hi Amy, I just read your comment & although it was a year ago I felt to reply as earlier this year after dealing with a similar situation & having had much therapy of all kinds I came across ‘Narcissistic Victim Syndrome’ on the internet which has totally hit the nail on the head & put my whole experience from birth into perspective. I would encourage you to investigate this for yourself as it has certainly helped me understand and take action to get free from narcs/bpd people and ties in with the CEN work. My aim of course is to heal the victim aspect rather than feel defined by it or feel that its a life sentence, it has helped immeasurable to finally feel understood, know what I’m dealing with and have the tools to deal with it.I wish you the best.

      Darby - October 27, 2015 Reply

      Trish — I have had a similar experience with you. Talking with a friend I learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and came to realize that this described my spouse (and certain other people in my life).

      CEN laid the groundwork for my spending almost three decades living with a person who regularly reminded me I didn’t matter, my needs didn’t matter, my wants or dreams didn’t matter, never to shine, and I was lucky to have what I have, as I was as unloveable as my family of origin taught me growing up.

      I’ve worked hard to understand NPD, go no contact with my ex, cut ties with “friends” who were abusive, and maintain very limited contact/no contact with the members of my family that are not healthy for me (which is pretty much my whole immediate family and their spouses).

      I struggle with the long list of self disrespect, self loathing, unloving (anti-loving?) comments that saturate my inner dialog. At least now I recognize it for what it is, and am working to change that stream.

      Pushing the toxic people out of my life and embracing the wonderful people in my life has helped enormously. Accepting that my “wonderful family” is not wonderful, never was wonderful, and am making my own family with people who accept my love and who return it.

      It is so very hard. Some days my heart feels paralyzed, some days my PTSD is triggered and I’m in panic mode that will never seem to stop. I do know many of my triggers and of course they come from my family members, other childhood abusers, and my ex — or are repeats of their behavior and/or words.

      I got particularly outraged when people expressed surprise at my living in a hidden abusive relationship for so long because I seemed such a strong person, etc etc etc. This is both silencing and blaming the victim — and in my case, victimized twice — by my family via CEN and by my ex who preyed on it. I don’t tolerate it.

      Every day is a struggle. It’s all up and down, but over all it’s getting better.

      I am very lucky to have the loving people in my life that I do.

        Trish - October 27, 2015 Reply

        Hi Darby,
        Thanks for sharing your story, we do have many similarities, I also have had to go no contact with 3 immediate family members & past friends, but have been fortunate to be able to maintain a healthy relationship with 2 siblings and their children.
        Its amazing that you have come so far after a 30 yr toxic marriage, for myself I was so terrified of being stuck in an abusive marriage I have avoided relationships altogether for the most part, missed the chance to have children, so either way there is isolation and hardship, but I’m so glad to have the opportunity to heal this dynamic, its the hardest thing we’ll ever have to do but there is no other way if we want genuine love and connection as you say.
        It has really helped me to realize all those negative thoughts were never mine, they are always someone else’s voices playing in my head, so in that way I am able to better detach from them.
        The most valuable thing I have learned is that I NEVER have to ‘receive’ other people’s shame, negativity, blame, or version of events. This was essential being exposed to narcissistic parents, that I accepted their ‘reality’ and hence became a dumping ground for their stuff or a slave to their needs and expectations. It was automatic for me that I play the role I was given and abandon myself. I did this well into my adult life.
        Now I act & speak according to what I am feeling, sensing, seeing and honour that, its scary at first as you expect people to think you are crazy, selfish and that you will be isolated even more, but healthy people are totally OK with this, and anyone who doesn’t like it I don’t need in my life. There are some good ‘Narcissist Abuse Recovery Programs’ online, that may also support you.
        I wish you all the best with learning true love for yourself and inviting it into your life. Trish

Tyler - September 28, 2014 Reply

I honestly don’t know where to start with what is going on in my life. It’s almost like I’m running on auto pilot ever day for the past couple years, everything is a giant blur that mashes together. My parents gave me everything I wanted when I was a child, yet for some reason I want nothing to do with them. Every time I’m out in public I try so hard to be invisible, yet I want to be noticed? I have no idea what’s wrong with me….I always feel like I’m a liability to others rather than a person who is equal. It’s gotten so bad that I don’t even remember what happiness or love feels like. My mind races with suicidal thoughts I feel people would be relieved rather then sad I’m gone. I can’t afford the help I feel I need and I’m afraid to ask people for help….

    Jonice Webb - September 28, 2014 Reply

    Dear Tyler, I’m so sorry you are going through this. Have you read Running on Empty? I think it will offer you some explanation for why you have these feelings. It may be (I’m guessing!) that the parents who gave you everything were Permissive Type Parents who weren’t really paying attention to your emotional needs. Please don’t settle for feeling as you do. Read the book and then call your nearest community mental health center where you may be able to find very low-cost therapy. If that doesn’t work, try to identify one person in your life who you can trust and talk to, and tell them what you are going through. I hope that you will take this on and fight it. Please take care.

    jim - January 28, 2015 Reply

    I feel im a CEN survivor I feel like the last man on earth I identify with with all these posts

      Jonice Webb - January 29, 2015 Reply

      Well, Jim, I know that probably feels terrible. But the good news is that now you know what’s wrong. And it’s something fixable. I hope you will read the book and work through it, because CEN can be overcome. I know because I’ve seen many people do it. You are not alone, and you can do this. Check back here, and let us know how you’re doing OK?

    Bridge - September 11, 2015 Reply

    You are not alone. In your post you said that you can’t afford the help you need.
    I just wanted to encourage you to reach out anyway!
    A few years ago I was a graduate student, had no health insurance, and not a lot of money. BUT I really needed therapy! I contacted a local therapist and she takes clients without insurance and charges very low rates on a sliding scale. I am sure she is not the only therapist to do this. Please love yourself enough to get the help you need. You deserve it!

John Schoendorfer - September 26, 2014 Reply

Hi Jonice

I am an adult child of a cold unemotional controlling mother and I’ve found your book and some others that explain the harm that can do. In my case I survived by being passive and hiding my feelings but now I am struggling through the feelings neglect caused. I have also found books by recovered people.

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. Yes, I see a therapist but knowing the common steps of healing would be very encouraging and provide both patience and hope.

    Jonice Webb - September 27, 2014 Reply

    Hi John, first I want to say good for you for doing this work. It takes courage and strength. I know how hard it can be when you start to uncover buried pain. In Running on Empty, my suggestions were the Identifying & Naming Exercise, identifying self-soothing techniques, and sharing the pain with a trusted person. But I know that can certainly feel like it’s not enough. Recently I’ve posted a number of articles on the Childhood Emotional Neglect Page of which might be helpful, as well as reading all the comments from other people who are going through this. But also you have inspired me to write a particular article about tolerating difficult feelings as they come up. Thank you so much for your comment and request. Take care!

    felicity - April 5, 2015 Reply

    There is a book I’ve found very useful called “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris.

      Suz - April 11, 2016 Reply

      The Happiness Trap is an excellent book. I find the concept of ‘monsters on the boat’ helpful. A good visual for me.

      ACT has several tools I found useful in my recovery.

    Lisa A. Romano - October 4, 2015 Reply

    I really appreciate your work here Dr. Webb…so awesome! I am an adult child of two adult children of alcoholics. I have successfully overcome my emotional neglect through a commitment based strategy devoted to healing and recovering my own soul. I found that my brain in essence was hijacked by dysfunctional programming passed down onto me by my wounded parents. Not their fault–but the fact is I was abused. A white picket fence, a working dad and a stay at home mom look great on paper–but when you are living with people who ignore you psychologically and emotionally–you feel dead.

    I wanted to address this topic about feelings, because John is so on point!!!

    After many years of seeking help with therapists I realized that it was “I” who had to teach myself how to feel. No one could tell me how to validate my own reality. Which is why I wrote my books, now do workshops and make videos about teaching other adult children HOW TO HEAL…

    We all know what went wrong–but not a whole lot of professionals know how to teach the art of healing. In fact, I coach a number of licensed therapists and psychologists who struggle themselves with adult child issues.

    I believe an effective healer is one who has been set free of their own emotional trauma…Then and only then can a therapist ever hope to ‘see and hear’ what it is a patient/client is NOT seeing and NOT hearing.

    I am so thankful for your work..You are heaven sent dear one!

      Matilda Garrido - October 6, 2015 Reply

      Lisa, it is intense to see you here…Dr. Webb’s book and your YouTube videos have gotten me through the last year as I have come to terms with some very intense feelings and issues. I have literally carried the book around with me/watched your videos over and over each day. I’m so glad to have been exposed to both of you!

      Jonice Webb - October 24, 2015 Reply

      Hi Lisa, I just recently saw your video “Robin Williams and Emotional Neglect” on YouTube. You are doing wonderful work to bring awareness to Childhood Emotional Neglect. Keep it coming! And let me know how it goes. Wishing you all the best!

Irishskeptic - September 23, 2014 Reply

Hi Dr Webb,

I find the concept of CEN interesting. I have done a lot of reading on chronic pain and there is a clear link between childhood sexual/emotional/physical abuse and developing chronic pain syndromes later in life(fibromylagia etc)

Has there been any linkage from your perspective with CEN and Chronic pain? I realise this is an embryonic concept and CEN seems to be a hidden, almost invisible ailment. My thinking centres around the powerful effect on brain development that can occur in abandoned children and how that prepares the CNS for chronic pain later on. I recommend you investigate Dr John Sarnos theory on chronic pain, it has helped me immensely. Essentially he views chronic pain as non structural and generated within the subconscious. The brain deprives certain tissues of oxygen in order to distract from emotions that it deems are too powerful or damaging to bring into the conscious mind. It is a radical concept that I had extreme difficulty accepting but it seems to have merit based on personal experience and those of others.

Senator Tom Harkin brought Dr Sarno before the Senate based on his own experience and a niece who cured herself of Fibromylagia by reading his book. amazing stuff

    Jonice Webb - September 23, 2014 Reply

    Hi Irishskeptic, I am a somewhat familiar with Dr. Sarno’s theory. I think that all forms of abuse and neglect do have an effect upon the brain. Much of this has been scientifically established. Unfortunately, emotional neglect is the least studied and the least talked about form of childhood malady. You raise an excellent question and I will put it on my list of topics to study. I am certain that there are many brain/body connections that we have yet to discover, believe and prove. Thank you for your comment!

    Sandy - April 16, 2015 Reply

    What Dr. Sarno teaches on is tenion myositis or tension myalgia which is pain in the body due to emotions, stress. This is NOT the same thing as fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome. His “research” is based on anecdotal evidence only. Many people mistakenly believe they have fibromyalgia when they have not been properly diagnosed by a rheumatologist. There are different theories on the cause of fibromyalgia and I subscribe to the theory that it comes from damage to the spine. I have fibromyalgia/myofascial pain it started when I injured my back when I was in labor with my daughter for 37 hours. She was occipital posterior which means that her head was flexed and pressed against my spine. Doctors didn’t believe me about my back pain. My doctor even recommended Dr. Sarno’s book which I found insulting. When I finally got help after a few years it was found my spine was twisted, my sacrum dislocated, and that I had a herniated disc. Even though physical therapy really helped, because my injuries were not addressed right away I now have degenerative disc disease which is confirmed by an MRI and xrays. I get regular injections in my back at the pain institute at my hospital. The only times when my pain is increased is when I overdo it physically. Not emotionally. I will very likely be in pain the rest of my life because degenerative disc disease is not curable. Fibromyalgia is due to an excess production of fibrin protein that is deposited in the muscles. Excess fibrin is also present in patients with endometriosis. I know several other people who have fibromyalgia and it started with a real traumatic injury or health crisis. It’s already tough enough for people who have chronic pain to be taken seriously by health professionals and Dr. Sarno has made it even more difficult.

Kathleen - September 22, 2014 Reply

How do I process the anger/hurt that I am now truly feeling for the first time?

    Jonice Webb - September 22, 2014 Reply

    Hi Kathleen, congratulations on getting in touch with your feelings! But I know how hard it can be. The next step is to sort what you are feeling and why. Many of the feelings are probably coming from the past. I have three suggestions for you: 1. Use the Identifying and Naming Exercise on page 122 of Running on Empty, and the Feeling Words List on page 215. 2. Talk with someone you trust about what you are learning about yourself and the feelings you are having. Putting feelings into words and sharing them is a powerful tool for managing and reducing their intensity. 3. If more support would help, please find a therapist to work with. I wish you all the best in your healing journey.

      E. Moshen - October 23, 2015 Reply

      Your book is literally a life-saver. I can’t help but think where psychology can go with this in the future. I wish it had come out 20 years ago, but better now than never.
      I had two parents who I “knew” loved me. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad came back from work at a reasonable hour. We had dinner on the table. They were always the den mother or the little league coach. We vacationed and played games together. So, it has always been hard to understand why I have such a suicidal self-loathing and why certain things can trigger it out of nowhere. There is almost no one I know who would imagine that I was like this, other than my wife and close family. However, this summer when my mom did not show up to my son’s graduation I descended into such a suicidal spiral that it scared me and everyone around me. It was my wife that put me onto the idea that my Mom’s not attending my sons graduation had thrown me off course. A very good, albeit high-priced, therapist confirmed it. I also happened upon Terrence Real’s book that gave me the idea that I inherited my depression from my family, but it was your book that really laid out for me the concept of emotional neglect and how to start to heal from it.
      In my case I would like to call it emotional disregard. To me, neglect is simply not paying enough attention. My parents paid enough attention to know my feelings. They just disregarded them. My parents are the authoritarian parents from the book. I cannot count how many times they told me “kids are not people”. They said life is not fair and that kids don’t have a say. They were the parents; they were in charge; and what they said was the law of the land. If you argued with them or disobeyed, you were in for a good spanking. My family teased me until I was in my 30’s about “Bippy”. Bippy was a stuffed animal that my grandmother gave me. When I was three or four, my mom, without me knowing it, took it and a bunch of other toys and was giving them to Goodwill. When I saw Bippy in the box, I started crying and asked for the doll back. My mom, embarrassed, that I was making a scene in front of the Goodwill man, had them lock up the back of the truck and drive away. I cried that whole night into the next day and kept storming out of my room to tell them how mean they were.
      When these things happened, I asked myself how the people who gave birth to me did not love me enough to care about my feelings. My conclusion was that I must be inherently unlovable. I have carried this “fatal flaw” with me all my life. When someone in an important situation disregards my feelings, I grow angry. When I cannot get that situation to change, I turn the anger on myself. I think that your book is really going to help me reverse a lot of this damage and start to repair that part of me.
      I no longer speak to my parents because they just cannot give me what I need and there is no way that they would be able to accept any of this. It has strained my relationship with my sister because she learned ways to self-soothe that I never learned. As a result, she cannot understand my pain.
      My real goal in this post is to thank you for writing the book, to encourage you to share any other ideas you have on this subject with the rest of the world, and to offer my sincerest hopes that the concept of emotional neglect (or disregard as I like to call it) takes off and gets the attention and research that it deserves.

        ZAG - February 6, 2017 Reply

        Hi E Moshen
        I also had similar parents to yours, and have just realised, 57 years later, that I suffered from CEN. I note your comment about how your sister learned to self-soothe, and I wonder whether you were the first-born and therefore had it harder than she did (I think I did – but then I was the first born of 4 kids, the two middle ones boys 2 and 4 years younger than me, and a sister 9 years younger than me). Maybe boys are less sensitive than girls, or my brothers have found the necessary emotional support from their wives, whereas i never got it from my ex-husband??? Just thoughts.

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