Childhood Emotional Neglect Discussion Page

Please share your story with others here. Want to request a blog post on a certain topic? Respond to someone else’s post? Please do!

Your comment can be completely anonymous. Only your entry into the “NAME” field will show in your comment. Feel free to enter Anonymous.

**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.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Pat - March 8, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb, I found out about CEN the hard way – lots of vertical thinking and research. 3 yrs after my divorce (20+ yrs married), I had one relationship (1 yr), where I was discarded abruptly. Months later, attempts to move forward and date, led to more unexpected fact-based rejection (e.g. ageism, etc.). The compounding of rejections, put me in a tail spin. I saw a few therapists and felt even more misunderstood so I did what I do too well – research. Since I was the common denominator in these relationships, I looked for my flaws – all to well. I did more damage as I rejected/abandoned me. Then, I found Bowlby and Attachment theory, Carne’s BETRAYAL BONDS, and Brown’s WOMEN WHO LOVE PSYCHOPATHS. Brown’s description of “super traits” hit a nerve. She was describing me. Next, Why did I have super traits? That led me back “home” to your book. It gives me a peace of understanding I needed. I know I have the root cause now. I am aware that I may react because of early imprinting and experiences … but when it does not serve my benefit, I need to adjust. Knowledge IS power. The biggest problem is “rejection” (being dismissed, or abandoned). Rather than get angry, I get hurt and withdraw. It adds another nail to a damaged soul and has increased in intensity the last few years – with increased rejection experiences. I assume knowing my sensitivity to “rejection” will help me desensitize eventually, but I just had another situation yesterday where my input at a “safe” discussion was “dismissed”. I had great difficulty shaking it off without spending hours of pain and sadness, and feeling worthless. I got up this morning, telling my self to consider the source and not everyone is going to agree with me. All healthy approaches – but, not until after a day and night of tears and self-abandonment. Do you have any tips for handling my over sensitivity to rejection. (Yes, it is from my childhood and life of being “different”… too long to enumerate.) Thank you.

    Pat - March 8, 2015 Reply

    Dr Webb, I had an AHA! moment shortly after my post. I am visual. I saw a picture of a tree blown over by the wind. Trees with shallow roots blow over easily. I realized I have shallow roots (i.e. family nurturance and support). In the past, I had support around me (competence and confidence at work), but since retiring – that long-loved support structure is no longer present. The old roots are all that is left and they are not sufficient for the height/growth of the tree. New support systems have not developed. So, I need to dig down and grow some roots; in the meantime – brace myself. I don’t know if that makes sense – but it’s a strong image and message for me.

      Jonice Webb - March 11, 2015 Reply

      Pat, you can use this image to rebuild! Clear your mind, and picture a strong, stable, deeply-rooted tree that has stood the test of time and weather. Picture it over and over, and you will start to realize that you are the tree. It’s a mindfulness technique that really works, especially for people who are highly visual.

    Jonice Webb - March 11, 2015 Reply

    Hi Pat, you are already doing what I would suggest. So I suggest you do more of it! Keep taking risks. Keep putting yourself in social situations and relationships. This is the only way your brain will get “rewired” so that you’ll know that being rejected does not destroy you. It’s an experience everyone has. You sound like an intelligent person who is on top of what’s wrong. Keep going, and don’t give up. It will pay off. Wishing you plenty of happiness!

Jessie - March 6, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb, at 58 years old, I don’t know if I have the energy to try to figure myself out once again but your writing on CEN has really hit home. I just ordered “Running on Empty” and look forward to further understanding the impact of my childhood. My mother repeatedly told us that children are to be seen and not heard, and yours is not to reason why, yours is but to do or die. Her many actions taught me that I had no value and nothing I said could ever be considered important. I grew up shy, silent, and depressed. I finally gave up attempting to have a successful romantic relationship 20 years ago. However, I am blessed with a wonderful, kind daughter who loves and respects me. Despite my shortcomings as a parent, my daughter always knew growing up that she was loved, valued, supported, and we “interacted” (which was something foreign to my parents). I didn’t repeat my own childhood experience with my daughter so I guess I did good. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and understanding.

    Jonice Webb - March 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jessie, YES you did good! You did what most can’t, by giving your daughter what you did not receive yourself. I don’t think you need to try to figure yourself out. You already know what’s wrong. I hope you’ll follow the exercises in Running on Empty, and get help if you need it. You deserve to be happy for the next part of your life. Wishing you all the best!

Jen - March 6, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb, After reading through your site I see that I fit almost all of the criteria for CEN. I already knew that however. I have always felt as though I raised myself. My Mother was very emotionally unavailable and I cannot remember any affection or validation from her. She was also extremely critical, somewhat volatile and mean. By the time I was 10 or 11, I was a latch key kid, cooking most of my own meals and could go days without any parental interaction at all. Dad was more emotionally available but very unpredictable and volatile. He is an alcoholic. I was never physically abused but did suffer occasional emotional abuse. This family structure had a huge effect on my life. When I left home at 18 I had a huge PTSD-type reaction and was basically non-functional for 6 months (0.9 GPA that fall). I saw a therapist who never understood that reaction at all. He called it a grief reaction but couldn’t figure out why I had it. In any case, I straightened myself out and eventually worked my way through school. From a career and life standpoint I have been very successful. I have two wonderful daughters (15 and 19) with whom I am very close. That was managed by me reading every parenting book I could find. It hasn’t been perfect but life is really good.

So here is the issue… The older I get (I’m 44), the more I am withdrawing from people and from life. I used to maintain a few strong friendships but now just have a few acquaintances. I don’t want to travel anywhere anymore. I hate talking on the phone. I’m definitely one of the invisible types, sometimes as bad as your poster above. I don’t feel sad, but always very heavy. I feel that if I continue like this I might just fade away one day. It has gotten worse over the last year after some prolonged issues with my Dad, who thankfully has recently moved to another city. I live in the middle of nowhere (now I see that this move was part of the withdrawal) so there isn’t any therapy available out here. Do you think that I can work through this to some degree on my own? What suggestions might you have for someone like me?

    Jonice Webb - March 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jen, first of all I applaud you for all that you have managed and overcome. Second, it sounds like it could be depression that you’re experiencing. I urge you to talk to your medical doctor about it. A childhood like yours can definitely cause problems later in life. There is help available, and your primary care doctor is your first step. I hope this helps. You deserve to be happy! Take care.

Devi Nitiutomo - March 5, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

My name is Devi, I am 28 years old from Indonesia, and I came across your book a few months ago, which… just like most people here, put a name to what I feel and have had to deal with for as long as I could remember.

This “not belonging” feeling really started to bother me because I knew I’m “not supposed to be like this”, so I made a resolution to start to dig into myself and learn to love myself and let myself be loved in 2013, and I actually didn’t know that it would be painful, but I learned so much that year that I had to continue the resolution. I am currently working on digging deeper into my likes, dislikes and finding out my passion, and working on pursuing that passion, because all this time I knew I had many interests and I knew I was… AM… capable of being really good at them, but somehow I’m NOT pursuing those interests… and your book confirms my path!

I was brought up in a somewhat traditional Chinese culture where the father only cares for work and the mother is supposed to take care of the household and the kids. After reading your book and observing the behaviors of childbearing in my city (as far as I can observe, which is just within my social circle and possibly a little bit more), it’s true… CEN passes down undetected, and people don’t seem to realize this because it’s “how parenting has always been for them”… I wonder how much potential in each kid goes undetected and eventually unused if the parents don’t notice them, or deliberately shuts them down just because it’s “different” from other kids (The Chinese have this culture of “The nail that stands out gets hammered down”).

But it’s not all dark and dim… I also see that parenting classes and seminars are starting to get a lot more attention here and I’m really thankful for that. I don’t think these classes talk about CEN yet, though.

As someone who realizes firsthand the effect of CEN, I hope you continue your research and continue making impact!

I wish this book gets translated to Indonesian soon so people here can start being aware!!!

    Jonice Webb - March 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Devi, I think you’re observing something very important. I’ve heard from other readers in Asian countries who see what you are seeing. I think every culture has its own version of CEN, and you describe yours very articulately. It’s young people like you who are seeing what needs to be changed and who ultimately will, one by one, bit by bit, change the world. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Isabelle - March 5, 2015 Reply

I have been very fortunate to finally find this page and Dr. Webb’s book, for I have been searching for a long time but nothing ever covers only emotional neglect. I am 17 and have been suffering from emotional neglect for most of my life since I was 5. Although I have been living with this for years my biggest problem right now is trying to be heard. I don’t know how to talk about what has/is happened/ing to me but I want to tell someone really bad. Simply writing this comment is hard because I don’t know how to word it but hopefully I will be able to overcome this problem one day and set my experiences free. I can’t wait to read your book.

    Jonice Webb - March 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Isabelle, my heart goes out to you. It’s so hard to feel so alone at 17. Is there a counselor at your school or a parent of a friend that you can open up to? Or can you ask your parents to see a counselor? (I know that might seem impossible). I do think the book will help, and maybe you can use it as a tool by asking someone to read it so they can understand how you feel. Check back and let us know how it goes, OK?

      Isabelle - March 10, 2015 Reply

      Unfortunately, I do not have close enough friends to reach out to their parents. I can’t ask my mom to see a counselor because 1) I don’t know how to ask her and 2) She would ignore me. I also feel like I shouldn’t tell anyone because 1)I am in the Army and I don’t want them finding out and 2) I am in college getting a degree in Early childhood education and 3) I want to adopt (possibly internationally) when I am older and stable and I believe my chances of doing that could be affected if they know about my childhood. I just.. I just don’t know what to do anymore besides suffer anymore

        Jonice Webb - March 15, 2015 Reply

        I’m so sorry Isabelle, I don’t know what to say. At some point you’ll have to take a chance and reach out for help. If you’re in college, your college most definitely has a counseling dept. that can see you confidentially. I very much hope you will contact them and ask.

B - March 5, 2015 Reply

Dr Webb, when I finally found your book it was like finding the first light bulb in all of the world. It was exciting to understand what was going on with my life, why I was such a controlling person, and day to day I could react differently to situations with an understanding such as, “Oh, I’m trying to prevent my daughter from going out with her friends because I really feel no control –I need to moderate that better –she’s probably going to be ok.”

But now a year later I’m frustrated because it’s not as clear as when I first read the book. I read the book again but I don’t feel that helped. Other than your chapter on how to proceed –is there other works, books, or seminars you might suggest that can help me anchor some of these self nurturing techniques?

    Jonice Webb - March 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear B, I’m glad to hear that the book shed some light for you. The fact that you are feeling this way now may mean that you needed to continue working on the issues described in the book, or that there is more going on for you. You mention being controlling, and that suggests you may be dealing with some anxiety and maybe other underlying things. Since I don’t know what that is, I can’t suggest any specific tools or books for you. So I encourage you to find a good therapist to work with to help you sort all this out and figure out where to go from here. You’ve got a good start so please don’t stop now! Wishing you all the best!

      B - March 8, 2015 Reply

      Thank you –I’m afraid trying to find someone who can relate to emotional neglect has proven impossible. I even bought my therapist your book…..

        Jonice Webb - March 11, 2015 Reply

        Hi B, I’m sorry it’s been so hard for you to find someone who understands. Does your therapist get it now that he/she has seen the book?

          B - March 11, 2015 Reply

          I don’t think he’s read it –he does hone in on me trying to identify feelings –but I usually can’t really grab a name for them. I’ve tried to find a support group too. I came across your work because I was attending ACA meetings (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and it seemed that neglect was really my core issue. Google and a couple books later and I found your book.

CROW - March 2, 2015 Reply

I am so despairing and angry that I have to do all this hard work, and learn to be content to love myself as I have great difficulty attaching and trusting anyone. Every time I try to take the risk of trusting (even my Psychologist) they trigger past abuse or emotional neglect. Being told that I am limited in what other people can give, the crumbs from the table etc is just not goof enough for me. I feel that I am unloveable and these limitations simply confirm or validate that no-one really wants to be around me or put me first (even for a while). What is on offer from the world is so poor that I can see no reason to fight to become what other people want me to be (namely invisible, submissive, quiet, and stop annoying them with my needs/wishes etc). The limitation of the Therapeutic Hour also confirms that I must settle for what others are willing to give, not get what I need. Hence I feel I am being told to lis to m needs/feelings and then go back to ignoring them again (unless I can learn to meet them myself). If I can meet them myself, why would I want to go through the pain of trying to trust or relate to others. How do we find the motivation to fight for something we may never get? Everything seems to be about getting us to go away and shut up – there is no love, no holding or touch, no sacrifice – nothing worth fighting for.

    Jonice Webb - March 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Crow, I can hear your childhood abuse and neglect in your comment. You were taught that no one cares or can give you enough, because that was true when you were growing up. These “lessons” can be so difficult to correct in adulthood, but it is possible to do so. I’m very happy to hear that you have a psychologist to help. Please try to keep working, despite how hopeless you feel. I know how unfair it feels, and it is unfair! I can only ask you to please keep working and trying your best to trust your psychologist. That’s all anyone can ask. Please take care.

Terry - February 25, 2015 Reply

My childhood neglect came from my grandparents. By the time I could realize the people around me my father was gone. My mother at the age of 5 tried to explain to me she was leaving us and I didn’t understand. I remember the day in court when the judge asked my mother if she was willing to give custody of my sister, brother and I to our grandmother and she said yes. After that we grew up in a household that didn’t encourage, support or nurture us. As a result, my sister is an alcoholic, my brother a pathological liar and myself @ 57 I am finally finished with substance abuse. I’ve known for a long time how important those first 5 years are and what a waste of a life if they aren’t nurtured properly. It’s a long road to recovery and I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it.

    Jonice Webb - February 25, 2015 Reply

    Dear Terry, you did not deserve any of that. You deserve much more and better. Please see my response to your previous comment. All the best!

Eric Belsterling - February 18, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb, first I want to thank you for bringing this all important issue. I hope your book (which I plan on purchasing) brings greater light to this insidious problem and gets this issue out into the collective conversation. I have been working on myself for 27 year and also others (mainly adolescents) professionally for over 20 years now (i.e. various addictions, family of origin, trauma/abuse, covert incest, etc. etc.) I ‘m currently getting my certification to be a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist through the International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). I say all this because in this particular training, along with involved for 2 years now with a therapist specifically trained in Somatic Experience Practitioner attachment issues, I have been I have been rocketed into a new dimension of well-being. I see/perceive there is many similarities between “attachment wounding” and “ECN”, and perhaps a few differences. I apologize for the many questions here, but the topic intrigues me. My questions are the following: 1) How do you differentiate ECN from an “attachment wound?”, 2) would you classify ECN at a trauma and if so where would it be on the trauma spectrum?, 3) What differentiates ECN from abuse and/or a trauma? 4) Would you classify “emotional” or “covert” incest as an ECN or on the trauma spectrum? 5) Is the facilitation of healing ECN similar to healing attachment wounding? If yes, how? If not, how? Sorry for so many questions, but I believe ECN is a fascinating topic and long overdue to be talked about.
Eric Belsterling, LPC, LCAS, CSAT-Candidate
Heart and Soul Recovery

    Jonice Webb - February 25, 2015 Reply

    Hi Eric, thank you for your thoughtful questions. I wish I could answer them all thoroughly but it would take pages of writing. But I’ll try to address he general idea with a few succinct sentences. So first, CEN is not a wound, but a gradual erosion over time. If it crosses a line from inadvertent invalidation to active invalidation (like punishing a child for having feelings instead of just ignoring them, for example) then it becomes abuse and can rise to the level of trauma. I don’t think of regular CEN as a “wound” because that happens from an action, whereas pure CEN is not caused by an act or an event, but by the absence of action. I hope this clarifies some. Thanks for your interest!

gfrank - February 16, 2015 Reply

dr. webb, your interviews and book have been such a profound revelation to me, that i am dying to start a group that is free to share any and all similar feelings, thoughts, experiences and whatever comes up from the realization of growing up, and being in the “fog” of CEN. if you would care to share any suggestions as to how i might proceed. i am not a professional, however i have years of experience in leading and sharing in groups (started by experienced facilitators) that meet weekly up to 18 months in succession. i’ve found these groups extremely helpful, and i’m convinced that a CEN group would be even more effectve in providing people a safe and welcoming medium, or long lost home to learn about ourselves and grow into healthy living and loving individuals together. no pressure, dr. weeb. also, are you familiar with the complaint free purple bracelets? thank you a million times over for your extraordinary work, g(i like to be)frank

    Jonice Webb - February 25, 2015 Reply

    Hi G, I’m so glad that Running on Empty has been helpful! I have some plans in the works for potentially developing a group structure for CEN which I’ll make available for therapists everywhere. I’m sure you will know when it comes out. Thank you so much for your interest! Take care.

Sheila A - February 12, 2015 Reply

Hi, Dr. Webb,

I have read The Highly Sensitive Person, answered true to 15 of the statements, which has confirmed what I know about myself that I am a HSP. I have also answered your questions – with a high percentage score which confirms that I have also suffered from CEN. I have also read the traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. My confusion comes in knowing how, or if, there is a difference between the three? HSP is a personality trait, not a mental illness, however, the emotional reactions seem to be the same as someone diagnosed with BPD. Are you able to clarify for me the difference, if any? Being HS I do feel things deeply, it does take me longer to recover from something that is upsetting to me.
Maybe I should stop trying to figure myself out – it seems to be adding to my grief. 🙂
THank you!

    Jonice Webb - February 12, 2015 Reply

    Dear Sheila,
    HSP, CEN and BPD are all very different. HSP just means that you feel things deeply, as you said. BPD is more of an entire personality style characterized by extreme reactions, anger, unstable relationships, and much more. CEN is a way of suppressing feelings due to a need to do that in childhood, and doesn’t look at all like BPD. I encourage you to consult a mental health professional to try to understand what’s wrong, why, and how to fix it. Take care!

Twitchy - February 11, 2015 Reply

“What happens when two people with CEN form a relationship or marry? I can tell you that it makes for some very interesting challenges. Check back to see a future blog on this topic.”

Sooner rather than later, please 🙂

My partner of 23 years is in the process of dumping me. Your book was a real revelation to me; I now realize why I could never talk to him about our increasing distance, which, it turns out, was caused by his regret about our decision to have a child, thereby making our relationship “not simple” and not fun any more. He denied that regret for years. When he finally admitted it recently, I felt as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders, I think because it was no longer a mystery.

I’m very afraid that he is so protected from his own emotions that he will be completely unwilling to examine his own depths. He has agreed to go to a counseling session with me, but I’m sure it’s only to convince the counselor to convince me to turn him loose emotionally.

I’m going to introduce him to a couple of your blog posts and your book, which I have already read. Everybody keeps telling me to take care of myself and to not worry about him. I know that’s sound advice, but I have to at least try, don’t I?

    Jonice Webb - February 11, 2015 Reply

    Hi Twitchy, I can’t really say whether you have to try. You are the one who has lived through this painful situation, and I only know a very little bit about it. What I can say is that I truly hope you will put yourself first and watch out for yourself first in this situation. Whatever your partner’s issues or problems, you can’t fix them, nor are you responsible for him. Please take care.

Jolene - February 11, 2015 Reply

Is there any correlation between CEN and the “emotionally unavailable man”? It seems a lot of women have issues with men who are emotionally distant.

    Jonice Webb - February 11, 2015 Reply

    Hi Jolene, yes I think so. Of course CEN is not always the explanation, but I do think it often is. I think boys are encouraged to bury their feelings in our society even more than girls. So men are at even higher risk for CEN, and it causes relationship issues years later. I hope this answers your question. Thanks for your question!

      Jolene - February 12, 2015 Reply

      Thank you for answering my question. I have been dumped by my boyfriend with whom I have a daughter with and who I believe may have CEN. I assumed he was just emotionally unavailable but reading the criteria for CEN he seems to fit it to a T. I’ve tried to get him to go to counseling but he refused. He says he likes who he is and doesn’t want to change although, he comes from a broken home with a father who physically abused him and a mother who was in and out of jail on drugs. I am so heartbroken but I really don’t know what to do. I’ve tried everything. Maybe not in a proper manner sometimes which I’m sure has closed himself off even further from me. Is it time to move on if he refuses help?

        Jonice Webb - February 25, 2015 Reply

        Dear Jolene, I’m sorry that I cannot advise you about whether to leave your relationship. But I notice you said “I assumed he was just emotionally unavailable.” And I ask you, why does that seem like a small problem to you? Did you feel unable to get more? Do you feel that you deserve more? I hope you will demand an emotional connection for yourself. Your daughter will likely emulate the relationship she sees you having. Please take care!

CATE - February 9, 2015 Reply

In your book, you mention a chart for people with poor self-discipline. I think this would be helpful and I am planning to try it.

One organizational question, though: Should I plan ahead of time what I am going to insist I do/not do each day or chart things after I have done them or resisted them? It seems like doing it ahead makes sense when it is something I should do, like exercise, but doing it after makes sense when it is avoiding something, like that extra piece of cake, since I won’t know ahead of time what will be an issue.


    Jonice Webb - February 11, 2015 Reply

    Hi Cate, that’s a good question. The answer is, whichever works better for you. There’s no right/wrong way to do it. Your ideas certainly do make sense. Thanks for your question! Take care.

Kitty - February 8, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,
As a continuation of the last very long letter, I guess I just wanted to say that I know my story isn’t that bad–I’ve never been hit (except when being spanked when I was little, but most people get that at some point or another) and even though I don’t believe them, my parents have said they love me an they’re proud of me.
Right now, I don’t have words to describe what I’m feeling…I don’t even feel real…but at the same time, there’s this deep, suffocating pain in my heart that won’t leave me alone. I just feel so….trapped and hopeless. I’m supposed to start seeing a different counselor on Monday, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’ve been to so many different counselors over the years….I’m not sure this one will help or not. I’ve seen her before too, so I’m not sure she’ll be open to starting as if she never met me before, or if she’s set in the way she sees me….there’s only one way to find out but I’m not sure I want to.
I guess what I’m trying to work up the courage to say is that I’m scared you won’t believe me either when I say that I’m afraid of my parents. I’m afraid that you will confirm what others have been telling me….that the problem in my relationship with my parents rests squarely on my shoulders….that I’m the problem.
I’m sorry….if that is what is really going on, if I am the problem or just thinking up a problem that isn’t there, please tell me.
I’m sorry, I guess I’m not sure what to say….or what I’m saying.

    Jonice Webb - February 8, 2015 Reply

    Kitty, I read your story and have a suggestion for you. Please take a copy of Running on Empty to your new/old counselor, and ask her to read through it with you. I think it will help her understand that the trauma you’ve experienced is not from your parents actions, so much as their inaction. If she is no willing or able to do this with you, keep looking until you find a counselor who “gets” the concept of CEN. I wish you all the best.

      Kitty - February 9, 2015 Reply

      Hi Dr. Webb,
      Ok, thanks. I’ll do what you suggest as soon as I can order the copy of Running on Empty.
      Does Running on Empty explain the difference between emotional abuse and emotional neglect? Do the two concepts overlap some?
      After I posted my quite lengthy letter and its postscript, I was looking at some articles I found about some tactics about emotional abuse–such as invalidation and gaslighting–and they sound extremely familiar. Also found this article about the golden child/the scapegoat (, and after reading the whole page that sounded very familiar…..I wondered if this is possibly happening as well?
      This may seem odd for me to bring up, but it will make sense in a minute–when I first viewed the movies Tangled and Frozen, I strongly identified with the characters of Rapunzel and Elsa, respectively. I at first didn’t give it much thought–I chalked it up to similarities with my own personality, likes, dislikes, etc….but then I started to see that my patterns of relating with others and with myself are very, very similar to theirs….I slowly realized that my relationship with my parents was quite similar to Rapunzel’s relationship with Mother Gothel and Elsa’s relationship with her parents. In other words, there were aspects of both types of relationships that were very, very familiar to me. Then, when I found these articles ( and, I was literally stunned. Do you think maybe……well, my parents have taught me that the world is dark and dangerous and that they are the only ones who really have my best interest at heart. I do believe they were just trying to protect me and I really don’t believe I’m capable of “handling [myself] out there”. I don’t believe I’m valuable or worthwhile or strong. I believe I’m dangerous/unhealthy for others, and have chosen to continue to isolate myself. I can’t even be myself (if I even have a clue who that is) when I’m alone, but it is better than trying to force myself to act like I’m “normal” and “fine” when I’m around others. I believe there is something deeply flawed about me.
      Maybe the problem IS with me and they are acting in my best interest….am I making sense?

        Jonice Webb - February 11, 2015 Reply

        Dear Kitty, I understand that you are trying to make sense of your own childhood and how and why you feel as you do. I have to say that I’m not able to answer you very good questions in this forum. I encourage you to talk to a therapist, who can get to know you fully, and give you the full, nuanced answers and support and suggestions that you deserve. Please find a therapist that you trust, if you don’t already have one, and go through the process of therapy. You deserve to have these answers, and to move forward into a happier future. I wish you the best!

Angela - February 8, 2015 Reply

I have just read Running on Empty and found it to be very helpful after realizing that CEN has been the cause of my emotional distress my whole life. What I have not seen addressed, though, is how someone with CEN is supposed to continue to interact with the parents that did not give the emotional support that was needed and never will be able to give it. I have distanced myself from them as this is the only way I know to keep from continuously being hurt and disappointed. Could you address this please?

    Jonice Webb - February 8, 2015 Reply

    Dear Angela, I do get asked this question a lot, and for good reason! You and many others are in a tough spot with your parents. Unfortunately there is no formula to offer because everyone’s parents are different. Some were totally well-meaning, and others were more deliberately damaging. It all depends upon who your parents are. Please read this blog post from last year. I hope it helps you navigate this difficult problem!

      Angela - February 8, 2015 Reply

      That totally answered my question! Thank you!

Kristina - February 8, 2015 Reply

Hi, thanks for being you. You’re totally right. I was in a “relationship” with a narcissist sociopath. I’m pretty sure he has severe Cen. Even showing all the signs, he has no interest in figuring it out, dealing with it, he thinks feelings are for wimps. Never has known unconditional love so you know he absolutely despises me because I actually love him. Anyways I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on what to do to make someone see the effects of their childhood and see that it is important to deal with them? I guess that’s like asking why can’t I change someone huh? He’s also uneducated and thinks he knows it all and completely doesnt. I’ve never been able to understand how come he doesn’t jump at the mention of psychology and see what recognizing his cen could bring to him? He’s totally disconnected and doesn’t even like to touch or kiss. He’s actually quite disturbed yet doesn’t see any problem in it himself? Why? How? What? Who wouldn’t find any psychology topics at least a tad bit interesting. I mean jeez it’s about yourself and why? Any input would help.

    Jonice Webb - February 8, 2015 Reply

    Hi Kristina, I’m sorry to say that there is nothing you can do. I’m glad that you are no longer in a relationship with this fellow. You can send him a link to this website or give him a copy of the book, but I very much doubt that it would make a difference. A better suggestion: move forward focusing upon yourself, and let him decide his own future, separately. Take care!

Anonymous - February 7, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb — thank you for being a champion of such an important issue. I’m 49, divorced with four kids, remarried. Late last year I finally figured out that I’d been neglected as a child, not what one might call a severe case, but bad enough. I found your book and the light went on. Since then I’ve been doing the exercises in the book and had what I would call an emotional awakening — its like having a new sense organ. Amazing, exciting, weird. And feelings of vagueness and emptiness and not knowing what I’m feeling are melting away.

A few days ago my second wife told me she was pregnant. This is not a surprise, we were trying. What is a surprise is my reaction: deep, painful anger. Basically I feel deeply betrayed, mostly by myself. If I had been able to be in touch with my feelings in the past like I am now, I don’t think I would have married this woman, and definitely wouldn’t have had another child. With four kids from my first wife I feel really done with raising kids, and I was looking forward to maturity relatively free from that obligation.

There’s nothing wrong with my wife, she is an amazing, loving woman who adores me and is capable of having difficult conversations. So I feel like total a**hole for being angry, but I’m so angry I can hardly look at her or talk to her. Some of my anger is directed at her, for failing to “get me”, my reluctance to have kids. I know now that is a typical CEN pattern.

How do I work through this anger, face my situation as it is, and reach peace? I feel like if my emotions had come online just a few months earlier I would have been able to know what I’m feeling, trust my feelings, and act accordingly, but now I feel so unbelievably trapped and angry. So far, I have shared my feelings with my wife — she’s willing to help me work through this. But this anger is so strong and persistent for days, I don’t think I can work through it on my own.

I welcome your comments and wisdom.

    Jonice Webb - February 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Anonymous, first I’d like to say that it sounds like you’ve done an incredible amount of positive work and change, and nothing can erase that. But I understand how it would have been better if it could have happened sooner. I’d say that the positive thing about your current situation is that you understand what you’re feeling now and why, and your wife does too. Going forward, with your happiness, your marriage, and a baby involved, it is vital that you handle this right. Please find an experienced therapist, and go see him or her to talk this through. Show them a copy of Running on Empty and tell them the healing process you’ve been through. A well-trained therapist who understands you can walk you through this. You’ve already done so much good work, you can do this too. Wishing you all the best!

Anne - February 6, 2015 Reply

I took your survey and answered yes to all but one of the questions. Would this possibly indicate I experienced emotional abuse as well as neglect?

    Jonice Webb - February 6, 2015 Reply

    Dear Anne, I wrote a blog post on about how CEN, when severe, can cross over the line to become abuse. So yes, it could indicate that, but it doesn’t necessarily. The best thing to do is run it by a trained mental health professional, if you’re not sure. In truth, severe CEN can be even worse than abuse. But the better you understand yourself and the forces playing upon your life, the better. I hope you will pursue this and work on understanding and healing. Take care!

Mary X - February 2, 2015 Reply

Hello Dr and readers. I am middle aged and have struggled for a long time with my ill feelings towards my mother because of physical beatings and emotional neglect. I have never once heard the words from her: I am proud of you, I love you. She has never hugged me. Now that she is old and needs me after my father has had several strokes, all I feel is revulsion and I really don’t care about her hardships. All I remember from my childhood is my parents constantly fighting, my mother taking her temper out on me by doing things like flinging my favourite doll against the wall and breaking it all because my room was untidy. My husband is the only other person who knows about this and even though he is very supportive, it is so far out of his life experiences that sometimes I think he even wonders how much of it is true, as my mother has ‘mellowed’ now that she is older and he says she is trying to mend our relationship. I just cannot bring myself to say I love her, the one thing she has tried so hard to coax from me. She constantly makes demands on me, has always overshadowed and dominated me as she has my father. He does not even know how to use an ATM because she does not want him to ‘handle the money.’ She chose my job for me and my first husband, with whom I was very unhappily married and he later passed away. My only saving grace is the love of my husband. My love and heart goes out to all here who never knew the warmth of a parent’s love. I have tried in my way to not ever be like my mother, but in the process I have been too lenient and my child is badly behaved because of the ill discipline over the years, as I will do anything to avoid conflict. My husband is helping me with this, he has raised two wonderful daughters and my son tends to respect and listen to him, because he perseveres with him.

    Jonice Webb - February 5, 2015 Reply

    Dear Mary X, you say your heart goes out to others. My heart goes out to you! Step one for you is to accept that you cannot love a mother who does not love you. Period. It’s not humanly possible. So don’t pressure yourself, and only do for your mother the things that you need to do to feel good about yourself. She had her chance, and she has blown it. It’s about you now, your husband and your child. Please find a good therapist and take Running on Empty to him or her, and work through the book together. Your efforts will pay off, I promise you. Wishing you the best.

rebecca - February 1, 2015 Reply

I answered yes to 21 questions on the checklist. I feel like I can never escape the consequences of the emotional neglect I experienced, they always come back to bite me. Life has been so hard and such a struggle and I am so tired and lonely. It is exhausting keeping up the façade of being normal.

    Jonice Webb - February 1, 2015 Reply

    Dear Rebecca, I’m so sorry that you are struggling so much. Facades are indeed exhausting, and maybe it would be better to let yours go and be more the real you, at least with a few trusted people. Part of CEN is hiding your true struggles, and it’s not at all good for you. Please read Running on Empty, and find a therapist who is willing to go through the book with you and sort this out. You deserve to be happier.

Breakthecycle1984 - January 29, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr Webb,

This site has helped me so much, you have helped me to understand myself.

I’ve ever written on a forum! But this one seems so useful reading everyone else’s post, that I felt confident enough to share my experience. I feel bad for bombarding my friend with all these repressed memories, she’s a beautiful person, but she didn’t experience this kind of treatment so finds it hard to relate, I was really hoping to speak to someone who has been through it.

Please feel free to give me your feedback.

I have only very recently realised exactly what my mother is, for years I was told I was miserable, ungrateful, hormonal or just plain scary.

Aged 5 my parent split up, I don’t have an actual memory of the event happening, just events that followed. My mum was brought up by a very strict Jamaican household. I believe this played a role in her treatment of me, the theory that children should be seen and not heard and don’t have the right to an opinion etc

My mother quickly got another partner. In fact I have since been told that she actually got with the guy behind my fathers back, and that’s why they split.

She has a very loud overbearing personality, high achiever, domineering, bully, which was all dressed up as “love”

Aged 5-6 my mother had been discussing my uncle and his wife to someone on the phone, saying they won’t last, she doesn’t like her etc… Several weeks later my uncles wife baby sat for me, me being so young, let it slip what had been said, which caused huge arguments with her and my uncle/wife. I remember being absolutely terrified, as she told me ” while your at school, you better remember everything you said, if you forget one thing, I’m going to beat you so hard”

I couldn’t remember everything (largely down to being a scared child) I was beaten, badly, for something that wasn’t my fault.

At aged six she became pregnant with my brother, I was forced to get rid of my childhood cat as his dad had a “dream” the cat was going to sit on my baby brother out of jealousy.

The cats went to my grandads.. Still got to see it sometimes

After my brother was born I was just a live in slave. Aged 7 I remember him being a few weeks old, snow was thick outside. Mom decided to walk with his dad over to his house, and leave me to look after my baby brother!! What kind of mother does these things?

We would get invited over to his families house for dinner, I couldn’t just enjoy a day off! Oh no, I had her elbow digging into my side telling me to “go and ask if they need any help”
They always declined my help, told me to sit down and added “poor child”

Added to this I had a very unreliable father, one that promised the world and delivered nothing. He often had massive arguments with her over her treatment of me, saying I looked unkept and my hair was never even done… Yet on the rare times he didn’t actually come and saw me, he always sent me back.

To a place of unhappiness and fear, she wasn’t bad 100% of the time, maybe 80%

She’s a twin, the dominant one obviously, my uncle is worn down, he isn’t strong enough to overpower her, even though I KNOW he believes my treatment was wrong. Honestly, reading into this issue, it just makes me never want to lay eyes on her again.

She’s played a blinder though!!! Has my nan totally fooled, she thinks I’m a liar. That my mum loves me and whatever she did I should just forget about it. Which I actually believed for a while.

Recently, my mothers next door neighbour died, she helped me many times, I was out doing the back garden with a strimmer aged 10!! She used to ask me if I was ok, and say it wasn’t right that a man was living in the house (sat inside actually) while I struggled to cut the grass. She even said something to her about it, mums response was to laugh and say ” oh she’s alright Joyce, she enjoys it” so degrading, even worst I was then told off for speaking to her
And was warned against it as I was “causing problems with people” does anyone else think this is grooming? Classic child abusers trait.

Step father never lifted a finger, just created more mess for me to clean. We lived in a dirty home, couldn’t take a bath with first cleaning the filthy tide mark ring from around it. He always ate the better food, she burnt stuff constantly, burn bits given to me and my brother.

My bedroom was 1/2 mine, the other half had her clothes, her books, the washing wash hung out in my room, I would be sleeping, she would burst in, put on the light, dump wet clothes on my bed and start hanging them out like I wasn’t even there

So many other examples I could give but I doubt anyone will reached the bottom of this one

    Jonice Webb - January 29, 2015 Reply

    Oh, Breakthecycle, where to start on this? You clearly experienced CEN which was paired with physical and emotional abuse. I urge you to look somewhere other than your friend for help. She’s not qualified, no matter how well-meaning she is. Please look for a therapist to help you deal with this. And please read Running on Empty, and take it to your therapist to help you work through it. Your childhood is definitely affecting you. I hope you’ll take it on, with help. Check back here and let us know how you’re doing, OK?

      Breakthecycle1984 - January 30, 2015 Reply

      Thank you Dr Webb, I completely understand what your saying about about speaking to a professional, I have made contact with a local counselling service. Thank you for also validating the way that I feel this has been lacking my entire life. I have ordered your book and I am feeling positive about the future. I will update further down the line with progress

        Jonice Webb - February 1, 2015 Reply

        Great! I’m so happy to hear this. Take care, OK!

Suzie - January 28, 2015 Reply

I’m an incest survivor and answered yes to every CEN question on your website. My mother married two pedophiles after knowing this about them. The two children she had from previous relationships were being assaulted by my bio dad before she married him. After my parents divorced, my stepdad was molesting three of us before she married him. I told her what he was doing to me and someone else suspected or knew and called social services because they came to my school to talk with me and one of my sisters. Nothing ever happened and the abuse continued. Mom wanted to be a stay at home mother, and both men “allowed” her to not work in exchange for her silence and inaction. She pretends not to have known. Both men acknowledge what they did. My grandfather and one cousin also assaulted me. I’ve been in therapy for fourteen years and still answer “yes” to every question on your inquiry. Is it possible to overcome this? Every relationship in my life suffers because of this. I want so desperately to be capable of normal relationships.

    Jonice Webb - January 28, 2015 Reply

    Dear Suzie, yes it is possible! In addition to working through your abuse experiences, it’s important to deal with the Emotional Neglect piece too. Unfortunately, they do go together. It can be helpful to work through Running on Empty with your therapist. I have seen many people recover from both. Take care, and I wish you the best!

Dan - January 26, 2015 Reply

I just finished Running on Empty and I feel as though it has captured what is still troubling me. Prior to reading it, I had a problem accusing or blaming my parents for my issues, mainly because they were kind people mostly who took care of us well. But today, now 41, I have an emotionally fraught relationship with my three siblings and I have a numbness and self-hatred that won’t ever go away. I am try to recognize my feelings, which can be difficult. I also want to address my problems because I have become prone to procrastination and am in a career paralysis after early big successes. It’s invisible me vs. the world I guess.

My parents kissed me and my mother said she loved me, but they usually showed affection through money, never arbitrated fights between the kids, and sometimes even administered overly harsh physical punishments (e.g. chasing me up stairs, hitting me with shoe, pinching, hard spanking, though not crossing into crazy abuse like cigarettes in skin, iron burns, etc.). I remember once I had severe abdominal distress that was diagnosed briefly as appendicitis. For a brief moment, my dad, who is a GP, lavished attention on me and I was giddy. I wanted to get the operation and it made me feel cared about (I stayed the night in hospital but it ended up being cramps). I was sent away to live with relatives for a summer in Europe when I was 10 and went to boarding school from 13 on, 3 hours away from home, where I was bullied. At my university graduation, they didn’t even bring a camera and had to borrow one from my friends. Today, they never really initiate phone calls, saying they don’t want to bother me. I know I’m just pouring this out like stream of consciousness, but it lives inside me in a jumbled mess.

Right now, I want to be close to them and I will miss them when they are gone, but I feel like there is a huge wall between us. When I think of saying “I love you” to my dad, I get avoidant and stressed. I think he has a problem with saying it to me too. He is very standoffish emotionally but when there is a specific medical or other issue that he can address through any other means, he’s good. My siblings all feel closer to my parents than I do. I try to make my mother and father happy by bringing gifts or helping them with their computer, but I get into fights with them when the whole family is together.

Two quick questions:

1) In an emotionally neglectful family, what role do siblings and their interdynamics play in developing and sustaining CEN? My younger brother and sister were very spoiled and I feel as though my parents lavished more emotional support on them than they ever gave to me. This has fueled resentment and hostility in me, and makes me want to challenge them all the time. I almost feel as though they think they own the family, and I’m on the outside looking in. If I try to do something they normally do (like help with Christmas dinner) I get snapped at. And I end up irritated and aloof all the time.

2) My parents today are much older and they seem like different people — neutered, sometimes ailing, much less bossy and conflictual, almost at peace. Underneath, they still snap if a red zone is entered. How do I interact with my parents going forward? They aren’t hot-tempered and physical any more, but their weariness makes them unwilling and too weak to tackle what is bothering me.

    Jonice Webb - January 27, 2015 Reply

    Dear Dan, what a thorough and clear description of a CEN family you have given! I often see lots of sibling rivalry in these families. It’s because none of the children actually get their emotional needs met. The siblings are all fighting for a share of the dearth of attention and affection that the parents are providing. Your sibs probably feel that you are the one getting the most attention (just a guess). You won’t likely be able to connect with them until, perhaps, your parents are gone. As for your parents, they will not likely ever provide you with the love you missed. I suggest you focus upon yourself, understanding and having compassion for yourself. And put your energy into the people who love you now. If you haven’t done the work in Running on Empty, please do it! If you face your CEN and deal with it, I think your future is bright. Wishing you the best!

      Dan M - January 28, 2015 Reply

      My story is not unlike most I think. Large family, youngest child, and sadly treated unfairly with little direct attention that wasn’t negative. Not an overall bad childhood or anything, with the only abuse being verbal and an occasional spanking. People often disagree about spanking being actual abuse but now that I have a child I cannot imagine treating him in such a way and would be in trouble if I saw anyone doing so. Fits into my definition of abuse, but I digress. Everything needed was always provided other than emotionally. Good bit of sibling rivalry going on as well.

      My question I guess is about where it says you won’t recall emotional neglect as an event that happened. What if you do? Like many, many years ago before I started trying to research and find people like me, if there are any, I knew all about emotional neglect. Just didn’t have the fancy name or knew it could be summed up in a single idea. As far back as I recall I have memory upon memory where CEN is at play. I think I recall them due to that factor as well. It’s just a little odd to me. I even have recurring nightmares in which not only is the neglect for my emotions there but it turns bad into a me against the entire family scenario. It sonetimes can turn physical, in the dreams, lots of fighting but I always lose.

      What I’d like to know is, is recalling that a thing that happens aalot? More of an almost focusing on the CEN as the issue all along but not being able to describe it. I’m still not good at describing my thoughts sonetimes so I hope that makes sence. It is just odd to me that people wouldn’t be able to recall the specific occurrences of neglect as I can. That said I do understand the ranges that occur in how the same event will effect individual people.

      I like the little test questions you have, but maybe throw a few extra definate no answers in just to make some of us not feel so neglected? Kidding, but I had more yes answers than I had nos for sure I’ll just say. Nice to see more about this out there.

      PS Sorry if I posted in the wrong place, couldn’t really tell where to properly do it, so I just did it.

        Jonice Webb - January 28, 2015 Reply

        Dear Dan, I’m somewhat amazed that you have been so consciously aware of the emotional neglect in your childhood. Yes, I’d say you are unusual. You’re clearly a very self-aware person, and that’s unusual too, for someone with CEN. I hope you’re using those strengths to your advantage, and that you’ll take on your CEN and work through it. Perhaps you already have! Wishing you a happy and healthy future.

SIMON - January 23, 2015 Reply


    Jonice Webb - January 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Simon, I can see that you are hurting, and hiding behind your wall. Perhaps you were both abused and neglected as a child. Will you please read Running on Empty? I think it will be helpful for you, and watch my YouTube video called The Separate Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect. Here’s the link: It would be wonderful also if you would find a therapist who you can work with. Wishing you all the best.

Vanessa - January 23, 2015 Reply

I read your book. It is helpful…but what do you do when you feel a negative emotion like emptiness, loneliness and you cant find out where its coming from and why?
Its so overwhelming I hate feeling it and would rather numb or cut..anything not to feel it.

    Jonice Webb - January 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Vanessa, that’s a very important question. Feelings that come back again and again and seem to be coming from nowhere are usually rooted in childhood. They are your body’s way of telling you that you need to process something from back then. The goal is to learn how to tolerate the feelings long enough to sort through them and connect them. Talking with a trained therapist can help you with this very much. Also many of my clients have made progress by picking up a pen and paper and starting to write anything that comes to mind while they are feeling the painful feelings. Doing any of these steps will help the feelings diminish and going away, whereas numbing or cutting does neither. I hope this helps Vanessa, and I wish you all the best.

Jason - January 20, 2015 Reply

Hi! My name is Jason and I had a few questions about CEN. I was raised in an upper middle class home with parents whom have been married since before my birth and still are, was given many material goods, including my first car. However, for the longest time, I’ve had a struggle of some sort in my life. From a young age, I recall my parents forcing me to remain in isolation in order for them to stay calm. My mother especially didn’t like the amount of attention I tried to receive, even though I didn’t feel that I was asking for much. Then when I became a teenager, it only got worse. I was further isolated during the hardest years of my life where I dealt with bad relationships, struggles in school (which my parents didn’t believe because I’m held to a high standard of intelligence, which I feel that I’ve met for the most part), and many emotionally tolling experiences that I had no one to rely upon but myself to make it through. At this point in my life, I’m only 17, but I have an absolute resentment towards my parents to a point where I had planned on moving out in order to get away from them, I find it hard to communicate with others, especially if the conversation involves emotions, and I’m always either sad or angry, even though I play it off as if I am happy. I got to a point where I believed I was depressed, but refused to admit it or share it with anyone due to the fact that I thought my parents would frown upon it or worse, disregard the feeling entirely. Do you think I may have been subjected to CEN throughout my childhood? If so, what steps can I take towards healing from it since I’m still an adolescent?

    Jonice Webb - January 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jason, I can certainly see why you identify with the CEN concept. It’s wonderful that at 17 you are getting an early start dealing with these issues. Since you’re a teen and still living with your parents, it would be irresponsible for me to label your parents or your relationship with them. But I certainly do suggest that you find a therapist or counselor to talk with, as soon as you can. Clearly there are things wrong in your life, and you should not have to suffer like this. If you’re in the US, at age 17 you are allowed to sign for therapy for yourself. But if you feel you can ask your parents to help you find someone, that would be best. Wish I could help more. Take care, Jason!

Fatima Shah - January 12, 2015 Reply

Hi there

I would like to enquire if perhaps you have any more material (articles books etc) on the effects of CEN on a marriage? I recently guided my husband to your site and purchased your books as many things he had said over the years made me think he does have this. As his wife I wonder is there hope for us especially since he has emotional affairs and has said that he feels that he has an alter ego when he does this. He even says to some extent that he has the emotions of a boy. As you probably know he doesn’t display this side in our marriage. I want him to heal but I’m afraid to walk down this path with him.

    Jonice Webb - January 13, 2015 Reply

    Dear Fatima, it’s a good idea to go through the book together. But since you mentioned emotional affairs and said that your husband doesn’t share his struggles with you, I also definitely recommend that you go to couples therapy together. I think you’ll need professional support and guidance to work through this. Believe me, if you don’t deal with these problems, they will only get bigger. Please do get your husband to go with you to therapy. Take care!

Faye - January 12, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

Another book that I found helpful is: Getting Through the Day: Strategies for Adults who were Hurt as Children, by Nancy Napier. Have you heard of her? I think this is the perfect epilogue for people who are gaining awareness of how their childhood affects them so greatly. I use a combination of all the techniques offered in both books and they help me quite a bit. Of course, I still struggle a lot with feelings of despair and loneliness, Not having that caring, compassionate, nurturing relationship haunts me every moment of my life.
I share this information with you so that you can continue helping others.
I wish there would be a support group for people like me.

Thanks for your work,

    Jonice Webb - January 13, 2015 Reply

    That sounds like a wonderful book Faye. Thanks for sharing your experience and your ideas! All the best.

Dee Dee - January 11, 2015 Reply

I’m glad I found this website. I always thought (and still do now) that I had nothing to complain about because I have some truly nice memories growing up like going camping and going to the cottage in the summer. But my life became more and more difficult as I got older. I was not able to stand up for myself (and consequently got taken advantage of sexually by men), I suffered from low self-esteem and got mixed up with the wrong crowd, I floated from dead end job to dead end job all my young adult life, I never had any close friendships or got involved in any social clubs/sports. Even my sister “used” me for company when she needed it and I didn’t get anything back from her. I feel like I grew up in a house full of strangers instead of my own family members. Nobody seems to care about each other and one of my brothers does not speak to the family anymore. I have not heard from or seen him in over 10 years. My father seems to be a bit of a narcissist, doesn’t seem too interested in his own kids, only himself and his books on how to “get rich quick”. Get rich and do what? There is just no closeness in our family and it makes me really sad at times.

Now at 50, I have come a long way but still have trouble forming loving and close relationships and still have dependency and avoidant personality issues. My mother was not only emotionally neglectful, but was verbally abusive. I won’t go into too much detail but she is a very cold and distant woman and I have not spoken to her for over 10 years. She has absolutely no love for me whatsoever and has never apologized for anything or admitted to anything. She lives her life in total denial and still avoids getting close to others. I refuse to be around her negative personality and her abusive ways which has helped me immensely. I just feel sorry for her now. I still feel that I have a long way to go yet, and am working on becoming more independent and more social. I do happen to favor the company of animals more than people and I am still not very trusting towards others, and I do have bouts of depression and feelings of emptiness that hit me hard at times. I just want others to know that they are not alone and that developing good coping strategies is very helpful. I know it is difficult to face each day sometimes but just taking one day at a time really helps. Don’t give up and take one day at a time. Remember to tell yourself that you are a wonderful and unique person and love yourself each and every day. Good luck!

    Jonice Webb - January 13, 2015 Reply

    Dee Dee, you sound like someone who has done a lot of work. The fact that you had some nice memories from childhood does not erase the painful things that happened to you (or failed to happen for you – CEN). I hope you will read Running on Empty, if you haven’t yet. I think it will help you continue on your healing journey. All my wishes for a future filled with growth and happiness and health!

Donna D. - January 9, 2015 Reply

Thank you so much for educating us on the subject of emotional neglect. I was an emotionally neglected child and I fear I raised my now-grown daughter in a similar way. My question is this: can we both heal ourselves and our relationship to each other as we age?

    Jonice Webb - January 9, 2015 Reply

    Dear Donna, the answer is yes, you can. Being aware of CEN is an important beginning. The next step is talking about it honestly and openly with your daughter. Many mothers and daughters have read Running on Empty together, discussing it periodically as they go along. It may be helpful to have a therapist help you, your daughter, or the two of you together. Wishing you happiness and health.

Donna - January 7, 2015 Reply

I recently discovered Dr. Conrad Baars book on Emotional Deprivation Disorder. I gave it to my therapist who, after reading it, said “it’s as if you wrote this book about yourself”. She concluded (as did I) that at age 57 there is no hope for me to recover, become happier, develop a personality or sense of self etc. We agreed to stop therapy. She is aproximately therapist number thirteen in my life. I found and ordered your book today. I am most grateful to come across somebody who offers hope. I eagerly await its arrival. Truly, you may have literally saved my life. I answer yes to almost all 22 of the questions, way way more than six anyway. I am not a quitter, having made it this far but living with this disorder and nobody even validating its existence is painful and exhausting. My sister completed suicide, remaining seven sibs are basically hermits. Thank you for your work.

    Jonice Webb - January 7, 2015 Reply

    Dear Donna, I am so sorry that you felt resigned to never changing and that your therapist agreed. I think there is definitely a path to healing for you. Please read Running on Empty and especially emphasize the last 1/2 of the book, all about healing. Then check back with us here, and let us know how it’s going. Wishing you all the best for health and happiness.

Deborah Brooks - January 4, 2015 Reply

I’m currently reading your book – Running on Empty, and it is AWESOME! It’s my life story, as if you were there with me as a child. You don a great job of breaking down each step. I have one problem and would like to know if you have any suggestions. On page 121 of the book, it gives many emotions and their function. The function helps me greatly to understand the emotion that I may be feeling. I noticed in the back of the book, there are many, many feeling words with no functions. Is there a book or website with the functions of the words in the back of your book? I struggle greatly with trying to understand the degree of my feelings. Example: If I tell someone that I am tired, I don’t know to say “drained” or “pooped” or “Limp”, with me it’s just tired. With that “function” that gives me a lot to go on, it gives me the direction that I need to go in. Your book has given me many “A-Ha!” moments, and it is beginning to allow me become a living human being and no longer a zombie walking the earth. THANK YOU!!! for this life changing book.

    Jonice Webb - January 6, 2015 Reply

    Dear Deborah, I’m so happy to hear that Running on Empty is helpful for you! That is wonderful. Unfortunately I don’t know of any list like that. Truly, there is a lot to learn about emotion when you missed that education growing up. You could go through the list in the back of the book looking up each in the dictionary, and maybe try to learn one emotion word per day, and consider whether that word applies to you. It will take time, but will be well worth it, I promise. I’m glad you are on your way. Keep up the good work! My best wishes.

Michelle - January 3, 2015 Reply

Its been a long journey so far. I’ve been in therapy for 10 years, still have occasional panic attacks, focus and self care issues, relationship issues. It’s harder for me to remember how far I’ve come. There are days I feel grounded and together. The biggest struggle is feeling like I am whole and comfortable with myself. Always steps forward and many back also known as the chacha.

    Jonice Webb - January 6, 2015 Reply

    Michelle, you are describing the “chacha of change.” True change is slow, and full of falters. What matters is that you keep working. It sounds like you’re doing it. Thanks for sharing!

Meghan Rosen - January 2, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb,
I am surprised that there is no mention of schizoid personality disorder in your work. It seems to me that CEN is a major contributor to that personality type. I have struggled my entire life with symptoms of CEN, and have recently been diagnosed as covert schizoid. I and am deeply saddened by this, because it seems schizoid is regarded as a fixed personality disorder that cannot be treated. Your book, however, seems hopeful that a individual can overcome the effects of CEN. Could a schizoid personality be the extreme result of CEN? And if so, are we too far along the spectrum to be helped? Have you had any success treating schizoid patients? I have tried for many years to claw my way out of my soul’s void with therapists, medications, and even illicit drugs to no avail. I am wondering if I should keep fighting to “fix” myself or if I should instead just focus on accepting and living with my disorder. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
I cannot thank you enough for Running on Empty. I felt validation for the first time in my life while reading it.

    Jonice Webb - January 2, 2015 Reply

    Dear Meghan, I do think CEN can certainly be mis-diagnosed as schizoid. Your last sentence makes me think that you may indeed be a case of that. If you felt validated while reading Running on Empty, that is an indication that CEN is at play for you. I don’t think truly schizoid people would be likely to feel that. I have seen people with extreme CEN recover, so I encourage you to keep trying and working on it. Wishing you happiness and health in 2015.

anon - January 1, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

I recently read an article about your work on Childhood Emotional Neglect, and found it very interesting. Being a psychology major with an interest in culture and mental health, I just had a few questions about the interaction between CEN and a person’s background.

I was wondering whether CEN varies between cultures. In many non-Western cultures, it is the norm for parents to be less emotionally expressive with their children and for love to be displayed through other channels, such as giving up one’s own interests in favor of the children.

As such, my first question (or cluster of questions) is, do you envision CEN as a primarily “Western” construct, or a primarily “universal” construct? In other words, is lessened emotional involvement intrinsically harmful, or only harmful in a context where emotions are relatively highly emphasized and seen as being a central part of the human experience?

I also think that there are interesting ways in which culture and CEN can cross. For example, immigrants to the United States may raise their children according to the norms of their original culture, but the children may grow up increasingly tuned in to the norms and messages embedded in American culture. In this way, there can end up being a large mismatch between assumptions and expectations concerning emotions from the parents’ point of view vs. from the children’s point of view.

My second question is, have you encountered many clients with CEN or other emotional conflicts that arise from cultural conflicts, and do you think treatment should fundamentally differ based on a person’s background?

Thank you for your time.

    Jonice Webb - January 2, 2015 Reply

    Those are a lot of good questions. I think CEN cuts across all cultures. Because all human beings share a common wiring system. Regardless of culture, our feelings are the most basic sense of who we are. So when our feelings are discounted, we feel discounted on some level. That said, I think cultures vary dramatically in terms of how emotions are dealt with. So any treatment is best when it takes the patient’s cultural mores and beliefs into account. I hope this answers your thoughtful questions. Happy 2015!

Anonymous - December 26, 2014 Reply

I know I was a child of CEN. I was raised by a narcissistic mother and then married a narcissist for a husband. I can relate to every aspect/question for assessing CEN. I’ve even tried to commit suicide in my past, and thought about it often. I fear my children’s ability to find healthy relationships as a result of my inability to be emotionally available when they were young. In addition to growing up while watching a very unhealthy relationship between myself and their father. I can see how this issue becomes a vicious cycle repeating itself over throughout generations.

    Jonice Webb - December 27, 2014 Reply

    Yes, it does repeat itself. But I want you to know that it’s not too late! Please do read Running on Empty, and start to talk to your children about CEN. When you have compassion for what they didn’t get, they will have compassion for what you didn’t get. You can take that negative, painful cycle and start reversing it. I promise you that if you do the work, it will make a difference in your life (and your children’s). You’ve already taken a giant step by seeing what’s wrong. Take care of yourself, OK?

kat - December 23, 2014 Reply

hey, i just took your Emotional Neglect Questionnaire, and i got quite a higher score than i expected. (18)
i was wondering if you might write a blog post about being adopted and these things? i feel like being adopted might amplify your sensitivity to certain things or maybe make you feel this way in general regardless. i’m adopted, but i figure that was probably obvious from my question.
maybe you already wrote one, i have a little trouble navigating new websites sometimes.

    Jonice Webb - December 24, 2014 Reply

    Hi Kat, that’s an interesting question. I have not written any blog post about adoption and CEN. I’ll give it some thought, and may write one in the future. But whether it applies to others or not, your ENQ score suggests that it is the case for you. I encourage you to look into whatever aspects of your childhood need attention. Wishing you the best, and Happy Holidays.

Lorene - December 23, 2014 Reply

I have just circled 15 of the 22 items on your list. Ask me about my childhood and I can remember is being lonely, playing on my own. I remember mum cooking with me once, but yelling at me because I wasn’t fast enough and her taking over, it was one of the best times in my childhood. I hated my childhood, it is not what I ever want to remember. I was 8 before I made my first friend to play with.

Thank you for the information on this page, it is really great to learn about why I feel the way I do.

    Jonice Webb - December 24, 2014 Reply

    Hi Lorene, lonely is a word often used by CEN people. I hope you will keep reading, and start the work on healing. Wishing you the best.

neal - December 21, 2014 Reply

“Yes” to all 20 questions. Ouch. Absent,angry father and, during childhood, a physically sick mother. However, I disagree with the whole recovery aspect. It is much like saying you were born without eyes and then you simply will yourself to grow them. The damage is permanent and …disabling. Not only do I feel disconnected, I feel that I don’t even have the ‘plugins’ where the connections would go. Sorry Doc, just my thought. I sincerely DO hope your methods help people though, albeit a vineer.

    Jonice Webb - December 21, 2014 Reply

    Dear Neal, I’m so sorry that you feel this way, and that your childhood was so painful. That’s a very vivid description, using plugins; it describes very well how you must feel. Still, I encourage you to read Running on Empty. I do think it’s possible to start letting down your walls and healing, bit by bit. I send you all my best.

Elisabeth - December 20, 2014 Reply

I am 71 yrs old and have always wondered what was wrong with me. I have undergone several therapies that helped somewhat, but I could never pinpoint the origin of my behaviour, reactions, thought-process, feelings or lack of.

I have finally stumbled on your site and voilà – emotional neglect is the answer. My parents were good decent people and I never wanted to “blame” them, but as I recall, both had been neglected in childhood as well. They simply could not give what they had not received.

I don’t know what will happen next, but thank you. At least I know why I have never been able to sustain a viable relationship and have learned to accept my solitary life.

Thank you,

    Jonice Webb - December 20, 2014 Reply

    Dear Elisabeth, yes. You sound like a classic case of CEN. It’s so hard to go through life having no idea what’s wrong. I’m so happy that you now know. I urge you to do the healing exercises in Running on Empty. You can change your life from the inside. Above all, take care of yourself!

sindy - December 19, 2014 Reply

I have sufferex in this way … I want to put it right fifty next month and I want to feel better

    Jonice Webb - December 19, 2014 Reply

    Dear Sindy, you can put it right. It will take work though. Whether you need to get a therapist or start following the healing process in Running on Empty or both, I hope you will start to tackle this. Sending you my best wishes! Take care of yourself.

Bridget - December 17, 2014 Reply

I keep the book on a table in my room, since I refer to it often. It’s hard to explain why I find it difficult, yet comforting to read. I suppose the difficult comes from not wanting to confront facts from the past, but the comfort comes from finally knowing you aren’t alone, that you aren’t crazy or broken just for no reason. I am feeling guilty now because although some if the issues from my childhood remain (and here I am. in my fifties) my mother is still emotionally void, but at least now she tries to be attentive, finally in her 70s, as long as it’s all on her terms of course. I feel guilty somehow for now delving into these issues just when she is finally trying to have a relationship. Other times, at night I pull back my hair as I brush it and see the two large scars on my scalp that have been there from when I was a toddler. Both large and only one of them sealed with stitches, the other left to heal jaggedly. When I asked years ago what happened, she would not say exactly, only mumbling something about slipping out of my high chair. Another time, I found a copy of an old news report. When I was 18 months old, the police found me wandering around about a mile from our home. I will always wonder how things really were back then. Maybe our lack of earliest memories is protective.

    Jonice Webb - December 19, 2014 Reply

    Dear Bridget, I hope you will make it a priority to work on your guilt. You have absolutely no reason to feel guilty! Even though you don’t consciously remember early childhood, it’s in your brain somewhere. Please find a good therapist to share all of this with and to help you navigate your relationship with your mother without the guilt. You deserve more and the best. Take care!

Terrell Edwards - December 15, 2014 Reply

I went through the 22 questions and was shocked to see I had 13 out of 22! You are absolutely right, I cannot remember anything from the past that I can point to and definitely say was an emotionally neglectful experience. I am writing a position paper for my graduate degree in mental health counseling. I would love to cite your research but I would probably get “zinged” for the standardized tests not being completed. Anyway this has been very informative and meaningful. I should get your book and read more about this topic.Thank you!

    Jonice Webb - December 17, 2014 Reply

    Hi Terrell, your score and memory are perfectly understandable since CEN is so invisible and unmemorable. You are right, you would get zinged since the ENQ is not researched yet. I am working on that! Take care, and all my best to you.

Becky - December 14, 2014 Reply

What an incredible book. It arrived yesterday, I finished reading it today. I feel like it could have been written for me – and as I read it was as though Dr Webb was speaking directly to me. I found it emotionally draining to read but at the same time it made me feel hopeful for my future – the book makes sense of the enormous struggles I am having at the moment in my relationship with my partner, and how terrified I am of screwing up my children and letting them down.
no-one speaks about CEN, I had never heard of it, yet it makes absolute sense. I am going to buy a copy of the book for my mum for christmas. I think she probably did her best but was emotionally neglected herself, and I hope the book helps her too. I am also sharing it with my partner so we can make some positive changes together, and I think the tools in the book are excellent.
The book is frankly mindblowing. Most of my life I have felt there is something wrong with me – in many ways I am high functioning and reasonably successful. Yet my personal life has always been chaotic, no structure, no routines, I struggle with self discipline, and felt guilty and miserable as a result. I’ve had depression for years, recently diagnosed with bipolar 2. None of my “coping” (or rather, not coping) behaviours have worked or made sense, and I have felt an increasing feeling of being stuck. Thank god I found this book – because it has reassured me that it’s not my fault – and that there is a way through the tremendous and excruciating pain which I feel but have become expert at hiding from everyone, myself included. For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful about my future, and those of my children. I cannot thank Dr Webb enough.

    Jonice Webb - December 17, 2014 Reply

    Dear Becky, you must have really powered through Running on Empty to read it so fast! I am so happy to have been able to provide you with answers. You are a perfect example of why I wrote the book. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I feel hopeful about your future too! Take care of yourself.

anna - December 10, 2014 Reply

I just came across your blog and it is a subject I had no idea that it is controversial I have this ECN and I have been struggling with it years . I have noticed it ,but could not label it. I started healing myself and I am toward a great success. Way to go yet. I found your writings and hints very practical . just a question that is there a certain time frame for every step you have mentioned?
Great thanks,

    Jonice Webb - December 10, 2014 Reply

    Hi Anna, no there is no time-frame. I think it depends upon the depth of the CEN, and your own support and other inner resources. Good for you for doing this work! Take care.

Ronsley - December 9, 2014 Reply

Hi Jonice
Could you kindly advise how personality disorders, (narcissistic, antisocial borderline etc)
can develop from CEN?
Many thanks

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    CEN is one ingredient in the mix. But for a personality disorder, there also has to be unpredictable, unreliable parenting, and often times emotional abuse as well. Have you seen this article?

    In it I talk about narcissistic personality. Also, the two blogs on this website about emptiness (the two most recent) explain some of it. It is too complex to answer in this venue. But I’ll keep writing about this topic. Thanks for you question!

Richard - December 7, 2014 Reply

I am a man in my 40s, I was brought up by my parents, my mother was an alcoholic and is not with us anymore, my father who I thought I would get closer too after her death shows no interest in me still. I used to blame my mother for everything but I also think my father has a drink problem, My sister nearly lost her life through drink and I could have gone the same way in my late teens.
Childhood was awful, I was bullied all the way through school, called a tramp, coming home from school to find my mother laid in her own sick and urine, she used to go through stages of severe binge drinking, months at a time, my father didn’t seem to do anything.
There was no love that I can remember, all I can remember was the arguments, me pouring vodka down the sink when she returned from the shop, she used to sit outside the local pub absolutely out of it, all my school friends saw here regularly, I was so embarrassed and still am, even though she has gone.
I feel tremendous guilt that is effecting my life, it makes me depressed, I am so worried of meeting people who I knew when I was about 18 to 20 years old because of the embarrassment of my family and personal past, this feeling does go away but is recharged when I see someone or there is a possibility of seeing someone from this period.
I broke the chain with this behavour which run in my mothers side, her father was an alcoholic. I am a loving father and would never do anything to upset my children.
I have a lovely wife and children and love them so much, they know this because I tell them all the time, my wife is aware of this issue, and we have discussed it, I was neglected as a child, the effects of this neglect still effecting me now. Is it normal to still have these feelings. What can be done.

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    Richard, first of all, please read this article I wrote a couple of months ago. It is about you.

    Second, I want to point out that nothing your parents did reflects upon you. They are them, and you are you. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and everything to be proud of. I want you to work through this so that you can feel the pride in yourself that you deserve. Please read Running on Empty, and get a therapist to help you work through the neglect. I wish you a long, happy and healthy future.

Anonymous - December 6, 2014 Reply

Can you direct me to anything you’ve written on your website about two CEN’s married to each other? I’ve ordered your book but can’t wait to read more! What about a Type 1 CEN (female with mixed ‘male’ and ‘female’ reactions) being married to a TYPE 3 (male with mixed reactions as well)? I’m guessing this is a match full of some craziness! Thank you for giving operational definitions to something so amorphous.

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    Hi, that is such a good question. I often describe two CEN’s married to each other as two magnets turned the wrong way, so that trying to move them closer meets active resistance. I suggest two things: get a therapist to help you and read Running on Empty together, and have weekly structured meetings together to discuss what you’ve read and how it applies to each of you. Watch for a future article on this. Thanks and take care!

Mark Stewart - December 5, 2014 Reply

I stumbled upon this website while seeking affirmation from insights gained from 1-1/2 years of therapy. I was stunned. Although my therapist understands that I suffer from this condition, she never had quite been able to make me see it until I read these words. I turned her on to the book and after we both read it, we ‘ll go from there. I wish I had known all this 30 years ago.

    Jonice Webb - December 9, 2014 Reply

    That’s wonderful Mark. I’m so glad to hear this. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Comment: