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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Chris - May 17, 2015 Reply

I am a 42 year old man who is very aware of how I got where I am but very confused on how to get through it. I’ve been diagnosed with dependent personality disorder and major depression disorder. I have little self esteem, very disorganized and feel in adequate just to mention a few. I am constantly beating my self up and have a mother that suffers from mental issues and a narcissist father. I’ve been told I need to go and do dialectical therapy. Is this beneficial to CEN?

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Chris, it does sound like CEN to me. But only you can know. DBT is a method to intermediate between emotions and behavior, and is usually used for people who are intensely emotional or impulsive. I think DBT can be helpful for certain CEN folks but not all. If professionals are telling you to try it, I think you should listen. Take care!

Anonymous - May 17, 2015 Reply

I only recently stumbled upon your work in this area. I haven’t read your book yet (I did order it; waiting for it to arrive), but I wanted to get some of your thoughts on my own situation.

I’m 23. I graduated from college a year ago, and now live at home (though that may likely change soon given the situation). For many years now–as long as I can remember–the relationship between me and my mother has been what I would describe as a-emotional. Neither her nor my dad were physically neglectful; I was well cared for in terms of resources, schooling, clothes, food, etc. And I connect with my dad on an emotional level, and he’s always been the one to try and pick me up after difficulties with my mom. The problem is that while he’s well meaning, he’s also quite clueless and hasn’t really been around to see the problems (he worked full time) or he’s a little oblivious to it all (like I said, well meaning, but not the sharpest tool in the toolbox). In contrast, my mom has always been what you could call a cold fish: inflexible thinking, authoritarian parenting, “my way or the highway” attitudes regardless of how little they may make sense, an inability to listen, extremely critical, and a knack for invalidating. My older sister was affected by this also, but she escaped more easily from it because of her personality (much more of an extrovert, so she was able to form stronger networks outside our family), but because I was close with my dad and because I am an introvert, I’ve had less outside influence to draw support from. In a way, I’ve been more enmeshed in this family dynamic, and as a result, I’ve been affected by it more. My sister now is married and has a kid, and lives about 20 minutes away, so it’s just me in the house with my parents.

We’re just now in the thick of the problems. My mother has once again chosen not to listen or believe me. The most serious case/consequences of when she didn’t listen to/believe me was last summer. I was recently diagnosed with IBS. I can’t eat a lot of foods that upset my stomach–onions, garlic, citrus, extremely sour or spicy foods, the list goes on–but for months my mom wouldn’t believe me. She kept making for dinner (we have sit-down dinners) foods that contained the things I couldn’t eat. Despite my pleadings, and my constant telling her that these specific foods made my stomach upset (they’d lead to 8-hour episodes of me in constant pain on the toilet, which both parents repeatedly witnessed several times a week), she’d keep ignoring me. She’d say things like, “Well these foods didn’t bother you last year, so I don’t get it,” despite me telling her “They made my stomach upset two weeks ago. Why do you keep fixating on last year when just two weeks ago my stomach reacted negatively to that food?” It took months and months for her to finally change her behavior.

She keeps repeating these same problematic behavioral cycles. Though my dad and she claim that she loves me, I have a very difficult time believing that, because none of her behaviors have equated to loving care. (Other people have also remarked on her inflexible, critical behavior too, so it’s not just me and my sister.) Does this sound like CEN to you?

I’m getting to the point that I realize I no longer have to tolerate this kind of behavior. I’m a young adult, and it’s not worth spinning in these toxic cycles for the rest of my life if I don’t have to.

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Yes, you are experiencing CEN at the hands of your mother. And you’re right. You’re an adult now, and you don’t have to stay in this environment. The sooner you get some boundaries between yourself and your mother, the better. Keep in mind that boundaries don’t have to be physical. You can erect a internal boundary so that what she says or does doesn’t get to you. It takes work, but will go a long way in preparing you for other folks you’ll have to deal with in your life. I’m glad you see what’s wrong and what you need to do to take care of yourself!

Anni - May 16, 2015 Reply

I have only just found your book and started to read it. I am having difficulty getting past the questionnaire. You say if you have said yes 6 times then you have problems, I said a very loud yes to all 22. Finally someone-somewhere understands, that it’s not all in my head, and maybe, finally, eventually there an end to all of this misery.

    Jonice Webb - May 17, 2015 Reply

    Anni, with a score of 22, I think you will find some answers in Running on Empty. I hope you’ll do the exercises because understanding is a good beginning but usually isn’t the full solution.

JK - May 16, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb,

Is true healing possible?
My Story: Less than a year ago my therapist(s), yes I have two (long story). Labeled me, as having an anxious attachment, to my mother. These two therapist have been treating me for many years due to a severe course of anorexia nervosa ( sick for five years/ with five hospitalizations etc) and chronic anxiety, I am basically recovered from the eating disorder (which is truly quite the mircle) & the anxiety is manageable. This last year has been very painful. I have been processing my childhood. I’ve come to realize that besides my genetic & biological suspectability to the anorexia, my biggest fuel to why I developed the eating disorder is the effects this emotional neglect/abuse I suffer from my mom. My only question to you is, is it possible to heal completely from these effects? I’ve had this chronic negativity towards myself since as long as I can remember, I think it actually influenced my development of my self concept. It’s a terribly deep pain. I just feel hopeless sometimes that these emotional memories will always follow me around like a big black cloud of pain that is never very far away. It can be triggered by scents, emotions, intimacy & sensations. Just need to know if there is hope to move beyond this pain.


    Jonice Webb - May 17, 2015 Reply

    Dear JK, I do believe that you can heal completely. But it does time time and work. It sounds like you’re doing it. Do not give up! Keep working and your efforts will pay off!

Tom - May 14, 2015 Reply

Hello Dr. Webb

Thank you for introducing CEN to me. I have read most of your excellent book (and will continue to read it). I was surprised at how closely the book describes my experience, and I felt something click for me – I understand myself better now.

I have always felt very strongly that I am different from other people and that I am outside looking in. For me, this is obviously at least partly related to being gay. It is fairly well known that many non-heteronormative people experience a strong feeling of being different from other people, even before they can say why. I wonder, are you aware of an effect of not being heteronormative on the development of CEN?

    Jonice Webb - May 17, 2015 Reply

    Hi Tom, I think that anything that makes a person feel different from others can contribute to the “on the outside” feeling. If you have to masquerade as someone other than who you really are, you are experiencing some form of Emotional Neglect. I’m glad you like Running on Empty and have found it helpful!

Jennie - May 14, 2015 Reply

I did your survey and circled 13 points. I’ve read many of the comments above, and my situation, while it has the same result, has a different cause. My early childhood was wonderful – I can remember many details of it – but when I was five years old my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had massive surgery and radiation following it, survived and lived for another 27 years. All the time I lived at home after the cancer – until my mother threw me out at 16 – everything was about her and her illness (she had several more cancer scares after the initial diagnosis). My feelings/needs/emotions weren’t important to my parents. A childhood friend who was a little older than me and my brother, who sometimes lived at home, provided me with emotional support. I’m the youngest, my sister who is nine years older than me is an alcoholic and a chain smoker. I no longer have any contact with her because she is so nasty to me. Our brother was a young adult when everything went to pieces, he is reasonably well adjusted and has been happily married for over 40 years. I have a few close girlfriends who have stood by me for many years, and two lovely children. (I was determined to bring them up differently to how I was.) All my life I have struggled with self discipline. I’m truly hopeless with money – I’m not extravagant, it just seems to disappear. I have a long history of getting involved with emotionally unavailable men. I struggle to look after myself, I’m a good cook – for other people – but find it difficult to cook for myself. I’ve been through many years of therapy and self help courses, which have helped, but I always knew there was something they weren’t getting. When I read that CEN is what WASN’T there, I burst into tears. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. I’m 61, I’m broke, I’m on the other side of the world to all my family and friends and I just want to get off this roundabout! Help! (I will buy your book to start with.)

    Jonice Webb - May 17, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jennie, it sounds to me like you’ve already done a lot of good work on yourself. And now you have the missing piece. I think that addressing your CEN will be the final puzzle piece that will pull it all together. Keep it up! And take care.

      Jennie - May 17, 2015 Reply

      I bought your book, I’ve started on the exercises and have already had incredible results. You’re right, the final pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. Hadn’t realized how many times a day I told myself I was stupid. Or how often I attempted to shove my feelings back in their box. The frightened five year old was stuck in there, she’s learning to express herself and be free. Today I wrote an email to a man I’ve loved for over four years and told him how I felt. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t feel the same way, I’ve just put it out there and I’ll see what happens. Many, many, many thanks, you have changed my life.

        Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

        Dear Jennie, that’s wonderful. You sound like a strong person who is willing and able to face your pain. Good job! All the best.

          Jennie - May 25, 2015 Reply

          I feel as though I’m making good progress, doing the exercises from your book, looking after myself a lot better. However, the more I do this the more I realize how I failed my children. Both are now adults. My daughter is married, she and her husband I suspect give each other the support they missed out on as children. My son, however, is a classic CEN case, and a cringe when I realize how I brought him up. He never answers my emails, I don’t have a phone number for him, he rarely contacts his sister, I am on the other side of the world. I want to help him, but like may of us with CEN I doubt if he believes he needs help. What do I do? Send him your book?

          Jonice Webb - June 4, 2015 Reply

          Hi Jennie, I suggest that you work as hard as you need to in order to reach him and communicate that you love him, you care about him, and you know how you failed him and want to fix it. He may reject you and refuse to listen, but I suggest you keep trying until you can break through his wall. If at some point sending him the book feels like it might help, then yes. Good job Jennie, you are courageous and a loving parent. Wishing you all the best.

ale - May 11, 2015 Reply

is there a reason to why you would delete my message?

    Jonice Webb - May 13, 2015 Reply

    Hi ale, I didn’t delete it! Just accidentally skipped several comments. So sorry you thought that. Take care!

Phil - May 11, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb,

As of about five months ago I separated from my girlfriend of 3 1/2 years. We broke up because we were not a good fit (poisonous for each other) by any means, but there was certainly something more to the dysfunctional relationship. In the last year and a half of our relationship we were in discussion of marriage an having children. I addressed the potential of both, but never with enthusiasm. It wasn’t until a few months after the breakup that I realized why I was so sour towards those two things. I wasn’t ready because I was immensely emotionally neglected by my two parents. I am the youngest of four children and when I was 5 my parents were at the breaking point of their marriage. I was 6 when they separated and my father left us with our mother who was emotionally unstable. She actually has told me recently that she “wasn’t there” for those years…which is more then evident. A majority of my childhood where discipline, love, and order are necessary were filled with the exact opposite. Instead my brothers and I had no order, discipline, or values to abide by. This was more then evident while in school as we all had our problems academically and with discipline. I can remember going to school with no lunch, or money for lunch, wearing the same clothes daily and not brushing my teeth. Also getting in trouble for being the class clown(striving for attention). My eldest brother dropped out of school and both my brothers became addicted to pain medications. My father did everything right in regards to monetary needs, but emotionally offered next nothing to all his children. He’s an extremely lovable man, but didn’t tell me he loved me until I was 19. Truly I didn’t even know my father because he left when I was so young. Being with him on our designated days was both uncomfortable and confusing. It wasn’t until I was in college when I moved in with him and got to know him on a “friend level”. I also found myself staying at my best friends houses with their families on a consistent basis…I still to this day don’t know where I’d be without those families. Through those years I used humor and striving to be the center of attention to cope for the lack of love and attention I was getting at home. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I finally started applying myself and realizing there was more to life then just graduating. By 2011 I had my masters degree in Education and was already working as a young teacher. Many consider my story one of success and logically I can understand that. However, something is missing. A lot of my accomplishments feel empty…I have a lot of people tell me I’m “amazing” or “one of a kind” and I cant see it. The relationship which occurred during and after grad school masked all of these feelings further. After the breakup however, I began the tedious and rewarding process of self-evaluation and quickly realized that I wasn’t feeling empty because of my breakup. After 5 long months I’ve finally realized that I am dealing with this issue of emotional childhood neglect. It wasn’t hard to realize that all the other self-improvement books and techniques weren’t working because I wasn’t at the root of my true pain. As the weeks have passed I’ve slowly identified many instances in my past were this emotional neglect came into play. Being in college and having a hard time making new friends…especially when people consider me “extremely” outgoing. Feeling awkward in social situations, being extremely hard on myself, feeling empty, and most importantly (and most frustrating) not being able to be present in the moment. I also feel out of place with my family and friends. My biggest dilemma is where do I go from here? I have addressed these issues with my mother (my father squashed the convo quick) and I’m going to absolutely read this book, but what else should I do? I am a proactive person but the discovery of these feelings have certainly taken its toll on my motivation and self discipline (at times I feel paralyzed). I have also met someone new, someone who I know is special. I know I can’t give her the love and emotions she would need unless I address this pain (she is the first person to know my dark past and want to know more). Its important that I see myself through this journey and find peace. All of my relationships…especially the one with myself will benefit from this.

    Jonice Webb - May 14, 2015 Reply

    Dear Phil, thanks for sharing your story with us. You have done a lot of good work already. One thing I can recommend for sure is that you go to a therapist. Your story deserves to be told and shared, and understood and processed with a trained professional. Gradually you are becoming the same person on the inside that you are on the outside, and vice-versa. That is a very good and healthy thing. Your relationship with this new woman and your own life will get better if you let a therapist help. Wishing you all the best.

Grace Ann - May 9, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb,I am eager to read your book, but first I wanted to ask you two questions about the book:

Ques. 1: Have you written anything in it about parents who “use” their children as their personal psychologists, or “sounding boards,” for lack of a better term? Would this be considered a form of emotional neglect – or even abuse?

My mother and father were ill equipped to have children. They married late in life – mid to late thirties- after serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and both of them carried much unresolved baggage due to their own upbringing and the sins of their parents.

My childhood did not include the usual earmarks of an American childhood: No Christmas gifts, no birthday parties, no attendance at my sisters’ and my school events.
Lots of parental acrimony. My mother, after getting us off to school, would return to bed where she would stay until it turned dark. Since my sisters and I were only one year apart she left us alone to play together as a unit or, as she later said, “to amuse ourselves.”

In my view,however, my mother’s worst contribution as a parent was her obsessive retelling of the stories that comprised her sad, tragic life. Looking back, I believe these recitations served as a disclaimer for what was to come: her negligent parenting. My sisters and I, as soon as we were old enough to sit still and demonstrate some semblance of an attention span – would sit and listen as she told her story – or stories – the same ones over and over again. We were the instruments that made her catharsis possible.

The pathos that defined my mother’s life ultimately twisted a knot around my own, leaving me an emotional invalid, in a way, and crippling me with guilt because I was able to do and have some things that my mother never did. Or because I never experienced some of the horrible things my mother did.
To my mother’s way of thinking, anything she did – or didn’t do – as a mother, was superior to the parenting she received as a child. My father held the typical mindset of many breadwinners of that era – that his working two jobs provided sufficient evidence that he was fulfilling his duties as husband and father.

Ques. 2: The only way I have been able to “forgive” my mother and father for their apathetic parenting is by trying to understand how their upbringing impacted their personalities and, ultimately, their parenting. So far it’s helped me forgive them, but I’m assuming there’s much more work to be done. Would you say that your book goes beyond the “forgiveness” theme in helping to heal the wounds left behind by negligent parents?

    Jonice Webb - May 14, 2015 Reply

    Dear Grace Ann, what an eloquent description of the pain you were raised with. First, I hope you will stop feeling guilty. You have done nothing wrong, and in fact, everything right. I do think your mother’s talking was a form of CEN that crosses the line into abuse. Children should not hear such stories, period. In the book I do not address this specific type of abuse, but do talk about the “Child As Parent,” which addresses the boundary issue and neglect piece. As for your second question, I wonder if you’ve skipped ahead to forgiveness. Dealing with your parents is very complicated. And yes, the book goes far beyond forgiveness. I wish you lots of health and happiness. You deserve it Grace Ann.

Kim_Fetterly - May 8, 2015 Reply

I answered, “yes,” to most all of the questions on the CEN survey. Interestingly enough, I’ve just recently had an epiphany related to the way that I react to certain female personalities. My stepmother (and father by omission)inflicted emotional abuse throughout my childhood and adulthood. Upon being around certain women a short time I can instantly identify negative (in my mind) traits that trigger an aversion toward that person. They appear narcissistic, fake, self-aggrandizing, and attention seeking, which causes me to put up a mental wall of distrust toward them. I don’t understand it all, but I’m realizing that these personalities represent my late stepmother, and invoke within me a fear of that person’s power over me. I’ve ordered your book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, and I hope it will give me insight on how to deal with the baggage I’ve been carrying around for almost 50 years. Hopefully, I can have live few years of my life emotionally balanced and rested.

    Jonice Webb - May 14, 2015 Reply

    Hello Kim, it makes good sense that your stepmother’s abuse would make you specially reactive to women like her when you encounter them. Have you talked with a professional therapist about this? If not, I encourage you to do so. Running on Empty will help you heal from what you didn’t get (the emotional neglect piece), but it is not about abuse. It’s important to work on both. I wish you all the best.

ale - May 7, 2015 Reply

Dr Webb
i am a 22 year old who is days away from grad. when i was 17 they kind of diagnosed me with bpd. reading your blog made me feel like i am on alone in dealing through chdhood trauma. ive been tlld that it is entirely my fault and inmature to blame my oarents. i guess its a combination of both? growing up wit the idea that i have bpd gave me anxiety and made me become socially anxious (more than i was) i feel im not normal and that people notice i have a personality disorder and as they say “get away from negative people” so ive been trying to Be postive and if im dealing with hard stuff like what i am dealing with currently: a breakup from a mutually abusive relationship where we both heated each other and disrepected with words, i try to hide it from orhers and act like i am fine because i dont want to show people i am toxic and filled with issues. i am embarrased to be cen i am embarassed to be bpd and i am embarrassed to be socialy anxious so i am a fake extrovert. i dnt want to keep growing in this flawed system i want to change. my past doctor prescribed me with lexapro. do you think medicine is good or bad to treat CEN ? and how should i approach being diagnosed? it feels lile ever after they told me i am validated that i am wrong . i never trust my fealings any more i am flawed

    Jonice Webb - May 13, 2015 Reply

    Dear ale, your childhood trauma is not your fault! Neither is your CEN. And there is no shame in having issues! Everybody does. BPD is only a label; I sense that you’ve taken it on as your identity, and that worries me. At 22, it’s vital that you be talking to a therapist who understands CEN and trauma, and accepting guidance, support and help. I encourage you to stop hiding yourself from others so extremely, but be careful in what you share with whom. Choose quality people, and let them know who you are. But focus less on the “BPD” label. I hope this helps ale! Take care of yourself!

Christina - May 3, 2015 Reply

For the past few years I have been so confused with my emotions. I never knew what it was that I was battling until I came across childhood emotional neglect on YouTube and it makes everything so clear. I always thought I was ADD or that it was my anxiety or stress levels that gave me all these negative effects. I have always had the habit of bottling up my emotions until one day I’d have a break down. Everyone views me as emotionless when all I was trying to do was protect myself. My parents never made an effort to attend to my emotional needs. We would move every 2 years for my whole life and they ripped me away from everything I knew. I became depressed and they never ever acknowledged how hard it must be for me to be the new kid every couple years, having to meet new people with my anxiety, never being able to finish what I started or having fulfilling relationships, and dealing with interruptions in my education that put me behind. We were a struggling family also with a special needs sibling and they were selfish. All they seemed to care about was money. I felt that they took their anger out on me and I was hit as a kid for what felt like the most pointless reasons. And everything is still the same now. When ever i tried to express my emotions, I would get belittled or told to shut up or grow up or stop being a baby. I am going through the toughest year of my life now that I am 18. My parebts are once again moving after being the new kid again. But I’ve decided to stay in an apartment with others. I have to pay for it, my car, and college education somehow on my minimum wage pay because they don’t want a part of my life. They have never understood my feelings and they never will. I lived my life doing everything I could to impress them and all they did was make me feel worthless. My life is falling apart and everyday being with them is a constant struggle and it’s hard to get through the day without wanting to disappear. I can’t even talk to my friends about what’s going on because I have a chronic fear of crying Infront of others. I will never be like my parents when I have kids. I am sad but I have learned from their mistakes.

    Jonice Webb - May 8, 2015 Reply

    Christina, you were actively emotionally neglected by your parents. That takes an extra toll on the child. I hope you’ll continue to work on your CEN because you can heal, I assure you. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve learned from your parents’ mistakes. That is really important and admirable. Please take care!

Decatur Sinclair - April 29, 2015 Reply

I am taking the unusual step of writing you about your book Running on Empty before I’ve even read it. It arrived today from Amazon. I’ve been trying to reverse-engineer my original family for years. Nowhere could I find a book on the subject. I couldn’t find any listings for maternal abuse (psychological, not physical). My mother had nine of us kids in 13 years and carried each one of us 10 months. That’s 90 months of pregnancy.

It wasn’t until I attended the Hoffman Institute in St. Helena, CA that my counselor said ” with that many kids, there’s no way you got enough of Mom’s time.” My mother explained in a joint therapy session that “it was when I was pregnant that I felt best about myself.” So Mom became the baby-making machine. My father was a sociopath who liked photos of the “happy family”, but was absent and unavailable on his inexorable path to insanity.

So thanks for writing this book. I feel certain that I will gain much insight.

    Jonice Webb - May 2, 2015 Reply

    Hi Decatur, I’m so glad you’re looking forward to reading it. I hope it offers you more answers! your parents sound like the CEN type, for sure. I really like your phrase “inexorable path to insanity” to describe your sociopathic father. Take care of yourself, and I wish you all the best.

Ivo - April 28, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb
After 53 Years I finally found out what was “wrong” in my life. I had a good childhood but emotions were never an issue, even before, during and after tragic events. So, after adding a few more aspects I scored 25 on your list of 22 symptoms. I started to get a hold on me when I began to meditate seriously about 4 years ago. Over time I added other techniques like chakra balancing and EFT. But still there was this remaining feeling of emptiness, not belonging and having a meaningless and pointless life even though I have a family and own a business. About a week ago your web-site manifested into my life and the information you gave me was a huge relieve about finally truly understanding what was happening with me. I currently do not have the book (but will buy asap) and I would like to share with you the result of an experiment I did with what I sensed was the “core-problem”. I had the idea of performing an EFT tapping routine with three different aspects I considered important to describe what was going on inside of me, and…. in just about 3 minutes all of the underlying residual feelings of self-denial, self doubt and the disturbing feeling of discomfort I usually had when being in a social environment were gone! That same day I enjoyed for the first time being in a public space with many people without feeling like a total misfit. It was – and still is amazing! I feel like reborn. I can´t thank you enough for bringing this into my awareness. I truly believe that understanding the cause is absolutely essential for any treatment to be successfull. Your work is a blessing for many people.

    Jonice Webb - May 2, 2015 Reply

    Wow, Ivo. I haven’t heard of anyone using EFT for CEN. It sounds like it worked amazingly well for you! That’s great. I’m glad I was able to offer you some answers. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Take care!

Sarah - April 27, 2015 Reply

Hi Jonice. I am working with a therapist and realizing that I suffer from emotional neglect – largely attunement problems. I can relate to almost all of the items in the quiz. I am also seeing how my CEN has adversely affected my ability to parent well, and my children (especially my 22 yr-old son) suffer some of these things too. So I guess they also have CEN. I’m hoping that, during the short time I have left with them under my roof, I can repair some of this so that they can heal and we can stop the cycle. Can you comment on this? Does talking to them about it help them?

    Jonice Webb - May 2, 2015 Reply

    Dear Sarah, yes it does help to talk about it with them. If your children are all in their late teens or twenties, you can even ask them to read Running on Empty. This is a delicate balance, however because you don’t want to take too much responsibility upon yourself. You want them to own the problem and not just blame it all on you. So I suggest you let your therapist help you to make sure you do it in the right way for each individual child’s age and temperament. Good for you for taking this on! Everything you’re doing now will pay off hugely, I have no doubt. Take care!

Josie - April 26, 2015 Reply

Hello. To give you some background, I’m an only daughter of a very emotionally distant and slightly authoritarian father (slightly because he didn’t participate much anyway), who didn’t take part in anything but providing the family money, and a permissive/passive mother. I wasn’t allowed to stay out late or play too far from my house (my mother was always worried for my safety), but other than that I never had any kind of schedule or chores, not even homework or making my own bed. My mother was decided to be “my pal”, as your book puts it. My father would rarely talk to me, and when he did so, was to go in a rage, throw my toys into the trashcan, or threaten take away my computer/cartoon watching/etc rights.
I’ve been having issues during my whole academic life (it got worse at some point and I started failing classes relentlessly, something that never happened before). Now that I’ve finally gotten into the master’s program I wanted, in the university I wanted, I’m still lagging behind my peers and spending days doing absolutely nothing of use. What bothers me the most is that I have a very strong “internal voice”, but it isn’t a critical one at all. I see people talking about cruel, demanding “inner voices”, but I saw nothing about the kind mine is until I read your book. Mine is always saying “it’s ok, your professors will give you another chance”, “you just need a sudden rush of motivation and it’s all gonna be done in a day”, “it’s not too late, tomorrow you’ll finish everything magically”. I know rationally, and from experience, that those things are utterly delusional. But even now I keep thinking “nah, it’s ok, I’m gonna speed up tomorrow and catch up”. It’s maddening. This affects all areas of my life and I’ve lost years to it in several aspects. I was obese, became bulimic, lost all the extra weight, but suddenly here I am with double the body weight I had just a couple of years ago. I indulge myself constantly – be it overeating, bingeing, not studying, not working, not cleaning. I love my field of study and yet my dissertation is left forgotten in some corner and my notebooks haven’t been touched in weeks. I love a few sports and the thought of engaging in them “tomorrow”. I rationally know that maybe it’s even too late to catch up this semester. I feel like crying myself to sleep and self-harming like I have in the past, because I’m disgusted with this lack of initiative, but even so the little voice is telling me that “tomorrow me” will fix everything. I’ve read your book and I’m trying to find (yet another) therapist, and hoping the one I do find will be a better match than the three previous others, specially now that I’m more aware of what my “problem” is.
Do you have any advice on how I can tame this “all is gonna work out fine tomorrow” voice? I feel like I have zero discipline and zero self-control, and it’s figuratively and literally killing me. Thank you for your patience.

    Jonice Webb - May 2, 2015 Reply

    Dear Josie, you are right. That voice is literally killing you. Recognizing that is a huge step. I suggest you write down a list of new comments to start cultivating a new voice inside of you. That voice says things like, “Putting something off never works out.” “Do it now.” “Stop letting yourself off the hook,” etc. Read them over and over multiple times a day. Start replacing each “off-the-hook” statement with a responsible one. It will take lots of conscious effort and time, but you’ll gradually change and start following the new voice.

Kira - April 19, 2015 Reply

Have you found that SSRI medications hinder the process of healing from CEN or can you be medicated and heal at the same time?

I find that when I medicate I don’t cry or feel emotions as strongly. Have you found this to be the case with your patients? Have you taken people off meds so that they could fully feel and then learn to accept those feelings? Or can they process the effects of CEN while medicated? It’s a lot to come off meds, face normal life then also try and heal CEN at the same time. I’m trying to do it but I fear depression relapse and I question if I need to go back on medications. I know if I medicate again, my emotions become blunted and the emotional component of my therapy slows considerably.

    Jonice Webb - April 20, 2015 Reply

    Hi Kira, that is a very good question. Actually, most people’s emotions are not blunted by SSRIs. I have treated many people who made better progress because they’re taking an SSRI to decrease the chemical component. But since an SSRI was blunting your emotions, it makes me wonder if you were on the wrong SSRI, as different ones have different effects. (Please note I’m a PhD, not an MD so I’m not qualified to give medical advice). You should ask your prescribing dr. if there’s another SSRI that you could try to reduce the blunting. And if that doesn’t work, you may unfortunately have to continue as you are. If you and your therapist are both watching for signs of depression, hopefully if it does start up again, you can catch it early and get back on the medication. Good for you for working so hard on yourself. Keep it up! And thanks for your question.

Sarah - April 9, 2015 Reply

I find myself agreeing with a lot of what is said about CEN and it is almost certainly in play in my life. The only thing that I don’t feel is empty or devoid of emotions. Rather I feel very reactive and like I have a lot of extreme emotions about things. I don’t express them to people but I can feel so angry and so happy within seconds. Is this flailing at being able to feel emotions properly is part of things?

    Jonice Webb - April 15, 2015 Reply

    Yes, Sarah, that is one way that CEN can play out. You did not learn how to manage and sit with emotions in the CEN household. It’s not that you’re not feeling your emotions properly; it’s that you haven’t been able to develop the skills necessary to understand, express, and use them. I suggest you continue to follow this website and my blog on PsychCentral and if possible read Running on Empty, because you can heal. All the best.

Melissa - April 9, 2015 Reply

I have read your book and many many articles, posts etc about this and other related topics, and have sought therapy, and they all seem to tell me the same thing: that I am an adult and it’s completely up to me to make the change that is needed. My entire body just screams and rebels at the unfairness of this. Something was done to me as a child and I have to fix it myself?? And how am I supposed to change the dialog in my head if I have low self-esteem and self-worth? How do I just create a strength from within out of nothing? Everyday I wish my dad would call me up and genuinely apologize for being such a tyrant, for showing me the wrong way to be a parent. Even though I’m aware of the wrong things that I do as a parent (impatience, arguing with spouse in front of her, yelling), I’m still finding myself act like him towards my own daughter–and I hate myself for it, I just feel wretched. And that feeling results in my general inability to change anything because it reinforces this feeling that I’m no good.

    Jonice Webb - April 15, 2015 Reply

    Melissa, you are indeed in a painful spot. It’s true, and unfair, that you are the only one who can fix you. You can’t create something out of nothing in a flash, but you can slowly, gradually, fill in what’s missing with the help of a competent professional. Please don’t give up. It is hard work but it’s the only way. You, your daughter and your husband deserve better.

Belinda - April 9, 2015 Reply

You referred to your practice in articles and an emotional training course, but unfortunately I am in the Washington, DC metro area. There are many CEN adults who work with therapists but have trouble breaking through the “numbness” or getting to the point where we deal successfully with our feelings or lack thereof.

Have you ever considered developing a course that would be more accessible to the masses? I think about the IMAGO training for couples and some way of certifying professionals to treat this problem would be very helpful.

    Jonice Webb - April 15, 2015 Reply

    Hi Belinda, yes I have thought of all of that. It’s all on my long list of things to do. Thanks to you all for your patience! And thanks to you, Belinda, for your question.

Anonymous - April 8, 2015 Reply

So much of this makes sense for me (I said yes to 19 of the 22 things). I am currently in college, but I feel like I will never amount to anything. I feel like I’m worthless, and because of this I am too afraid to get close to people because I don’t want them to see that I am worthless and reject me. I also have a really hard time dealing with things emotionally, and in the past I turned to self-harming behaviors to calm myself down or to help deal with my emotions. If I am upset or having a hard time with things most of the time I will hide it from people or I will lie about how I am feeling, even if I want to tell them. I’m afraid that they won’t care or will stop wanting to be friends if I tell them about my problems. I’m too afraid to go to counseling for these same reasons, and also because I feel like I’m just being pathetic and that the counselor will think the same thing.

    Jonice Webb - April 15, 2015 Reply

    When you decide to take this on, I assure you that it will change your life. But you will have to take a leap of faith and go see a counselor. All colleges have them, usually free. It’s vital that you form a relationship with a professional who will prove to you that you can trust other people to notice, care about and respond to your true feelings. If you’re too afraid, you might work up to it by reading Running on Empty and going through the exercises in it. You are young and have a whole future ahead of you. Please do the work.

Maya - April 8, 2015 Reply

My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic (undiagnosed until I was 12) and my father was emotionally distant but also a child sexual predator. I raised myself as best I can recall (most of my childhood is lost to amnesia and many of the bits of memory that have returned are scary). I have been in intense psychotherapy for almost 13 years and am still struggling with feelings of being lost and distant from others. I am well liked and have no idea why. When I took the questionnaire, I answered yes to the first 21 questions. I have thought for a number of years that I suffered from emotional neglect growing up and with the results of the questions it looks like I was correct. I am intelligent and well educated, but lacking in social skills (I never even learned to cook as a child, nor how to clean a house). Thank you for this site.

Matilda Garrido - April 7, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
Do you have any thoughts on a connection between hypochondria and CEN? I suffer from both, and often wonder if the origin of my hypochondria lies in a fantasy that I will finally be taken care of if I am ill. Please let me know what you think. Thank you!

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    I haven’t really thought about that connection, but it does make perfect sense. I think CEN underlies many psychological diagnoses, and for you it sounds like it may be true for your hypochondria. I hope you’ll address your CEN and see if it makes a difference for you. Thanks for your thoughtful question.

Jim - April 6, 2015 Reply

What if, for the sake of argument, an individual circles virtually every one of the 22 questions provided on the emotional neglect questionnaire? I have no doubts that my father, in particular, was emotionally retarded. His only two emotions (as best as I can remember) were silence and rage. Was on the receiving end of countless beatings growing up, some of which were instigated by me to avoid my father directing his attentions towards my sisters. He was rarely present, and my recollections of his participation in my daily upbringing are virtually non-existant. To this day (I am now 48) he is an absolute (for lack of a better way to describe it) prick. If I even attempt to extract some kind of explanation from him regarding past behavior, it is met with the sound of crickets…….. At this point in my life, I have no expectations of ever having a “normal” relationship with my father. I have virtually no self-esteem, self respect, or self confidence as a result of my exposure to this man growing up (and into my adult life as well). My question is this: is there a point where you give up trying to seek your father’s approval? A point where one can simply throw up your hands, wash those hands of him, and finally move on with the hopes of somehow finding some kind of normalcy???? Just asking, because this old, cantankerous, contemptable ass is pushing 76 years old, and there is NO way he will ever chang!!!

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    I agree. Your father will not change. Realizing that his limitations are his and not yours is key. You sound like someone with lots to offer, perceptive and intelligent. I suggest you start working on loving yourself instead of your father’s love (he’s probably incapable). You can do it.

Jennifer - April 6, 2015 Reply

I’m not quite sure where to begin. I grew up in a small town in the middle of Iowa with two parents that loved me, gave me all of the “things” that I needed, but where never there. My mom wouldn’t bother to hide the fact that I was “an accident” and would even make comments that I “ruined her life” because she got pregnant with me before she was able to finish her college degree. My parents worked opposite shifts so that they didn’t have to have a babysitter for too long during the day before my younger brother and I were school aged, but I remember my mother locking herself in her bedroom and chain-smoking while she made long-distance calls to friends and family members to complain about her life, my brother and I , and our father. She wouldn’t leave her room to make us supper and she didn’t leave her room to tuck us in at night, but despite her lack of nuturing I loved her with my whole heart. I wanted to grow up to be a “great Mommy” to go to work and have two children and a family of my own. My father was never home, he worked two jobs to help put food on the table and to pay our bills, of which there must have been many because we lived very simply. When he was home he would tuck us in and play with us, but he wasn’t really very perseptive and he and my mother would argue often. They would yell at each other and even throw dishes at each other at times. I remember some nights tucking my little brother into bed in a toy hamper so that he could shut the lid and not hear the sounds of them yelling at eachother or I would tuck blankets under our bedroom door so that we wouldn’t have to hear it as loudly. If they got tired of yelling at eachother they would yell at me. I shielded my litte brother from so much. He didn’t have to experience their mean and angry voices telling him it was all his fault because I took all of that on myself. I knew what things I could and couldn’t do to keep them happy and we lived on eggshells for years. As I got older things seemed to get better, but I think I just learned to adapt and to tune out more and more. My parents would tease me about ridiculous things and I grew more and more socially anxious. At 18 the doctor said I had one of the worst cases of social anxiety she had even had and she tried me on numerous anti-anxiety medications. My family made fun of me and told me to suck it up. At 23 I met a boy that my parents “hated” even though they had only met him once. I snuck around and saw him without their knowledge, I would drive hours to see him so that my parents wouldn’t see us together and I thought that everything would be ok as long as they didn’t know. Things blossomed with my “secret” boyfriend and eventually things were so serious with him that I knew I had to tell my parent. I began just mentioning him briefly in conversations, nice comments he’d said about me or funny things he’d said until I finally told my mother that I was seeing him. She lost her mind, demanded that I never speak to him agian, and when I said I wouldn’t stop seeing him she told me I had to pick between my family and my boyfriend. When I picked my boyfriend and we moved in together she stopped speaking with me and started to create terrible gossip about me spreading it all over our small town. I had to move 30 minutes away to a larger city to escape her evil comments. To this day two years later, she still refuses to speak with me. She refused to attend my wedding and she refuses to acknowledge me when I run into her and my father in public. But still, after all of this, I miss her and I feel like it is my fault that I feel the way I do, it is my fault that I made her push me away, it is my fault that she is sick and that she hates me. It is a whole different kind of pain to feel like your own parents who are supposed to love and support you hate you and would rather spit on you than give you a hug. I am so angry, but I also carry so much hurt. I am hopeful that it will get better, but I’m just not sure how it could. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I did something wrong to push them away.

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    You did not push your parents away. They were/are simply limited human beings who only have so much to give. You must stop blaming yourself and start building yourself up instead. Please take the focus back to yourself, what you want and feel and need. That’s the way to a healthy and happy future. And I hope you’ll look for help as well from a qualified professional. You deserve so much better!

Carolyn A. Kennedy - April 6, 2015 Reply

I am so happy to have discovered this angle because it explains so much about my. depression, loneliness,
and negative feelings about myself. I was very depressed recently (the fact that I’d forgotten to take my antidepressant for a week did not help). But I was inspired to Google depression and found Dr. Webb’s work by sheer luck.
I’ve been trying to learn how to talk to myself in a caring way, but now I can see how I started to berate myself.
I’m 71 but I’m confident that Dr Webb’s ideas can help me be kind and loving to myself. I see my therapist today and will share this with her
Don’t know if this is relevant but I’ve had chronic back pain for about 20 plus years.
Good wishes to all. Carolyn K.

Angel - April 6, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,

I came upon your CEN questionnaire while I was looking up reasons for why teenagers commit suicide, for at the time I was feeling quite suicidal myself, and was surprised to see that I circled every number in the questionnaire. I listened to your videos and when you described the three main categories of struggles CEN people go through, I admit I teared up a bit because I could totally relate to that.

I’ve been wondering for years why I feel the way I do. I’ve been feeling so…so empty for so long. I can’t even remember the last time I looked at myself and could manage to tell myself “I love you”. I never thought it could have been CEN, but it makes sense. I love my family so much, and they love me in their own way. Still, I can’t help but feel so alone.

Everyone I know is so excited about going into relationships and being loved by their personal other, but I’m terrified. I’m afraid I can’t give them the affection they deserve and, most of all, it just feels wrong when I think of anyone giving me so much love and attention. I want it, but I don’t. It makes me sick to the stomach when I think about it. I can’t handle the thought and sometimes I push people away when they get too close. I don’t mean to hurt them, but I just can’t stand it. I literally get goosebumps.

I started feeling this odd sense of lonely emptiness when I was twelve, and it has since spiraled into what I think is Depression. I can’t bare to tell my folks. I know they’d be ashamed of me. I feel all I ever do is wrong in their eyes. I try, but I never feel that I’m doing enough. Maybe it’s just me but I feel an overwhelming pressure to make them proud. However, since I never felt the least bit satisfied, I only dove deeper into Depression. I’ve attempted suicide several times but I’ve bailed just in the nick of time.

Now I just go in and out of deep depression. My art, the passion of my life, can’t even lessen my anxiety anymore. I feel so…worthless. Like I can’t do anything. After listening to your video, however, I feel slightly better. Maybe it’s not entirely my fault. I’m trying to get better, hard as it is, but I just wanted to take the time to thank you for posting those videos. I’m hoping to buy a copy of your book. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help me.

Thanks from a College Student.

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    Dear Angel, please do get the book, and also please go talk to someone at your college counseling center. It will be confidential and your parents don’t need to ever know. I hope you will face this and work it through now, while you are young. If you do, you will have many good things ahead of you.

Jane - April 6, 2015 Reply

All I can say is wow… this sounds so much like my life. I think both parents had emotional deficits… I think my mother was more aware of my emotions, she just chose to ignore them. My father was an out and out oaf. Example – at around age 11 I was outside in my back yard playing with the dog while my father watered his flower garden. I opened my mouth to call the dog to me and a fly flew right down my throat. I stood there choking and gagging for several minutes while my father stood there watering the garden and watching me with no expression on his face. Later on I asked didn’t you see me choking? and his reply was yes but what could I do about it? I didn’t know enough at that time to say ‘show a little concern or at least stop watering the flowers and come over to me’ so I said nothing. My father was emotionally aware enough however to use emotions against me. When I was around 12 I saw a styrofoam surfboard that I wanted as a toy for our pool. I asked and he said no, it’s too much money (we were lower middle class or maybe upper lower class. My father was a blue collar worker). I kept asking about the toy and he kept saying no until I let it go. One day I was in my room reading (I was an only child and I spent a lot of time alone in my room reading…) and he stuck his head in the door and asked “do you still want that pool toy” and I refused to show excitement or joy and say yes, because I anticipated he’d say “yeah, well you’re STILL not going to get it.” because that is something he would have done and I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of hurting me. Turns out his question was on the level and my answer of “yeah, why?” didn’t please him so he went off ranting, annoyed, and I still didn’t get the toy.
I began considering suicide at age 9 and have thought of it off and on all my life. I have trouble with relationships with men, was married but now divorced, and whether with men I date or just people in general, I just don’t know what to SAY. I’m an extreme introvert – have been called a hermit – test as INTP on Meyers Briggs and have been miserable most of my life. I’ve long felt that I was different from others and there’s something really, really wrong with me. I seem to have a lifelong existential depression that is only lifted in brief moments – mainly the happy bits of my life have been like dim little stars in a dark night sky. I never even as a young kid wanted kids of my own – and made sure it never happened – and am SO glad I did not have kids because even if I had wanted them, I feel totally unqualified to raise a healthy happy person.

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    Dear Leslie, please do work on your Emotional Neglect. I think you could make your life and happiness much brighter if you deal with what you didn’t get.

Tilly - April 5, 2015 Reply

Hi, I really need your help. I believe a 15 year old boy (family friend) is suffering from CEN. I have spent the last couple of years trying to get him to trust me and I do believe he finally does. He comes to me when things are hard at home, divorced family, no dad at home. However, I now believe he may be getting into troubled areas, he lies and is using people, cannot be on his own and disrespects both parents. Please tell me what is the best way I can help him, I really think of him as a son in a way, think a lot of him.

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    Can you talk with his mother about this? Or ask her to read Running on Empty? Or both? He and/or his mother would probably benefit from talking with a professional. If you can get any of that to happen it would be great. But if all you can do is be there for him to talk with, that’s huge and very worthwhile. Thanks for caring so much for this young man who is falling between the cracks. All the best to you.

Ridz - April 5, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr Webb,
Yesterday I was in a low mood as usual and I started to search my innerself for a reason.After constant reflections I realized I am emotionally hurt in childhood which has made me what i am now.I read your blogs and it touched me internally.I am thankful you wrote it and God made me see it. Having grown up in a family where I had everything except love and understanding.No one realized what I missed and later I ensured no one should realize it. Comments about how dumb a child could be, to how stupid my ideas are, to how I look, to how other children are better thn me in all aspects.Sometimes mild physical assult too. I was very small maybe 5 years but i remember the worst time if my past.I was very innocent, fragile and true. My Fathers behaviour made me fearful and at the age of 10 unknowingly I decided that I shd hide my real self to be safe from hurt. Either I would have gone in depression or hide my inner self from the world. I also became a kleptomanic for some time. I searched approval, acceptance in others outside family. For me love was just physical closeness Now as I knew there is no true love in the world which is innocent and pure. I became extrovert, smily, giggly and a social person. The more I was hurt, the more aggresive I became for myself. I have lived 26 years of my life like this. Hiding my true identity from myself. My inner self is broken into millions of pieces.I have become what I am Not, just because I do not want people to hurt me. But in this process I have hurt myself badly. Now I want a change. I want to accept myself butI am unable to find a start.I want to live my life the way I feel i internally. I had tried to ve socially involved so that people accept me. I am unable to accept anything about myself now.

    Jonice Webb - April 8, 2015 Reply

    Dear Ridz, please find a therapist to help you through this! You can get better and, I think based on what you’re saying, that you will. But you’ll need help! Please reach out and talk to a professional. Wishing you all the best.

Patty - April 5, 2015 Reply

I have been living with the effects of CEN all of my life. My mother was disabled from the time I was 8 years old. Both of my parents were alcoholics, and they both died when I was in my late teens.
I am now in my 50’s, married, and have two great kids who were given plenty of love and attention! However, I have a husband who, over the years has also been neglectful and abusive (I’ve stood up to him, though, and didn’t let it slide). I’ve been to several therapists over the years because I knew I was dealing with the effects of my childhood, and got “advice” ranging from telling me that I should hire a cleaning lady since the disarray at home bothers me so much, to saying that what I’m feeling is very normal for a woman my age; I’ve just taken on too much. (Probably because I look like a “normal” suburban mom, and don’t have a substance abuse problem).
My major issue is that I haven’t been able to keep a job. Not because of work performance (I get great reviews), but ever since I was a child, I always run late! WHY????
I’ve had some decent clerical jobs, and a little over a year ago, I started seeing another therapist because I was on the verge of losing yet another job for clocking in a few minutes late. Well, I ended up losing that job, ultimately, for clocking in 1 minute late. Because of that, I couldn’t afford to continue the therapy. I’m now deep in debt, as I have to cover half of the household expenses.
At this point, I’m TERRIFIED to even interview for another job. Almost feeling like I’d be “fooling” them into hiring me, knowing that they’ll fire me (or I’ll have to quit). My husband keeps telling me that, because I know that I have this issue, to just get over it! I’m constantly told to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, etc etc (like I don’t know this, and haven’t been hearing it for 40+ years). Things will go well for months, and then I slip back.
I don’t know why I haven’t been able to get a grip on this, as I know I’m the only one who can control it!
I’m humiliated and embarrassed for myself. At this point in life, should I just accept the fact that I’ll never be able to keep a job?

    Jonice Webb - April 5, 2015 Reply

    Dear Patty, I think being late is actually the tip of an iceberg for you. It’s the visible expression of something inside of you holding you back. It may be some aspect of your CEN or something about your self-esteem or fears. I think the key is to work on getting in touch with your true feelings (a major part of recovering from CEN). Find a therapist who understands the version of CEN that’s on this website and the book, and work with that person to start trying to access the “underwater part of the iceberg.” Take the focus off of lateness for awhile, and just work on getting in touch with your emotions. I hope this helps, and take care of yourself.

Raj - April 2, 2015 Reply

I stumbled across this page and said yes to everything in the questionnaire.. literally every single one. Thise experiences/thoughts/emotions occur on a daily basis for me. I always wondered what was wrong with me and I hated myself for being the way I am. I don’t know how to move past it. Now that I am married (to a very loving, affectionate, and understanding man that dotes on me I feel even worse because I feel that I don’t deserve this. I don’t understand why he feels like this towards me. Logically I know he loves me but I just can’t convince myself that it is true. Although I have a close and loving family, I had a lot of negative experiences as a child. Abuse, alcoholism, being told I wasn’t wanted. Anytime I received attention as a child it was negative attention and now the thought of being social or having any attention makes me panic and my anxiety goes through the roof. This was also he case at my wedding. For most people their wedding day is the best day ever, this sounds harsh, but I hated it.. I hated the attention as I felt there was alot of negativity and people were not actually there because they care about me. I can’t snap out of this. I think about suicide because I am not happy and no matter how hard I try I just can’t be. Recently, this is something I have not told anyone and honestly I never would ever tell anyone, I remembered aomething from my childhood that I had buried away in my mind. I was sexually abused by a family friend when I was about 6 years old. This memory snapped back into my mind one day. This post is very long so I apologize. I just can’t talk to anyone else. Lately I have been thinking about aaking my dr for a psychiatrist referral but I can’t even talk to my doctor about it because it makes me anxious knowing he will ask me questions and talk about why I am asking for the referral. Feels like I am in a catch 22 with no way out.

    Jonice Webb - April 5, 2015 Reply

    Dear Raj, there is a way! You don’t have to talk to your dr if you don’t want to. And I don’t think you should see a psychiatrist first thing. Instead get a list of therapists near you and call each one. Tell them you’re looking for help to work through some childhood issues. And decide which one to see based on how they come across on the phone. You can open up slowly with a therapist at a pace that you’re comfortable. I also suggest that you read Running on Empty because there is a chapter about how suicidal thoughts are linked to Childhood Emotional Neglect, plus much of the book will be talking to you directly, I think. Please open up and talk to someone.

Anonymous - April 2, 2015 Reply

Hi, I have read a number of comments and I can identify a lot with any number of them. I have gone thru a lot of therapy and worked with a humanistic, person centered, non directive therapist for 7 years. Good Lord, that sounds awful, but I realized that I made a lot of progress when I felt accepted and cared about. My mother just was so rejecting and I felt so much hate from her. I accept that it happened. She had 6 kids and she and my father created a lot of damage to all of us. However I just want to stop hating her when I am down. I go thru good times and periods of doing well, but then start to struggle with my anger towards my mom. I know this sounds ridiculous, but i felt loved by my dad, even though he beat and humiliated us so much. I have tried and tried to forgive my mother. I am the one who made arrangements for her to be nearby in a nursing home, but if I see her, I can’t stand her. I was always INVISIBLE..i think I don’t process all my emotions well. Some i can do just fine, but pain, anger and lack of forgiveness is rearing up in me again. I just wish I could have had a different childhood. I know its created in me a great deal of understanding and concern for others that go thru this, but I WANT to heal in a way that doesn’t come back over and over to haunt me. I realize how much acceptance and love is essential to a child’s well being. I show so much understanding towards others, but I rarely get much in return. What is left for me to do?

    Jonice Webb - April 5, 2015 Reply

    Why do you struggle so much with your true feelings toward your mother? What you feel is what you feel, and it’s OK. I suggest you accept your true feelings and stop struggling with them and feeling that you should get over them. That will free you up to focus on yourself instead of your mother. Sounds easier than it is, I know. But you can do it with your therapist’s help. Just keep working at it.

Ruth - April 1, 2015 Reply

I am the 4th child of a family of 5 children. I have suffered with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, emotional and physical abuse and only recently have realized that I should also include cen and mind control. I can remember being about 5 when the first incident of molestation occured by an uncle. I told my mom and was told to never mention it again as my dad would kill my uncle. It wasnt to long after that my brother right above me started sexually abusing me. First it was convincing me to remove my clothes and slowly it leer laughter d to each step progressively. He would use the fear of our father to convince me to do what he said. I never remember laughter in our house. I only remember having this empty feeling and never being enough. If we werent grounded or beat our punishment was writing sentences. We wrote I will do what Im told not what I want. we had to write any where from 5 to 100 pages depending on our crime. A page was front and back. As we got older we would have to stand up with a clipboard to write our sentences. When I was around 7 I became very sick and my apendix had burst. My mom was mad at me because she said I didnt let her know just how sick I was. I spent about a month in the hospital and perhaps saw my mom 2 maybe 3 times. We had inspection of our rooms every Sat morming we stood at the end of our bed and dad came in checked or bed to be sure we made it up right. opened or dresser and checked to see if everything was folded right checked or closet to be sure it was hung correctly. If one thing was wrong it all was dumped on the floor and we started over. any chore we did was given the white glove test. if one dish was found dirty everything in all the cabinets came out and we did them all. Over the years the abuse with my brother escalated to where I had to play house with our cousins and later to where I had to have sex with his buddies. It stopped when I was 14 only because I met a boy and told him and he in turn told his parents who told mine. When this happened him and i were pulled from our beds in the middle of the night and dad beat my brother and we were sent back to bed and told to never speak of it again. I dont ever remember being told good job.I always forgot to do something didnt do it right or was stupid for thinking what I did. I was pregnant and married at the age of 15. For years I could tell what happened with my brother and I as if I was reading a childrens story with no feeling. After my 2nd husband passed away and both of my children were grown I found myself disabled and unable to work. Thats when my world started to crumble. I had nothing to keep me busy anymore and knew something wasnt right didnt know what. I began to abuse drugs around the age of 52. I had several surgeries and was introduced to pain pills After a few years I put myself in rehab and luckily had a very observant councilor who recognized childhood trauma and sent me to a trauma center. Which was just barely the beginning. Thank goodness I had a good friend who allowed me to stay with her for a year and I spent that in therapy. Since returning home I have had very little therapy as there are very few that will accept medicare and medicaid as payment. Being on a fixed income cannot afford to pay. I get wait help I can from other peers. or on the web. I cant afford the books although there are many I would love. so I do the best I can. There are a few places that offer free services but I live in a rural area and they are 30 mins away I have no car. When I find a site such as yours with glimpses of hope for recovery I become over joyed and grab as much as I can from it. My ultimate dream is one day be well enough to mentor others and also to become an advocate for mental health so no one has to ever fight the battles I have fought and not be able to get help. I also have a son that suffers with boderline personality disorder that could not get help here instead he got jail. He now lives up north so he can get the help he needs. His plan is to help me get a car so I can get around and eventually fulfill my dream. So please keep up your work it is so appreciated

    Jonice Webb - April 5, 2015 Reply

    Dear Ruth, thank you for sharing your story with us. You clearly had a very painful and difficult childhood. It’s wonderful that you’re sorting through it instead of avoiding it. You’re figuring it all out, and that’s very important. The work you’re doing will pay off for you and your son. Keep it up!

Rebecca - March 31, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr Jonice Webb,
First, thank you for your time and thank you for your book. I’m just getting started reading it.

But the reason I’m writing is to ask, not having read your book yet, is the narcissistic personality type (post-childhood) and/or superiority-inferiority complex connected to CEM? And what about perfectionism?

    Jonice Webb - April 5, 2015 Reply

    Hi Rebecca, I wrote a blog called Raised by a Narcissist on psychcentral about how a narcissistic parent can be emotionally neglectful. I think CEN itself is only likely to cause narcissistic personality in the child if it’s accompanied by some sort of severe loss, abuse or trauma in childhood. I think CEN people struggle with self-esteem simply because they do not know themselves well enough to own their strengths. I think perfectionism is more a product of anxiety and control, both of which are loosely related to CEN but not a primary result. Thanks for your thoughtful questions!

soph - March 28, 2015 Reply

I was a victim of childhood emotional neglect. I am now 44 and only just coming to terms with my childhood and the reasons why I react like i do as an adult.I believe the pattern of CEN has continued in our family for over three generations. I see one of my sisters in denial of the whole situation, while the other sister manipulates the situation for all its worth. I am therefore the scapegoat as I do not act in the same way and say when i feel something is wrong. My vulnerability as a neglected child led to me being abused by many people from the age of 12 upwards. I was so desperate to be loved that I mistook what I thought was a genuine love and affection for me as what it really was, abuse and power over a very vulnerable little girl.
Having been pushed out of the family about eight years ago by my sister, I have spent several years in therapy at times. I am only just starting to understand the dynamics of my family and how the patterns have evolved over time. My mother has just come back into my life after about a year non-contact. Its early days and I feel will end up having to accept that our views on the family are different and she will not be able to understand my emotions and feelings on this. But at least we have made a start on a new path in our relationship and can hopefully find a new footing.
As for my sisters I feel I do not want to have them in my life too much at the moment. The damage they have caused to my own mental health is tremendous and I have even resorted to self-harm at times.
I suppose my question is how do I reach that understanding I so desperately need with my mum? I know its early days but my own self doubt tells me i am making a big mistake and setting myself up for rejection all over again. My dad died 4 years ago and my mum blames most of this on him and his lack of support to her when we were little. But I can see the bigger picture and see the same pattern has carried on from my grandma on my mothers side.
Is there a way I will find some peace from this? Having been trying to deal with it for nearly ten years, I want some time for me for a change

    Jonice Webb - March 29, 2015 Reply

    Dear Soph, your last sentence is very important: “I want some time for me for a change.” Now is the time for you to take whatever distance you need from those who have harmed you. Put up new, healthy boundaries to protect you while you do the work you need, and don’t let guilt get in your way. Mothers are very powerful so it’s understandable why it’s harder to protect yourself from her than from your sisters. But I encourage you to take care of yourself in your relationship with her. You will need to be careful about that if you are going to heal. Keep working and be strong. It will pay off!

Emily - March 25, 2015 Reply

I’ve been in therapy and have circled around the idea that things “weren’t that bad” for me growing up, but looking at your website has reaffirmed that there were issues for me growing up that are impactful in their own way, even if I was well cared for and fed and loved, I was missing a larger piece and emotional connection.
I am in therapy and my therapist will often highlight links between my past and present, but it is hard for me to process because I get defensive and uncomfortable dealing with those feelings. I generally am numb, and while I went through a period of being resentful of my parents, I now cordially interact with them and all is well on the surface. As an independent 25 year old living across the country from my parents, it is easy enough to continue like this, but I am unsure of how the future will unfold. I am wondering if you see young adults that are able to reconcile and transform their relationship with their parents? Growing up in a household where issues were swept under the rug, I don’t know where to begin or if it’s worth the time and energy. I need to do my own internal healing, but I am unsure of how to loop my parents into it or if it’s even appropriate. They never physically abused me, but the way that they responded to my emotional needs left me confused and desiring more connection. So I can see how I have a hard time being attuned to myself as an adult, I am just feeling stuck on what to do with it.
I also am wondering if you see any differences in only children experiencing CEN? I spent a lot of my time in childhood alone, my parents home but unavailable for me emotionally. I don’t have siblings to share this experience with as an adult, and my whole extended family just sees the superficial part of my life. While I play along easily to superficiality as my parents taught me growing up, I always feel disconnected and tend to question and overanalyze my relationships. Any advice?

    Jonice Webb - March 28, 2015 Reply

    Dear Emily, you sound like a case of pure CEN. Have you asked your therapist to work with you on the exact definition you’ve found on this website and in the book? (many therapists define CEN very differently or less completely). Some parents are unable to understand or face how they’ve failed their child, whereas others are far more workable. Only you, with the help of your therapist, can judge whether and when to bring this up to your parents. Please know that even though you’re an only child, you are not alone! You are in the company of many other young people who have stilted, emotionally empty relationships with their parents. Please keep working on yourself now, and make decisions about your parents when you feel stronger and more connected to your emotions.

walt - March 24, 2015 Reply

Hi! I answered 10 yes’s, emotional neglect at those development ages. I quit drinking in 89 for 12 yrs., raised my girl alone since 3yr old until college. I went out and drank for 2 1/2 yrs. Quit again for 8 yrs, and now about a year ago started drinking again, however not everyday. I know now I was self medicating all those years, been to counseling off and on. For me it’s not about the drinking, it’s about the thinking, my thoughts are always on the defense. I quit going to AA meetings, couldn’t really have a solid relationship with any of them. I have an extremely hard time maintaining a relationship for long period of time. I have to call others most always. Such loneliness is coming up for me now, 64yrs old, so I have been in recovery for years. I have taken the anti-depr’s and didn’t like that. Now I am seeing a hypnotist whom deals with CEN among other things. I quit smoking for three yrs but have started again, (beating myself up over that) Gotten to the point that I really don’t care about to much of anything. I did some of the Bradshaw work back in the 90’s, read the book “the homecoming”, and just now finding out about the PTSD trauma I had as a young boy. I am really at wit’s end about it all, I have read other books as well about the inner child. In fact I got books and books and books about all of recovery, spiritual teachings, and what not. At present I have gotten into mindfulness meditation as well. I feel stuck and life is running out on me, so sad and unhappy most of the time.

    Jonice Webb - March 28, 2015 Reply

    Dear Walt, I hear how much you are struggling and I’m so sorry about that. it sounds like you are still drinking? I hope you won’t underestimate the power of alcohol to interfere with health and progress. It sounds like you’re doing some very positive things for yourself. I also suggest that you read Running on Empty if you haven’t already. Keep working at it, OK?

Alec - March 23, 2015 Reply

On the one hand, this makes perfect sense to me. But on the other hand, it reminds me of what it felt like being in “eclectic” therapy (which I now think is total bullcrap) and having to talk about my childhood when I didn’t feel the need to talk about my childhood; I didn’t have an eating disorder when I was a child; I just needed to know how to deal with myself AT THAT PRESENT MOMENT.

Like: no one has a perfect childhood. And I didn’t feel messed up about mine until I had to talk about it, and yes my childhood obsession with the movie Mathilda was probably a Red Flag (she was adopted! By her super pretty TEACHER! Who didn’t fulfill her duties as a teacher / decent human being when she neglected to report the terrible abuse at her school to the proper authorities?? but I digress)

(And also how often I would literally, pathetically sing the “nobody loves me, everybody hates me” nursery rhyme to myself, while sobbing, after being sent to my room, which is a hilarious story if you tell it the right way at dinner parties)

And I mean, yes: I would like everyone (who isn’t actively abusive) with a young child to know that if said child “runs away” in any capacity, they’re doing it to see if anyone loves them enough to follow; for the love of God it is not that difficult to intuit the emotional needs of a toddler; this is not an appropriate time for the “cry it out” approach; double so if they yell at you to go away when you check on them

But like

Why dredge it up? Do I really need to get all upset? Obliviousness was working just fine! I just need coping mechanisms and the ability to show my horrible squishy underside to people, which I’ve been told is called “intimacy” but still sounds kind of like torture to me.

Like, my parents were WASPs who maybe don’t deal with emotions super well. Throwing the word “neglect” around sounds a lot like blowing things out of proportion.

Is this really that big a deal?

    Jonice Webb - March 28, 2015 Reply

    Hi Alec, the definition of CEN is: a parent’s failure to respond ENOUGH to the child’s emotional needs. If your well-meaning parents responded enough, then you will be OK. If they fell short, for whatever reason, you may struggle with understanding, reading, sitting with, expressing and managing your emotions. Since emotions are a vital connection to the world and other people, it surely can be a big deal for many folks. Only you can judge whether you had enough validation. I surely do not encourage you to wallow in the past! But understanding what went wrong is a good start to fixing it. And unfortunately, that does usually involve looking back at your childhood. Keep up your good humor Alec, and keep sorting it all out. I wish you happiness and health!

anonymous - March 21, 2015 Reply

I have been seeing a councillor for 3 months for depression (but realise now has been going on for years). To cut a long story short – I listened to a podcast you did online and related to the issues, so purchased your book. I read it from cover to cover in tears as I scored 19 yes’ es on the questionnaire, identified both my parents traits from your descriptions, & in your chapter “the neglected child, all grown up” it was as though you knew the real me and were writing about who I am and how I feel. It scared me ! I don’t know
what to do as the how to change bit sounds great, but is so hard to even think I can do it. I also have suicidal feelings which engulf me and don’t know if I can talk to my councillor as I feel so stupid & embarrassed about the whole situation. Will he even understand what emotional neglect is and what if he doesn’t believe me .

    Jonice Webb - March 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear Anonymous, Step 1 is don’t feel stupid and embarrassed! Or at least do not let it get in your way of telling your counselor what you are really going through. That is vital info that he must have. I suggest that you give your counselor a copy of Running on Empty and ask him to look at it. Ask him to pay special attention to Chapter 4 (the chapter about suicidal feelings). This will open up conversation and maybe ease your way to talk about this. Please know that all therapists hear people express suicidal feelings. It is not something we judge anyone for. We just want to know about it. He will believe you, I promise. Take care, and keep doing the good work you’re doing!

      anonymous - March 28, 2015 Reply

      I gave the book to my councillor as suggested (along with a letter of how low I really was) and now wait nervously for Tuesday night. I don’t know why as he has never judged, criticised or said anything to make me believe not to trust him. He has mentioned suicide a few times but I just shut down as so embarrassed that I have sunk that low but hopefully my letter will explain it a little better. I am living for Tuesday but also scared as what if he doesn’t understand ? 🙁

        Jonice Webb - March 29, 2015 Reply

        You have taken a giant step toward healing. It required a lot of courage. Applause from all of us here. I feel sure that your risk will pay off. Take care!

caroline - March 20, 2015 Reply

Do you have advice about how to deal with workplace conversations which require you to share family history? Really, there is always at least one woman who must know…. it is really none of their business but, in my area they have no other life and in first meeting this is something they are old fashioned about. I don’t want to see my family as negative. I have moved on. This, they think is appalling and unimaginable. I cannot tell them they are the lacking beings dependent on their family only.

    Jonice Webb - March 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear Caroline, I’m not 100% sure I understand your question. But I’ll try to answer. I think “appalling and unimaginable,” is in this case just another word for “jealous.” I think you should feel good about where you’re at, and refuse to see your progress in life as negative. It’s positive, and those women know it. Just be yourself and stop worrying about what other people think!

AGK - March 17, 2015 Reply

Consequences & discipline were just about I got, I was abused and I crossed a line and can’t get back. Could this be from c.e.n., also, could homicidal thoughts, like suicide attempts, be from c.e.n.?

    Jonice Webb - March 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear AGK, I think that what you are suffering from is probably more a result of harsh treatment and abuse in your childhood. If you don’t have a therapist, I sincerely hope that you will find a good one and start talking about your childhood and your current feelings. CEN is involved in every form of child abuse, and could also be at play. In Running on Empty there is a chapter about suicidal feelings and CEN. If you identify with the woman featured in the chapter, it may help you answer your question. I don’t typically think of homicidal thoughts as a part of CEN. They are usually driven by anger. Please open up to a therapist and let them help. All my best wishes.

Catherine - March 16, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb, I have your book and have done work with it but currently my therapist is working with me on complex-ptsd and adhd issues. I am in my 60’s now and I’ve never had an independent life. I was trained to take care of my mother–her problems, conflicts with my father, etc., and by the time I might have started a life of my own, I had no social or career skills, no family support and more dysfunctional “fight/flight/freeze” reactivity than I could comprehend, despite lifelong searching. My father died in 2000; my mother will be 95-YEARS OLD this year–and I am her 24/7 caretaker. My brother speaks to her 5 minutes a month, no real support of any kind. My only emotional support my whole life has been my dogs; my last two pups died last year and it’s stressing me to the ultimate limits! I desperately want to have a service dog to help me control the constant triggering, and keep stress w/i some limits. I do the best that I can, not willing to “reject” mother (put her unnecessarily in nursing home), and try to take care of our home and property, finances, and work on my own survival, but my time is becoming so limited and psychological reactivity becoming somaticized (FM, IBS). Finding no time to even try to apply for a service dog and on my dismal soc. security benefit I’m sure never going to be able to pay for a service dog at $20-35,000. I’m barely hanging on–looking for time to have just a few years of life for me!

    Jonice Webb - March 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear Catherine, I’m so sorry that your needs and feelings have been pushed to the side your whole life. This type of treatment taught you that you are irrelevant, and you are continuing to treat yourself this way. But with help from your therapist, and if you keep working through Running on Empty, I believe you can turn that around, and start putting your needs first. Because that’s how it should be. Wishing you happiness and health!

Anonymous - March 16, 2015 Reply

Hello there,

I have been in a relationship with someone who was emotionally neglected as a child, for 24 year. I have only realised this in the past couple of years. I have had problems with depression, anxiety and self-worth issues for as long as I can remember and I now feel that a significant cause of this has been being with someone who is emotionally unavailable. I also experienced minor emotional neglect as a child. The good news is my partner is now aware of what is wrong, is in counselling and wants to make things work between us, and also so he can be a good Dad.

Do you think I would benefit from reading your book as I can’t find any specific support for long-term partners of emotionally neglectful people? Any advice you can offer would be so welcome as I feel quite broken. Many thanks. x

    Jonice Webb - March 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear Anonymous, there is no doubt that being with a CEN person for 24 years will take its toll. I’m so happy that your partner is working on it! One thing I can suggest is to read Running on Empty together, discussing sections as you go along. Focus on how the CEN has played out in your relationship and affected each of you. Another thing I recommend, when your partner is ready, is to go to couples counseling. There’s a lot of history for the two of you to heal from. I hope this offers you some direction, and I wish you all the best!

Tom - March 14, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

I’m currently halfway through your book and I’m seeing a lot of myself in many of the case studies. The idea of CEN is bringing a lot of things into focus for me in a way that other ways of thinking haven’t. Here’s my question: one reason I’d never thought of myself as having been neglected is that I assumed my childhood was normal and this was how all families were. I didn’t have a model of care-ful parenting to compare to. And I still don’t: I simply don’t know what kinds of things more skilful or healthier parents than mine would have done in the same situations. Do you have any suggestions for such models? Books, stories, movies, etc. that show what healthy, well-attuned families are like, so that those of us who didn’t have them can get a sense of what normal is?

    Jonice Webb - March 21, 2015 Reply

    Dear Tom, that’s such a good question! The fact that I’ve been thinking on this for a week and come up with nothing says a lot. I don’t think authors or screenwriters write about well-attuned families because there is less intensity and drama in them. I’m so sorry to have such a poor answer for you. If I do come up with something I’ll reply again, OK? Take care!

    lwh16 - October 4, 2015 Reply

    “National Velvet” is an incredible film, showing a mother who genuinely nurtures her kids and wants them to be who they are. An oldie but goodie.

    “The Sound of Music” shows CEN — until nurture comes along — and the difference that makes.

Anonymous - March 13, 2015 Reply

I am the third child in a family of 4 children (2 older sisters and a younger brother) and we have all endured extreme CEN for our entire lives. I remember during my childhood there was a lot of turmoil and family conflict between my father’s side and my parents. To cut a long store short- my mother and father have both been victims of abuse (father- emotional and mother-emotional/physical) which they could not escape due to family pressures.
My siblings and were always provided for and were allowed to do what we wanted, but our emotions were not cared for or developed. The relationships between us siblings has always been hostile and disrespectful- something that started out as “childish bickering” but has developed into deep emotional and verbal abuse (its become “normal” for us to behave this way with each other because nobody has taught us otherwise).
I believe a part of the cause for this is my older sister. She has always been incredibley hostile and malicious- even as a child. She was known as the “loud/problematic/angry” child that would create arguments and throw tantrums wherever she went. I, being her younger sister, was subjected to immense bullying and daily emotional abuse- to a point where I grew up believing that is what “older sisters” are normally like. It has gotten so bad that she regularly tells me to “kill myself” and intentionally does things to hurt my feelings and make me feel bad about myself.
I believe that if my parents had their emotional needs met and were not just “living to provide for their kids,” my sister (and the rest of us) could have received the emotional and social training required for her to change her hostile behaviour. Because this never happened (the normal way of resolving an argument in our family was my mom saying “dont talk to each other”/”ignore it”) my sister was constantly appeased for her bad behaviour. My other siblings and I have grown up fending for ourselves emotionally. We have grown up having to defend ourselves against our hostile sister, which has lead me to develop characteristics like hers (which I truly hate about myself) in order to deal with all the arguments. I truly believe that if it were just the three of us kids (if my hostile sister was not born) our family dynamic would be much more functional than it is now.
Now we are all young adults (my younger brother is 19 and my oldest sister is 27) and begining our own separate lives, but we do not have any functional family life together. Nobody speaks to each other, and my mother is the only neutral person in the dynamic. We have attempted on multiple occasions to have “family meetings” but they always end the same- screaming and accusing at each other in tears. If given the opportunity I would like to resolve my relationships with my siblings, in order to move on with my life, however, my older sisters have expressed their “indifference” with the situation, because they are tired of trying.
My question is- how can one move forward in a situation of extreme emotional neglect and family dysfuntion if the other members are not willing or ready? We are all suffering immensely (especially my mother who is trying her hardest to cope) and I know that if we all cut ties it will not be the end of our emotional suffering.

    Jonice Webb - March 15, 2015 Reply

    I’m sorry to say that there is only one way to move forward in this situation. And that is to build internal boundaries which will help you be less affected by your family’s behavior, and that may mean loosening, or even severing, some ties. Most people need lots of help when it comes to self-protecting from a family like yours. Please seek a therapist to walk you through it. You deserve to be happier, and it will be hard to achieve that while your family continues to treat you this way. Take care!

Anonymous - March 10, 2015 Reply

I came across an article about Robin Williams and how he may have had CEN. I never heard of it before.As I read the article I started to realize that it was describing my own experience with childhood. I grew up with a biological mother and a step father who met my mother when I was around a year old.They were both very neglectful parents. My step father was extremely abusive physically and verbally. I was flicked in the face and head,kicked in the back, dragged by my hair, punched in the face and swore at on a normal basis. I do not remember ever hearing anyone in my life saying “I love you” to me until I was around 17. At about 7 years old I was sexually abused twice by a sitter and I didn’t tell anyone until I was about 15.I didn’t make it past 9th grade in High School and ended up moving out of my parents home when I was around 16. Over the years I have moved many times and I have pulled completely away from anyone in my family.Today I have nothing to do with my family and have no one I would consider a close friend.I am now a 42 year old single father raising 2 boys completely on my own. I raise them the exact opposite of what I grew up like. I tell them I love them and let them know they are everything to me. I took your survey and easily answered yes to 14 of the 22 questions.I have always felt there is something “wrong” and “lacking” inside of me.Reading that article is the closest I have ever come to understanding what is going on inside of me.I’ve never asked for help or for that matter even knew where to start. My question is,at my age where do I start?

    Jonice Webb - March 11, 2015 Reply

    It sounds like you grew up with a combo of physical and emotional abuse and Emotional Neglect. I think the fact that you’re raising your children differently speaks volumes. It tells me that you have loads of potential to heal. It will be a matter of learning to treat yourself the way you treat your sons. Please find a solid, trained therapist to work with and read Running on Empty. Then take the book to your therapist to help him/her understand what you feel, and why. I wish you all the best moving forward!

Patrick - March 10, 2015 Reply

Dr Webb,

As a child I suffered from years of physical and emotional abuse. I am also all too familiar with child emotional neglect; my parents were experts at it. I was lonely and depressed; my tears, drugs and alcohol were my companions. I recognized some of my peers feeling the same as I did. No words were spoken but their eyes told their story. To cover my gender identity I married at the age of 19. I had two children within 19 months and divorced a 21. I raised my children alone. She made the choice not to be a mother. My children were raised believing they were loved, cared for and listened to. They always knew that I could take one look at them and immediately recognize their feelings; whether happy or sad and everything in between. They were taught to always express themselves emotionally and that it was ok to be scared to do so. We had daily talks on feelings and emotions. We also had weekly talks sitting at the kitchen table. No stone was left unturned. After my children became adults I began a relationship with a man that was physical, sexually and emotional abusive. After seven years I walked away. I have received years of therapy on many levels. I have always understood why I consciously made the decisions I did. I never lived in denial. But what I failed to recognize my entire life was, I never gave myself permission to be me. I am terminally ill. I’m dying from two forms of pulmonary diseases. One I gave myself from abusing my body and the other is genetic 1/100,000. I am 51 years old. I have always been aware of child emotional neglect. I see it everywhere. I have used the term for over three decades. I want to spend my remaining life raising awareness of CEN. I have only shared awareness within my family/friends circle. What advice do you have for me and others to share our knowledge and to help as many children and adults as possible? Thank you for your time.

    Jonice Webb - March 11, 2015 Reply

    Dear Patrick, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I’m happy that you now realize that you must be who you are. But I’m sad that you have such serious medical struggles. Have you thought about writing or speaking? You have a powerful set of experiences that you can share with others, and the internet is a great place to do it. But aside from that, I think that talking and sharing with the people around you is a way to make a real difference, and you’re already doing that. I hope you’ll focus on yourself, and making yourself happy. All my best.

Lisa K - March 10, 2015 Reply

Hello Dr. Webb,
As I write this I feel a bit guilty, like I am telling on my parents.
I have been struggling with anxiety issues for about 15 years or so,(really all my life); never really able to get to the root of my problems. Always thinking what the heck is wrong with ME! When I decided to google anxiety disorders today, I honestly never thought about this being something to consider. Like you said in your video, we just don’t think it or feel it, or remember these things.
When I was a young girl sitting in my room on my bed, I can remember now how I would shut everything out that was going on around me. My brother who is 3 years younger also suffers with a lot of anxiety issues, as we were growing up, he was the one who got the least of the blunts. My childhood was a hostile environment, Father was an alcoholic, and my Mother was so young and unaware of how to manage her crazy life with 2 kids in tow. Most of my abuse was mental, there was also some physical. In school I was made fun of and bullied, an outcast, so I made up pretend friends. I was sick a lot, and at age 10 my Mother’s doctor prescribed me medication for depression. I acted out in some very weird and
un-explainable ways, that when I think of them now, I am embarrassed, ashamed, and totally confused…..
I can’t remember my Mom telling me she loves me or holding me, hugging me, I just remember thinking that maybe if I weren’t here anymore that she might realize that she did want me. My adolescent years were much like all of your other people’s posts. With the wrong man, for the wrong reasons, abusive and chaotic. I myself turned to drugs and alcohol, and battle it to this day. I feel as if I am just existing in this crazy world. I have 2 children and 3 grandchildren, and I Love them dearly, but I do feel as though I keep disconnected to an extent. I do not enjoy my life at all, I feel like I am empty, vacant, and only occupied, and kept company by my fears. I have no social life and no close friends, and have not for so long, I have no one. Yes I have tried therapy and medication, and the whole nine yards, and still here I am in limbo.

    Jonice Webb - March 15, 2015 Reply

    Dear Lisa, I’m so sorry you went through all this as a child. It sounds like a combo of extreme CEN with abuse as well. I think you feel alone and vacant because you have a wall up which protected you as a child. But now you longer need it, and it’s keeping out the people who love you most. I urge you to work on letting down your wall, getting in touch with your emotions, and accepting your own feelings and needs. I think Running on Empty will help you through that process. Working through the book with a therapist’s help will be even more effective. I wish you all the best.

Jay Barr - March 9, 2015 Reply

My parents divorced when I was very young. My mother was not around very much (I lived with her, not my Dad) and she often left my older brother in charge of watching me. Not surprisingly, he didn’t do a very good job…to put it mildly. I remember, very specifically, not feeling loved a lot of the time and being very unhappy for a very large portion of my childhood.
I now suffer from deep feelings of inadequacy (more so now that I am 47 and lost most of my youthful and more appealing appearance). I am married with young children but my marriage, for the most part, is in shambles- I pretty much just stick it out for my kids at this point. I usually feel like I can handle all this but there are moments of despair that are pretty overwhelming every now and then.
I have not yet read your book but I am hopeful that it may just be what I need- although you have stated in your videos that CEN is not generally something that is easily remembered, I have pretty vivid memories of being left all alone as a child- being that my brother would typically leave soon after my mother and, magically (seemingly), reappear just before she got home (I never did know how he always seemed to time that out just right) and feeling very lonely and frightened for most of that time.
I do vaguely recall my mom telling me she loved me, from time to time, but she seemed to just have so little interest in my feelings, my school activities, my whereabouts, my appearance, or even my safety (when I was left all alone so often). I almost feel guilty saying anything less-than-appealing about my mother because she is so good to me now (she acknowledges that she was neglectful)I think partly due to feelings of guilt…but mostly of love. I just find it hard to understand how she can be so loving now, but so neglectful then.
I also suffer bouts of pretty severe insomnia, although not nearly as often as I use to (I guess there are advantages to be 47 after all) and I was wondering if there is a connection between that and CEN.
Thanks for recognizing and bringing this issue, that is way too often overlooked, to the attention of the mental health community!


    Jonice Webb - March 15, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jay, I think it’s really hard when your mother did love you and meant well, but just didn’t do what you naturally needed as a child. It’s almost easier when you can get angry! I do think insomnia can be the result of repressed feelings, which threaten to come out at night. I think welcoming your feelings, and learning about them, may help with it. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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