Childhood Emotional Neglect Discussion Page

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

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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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herb - September 7, 2015 Reply

I stumbled upon your web-site this morning and read about CEN and a light went up. By reading about CEN I realized why I have been struggling most of my life. I looked at the questionnaire and most of them I can relate to. You see I grew up in an orphanage back in the 50s and 60s. I was emotionally as well as physical abused.
Thank you for making everyone aware that CEN is a problem and that with help one can overcome this debilitating issue.

Anius - September 4, 2015 Reply

I had a father who I realized through your discussion of CEN that he was emotionally absent in my life, even if he was seldom a mean parent especially when I was older, and we had fun playing music and games. I’m seldom in contact with him now since my parents are divorced.

My mother has been a continuous source of fear and anxiety for me throughout my life, since I was a teen and still up til now, as a 22 year old. I was diagnosed with Autism as a kid, and had undiagnosed ADHD symptoms, that interfered with my functioning at school in the past, and still so now. Instead of working with me, trying to support me emotionally, trying to help me learn to manage my learning disabilities and develop school skills without threatening me with punishment or holding anything over my head, I was treated like I was being lazy, like I didn’t care about school or my future and wasn’t trying hard enough. I was frequently lectured at, yelled at, and berated about this, which was often so bad that I cried, and if I felt bad about this I was accused of feeling sorry for myself. And in between the beratings she is a totally different person, she provides for my financial and physical needs generously, is a good cook, and is actually a fun parent. My therapist and I believe that being subject to this repeatedly for years caused me to develop an anxiety disorder and c-PTSD. My anxiety causes me to aggressively avoid anything school related, financial, administrative, anything my mom would have yelled at me for had I failed at it.

I was never aware of my ADHD or my anxiety, and I struggled with identifying as autistic due to internalized ableism and bullying, and I never developed skills for dealing with my disorders, nor did I develop school skills. To this day in my fourth year at college my skills are still very much underdeveloped. I feel like I am trying to learn things that I should have learned back in middle school but never happened. All my life I felt like there was something seriously wrong with me, that I would never be a good student, I would never be able to function in the “real world”, that there was something my mom and other people had that I didn’t. But of course If I felt this way about myself it was only because I was “feeling sorry for myself” and all I needed to do was “stop”.

Within the past few years, I learned that my mother was abusive, that I had ADHD, accepted the fact that I was Autistic, and that I had anxiety problems, and started seeing therapists and starting to heal. And meanwhile the berating had continued and only gotten worse, as the impact of my failings has risen in magnitude. She accuses me of trying to be a victim and of demonizing her, and has made it perfectly clear that she thinks that parents yelling at their kids is okay and seems deeply offended by the fact that I wholeheartedly, honestly believe that it is wrong.

I feel like the only thing I can do at this point is attempt to separate myself financially so that at least she can’t hold that over my head. I thought she was going to change, but the “conversation” we had a few weeks ago indicates that she hasn’t changed at all, and falling for her nice words over email the following night would only be falling into the same trap I’ve been in for years.

I’m hoping that I can continue to heal, and to separate myself fully and become totally independent from her, and that I’ll finally be able to develop the skills that are long overdue.

Anonymous - September 3, 2015 Reply

Dear Janice,
I simply wanted to thank you.

Your book has invalidated that thought I had that something was “fundamentally” wrong with me.
A thought I had all my life.
A thought I never understood.
It’s just starting to make sense.
The things they never said to me.
The things they never noticed.
The pain I had to hide away.
The shame and omnipresent guilt.
And the unexplained anger… so destructive…
I am starting to feel.
It’s surprisingly beautiful.

And if I feel, I can help my children too.
And for that alone, I will never be able to thank you enough.

    Jonice Webb - September 3, 2015 Reply

    Those are lovely words that I really appreciate! Thanks for sharing.

no one special - August 25, 2015 Reply

It is unfortunate that you cannot answer questions any longer. What is the point of writing one if it cannot get a response? I guess I will peruse other entries to see if anything fits for me. I hope you will reconsider your position. If I think of a topic for a blog post, I’ll let you know.

    Jonice Webb - August 31, 2015 Reply

    I know, I’m really sorry. It’s for two reasons, actually. I was having difficulty keeping up with the questions and answering them due to my own time constraints. Also, it can become an issue of professional standards, as some of the questions are quite personal. As much as I was enjoying being able to help, any question I answer can become too similar to therapy, which I can’t do without really getting to know the person who’s asking the question. I’m sad about it too. My apologies, and I hope you can find some answers in some of the other thoughtful and interesting posts on the page. Wishing you all the best.

Anonymous - August 18, 2015 Reply

I grew up in a normal home. Mom and dad, nothing unusual. But dad rarely spoke to me other than to occasionally yell or discipline. My dad is a big man, and I’m the opposite and being skinny to this day has always been a negative sensitive thing. In my young years, mom would sit down and try to get me to open up, she did a good job and I love her for it. But often as I tried to put in to words why I felt bad, I couldn’t. She perceived it might have something to do with my dad, but then she’d explain that ‘he grew up in a very bad environment and didn’t know how to be a dad’. So, I learned early I guess to excuse and pity his low self-esteem and just move on. I scored high on your CEN test, something like 18 of 22 ‘yes’. Lately, I opened up to a friend for the first time ever about these deep buried feelings. There’s always been a strange emptiness and need for a strong male faceless person to influence me. I’m now a forty year old man and yet inside I feel like a little boy that needs a daddy. It’s embarrassing to even put this in to words. It’s not like I had no emotional attention, mom tried, so what’s the problem? Lots of kids grow up with only a mom. Why wasn’t that good enough for me? I feel like the fraud you mention in one of your test questions.

Mary - August 18, 2015 Reply

After reading so many books on childhood trauma to come to terms with my own experiences, I was blown away by “Running on Empty”! It seems that while the others gave insights into the neglect and abuse, this book brought it all into sharp focus. Because of that, I am beginning to be in touch with my jumbled emotions for the first time. It has brought the emotional boil to the surface yet with clarity and hope to work through this.

Years of seeking solutions to my “hidden problem” taught me many useful tools such as meditation, yoga, exercise, and herbal remedies. Yet I kept manifesting pain through the relationships close to me. Now it seems as if I’m seeing the world in a whole new light.

Being the youngest of four with an alcoholic, military father and a co-dependent, angry and bitter mother was it’s own battlefield. Yes, blood splattered walls, carpets, walls with head impressions, broken mirrors, windows, forks and knives flying across the room, fire pokers slammed into the chest were some of my childhood memories.

When I could not take the abuse anymore nor the hypocrisy of the “good Catholic” facade, I would blurt out my impressions of their false front only to be met with both parents at the same time physically abusing me. As my dad was sitting on my chest choking me, my mother would say hit her again, she deserves it. That would intensify his punching my face. I’d like to say this was a one time incident…. but it wasn’t. Usually the belt would be included too. All this from those who say they love you??? I’m finally able to identify and feel the anger and anxiety that I have suppressed for 50 years.

To make matters worse, there weren’t any extended family around. I had no one to hold me or tell me I was loved. We moved every two years. Even my siblings weren’t to be trusted as they too were a little higher up on the pecking order and would “report” anything I did out of line. Hiding in closets was my main source of comfort.

In always putting others needs before mine, I turned to a giving profession… mainly to prevent any attacks on myself. If I made people feel good, it was my guarantee that they wouldn’t hurt me. So as a massage therapist, I had all the control of who came in my office and who I would work on.

I never had a childhood because I became an automaton of these ostentatious, narcissistic parents who lived vicariously thru me. Yet that small voice that instructed me to “move thousands of miles away from them or you’ll never have your own life” when I was in my 20’s was my best move.

To this day they still seek to control me with threats and intimidation even though they’re now in their 80’s. I do have more work now with the tools and the worksheets in this book but for the first time, I feel hopeful. There’s a way out of this grinding sadness and depression and I’m going for all the gusto that I can! Thank You Loving Creator/Universe for the work of Dr. Jonice Webb!

B - August 14, 2015 Reply

I discovered the source of my issues –CEN–now that I’m 50 which has been a tremendous help. But my children are in there 20’s and one seems to be affected the most by my actions –how can I start to reverse that? Chapter 8 in the book seems best suited for younger parents and younger children.

Elaine - August 6, 2015 Reply

I am very interested to read your material, Dr. Webb. The concept is very well stated. I think the most painful thing I’ve experienced about my parents, both being alcoholics and the children of alcoholics, is that they never realize/ accept and respond in a normal healthy way to my pain or even my need for validation when I have any success. I was living alone across the country many years ago and I was in a car accident that almost killed me. My parents never came to visit. I lived in Colorado for 18 years when they lived in California and then Nevada and they came to visit me twice. I asked my mother repeatedly, year after year to come and visit. They didn’t come to my college graduation. Then finally when she said she was going to come, the year before I was going to move out of Colorado, I told her no, forget it- I was so bitter. I am almost 50 years old and she and my father, while they love me, always act like whatever hurt I feel is somehow overexaggerated and is my “drama queen” tendency, when I wanted was a visit. Conversely, when I would tell my friends in Colorado that my family never visits, they would be shocked by it. It’s so hard to identify whether my feelings are normal or overreactions because of this kind of stuff. It’s so confusing. I know they feel love, but they behave so poorly and non-responsively. It’s made me feel so unloved and depressed. I am so sick of swinging back and forth between trying to forgive, then feeling angry and bitter all over again. They’ve created so much hardship for me and yet I know it was unintentional. I’m tired of trying to sort all this out. It’s exhausting.

Alex - July 28, 2015 Reply

Thank you so much for this wonderful theory. It really strikes a chord with me.

My mum had me when she was 17, has BPD, and from what she says it sounds like she suffered CEN from my nan.

I don’t remember my mum being emotionally ‘there’ much. I’m an only child and she focused most of her attention on her boyfriends. She told my dad to leave when I was a few months old and told me when I was growing up that he didn’t want to be with us which made me feel very unloveable (he later told me this was nonsense but that she forced him to leave, was depressed and paranoid which she is). I got most of my care from my grand parents who lived across the road, and my mum was emotionally absent and obsessed with the abusive men she seemed to choose. I felt used by her when she needed me, and then ignored when she didn’t.

When I was little she seemed to foster a clingy relationship with me and everyone said I didn’t want her out of my sight. She would forget to tell me when my dad was coming to take me out and id be terrified to leave her. She’d also say and do things to try and break the bonds i formed with other family members (my dad, nan and aunts). It felt like she wanted to be my sole emotional caregiver, but just wasn’t up to the task. I spent much of my childhood feeling very alone and helpless.

This resulted in a fairly distant relationship between us both until I hit about 18 and she had a breakdown. She was diagnosed with BPD and suddenly switched to wanting to hug me all the time and being overly affectionate. This has continued for 12 years. It’s like she sees me as an extension of herself and wants to see or speak to me constantly. I find it very difficult because she always wants more than I can give and I’m left feeling guilty and exhausted. She mis-remembers the past and makes out like it was me and her against the world when I felt more like her prisoner of bad choices. Is this switch something than can happen in CEN parents? I find it hard to broach with my family as she’s the ‘sick’ one and we’re all used to walking on egg shells, whereas I’m the ‘strong’ one. Little do they know! Feels awful feeling a stranger in your own family.

Thank you so much I really appreciate your thoughts and time.

H - July 28, 2015 Reply

I’m the youngest child. After my father died, my family seemed to die too. But I was 13 – so perhaps I was just finally seeing them clearly.
From birth to 13 – his death – I had the perfect, golden childhood. And sometimes, that hurts more than the things I had to go through in the years that followed.
I was in therapy for a few years. Took anti-depressants for 7-8 years.
I seem fine to everyone. I seem fine to doctors. I don’t take SSRI’s anymore and I can’t handle how I feel. I gave up (I’m not interested in suicide – which in my religion means I won’t get to see my father again) and I literally don’t do anything anymore.
I didn’t just have emotional neglect – it was leaning toward abuse (just not physical). Lately I have no idea how to function in the most basic ways. It didn’t bother me while I was erasing my feelings through medication but now I’m aware of how much time passed in a complacent blur. 8 years of peace though – no struggle to get groceries and have a shower.

I want to get better. I don’t have much hope though. It’s hard. I understand emotions well. I was always an affectionate kid – who wanted to talk it out with my family if I felt they were being unfair or mean. They used to think I was weird. I was always expressing how much I love/missed them, giving hugs and kisses and that general mushiness. They hurt, rejected, and ignored me. They tried to control my decisions and life even after I was married. I never got away from them. I’m tired of trying to be happy. It shouldn’t be so hard to be at peace with yourself. Worst, is when you rationalize the pain and start seeing yourself as a common denominator. Like, this is just the way He created me – I suck, I don’t deserve anything fulfilling with another.

Thanks for the book. This is literally the first time in 30 years that I’ve seen anything about emotional neglect, and it makes me feel less isolated.

Karoline - July 26, 2015 Reply

I haven’t heard the term CEN before, but it resonates strongly with me. I know my family is very disconnected these days, and we speak very rarely to each other. I don’t recall ever having heard or said to each other “I love you” when growing up, although I cannot deny that there was much love and joy within our family unit. I doubt my parents knew how.

Strangely, I feel this was something quite common amongst folks growing up in New Zealand in the era of 40s through to 60s. We talk about there being a ‘bloke’ syndrome where men don’t emote, but I’m not sure if women did either much back then. Even today, i am aware that young men get hassled for emoting, and just last week I heard one youth say to his friend “You all right there, Princess” because of a niggling injury where he was expressing pain.

Do you know if any cultures/ countries suffer more from this than others? I feel New Zealanders as a whole don’t like to talk about our feelings and what is really going on, certainly not as much as Americans do.

Christy - July 22, 2015 Reply

I have been in intense therapy for almost 3 years now. Even though I am working through all the horrors of my past, it is obvious that I just cannot get past my Mother and how I was raised by her. She was a single mom. My parents divorced when I was an infant. My mom tried to raise me as normal as possible but she was always making sure that her needs were met. Leaving me to grow up feeling quite alone and used. I am 38 years old and my Mom makes it very clear to me that I need to do exactly what she wants…..because she has done so much for me growing up. Which hearing that makes me feel like I will never live up to her standards. I will never be able to repay her back for all she did for me while I grew up. It was just she and I growing up. I owe it to her I feel. I am now a wife, and a mother to a beautiful 12 year old daughter.
There are no boundaries between my Mom and I now. She has a key to my house and I really don’t even know why I gave her it. My husband has trouble accepting her. I am miserable. I battle daily with depression, bipolar,anxiety,PTSD,and Borderline Personality Disorder. I have never heard of Childhood Emotional Neglect. Do you think this could be why I can’t move forward in therapy? My therapist, whom I love, is getting frustrated with me because I cann’ot resolve my issues with my mom. I am quite stuck. I am frustrated and mad at myself for not putting up boundaries to her. But I just can’t. My therapist tells me I am choosing to stay stuck. I am so STUCK. Can you please tell me more about your book running on empty? How would it benefit me? I am open to anything that would help me push forward. Thank you Dr. Jonice.

    Jonice Webb - July 25, 2015 Reply

    Hi Christy, you can read more about the book on the page of this website called “The Book,” and you can take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire on the Emotional Neglect Page. If what you are reading strikes a cord, then I think it makes sense to try the book. Emotional Neglect hides underneath trauma and abuse, so it could be a door that might take you somewhere. I hope it helps! Take care.

Todd - July 20, 2015 Reply

In “Running on Empty” you direct the listener to your website to use “change sheets” and other worksheets. Please direct me to these resources as I am eager to begin my journey. I was not able to easily locate these resources on your website. Your help is appreciated.

    Jonice Webb - July 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Todd, sorry you couldn’t find them. They’re on The Book page of my webbsite: http://www.drjonicewebb/the-book/. Take care!

Sinauer - July 19, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,

Greetings from Finland, where I’m eagerly waiting for your book “Running on Empty” to become available at local bookstores, where it’s currently listed as a forthcoming title. Meanwhile, I have read about childhood emotional neglect (CEN) from your webpage and your blog on Psych Central. The concept resonates very well with my childhood experiences and helps to find words where I have struggled so far.

I’m interested in the reception of CEN by researchers in your filed. “Running on Empty” is still a fairly recent publication and it may take a long time before the idea catches on and suitable data is available to test it. Do you know if anyone besides yourself is currenlty working on the topic and maybe putting it to a scientific test?

Despite having no professional expertice in this field or access to your book, I’ve been trying to understand the cause and effect behind CEN. As a statistically inclined person, I’m thinking of the whole population (not just the people seeking therapy) as percentage values (A, B, C and D) in each of the four combinations in the cross table of parental failure vs. no parental failure and emotional problems vs. no problems.

"Parental failure" "No parental failure" row sums
"Emotional problems" A B A+B
"No emotional problems" C D C+D
colum sums A+C B+D 100%

Chances are, that the table turns out a mess in formatting, but let’s hope for the best. I interpret the table cells as follows:

A – This seems to be the focus of CEN.
B – Parents have have done everything reasonable to foster the emotional growth of a child, but the child hasn’t responded. Could this be autism?
C – People who are emotionally healthy despite being neglected by their parents. Did they get their emotional training elsewhere or how did they succeed where others failed?
D – “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

What do you think about the magnitude of the percentage value “A” in relation to B, C and D? Is it reasonable to assume that most parents are not failure and most people do not have debilitating emotional problems, which would suggest A+C < B+D and A+B < C+D? I suppose most children that receive good parenting are in good emotional condition (i.e., BC) or if they develop healthy emotional state despite their situation (A B/(B+D). Would you take an opposite result as evidence against CEN?

Many thanks for your inspiring work!

Best wishes,


    Jonice Webb - July 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Sinauer, I like your statistical way of thinking. And I’m delighted to hear that Running on Empty is a Forthcoming Title in bookstores in Finland. To answer your basic question: there have been thousands of studies on parent/child attachment, which show a direct relationship between the subtleties of how a child is treated by its mother, and who that child becomes as an adult. There is extremely little doubt in the mind of every mental health professional that this is the case. That said, there are many environmental factors which play in, such as genetics, environment, other people present in the child’s life, peers, drugs, etc. Since CEN is the flip-side of parental treatment, but addresses what the parent fails to do (a failure-to-act), it’s a specific aspect of the parent child bond that’s invisible and hard to study. And no, I ‘m not aware of anyone else studying this. I’m hoping that will change. Thanks for your comment!

Alison - July 17, 2015 Reply

For the past couple of years I’ve been figuring out what exactly has been going on with my parents. It’s been such a difficult thing to articulate and nail down. Your book really not only described almost perfectly how I have experienced my parents (especially my Mother), it’s shown me that there is hope in breaking the cycle and leading a healthy life. At the moment, my biggest question is that as an adult child (35) how much do I let my mother in my life (and even the rest of my family). I love them, but also have damage after quite a lot of the encounters. They live 1000 miles away, but I still feel like I just can’t quit my mother. I’m still under the illusion that I can make her love me. She could not care less about anything I’m feeling and can’t handle even discussing it. My question is, how much do I cut them out of my life? It’s the thing I am having the hardest time with. Usually things go well when they are giving me the silent treatment or have unfriended me on Facebook for the 8th time, but I think that child in me just keeps wanting to give them another chance. It feels like it’s an all or nothing thing, but I’m unsure what to do or how to build my life with them in it or not.

    Jonice Webb - July 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Alison, if your mother is unfriending you on Facebook, that’s downright rejection, and it goes beyond benign CEN. There’s a punishment factor there. It sounds to me like your family is pretty complicated. I suggest that you talk to a therapist about this. You need someone to get to know you, understand the complexity of your family, and help you navigate this process step by step. The answer for you will lie in the area of boundaries, and they take time and help to build. I hope you will let someone help you through this. You deserve far better than you’re getting. Wishing you the best!

Jon - July 14, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
My wife stumbled across a blog post of yours on psychcentral, and after reading it herself, read it aloud to me. Your post eerily described my childhood:
I was the “accidental” third, and final, child in my family. My father was an Evangelical pastor in the 1970’s and 80’s (the prevailing mindset of pastors in those days was “Church first, anything left over is for family.) I grew up often feeling that while my basic physical needs were met, I was an afterthought.

Allow me to expand on that last thought a bit: I was born with cleft lip and palate, and while I had some special physical needs as a child, I largely felt emotionally abandoned. My brother is 10 years older, and was your stereotypical birth-order “golden child.” He was the athlete, academic high-achiever, and could largely do no wrong. My sister, 7 years my senior, was the agitator. She was a goody 2-shoes, but she would pacify her emotional needs with food (and I largely believe now, with drugs–prescription, or otherwise). When she had an emotional crisis, it seemed my Mom would drop everything to cater to her needs, while Dad would just be aloof.

My father left church ministry in the early 1990s, for a post as a chaplain in a retirement community. While the social burdens of being under the spotlight of a small-town “Pastor’s Kid,” were left behind, the emotional family dynamic did not change. By this time, both of my siblings had moved on, gone to university and proceeded with their careers. That left me home, and alone.

When we moved for my dad’s new job, the house he bought was a selfish choice–it is a small, secluded acreage in the country. My parents thought they were doing me a great thing when they told me my bedroom would be down in the basement with its own bathroom. At 13 years old, that was not a good thing for me–this place became a retreat – and I became very turtle-like, and would internalize rather than voice my needs. Outside of taking meals with my parents, I would not socialize with them much – nor would they actively engage me. Dad was starting his new career, and seeing as I was largely self-sufficient by this point, Mom decided it was time for her to get back out into the work force as a home health aide. I stopped talking to them, outside of nominal chit-chat. They didn’t listen when I did have needs, so I stopped. I have difficulty to this day voicing needs, asking for help, and accepting my shortcomings.

Throughout my years of secondary school, I feel like the job of meeting my emotional needs was deferred to our church’s youth pastor. I was a high achiever both in academics and extracurricular activities. I was the poster child for all things wholesome. I put all my energies into school and sports–largely seeking parental approval. Always the specter of the PK Standard looming over me (Pastor’s kids, myself included, were raised with the unreasonably high demands of constant perfection, and the unacceptability of failure). When I graduated high school, and turned my sights toward university, and found myself lost. I had no definition, let alone any direction of where to go. I had an overwhelming feeling of “I have to do this on my own, because no one else has my back.”

I put my time in, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education, cum Laude; though anyone who really knows me would say I should have gone to trade school. After university, I stumbled through a couple of teaching jobs, but it was never a fit–I felt like it wasn’t me. I felt like a failure and a fraud. I had transferred schools midway though my studies in order to earn my degree from a private Christian university–I didn’t qualify for much financial aid, as I was the singular dependent of my parents. My father made sure I knew just how much this cost him–and I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me.

I also don’t think Dad ever forgave me for whom I married. I met my wife at junior college,and proposed before transferring to the Christian university. Dad didn’t approve of my choice, as I’m sure he had hoped I’d marry a nice girl from the university. I married my wife, and almost immediately we had trouble. Over and over again she would tell me I was emotionally distant, seemingly angry all the time. We separated for a time, and I lived on my own. I buried my pain nightly in drink; indignant that there was nothing wrong with me. I was just fine, and she needed to “just give me space.” We reconciled about six months later, mutually realizing that we had to both live on our own for a time, and come to terms with life, as we knew it. I realized that she was my best friend, and cared more for me than anyone else in my life.

We began building a life together, am raising a family. Through the whole process, I am still learning to build confidence in myself, though I still have many emotional dark moments, especially when work challenges hit me. I tend to take work setbacks personally, and often worry, as I am the primary provider for my family. So often I feel like an emotional wreck–the right scene of tenderness or absolute joy in movies; or the right hymn in church can make me crumble into a sobbing mess.

While I feel at times that I have made great strides in overcoming my past, other times, I feel like I’ve gone nowhere. My wife sees my inner turmoil, and asks me what’s wrong. I have great difficulty putting to words my unrest.

I will be looking for a copy of your book, as I am desperately looking for some peace from my childhood specters.

    Jonice Webb - July 16, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jon, both are true. You have made great strides, but at times you will still struggle. That’s how progress always goes. It sounds like you’re putting thought and care into growing, and overcoming a childhood which sounds extremely devoid of emotional support and attention. You can overcome this, especially with your wife’s support. Please do get a copy of Running on Empty (Amazon or this website) and go through the whole thing. I truly believe it will help you a lot as you heal. Take care!

Jennifer Allen - July 12, 2015 Reply

How exciting to find this topic on a forum!
I am a child who was neglected and I now see very clearly that it was a generational wound, however that does not mitigate my pain, it only makes it more understandable. I have the great fortune to live next to my sister-in-law who specializes in trauma therapy. Together with her, I worked through the feelings that showed up with my husband, the man I had waited for all my life. Despite him being the love of my life, I realized early on that the pain I thought would be relieved by him, was only made more apparent! So I went for sessions with Anna (next door) for about a year, essentially reliving the trauma (triggered by my relationship). In some ways it could be likened to re-breaking my heart. Once I had felt all those feelings; despair, hopelessness, anger, suicidal thoughts, heart-pounding fear, I came to the worst feeling of all. (Because these memories are implicit, they are not verbal; they are “feeling memories”. And like Dr. Webb states, it really requires a witness who can hold the sacred space for the feelings to come out.) The worst feeling I finally was able to describe as just “need”.
Anyway, the emotional aspect is complete, but my brain is still programmed to “stay neglected”. So I came upon an idea that I tried and it really, truly worked. Anna had to admit that she had never heard of such a solution to this problem before but that it very well might have a positive effect. I found a couple photos of a mother and infant, held tightly in her arms and some of the pictures were skin to skin contact, which really spoke to me. I “imagined” myself to be that infant. Over the course of a few months, several times a day, I would remember that feeling and I believe I was able to “create” a corrective neural pathway. (Many years ago I read that the brain does not know the difference between an imagined event and a real one…so I felt I was choosing my own infancy experience.) It was so beneficial that I soon would experience an involuntary sigh as soon as I thought about “going there”. I still have this sigh even writing about it!!
Recently, Anna has started to learn how to utilize neuro-therapy…which rewires the brain waves. Bessel van der Kolk speaks about this revolutionary process on several youtube videos…it is very exciting! In the meantime, I have been in the counseling role with three of my five siblings who also suffer from CEN. My brother in particular was severely overtaken by it two years ago, and together he and I have come through it with flying colors! I learned so much about what worked and what did not work. Mostly I just held the space for him to bring the unconscious feelings into his consciousness.
My two favorite books for better understanding:

Continuum Concept (to understand what you REALLY missed!)
The Body Keeps the Score

I look forward to reading your book as well Dr. Webb! Thank you for providing this forum for us to find connection!!

Little sister - June 30, 2015 Reply

Hello, I stumbled onto an article referencing you and your book. I had never heard of CEN before, but I took the quiz and had way more than 6 yeses! I think I can somewhat see myself here, possibly because of my parents, but feel uncertain.

My first question is whether a sibling can be the main source of CEN? I’m the younger of two sisters just 16 Mos apart.

I was recently assessed for ptsd, after getting a head injury. My psychiatrist asked me to complete a questionnaire ahead of my appointment. It asked me to note traumatic events from as far back as I could remember. I was surprised at how many of these were due to my sister’s actions, including the recent past (we’re in our 50s now). I was given a ptsd diagnosis.

In discussing this with my psychiatrist and later with a therapist, it finally became obvious to me that I’ve lived with a bully for 51 years – my older sister.

I’m now living with a serìous, incurable, degenerative neurological disease, with extreme physical and cognitive symptoms. I also have an incurable, degenerative and disfiguring autoimmune disease.

I had to stop working full time, stop driving and my world has shrunk. My sister is still being a bully – sometimes.

It’s very confusing because she tells me I’m her favorite person. She always buys me clothes. She makes a lot of grand gestures. But she also makes horrid statements to me, which she later denies. Some examples: “I’m just going to put you someplace and throw away the key.” “I figured out how we can live together and get along when we’re older – one of us won’t be able to talk!”

I had a very good career that I loved and for which I was well compensated. But now, I live on limited funds.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but since I became ill my sister is showering family with expensive presents, She just took our mom to Hawaii.

She just bought our dad a plane ticket so he can join us for Christmas, without even letting me know. He lives on opposite coast. She lives 4 hrs from me, but his ticket was to my city. Wheen he’s here he always stays with me, but now that I’m sick it’s another hardship and puts more work and stress on my I husband.

Luckily, I’m married to the most wonderful guy who’s my best friend and who tries to make things easier for me. He said we’ll figure something out.

So…can a sibling be the source of CEN? If so, what now? I don’t want to continue being bullied and I feel weird about accepting material things when she’s nice. I never know what to expect next from her. We’ll be spending a few days together next month and would like to have some emotional protection from her.

Thank you!!

    Jonice Webb - July 3, 2015 Reply

    Dear Little Sis, I don’t know that this sounds like CEN from your sister (although I wonder if your parents were paying any attention to how she treated you as a child). It sounds more like your sister might feel competitive with you. I suggest you rely on your husband to help you protect yourself when your sister is around. When someone alternates kindness with purposefully hurting you, it’s definitely a sign to watch out, and to distance. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. Maybe you could talk to a therapist about this situation, and give him/her much more information so that you can try to make sense of this.

Marty - June 29, 2015 Reply

Great BOOK!!! If you are going to write a new release, could you include parents with a large number of children? My parents had 5 kids in 5 1/2 years!!! I think you can see the problem. My dad was a workaholic because he had to support his family. My mom was depressed, because she had the sole responsibility of raising all the kids. Both parents were permissive, and both were from large families themselves.


    Jonice Webb - July 3, 2015 Reply

    Hi Marty, it certainly does sound like your parents were depleted while raising you. I’m glad Running on Empty has helped you become more aware of how that affected you! You’re welcome! Take care.

Catherine - June 29, 2015 Reply

Comment above for DaisyMae!

Catherine - June 29, 2015 Reply

You’ve gotten me in tears identifying what you wrote–so close to mine! I’ve struggled for decades and am still engulfed by my soon-to-be 95-year old mother. I even had my therapist tell me a couple of month’s ago he couldn’t help me any more because events at home made me ask for more support that he (I guess) was willing to give–empathy, interest, understanding–nothing out of the realm of supportive therapy–yet he continued using confrontative and minimalizing of what he heard as “whining”–and I saw him for years! I am being very specific in my quest for a good trauma therapist now–I won’t put myself in the position of trying to “change” or influence a therapist again. I’ve found Running on Empty to be a valuable book too–and have to get back to it! I still put myself last, and before I die–without having lived–I will change that! Good luck and best wishes to you!

    Jonice Webb - July 3, 2015 Reply

    Dear Catherine, it surely does sound like you need to start taking better care of yourself! I hope you’re truly starting a fresh phase of putting your own needs first. Definitely find a therapist who will help you take action, and not blame you for your situation. Thanks for your comment!

    DaisyMae - July 5, 2015 Reply

    Hi Catherine,

    Thank you for the kind words and support. I hope we are both successful in this journey. I was brought up to believe that I should be putting everyone else first, that it was selfish to worry about myself or to want anything as long as I had food, shelter, and education. Sounds like you were brought up much the same. I know I have to frustrate my counselor but he is trying very hard to help me figure out just that, how to take care of myself and live the life I want.


    DaisyMae - July 7, 2015 Reply

    Hi Catherine,

    Thank you for your kind words and support. I am hoping to do the same. Putting everyone and everything else first is all I know. I was severely punished, verbally and physically and all in the name of Jesus, growing up as a child if I tried to express any needs or wants. I was even made to feel guilty and ashamed of achievements, wanting to win anything, beat someone. I am a process thinker and have no competitive nature at all, so guess the positive is that it has helped me to be successful in my career of continuous process improvement and cross functional team management. But, my work, unfortunately, is all that I have right now in my life. Best wishes and take care!

Rob - June 28, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr Webb, I just found your website today and I’m really intrigued by the concept of CEN. When applying for a church ministry program recently, I was told by a psychologist screener that I may suffer from a similar condition called Emotional Deprivation Disorder, after he administered a short personal interview, a Rohrschach test, and a 175 question personality test. While I was surprised by the diagnosis after such a brief and questionable screening methodology, I’ve been reading as much as I can about EDD, although there isn’t much out there. I’ve read some of the work of Dr. Conrad Baars and Dr. Alice Terruwe who first named and defined the cluster of similar symptoms. I took the questionnaire on your website today and answered almost all questions with a “yes”, so it seems that there may definitely something going on that needs to be looked into further.

How would you say that CEN is different from EDD and how would treatment approaches differ? I have been seeing a psychiatrist for about 80 sessions after an episode of major depressive disorder after I returned from a combat tour in the middle east, but neither he nor a more senior psychiatrist have heard of this phenomenon before, although the therapy doesn’t seem to be too different from what is recommended for EDD. From reading some of your website, and some of the Dr Baars books, it seems there’s a possibility that the ongoing dysthymia (major depression was controlled by medication) might have emotional deprivation or neglect at its core. I just ordered your book and I’m looking forward to reading it and sharing it with my psychiatrist. Thank you!

    Jonice Webb - June 29, 2015 Reply

    Hi Rob, EDD is really about extreme deprivation, often including physical and emotional together. There is some overlap, but with the concept of CEN, I’m trying to separate emotional from physical, and address pure emotional neglect in its more subtle forms and effects. I agree there’s not much out there about either topic, as it is overlooked greatly. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope I’ve answered your question! Take care.

AM - June 28, 2015 Reply

What do you say to someone that answers “Yes” to probably 13 or 14 of the questions on the CEN questionnaire? Or to someone whose parents fit into at least 6-7 of the “Types” and you have no fewer than 9 of the “signs and signals” of CEN. And then you realize just how messed up you are and how extensive the neglect was. Now, at 52, single (divorced), female, no kids, and feeling more depressed than ever, having struggled off and on with depression my whole life, been in therapy more times than I can count, tried anti-depressants with little or no result, I don’t know what else to do. One thing your book didn’t address for me was, what happens when it’s not just about what you feel, but what you believe–that you ARE worthless, and your life IS meaningless. What do you do? Can a person even begin to believe any different???? Because I can’t seem to.

    Jonice Webb - June 29, 2015 Reply

    Dear AM, that is a very difficult spot to break free from. I’ll bet there is some tiny little voice in you that says, “You’re not really worthless or meaningless.” The key is to find that voice within yourself, no matter how small it is, and start to build it, while at the same time getting in touch with your emotions and working to value and listen to them. I know it’s not easy. For help, I recommend a book called Self-Esteem, by McKay & Fanning. It directly addresses self-worth in a helpful way. And I just want to tell you that you HAVE WORTH and your life HAS MEANING. I hope you’ll be able to embrace it. Wishing you all the best.

DaisyMae - June 28, 2015 Reply

I have just read your book Running on Empty. I have been in counseling for almost 2 years. I have struggled throughout my life with feeling empty, hypervigilance (can put a term to it now), and suicidal thoughts and urges. I am suffering severe depression and constant anxiety, taking medication and in counseling in an effort to keep it all together and avoid disastrous consequences. I have a narcissistic, sociopathic, authoritarian father (not an exaggeration) and a mother that started of much the same (scared to death of her as a child) but then became codependent as a result of my father’s abuse. The rest of my family is riddled with issues due to a culmination of generations abusing the next and never understanding what they were doing or how it was impacting the next. The family has a history of mental illness, addiction, physical abuse, suicide, you name it. Not going to go into a life story, many times it all seems unbelievable myself. I have coped by not allowing myself to have any emotions at all about it and treating everything as if it was just like managing a business, staying detached in order to make decisions and provide good advice to get through life since I was about 13. I have honed my skills very well to my detriment unfortunately.

Your book is important because it has helped me to understand that my childhood really was not the norm. I was emotionally neglected, emotionally abused, and physically abused. But, I was able to relate to everything you wrote in Chapter 3 without experiencing intense triggers like when I try to read and learn about the effects of the abuse as well. I at least was able to work through and bring myself back to what I now call “the middle”. And, I agree with your groups term “The Fatal Flaw”. I have always thought I have had not one but multiple ones and I had a narcissistic boss for many years (didn’t realize that either until recently) that at the time served as a father figure and actually told me that “I had critical Character Flaws that would keep me from ever amounting to anything” but then would not tell me what they were. I have been trying to figure out what they were for over 15 years to correct them and make him proud. It was a futile effort to say the least. I worked so hard, made the effort to change, and never “hit the nail on the head” correcting these flaws and then he retired. I also now know the difference between myself and my husband – I understand that my childhood was bad and that my parents were not good ones regardless of what they appeared to be in public. However, my husband had a sociopathic mother (still does) and does not realize he was emotionally neglected. I feel like I now have a better understanding of what he is going through and it is harder for him because he does not understand “Why” he thinks and feels the way he does because his childhood seems normal to him. I have a lot of work still to do and then “we – my husband and I”, still have a lot of hard work to do in terms of emotional intimacy. Neither one of us really understand how to be “emotionally intimate”. But, I just wanted to say “Thank you” for writing such a well developed book that I could easily interpret and understand. It helped to put some order to chaos and on the right track to understanding how to “Fill the Tank” to overcome my feelings of emptiness, guilt, shame, self-blame and how to move forward in an effort to take care of myself (which I am really bad at).

I hope that you write more to expand on this subject and to generate more awareness of how prevalent this issue is to the current state of our society and the development of future healthy adults. Maybe more people will begin to understand that they would benefit from education on parenting in order to reverse the cycle of past generations.

Thank you.

    Jonice Webb - June 29, 2015 Reply

    Dear DaisyMae, you’ve been through so much! I hope your husband will turn the corner and start to deal with his own childhood and emotions. You’re an inspiration for others. Thanks for sharing your story.

Katelyn - June 27, 2015 Reply

Hi, I am an almost 15 year old and I just found this. I took your test and I circled all of them but two, what now?

    Jonice Webb - June 28, 2015 Reply

    Hi Katelyn, it depends on your situation. If you can ask your parents to set you up with a counselor, that would be #1. If not, maybe you could talk to a counselor at school. I suggest you read everything you can about CEN, and start to pay attention to what you are feeling. Work on accepting your own emotions as helpful and healthy, and on learning to sit with them and listen to what they are telling you. Take care!

elliott - June 27, 2015 Reply

Ive been getting thru the book. I have had a terrible expereience in life with CEN, and I developed a serious chronic illness because of the trauma in childhood. The process by which my emotions are suppressed goes like this: 1. I have an emotion 2. I immediately get very scared of feeling it 3. I scramble to avoid it by going into my head and imagining I am not physically there 4. often timesI will flee physically, or binge eat food 5. I will spend weeks/months at home or in bed scared to leave for fear of judgement

this describes the bulk of my life for the last 10 years (including thru college which i dropped out of). I am now unemployed, diabetic, and 24 years. This is not the way my life should be and it feels very pathetic. I feel like a part of the living dead, and taking medications to stay alive every day doesn’t help my morale.

Is this degree of dead-ness normal for CEN? Is this life actually salvageable?

    Jonice Webb - June 28, 2015 Reply

    Dear Elliott, you mention CEN but also trauma. To me, many of your struggles sound more trauma-related. I hope you’ll see a therapist because it’s vital that you work through your childhood experiences, which have set you up to be terrified of your own emotions. This is likely an example of CEN + trauma. When a child is tortured for having emotions by his parents, he learns to view them as enemies. This may be what is happening. You will need an experienced, competent, kind and caring professional to help you. Please try to find one, above all else. And take care of yourself, OK?

Jonice Webb - June 26, 2015 Reply

If you’d like to download the Change Sheets from Running on Empty, go to THE BOOK tab on this website, and click on the links. I’ve made them available free so you can use as many as you need.

Chris - June 23, 2015 Reply

Your book defines the problem created by emotional neglect, but is the treatment unique among all other treatment methods?

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Chris, this treatment approach is unique in that it’s designed specifically for CEN, coming at it from every direction and hitting all the bases. Many therapists use pieces of it to treat different things, but this is all put together for a comprehensive, targeted approach for this specific issue. I hope this answers your question!

H.W. - June 22, 2015 Reply

How does the healing process work in your book? I like psychoanalysis because it helps you to see feelings you’re having that your aren’t aware of.

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    The healing process in Running on Empty is a step-by-step: getting in touch with your feelings and learning to accept and sit with them and express them; then identifying your other gaps, and filling them. It’s done with worksheets and self-observation and goal-setting. I hope this helps.

Simon - June 21, 2015 Reply

Great stuff not in the sense of what people go through but to at least find out why i feel this way. My question is that my wife and i both have CEN. She is however, completely different in that she has all the emotions and I have none. Her mum is narcassitic, my mum was can we please just compartmentalise our emotions and move on. how can we heal together? She’s been talking to counsellars for years but has always said I have the issues…I’ve known that but only in the last 5-6 months and knew it was about being emotionally devoid but that was it. you’ve put it into context so thank you. now i want to heal asap so i can conenct with my 9 old son and 5 year old daughters before it is too late. my wife has been trying on her own. So my question is how can we heal together if different types?

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Simon, good question! I suggest that you and your wife read Running on Empty together, discussing it as you go along. Keep your focus each on yourselves, and share your thoughts and responses as you go along. Many couples have done this and have healed. Involving a therapist in the process can help a lot too.

Rae - June 19, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb, I am dealing with major depression that I think stems from a lot of the things you know about. When I was 13, on my first day of high school, my mother passed away from cancer. All of my life, we were very close. She was a stay at home mom and really knew everything about my life, how I was feeling, how to deal with people in school, and just helped with normal things about the confusion and hardships of being a teenage girl. My dad was always around, but he worked full time and was known as the “fun” parent, who never disciplined us or really dealt with my real issues day to day. When she died, my younger siblings were a complete mess, and my dad had his hands full with them. He always did everything for us, from giving us money to all of the superficial things we could need. He also took my younger siblings to therapy, but since I appeared fine on the surface, I never went and he written me off as being “fine” and doing “well” just because I wasn’t visibly angry or crying. At the time, I was very confused because I knew my dad was physically there, but I never felt more alone and had to go through some really hard things in high school and then college without being able to really tell anybody about it. Now, I know what I was feeling was emotional neglect. I am now 20 years old, and have completely broken down as I have tried too long to keep everything in. I finally told my dad that my therapist agrees that he emotionally would never be able to understand me, which made him very upset because to him, love is just giving me everything I want (superficially) but never really understanding my thoughts and feelings and what I need to grow as a person. While finally letting him know about my depression all of these years is a huge relief, I do not know where to go from here. Keeping everything inside has had a huge toll on me, and I have completely withdrawn into myself and now even have trouble forming relationships with friends and boyfriends, even though I used to be very social. I think i feel afraid to tell anyone how I really feel, as I have come accustomed to holding everything in, but as things started to build up inside, it became harder to put on a face in front of my friends, so I would just withdraw and be alone. I do not want to keep blaming my dad all my life for making me feel so alone, but I want to know where to go from here and how I can become better and hopefully come out of this despair and loneliness I feel everyday. Thanks for your time.

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Rae, even though your dad tried his best and had his hands full, he sadly wasn’t able to give you the emotional connection that you so painfully lost when your mother passed away. It’s vital that you honor the impact of that loss, and of what you didn’t get from age 13 on. I hope you’ll read Running on Empty because I think it will help you fill the gaps. Thanks for sharing your story!

Susan - June 18, 2015 Reply

Your website brought up a lot of memories for me. The problems caused by this are not something I was unaware of, and have worked on them in the past with counselors, but I don’t think they ever go away. I first became aware of the issue through a book, I think it was called “Toxic Parents,” in the early 90s. It was the first insight into why I am the way I am. I remember the counselor taking my position during the counseling sessions. But then later my mom would say the counselor had taken her position. She just can’t be wrong about anything.

My mother was (and still is) emotionally distant and controlling. If she gives you advice, it is not really advice. She expects you to do what she thinks you should do, and lets you know in no uncertain terms that if you don’t do it, you are living your life wrong. I do not recall her ever telling me that she loved me or ever giving me a hug. I was on my own from a young age. “We’re not making dinner tonight. Find something to eat.” It was almost always bread and peanut butter, cheese, or sometimes tuna. We almost never had crackers or boxed cereal – nothing a kid could easily get for themselves. All that was in the cupboard was uncooked beans, rice, pasta, and oats.

The other thing was, my brother and I were both very picky eaters. I guess studies have now shown that kids who are picky eaters really do have more sensitive taste buds, and things do taste horrible to those kids. One time my mom decided she was going to make us eat dinner, and we couldn’t have anything else to eat until we ate that dinner. For three days she tried to make us eat that dinner. We ate dried dog food in secret instead. For three days.

She almost always ignored us. She was either at work, or when she was home on the evenings and weekends she would read. Never did anything with us or even talked to us unless it was to tell us to do something. I remember noticing at some point that she would be yelling at us for something, and then the phone would ring and she’d answer it in a completely different tone of voice, and me thinking how hypocritical she was for doing that.

When I was in 7th grade I was bullied for the first time. When I told my mom about it, she told me “That’s life. Deal with it.” That was the first time I realized that I was truly on my own. She said the same thing twice when I had an injury – “That’s life. Deal with it.” She is incapable of compassion and empathy.

My dad was and still is off in lala land. He told me once when I was a child and complaining about my mom to just build a golden bubble around myself so she can’t bother me. He said that’s what he did. Talk about dysfunctional.

I know my mother had a horrible childhood, so there is an explanation for her behavior. Logically, as an adult, I understand why she is the way she is, but it doesn’t help how it made, and still makes me feel.

My one regret about my own behavior is that I didn’t more strongly assert myself to protect my own children from her. I finally started standing up to her and my dad last year, and wish I had started doing it decades ago. I now have no contact with my mom except for VERY superficial contact at family functions in which I am forced to see her.

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Susan, I can tell that you have struggled through this difficult relationship with your mom, and done your best. I hope you’ll keep moving forward, taking care of yourself and growing. You are right to make the decisions for yourself, not live for your mother. Thanks for sharing, and take care!

Brenda - June 18, 2015 Reply

I’ve often wondered what was wrong with me as I have problems with making friends (I’m 52 now). My mother was distant and depressed and my father was angry and abusive especially to my mom at times when we were children. I married a good man, but cannot get along and/or trust his mother. I’ve read quite a bit online about emotional neglect, have been to therapy before, and I still feel like I can’t get it together. I feel like whatever I do just isn’t good enough. The last therapist I went to was sweet and easy to talk to, but I don’t think she really understood how deep the issue was or maybe I was not able to vocalize the pain as I did try not to let on and that I was able to handle it. I still wear that mask of being in control as it seemed growing up everything was out of control. My Dad is a really sweet man now. My Mom died 8 years ago from uterine cancer. My older sister died in a trailer fire 7 years ago and my younger sister died about 12 years ago from breast cancer. I need help and don’t know who to turn to.

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Brenda, I hope you will take a copy of Running on Empty to a qualified therapist. It can be the tool to help your therapist understand what you’re up against. It can also help structure your work together. You’ve had plenty (way too much) hardship in your life. It’s your time to take this on and live the happiness and connection that you so deserve.

Claire - June 18, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
Thank you for your book and contribution to the field. As a scapegoat of an ignoring abusive narcissistic mother, I turned to self-sabotage to express my anger. People recommend I “take my choices” seriously, but I feel that the events of my life are rather relative and meaningless (whether I succeed or not, whether I have goals or not, or try to reach them). I understand this came from constant blaming, no validation, not having people that respected by thoughts and feelings and always putting my needs last.

I have always tried to support my younger sister, the golden child, by filling that void by always validating her, encouraging her and trying to teach her self-worth, to the best of my limited ability. As we are now adults, she takes her life very seriously and most of the choices she makes reflect that. She lives with a certain level of respect for herself.

How do I get that feeling? Do I fake it through behavior until I feel it? I am working on validating my feelings, and having more self-compassion. That has helped increase my assertiveness, however, inside I cannot feel that same level of respect for myself. Could you provide concrete examples of how a parent would treat a child that would lead the child to take herself seriously?

Thank you, Claire

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Claire,
    There are many examples of emotionally validating parenting in Running on Empty. I’m so sorry you did not get that as a child! It sounds like you’re doing the right things to heal. Keep in mind that healing takes time, and doesn’t happen suddenly. It happens slowly over time, bit by bit. Chip by chip the wall breaks down. Keep working, and perseverance will get you there. Wishing you all the best!

Marie - June 17, 2015 Reply

I keep fueling the same cycle with my husband. I brush many things off. Those I can’t, I rehearse for days the issue I’d like to talk to him about, since he’s very particular about tone of voice and the words I use. Inevitably, I end up making a mistake, he probes at my words, qualifies my statements, and I end up getting angry and silent. He speaks and speaks, and I have no interest. In the end, he ends up with hurt feelings and I apologize for having initiated the conversation at all. But I feel resentful and that my emotional needs aren’t being met. I’m running out of gas in this relationship.

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Marie, please seek marriage counseling! I can’t tell what’s actually going here. I think you need an objective opinion about what you need and whether you husband can provide it. Please take care!

Tina Amaro - June 17, 2015 Reply

My name is Tina, I am 41 years old. I am currently finishing my masters degree in Counseling Psychology. I have recently had some personal revelations of my own that I want to share, and want to heal! I have realized in my own life, that many times parents can’t give what they didn’t get. Also, have realized a parent with depression (clinical or otherwise) or other mental illness etc. often are not emotionally present for their children. I could go on and on with various examples of this. So, in turn, many times, emotional neglect can occur. I truly believe this is the case for me, perhaps even my younger sister and brother too.

My mom has dealt with eating disorders, anxiety and depression her whole life. My mom and dad separated and later divorced when I was around 12 or so. My whole life with regards to my relationship with my mom was one of that what I say doesn’t matter, what I feel doesn’t matter and what I need, emotionally (understanding etc.) doesn’t matter. I love and forgive my mom a long time ago (though she knows nothing of this) however, the effects remain. I want to rid myself of them so that I can live free from this chain of CEN. I have recently realized that is what I am in fact dealing with, for a long time but didn’t know it. I read something about Robin Williams and his struggle during his own childhood. My heart goes out to him, this is truly a pain that is invisible in so many ways, that I didn’t even know what I was feeling. I know my mom and dad did the best they could. My dad, I believe suffered the same from his parents in many ways too. Even today my mom cannot talk about conflicts or anything what she calls “arguing,” when it’s just talking about something that is bothering you. I remember as a child thinking and saying things like ” I wish I could turn myself inside out so you could see how I feel and believe me.” This breaks my heart that the child I once was struggled so much with this (sometimes I still do think this.) I remember always believing/thinking that I was a “bad” daughter and that what I felt/my emotions did not matter and that I was selfish if I expressed those thoughts/feelings/emotions (again, sometimes I still feel this way.) I want to write more here, but I need to get back to my studies and all. I will be reading the book by Dr. Webb as soon as I get it! Thank you, and I will write more again later! God bless!

    Jonice Webb - June 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Tina, your story is truly heartbreaking. I’m glad you’re moving forward and healing. Take care!

Sandy - June 16, 2015 Reply

Thank you for your comments. I have read your book and have sought the advice of a therapist. I was told by him, too, that my foster son needs counseling, which I agree with. I was amazed at your points on the emotionally neglected child living as an adult. In particular, the counter-dependency part. I feel this is my foster son’s main problem, and I felt two other sections applied also. Unfortunately, I feel he will only seek help when he will be desperate, as in a marriage situation. I offered to send him earlier on, but he didn’t accept it. I love him and although he believes he is involved with my family a lot, compared to the rest, he is not. I am seeking a therapist to learn to accept that, as is, and not expect more than he can give. He certainly does not need some more abuse in his life. I am considering giving him the book to read, but, of course, it has to be at the proper time. Sometimes he allows me in fairly deeply, so I may use that time to present your book. I want to thank you for giving me a resource to depend on when the going gets tough. It is obvious that you have spent a lot of time researching these cases and I appreciate your insight. Thank you!

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    You’re welcome Sandy. I’m so happy to be able to help. You are so right about the importance of timing! All you can do is try, and he’ll deal with it when he’s ready. Sending you my best.

Ruth Sharp - June 16, 2015 Reply

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

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Hi Ruth, I’m not sure I’ve written that exact blog yet (so sorry!). But you can find several blogs about marriage, and how CEN affects men vs. women on my weekly blog here: Thanks for reminding me to write the one I promised. Take care.

Steve Walsh - June 15, 2015 Reply

I am now retired. I worked with military veterans for many years. Military training and experience induce soldiers to supress their emotions. Unfortunately, this emotional disconnect can become a persistent, long-term condition of their being. Your book’s presentation regarding childhood emotional neglect parallels veterans’ learned emotional dissociation. Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini describe this analagous phenomenon in their book Soul Repair, Recovering from Moral Injury after War.

Whether age four or forty the emotional component of our souls is central to our humanity. Dr. Webb–Thank you for your book which is helping people heal from the unfortunate effects of emotional deprivation.

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Dear Steve, you are so right, and it makes a lot of sense. We are creating lots of emotionally neglected men by treating our valuable soldiers this way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with us.

sandra - June 14, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,
Thank you very much that I came across this web site, I have ordered your book Running on empty and am looking forward to reading it. I have come to a point in my life at fifty years old and I do not know the difference between FEELINGS and THOUGHTS and this is so frustrating. I hope this I might start to sort out the two. Thank you very much from Sandra.

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Dear Sandra, you are not alone! There are many who have difficulty telling feelings from thoughts. And the book will help you with that. Thanks for sharing with us!

ff - June 11, 2015 Reply

Hello Dr Webb,
Many thanks for your valuable work here. In this relatively small community who begin to appreciate the impact of CEN, I thought you (or anyone else) might be interested to watch this video which I found last night – it would almost seem to be paraphrased from your book, though I don’t think that is the case.
Some will be more or less attracted by the ‘new-agey’ presentation no doubt, but when the content is heard I hope it’s relevance will be obvious. Some of my parts found it a validating experience to hear another describe CEN in a sophisticated way.

Best wishes

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for sharing ff!

Jarvis - June 10, 2015 Reply

Wow, I can’t remember what I googled that brought me here but it really hit home. Since then I’ve read your book and that really had me tearing up in several sections. I’m just past 40, with a toddler I love and I think that I’m already doing a better job of being a dad after reading the book. Meanwhile, I’m barely keeping my girlfriend (the mom) from leaving me. She went to work so I could quit my crappy job and be with the baby and focus on getting a career. It’s been so hard. I coasted through high school, college and even law school. Everything kinda seemed like a good idea but I knew even then that I just couldn’t think of anything better to do. Law school wasn’t the right move and even though I graduated and passed the bar I never did anything with and worked retail. I had my first depressive episode halfway through which completely snuck up on me. I spontaneously burst into tears one day and had no idea why. I literally looked in the mirror because I hadn’t cried in nearly 20 years, since I was around 10, I think, and I wondered what I looked like. My parents provided all the necessities and paid for pretty much all of my education. So I never felt I could complain about my childhood. So many other kids with so much less. But they agree that my older brother took all of their attention during his teenage years while I was about 9 through 14. They were always fighting and I remember just trying to keep the peace or at least not get yelled at. Nowadays I just try to prevent my girlfriend from yelling at me.
I had therapy for depression and a couple years ago was also diagnosed with ADD. I just want to live up to even half of my potential. Fear, perfectionism and general inertia or just plain old lack of direction have gotten me back to square one.
What started out as couples therapy (my girlfriend did leave me temporarily) is now me in therapy with my parents. And that’s kind of part of the problem. They always wanted to do the right thing but bc of my brother and their own childhoods they just couldn’t deliver. So as you say no one is really to blame per se, I feel like I can’t complain. It’s just the way things happened. Like, sometimes I think I should be mad at them like some commenters are but I’m unable to be mad since it’s not really their fault. I have trouble being mad at anyone except myself, by the way. I just use CBT type stuff to explain away my emotions and keep a smile on my face. I’m especially good at doing that for other people as you would no doubt expect.
My parents ask me, “if money was not a concern at all, what would you do with your time?” I have so much trouble answering. I kinda know what I like but then I overthink it and start to think that I like everything. Or at least, I don’t dislike much. I’m confident I’m CEN and and trying to motivate myself to do the exercises. Will they really help? Well, what I really want to know is, will I ever “get my sh*t together?” I have trouble even talking to my girlfriend about it because she’s mad enough at me and resentful and I don’t want to mention that I have more problems. Plus, it’s just embarrassing. People tend to say, “you just have to do it” or “get over it” etc. I worked with a guy who kinda made fun of his wife (not really made fun of–I’m not sure how to describe it) because she was from a wealthy white suburban family, university professor father, etc. and she needed therapy. He was one of like 10 kids, black, poor, inner city — he didn’t have time to get hung up on personal emotional issues and need a therapist. I think he’s right, my problems, though real, seem so petty.
Anyway, thanks for your book. I’ll do my best to do those exercises. I’m not great with follow through but I want to be a good role model for my daughter and be done with this stuff before she’s old enough to be affected by it.

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Dear Jarvis, even though you can see your issues, you minimize them at the same time. Your confusion and pain sounds significant to me. And it matters. It’s hard to know what you want for a career when you don’t know yourself. Please do the exercises in the book. And find a skilled therapist to coach you through the balance between healing yourself and letting your girlfriend know the real you. Keeping secrets from her will only hold you back. Please share your frustration with a therapist, and get support.

      Jarvis - June 16, 2015 Reply

      Well, literally 2 minutes after I read your reply, my mom called to ask me a legit question about something for tomorrow but then added that she and my dad felt they were too old to hear about my relationship and all its ups and downs. I asked directly, “so you only want to hear good news from now on?” And she said yes. I guess it’s easier to be angry now, though I don’t know how productive that is. But I’ll let myself feel it.
      I can understand their position, as you warned, some people may have trouble adjusting to the new me, but in our joint therapy session the counselor made it pretty clear that they only had to listen and tell me they love me, not fix things. I just feel a little misled. Like they understood that a lot of my problems today were because I grew up not sharing my feelings and then they just said, “yeah but as far as we’re concerned, let’s keep it that way.”
      Well, in the one in therapy, not them, I don’t really need them to change in order for me to change but this feels like a setback.
      Anyway, thank you for your encouragement.

        Jarvis - June 28, 2015 Reply

        Things are back on track in case anyone was wondering. I’ve finally accepted that CEN pretty much left me with low self-esteem and I could never have admitted that before. Just realizing that made me feel like improvement is doable. Now I have something to work on.
        Good luck, all!

          Jonice Webb - June 29, 2015 Reply

          Good work Jarvis! Thanks for letting us know. Seeing the problem and owning it is a huge step forward. I have no doubt that you can heal, as long as you do the work. Wishing you all the best.

katie - June 8, 2015 Reply

Hi, i stumbled upon your website by total accident and i am glad i have taken the time to read it. I am 36 years old mother of 2 (ages of 12 & 9). I don’t remember my childhood. The only things that i recall is hurt, abuse (physical & mental) neglect. I was also sexually abused by my mother’s brother. I have committed suicide at the age of 17. I am the oldest of 4 children my parents had. I was the black sheep of the family. My mother would hit me; beat me; force food in my mouth; use force for everything & anything in my daily life. She would also be very abusive verbally everyday. I grew up hating her, i grew up hating all mother’s thinking they are all like that. I have never been told anything nice from my mother. She always asked me to drop out of school. Lock me in my room; force me to steal. It was horrible living with her. My father is another monster. He would never stop my mother, he would force me with other chores around the house. He always ridicule me: my hight, weight, how i look. Make fun of me. Never, ever told me till today (both of them) how proud they are. My father would walk around & tell people that i am a drug addict, an alcoholic & that he saved me. I never had any friends in my life, because my parents would make sure i don’t have enough time for it. I was never invited to any birthday parties, never had play date, never had a birthday party. I tried to take my life, it really wasn’t worth the living back them. My father would constantly tell me that without him, i wasn’t able to live, that i am so useless that i will die if i try to leave. This is just the brief judgment from them. I was always an A student. My teachers & principal always loved me. They were always there for me. They knew something is not right at home, but i always pretended that they were wrong. In high school, my guidance called me in one day & she just asked me: “katie, how r u?” i never forget that day! For the first time, someone took the time to ask ME how i was doing. That’s all she wanted! Nothing about class enrollment. I always worked since i was 16 years old. I kept myself busy. I worked for my mother’s boss, where i would do the company’s data entry. I would ask my boss to give me all sort of work hours. I even babysat her kids for free an entire summer. It was actually wonderful time to be away from my parents. At the age of 19, my parents divorced & i decided to live with my father. I was the house wife/cleaner/cook/ etc, etc. My suicide attempt was unsuccessful, but i was dead inside. It was just the outer shell. I would stare out the window & just look outside for hours without seeing, feeling anything. At the age of 21, i met my husband by accident. An very nice guy, from an extremely loving family. We got married when i was 23 and had my daughter at age of 25 & my son at age of 27. I know he loves me dearly, i know he cares, i know the kids adore me and they LOVE both their parents. But i am scared of reading your book! I am scared that it will open that closet door where i have buried all my deepest, darkest feelings. I am scared it would point out all the wrong things i did with my own kids. I am sooooooo scared! PS i don’t drink or use any drugs (never did!) i always worked so hard and all my employers were so happy with me. I went to university but never got the chance to finish it. I have my own company now and been self-employed for the past 5 years. I still have no friends, i have no contact with my siblings (they think i am weird & crazy & anti-social). I don’t want to hang out with people, i don’t shower, brush my teeth or take care of myself. I am only alive for those 2 kids. They love me, i spend all my time with them, for them. I only breath for them. I am very active in their lives. Take them places, cooking/baking with them. Having their friends over & just watch them how easy it is for them to have friends. To just play! I don’t know how to play games. How they gossip behind their friends 🙂 how normal they are. How they are so comfortable with me & tell me everything. I am exploring the world with them (without their knowledge). How caring these 2 small people are towards me & the rest of the world. I get fulfilled just by seeing their enjoyment. But, there is that hole in me. I am still missing to have a mother that would just hold me & tell me it is ok. I am so thirsty for that family love, the sense of belonging. I desperate for parents support & love. I still feel like that young child that still hasn’t grown up, lost & doesn’t see where she is going. My mom doesn’t wanna have anything to do with me. I have tried to start a relationship, but she really dislike me i guess. My father, only wants my help and it gets very annoying when he still calls me idiot; moron, etc. They just started saying “I love you” in text messages & i cant reply back, because i don’t mean it. Anyhow, i love to read your book, but something is telling me that i am just worthless and what is the point? Or i feel that it will point out all the wrong doings i did with my kids & it will break my heart & kill me inside. I have bought the book, but sitting on my shelf, staring at me…

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Dear Katie, you have been put through the wringer, so to speak, with your childhood. I assure you that you can heal, and that you deserve happiness and health. I assure you that Running on Empty has lots of empathy for parents. It will not make you feel guilty to read it. What happened to you as a child is not your fault, and you did the best you could with your own children. Now, it’s all about you and healing. Please believe in your worth. Take a chance, and read the first page. That will be a start. Wishing you happiness and health.

Sandy - June 5, 2015 Reply

I have fostered an 18yr old who was emotionally neglected. He grew up with his only sibling who had a variety of mental illnesses, which took all of his parents’ attention and resources. His father was an alcoholic and physically abusive. His mother shouldered most responsibilities which became overwhelming for her. His parents divorced, dad being out of the picture for the last half of his life. Then mom passed away suddenly. No family members stepped in to be responsible for these children. Dad took his sister to live with him out of state, my foster son remained here, accepting my offer to stay with us.
This was 6 years ago. Since then, dad passed away and my foster son has moved out and is self-supportive.
My problem lies in that my foster son is detached and likes to interact as aquaintances. When we have some blows, we come back to what I call the real feelings. He is vulnerable with me, gently explains his lack of family experiences, and tells me he loves me. I vow to do better with him with my expectations. I always seem to end up expecting certain responses, as I would my own children, but he just never delivers. I realize it is me reacting to him that causes the problems. I am concerned with his future attachments with his own family. He does not know what he is supposed to say or do, so he even states. This is his normal. But I fear he will leave his wife and children as confused as I am.
I see such differences between my kids and him, it makes me so sad. I would like this wonderful person to have all that love can bring. I must say that unconditional love for a child who is not your own is work. Well worth it without question, but so frustrating when dealing with someone who says “I love you” but does not know how to express it in words or actions. I sincerely believe he does love me, I have to learn to love him on his terms. I will never give up. But there are times…

    Jonice Webb - June 16, 2015 Reply

    Dear Sandy, how wonderful that you are so there for your foster son. It’s so important that he has you. I have a couple of suggestions: would he see a therapist? would he read Running on Empty? I think both could help him very much, as he sounds reachable. Keep in mind, though, that you can only do so much. He will need to be willing to take the steps and do the work. All you can do is be there for him, and make suggestions. Keep up the good work!

RW - May 31, 2015 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,
I’m so glad I decided to make a comment tonight–I’ve been waffling, telling myself that I shouldn’t bother you with a big long email, even though you say you want to hear from people. I got your book last year, and I’ve read it twice. (I’m a fast reader.) I always wondered what was wrong with me, because (I now realize) I was emotionally neglected not only by my parents but my grandparents and two aunts, all of whom I saw frequently growing up. My grandparents looked after me every day when I was in elementary school. I reached out to all of them and felt rejected, pressured, and used by all of them. I could go on and on, but here’s my real question: How do I develop meaningful friendships with people? I moved to Taiwan recently (from the US), and I am incredibly confused and anxious, both about developing relationships with people here and trying to improve the relationships I already have with people back home. I avoid talking to people out of fear, and when I do work up the courage, I am nearly always disappointed by the results. I have general anxiety and depression, and when talking in person it always seems like most of the things I can think of to talk about are either depressing or probably not interesting to other people, or they are simply private things that I don’t want to talk about. My dad was always emphatic that I shouldn’t be like most people, who he looked down on as superficial and materialistic because of the things (he thought) they talked about. So I feel a lot of confusion and shame if I want to talk about something like clothes or making a new recipe, or anything else that isn’t “deep” or intellectual enough. I know it is good to ask other people about themselves, but I often can’t think of anything. When I talk to people on facebook or by email, to give you another example, so often they don’t respond, and I wonder, what did I do wrong? I really identified with one of the examples in your book, a woman who avoided substance and made herself uninteresting to other people. I just don’t even know what substance looks like or how to put it into practice. I am 31 and I feel like all my relationships my whole life have been superficial. I always have a petrifying fear that I am about to do something that will make the other person reject me, even if I have known them a long time. (BTW, I have been to a whole bunch of therapists, and the area I’m living in now does not have a large English-speaking community.) I feel like I understand so many things, and myself, much better now. I think this might be the missing piece. So, thanks for any suggestions you have, and thank you for writing the first book EVER that validated my feelings and experiences!

    Jonice Webb - June 4, 2015 Reply

    Dear RW, you’ve been through a lot. I’m impressed by how much work you’ve done to heal. And I’m delighted that my book was able to help you! Keep it up.

Viola - May 21, 2015 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

I’ve done many years of psychotherapy over the course of my life, but though I worked hard and tried several different therapists, I never felt sure that I was actually accomplishing anything. I’ve just read *Running on Empty*, and I feel like it’s pointing at exactly what I’ve been trying to define and heal from all these years. I’d like to try therapy again, but I want to make sure I choose a therapist who understands the dynamics you write about.How can I go about finding someone like that? Is there (for instance) a particular training or qualification that I should look for?

Thank you from my heart.

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Viola, you are very welcome! Please read this blog post which will answer your question.
    Wishing you all the best!

Amanda - May 20, 2015 Reply

How do I tend to my daughter’s emotions when she is sooooo dramatic about every little thing. I know her emotions are real to her, but it is (I hate when I say this) TOO MUCh! It is so stressful for everyone else and we resort to calling her a “drama queen” and tell her to stuff her feelings. I know this is pretty much emotional abuse, but we feel like she is abusing us with her (what feels like) manipulative tactics. How do we raise our emotional IQ and not beat her emotional compass to death? I am so desperate for tools. My daughter is such a beautiful spirit and I feel like I am failing her as a mother. She has now developed this serious fear of any kind of punishment, is obsessive about her one friend who rejects her but ignores all the other kids who are dying to be around her, and is always scared of what people think. Please help!

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Amanda, you didn’t tell me the age of your daughter. But it almost doesn’t matter because I’m sorry to say that your responses to her sound like severe CEN at the very best, and emotional abuse at the worst. Please go to a therapist and work through this. Children have very powerful emotions, and they often get more powerful the more they’re squelched. But eventually they’ll go away totally, and your child will live an empty life. Please read Running on Empty and get help with this before it’s too late. I can tell that you’re a loving parent who cares, but just doesn’t know what to do. Keep trying. Wishing you all the best.

Peggy - May 20, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb, I was about half way through the questions and had already answered Yes to 9 of them so I didn’t even keep going. I know this is something that I suffer from and have known it for a long time. My parents didn’t show emotion. I never saw them being affection with each other, but they also never argued, at least not in front of the kids. I have a few, specific stories, such as the time my father came in to wake me for school but I was sick (I was about 13). When I said I was sick, he shut the door with what I believed to be a disgusted look on his face. Another time, when I was much younger, he came in to my room, shared with my sister, and said “if you kids don’t shut up I’ll kill you!” Now, while he typically was very calm and disciplined in his punishment (“do you want your spanking before or after dinner?), I totally believed him and was horrified.

As a 62 year old, co-dependent, self-critical female, I always had difficulty showing emotion. To me, showing anger meant losing control and that was something to avoid. I had to “learn” to show affection as an adult because I didn’t learn it from my parents.

What type of therapy do you think I should pursue? I had a therapist who mostly listened, then made comments, years ago who was very helpful but I moved away. More recently I saw a therapist who wanted me to read and do the book “Feeling Good.” I’ve read so many self-help books I can probably self-diagnose….what I need is someone to “fix” me! And I don’t like doing the work ;-), I want a quick fix!

Thanks, Peggy

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Dear Peggy, your childhood sounds like it was filled with CEN. And there is no quick fix, of course. Getting better does require persistence and work. I suggest you read Running on Empty and do all of the exercises in it. Take it to a therapist whose willing to work through it with you. That’s the fastest way to make progress on CEN that I know of.

Jan - May 20, 2015 Reply

I always thpught that CEN was the worst, as there is verylittle topoint to. If ypu are abused physically…thatis visible. My dad was breadwinner, not veryinvolved, on occassion he got angry at mom, he would storm out and wassilent for 3 days.
My mom was needy. I was her confidant. My depression was notrecognized. I feltlikeIreceived no guidance. I often felt ” faceless” unseen. No wonder.
Have had failed marriagesandnowolder and prettyalone. Years of therapy did not reallyhelp.
I had to figure it out. Read Pat Love’s Emotional Incest book.
Became a Nurse and Therapist- big surprise huh?
So glad you are bringing this to light!

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Hi Jan, yes no surprise you’re a nurse and therapist. Taking care of others. I hope you’re taking care of yourself now. Thanks for sharing!

colleen - May 19, 2015 Reply

Dr. Webb, I am reading Running on Empty and have been seeing a new therapist for a couple of months. We both know I experienced CEN. Today was a difficult day, and I asked what I can do to help heal and fill the voids. My therapist’s response was “there’s nothing to do.” I am reading your book and you have exercises yet my therapists tells me there’s nothing to do. I am concerned I am wasting my time and money (I pay out of pocket). I think I should be doing SOMETHING to try and help myself. Thank you.

    Jonice Webb - May 24, 2015 Reply

    Colleen, not all therapists think about CEN the same way it’s talked about in my book. There is, as I’m sure you know, no easy answer to your question. It’s a complicated process of breaking down your walls and getting in touch with your own feelings and needs. Have you shared the book with your therapist? I suggest you do so, and try to work together with him or her on that process. If your therapist isn’t interested, then yes you may want to switch. Either way, don’t give up!

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