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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Dana - May 1, 2017 Reply

So I have a question? I’m seeing a man who has three amazing children that he loves deeply. The wife and her family are the ones that pushed for the divorce. They are very wealthy and so fighting for custody was a struggle. He did however manage to get the most amazing visitation schedule I’ve ever seen and he will move mountains to be with his sons. He never misses a single visitation and even creates new and inventive ways to be with his children more often, like volunteering to coach the little league team so that he can see them on game days and practice days. Also volunteering to be the boy scout leader which will give them even more time together. I am in awe of his love and relationship with his children. However, the middle son has recently started to discuss with him about his feelings concerning his mother. The oldest son gets most of her time as well as the baby. He is the middle son and actually made the statement that “she doesn’t see me”. His mother has completely over scheduled him as well. She has him so tied up with two or three different tutors each week, (and he is brillant, no tutors needed) physical trainers, and countless other things that he doesn’t even have time to attend his bothers ball games or any family events for that matter. Mom attends to the oldest while leaving him home alone most days. He recently got upset because his shoes for falling apart and he needed new ones. My boyfriend tried to take him to buy new ones and the son refused to let him. Said that his mother was suppose to take care of that. She had one of her “people” by him some shoes on line but they were the wrong size. They are sitting in the house waiting for her to return them for the correct size and have been sitting there for 4 months. He still refuses to let his father spend the money. Mom is a millionaire, dad is trying to rebuild his life. Meanwhile he is walking around with ratty shoes. He says that he feels as if she doesn’t see him and it brings him to tears. My friend has asked the question of him, “what can I do for you son?” he says nothing dad, You do so much already. But my friend feels he needs to be able to do more. The wife will not even speak to my friend. I’m not even sure she would be willing to sit down with him and discuss this matter. She refuses to speak to him as it is. There is no co-parenting. I am witness, he does the best he can but she doesn’t make things easy. What can he do for this child??? What can I do for this child???

    Adam Kilongozi - May 16, 2017 Reply

    Dr Jonice thank you so much for the article on Emotional Neglect. You have really exposed me to something that I wanted to know. I would appreciate to receive more articles on this to improve parental care to my kids.

    Charles Grooms - June 2, 2017 Reply

    Provide as much emotional support as possible, it will help to make up for what the mother can’t or won’t. If therapy is in any way possible that would be best.

Holly - April 12, 2017 Reply

I read your book a few years ago, and it was just what I needed. I remember crying as I was reading, recalling the vulnerable moments as a child when I had been emotionally neglected and had blamed myself. It was very healing. I worked diligently on the activity sheets provided, and found my coworkers commenting with admiration on how much more assertive I had become.
Your book has made me a happier, more carefree person, and I’m actually capable of relaxing and enjoying life now. I review sections of it periodically when I want to refresh my skills in a particular area, and have enthusiastically recommended it to family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    Sherry Farrow - April 13, 2017 Reply

    For someone like me who always seems to be teetering on the fence about books and products to help me, I so appreciate you taking the time to make this post. I will now read the book! God bless you!

    Erin - August 2, 2017 Reply

    Wow… all of that, I want all of that (to be able to actually be more assertive, being more carefree, able to relax and enjoy life)! I spend SO much time journaling and reading articles and trying to do this.

    After reading her articles on psychcentral, I was considering buying her book, sort of on the fence… but I think I may just buy it 🙂

Marty - March 31, 2017 Reply

I loved the first half of this book describing CEN, the causes and symptoms. What a revelation! I felt understood and felt I understood myself and the world so much better. A real life changer! However, when I got to the second half of the book where Dr. Webb discusses how to treat CEN, I felt like asking “did you read the first half of the book?” Specifically, I had a lot of strong negative feelings about the “force yourself to do things you don’t want to do” and exercise/nutrition check sheets. It feels like my entire life has been forcing myself to do things that have no meaning, connection, desire associated with them. So much so that, eventually, I just gave up. The only things I had any interest in doing at all were generally addictive behaviors. They were the only things I had any feelings about that were at all motivating. Even though addictions cause their own problems, it was SO NICE to wake up and actually WANT something — ANYTHING! My parents were all about responsibility — chores — following through — going to church every sunday — all things that seem to teach good self discipline. But, I don’t think they ever backed any of it up with any emotional reason to WANT to do any of it. It was the right thing to do. I was SUPPOSED to do it. But, in a gray, meaningless world, I had no idea WHY. In my experience, just forcing myself to get into the habit of good self care will not create an emotional connection to it. It’s just another action I have to force myself to do in a gray, meaningless world — like every other action — except it’s more difficult and unpleasant. Just what I need! Without any meaning or connection or desire in life — it’s not about “not wanting to” — it’s about why even bother? Just forcing yourself seems like trying to “walk off a broken leg.” If you could do that, you wouldn’t have the underlying problem to begin with. So, I don’t see how the assigned tasks in the book help get rid of the empty meaningless, desire less existence caused by CEN.
That being said, the book is a life changer — and I will do my best to work at the assigned tasks diligently — even if I don’t see how it all ends up helping me connect with my emotions or the world around me.

    V - April 9, 2017 Reply

    This is really relatable. Thanks for posting this. From your description, I would feel the same way about any tasks that encourage me to just bite the bullet and do what I don’t feel like doing. That’s exactly what my childhood was, emotionless discipline-driven. I’d like to lend you a thought I’ve been chewing on and just recently took action on recently – the idea of finding help to connect with inner resources of nurturing, love, and care. Specifically, I’m referring to DNMS. Perhaps you can read about it online and find that it could help you. I personally like that it doesn’t take this tough love approach to caring for our Vivneglected inner selves. It is very gentle, particular, and requires professional guidance, as I think the case should be.


    Ken - May 13, 2017 Reply

    Like many other emotionally neglected children, as an adult I have been intermittently plagued by a lifetime of self doubt and low self esteem. I struggle also with being mature. I hope it is not an embellishment to say I recall my parents fiercely arguing when I was young, and I had a dreadful feeling I was in my own. My parents were estranged for a lengthy period. My mum was then a solo parent. My only sibling, who came later, when my parents were happily reunited, has fared better emotionally. Although married four times! Emotionally fragile and reluctant to commit, I have remained independent. I have always strived and largely succeeded in being thus, throughout a long and largely uneventful life. This independence has helped me significantly on occasions, as I am my own man, and seldom accept the stupidity found in private and government bureaucracies. In dealings with them, I have acted as a catalyst benefiting others besides my self. But, this independence, as I now realise, is at a terrible cost. Affection and intimacy play little part in my life. I have never had a long term relationship with anyone, but am saved by still having a good sense of humour. I am now beginning to accept myself. At 76.

O H - March 13, 2017 Reply

Hello everyone,

Has anyone been in the situation of loving someone with CEN, while being affected by this himself/herself? I recognize many signs of CEN in the man I love, signs that I see in myself as well. The issue is, I tried explaining to him my concerns about MYSELF and he tells me he sees nothing wrong with me and I should stop self-sabotaging. But it’s hard to connect emotionally to him as we both have no idea how to do that. He asked me, how can he get involved and present? And I had no idea what to answer him.

Anyone? Help?

    Marty - March 31, 2017 Reply

    When I was reading the part of the book about vertical questioning, I thought “NOBODY likes to do this!” lol. I’ve always had partners who might happily help me explore my feelings — but become irritable and confused when I try to get to know them on a deeper emotional level. I get it. I grew up that way. And, I don’t really want some soul-mama type constantly digging at me trying to get me to open up. Obviously, I have some issues around emotional as well.

    I’m going to ask my partner to read this book. I’m not sure how big an issue CEN is for him — but I think many people have some issues with it. It’s just that many people either don’t want to look at it — or they’ve looked at it through some other prism and have made some sense of it in some other way — and don’t want that understanding threatened. For example, my partner goes to AA — and might think that addiction was his problem and not CEN — and doesn’t really want to hear about any other theories because he feels the problem has been solved — at least enough to get by.

    Still, asking them to read this book would seem to be a good opening for understanding where you’re coming from and discussion.

catmad - March 5, 2017 Reply

Hi I came across CEN recently by accident and wow did it strike a very strong chord with me. Like others on the surface I had a good childhood with a nice home, enough food etc. My physical needs were all met. But emotionally it was completely the opposite. My mother had very strong ungoverned emotions and let fly on a regular basis leaving me and my sisters on the end of constant verbal abuse. I was always told no one liked me, I was obnoxious etc. and I was the main scapegoat of the family. Everything was always my fault. I grew up shamed, guilty, depressed. I learnt to build a wall against my emotions and to this day am often detached from them and don’t really know how to manage them.

From the age of about 6/7 I remember almost nothing about my childhood apart from being very unhappy like a stone was weighing me down. I didn’t know what or who I was. Something died in me then and I have never been able to get it back. It was the ability to love and trust.

As a consequence I have suffered life long depression. I suppress my emotions and have no idea how to control or make them work for me – I am terrified of them. I have never been able to have a normal life ie a partner or children and in my 60’s now am still suffering from my childhood. I have done a lot of work on myself over the years otherwise I would have topped myself many years ago. But too much damage was caused over too long a time. I always feel alone and unwanted and empty inside. No one would miss me if I wasn’t here.

I look at the damage done to my sisters too. One is agoraphobic and has suffered GAD all her life, another has a personality disorder. It breaks my heart to see all the damage my parents did to us.

    memyselfandi - March 6, 2017 Reply

    Catmad, your post describes my feelings completely.

    I had a wonderful childhood and wonderful parents with a stay at home mom and a wonderful dad that worked his butt off nights to provide for his family. He never complained, just showed love and caring for his family. We had a nice home, food on the table, two week long family vacations, etc. All I remember was a happy childhood.

    My mom was an only child who’s dad mentally abused her and my grandma often by not talking to them for weeks at a time. They lived with my great grandma for years; as folks did back then and oftentimes the only person he’d talk to was her. After he passed away, my mom told me this story and how her and my grandma were afraid to make even the smallest noise that would set him off.

    Coming from this type of environment, my mom was always very critical of me. I was the scapegoat and she’d often tell me that I needed to set an example for my little sister. She gave me few compliments. One time I read the Christmas letter she sent out to relatives every year and everyone was all fine and good until she got to me. Not one good thing was said. I was basically hell to raise.

    I’d try to help out with cleaning, but she’d always go back and do it herself as what I did just wasn’t good enough. When short skirts were in, she’d make me wear ones down to my knees. When long hair was in, she’d tell me how horrible I looked when I was growing my hair out; in addition to telling me how other folks commented that I looked like “I crawled through a knothole backwards” I’d come down from my room ready for school and she’d remark on my choice of clothes, “You look like a busy highway..”

    It didn’t stop there.

    She hated the fact that my dad and I were so close. All my friends had 10-speed bikes and I was still riding around on my old home made bike. One day my dad found an old used one, repainted it, and gave it to me. Instead of being happy for me (as I’m sure it wasn’t a secret my dad was doing this for me), she said, “You got what you wanted, didn’t you??!”

    I too grew up ashamed and guilty, always trying to please. Like you, I learned to build a wall against my emotions and to this day, I detach myself from them; having no idea how to manage anything negative.

    Thus, I also suppress my emotions..especially anything negative or argumentive; I remove myself from. There are times my heart rushes and I am terrified for no reason.

    Although I still can love and trust my family and my husband; I have issues trusting others due to my fear of not being accepted. Most of the time I find safety and comfort just staying home and not going anywhere, nor getting involved in the things I used to enjoy.

    I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety; yet sometimes I feel it’s worse than my MD believes it is, as I hide a lot, always putting on a happy face. More often than not, I feel alone, unwanted, and very empty inside. Nobody misses me when I’m not there and I have few friends. It’s not even like I’m a “Debbie Downer” or anything as I’ve been told I should come out more; I’m a lot of fun. Yet it’s just too much trouble..I feel much safer in my own four walls.

    Reason being, I’m so unconfident with myself, I’m always trying to please others, and the list goes on and on. I wasn’t always like this as I used to really enjoy my life…yet there was something wrong that I always kept blaming on someone else; when it was actually my own deep seated guilt or shame from my childhood.

    Thanks so much for your post really hit home.

    I’m so glad I ran into this website as it’s tuned me into what’s been weighing on me all these years and what I’ve been pushing into the back of my mind.

Merry - February 21, 2017 Reply

At the wizened age of almost 60, I’ve slowly accepted the fact that the death of my “being” occurred so, so long ago that I often feel like what remains is just a smokescreen of a person. Like so many in here, my childhood was riddled with dysfunction that wore the masks of drug abuse, of narcissism, of sexual molestation, of neglect, of violence, and of jealously to name a few. A family of too many children, too little love, too much genetic malfunction.

And today, I walk around an empty shell, sadly able to acknowledge what passed me by as a little girl and accepting that it never makes a return visit. And I speak of love–an unconditional love– that soaks into your skin and bathes your soul with a warmth so pure, no evil can steal it. But sadly, the parents of this gaggle of children had no ability to show or give love. And like cannibals, we devoured any signs of love for that showed weakness. And the blade of ridicule and mockery was brandished quickly if a weakness was sensed.

Emotional neglect was our calling card.

But when the matriarch of this “clan of the lost” was recently laid to rest, I found I felt nothing but a strange sense of relief mixed with a rumbling sadness that rolls through me like a wave. And leaves me with the eternal question:

What Was My Purpose?

And the answer for me has been to undo what was done to me.

I married very young and pregnant after drifting through life aimlessly. We raised four children and remain happily married today. And there is love in my new family. Deep love. But I sometimes fear that love is like a dandelion in seed and a swift wind will wretch it from my hand forever. For you see, a childhood void of unconditional love is like a twisted gnarled hand: it may function but it will never know the true joy of wholeness. And yes. It is a wholeness that I lack. And not a wholeness based on external features like beauty and status. But a wholeness that makes me believe I’m likable and worthy.

I’ve been told I’m odd. I’m standoffish. I’m intense. I love being alone too much. I’m driven to perfection. I’m hyper-vigilant. I ruminate. But what people don’t get is: How else would I have scared away the monsters that stole my childhood?

I can only hope that the family I built only continues it’s upward flight towards true, unconditional love and that one day, I can look back on my family of origin not with ill-will and distain and fear but with pity that our struggle was such that we were left damaged. And that my remaining guilt of “surviving” my upbringing becomes my cloak of honor.

Thank-you for listening…

    Bern - May 28, 2017 Reply

    Reading this while I lay in my childhood bedroom of my parents house, making myself, my husband, and our 3 kids spend a weekend with their grandparents. I identify with everything you’ve wrote. It makes me feel a little validated in my own way. 🙂

Chuck - February 20, 2017 Reply

I never thought I’d be talking about something like this. I have been very good at lying to myself, convincing myself that my childhood and family was great. The fact that my parents provided a safe home, food, vacations and all sorts of “stuff” coupled with the fact that they didn’t do the extremely horrible stuff like constant beating or sexual abuse made it easy for me to lie to myself. Then, at 45, I found myself betraying my wife through an extramarital affair and a marriage counselor, after spending 30 minutes talking to me, looking me in the eye, telling me that I was deprived of my basic childhood emotional needs. Now it is coming back in torrents. Realizing that I was continually punished for expressing a feeling or desire. Remembering all of the yelling and screaming and “spanking”. Remembering the false accusations; one so bad that my mother actually believed up until recently that I robbed a liquor store because she thought the person in the security video “looked like me”. I’m a reasonably successful, management professional with a home, a 401K and all around OK life without so much as a traffic ticket; I don’t rob people so why in the world would she think something like that? Is she mentally ill? I remember all of the sexual talk and things that would take place in front of me as a kid, as if I was not there or I was a nuisance. There was the attacking (to this day) of anything I liked or wanted to do if my parents did not agree or understand it. Everything was bad or dangerous and other people, especially successful ones, were bad. Being told over and over for years that “The little man can’t get ahead” and “Don’t ever think you are good at something because there is always someone better”. Being told once that “I can’t believe you could be good at that because you “are so uncoordinated” or some nonsense. As an adult, being treated like the 4th grader who didn’t want to go to school one day and faked being sick; having that episode thrown in my face at 35. I remember the 5 year old little boy who cut his knee in a bicycle fall which subsequently resulted in a serious infection. I could barely walk and my dad assumed I just didn’t want to go to school, dragging me out of bed, yelling and spanking me. I eventually ended up in the hospital for a week with constant IV’s and daily draining of my knee. I almost lost my leg. Why didn’t he listen to me or believe me? Why did my mother allow it? Years later my grandfather told me that my dad “felt bad about that”. Why didn’t my dad ever tell that to me? Why did he continue to scream and berate me, sometimes when I had done something wrong but too often when I hadn’t? Why was I called lazy over and over again by my father when I was a bright kid, anything but lazy? That stuff adds up and, while you may not believe it on the outside, you do inside. I really don’t know how I have managed to be a productive citizen. The worst part is that everyone thinks my parents are wonderful; they would never believe me. In many ways they are wonderful; they are friendly and giving with others but they are very immature inside. I feel like I’ve wasted 40 years lying to myself, telling myself that things were good. Now I am here, facing the truth, with a wife who is rightfully angry at me. I’m also shocked to finally see reality; to see who my parents really were and are. I feel like I woke up in a crazy, sad new world. I’m seeing a therapist weekly which is something I always thought I was too much of a “man” to do. I’m on the fence between just breaking off contact with my parents or creating a superficial relation ship with no more enmeshment. Strange how all of this suddenly came up. I guess my subconscious had enough, I don’t know. What I do know is that it isn’t fun.

    Amy - November 11, 2017 Reply

    Wow, Chuck, thank you for writing your experience. You described really well what a child (and the subsequent adult) goes through with emotional neglect.

Michael - February 16, 2017 Reply

Just finished reading Running on Empty – and it has been a wonderful journey. Thank you Dr Webb for shining a light on so many of my issues and helping me label them and begin to understand them.

Emotional neglect makes so much sense and I hope it becomes a much more recognised area in therapy.

Tom - February 14, 2017 Reply

Would love to see CEN Support Groups on Is that a possibility?

    Marion - March 7, 2017 Reply

    I would also like to find a group or meet up.
    Finding out about CEN is like the emotional holy grail. Just reading other peoples posts has made me feel almost normal.

Frank - January 31, 2017 Reply

Thank you, Jonice, for your groundbreaking insights into CEN and for your book which has been such a help to me. I sometimes encounter a problem for which I can find no solution. It arises when parents describe their children’s behavior and personalities and I recognize they are describing the effects of CEN; or sometimes I know their children and can see for myself the symptoms of CEN. I want to offer help by suggesting your book and website, but hold back because I fear the parents will see my suggestion as a condemnation of their parenting skills or of them personally. Can you suggest ways around this problem? Thanks.

Allen - January 26, 2017 Reply

My story is similar to many here. I am so grateful to have found this book and website. I’ve always wondered why I felt different than everybody else. I’ve also carried guilt about not being able to remember essentially anything about my childhood. I have been blaming my poor memory when in fact there probably is nothing to remember. I have a few scattered memories of my childhood but that’s about it. I’m amazed when my wife can remember seemingly unimportant details from when she was 5 years old. I literally know nothing about my Dad except for the fact that he was a bible thumping authoritarian and nothing about my Mom except that she never said she loved me. Funny thing is I thought until recently that my childhood was completely normal because I had food, heat, and clothing. I’ve read the first little bit of the book and I was inspired to put onto paper my current state of mind. I truly believe some os this is related to neglect.

When in a crowd, I believe I am being watched. I am intensely fearful of authority figures and everyone is an authority figure until proven otherwise. I am uncomfortable in social interactions. I feel like I am responsible to carry a conversation. And I feel like I’m being watched. I believe I am responsible for other peoples feelings, that I can control any situation enough so everyone is happy. I needlessly procrastinate. I don’t know what feelings feel like. I’m emotionally empty. I am hyper vigilant to the needs of others and neglectful of my own. I don’t think I have any needs. I could easily live a life in isolation. I don’t need anybody. I feel fear, guilt, and shame. I don’t feel sadness, ever. I literally do not remember 95% of my childhood. I feel overwhelming responsibility to take care of the needs of others. I feel like I am different than everyone else, that I notice things that other people don’t. Like I have a special gift or something. I am intensely fearful of criticism. Therefore, I am a perfectionist. I am highly successful professionally and simultaneously emotionally bankrupt. If I were to die, I’m not sure anyone would care.

I’ve managed to kill two marriages and sink to the depths of hell in alcoholism. Recovering from that, I really would like to recover my heart and rejoin the world as an emotional and spiritual creature and stopping missing my life. Thank you so much for this resource!

    Joshua - February 5, 2017 Reply

    Allen please hang in there. If you keep this type of self awareness up you’re well on your way to true recovery. Do not quit my friend. You are worth the time and effort it takes to heal! Please remember that.

    Babs - February 12, 2017 Reply

    Allen I’m a 36 year old woman. Almost everything you wrote that described your social experience and need to please is identical to what I experience for as long back as I remember. Additionally, my only memories as a kid were disappointment when ANYONE didn’t seem to like me (even an un returned smile would make me so sad). I usually tap into others’ feelings even if they don’t tell me that they feel a certain way. I’m empathetic to a fault and profusely apologize when I didn’t do anything wrong.

      P - May 3, 2017 Reply

      Allen, Babs – me too, pretty much.

      41 – adult life of veering between mother figures, addiction growing throughout, finally left isolated just like you’ve described.

      The mother (my mother) – demure, serious, religious, largely uneducated – hasn’t ever hugged or been physical in slightest, nor given a free compliment of any sort, toward me nor now her grand-daughter. Has complete inability or unwillingness to reflect on herself while reliably wanting ‘the best’ at a deeper level. Not unfriendly, just deeply wounded and deeply unconscious. Yet still I try to make contact on this subject as a deep feeling exists that if there could be the slightest acknowledgement of ‘what is’ – that in itself would be tremendously healing/freeing. Furthest I can ever get is – ‘I am who I am’ and ‘we’re all different’. The guilt, shame, inhibition caused by this relationship is going to be the sadly defining factor of my life if I don’t figure out a way of breaking free. Still looking for a word of approval on my basic character, that she thinks I’m ok… it’s not forthcoming, won’t be.

Francis McKenna - January 10, 2017 Reply

My name is Francis and I suffer from emotional deprivation disorder. From the diagnosis I am aware that bonding with anyone or indeed anything is emotionally impossible. I don’t know if you would like to email me if you think that would be helpful. My email address is I really hope and pray there will be healing for both of us. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis

J.R. - January 9, 2017 Reply

I found my way to Dr. Webb’s book after learning about Emotional Deprivation Disorder (EDD), a concept similar to CEN in many respects. Like others, I was struck by how many CEN symptoms described me to a T, especially the feeling of emptiness and of being on the outside looking in. My parents were not bad people, but they were young and inexperienced and, I have come to realize, emotionally neglected themselves. They were simply not capable of providing the nurturance a child needs. They may have loved me but they did not want me, and it showed. Now in my forties, I have never had a romantic relationship, never said “I love you” to anyone, never even been on a date. I have few friends, most hardly worthy of the word, and I am careful not to disclose anything too personal, ask for help, or otherwise show weakness. I don’t trust anyone. I feel a profound sense of loneliness, but I can’t stand people and just want to be left alone most of the time. I cry a lot from the despair, then get angry and punish myself for being weak and stupid. Sometimes that brings me out of it. I am grateful for Dr. Webb’s work for helping me to better understand the origins of issues and control the behaviors that result.

    Tom - January 18, 2017 Reply

    I have hydrocephalus and was born with it. I am in my fifties and have not had a long term romantic relationship. It is very difficult admitting that I too was a victim of CEN. My parents possibly did not know how to nurture someone with my disability and I also find it very difficult to make friends. I have been to a psychotherapist which did not help to much. Learning to accept my situation has been a task in itself to this day. I have managed to accomplish things that I previously was told I was not able to do although that does not help with regard to expressing feelings from within. It is difficult to accept the fact that I am different. My hydrocephalus caused my head to get big when I was born. I was ridiculed unmercifully in high school which caused me to retreat inside myself. It appears that looking into Dr. Webb’s book might just help out in a case like this in order to regain a sense of self. I wanted to share my feelings. I read your post and felt I related to you in some way with a sense of feeling left out.

      J.S. - January 19, 2017 Reply

      Hi, Tom. I think there are a lot of people who suffer from emotional neglect, more than anyone realizes. I can only imagine that having a disability on top of it is its own kind of hell. Dr. Webb’s book is very good — if you are anything like me you will probably recognize yourself in many of the personal stories recounted therein. The description of feeling like an observer, like you are on the outside looking in, was particularly resonant with me. Psychotherapy can be helpful, but it is important to find a therapist who is a good fit for you. Sometimes you have to shop around. I feel like I should say something positive or hopeful here, but the truth is I don’t have much hope. True healing would mean placing trust in another human being, and that is something I will never, ever do.

Sophie - December 31, 2016 Reply

I realize, looking back, that I had little contact with caring adults and minimal contact with children, except for my two brothers. My father did love me, but was not present much of the time. Nobody knew me because my family moved to a new home and I attended a new school every year, until I was 12 years old. In school, children sat in desks and only spoke when asked a question. I do remember a grade 1 teacher asking “Would you like me to show you how to write paragraphs?” I did feel that my teachers liked me and believed in me, when they had a few moments in a week, to show this. i think that they were my only source of affection and guidance and I am grateful for their impact. I have a very big, extended family, but we had no contact with them, whatever. No adults or children visited our homes and we were not taken to any place where we would have social contact. I missed a lot of what was going on, because I needed glasses. My mother did not emotionally neglect me as a punishment. It seems that she neglected me because she resented me. I think that she was envious that I tried to salvage my life, from the very beginning and to make something positive of myself. I consistently needed as little as possible and did everything that I could think of to be acceptable to everyone around me.

I always acted, as much as possible as if everything were fine. Inwardly, I blamed myself and experienced much distress for having acute self-consciousness and fear of not being perfect enough. An observant adult watching me would have possibly noticed signs of profound fear and distress. I also tended to be very appreciative of many things that people take for granted.

I would very easily be able to recognize signs of neglect or abuse in children. I have stood up for children in the community, when I saw that they were being harmed in some way.

If psychological care professionals, such as psychiatrists and therapists could visit classroom, once or twice a year, and comment on any apparent concerns, they could possibly prevent problems. They could develop methods of teaching parents or bringing other caregivers into the lives of suffering children. This would be of tremendous value to society and would save vast outlays of funding after irreparable harm has been done.

    Jonice Webb - January 1, 2017 Reply

    Dear Sophie, I have been on vacation and haven’t checked for comments on my website for several days. I’m now approving yours along with others that were waiting. Sorry for the delay.

      Sophie - January 5, 2017 Reply

      Dear Jonice,

      Thank you for putting up my comment. I see that you have provided many valuable ideas on your sites. It must be very fulfilling for you to have discovered this area of need and to be able to help so many people. with your insights.

      (I can’t be reached at this email.)

      Barbara mortkowitz - January 8, 2017 Reply

      Dear Jonice
      I have your book and am trying to sign up to take the quiz, but your sign up page won’t take my email. ! Help

      Barbara mortkowitz

Vadussa - December 23, 2016 Reply

CEN has made me realise so many things about myself, and for almost half a year now I am experiencing a major spiritual shift. I feel like Im being born again/ going back to being 5 years old (where I got stuck) and as amazing as it feels, I need to teach myself from there how to listen to my emotions and basically, develop my EQ which my parents never did. Does anyone know any sources/ videos to learn how to parent oneself emotionally? Maybe through affirmations? subconscious reprograming or online therapy?

Grace - December 22, 2016 Reply

I undergone my parents divorced when I was about 12. I just recently started seeing a therapist after being beaten up by my constant relationships failure. In my last session there was not much to talk about my last relationship, but I was exploiting about an argument with my mom just the day before. My therapist pointed out that since I was back at home (after almost 4 years living abroad) I hadn’t been able to establish a serious and healthy relationship. He started using a technique where he used a sort of riddle that just confused me. He said it was meant that way. Anyway, besides the argument, I just grew angry at the possibility that my mother’s (and maybe my father’s) drama is the underlying reason why I have challenge with my love life. I have two younger siblings and they seemed fine. They are not married, but still have a family. My brother just separate from his wife and my sister is happy together with two young kids. I wonder how comes I was most affected? what the fact that my siblings were still kids? I’m not sure if my therapist was suggesting I should move out. This is the day after my therapy and I’m feeling extremely tired and emotional and I’m not sure how to overcome the feelings.

crybaby - December 5, 2016 Reply

I have just finally realized that I am an adult child who suffered from fairly severe emotional neglect. I have been struggling so much these past two years to overcome my feelings of inadequacy, disconnect and anger towards my family. Only now that I understand exactly where this is stemming from, I don’t know how to move past my anger and blame. I have been isolating myself and finally decided to talk to my parents about it. When I did, their reactions were an exaggerated version of the neglect itself. I am pretty lost as to how to move forward. I love my parents, but I can’t stop feeling so angry and disappointed with them.

    dfk - December 7, 2016 Reply

    I seem to cycle between anger, fear, and shame. Shame and fear are the worst, so I think the anger comes in to relieve me from them. But when I feel anger towards my parents, I also feel that the rest of the world is in sympathy with my parents, so then I feel shame or fear that I am angry with them. And I just go back and forth.

      Kathan - December 27, 2016 Reply

      I also struggle with anger toward my parents. And I relate to your feeling that “the rest of the world is in sympathy” with parents. Then I feel ashamed for being angry about something no one else thinks is a big deal. What do you feel fear about?

        David F Knutti - January 13, 2017 Reply

        The fear is hard to describe. It is like not knowing what you are, just being an observer but without having any identity. I think it comes from childhood where I was not responded to, and had no information about a sense of self, or who or what I was.

          dfk - January 14, 2017 Reply

          Actually, those things were how I interpreted myself, but the fear was about abandonment. I was never threatened like that, but I grew up feeling like I might have to be on my own entirely. Also, I do now even feel that other people are good, decent, kind, noble, honorable, real, deserving, and I am kind of painful and hurtful to them, in their opinion, and so I have to have good reason to be around them, or I shouldn’t be in their presence. If I make a mistake, I feel a lot of shame. I can see why I feel that way from how my parents acted. They each thought of themselves as the victim of the other one. When Dr. Webb talks about needing access to feelings, it sounds benign, but mine are really painful.

          Lori - January 17, 2017 Reply

          The fear for me comes from historical fear of my needs not being met if I showed feeling, needs etc. I am learning to have compassion for the fear which is working well

      Anonymous - January 18, 2017 Reply

      I have been going through a cycle of anger, shame and crippling guilt over the last 30 years. It used to be more balanced but now the anger is lasting longer and is so much stronger. Even after talking to a therapist. I don’t like having the anger still, I want peace from this pain but at least it is better than the guilt. I know that in sympathy for them story – nobody in family, friends of them past or present cares about what they did. I used to think that if they had known when I was a child, someone would have done something. Now I realise people just by and large don’t give a damn. Find friends who value you really. Really. Fake family will make you crazy if you stay with it but real friends will help you feel like you have real value.

    Danny - December 19, 2017 Reply

    Aah that sucks. That’s my fear with my parents. I told them to go and get f**ked instead. It seemed more practical. Haven’t spoken to them since. It’s been a release of sorts.

Jim Coulomb - December 5, 2016 Reply

I’ve always felt that I didn’t feel right. “No more Mr. Nice Guy” was the first book that I thought really knew me. Until yours…It explains a lot! Thank you very much! My suicidal thoughts have been entering my mind on an off for thirty years. I’m going to TRY to start being present with how I feel(emotion). I don’t know if I can, but I’m not going to stop trying. Thanks…

    Laura - January 8, 2017 Reply

    “I’m going to TRY to start being present with how I feel(emotion). I don’t know if I can, but I’m not going to stop trying. ” I can identify with that statement. I closed my eyes, imagined a blank wall and felt NOTHING. I will keep trying.

SMC - November 30, 2016 Reply

I grew up in southern Africa and considered myself very lucky to have a fun, adventurous and adrenaline charged childhood: plenty of wildlife safaris, extreme weather events to wonder over and many truly wonderful family times spent together. My dad was particularly exciting to be with and all us kids (my brother, sister and myself) vied voraciously against each other for his attention. My mom remained a steady reassuring calm presence in the background. Both parents worked hard in the business they established a week after having married, continuing to work throughout our childhoods even when we were babies and we were looked after by a maid. Those early days were tough times for my parents as they struggled with their business while having to cope with three kids under the age of five. In addition they volunteered for every committee available: town council, PTA, church council, WVS, swimming club, while we waited in the car for them to finish so we could all go home. We didn’t mind too much though, we had grown used to all the free time we had, but it wasn’t long before my school work suffered. I spent an entire year without completing any homework. I was a frequent attendee in school detention and felt shame when laughed at by my class peers every time I came last in class. I had to retake that school year which taught me a lesson. The only interest my parents showed in my work was when my report arrived home, showing poor grades. I had to select my own stick from the tree outside for my dad to hit me with, and hear more of what I had heard so many times before “why are my kids so bloody lazy? Or “why can’t my kids be like so and so’s kids?” I was used to it but remained utterly devoted to my parents and continue to feel that way about them even today.
I left home at 17 after what I thought was a happy, good enough, typical childhood and was not prepared for what happened next. Simply put, my parents immediately became uninvolved with me, rarely seeking contact: few visits and few calls in forty years. In contrast I made an enormous effort to call and visit them, always feeling very welcome to do so but never encouraged nor invited and contact has remained entirely one sided. Thinking that maybe they felt unsure or anxious over making contact I have regularly spoken to them to provide reassurance attempting to restore mutuality, but my appeals went nowhere and over time I came to realise that they placed their effort in avoiding contact. They have lied to me so often my head spins. My situation is similar to that experienced by my sister and to a lesser extent, my brother. I recently found out that my sister received a letter from my mom when she first left home: when she was newly married, recently graduated and in her first job, to say that my mom was terminating her relationship with her and never wanted to see or hear from her again (apparently because my sister hadn’t replied to some letters my mom had sent her). My sister’s reaction was to ignore the letter. About 10 years ago my parents did visit me and when I said goodbye to them at the airport my dad turned to me and said “you are a lovely girl, we are very proud of you, we have had a wonderful time, and we will never stay with you ever again.” Those last words he said clearly one by one so there could be no mistaking them. When I later asked my mom why he had said that, she said, “Did dad say that to you? Now why would dad have said that?” Yet she never came back to me with an answer. If my parents were badly abusive people I feel that I could draw the line and move on, but because my experience of them is so full of ambiguity and conflict I feel truly stuck as I just can’t understand what is going on. With hindsight I can now see that there were abusive elements to my childhood as well as neglect. I remember one day when my dad deliberately targeted me in a display of his semi-aroused genitals. It had never happened before nor happened since. I was repulsed and confused but considered that he had done it for my own good as I was entering puberty. It was only when my son reached a similar age that I realised how destructive it would be to him if I were to have done similar. Or when, as a young child, they left me with an elderly couple after school so that I could experience a home environment while they were at work. I was terrorised by the man as he kept approaching me with a knife threatening to cut me open so that he could count how many peas I had eaten. My parents are unlikely to have known about this but when they told me years later that he had recently been released from prison after having served time for fraud, I wondered if my parents chose to place me into their care as a way of re-introducing him back into society. Having read “Running on Empty” I am considering the possibility that my dad is either narcisstic or wmbn and that my mom might be either a narcisstic or even a sociopath but I doubt that I’ll ever find out. I am left confused, guilty, and bereft and the owner of an enormous store of love and longing which I am denied but can’t eradicate.

    alii scott - April 25, 2017 Reply

    I just read your account of a seriously traumatic childhood and ongoing craziness of your South African family. Truly your parents sound crazy. As is so often the case, there is a mixture of good and bad which makes it confusing to make sense of. It sounds as if you do have good perception however and I hope you can continue to believe the veracity of those perceptions ever more.

dfk - November 29, 2016 Reply

I read your book some time ago, and looked all over at other stuff, but can now appreciate the value in it. I would like to put in a plug for captions on your videos, I don’t know how hard that is. I was just looking at one of the videos from 2 yrs ago about the type of parents, and it seems like mine were a little of all three basic categories, selfish, burdened, and oblivious. They didn’t speak to me unless they had to. Later, when they thought I should be able to do certain things, I found I had no confidence to do them. CEN is very diabolical, it looks like nothing bad is happening, but wow. And as a child I was so obedient, and feared making any mistakes, so they thought everything was fine. I was terrified, but since I was always terrified, it didn’t seem odd. My older brother got two years of fairly good treatment before things fell apart in the family when I was born, and he gets along much better in life. It’s the early years that count the most.

M - November 27, 2016 Reply

Hi Jonice,
Thank you for your work and your website. When is your next Online Fuel Up Program? (At it says to find out, sign up for the weekly newsletter in the orange box on the right side bar…but I don’t see an orange box…Firefox 50.0 on OSX 10.11.6.)
Thank you!

ADIE - November 3, 2016 Reply

Today my six year old daughter stayed home from school with a tummy bug. I had her on the couch and I was stroking her hair and kissing her temples. I asked her if she liked me fussing over and she said “yes, because you care for me”. It reminded me of how my mom never came to check on me when I was sick in bed as a child. As I teenager once I had terrible menstrual cramps and called my mom to pick me up from school. She refused, saying the exercise would help with the cramps.
My parents were good parents, made sure we were well cared for, and I guess that was their way of showing love. But they never once said they loved me or even hugged me. Both my parents are very uncomfortable with displays of physical affection or words of affirmation.
I have two daughters and I have made a conscious effort to give to them what I lacked growing up – my attention, affection, hugs and kisses, etc.
I want to be their ‘soft place to fall’ in this world!

Angie - October 27, 2016 Reply

My story is a mother who was physically and mentally abusive and a father who was mentally abusive. When I was small my mother would tell everyone that my pediatrician said I would grow up to be schizophrenic because I walked on my toes. I heard this story all the time growing up and would cry myself to sleep and bargin with god about being the best little girl in the world so I wouldn’t grow up and be schizophrenic. She would also play a song called Angie Baby about a girl who went crazy she said it was her favorite song and she bought the album and played it constantly while I was growing up. My name is Angie. My father used to whisper in my ear all the time that I looked like a hog and my skin felt like hog skin so I was very afraid of anyone touching me or hugging me because they would feel that too. He also peeped on me while I would change clothes or take a bath I found holes in the walls. My mother would beat me about once a week with anything she could get her hands on belts, shoes, brushes etc. She is a rageaholic. My mother and father told family and friends that I was crazy and a hypochondriac all my life, looking back I think it was to cover their tracks if I ever spoke about the torture going on at home. I’m estranged from my family because of this. My cousins, Aunts and Uncles tend to believe these stories because they started when I was 3-4 so there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change their minds. My mother is a nurse so she is well respected so my family has always believed her. I ended up married at 19 to a very abusive person it was pure hell. I had my daughter when I was 20 and that propelled me to start standing up for myself. My husband came from a very abusive background too so I’ve helped him get better too. It’s been a long hard road with many many ups and downs but we’ve been married for 29 years now and we do pretty good. There is hope for us if we stay aware of our bad patterns I would say my trying to be self aware and stopping myself from repeating bad patterns has been so helpful to me and me accepting and loving myself warts and all. Also there are many many more terrible stories about growing up not enough room here. Good luck everyone, Angie

HBFJ - October 26, 2016 Reply

Please consider providing printable and/or downloadable PDFs of your worksheets. I am reading your book on an iPad on iBooks. There doesn’t seem to be a way of printing or downloading the worksheets from the app.

I have suffered CEN, and your book has explained much of what is wrong with me and my life. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it has been helpful.

Peggy - October 20, 2016 Reply

Hello to everyone, I have only recently read about CEN but I would like to add another form of emotional neglect that is receiving attention elsewhere, but which I can see is nevertheless an important aspect of Emotional Neglect. Dr Jonice may or may not be aware of it. Bella DePaulo PhD has coined the word ‘singlism’ to cover the widespread but often unacknowledged stigma against those who are single. For example, I am aware of all the approval and celebration of self by family, friends and community that happens on one’s wedding day. This is often seen as a rite of passage to adult maturity and usually comes with high social, community and institutional approval of ‘the happy couple’. A converse situation of this is what can feel like the parallel emotional neglect that happens when e.g. an always-single person has never been acknowledged, given the social thumbs-up, or otherwise approved of or celebrated by close friends and family, or society at large, throughout her adult life. It can feel like a real emotional loss. The single, or always-single, status is also discriminated against in many laws, travel and insurance arrangements, and so on, thus increasing the feeling of personal emotional neglect and stigma against the single status. I am just mentioning this here as it feels like a really valid case of emotional neglect but it doesn’t arise from childhood so much as not engaging in one of society’s most favoured rites of passage.

James Freund - October 20, 2016 Reply

If it were me, I’d put energy into building new relationships and getting whole and strong. When you are absolutely unassailable, then maybe reach out to your mother. Or not!

grace - October 19, 2016 Reply

I grew up believing that my mothers needs were more important than mine. I had to be perfect, show respect, and never give any inkling that I wanted something different that she was willing to provide for me. In return, I had a roof over my head and clothes on my back, but lived in a house devoid of affection.

So, of course I was interested in relationships with guys from a very early age. They would pay attention to and talk with me. However, because I was prevented from having an active social life, most guys would break up with me or not want to pursue a full relationship, because I wasn’t really available for it. Since I was not given freedom to build relationships with others, I spent most of my high school years participating in conversations with classmates through online chats, emails, and phone calls, but little to no quality time.

Fast forward 10 years and I am finally in a place where I am able to make time to be intentional about building relationships and allowing myself to spend time with others. I just had friends over to my apartment for the first time ever and it felt great! I have hope for me and my future kids, but after finally confessing to my mom about all of this, I don’t think she wants to put work into building a relationship with me.

    Mary - October 24, 2016 Reply

    I’m so sorry Grace. Your mother sounds cold and self-absorbed. She may not change much. Sounds like she has so little to give and probably doesn’t even know how to help you. But it also sounds like your starting to nurture yourself and your starting to build connections to other people. I wish you the best.

Willow - October 13, 2016 Reply

The emotional neglect has damaged me so its very hard to heal the sexual abuse that i did suffer from. its all convoluted. i think i’m not allowed my emotions, that i’m actually bad. to be able to be emotional in front of my therapist is so very hard. i can’t heal the other pain properly until i can accept my emotions. i’ve now been diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder, because its been years and years like this despite therapy. but i’ve got the right therapist and the right therapy now so i feel more hopeful. embracing my emotions is the first struggle. i have a shallow relationship with my mother who cannot show love (she too was sexually abused and she’s repressed motherly loving expressions) but i know it wasn’t her fault and i’m not angry any more. i’m sad though. luckily i’m getting the kind of therapy where i can get a cuddle and i’m learning how to ask for it. most of the time i don’t know i have these needs and if i recognise them i don’t quite know what to do with them. but i’m willing to change this. luckily the therapy is not limited in how long i go for. because its so invisible and i act like i’m less than… a lot of therapists haven’t recognised this block. my current one a few months ago apologised for not seeing me, she fed into my own sense that i’m not important some how. this led me to expressing emotions and i felt i started to turn a corner into opening up. i’m used to being invisible. i feel that she is the first person to truly “see” me. what a relief.

KM Marie - October 10, 2016 Reply

I stumbled on the website talking about being raised by parents with low emotional intelligence and it finally explained my upbringing and my inability to connect with other people; something I struggled with in the workplace and in my personal life, only now coming to terms with it. That website led me to the book “Running On Empty” by Dr. Webb. My situation might be unique, in that I was raised in an abusive controlling religious cult, one that encouraged my parents’ low emotional intelligence and made their disorder grow and grow as they deconstructed my personality and left me lonely and isolated. I am now in recovery and blogging about my personal experiences has helped me to actually understand how I was raised and maybe I can help someone else in my situation. Thank you to Dr. Webb for writing this book and I look forward to purchasing it and reading it.

Norbert Steiner - October 5, 2016 Reply

My wife and I are both what many people call “Children of Holocaust survivors”. Seven of my mother’s siblings and their children disappeared, as did a total of 14 siblings, half siblings and step siblings of my father. My mother saw her father being shot for stepping out of line to help a fallen woman. I grew up in Vienna, Austria where Anti-Semitism is still alive, while my wife was brought to America as a baby, with her parents by the actress Marlene Dietrich.
My therapist never mentioned CEN, but I believe that she is treating me for that. I took the questionair on your website and answered 16 of the 22 questions with YES. Yet, I am not sure if Emotional Neglect is entirely appropriate for me, though it may be for my wife who refuses therapy and insists she can take care of herself. What was missing from my life was not love but recognition as an individual with a future – the future was never mentioned or planned for and my individuality never recognized. Back in Vienna my sister and I recognized that something was missing from our lives but we could not identify it until we came to America.

liv - October 2, 2016 Reply

Will keep it simple, don’t have the energy to elaborate excessively. i live in Western Australia and i have been searching for answers for so long.

Dismissed by my mother from age 10 after she left my Dad.
She then remarried a guy that hated my guts and would never talk to me, then said I would never talk to him. She divorced him too and married 2 more times after. she continued to dismiss my exsistance.

13 years of age i moved out and lived with my friend from school where i had some attention.
16 years old i wanted to move back home to mum and she said find somewhere else to live.
She rarely makes me feel welcome in her home to this day or my kids.

17 year of age i spent the next 14 years in an abusive relationship of which i was very near murdered. he went to prison for 9 months.
she did not care, neither did my dad, he thought i was having an affair, this was not true as i had body image issues.
mum said the father of my kids bashed me because he loved me so much and wanted things to work. Mum also said i only wanted to get married for attention. Mum said i was draining and i needed to get a life and get my shit together.

Well i have done that alone and with a great struggle.

I have been a single mum with my kids since 2012.
I am studying my nursing degree and working.I
I am a shit parent because i am always tired and i love to sleep all the time. My kids love me deeply and i love them too.

    Danny - December 19, 2017 Reply

    I’m in Australia too (Sydney). Thanks for your story. Does it help to know that there are more like you?

Admin - September 24, 2016 Reply

I hope this is ok Jonice, because this page is not the platform to ask and answer personal queries. Accordingly I have created a forum where people with CEN can come and share stories, find support, and help each other in their recovery. You can find it here:

LaLa - September 23, 2016 Reply

I was emotionally neglected by both parents. It’s affected me alot as an adult. I deal with depression, anxiety and have a hard time when it comes to dealing with people and the past few years it’s been a struggle to hold down a job. I really have no support from anyone. I am in therapy but still feel so lost in the world. It feels better to just be alone because I am so misunderstood and feel so invisible. I also grew up in a dysfunctional household. I just want to feel normal.

    Phil Blaustein - September 28, 2016 Reply

    I was physically and emotionally abused by both parents. I have not experienced the kind of negative feelings your talking about. I was very sociable, got along well with people and had no working problems. I’m sure there have been consequences to my upbringing. I think I heard the term Teflon child. I’ve been married for 47 years and have 2 children.I have a good relationship with my son and a bad relationship with my daughter. Probably do to my upbringing.I gave her very little emotional support. Didn’t know how. One thing is for sure. I was never romantic to women which is one defect I’m sure. Didn’t know how. I never saw my parents hug or kiss as a child.

    Grs - April 18, 2017 Reply

    Lala, feel the same.

Aria - September 13, 2016 Reply

I’ve discovered several months ago of the possibility that I may be a victim to CEN. When I heard of this term, I felt like all my struggles in life have finally made sense, and I had a huge breakdown even though I’ve been emotionally numb for the majority of my life. I have a hard time accepting it despite the fact that I have nearly all the symptoms and have questionable experiences.
I’ve never been close to my mother, and my parents divorced when I was 3. I can’t remember much of that time, but I do remember calling my father a couple of weeks later after he left, crying and begging to see him. I don’t remember my mother comforting me after the divorce. Maybe I just forgot? I’ve been living with my mother since then, and I realize now that may be the reason I am the way I am. Since I was a child, I remember never feeling emotionally connected with her. I’ve never experienced moments of bonding between us, and I never thought anything weird of it. I thought that’s just how it was between us, and that others were too emotional and overdoing it with affection. I remember once she tried to comfort me as a child when I was in the hospital, but it was awkward and uncomfortable for me. I remember looking forward to see my dad visit instead. I remember crying in the car once with her in the drivers seat when I was older, and she sat in a silence that wasn’t all that comforting and said nothing at home. While I see she means well sometimes, I don’t remember her ever saying she loved or cared about me. I only remember her briefly praising me for my grades or a few minor things.
The only affection she’s ever shown towards me felt forced and not genuine and in jealousy of my closer connection to my father. However, I’ve never felt connected with anyone throughout my life, even my father despite being closest to him. I only saw him every once in a while as a child, and with time, we stopped seeing each other less. We see each other once a month now and barely talk. He’s the only one that I believe actually might care and love me for who I am because he shows it continuously without fail, but I still don’t believe he does, because I feel unlovable. That’s why I avoid any kind of relationships, also for the fact that every friendship I’ve had feels empty.
I imagine that if I ended up living with him after the divorce, I would have been happy and not living with these needless struggles. I always feel like my case of CEN is mild or non-existent and exaggerated. That I’m overthinking this. Maybe I’m just forgetting the good memories with my mother and I’m making all of this up to cover the fact that it’s my fault? I don’t know whether I’m in a state of denial or if I’m just being realistic when I say that I haven’t suffered from emotional neglect as a child. I’m still quite young, but I feel so defected and broken, and have always felt that way.

    Chuck - September 14, 2016 Reply

    The reality of CEN for me is being out of touch with my real feelings. It was never safe for me to show any emotion, especially anger, or express how I felt about anything growing up. Most of all my relationships since then, our devoid of any true intimacy. I was only used by my mother who was a destructive narcissist to meet her insane demands. I ended up being a parent to her.
    Taking responsibility for my life after such a horrific childhood, is a very tall order. Especially, when so many areas of your life has been emotionally impaired. The adult in me finds it best to try and forgive this person. However, the child in me is still searching for ways how to re-parent myself, and fill the deep hole in my soul I’ve made some progress. Yet, people never take me and accept me for me – warts and all. I was never loved unconditionally, or validated. People can be cruel and insensitive. When you don’t bond with a mother and form a secure attachment, You will pay for it the rest of your life. Also, no therapy or counseling no matter how intense, is ever going to change it.

      Anon - September 17, 2016 Reply

      Dear Chuck,
      I am sad to read about your difficult experience growing up.
      I’m writing to say I disagree with your last line. I don’t know for sure – I can’t afford therapy – but am pretty sure I did not form a secure attachment with my mother. My experience so far is, that I don’t have to pay for the rest of my life.
      As an adult, I knew there were difficulties I was having, that I wanted to change. I learned Non Violent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg). It’s helped me discern between objective facts and opinion, emotions and thoughts, and it taught me about human needs. I continue to learn through this process, how to make requests to others, that are more likely to meet my needs in a healthy way. It also helps me empathize with others, instead of judging and blaming.
      I don’t know if NVC would appeal to you. The point is, there are many approaches offered to us now for self-healing and connection, and one is sure to work for you.
      I don’t believe you have to pay for the quality of attachment we didn’t have, all your life.
      I agree that no therapy in the world can alter the quality of attachment we experienced. BUT I know from experience that we as adults can develop the skill sets to live differently, with a lot more joy, authenticity and satisfaction, and we can continue to evolve for as long as we live.

        Veronica - December 6, 2016 Reply

        Hello Chuck and Anon
        I agree that if you don’t bond with your mother, it can be really tough bonding with anyone else. Something I have found really helpful is to do yoga and meditation. There are free videos on youtube, which I follow daily. I have found it really helpful as it brings me into my body and has made me a little more compassionate towards myself, and others. Just being kind and gentle to yourself and others can really change things.

          santiago - December 29, 2016 Reply

          Veronica, can yo recommend the youtube videos on yoga and meditation that helped you please? Or any good channel to follow?

    Kat - September 27, 2016 Reply

    Dear Aria,

    I stumbled onto your post and couldn’t help feeling compassion for your story. Although I’m a grandmother now, I sometimes still feel the sadness of never bonding with my parents and siblings. One thing I have learned is that it’s not my fault. My parents weren’t able to express feelings, it wasn’t in them do so. They were taught to “suck it up” and that feelings were a weakness. So they couldn’t give what they didn’t have. You said that your father might be the only one who could “love you for who you are” but from your later statements, that may not happen. You have to start by loving yourself for who you are. Warts and all as they say. Because you are vulnerable and because people can be untrustworthy (not all people) you have to be careful of who you chose as friends. Not everyone is good. I know what it feels like to think everyone out there is having a big party and you’re afraid to join in. But because of your wounds you are sensitive and special. So accept yourself and try to be real knowing that your parents were probably damaged themselves but don’t know how to be any other way. It’s not you! You have resources and can go out into the world and be who you are. Not everyone will understand you but I hope you find that there are people who will accept you, the authentic you. You are young and you can do it. Don’t give up, keep learning and trying. And you will be wise because of this.

      Aria - October 1, 2016 Reply

      Thank you for your compassion, I’m glad to get a response. I’ve never believed in loving yourself first, I think that you can teach yourself to love who you are through another ones eyes, but I understand that loving oneself is part of recovery and is one of those things that should definitely be worked on above anything else. I’m not in the recovery stage yet as I still can’t fully accept that I have experienced CEN, so I still have some things to think about before attempting anything. I’m glad that I found this out while I’m still young though, so at least if I recover, I still get to experience the years to come at it’s best. I find it hard to accept me for who I am because I’ve always looked down on myself during childhood. I’ve never felt worthy and always blamed myself for everything I’ve suffered through because I didn’t know why I felt the way I did. I never thought there was an authentic me because I wasn’t sure who the person behind the mask was. However, I’m trying to build the courage to accept and find myself and I hope one day that will be able to achieve that.

    Kim - December 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi..i don’t know how old you are, but I’m 47 and you just described me and my mother! You are not in denial. It’s hard to accept that a parent can be so cold but I’m trying g to overcome my anger for me most importantly. I will read this book too. I think it’s great your realizing this.

Some 20ish guy. - September 7, 2016 Reply

Heard this on the mental health podcast. Being suicidal, so anxiety ridden I’m afraid to go outside, going to work isn’t a problem, I feel it’s a requirement, and I need money…for life and stuff, but going anywhere else, even down the block to the store, I just want to cry I’m so panic ridden. And having no idea why I feel this way, feeling guilty that I don’t know why…It’s nice to know there are so many of you out there.
I’m almost broken, but I still haven’t shot myself, so not quite broken yet.

    N - September 11, 2016 Reply

    I couldn’t figure out how to post a new comment. I’m replying to this post because I can completely relate. I miraculously survived a near fatal overdose. I went through a year of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It was was the best thing I’ve ever done.
    I’m very happy to learn about CEN. I can relate to most aspects.
    I too feel too scared to leave the house for anything except work. I need my husband to go everywhere with me. I get very angry at myself. I’m trying to figure out why & get over my fear. When I’m depressed I wall others out. I don’t want to walk around so scared

    JD - September 14, 2016 Reply

    You’re not alone! Those thoughts come from internalized misconception as children and it isn’t our fault. We are on a spiritual planet and some people are more prone to attacks by negative energies than others. My experience is that you have something powerful and Angelic to give to the planet and your struggles are your greatest asset and strength! Don’t give up and don’t listen to the negative energy. Be careful of media,movies,people. They carry the evil. God is love and you are love.

    L - September 17, 2016 Reply

    So so sorry. I can relate in many ways. Maybe just knowing someone out there, can relate, and does care, even though I don’t know you.. maybe it can help in some way.

      Brenda - November 4, 2016 Reply

      Hello, I am responding to you because I do not want you to feel sorry, you are worthy, I guess I will share my story, which is something that I never thought that I would do. My parents were in prison when I was born, so I was in a foster home my first year of life, I remember my mother and father making this statement many times while I was growing up “when you have a baby feed them, diaper them, and put them down”, so that explains my infancy. Then when I was four years old I went into the bathroom and saw a dead woman in the bathtub, the bathtub was full of water and she was face down in the water, she had black hair, shoulder length,(this scene kept popping up in my 20’s, I finally asked my Mom about it and she freaked out and ran into her house and locked the door, so I took this behavior to tell me that it was true) then I remember going outside with a spoon and digging up the body, I remember it was blue and very cold, I remember someone grabbing me from behind and then black, both parents were very bad alcoholics they would drink until they could not walk, every night they would fight and throw glass items that would break all over the floor. I remember my parents took me to boot hill and pushed me off, I rolled all the way to the bottom, when I woke up I saw my parent getting into their car, and I screamed for them to help me, that is all I remember about that. They were always late picking me up in kindergarten, I really felt scared and alone then. My mother always made me feel dirty about my menstrual cycle, I never got over that, it was horrible. My dad called me a door to door whore when I would go out on dates with boys when I was 16 years old, I was a virgin. I have a sister that is 4 years younger than me, she and my parents would side together against me and make fun of me when I was in my later teens, that really hurt, because I thought it was my sister and me against them, who knew. My Dad was a WWII Vet, sometimes he would have flash backs about the war, he grabbed me one night thinking that I was the enemy and tried to break my arms, thank goodness he was too drunk to accomplish it. All through school I was made fun of and laughed at, but you know I was used to it by then, they would not let me sit down on the bus, they would light my hair on fire, spit on me, and when I could take it no more, I stood up against them and fought them, I may not have won the fist fight but they did not bother me anymore after that, in fact I became friends with a lot of them. I too am afraid to go out into public for any reason other than work, and I leave the drapes closed so that no one can look in, when I go out into public, I fell like everyone is staring at me and making fun of me, I have gotten a little better about this but not to the point that I would like to be, I am tired of always being afraid. But, despite everything that has happened, in my life, when I was 17 yrs old I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior and he is helping me heal all of my wounds, he is an awesome God!! I do not know where I would be today without him. So, I just want you to know that I truly do understand, and empathize with you. This is the first time that I have shared my story, and now I feel very awkward and embarrassed.

Amie - August 25, 2016 Reply

I am 35 years old and I have only recently realized that I was emotionally neglected. I struggled with depression, feeling aimless, feeling not good enough, not really knowing who I am or what I want, and a series of bad relationships. I finished reading “Running on Empty” and it was a revelation. It put into words so much of what I have been struggling with. So now I’m putting all the pieces together and processing my emotions. But now I have a question about dealing with my parents, especially my mom. I feel angry and resentful towards them. They usually ignore me, but it’s like my mom can sense that I’m angry at her so now she’s calling and texting and asking if we’re (my husband and I) are mad at her. I tell her that everything is fine because I don’t want to get into it with her. I don’t know if I should talk to her about the issues I’m dealing with or just keep going with the status quo. I don’t feel that talking with her will resolve anything. Her birthday is tomorrow and I’m having actual anxiety about it. Plus, the holidays are coming up and I don’t really want to spend time with them but I know she will take it as a personal insult if I opt to spend the holidays at my own home with my husband and daughter. Anyway, I guess I’m conflicted about how to deal with anger and resentment without having a full-blown confrontation.

    Perna Stafford - September 19, 2016 Reply

    When I was growing up I felt that my mother did not want me. She was very neglectful emotionally and I can remember needing comfort and someone to care about me, but there was never anyone there. I cried a lot as a child and my siblings would make fun of me and say hurtful things when I cried. My mom always took care of my physical needs, such as food and clothes, but that was the extent of it. She claims that when I was a baby I did not like to be held or snuggled -she said I would squirm around until I was free. Here is something else strange, even though my mom was emotionally distant she was very protective of me. Talk about mixed signals! When she’d get really angry at me she would lock me in the cellar and turn the light out. To this day, I am terrified of the dark

    Terry - August 25, 2016 Reply

    That’s all you have to say?

      Jess Dreyer - August 27, 2016 Reply


K - August 16, 2016 Reply

This is tough, y’all! To be the generation that recognizes all the hurt, all the baggage, all the damage and attempt to turn that rudder… I even hope for joy and healing for my parents, from whatever they’ve carried for so long, without even noticing it. My sister is in a pretty deep depression. I’m finally starting to label what I’m struggling with through the help of resources such as this (thank you Dr. Webb!), and thereby address the root of the problem rather than swat at shadows. But now I notice even more just how much my siblings are struggling likewise and it infuriates me that my parents don’t seem to care. My mom sets behind her computer and uses her work as a shield to keep from interfacing. My dad I’ve discovered is probably on the autism spectrum, which explains his inability to connect. At any rate, I could go on and on… I just wanted to reach out and say that I appreciate you all who have struggled and I admire your strength to share and reach out as well!

    L - September 6, 2016 Reply

    My big question is, how do you deal with your parents now as an adult?? My parents STILL do not give me what I need and they want to have this false image relationship and I see right through it. They continue to do the same things to me now even if I live 500 miles away. I only see them once a year and that experience is so stressful, it usually derails me for a month until I get it together. My husband is so supportive and totally gets it and cannot understand why my parents behave in this way. Do I eliminate the relationship all together? They have no clue – I’ve tried to describe how I feel with no avail. They are sociopath, and narcissistic parents. There is no reasoning or explaining to these people.

      Julie - September 27, 2016 Reply

      I can relate. I’m 54 and for the last 22 yrs have lived over a thousand miles from my narc family. I stopped visiting 6 yrs ago and went no contact with the whole family 6 mnths ago. Low contact was working. I think they figured out I was not planning to visit ever again. My dad started devaluing me and I could see the discard phase happening. It has been very painful. I have read many books and this book has been the best!

      My fatal flaw is I don’t fit in. I am glad to have discovered that.

      If you desire to stay in contact, be the observer when you chat with them. Don’t share much and don’t expect anything, love, understanding, empathy. I couldn’t wear the mask anymore. My family lies a lot and me pretending to like them was my lying mask. I don’t lie nor play games. BUT, I was lying and playing a game by staying in contact. Though it is a hard recovery I feel happy about my decision!

James - August 8, 2016 Reply

As someone recovering from codependency and childhood emotional neglect, I often feel alone and unsure. The recovery process is hard and long. And for every two steps forward, it can sometimes feel like we take three steps back. On the good days, though, I actually feel present and beginning to feel a freedom and relief I’ve never felt before. Thank you, Dr. Webb, for your caring and compassionate book and website. And for bringing together this community. You are doing important work.

Lou Hill - August 8, 2016 Reply

I know that I am a survivor of CEN. I believe, as do therapists, that I had some kind of sexual abuse as a small child. I have tried to talk to my mother; however, she is now rewriting our history to suit her own needs. I cannot talk to her and consider her toxic. What do I do to find closure?

    Terry - August 11, 2016 Reply

    It seems incomprehensible that our mother’s aren’t able to tell us what we need to hear. I tried with mine until she died. She abandoned 3 of us for no reason other than she didn’t want the responsibility anymore. I was 5 at the time. I have come to understand and accept to ” Learn to live without the answers” this will bring peace. It has taken me 55 years though.

    M. A. - September 17, 2016 Reply

    I am sorry I am not writing to offer you an answer. I think only you can find that, perhaps with support from a professional or a wise person you trust, but ultimately only you know your feelings & needs. And as someone who experienced cen, perhaps it may take a while to connect with the layers and sub-layers of needs & feelings you’re experinecing.
    I mmostly wanted to respond because I have similar experiences to yourself: codependency, cen, probable sexual abuse, mum whose version of events seems to change with the weather. How very confusing!
    Wishing you a resolution that works for you, & healing : )

Lost soul - July 31, 2016 Reply

I’m a 48 transgendered woman. My mind is broken and so is my body. I lived for my transition to become who I am. 6 years ago that came true. Now I wake up in the morning wondering what next? My transition filled my life since I was born but now my life is meaningless and empty.

My parents, not knowing what to do with me rather ignored me or if I embrassed the family would punish me with mental abuse. I’ve build a successful business career and life as a man. Playing the role to fit in. But now my life is empty. My family has rejected me. And I’m alone as well as lonely because I never pursue any romantic relationships.

I’ve developed a eating disorder when I was 12 because of the abuse and my weight would fluctuate with 20-40 pounds a year.

My mind and my body is broken and I’ve no idea how to fix it. Well I do but hope stopped me.

    Cat - August 4, 2016 Reply

    I’m a 47 year old woman. Ever since I can remember I have had anxiety and depression and that feeling of not being ‘normal’ for want of a better word. I have struggled in all aspects of my life and with all relationships, not just the romantic kind. Always I have felt that this was my fault and there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I did have a difficult childhood but always dismissed it and tried to rationalize those events, after all my older siblings appear to be very grounded and successful in many aspects of their lives so it couldn’t be the reason for my problems, could it?

    After what has been a difficult year the anxiety and depression spiraled. I started a new job which I couldn’t handle due to being in a large team and working in very close proximity, I had to leave after three gruelling months of self-doubt and my own feelings of inferiority. I am now unemployed and feel I will never be able to work again. My first grandchild was born yet the joy was mixed with an intense fear that I would not be able to love her as a grandparent should ( the birth of my one and only child was a terrifying experience). Last month my eldest brother died unexpectedly and that event was the icing on the cake so to speak. For reasons I found it hard to explain I suddenly found it more difficult than ever to be in the same space as my mother, everything she said and did angered me more than ever yet I blamed myself for my lack of compassion for her, thinking I was a bad person and unempathic daughter. Three weeks ago I walked out of her house after a minor argument and her usual passive aggressive response to the incident. I have talked to her once briefly via telephone last week which wasn’t at all helpful. I came off the phone angry and upset.

    Yesterday morning I woke up feeling as I usually do, incredibly sad and worthless and for some inexplicable reason a light went on in my head and I had the massive realization that I had been emotionally abused and neglected throughout my childhood and adolescence. It is a relief to have this knowledge, I can put a reason to my feelings. I don’t really know where to take things from here, I have ordered Dr. Webb’s book and have therapy booked for next month. I do believe that this may help me to manage the overwhelming and often crippling anxiety and depression that is and has stifled me throughout my life. I do hope this is a new beginning. As for my mother? I honestly don’t know, she’s elderly and hasn’t got many years left, perhaps I can never forgive her.

    Thanks for listening and I’m so glad I found this site, I wish all of you love and peace.

      Cheryl - August 5, 2016 Reply

      I’m so glad you have realized that it’s not your fault. I highly recommend a book to you that I just read. It’s short and easy to read…Horrible Mothers by Alice Thie Viera…excellent information for anyone.
      You are not alone. I am older than you are and still struggling with the idea that it’s not my fault. I always assumed I was defective, too. I’m not and neither are you!

        Cat - August 7, 2016 Reply

        Thank you Cheryl, I will check out the book you recommended. It’s a complex situation as you know.

      L - August 21, 2016 Reply

      Finding this website, for me, has been a lifesaver. I too am a “successful” person who has constantly struggled with self esteem, codependency, wanting to feel special. I’ve had so much therapy understanding what was going on in my family but never realized it was emotional neglect. My parents to this day do not honor my feelings. When I tell them what I need or tell them what they do or say bothers me, their response is “you are so sensitive, you blow everything out of proportion, or you cannot take a joke – lighten up.” I am the only one in my family that feels the way I do. My brother and sister both identify with my parents politically, same religion, image driven and pretentious. I have now realized at age 51, that my family will never change despite my attempts to clarify who I am. I realize that even though they are my parents and siblings, I will never be able to trust and rely on them. I will never feel taken care of by them. I have broke the cycle with my sons and really have to work hard to understand that I am valuable. This book has helped tremendously for me.

    Sally - August 21, 2016 Reply

    Dear Lost Soul…. my heart aches for you! I just want to reach out and hold you and take away your pain and sadness. How I wish I could. To say that your life has been difficult would be trite. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotional, mental and physical pain you’ve lived with for a lifetime then, to finally reach your goal and end up in what may seem to be a pit of despair.

    I’m always appalled at families who judge and reject their own child… it’s cruel. I was rejected from the beginning by my father and my mother in her own special and cruel way, did the same. I know the pain of rejection. I know what it’s like to life my life on the outside looking in. I know what it’s like to feel unwanted and flawed. You say your life is meanignless and empty and it’s no wonder. When family reject us, I think it’s the most painful of all rejections that one can bear in a lifetime. However, their is hope… there are many of us who do not judge or reject others’ because of our differences.

    I am the mother of a gay son and a very proud mother too. I have seen and felt and shared my son’s pain when others’ have attacked him and called him disgusting names. I’ve seen him struggle to come to terms with his true identity. I’ve seen him reject himself for being gay. I’ve been there to hold him and validated him. I feel that this is what you need more than anything right now is to be held and validated for the very special person that you are.

    I’m not a psychologist but, I speak from the heart. I care about you and I wish you well from the bottom of my heart. There are many of us who do not reject others’ because of our differences. Please seek out those who do accept you for who you are and stay well away from toxic people. I wish you well my friend. Blessings x

    Terry - August 25, 2016 Reply

    Dear Lost Soul, It sounds like you have been given two major hurdles in life. CEN is bad enough let alone realizing you are transgender and being not accepted by your family. The simple solution is for our families to wake up and realize what they are doing to us. It seems so obvious to me and so sad that so many refuse. We lose out all around. Initially we don’t get the hugs, love and encouragement we need so we pick careers that we can get by in. Dr Webb is right, we don’t even know what we like or dislike. My friend all I can say is that you are not alone

Phil - July 31, 2016 Reply

My name is Phil, 60 years old, and suffering from PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression and ADHD. I am the eldest of 9 children, however only 3 survived my parent’s abuse and neglect. One of my first memories was that of a four year old child with an 8 month old brother, and I woke up one morning to find him dead in my bed. I had to peel him off the sheet, took him downstairs to my mother (who was addicted to Diet Pills), and told her there was something wrong with Baby Bill. Her response was, “He is dead, and it’s your fault, you were trusted with him!” This was the first of several, no need to go into the detail of all of them, however 2 years ago my mother (although I do not refer to her that way), admitted to having smothered him, then put him in bed with me so it would look like it was my fault. 54 years I have lived with the guilt of this (and other babies), and although I now know it was not my fault, the guilt doesn’t go away. I never was able to grieve any of the siblings, because crying would result in severe punishment. In my house I would see blood drawn either between my parents, or one of them and myself, on at least a weekly basis. I had a social worker that lived next door, and I would try to stand with my arms forced into a door jam while my sister climbed out the window and went next door.
I have gone through my life as a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I do not deserve to be happy, and when life has been going too well, I self destruct in one form or another. There have been legal issues, marital issues, however I have never in any way abused my children. I have been in and out of therapy for 30 years, usually coming to a point where I am gaining nothing from it and will leave for a period of time, then give it another chance. I am working with a new Therapist that has recommended this book, and although I have only skimmed through it, I can see a lot of correlation, and I sincerely hope that this is something that will finally give me the opportunity to be happy. When you have such an abusive childhood, you can’t experience emotions where it is a safe environment, and once you’ve become an adult, it isn’t appropriate to try and experience them for the first time, so you continue to hold them inside – you survive by your wits and intelligence, and just keep burying things deeper and deeper, until there is no more room to put them.
I want to go through the book, and would like to post updates as I reach certain milestones, but if anyone would like to chat, or exchange emails – my email address is, and if you doubt any of my story, do a google search on Janice Summerfield (my mother) and you can see her confession, where they actually exhumed the body 54 years after the fact but were not able to find enough evidence to prosecute.
Thanks for your time, I know this was a long post, but I also think it is therapeutic for me to be able to share parts of my story with others. Trust me, this is only a very small portion of the things that had happened to me, and I may look for compassion and understanding, but never for sympathy. Thanks

    Jan - August 21, 2016 Reply

    Phil…..your story is incredible and so sad. I cannot even imagine what you have had to experience and endure. ….however, you are alive, you are sane, you are not imprisoned in jail or a psychiatric facility. There must be a core of enormous strength and positivity within you to lift you up to be able to survive such horrendous abuse. Keep looking for that core and rely on it. It has held you up against enormous odds. All the best to you. You are inspirational.

    M. Alejandra - September 17, 2016 Reply

    Dear Phil, I am a 40 year old woman in the U.K. who amazingly is only now discovering the term “childhood emotional neglect”, and finding as you are, that it correlates. My story is nowhere near as harrowing as the small parts you share here, and I want to echo what Jan posted in her reply to you.
    Additionally, I wonder if you have come across the Emotional Clearing process, by John Ruskan? I read the book, & bought the audio program. Both are inexpensive and have offered me a way to learn to experience and process strong emotions. As the nature of the experiences you have shared is so strong, perhaps your current therapist might be able to advise you on whether this would benefit you, and hopefully not re-traumatise you.
    I wish you healing, growth and emotional safety on your journey.

Jane - July 27, 2016 Reply

Thank you! I have just finished reading your book and it has already started to change my life, I am so grateful for your knowledge, understanding and all the hard work you must have put into such an understudied topic. My husband is excited to read it now as he also identifies with CEN. In fact until recently I thought only he did, but I certainly do as well, in the past I just called it an anxiety disorder from being abandoned at birth (I am adopted)… CEN explains so much/everything about myself and my life particularly the battle I have always had with my self-claiming non-emotional parents… They say they failed emotions 101, & say things like why couldn’t I have just loved them from birth… whom have always told me I am difficult and that no one will like me this way… I battled them thinking they were just being negative and mean but know I know my Father is a narcissist/sociopath and my Mother is an authoritarian… The past 4 years I have proudly raise my daughter differently than I was and know understand even more how to! I am studying early childhood education and find myself thinking I might want to get into child psychology as well, thanks to great insightful information from both you and my personal councilor. Thank you again

Anonymous - July 24, 2016 Reply

It’s one thing getting my feelings out here, but I am having trouble starting up a conversation about this. I often feel so lonely, but the book says pouring out your feelings will develop closer friendships, but I can’t help but feel it will burden others. I know, that’s a common CEN concern, but I can’t seem to overcome it. Does anyone have any tips on how to explain to a friend that I am feeling lonely and depressed because of my CEN? I just don’t want to be completely alone anymore with my depressing thoughts.

    Francis McKenna - July 26, 2016 Reply


    I do appreciate your difficulty of being able to share your feelings with people. But there is the option of sharing them online with some of the people who have sent comments to the website. Just a thought. Take care. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis

    Lemonbella - August 21, 2016 Reply

    I have found that therapy has been a fantastic (although difficult and at times brutal) process for practising this kind of opennesss. I really struggle as you say you do, feeling i will be a burden if I open up about these things, but therapy has given me a chance to test the water, receive feedback on how someone else experiences me in those moments and I have fund this has led to me learning to be more open with other people in my life

    Kre - December 8, 2016 Reply

    I recently found a support group in my area for adults who suffered CEN. Google support groups in your area. I’m attending my first meeting this Sunday. It will be my first time speaking out about what I endured as a child. Best of Luck.

NM - July 21, 2016 Reply

Dear Dr Webb,
I just wanted to thank you for the book. I discovered it recently, and have finished reading it in two days. I totally recognize myself in your description of the emotionally neglected, and it has been a real eye-opener. I am in therapy at the moment for social anxiety, but so far I have been struggling to really be open towards my therapist. I also found the last chapter of your book, which you wrote for therapists, very helpful, as I recognize my own behaviour in therapy in what you describe there. I will definitely talk to my therapist about this.
So, thanks a lot and good luck with your research and couseling.
Best, N.

Anonymous - July 21, 2016 Reply

Hello- I stumbled across the blog posting about CEN more than one year ago. I cried when I read it because for the first time in 31 years, I felt that someone could put into words what I have only ever felt. I did not read the book until this week-partly because I didn’t want to hear the truth, and partly because I figured I could ‘sort myself out.’ Deep down I knew I could not do that, but still I tried. Taking the questionnaire, I answered yes to almost all. I grew up as the oldest of 15 children, and have no real connection to my parents even though they’ve tried their best. I was angry for years, not understanding why my parents continued to have children. I constantly wondered why/if I(and my siblings)weren’t enough, or if they weren’t happy with who we were. It was a busy household, and I can forgive my parents for a lot of that- they were probably only trying to cope the best that they could. There were also a lot of financial burdens. Too much responsibility was placed on my shoulders, and as much as I resented that, I still kept silent, and did what was required. I didn’t want my parents to be disappointed in me. I was the ‘perfect daughter’ who did it all to make others happy. My dad could get angry and hit (quite forcefully) my younger brothers. My mom also could hit a lot, and get angry, and in their anger blame the kids. A lot of this I see as just coping with so much, but I never felt appreciated or loved, and always wondered what I was doing wrong. I have never heard my parents say I Love You, and I think that was the one thing I needed the most. I am still single and have never been in a serious relationship, even though that is the one thing that I would like the most. When I read in the book that parenting is a great privilege, I felt sad because I don’t believe that I will ever have that.
As a family we never talked about emotions – the most common emotion I saw was anger and frustration. I became an emotional eater because I could never express any of my emotions. I always worried about my younger siblings, and not so much about myself. I moved away for university when I was 21 because I knew there was something very dysfunctional about our family, but had no idea what it was. I felt free the first year, although I was terrified of calling them, and had no idea how or why to keep contact with them. The guilt of ‘they are my family’ kept me going back to visit for the next 4 years. I didn’t hate them, I just didn’t always enjoy the visits. I felt inadequate, and did not know how to share my life with them. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t connect, and that I was doing something horrible wrong. I was painfully shy as a child, and now believe myself to be an introvert. I have a difficult time in social situations and find it hard to open up to others. After university I moved back close to my parents; I could not handle this, and moved back to where I had done university, and had made some very close friends. That was difficult because I knew that my friends were more important to me than my own parents and siblings. My friends have been my anchor for the past 9 years, challenging and encouraging me in many of the aspects that are in the book. I am so grateful for them. But they have their own family, and should not have to always help me. I often feel like a burden if I need help. I have not been able to keep contact with my parents, but I feel so guilty about that at times. I don’t miss them, or even love them, but then I feel guilty that I don’t visit or call. I can’t; there is no connection, and I am afraid to trust them, or be with them. I am very glad that I read the book, and hope that I can continue to practice and learn self care. I am terrified to fail, and am not really sure how to begin, but I know that I must because too often I feel depressed, and have not much enthusiasm for life. I do not want to keep living like that. I need to somehow learn not to feel guilty because that is holding me back in everything. I am extremely lonely, but can’t share that with anyone. I am very close to a few friends- but they can’t fill my need for love and acceptance in the same way. This book has put into words what I have felt for most of my life. I struggle with how to deal with this. I can’t blame my parents for what they didn’t know, but don’t know how to move forward and not feel guilty.

    Cheryl - July 23, 2016 Reply

    Being from a large family, too, I feel like it’s normal to wonder “why are they having so many kids?” …it is not your fault ! Children in large families often cannot possibly get the attention they need. Again, I want to tell you it is Not Your Fault. They were the ones who chose to have so many children, not you. You have a right to live your own life.

      Anonymous - July 26, 2016 Reply

      Hello- thanks so much for the encouragement! I am only starting to see and realize that. It is only in the past few weeks that I am beginning to be able to shake some of that burden off my back that it’s not my own fault. There are times when I get discouraged, and think ‘it’s taken me 31 years to realize this.’ But then I think: I can only be grateful that I am beginning to see this, and no longer feel guilty about so many things. I am so fortunate to have found close friends who have helped me in the past years, and especially in the past weeks, when I fell apart after reading the book. So much is true; I felt like someone else had gotten into my brain and wrote what I couldn’t explain. Thanks again for your kind words. Wishing you all the best!

    Lisa - July 27, 2016 Reply

    Good for you for moving back to your friends, well done! I know your lonliness, and I am sorry that you have to live with that pain. I don’t believe you have any reason to feel guilty. You haven’t done anything wrong. You simply want to have a chance at happiness, and to have that, I think you are right to
    put an end to ANY relationships that continually bring you pain. Your parents are adults who have as much responsibility to make good decisions as you or I. I understand your guilt, because chances are their childhood was grim as well. But SOMEBODY has to be the change in the world. So I guess it will be you, and I will be fighting to bring change right beside you! Don’t give up, you have a beautiful heart, and I love you. Lisa

      Jessica - August 6, 2016 Reply

      Thank you so much! It is heartwarming to know that there are people who understand. That means so much to me. Thinking of you, and wishing you all the best.

Christine Marie - July 12, 2016 Reply

I just stumbled across this site. Oh, my, gosh! What a relief it is to find something that explains so much of why I am the way I am, and why I feel the way I feel. And to read about and be able to relate to others..I can’t even explain the joy I feel right now. Thank you so, so much for doing what you do, Dr. Webb! I will be purchasing your book, and will continue to search about how to bring this up with my parents. I’m 35, married, and have my own family. I have already cut off my parents once, and went back because I want my kids to know their grandparents. We had a huge fight last week after months and months of a normal relationship, and I have been struggling with what to do, feeling alone, feeling misunderstood, and feeling like all the blame is on me and that I was the crazy one who needs to “fix” it. I now feel as if there is hope…assuming my parents understand when I decided to bring this topic up…

    Lisa Bevans - July 27, 2016 Reply

    Christine Marie,
    I probably not caught you in time, but I want to give you a heads up. I am going thru all of this as well. All my life I have just struggled thru, using alcool or drugs to bury the pain, believing one day I would understand what was wrong with me, and that when I did I would fix it. When I talked to my parents, I gave them a very watered down explanation, mostly blaming it on myself for being a ‘Highly Sensative Person’, another thing I only learned recently. Because of the stuggles I have been through with my parents, they didn’t really believe me and they think I am simply trying to blame someone. I pushed away all my friends long ago because of how convinced I was that I was a loser. And when I used to look forward to this amazing moment, never did I realize that I would end up sadder and lonlier than I have ever been. It feels like if my parents don’t buy what happened, then I still must be a loser. I am sorry, I am not saying there is no hope, I just wanted to save you that let down. If they don’t believe you, you can still heal. My therapist reminds me that I am not going to get out if them that which I feel I missed. So I just keep thinking ‘what my parents think of me isn’t what makes me a good person.

Tim - July 8, 2016 Reply

I strongly identify with everything I have been reading about CEN. In fact I scored 100% on the quiz, so weee! I grew up in a very emotionally charged environment, so the prospect of being emotionally neglected sounds odd to me, but I show all the symptoms and have always wondered if my feelings of disconnection were rooted in abuse from before I can remember.

My family was a carbon copy of the Brady Bunch. Dad had a son and Mom had two daughters before they met. I was the product of their relationship. Mom had several miscarriages before I was born, so I was very wanted and focused on as a child. Both my parents had their share of emotional dysfunction from abusive upbringings. Dad was highly avoidant and mom was highly invested. We were never raised to observe or understand our emotions, but still inspired to see them as our most important facility. Most communication in my family is multi-layered, subtle, and nuanced. What people say is rarely what they mean and there are great consequences for failing to preempt or intuit other people’s needs.

I was very obviously favored over my siblings, so they formed an exclusive relationship and my mother ended up being my major family connection. My parents divorced when I was 9 and in only a few months my siblings had left home, dad remained unavailable, and mom met a man who saw our relationship as a threat, so she had to ignore me to make him happy. He preyed on both of us emotionally and Mom further preyed on me emotionally to relieve stress from their relationship. By the time I was 11 I rarely saw any of my parental figures and had free range to do whatever I wanted, without checking in with anyone. I essentially raised myself from age 9.

My experiences with relationships has been generally positive, but I entered a relationship 5 months ago and for the first time I am showing all the traits of an anxious avoidant attachment style. It has almost destroyed the relationship a few times. After doing a lot of research in a desperate attempt to build a healthy relationship, I followed the trail back to childhood. This is the first time I am realizing that for a person who grew up so familiar with emotions, I was never introduced to the skills required to articulate, express, identify, and manage my emotions. I know how to use them to protect myself, identify the motives of others, and manipulate others which is great in emotional warfare, but not the best when it comes to vulnerability, intimacy, and connection.

Here’s to the journey of emotional discovery. Wish me luck! 😉

Cheryl - June 28, 2016 Reply

Yes, I can definitely relate!! N o need to apologize, though I understand because I still constantly apologize for everything.
I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I was in a state of complete ignorance myself about my own neglect in my family. I think I blocked the information (see below).in essence, I was “trained” to ignore and deny my own thoughts and feelings. You probably were too.
Its hard to un-learn these things but it’s so good that you are learning this now. Many of us didn’t come to grips with it til much later in life, me for example.
I don’t know if this will help you but maybe it will help somebody out there, sort of academic, but it makes sense to me in my own life…
This is called “betrayal blindness”:
In general it is not to our survival or reproductive advantage to go back for further interaction to those who have betrayed us. However, if the person who has betrayed us is someone we need to continue interacting with despite the betrayal, then it is not to our advantage to respond to the betrayal in the normal way.
Instead we essentially need to ignore the betrayal….If the betrayed person is a child and the betrayer is a parent, it is especially essential the child does not stop behaving in such a way that will inspire attachment. For the child to withdraw from a caregiver he is dependent on would further threaten his life, both physically and mentally.
Thus the trauma of child abuse by the very nature of it requires that information about the abuse be blocked from mental mechanisms that control attachment and attachment behavior. One does not need to posit any particular avoidance of psychic pain per se here — instead what is of functional significance is the control of social behavior. ”

Jennifer Freyd introduced the terms “betrayal trauma” and “betrayal trauma theory” in 1991 at a presentation at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute

Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

Anonymous - June 28, 2016 Reply


I really hope people can relate to my story and possibly help me here.

I have recently come to terms with my childhood emotional neglect. When I was growing up my parents only hit me and my sisters as discipline, but never explained why what we did was wrong. We never talked about feelings at all whatsoever. My sisters and I always hated each other as kids, what I assumed most siblings were like, but we literally never grew out of it. For some reason, we never took a liking to each other. I was pretty depressed all throughout elementary school and middle school cause it was especially difficult for me to make friends. I was held back 4th grade, despite my teachers telling me I was very bright, simply because I hated doing homework and lacked motivation/discipline. Middle school and high school was the worst for me because my parents never let me go out with friends because I was a girl, and in their view only “loose” women socialized with friends. My sole form of socialization was through instant messaging a few of my friends the internet and social media. My lack of communication with my family grew to the point that I could barely speak Spanish anymore, which was my first language cause I never really talked to them. I feel like they don’t even know who I am. When they tell me they love me, I know they just love me for being their daughter, but not for who I am because I have always had to hide my true feelings about everything.

With all of this, I became almost obsessed with getting into a good college and moving out to be completely independent from my family. I always resented them to the core. When some of my friends would talk about not applying to better out-of-state universities because they didn’t want to get far from their parents, it always baffled me. I just did not understand how families could make people happy. For me, it was just things that happened in movies. My family and I still rarely speak.

I got into a pretty good school and moved out like I wanted. I thought things would get better, and they did… to a point. I had friends, but I still found myself intentionally isolating myself from them. Most of my “friends” were terrible and a product of my low standards. At times, it just felt like too much work to socialize. I noticed I resented my family less the more time I was away from them, so I still felt better being away from the prison I call home. At a point, I started dating a guy, but it turned out he was a narcissist, and it ended pretty badly. That was my turning point. He really emotionally abused me, stalked me after the break up, and threatened me into dropping the restraining order, so right after we broke up I applied to exchange in Australia, which I always wanted to do. For months, I could not figure out what was wrong with me. I know I was a victim, but why was I so easily a victim? What makes me so incredibly different? I’m currently at the end of my exchange trip, and it’s given me a completely new perspective.

When I first went to my college, I somewhat noticed how much happier other students were because of their family. It occasionally came up that they would come over to their dorms and visit them, giving me a confusingly saddened feeling, but it was easy to write that off because most of the time parents weren’t coming to dorms. At most, I felt proud of myself for being emotionally independent and not needing them. For example, most of my friends would not go on exchange due to their attachment to their families. I saw my unattachment as a strength that wouldn’t ever hold me back. In Australia, though, most of the local students commute to the university, so their parents were still an obviously significant part of their lives. I started to finally accept that what I went through wasn’t normal or healthy. There was so many things that I noticed came naturally to almost everyone because they had relationships as a child. It was especially hard for me to make friends or even talk to adults, which made it really difficult for me to get a job through interviews.

Because I’m really career oriented, I thought maybe I should read self-help books. I found books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and books on procrastination. One day, a friend went on my computer and saw the books I was transferring to my Kindle. He asked why I needed them, and it was difficult to explain at first, but saying it out loud for the first time really got to me. “I don’t have parents to teach me this stuff.” That’s when I had my first casual conversation on my childhood neglect with the realization that it wasn’t a strength or a challenge on my independence, but a weakness that I had to overcome. Soon after, I Googled childhood neglect and came across Running On Empty. I also read a very helpful book on why I fell for a narcissist and how to avoid it. It all seemed to come down to my childhood neglect, which never taught me boundaries with my relationships. I’m half way through Running On Empty, and it’s been really helpful. I feel like I’m going to have to read it over and over again. It’s very depressing because the more I get into the book, the more I realize how not normal my life has been and the extent of the effects personally. I would love to get a therapist, but don’t have insurance or the financial means at this point.

However, my biggest problem with the book is that my parents were very authoritative about me having a social life, but very permissive about everything else. I cannot relate as well with the patients in the books cause of this. I did not have to do choirs or anything else. All they cared about was that I was safe in the house, so I basically grew up mindlessly in front of the TV. I’ve been trying to work on basic needs like cooking and having a structured life. Gladly, I’m athletic even though they were really against me running cross-country (I did it anyway). Half of my emotional problems here, though, seems to be my social isolation. It has made it really difficult for me to have ANY types of relationships with depth, which I really need right now. I have been trying to find a book on this as well, but it’s really difficult. Does anyone have the same problem so they can share tips with me?

Thanks for listening. It’s really hard to talk about now that I’m over the denial. I think I’m going to tell my roommate about it once I get back to my college because the book says I need to talk about this. Sorry for the long essay.

    Mark - July 11, 2016 Reply

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thanks for posting you heartfelt personal musings

    You reply has convinced me to buy Running on Empty. To my total surprise, your comments and this website, describe fundanental beliefs that I thought were uniquely and uncomfortably within me.
    In relating to your feelings about family, I’m thinking that you, perhaps. described my alienated feelings towards my family due to emotional neglect from absent family bonding.
    I am now a college professor, have a warm wife, a wonderful 19 yr old currently traveling in Spain, A beautiful house, distinguished alumni from my professional alma mater,etc. Yet, I deep down don’t feel any happier than when as a teenager,visiting my sociopathic father in either jail or federal prison.
    Recently I have started noticing how much my son likes his mom and i. I’ve started thinking how I had just “assumed” everyone surely wanted to be “on their own” away from family. It is so liberating to start to discover that these bizarre,deeply hidden secrets are normal responses to abnormal family life.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Heidi Graham - August 21, 2016 Reply

    Dear anonymous,
    Firstly, thank you for sharing your struggles with getting through life. No need to apologize for writing it all out – that’s part of dealing with CEN. I think that because what we think and feel has for so long been dismissed and marginalized, we all who suffer from CEN have a hunger to be heard and acknowledged that doesn’t go away until we get that acknowledgment.

    I am 52 now, and I can promise you that if you persevere, you can get to where you want to be. It won’t be easy, and you have to push yourself daily, but if I can do it, believe me, you can too. I do not have the personality that gets jobs or gets me noticed or garners me “pals” that can get me places career wise. Instead, I have worked harder and smarter and pushed myself to do the things I’m frightened of, and even the failures have taught me things I can apply to the next time I try.

    I won’t sugarcoat it, since I promised myself two years ago that I was going to turn my life around or die trying, it has been hard, scary, and really really lonely, but it has been so worth it. I began earnestly studying toward a degree for the first time in my life, I finally realized – and accepted – that my family is never going to be different, my mother will never acknowledge let alone realize what she’s done, found the courage to walk away from them for good, took on a huge challenge at work that I was voluntold to do, decided I would FINISH it to the very end, and stopped trying to find some dude, any dude, to “take care of me” so I could hide behind a pseudo relationship instead of taking on my own life.

    Now, I have started a career at 52, I have one, maybe two or three, good friends, I can stand on my own two feet, and I have just as many good days as I have bad which is a lot more good days than I used to have. I no longer feel like a tiny, helpless ship constantly tossed upon a huge sea of emotional storms, and the more I observe, read, and learn about what CEN is, what abuse is, and the effects of these and how amazingly in denial people can be, the more I know that it was NOT me, it was not my fault, and how strong I really am. I have survived my suicide attempt at 13, survived molestation by my bio father and a stepfather, my mother’s insistence that I run emotional interference for her between her and these assholes she just has to have in her life, and my disaster of a first marriage in which I gave up the only two children I would ever have.

    What I’m trying to say is, it is possible not only to survive, but to thrive and even be happy. You can find deep, lasting emotional strength, confidence in yourself, and personal success. You’ll have to work hard for it and sacrifice for it, but you can do it. Keep reading, keep facing yourself and your past, keep working on yourself and teaching yourself. Make Reality your God and truth your Jesus, and you’ll get there, you really will.

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