Childhood Emotional Neglect Discussion Page

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

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

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Sylvie - December 29, 2019 Reply

I saw myself. A weird kind, empath, a bit autistic and incapable of keeping a relationship. Shame is paralysing me. My parents were not there for me in many aspects, mainly because I was older and capable of taking charge. So I became an adult. I did not have any right for emotions and if I ever asked for anything, I would get a rebuttal and a punition for even asking. Today, I am coming back, victim of abuse and estranged from my family since I stopped giving unconditionally. I have good friends. I am a therapist… I believe in CEN, it is a major issue for adults of any age. A nice discovery for me, I understand how I react and how I choose my recovery path now.

    Jonice - December 29, 2019 Reply

    I’m so glad you can see the path forward, Sylvie. That is a good place to be! And now you can start down it.

Did - December 29, 2019 Reply

My dream from about ten years old was to be a physician. I confided in my father that I would go for it, a freshman in high School. From then on, he told everyone I was going to medical school. People would say, “Are you in Med school now?” My answer, “No, I’m still in high school.” I worked very hard to not show emotions, to not share my thoughts, lest they be told to the world. The flip side of his vicarious indulgence was he would pay for it. Well, I finally made it, full ride, in an MD/PhD program. When I needed some of the money he promised, “Sorry, I don’t have it.” I BARELY finished a half baked PhD before my credit maxxed out. To his dying day he told everyone his boy was an MD/PhD. My counselor suggests I have Asperger’s. Really? How about a distrust of (family) liars?

    Jonice - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Wow, that must have been so very hard for you, Did. Please continue to trust your own reality, knowing that your dad was using you for his own fulfillment. Now it’s time for yours!

    Remmub, ma I - December 29, 2019 Reply

    I call them simply ‘phamiliars’ as I love words.

Chris - December 24, 2019 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,

First and foremost, I read your book Running on Empty a few weeks ago, and found it extremely insightful.

My girlfriend and I are currently separated, and in trying to learn more about her, I realized she has CEN to a T.

I forwarded her a podcast you did with someone on Youtube and am giving her the book to read and keep for Christmas. She was blown away and scored I think an 18 on your test.

Can you forward me any articles, blog posts, or words of encouragement in helping learn more about what a partner can do to cope and help the healing process. I feel extremely selfish in saying this, but I feel like giving up on us all together. My needs, emotions, etc. have suffered greatly as I have put them on the back burner. Insight: her love languages are quality time and acts of service. Mine are physical touch and words of affirmation.

Any advice or info would be greatly appreciated.

Have a wonderful holiday season!!


    Jonice - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Dear Chris, please read my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. It has lots of helpful info about being in a relationship with a CEN person, and helpful info for her too.

Abdi - December 21, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice
I have been fascinated my your work on CEN. However , I have recently come to the realisation that your work and research on CEN is not exactly “Ground breaking” as the work appears to be simply a continuation on previous work related to Autism and the Aspergers syndrome.
It has somehow become a bit of an anti climax, if one was to genuinely look in to the vast literature on Autism.

Initially I was totally blown away by your findings, but now realise that..your CEN is simply a substitute for the term Autism.
If you look into the traits and characteristics of people on the Autism spectrum, you must agree they are identical.
I would not go as far as saying it was border line..plagiarism, as this would be disrespectful and insulting.
However, you must agree there is a direct link or it is merely the same thing.

The only consolation I could give, is to state that..
CEN is merely the result of parents who were unaware of Autism in their child, and therefore were unable to support them.
Hence the term…Childhood Emotional Neglect.

I sincerely hope that you are able to comprehend my assumption and if possible, you are more than welcome to respond or elaborate on my observations.


    Jonice - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Dear Abdi, CEN and autism are not at all the same thing. Autism is a biological trait one is born with. CEN is a quashing of the emotions caused by parenting. They are very, very different.

      Cheryl - December 29, 2019 Reply

      Thank you for correcting the notion that CEN and autism are the same thing. I am not autistic but I am very much affected by CEN. Such a shame that once again in this society in order to “see” something, in this case autism, it has to “be” everywhere and in everyone. Reminds me of the story of how to define a problem: the man with a hammer sees a nail everywhere.

        Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

        Very true, Cheryl. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      S. - December 29, 2019 Reply

      I can attest that my father in particular quashed my emotions growing up and it was made very clear to me that if I were to show any anger, sadness or any other emotion, I would be labeled as selfish or sensitive. Never once did my parents ever ask me why I felt the way I did. I remember being very young and feeling strong and opinionated – I have memories going way, way back. Somewhere along the line, this aspect of myself was suppressed and I became extremely quiet, so quiet that teachers thought there was something wrong with me. I was afraid to give of myself because I didn’t think anyone wanted what I had to give. It is only now, in my 50’s, that the only people who don’t want what I have to give are my horrible relatives. Whenever I did make or do something, they didn’t say “thank you”. Instead they somehow made it clear that what I made was “eh, just ok” or that they gave it away to someone else. My dad used to look right past me when I spoke to him, to make sure I knew he was not listening to me. Yet me being hurt by this has somehow become my fault, according to my relatives. It has turned me into a shell of a person, afraid to share who I am with others. But I do have two sons who are young adults. They feel my love for them and they reciprocate. They felt the same rejection from my relatives, as they are an extension of me, so of course my relatives will reject them. They feel it from my relatives and it is a lot easier for them to say “F them.” Your findings on CEN has resonated with me deeply and I am grateful. Only someone who has experienced it first hand can understand.

    Generic - December 29, 2019 Reply

    As a person with CEN and the mother of two autistic children, I can attest that what’s going on with us, and our experiences of the world, are entirely different. One could not take the therapy for me, as a child of neglect, and apply it to either of my kids and have it make any kind of sense at all. In fact in a lot of ways our challenges, although similar in appearance and affect, often stem from entirely opposite internal struggles and to approach one from the standpoint of the other would be disastrous.

    Rebecca - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Wow. This comment is so off the mark and out of place. Autism has nothing to do with CEN. I grew a child of CEN and do not have autism.

    Rosie - December 29, 2019 Reply

    I am not remotely autistic (in fact I’m a qualified and certified counsellor and doubt I’d be considered professionally competent or safe if I displayed any traits on the autistic spectrum) yet I grew up with CEN. Emotions simply did not exist in our household and still don’t now. I was never shown how to apologise or ask forgiveness or demonstrate empathy or compassion. I’ve learnt these skills as an adult, now that I know they were missing from my childhood development. That’s the difference between CEN and autism. You can learn skills to overcome CEN. Autism you are simply born with, you don’t develop it as a result of sub standard parenting.

    Leslie - December 29, 2019 Reply

    This is way off the mark! I score very high in the CEN questionnaire, and everything I’ve read of Dr Webb’s resonates very strongly with me. And I am about as far as a person can be from autism or asperger’s. I’m an empath, I feel other people’s pain, I can read other people really well (and accurately), just by the look on their face or their body language. I think that’s partly why growing up with CEN was so painful for me… I am SUCH a “feeler” and I was raised and surrounded by ppl who didn’t feel (or, at least, certainly didn’t show it!). And I was shamed for displaying my emotions, which was frequent. Doesn’t get much less “on the spectrum” than that. Dr. Webb, what do you think?

Abdi - December 11, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,
I would like to share my thoughts with you, and others who are reading this literature on CEN.

Like many others on this site, I have finally come across the “missing jigsaw ” in my life!
I would like to say a massive thank you for the work you have done and are doing.
It is truly transforming lives for many. I also understand and accept not everyone will agree with your thinking, but please be assured.. what you are doing is “priceless ” for some.

Please keep up the good work!
And thanks again!!!

    Jonice - December 12, 2019 Reply

    I appreciate your kind words Abdi, and I will!

Gladeye - December 8, 2019 Reply

Are there any places online or in person where people recovering from Childhood Emotional Neglect can talk to each other? I cannot afford any of the listed CEN trained therapists here in L.A. and I’m in bad way. From the outside, I am very smart and full of potential. But I accomplish nothing. This cloak of shame weighs too heavy on me.

I have no one to talk to about my experiences or feelings. Well, there’s my family and friends, but I never turn to them for anything (“I don’t deserve help”, “it’s my fault”, “they wouldn’t understand”, “I would be an annoyance or burden”, etc.

Dr. Webbs first book has been incredibly enlightening, but I can’t effectively process all of this alone.

Dr. Webb, if you want to take me on as an unusual case study, all I would require is the occasional snack and bathroom break.

Love all everywhere.

    Jonice - December 9, 2019 Reply

    You can share here! I don’t know if other people know of a place for CEN people to share.

      Cheryl - December 29, 2019 Reply

      While I am working with a CEN therapist, I would also like to find a group where I can share. How can we suggest to some of the CEN therapists that starting groups, which would allow us to share the costs, is a good idea?

    JKJ - December 29, 2019 Reply

    I am also in a similar situation here in the UK and would like to connect to others.

    MaryBeth - December 29, 2019 Reply

    What helps me is studying the books and articles written by Dr. Jonice and then referring back to them as reminders. The CEN is so ingrained in me that it’s impossible to escape. I need to remind myself that having CEN is not my fault and that my parents raised me the way they were raised and it’s not their fault either. They did give me all bodily necessities and that’s a good thing to remember. However, those who had way less of being ignored and not nurtured do seem to be much better off as adults and with their relationships. Unfortunately, I needed the books and information about CEN 50 years ago so now I do my best to simply pass on the knowledge to my children. I always knew there was some “problem” within me that caused me much confusion and anxiety. It’s no small thing to know what caused my pain. CEN and it’s results will never go away for me but at least I have an explanation. I’ll take it that I’m less messed up now
    by knowing things. And, I am SO thankful that I found Dr. Jonice’s books and articles which help me to the extent that they can.

Katherine - December 5, 2019 Reply

I’ve recently come across your work and read your books. It’s outstanding and I really feel it is the missing link, or one of them anyway, in terms of psychotherapy. I have two questions.

(1) Do you feel there is a correlation between CEN and avoidant attachment style? Is it basically the same thing?

(2) You deal, up to a point, with a partner with CEN that refuses to respond to approaches on CEN in your second book. I would love to hear more on that. My husband is flat out refusing to look at this. I wonder how common his response is, given that a characteristic of CEN is not seeing feelings and therefore denying that there is a problem. I don’t feel capable of doing all the work and I can’t see a solution other than separation. It seems as if there comes a point where encouraging becomes pushing, manipulating and not accepting, fundamentally, what is. What is my question? I guess, how does one get buy in from a spouse that is so wired in CEN that he does not want to go there (and may also have felt pushed by me from my acting out in the past out of frustration)? How can one have an emotionally whole relationship with a spouse that lives in an emotional desert? I feel like part of me is missing. I wonder how much of this situation I have co-created however and whether or not doing any of this couples work is just a fundamental rejection of my spouse. When does loving someone as they are mean staying and accepting and looking to oneself and one’s own spiritual connection for wholeness and when does loving someone as they are mean loving them but separating?

    Jonice - December 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Katherine, CEN is one cause of avoidant attachment style. I wish I could answer your second question so easily. But it would be irresponsible for me to try to advise you on making a decision this big! Will your husband go to see a CEN therapist with you? If not, please go alone. A therpist can get to know you and help you navigate this important decision.

Ric - November 24, 2019 Reply

I’m 34 and have never had a romantic relationship. I cannot feel any kind of bond with a person. Aspergers is what some think I might have but I remember shutting my emotions off when I was young so as not to feel the pain. I just want to be able to like someone and love someone. That would be a dream come true. I am constantly rejected (self rejection as well as that from others). People can sense my fear and they feed on it. Anyway, if I keep busy and keep my mind occupied I’ll be alright and then die… what was the point of it all. Really… Wish I was never borne.

    Jonice - November 24, 2019 Reply

    Dear Ric, you must not settle for this! It is not okay. Please seek a therapist listed on the Find A Therapist Page of this website. You deserve to be much happier.

Vanessa - November 17, 2019 Reply

I was the third of 3 children. My mother said ” don’t ever have girls they are nothing but a problem”. She cut my hair so short I looked like a boy. She frequently made fun of my appearance laughing loudly and with gusto, she would h8t me on the head and say she never wanted 3 children…..I was the third. She was crazy about my brother treated him like gold. My father owned a few properties back then and when I was about 9 or ten they used to send myself and my sister to clean the toilets and bathrooms in the boarding house. Unsupervised. Full of men no ladies .
When I was about 14 they left myself and my sister in the flat we all lived in to go and run their new hotel. Yes they left. Moved out. I don’t know how we survived. Once a week my dad would come check we were still alive and if she came she would shout that we had the heating on. They disconnected the phone and most of the bedroom heating.
I haven’t spoken to her for 15 years apart from me being brave enough to muster up the courage whilst an in patient at a mental health unit. It went badly. She laughed when I reminded her of the things she said and did and then said I was needy.
I have no self confidence. I have abandonment issues which go way out of control. I have extreme anger towards her.
My sister won’t give me mums address in case I upset her! I wrote to her years ago. I wasnt nice and i didnt hold back.I cannot describe in words how much the lack of support from my sister who doesn’t want to ” get involved” and hurt it gives me.
I think I am so ugly. I can’t go to places where there are lots of people because I get anxiety and think everyone is talking about me.
My parents argued daily. My father was physically and mentally abusive.
My mother was abusive just the same as him.
She was unfaithful more than once. She loved the attention. She is Satan.

    Molly - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Even if none of them want to admit it, or discuss it, it still happened, it was wrong, and you are left holding the emotional bag, unable to get resolution. I have, like you, never gotten any satisfactory response when I tried to talk about my feelings about the past. I have been laughed at and treated like I was unreasonable and bratty. You are brave for talking about it and trying to communicate. You are strong for seeking clarity about your experience now that you are old enough to get perspective. You keep going! There are a lot of us out here relating to what you are saying and feeling sad because we too had to break away from a toxic dynamic. Love to you!

Gladeye - November 17, 2019 Reply

I can’t remember anything without a pain so deep that it hardly becomes known to me.

I have never been told I was anything. No one ever said, “You can do this” or “I believe in you.”

I know I’m smart in a lot of ways, but I don’t trust my own judgment and I’m paralyzed by fear of failure, rejection, and disapproval.

When I do receive encouraging praise or compliments they just pass through me, like air through a butterfly net.

More than anything, I think I need to talk to other people suffering the consequences of childhood emotional neglect. A woman who could relate would be a Godsend.

If there are CEN resources in Los Angeles, I haven’t found them.

Finally, Dr. Webb, your book enlightened me in ways years of therapy couldn’t. Thank you so much for putting a name and explanation to it all.

    Mumof3 - November 18, 2019 Reply

    Hi Gladeye, I can completely relate. My brother was the clever one in the family and always did all the best things. Nothing I ever did measured up and I had no idea how intelligent I was until I looked back on my life and recognised my own achievements for what they were rather than in the shadow of my brother. I realise now that my greatest achievements were those which were completely ignored by my family as I realise now ,in fact these were as good as if not better than him. No cause for celebration as that would have recognised me as not the ‘thick’ one in the family.
    At work I constantly second guess myself and seize on what I haven’t done excellently, I take any slightly negative things seriously and to heart but can’t quite acknowledge praise. I regularly am told I’m good at my job but I don’t really believe it. I feel like I’m faking it and that I will be found out.
    I have pain now when I look back , before I saw it all as my inadequacies, but now I see it as hurt and not my fault. See my post next to yours about birthdays. I can recognise it for what it is but it still hurts lots. I want to feel special on my birthday but then feel I don’t deserve it anyway. As I have recognised my CEN for what it is more and more memories are coming back. It all still hurts but I am at least beginning to see it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t fair and it’s not wrong for me to feel like that.
    I am useless at expressing emotions, I either cry or shout, I have nothing else.

    Andy Cavanaugh - December 24, 2019 Reply

    I am the 5th of 6 children. My younger brother was born when I was 8. He has downs syndrome. I have always gotten along with him. Still do and he’s 39. After he was born I felt kicked to the curb. Dad was never emotionally there. He’s a recovered alcoholic. My older siblings had their own lives and coping mechanisms. I did not. Mom gave all her attention towards younger brother. Yep. I was neglected although plenty don’t agree. I played by myself, did everything alone. Like I said, I’m 47 and still am affected. It’s terrible. Hit me up “”

    Jennifer - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Gladeye, I just read your post and I love how you describe how compliments just pass through you like air through a butterfly net. I’ve been working on myself for 25 years in therapy and 12 step recovery and still feel this way when being praised about important accomplishments. I don’t feel accomplished or celebratory as much as I feel temporarily safer from self-reproach (relief from always having to feel like a loser).
    The weird thing is that it’s harder to shake criticism than to receive praise. On a fundamental level I have historically accepted other’s negative feedback as true (when it was not true), but when given praise I tend to reject it. Becoming conscious of what’s true helps, but it takes real mindfulness every day to stay afloat. Just wanted to share that you aren’t alone.

Mumof3 - November 16, 2019 Reply

I have bad memories of birthdays. My earliest are of my mum being cross because I couldn’t find a present which had been put out for me and was made to feel stupid . I went to boarding school young so I spent my birthdays at school. One year,13, it fell on a weekend so my parents could see me for just the day. I sat and waited for hours, eventually they came after lunch having been out with my brother before coming to get me. They had had a fun boozy lunch and spent the afternoon chatting and laughing about their fun lunch. I felt excluded. They didn’t want to eat after that although I was hungry so we went to a cafe for a cup of tea then took me back to school first before dropping my brother off after. My brother was given a Rolex for his 18th I was with my mum when she bought it, it cost £1000. My 18th birthday present was a stereo which cost about £200. My brother had a big party with family and friends in London in a club on Pall Mall and my dad gave me £100 to organise my own party at uni on my own. They were living abroad both times but only returned for my brother. I am going to be 50 in less than 3 weeks. My husband and our children are supposed to be visiting Hong Kong a couple of weeks later, so I can just forget about my birthday on the day, but this is looking increasingly unlikely. So now I have no plans and couldn’t be more miserable but feel that this is just par for the course. I have come a long way with recognising my CEN and working through it but this ‘special’ birthday is a real hurdle.

Lego - November 8, 2019 Reply

I don’t understand how you justify, the desire for happiness. I haven’t had a hug in years, and before that ever; never from family (It was a genuinely kinda scary moment having someone wrap around me for the first / probably last time; it felt amazing, to realize that other humans have a body heat to them; and breath! It was so strange to feel another human breathing) But how do I justify wanting more hugs, things that make me happy / satisfied in life. I could spend every day in misery and it wouldn’t matter to anyone to the same degree that being happy wouldn’t matter to anyone. Or rather, at least people enjoy watching me suffer. I like hugs, but its not like anyones going to like hugging me. Im not saying im ugly, im kinda tall and take care of myself. But that doesn’t matter because that’s not what people want. I want hugs, friends, sex, conversation; but all that people want from me is to suffer, to struggle with death from freezing conditions, to never have emotional connections. So wouldn’t the justifiable action be to suffer for entertainment because no one wants you to be happy?

    Jonice - November 9, 2019 Reply

    Dear Lego, I wonder why you think other people are entertained by your pain and discomfort. That does not sound like the way people are in general. I hope you will connect with a therapist and get an extra opinion and some support and help to sort this out. All my best wishes to you.

annonymous - October 27, 2019 Reply

Thoughts on the possibility of changing one’s behavior after 63 years of being messed up? Sure, it’s interesting to finally figure out that part of why I’m the way I am has to do with my family not paying enough attention to me when I was young. I mean, I kind of suspected this had something to do with it but didn’t think the situation was drastic enough to have caused me to be such a loser. (I mean, I wasn’t physically abused.) But honestly, what’s the likelihood of being able to undo so many years of bad habits, thoughts, etc., at this stage? Not just looking for platitudes. It’s a real question.

    Jonice - November 1, 2019 Reply

    You are not a loser. And you absolutely can change, but you will have to work for it. It does take commitment and perseverance. Please seek help with this if you need it!

Onasis - October 27, 2019 Reply

I there I am 40 yrs old, my parents have a 30 yr age gap, when my father left to another state to live, my mom became an alcoholic unable to handle life as she had been totally dependent for ten years on him. I remember my siblings and I all going our separate ways, I was 10 yrs old. I remember spending Thanksgivings at friend’s house (no longer friends she became jealous when I graduated college) and her grandma use to always feed me. I never remembered eating as a family ever again and it felt like every man for themselves. My mom used to use our child support money to pay the rent. I remember having to borrow cloths from my friend. I was beautiful with extreme low self-esteem due to lack of love, hugs, support and caring from my mom. I remember never trying to look better than my friends so they can like me more, I let them wear all the make-up, hair and nice cloths bc I really wanted their love so always let them shine. I remember my sister crying to me in bed saying that she didn’t think she fit in with this world, she started dressing all in Black, became a Gothic. We hate each other BTW. No real connection there. I also remembered my brother used to be part of the Basket Ball team in High School and I didn’t go to not one of his games to support him, yet we all lived together in a one-bedroom apartment with no privacy.
At 15 years old I begged the owner of a pizza grocery store to let me work as a cashier girl, you have to be 16 to legally work in the U.S. and he said yes. I remember one time my mom was drunk and sleeping and my siblings and I was so hungry. My first boyfriend treated me like badly because I never knew what being treated well meant. We never really went out to the movies nor did I meet his friends except for his cousin. I later found out he had a high-school sweetheart all the 4 years of high-school and when they were on a break that is when he was with me. I don’t ever remember my mom being warm and motherly, she made sure we always went to school bc she didn’t want to get in trouble with the law. I even tried cutting myself one time so my mom can pay attention to me and my brother and sister had to hide all the knifes. I became an alcoholic, I was also raped 3 times at 21 left the police report on my mom’s dresser, she totally ignored. None of my milestones have ever been celebrated. I don’t know why I expected 40 to be any different. I didn’t feel like I had a father figure in my life, my mother had boyfriends here and there but looking for men for financial support and not love didn’t take her far. I was/been so lost without any direction for my life and my future without any parental guidance. I am traveling long term solo; my mom guilt trips me into talking with her but it feels so empty. Like knock, knock, who’s there no one. She now has no one, her mother past away in 2014 and I feel this is the only reason that NOW she wants to call me all the time. Its overwhelming and needy. No real long term romantic relationship, no kids, and pretty much feel I was robbed of a life and ask God why me.
I bought your audio book started it and really it was/is too hard to read or listen to. I know you are going to say please look at our CEN directory for a therapist. The purpose of my writing is to help others see they are not alone.

    Jonice - October 27, 2019 Reply

    Dear Onasis, you read my mind! I would also like to suggest that you digest the book gradually, one section at a time. Once you’ve gotten through the entire book that way, you will be ready to start over and read it more thoroughly. I hope you will do this as well as also see a CEN therapist. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle - October 12, 2019 Reply

Hi, This is interesting. Im 48 almost 49. My mum was 17 when I was born. I spent about 2 months in hospital as I was so prem. Anyway my grandparents wouldn’t allow my mum to adopt me out. So they raised me. So my mum bssically abandoned me but was around abit of the time. My grandparents made sure I had a roof over my head and fed but that about the extent of my raising. I started making my own choices from the time I got mobile. I never had to do anything I didn’t want to which included things which were good for me like brushing my teeth. I never had any assistance with school. I read my own reports. As a child I felt alone, unwanted & unloved. There was never any encouragement with anything. I never knew my father which just made everything worse. My grandparents died 23 years ago. So I have always felt alone and disconnected to everything. My education suffered as I’m tone deaf and have always had difficulty reading and pronouncing words. Haven’t spoken to my mum for 12 years as I had to stop her from hurting me further. Just found out who my father is via Ancestry dna and his family. He’s been dead for the last 20 years. But I have an enormous family. 1 uncle, 2 aunts, 1 nana plus 100’s of other relatives. Its so overwelming. They are lovely and have welcomed me and my kids etc in. I have been to 1 family function but spent days after crying and felt like I was falling apart. My trauma is resurfacing, the memories. Can’t sleep properly, I’m sleeping but I am so restless. Like a child throwing a tantrum in my sleep. I see my cousins and I see the life I missed out on and it breaks my heart. I have another family function in a few weeks and more relatives to meet. I don’t know how I’m going to cope. I new I was different but I didn’t realise I was this broken. Everything I put in place to protect myself is crumbling. I hoping after they have met me I can avoid big get togethers and just do the small gatherings with a few people. Hopefully I will be able to cope with that. Wish me luck

Sherylin - October 7, 2019 Reply

The first time that I read about CEN was a year ago. I am 21 but I feel like I lived longer than that. I have been struggeling as long as I can remember. And I never understood why I always felt this way. Alone in the world. Sad and angry for an unknown reason. I felt lost. I didn’t understand where all of that came from. I went to a doctor and tried to explain how I feel but I didn’t know how I felt. And how can someone understand you if you don’t understand yourself.
But know I can relate to elements of CEN. And I know I can’t diagnose myself. But this is as close as I get to how I feel.
Excepting that this probably is what I have is diffecult. Because what is excepting. I except that my parents probably couldn’t do it better than what they did.
But that doesn’t solve the problems I have.
I will leave my childhood home in a month and maybe things will change than. But I am scared it won’t.
I don’t feel conected to my parents. If it was possible I would take a lot of distance from them, but I know it will hurt them. And I can’t except that.
I don’t want to hurt them, but I can’t live with them.
I hope I will find a way to solve some of the problems. But it feels like it will never stop.

    Jonice - October 9, 2019 Reply

    Dear Sherilyn, two things: Always put your own needs first, even ahead of your parents’ needs; and please see a CEN therapist! You can check the list on the Find A CEN Therapist page and call one near you.

Mern - October 6, 2019 Reply

My parents were not financially stable, they were still building their lives. They had to leave me since infancy in daycares and with family members. But my mom would always make sure to tell me how my family members (grandmas) did not want to babysit me. I even heard them argue multiple times. She would word for word tell me no one loves you or wants you. Now I am adult 33 years (with many many psychological issues). My grandma is 87 and really sick. She asks about me all the time. I feel sooo guilty not talking to her or visiting her. But at the same time I can’t get myself to do it. I get major anxiety, start shaking, the second I even hear about her news or illnesses. WHAT DO I DO? Lol

    Jonice - October 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Mern, trust your feelings. They are telling you about your relationship with your grandmother and that you must protect yourself. See a CEN Therapist!

      Mern - October 10, 2019 Reply

      Thank you so much for your reply.. what you said makes perfect sense. I am trying to find a therapist. Just taking the step to do so in itself is hard.

Alison Kaploon - October 6, 2019 Reply

My emotions are very strong. I can’t talk about emotions without crying, and crying makes it hard for people to listen and take me seriously. I’m 39yo now and whatever my parents say or don’t say to me now, still affects me hugely as though I’m still a child. I still feel incredible pain from their rejection. I feel cutting ties with them is the only way to prevent this ongoing pain with every interaction but I don’t want to hurt my mother by doing so. I know she was neglected and abused as a child and that is why she can’t respond to my emotions. I don’t want to hurt her but I also can’t continue to allow myself to be hurt. I’ve spent the last 8 years trying to teach her what I need but it’s not getting through, she just gets defensive. What should I do?

    Jonice - October 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Alison, please read the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships, It has lots of helpful info for you, regarding boundaries and limits and self-protection with your parents.

Dick - October 5, 2019 Reply

Dr. Webb:

I am a 55 year old male professional. Reading your books and articles have truly provided me with breakthrough explanation on lifelong feelings. While still a work in progress, I am getting a lot better.

One coping mechanism I have used for as long as I can remember is the creation of a false self. This false self is by most accounts to the world, including my spouse and family, a calm, responsible, strong, provider.

The problem is that it’s not me and in quiet times when I’m not overworking or otherwise on task, I realize how sad I am and have no joy in my life. Not sure I really ever have.

My healing has made me realize that the real me doesn’t desire to be around my good friend and spouse who only really know the false self. Whenever I stray too far from this false self toward who I really am, I get a lot of negative feedback which borders on mocking. As a get in touch with whom I really am, I’m not concerned whether or not they like he real me, rather I realize I don’t like them and want to escape from it all.

The question is whether I leave and hurt my family or stick it out knowing it will nearly be impossible to ever find joy and peace.

    Jonice - October 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Dick, I totally understand your dilemma and it is real. Please be very careful about your next steps. I suggest you check the Find A CEN Therapist Page on this website and see a CEN therapist near you. It is very, very important to talk this over with a professional before making any big decisions.

Keith - October 2, 2019 Reply

I had about 10 “yes” answers to the questionnaire. But several of them could be the result of Asperger’s rather than CEN. I discovered I have Asperger’s, 6 years ago (I am now 73). Initially I thought it explained all my problems. Now I know it was indirectly the entire cause of my CEN. It is very strong in my family, affecting both my parents, two of my three brothers, and both of my grandmothers were undoubtedly Aspie – they never picked us up, cuddled us, or did any at all of the grandmotherly things one expects grandmothers to do. So what hope did my mother have of supporting me emotionally in any way – she must have had CEN too?
I have known since they died that I was not in any way bonded with either of my parents – I experienced no grief then whatsoever. And I now realise that the only time for bonding is in one’s early infancy. If your early infancy is OK you will inevitably bond, and will always stay bonded however crappy your childhood might become later on. But if your early infancy is really crap I suspect you can never bond, there is no other chance. That’s what really hit me between the eyes. I’d never realised that and all the implications. I suppose I knew that not being bonded wasn’t a good thing, but I hadn’t recognised what a really really really bad thing it was.

    Jonice - October 4, 2019 Reply

    I am so sorry, Keith. It is never too late to try to get in touch with your feelings and feel them. And research shows that even emotionally deprived children can get better. I hope you will work on it because you deserve it.

    Derek - October 6, 2019 Reply

    I just read Keiths comment and my story has alot of similarities to his. I am not aspergers but both of my parents were not emotionally attuned to my needs. I scored 16 or 17 on the questionnaire. I remember my mother being unusually emotionally detached from me when I was a child and remember to this day when I was 6 during a time she was spending a lot of time with me due to an illness feeling that something was wrong or off because she was spending time with me. Times when I remember feeling valued or loved as a child did not come from either of my parents but one grandparent or some other family member. I as well do not feel bonded to them – my father is dead and I was more glad than sad when he died, at least i was not sad in the traditional way – i was sad as in that I never had a father, even when he was alive. He was a narcissist who only cared for himself and invested time in himself and his activities. Personally, my hope is that he is being tortured in hell at this very moment for the destruction he created in his life on earth. My family sound like they may be similar to yours in the sense that they were profoundly emotionally detached people. My father and his siblings were delusional about their upbringing during the depression and the way they spoke it was all one laughing grand hilarious time. It was not. I think this transferred over into his view of life; he was profoundly superficial and fake right thru to the core. He also loved to con people with silly ruses pretending to be someone else via some bs story he cooked up. He would laugh endlessly about how he was able so easily to manipulate others and get them to believe whatever lie he told them. My mother’s as I see it now is emotionally dead inside because it was a learned behavior as her mother was the same way. She and her sibs all speak with grand glowing terms about her mother, but from my experience of her there was never an ounce of love in any of my interactions with her – she had 13 children but she didn’t even like children generically from my estimation. She was emotionally dead inside. With my mother, who is pushing 80, I question exactly how much of an authentic human being is even there anymore due to her life as a doormat to my father. She is a chameleon herself and I have no idea who she really is or what her real feelings are on any issue because it seems she parrots back to people what she thinks they want to hear. She mostly neglects me apart from giving me money (the only thing either of them were really good at) and spends the lions share of her time doing at my sisters house doing her bidding/chores/whatever, as she has become another version of my father. I look at my sister now and I see my father, and it is disgusting to me. I don’t honestly want anything to do with her and any contact I have with her is out of a sense of obligation. She has curated this belief about herself that she is this kind caring person, but given my experiences with her – she copped my father and mothers neglect of me – its just more phoniness and the sign of an underlying need to curate a certain image in the eyes of others. Due to being dead to my feelings for so long I wasnt aware my family had black sheeped me along time ago, likely in childhood. I don’t really know what to do about my mother, I stay kind of involved but I keep my distance emotionally and physically with her. She has some kind of need to be involved with me but it’s self serving and I believe it’s because she is trying to continue to curate this belief that she loves me but I can see thru the sham now. Having a conversation about the past I’ve learned is pointless as she has a specific response pattern: first is to deny, get really angry, and go into the “how dare I say such a thing” routine (I think my family learned guilting me was an effective strategy to use with me to get me to back down), then if I push it, for her to claim she is the real victim in the situation, not me….Dr Webb has probably heard this dynamic a trillion times. The way I see it now, my immediate family members were / are frauds obsessed with maintaining an image in the eyes of others and developed (except for me) extraordinarily strong but completely self sabotaging defense mechanisms against the truth of their lives. I was conditioned by these people in the ways Dr Webb speaks about to ignore and neglect my feelings and ended up marrying an emotionally abusive and neglectful partner and found a job working with my then wife with a Provincial govt doing child welfare. I know now this was bound for disaster but I was not in tune with the signs that this was going to go horribly wrong. I trusted the wrong people because I did not know yet how to identify untrustworthy people. I ended up finding a number of people in this organization who id’ed me as a target for their abuse because I had no awareness that how they treated me was abusive. I ended up leaving after reporting abuse and being vilified internally by a seemingly endless sequence of self serving bureaucrats who only wanted to cover up the abuse from being acknowledged. The only people who identified and expressly declared what was done to me as abusive was the third party organization the govt were forced by the Union to hire to investigate the situation. When I disclosed the abuse, the manager I reported it to supported the abuser and tried to keep it hidden. When i pushed it over her head, she started harassing and threatening me herself. I came to understand the problem wasnt me but was and is a system designed by bullies for bullies, phonies like my father who have learned to covertly harm others while appearing to everyone else as kind caring individuals. It still blows my mind how an organization that supposedly is dedicated to caring for societies most vulnerable is in actuality crammed to the gills with abusive narcissistic bullies, but in another sense I am not surprised as I was trained to find these people by these people themselves. I did exactly what Dr Webb said, unconsciously, and replicated what I was taught, by a master of manipulation, to be the servant of other abusive masters of manipulation. And i learned profoundly how little i knew about protecting myself from toxic people. Several years later I am still dealing with enormous anger at people who brought harm to me as well as an enormous amount of shame for being played and for the contempt these people must have had for me to have treated me in such ways. I know cognitively it wasn’t my fault but it’s been very hard to deal with all the shame associated with having had a “kick me” sign on my back for most of my life and that the people who taught me how to act this way in the world were my father, mother and sister, the same people who looked and look down on me for being exactly who they trained me to be. Denial in retrospect has some major advantages – the hard lessons I have learned are some I’d really rather never have had to learn. It has caused me to draw some really sad conclusions about the world as well, but for me this is just the way the world is whether I like it or not. I cannot believe the world is a good place at all, in fact i believe most people in their hearts of hearts are bad and discerning goodness in others is necessary as people by their natures seem to live their lives hiding who they really are behind carefully manicured exteriors to prevent others from knowing who they really are and their true intentions. I struggle to trust people for very understandable reasons and really struggle with the injustice of it all, I feel cheated out of a life. I am getting better identifying my feelings but no matter how much things might improve, these are scars I will take with me to my grave, this tragic set of experiences has unfortunately become very life defining for me. The way I feel right now and the last several years, i have stagnated and find myself really struggling to move forward. I think this is because i just don’t know how to live in a world where I am not being manipulated used abused or treated like garbage, being valued and being treated with respect and consideration is profoundly confusing to me and has been incredibly difficult to adjust to. This speaks to the degree to which I was poisoned by toxic environments, which was obviously substantial given my feelings currently. I lived and dwelled in poisonous places for decades, now I’m trying to live in non toxic environments and its the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Trish - September 12, 2019 Reply

Hi Jonice,
Having discovered that I have CEN and that I am an HSP (highly sensitive person – genetic trait), I am wondering if you’ve had experience dealing/treating patients of this nature? (I feel as though the negative environment and emotional neglect from childhood had a profoundly deeper impact on me because of my extreme sensitivity.)
Any help is appreciated.
Thank you

    Jonice - September 12, 2019 Reply

    I have written some blogs about this and that is indeed how HSP and cEN work together. But the solution is the same. Take the CEN recovery steps.

Toni - September 3, 2019 Reply

Hi there

I have just ended my marriage with my husband. I love him more than he will ever know but my emotions became to much for him and he ended up telling me that I needed to see someone and that I wasn’t normal. I know that I have always been different and from the moment we first met, I told him that he would never meet anyone as emotional as I am.

He has left me feeling like I just wasn’t worth the effort to stick around for and I’m not sure what the definition is of normal. I accept that my emotions played a large part in his feelings changing for me, but I am feeling so very rejected and like I wasn’t worth the effort. Even if I do need help, why couldn’t he help me through it, instead of giving up on me. I made the final decision and I know that, but at the time he couldn’t give me a reason as to why he was still with me if there were those things about me fundamentally as a person that he didn’t like.

So, I’ve been trying to find information to ultimately prove that I was to blame, or that I wasn’t to blame. I stumbled across a pin in Pinterest that talked about CEN. Alot of the adult signs I have experienced and am very self aware that I am experiencing a number of them right now. I feel unworthy, I feel like I am “wrong” by design, I feel like this was always going to happen and that it is all my fault. I want to isolate myself from everything and everyone (except my beautiful babies – well 18 and 20 but they will always be my babies). My family are trying to be there but I would rather not see them, through no fault of their own. As a person I feel like a failure.

I have however also read about borderline personality disorder and while they share common traits are quite different from what I have read. I feel like I am more affected by childhood emotional neglect, but how do I know. What if my husband was right that I am broken and not normal, but have just never known?

I have read that the best start is to seek professional advice, but how do I do this when I find it so hard to reach out, and would be getting confirmation that I am indeed broken, and the cause of all that I have been through?

    Jonice - September 4, 2019 Reply

    Dear Toni, seeking professional advice is the opposite of a sign that you’re broken. It’s actually a sign of strength and willingness to face things. You can do it!

    Jennifer - October 6, 2019 Reply

    Toni, I have CEN and believe I also have borderline personality disorder as a result of very difficult parenting, including a covertly narcisstic mother. My husband died 2 yrs ago and even before he died, I was emotionally leaving him because of his Alzheimer’s. My behaviour at his death reminds me of what you say about your husband. My high degree of distress and love stopped me from being able to speak of our life together during his dying. I felt a dam would burst. I loved him so much. My behaviour at his death caused me to seek therapy. I don’t care if others, society, label me as broken or wrong, I needed to do something about those dammed up feelings and my inability to let in to my heart, others and the emotional “filling up” they can give. That was 2 yrs ago. It is not easy, in fact with the seriousness of the emotional damage done in my infancy and beyond it is a literal nightmare because I am having to experience what that baby could not bear to experience. Every emerging feeling is accompanied by panic and shame and other responses. I wake with terror at night. This is what the baby me must have felt like. I am doing this because I loved my husband and I never want to hurt anyone like that again. He was the most healing and lovely of men. But for me, underneath his Alzheimer’s was abandonment. Even finding a good therapist is not easy and I have had to change therapists. This itself was another hurdle. But I am determined. So if you do want to save and savour that love for your husband and retain your joint lives, take the plunge. I deeply regret that I will never have the opportunity now to share my new found feelings with my husband. You still may have. Please don’t waste it.

Megan - August 26, 2019 Reply

I’m putting together a podcast specifically on CEN and I want to credit you and your resources as my inspiration and source for this episode. Please give it a listen and let me know if I completely missed the mark or if you would improve on anything. I would love to have a guest on my podcast to discuss this further as well. Please let me know if there is any interest in doing this.
Thank you!
Megan @

Afraid and lonely - August 22, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,
I was raised in an environment where my material needs were not provided for. My parents did not have a good relationship with each other and there was a lot of physical neglect. My father was abusive towards my mother and was also financially controlling. As such, my mom did not have the financial means to provide our material needs. The physical neglect and lack of provision for my basic needs meant that I could not fit in with my peers and was ostracized. I was also not able to make friends in the neighborhood as my parents discouraged it. I was also not able to bond with my siblings as there is a great age gap between us. I was thus effectively isolated from everyone. I could not tell my parents about the problems I was facing due to the problems they had between themselves. When I tried to tell them that I was really struggling they brushed me off and dismissed my concerns.
I thus grew up very isolated and unable to make any real or close friends. This is a problem that persists until now. I also have problems dating and generally end up with abusive or narcissistic partners.
I recently read your book Running on Empty and I now understand that the upbringing I had has left me unable to make meaningful connections. I however don’t see how to change my relationship with my family and friends and think I will have to accept that I may very well be alone for the rest of my life.
I feel very angry and resentful towards my parents (especially my mom) as I feel that they ruined my life. My mom doesn’t seem to understand that the childhood that I had made me a loner and keeps asking me why I am antisocial. I don’t want to tell her that I blame her for how I turned out.
I despair at ever being able to make real friends who I can tell what I am really going through. I feel that my friends don’t really know who I am or really care about me. They only call me when they need something.
I recently started my own business and I am really afraid that it will fail. I don’t have anyone that I can talk to about this.

    Jonice - August 26, 2019 Reply

    I’m sorry you went through all that as a child. I suggest you reach out for help! Look on the Find A CEN Therapist List, or join my online CEN recovery program. You deserve much more and better.

Anne - August 22, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice Webb
There is something about the way I am functioning emotionally, which puzzles me and leaves me wondering, whether I actually have CEN:
I have access to all my feelings, I know exactly what I want and do not want, I clearly feel, when people are overstepping my boundaries, and all of this feels absolutely certain inside of me.
Yet, when it comes to acting on it there is a blockade, and for instance in regard to someone overstepping my boundaries I start thinking: “but what if I am wrong? What if I misinterpreted the situation? What if I attribute some motives to someone that they do not have?” etc., etc.
I know from psychological literature that childhood trauma can obscure the perception of reality in that a person interprets social interactions on the basis of what they experienced as a child, and if these experiences were mostly abusive, then the person will likely look for signs of abuse and likely find them, even if the situation is just a neutral interaction.
This uncertainty leaves me completely paralyzed, I am not able to defend my boundaries or act on my emotions. As an example I worked for an abusive boss for several years, debating with myself whether the abuse was real, how bad it really was a.s.o. Only after talking to my successor, who experienced the same abuse and told me about it, did I feel certain, that it was in fact really bad.
I am wondering if I can have CEN, when I have this very strong access to my emotions and needs inside, but the uncertainty when it comes to acting on them outwardly?
Thank you in advance for the answer.
Kind regards from Anne

    Jonice - August 26, 2019 Reply

    Hi Anne, it’s hard to say from your description but you do not sound like a typical CEN person. Perhaps you could look at your childhood and consider whether your boundaries were overstepped then. It would better explain your struggle to enforce your boundaries now.

      Anne - August 26, 2019 Reply

      Dear Dr. Jonice Webb
      Thank you for your answer. It is just that when I read your books, I can relate to so much of it, just not the part of not knowing what I am feeling. But perhaps I know what I am feeling, because I have used introspection for more than 25 years in an attempt to solve my emotional problems. It just has not worked out and I am still just as insecure, full of shame etc. as I have always been even though I am able to feel my emotions.
      I know without a doubt that my boundaries were overstepped in my childhood. My father displayed a borderline/narcissistic behaviour towards me and my sisters, and I was terrified of him. So I thought, perhaps I could have CEN, because you describe the self-absorbed parents, who abuse their children as well as causing them CEN…
      Kind regards from Anne

        Jonice - August 29, 2019 Reply

        Dear Anne, I don’t want to try to offer any real professional opinion about your struggles via website comment. I hope you will consult a CEN therapist who can get to know you and help you sort through what’s wrong and what you might need. Best wishes to you!

Ron - August 10, 2019 Reply

I was just curious why there are no CEN therapists in Wichita Kansas. Unfortunately I can’t drive to Kansas City for therapy. Thanks.

    Jonice - August 11, 2019 Reply

    I haven’t been able to reach every town yet. But I am working on it! Keep checking back, OK?

Kelly - July 31, 2019 Reply

Dr. Webb, after reading your book „Running on Empty“ I was left with two questions.
I answered YES to all but one question in the questionnaire. Does that indicate a severe form of CEN or is that fairly common? My second question is: Do you find that people can start to overcome the negative effects of CEN on their own after recognizing it or does one usually need additional therapy?

    Jonice - August 1, 2019 Reply

    Dear Kelly, that score indicates CEN. Some can do it on their own. Taking the Fuel Up For Life online recovery program can guide you through the recovery process, and so can therapy with a CEN specialist. All my best to you!

Megan - July 31, 2019 Reply

Usually when I’m upset about anything at all – no matter how small – I isolate myself. I used to think it was just me being introverted, but now I’m realizing that a lot of it has to do with not being a burden to others. I only would hang out with people when I was in a good mood. Bad moods were reserved solely for me, and that meant not seeing people for days at a day if possible and shutting them off mentally and emotionally if not seeing them wasn’t an option. It’s my understanding that this is an effect of CEN.

I’m now in my first serious relationship, and I don’t want to shut him out because I don’t think that’s healthy for our relationship. I find myself constantly battling with wanting to let him in and wanting to keep it a secret because (1) I’m scared he’ll reject me for it and (2) it’s just what I’ve always done.

Does anyone else relate to this?

    Jonice - August 1, 2019 Reply

    Dear Megan, these are all signs of CEN. I recommend you check the Find A CEN Therapist Page and make an appointment to get some help figuring this out.

    Kristine - August 10, 2019 Reply

    Yes Megan I can definitely relate to this. This is exactly what I would do – isolate myself for many days if necessary, and only appear in company if I could put up a front or be in a good space. And also it has engendered the same issues for me in relationships. Thanks for sharing your experience. Kristine

    Lone - October 6, 2019 Reply

    I’ve never related to this more it feels so hopeless

      Jonice - October 7, 2019 Reply

      It is so NOT hopeless. Please do take the steps of CEN recovery. It makes a meaningful difference, I assure you.

Dawn - July 22, 2019 Reply

I am very curious if there are many people with CEN who are now estranged from their family? I have gone through estrangement once before and stayed away from them for three years. There was an incident recently that has resulted in total estrangement again. This is the only time in my life that I have peace. However, there is always a constant guilt and questioning of whether I am doing the right thing. Thanks!

    Jonice - July 22, 2019 Reply

    Dear Dawn, I would say that estrangement can be quite common in CEN families, partly because the emotional “glue” is missing or deficient. It is easy for families to drift apart or be driven apart by conflict.

    Andrea - July 22, 2019 Reply

    Hi Dawn,
    I am sort of estranged from my parents. We are in What’s App contact but I haven’t visited them for about a year and a half. I made that decision for myself and shared it with my parents. I very possibly shared a bit much with them about my journey of discovery (about myself and my relationship pattern) which made them really angry and upset. I found it really tough meeting up with them without an acknowledgement of my truth and a joined attempt to improve our relationship. Through therapy I have become very aware of our family dynamics. I don’t want to be part of these dynamics anymore and don’t know how to break them on my own. I don’t feel guilty most of the time but sometimes, yes, I do, especially as they are getting older. I would love to hear more about your story and what made you stay away from your family.

Leticia - July 21, 2019 Reply

Dr. Webb,
Please help. I’ve been married 27+ years. I was 28 when I met my husband, and was smitten and fell hard 6 months after we met, 5 months after we started dating (purely platonic, but lots of time together doing things we enjoyed). My birth family was perfectly imperfect, but my first 6-7 years of life was solidly full of love, relationship, and knowing. My now husband had been divorced for 2 years when we met, and he came from a family of broken relationships, divorce and alcoholism. I was a returning student at UT and living with my parents when we met. When he met me, dated me, married me…he inherited a “family” and though my gut told me something was amiss, he managed to answer and address all my questions in a way that put them to rest (for a time), though not to “bed” (for good). Beginning the day of our wedding, my gut was trying to tell me something that was unknown but that I felt. Within short order of marrying, I felt like he’d gotten what he wanted and my gut grew louder so I went to our pastor at the time and asked him for a rec for the wisest man he knew, someone w/ whom we could build a relationship w over time, building a history w so that if and when a crisis surfaced he’d have a measure/context of “knowing” us. We met with the counselor and I took comfort in having established a relationship w another who could speak insightfully into our marriage over time. Things seemed to have shifted after the birth of our first (& only son) shy of our 11th anniversary, and later with life stressors my parents encountered that we were the primary familial support for (my brother was in medical school out of state and my sister married her college sweetheart and took up residence in the state she went away to college in where her spouse’s family lived). Having my first child at 40 and caring for my ailing parents led me to start studying boundaries interpersonally and AlAnon (even though there was no obvious addiction, I felt like I was perfectly positioned to be a caretaker in ways I knew were not mine to caretake…including my husband’s relationship (lack of) with his family and sister because I became the main contact to get in touch, or coordinate visits w/. I began AlAnon in 2003-4 the year after my son was born because I needed all the skills and knowledge to take care of the one life I was given and intended to live fully. I started facilitating Boundaries classes in small groups and at the local presbyterian church to reinforce my need and principle to live principly. That’s when the problems started….during my conception and the birth of my son. Over the last 16 years my husband has grown progressively disconnected from me, and increasingly angry. I knew when we married he had a serious case of wanderlust, there are several key events that speak to this. His first marriage was to the daughter of a diplomat he met at UT. He was in Navy ROTC and upon graduation went to Navy Flight School and married his college sweetheart in Belgium, honeymooning in Greece. As far as I know they were married for two years until the marriage broke because of her drug addiction that he wanted no part of. In the time we dated, it was evident he wanted to travel and see the world. On our 10th wedding anniversary and numerous failed attempts to get pregnant by artificial insemination and IVF I told him I was ready for the move he’d always wanted (Europe) since our life had not gone how I’d expected (I’d always wanted children). He worked for an international company at the time and put in for a transfer which we expected to take about a year to process and be approved. Within two months I became pregnant naturally, we had our son and within two months of that my parents moved in because of financial hardship. Within a year and half of my offering to move to/supporting his transfer request to Europe, we found ourselves blessed with a son, and my parents living with us…this is when I started AlAnon because I needed the kind of support they offered. I was content with my life, in it’s imperfection, because it was full of relationships w/ family, friends and a tight knit group of girl friends who met every week for 10 years, mostly in my home for various types of study, primarily bible study with studies here and there in psychology/Boundaries, and the life. I’d incorporated the AlAnon principles with this group and it was rich in that the women were from diverse backgrounds, politicial, faith, socioeconomic, etc. Though my parents had only lived with us for a year during my sons first year of birth they’d moved into the neighborhood a short distance away, close enough for me to see them if not daily, regularly for dinner, short visits, etc. Upon my father’s death, in hidsight, things really started to roll for us. My husband made a radical change in his employment and we started our own business which went south after it’s first year…it was 2008 the year of the stock market crash which severely weakened our capital to launch our business. The last 11 years have been a downward chasing towards something elusive and his anger and resentment towards, in the midst of a deep knowing that he in fact loves me or genuinely wants me in his life. 4 years after my father’s death in 2012 he asked me to push “reset” in our marriage and move away for 2 years to CO (he’d returned to the same international company and was able to work remotely). After a year of internal struggle with my deep seated fears of leaving my social and familial support groups and working thru my fear with a couple of various professional advisors/counselors, my friends, my yoga instructors and chiefly thru my own prayer and reflection I decided to agree to our move though in my heart and mind, I was prepared for a different kind of “reset” than he’d proposed. After our move to CO in summer 2013, we recently hit out 6th anniversary and in those 6 years our relationship w/ each other, our son, our families, our finances, etc has been severely challenged, and resembles more of a slow death than a reset. Though again, there is this deep connection in us that’s kept us together thru all it’s dysfunction. In Spring 2017, I retained the services of a supposed trauma therapist for my son to help my son with his education and help him take ownership for his academic struggles (at that point he’d been in 3 shools in 4 years) and he and my husband were increasingly growing resistant to my influence and lead on matters. It was in that time I read Running on Empty and it’s follow up and though I saw neglectful patterns in my own childhood I’d already been long committed to addressing these holes thru AlAnon and self study (14 years) I was struck by the dramatic way it resonated with me about my husband and his family. I brought this to my son’s therapist’s attention and my husband, and that’s when my problems took a dramatic turn for the worse. Within 3 months of seeing this therapist, over Mother’s Day weekend 2017 my husband’s behavior and attitude towards me took a drastic uturn and my life has never been the same. He completely shut down from me and has never been the same. He’s become abusive and withheld love, praise, finances, sex, time, all the things he knows feed me, nurture me and has since blamed me for all our problems, and been increasingly critical of my in every way imagineable. My gut tells me that the work environment he became employed by 9 months prior to seeing this therapist combined with some individual counseling he had with my son’s therapist combined to make create a deadly combination that has lead to the death of the man I knew, what relationship we had remaining and the usurped, undermining of the relationship I’d had with my son to that point. I believe that something about the nonprofit ministry Focus on the Family’s cultural environment that my husband took employment with prior to our meeting with and being influenced by this therapist was a deadly combination that led to my husband’s complete emotional shut down, and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s been 2yrs 2 mos since and I’ve been advised to consult with an attorney for the many ways my husband’s behavior has become duplict, attempting to starve me emotionally and force me, control me and my behaviors to be the person he thinks I should be and take on work he thinks I should take on, having made me “pay” dearly for my heart’s cry and principled commitment to *justice, equality, mutuality, *a life of humility (I don’t crave or long for the material things he’s craving,much less approval from others he seems to solicit and work for tirelessly over mine) and interdependence, and a life of *service and mercy. It’s like he hates who I’ve been all along and the person I’ve grown to be more of along these lines, because I’m not “doing” as he wants so that he can have the “life” he wants at the expense of my identity and the things that are important to me. I’m deeply committed to my vows of holy matrimony and do not hold any grudges against him or even hate him for the cruet and harsh way he’s treated me, and tried to humiliate me these last 2yrs 2 months. My next step is to consult with an informed attorney to learn more about my social, moral and legal rights that have no doubt been taken advantage of, ironically since his employment at Focus on the Family. (?!) What a contradition. I believe the severe childhood emotional neglect he experienced has a root in this as I learned the year prior to our move to CO that he’d grown up in a home of severe neglect and abuse and domestic violence with his father towards he and his mother, and NO one, including his mother provided the escape for her or her son’s emotional safety that would’ve wired his brain differently about relationships than when became his “normal” . He left home before high school graduation and moved in with his girlfriend and her family, being all on his own since. But there’s no doubt in my mind he was emotionally orphaned as a child, and has in effect been “alone” his whole life, and ironically returned to his “alone” state while working at Focus on the Family, which he claims to be the best work experience of his lifetime because he’s received more accolades there and kudos than ever before. I love him dearly. I love my family. I’m being and doing the person I am at my core: full of love and mercy, but it’s been excruciatingly painful and I’m praying for a break through because I believe the man I fell in love with, dreamed with, planned a future with is submerged in the miry clay of aloneness and approval of a culture that seems emotionally disconnected itself and comfortable with performance at the expense of the focus not being on our family but on what my husband’s producing for them, supplying them. Do you have any suggestions? Please help!!!

    Karrie - October 6, 2019 Reply

    It may well be that your husband was attracted to your family set up, and the desire to “belong” within a strong family unit. His perspective isn’t presented here, and a few questions (for reflection, not interrogation) occur to me:

    Which of your own needs and desire to “belong” were met by marrying your husband, and into his family?

    Did you ever feel that you were being charitable, noble, or selfless by “taking on” someone from a “dysfunctional” background?

    How did your husband feel about inviting a third party (counsellor) to oversee the progress of your marriage from a “baseline”?

    What aspects of your marriage have been affected or directed by his gut feelings?

    What social groups or activities do you participate in that you aren’t directly in control of (i.e. they are not in your home and you don’t co-ordinate them or didn’t instigate them)?

    What emotions did you anticipate your husband would feel regarding the birth of your son (major life event), and sharing a home with your parents (potentially disrupting his position as head of the family)? What emotions did he actually experience? How did he actually express those emotions?

    How did he reconcile his feelings about not going overseas with his feelings about the birth of your [plural] son?

    As your [plural] son approaches the age (7 years old) at which boys generally look more to their father than their mother as their primary role model, what qualities in your husband do you hope your son will relate to most?

    Is it possible that your husband felt emotions of shame, anger, intrusion on self, being blindsided or ambushed, smothered or accused (or other identifiable strong emotion/s) when you presented him with a diagnosis of CEN, a psychological “disorder”? What were the emotions you had anticipated he might feel? What were your own emotions when you presented the diagnosis?

    Which is more important to you: your self-perception (e.g. as someone who keeps promises) or your perception of your husband (as someone whose feelings, values, and skills you appreciate)? Are they equally balanced?

    Is it possible that your husband is feeling impatient about how to transition from your early years of marriage (parent-child relationship) to a more mature one? How could he better express his need to move from a dependent child status to mature independent adult status? What (for you) are the indicators of mature adult males and mature adult females? How does your list of indicators compare/contrast with your husbands views?

    Men generally receive a large portion of their affirmation from their work: their role, their ability to provide financially for their family, their status (perceived as good at what they do & appreciated for it), & their social relationships there. It sounds like all these common “boxes” are being ticked for your husband. What qualities does your husband have that are particularly appreciated in his workplace? Are these the same qualities that are appreciated at home, or are the qualities you have appreciated at home additional to his other ones?

    Women generally are concerned about the sphere of the family (how the home is functioning, how the family members are feeling, how well the family members are provided for, how to best use the resources available). What are the qualities that you bring to your family that you would like to be recognised for?

Dave - July 21, 2019 Reply

You know, I was previously of the opinion that I grew up in an idyllic environment – a stable family, financially secure, good education etc. etc. This and all the other stuff that would make an outside observer think “What a wonderful family”.

I do remember though, during my teens, that I didn’t feel quite right. Went from a straight A student at 13 to failing my final year in High School. Always felt worried and anxious. Almost committed suicide at 16. And stuff like that, but I just felt that all of this was “normal” and, being socially anxious and introverted, I couldn’t talk to anybody about it. Besides, asking for help or advice would be seen as being weak anyway. My parents didn’t seem to want to get involved – as long as I was the trophy son they could show off in public, then all was OK.

So, I persevered. I tried to be a good person and live up to the standards that I thought were expected of me.

Then I got sent to prison in my late forties. Soon after the initial shock wore off I became determined to find out why & how I’d quite rightly ended up there. After all, I was a good bloke, wasn’t I? So how and why did I do what I did?

Three years of exceptionally painful effort went into reviewing my life to date. The emotional turmoil of going through this exercise was made worse as this was the first time in my life that I’d allowed myself to feel my emotions. It was so hard, but it was worth it in the end.

The biggest thing I realised was that my “idyllic childhood” was actually a Train Wreck. But, despite some thoughts and concepts, and little glimmers of ideas, popping up during this time I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it was such a mess. Various counsellors etc. whilst I was inside, and even some fellow inmates, often suggested that there must have been some trauma during my upbringing that triggered my behaviours. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall anything like this and so I remained in the state of realising my upbringing was actually quite bad but not knowing why. None of the books I was reading or the people I was talking to about this could shed any light.

Continuing my voyage of self discovery shortly after my release, I stumbled across “Running on Empty”. It changed my life to the extent that it helped me to finally put all the missing pieces into place. Finally I could see why my upbringing, whilst a great one to all outside appearances, was actually the train wreck it turned out to be.

I’m paraphrasing from memory here, but the line early in the book about “it’s not what happened during your upbringing, rather it’s what didn’t happen but should have” made immediate sense to me. In fact it hit me like a truck. Finally I had the reason why my life to date had been such a mess. And reading the book, along with continuing counselling using the book as a guide, helped me to finally put it all together. Thank you, Dr Webb, from the bottom of my heart. Because now, at the age of nearly 52, having faced numerous massive life challenges as a result of my CEN issues (prison was just one of them that was a direct result – there were lots more) I am looking forward to life with a sense of excitement and optimism that I should have had in my twenties.

To anybody out there struggling with CEN, can I implore you to read the book, engage with it fully, do the exercises in it and find a good counsellor to assist you. And don’t just put the book back on the shelf after you’ve finished it – keep referring to it. The effort you make (and you have to make it – nobody can do it for you) will be excruciatingly painful, there is no doubt about that. But it will be more than worth it in the end.


Mandy - July 18, 2019 Reply

I do not know where to begin.
growing up I could never really understand what was wrong with me. I would cry the whole day, everyday even at school-I would ask the teacher to go to the toilet just so I could cry. I had no idea why I was crying.
I struggled with suicidal thoughts and death fantasies around the age of 5/6. At the age of 11 I tried to commit suicide.
Today, I have no goals, No ambition, Lack discipline, Feel trapped, Overeat, Binge, Overspend, I still struggle with suicidal thoughts and running away to go and live in an island ALONE! Taking a bath is a struggle. Brushing my teeth is a struggle-Living is a struggle. I live in fear-fear to take risks, I still struggle to socialize- I have no friends and never had a boyfriend- I trust No one.

I don’t believe my parents loved me.They never made any effort to make me feel appreciated, seen or heard.
I’m 29. father and I have never had a conversation yet we live in the same house, eat the same food, breath the same air but has never bothered to show any interest in me or my life – he completely ignores me since I was born.
My mother, a loud mouth,always shouting, she never smiled always frowned, never has anything positive to say, she has never been kind, gentle and loving.
When I was young I would pray to God to bring my “real parents”- They are my biological parents.

I would love to do the activities in the book, but I cannot bring myself to do them, Everytime I try,I feel overwhelmed whenever I have to feel my feelings or when I think about making changes or thinking about my future and head straight to the cookie jar.

    Jonice - July 18, 2019 Reply

    Dear Mandy, everything you tell us about your life makes sense to me. It makes sense that you feel the way you feel. Please do look for a therapist on the Find A Therapist Page on this website and get some support and help. You deserve it, and you deserve to be happier.

Steve - July 15, 2019 Reply

Hi Jonice. Great book. For now I’ll keep this brief: For most of my life I was such a positive upbeat person. I’m not giving up hope, but wow, backdraft is a bitch. It has been getting worse each day for weeks. I’m in perpetual tears, at every waking moment, about everything and nothing. I have a good therapist, but I think we’re both surprised at the depth of raw pain that keeps speeing out. One day maybe it will quell down to a dull ache. I hope I’m not alone.
All my best,

    Jonice - July 17, 2019 Reply

    Dear Steve, now that you have access to your emotions is a great time to learn the skills to manage them! Your therapist can help you with this. Keep going, it will all get better.

Terry - July 15, 2019 Reply

Reading the stories of others I realize how lucky I am. I am one of those who’s parents were fine, great in some ways, and not neglectful of our needs, except when it came to emotional needs. They just didn’t know how to support their “too-sensitive” daughter who would cry with what they saw as no provocation. I have some detailed memories of hurt caused by something one of my parents said or did or more often didn’t do. I wouldn’t have thought I’d have CEN struggles but when I did the checklist I checked almost every box.

Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue. My therapist wasn’t at all familiar with CEN. I gave her your name and web address.

    Jonice - July 17, 2019 Reply

    Dear Terry, you outline exactly why CEN falls through the cracks and seems like “nothing” to so many people. Yet it is actually a very big something. Kudos to you for seeing it and taking it on!

Anonymous - July 15, 2019 Reply

Thank you for creating this page. Now that I’m coming out of denial about this, I think I need to express it to make it real. My pschiatrist recommended this book to me several years ago. I read it, sort of agreed that I had CEN, but then promptly forgot about it for several years because I couldn’t believe that it was true. Then I did a lot of personal work and one day it hit me like a bolt of lightening. It was (and is) so incredibly painful to admit to myself that my “perfect childhood” was not really perfect. I believe I came out of denial now, though, because I’m finally emotionally strong enough to face it and heal it.
From infancy until first grade, I was raised in an “intentional community” that was founded by social justice, pacifist, leftist type Catholics. They moved to the ghetto of a city in order to live among the poor. They believed that poverty and personal sacrifice were holy. They also had extreme hangups about human sexuality. When I first heard about sex, I sincerely believed for a long time that there MUST have been some way that my parents were conceiving their children other than that, since they would never do anything that evil. My parents were extreme DIYers and fixed up a house in the ghetto in this community and then ate an extremely healthy diet that involved things like making homemade whole wheat crackers. We didn’t watch TV. Then when I was in first grade, we moved to another state in a rural town where we were complete oddballs. I was bullied my entire life until high school – for being weird, tall, and ugly. I also went to the Catholic school where there was a lot of crazy extremism that was sort of a different breed than my parents, but still very stifling, you’re-going-to-hell type stuff. My second grade teacher told me that if I asked any more questions, she would hang me from the church steeple, and I believed her. My parents said, “She won’t, becuase they would arrest her if she did that.” I would have panic attacks regularly and beg my parents to homeschool me instead of sending me back. They said it was good for me to face adversity. I would have nightmares about demons and horrifying things and wake up in a panic. I slept with the light on, always with my back against the wall and holding a rosary and other religious things. When I went through puberty and started having sexual feelings, it was awful because I felt so, so guilty and dirty all the time. My parents piled on the sexual purity thing. I spent a lot of high school in severe depression while at the same time being the smiling picture of achievement and future housewife perfection. I had a sign next to my bed that said, “I’m so happy to be alive,” with a lot of glitter. No one seemed to thing it was odd. I self-hamred. My parents never seemed to notice or think anything was weird. When I was upset, they would tell me I was just tired and needed to go to sleep. One of my other siblings was the “bad kid,” so no one paid attention. I was the oldest of five kids. I followed my parents around trying to get affection, but they said I was just needy. When I was out of college, I got extremely depressed and suicidal. My roommates called my parents, who said I was probably just tired, and it was my natural temperament and I’d always been that way. They were horrified and took me to a psychiatric hospital where I got intensive therapy, which helped a lot. My family did not hug or say I love you but shortly after getting therapy, I met a man who did hug and say he loved me. I married him within a few months of meeting him. He’s a good guy, but honestly I would never have done that had I not thought it was the only possible way I could finally have sex. After the wedding I immediately found out that he had a lot of his own hangups about sex and our marriage was very cold in that way yet at the same time he was supportive emotionally. It was very hard. I couldn’t tell anyone because I had to be a good wife and had committed to be with him for a lifetime and I also got pregnant a couple of months after the wedding. Over a decade later, I finally insisted that we face our sexual problems or else I would be leaving the marriage. He did, and then when he started being expressive sexually and I had to face my own sh*t and admit I also had extreme difficulty accepting love. We’re working on it still and I’m very grateful for this man who is willing to face his own demons and go through this life together with me. I’ve always been fiercely determined that my kids would not be raised anything like me, to the point where I’m too permissive of a parent. I feel very guilty about that. I also spend too much time at work because my job is very high pressure and I constantly feel like I can’t perform at the level necessary. I have my own business and it always breaks even finally, so I feel like I have to keep working and working to survive. I know it’s a money mindset thing and I’m trying to get out of the poverty-as-holiness thing because the business objective makes a lot of money and somehow it always goes away. When I was a kid, I was punished constantly for small perceived infractions. My parents wanted me to be perfect. My earliest memory is my mom saying that I could have a button out of her sewing supplies. I rooted through the button bin trying to find the prettiest button, but she beleived I was trying to steal more than one button when I was only allowed one, so I had to sit on the step and have a time out. I was about 2-3 years old. I tried to defend myself and said, “I was just looking for my favorite button to pick! I wasn’t going to pick more than one!” She didn’t believe me. I remember once that I was going to be spanked, and I black out the rest of the memory, but it the most emotionally uncomfortable memory I have. I can’t stand to think about it. I remember my brothers about to be belted for something and then black it out and remember hiding. I remember begging my “bad” brother to just “do what they say. Do what they say and everything is going to be okay!” When I started coming out of denial, I had a discussion with two of my siblings and they were like, “yes, our childhood was very f’ed up.” I asked my grandmother, and she told me a couple of stories about my childhood and said it was heartbreaking to watch. She remembers a birthday party when I was about three years old. I did something that was some minor ridiculous infraction of what my parents wanted, and the punishment was that I didn’t get any cake. (And cake was super special since we rarely were allowed sugar.) I just sat at the end of the long table while the rest of the kids ate cake, with an emotionless dignified face. That story basically sums up the emotion feeling of my life. I’m irreparably bad, and so I deserve no cake in life even though everyone else does. I’m trying so hard to learn to love myself. I know my parents tried hard and were just damaged themselves. The hard part is that they honestly believe that they did the most awesome job raising us. I believed them completely until this year when the denial finally broke. I feel guilty because I know my parents tried their best and my mom was raised by a sociopath. My dad had/has extreme anger issues and I don’t know where that came from either, btu I was always scared of him and so was my mom. Anyway, I know I just wrote this ridiculously long version of my life and sent it out to the nothingness of the internet. I think I desperately want a stranger to respond to me and confirm that this was not normal or healthy way to be raised because on some level I still beleive I turned out so broken because it is my personal weakness.

    anonymous - July 16, 2019 Reply

    Anonymous, your comment really hit home with me. The details of our childhood are very different, yet very similar. I too come from a dysfunctional family. My father worked all the time and rarely had any meaningful contact with him. My mother, I believe to have many narcissistic characteristics, neglected me emotionally. Like yourself, it never occurred to me that I may have been neglected
    I believe my emotional needs were not met leaving me looking for acceptance. The way I found acceptance from family was to be a good girl. This means to please my parents at all times. This go along to get along attitude was my road to approval. This was an unconscious behavior and it served me well for 40 years. Then things (emotional abuse) happened within my family of origin that I needed to speak out against. That’s when the sh– hit the fan. How dare I have an opposing opinion! I honestly believe my mother felt I was evil for breaking out of the mold and as a result, I have been scapegoated within this family of origin. This has caused a great deal of anxiety and dissonance. I felt guilty for speaking out yet felt justified in doing so, causing the dissonance. What a horrible feeling! I thought I was loosing my mind. Then I read about brainwashing. Yes, this is what was done to me as a child and later as an adult. I held two opposing beliefs at the same time. Seems to me this could only be caused by brainwashing. Your story really touched me and it sounds like you are making progress IMHO now that you are out of denial. Accepting the facts as they are is the first step in this journey of self love and recovery, Hang in there, you are so much better than your past, For sure, some days are not so good but our past is just that. Our past is not or present or our future. You have a right to be happy! Wish you the best.

    Thank you to Dr. Webb for allowing us a safe space to communicate.

Conor - July 15, 2019 Reply

My parents and I moved to Indonesia after I turned 2. Both my parents worked, so I was taken care of by a maid until my brother was born (I was 3). I think my Mom continued to work until I was 6, at which point she spent more time with us, but I was really young so I don’t remember it all.

I do remember running away from home around 5 or 6 though. I packed a bag of chips and some other stuff but eventually came home to see my mom crying. I realized I couldn’t survive on my own. I don’t remember why I ran, or if we talked about it much afterward, but I think I felt like I didn’t want to be a part of the family.

We traveled to my Father’s hometown every summer, and we would stay at my grandparents’. One year all of my cousins came and we had a family photo. I guess I decided I didn’t want to be in the photo or something because I held a ball up to obscure my face. I saw that photo around as I came back to my grandparents’ repeatedly over the years, and I don’t think I really understood why I distanced myself from my family at a young age until I read Running on Empty.

My family returned to my parent’s home country of Canada, where I entered grade 3. My brother and I were well provided for. My parents tried to treat us equally in those terms but eventually, I noticed their favoritism for my brother. I preferred to read and play music while my brother preferred sports, which took a lot of my parents’ attention. They preferred to go to his games while I stayed at home. I didn’t really know what was wrong yet, just that I was lonely.

I had some friends, but I didn’t pick many good ones. I lent out an extra bike I had to one friend for summer. When I asked for it back at the end, he told me that he and a few of my other friends destroyed it at a skate park. He showed up at my door with it, and when my Dad saw it, he got angry at him but never spoke to his father, nor was there any punishment.

I think not long after that incident, my Mom impulse bought a 100cc dirtbike for herself, and to teach me and my brother to ride. My Dad thought it was a bad idea and forced my Mom to return it immediately. Many years later, when I returned home from University, I discovered my dad had recently bought my brother the exact same dirtbike he sent back years prior.

I developed trust issues with my Mother around the time she accused me of getting high at 12 because I came home crying about being bullied. She interpreted my red eyes as evidence of intoxication. I remember getting upset enough about it to write in a journal. My Mom found the journal and wrote in it herself about how concerned she was. I didn’t even read all she wrote because I was so violated. I shredded the journal and told her to mind her own business.

When I first entered high school, I made friends because I played electric bass guitar well, but music eventually became replaced with marijuana and gaming. I ended up hanging out with some rather unsavory people as well, that even my parents would complain about, but they rarely said no. I was smoking in my room every day at 16, and my parents took my door off so I couldn’t hide it. This was punishment. At some point, my dad refinished the basement with a smoking room fit with an external vent, and he even gave me a key. He was such a hypocrite. He once pinned me up against a wall told me to throw the first punch. This was after I told him I didn’t respect him anymore. Trust was an issue before then, but that’s when it got worse between my Dad and me. I recently yelled at him about it and he doesn’t even remember.

When I was 17, an argument about marijuana or some other such issue allowed me the opportunity to express my grievance over the favoritism and to my surprise, my father responded by admitting his favoritism and pleading for forgiveness as he cried in my arms like a child. He asked me “can we start over” and I felt oddly powerful but not as comfortable with the power as I expected. I said we will move on, but I don’t know if I have. I’ve never fully trusted my Dad since then.

It was not long after that when I was also betrayed by my best friends for a girl I was briefly dating. Then I developed shingles at 18 because of stress. I decided to go to another province for my first year of University and to live with my cousins in a cheap rental house. They stole from me, destroyed my property, and generally treated me like trash, so I lived solo for my second year, but that was too lonely.

I came back to my hometown, finished my first degree in Psychology, and tried to become a teacher, but I was discriminated against by several professors in that program because of the color of my skin, and I saw that the Ontario education system was actually requiring teachers to do and teach objectively unethical things. The experience left me unwilling to continue. After leaving the program I managed to secure a part-time tutoring job. I’m going back to school for robotics later this year, but I’m still largely in debt, poor, lonely, and unable to really connect with people.

I have one good friend from the education program that I introduced to rock climbing, but at the moment I can’t afford the gym membership and I live an hour away because I left education for robotics. I still have a dog, a bike, my instruments, and an apartment in a nice place, but the shameful and twisted irony is that at 28 I still rely on my parents a lot. At this point, I don’t feel like I want to meet me so I pretty much keep to my self.

I’m sure I’ll get better but it’s pretty rough. I’ve spoken to several therapists and even psychiatrists (I was suicidal at one point, and now I’m medicated for depression/anxiety). The most recent psychiatrists suggested I show signs of borderline personality disorder, and my doctor is willing to refer me to the appropriate therapy (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy). Unfortunately, the waiting list for the publicly funded therapy is closed and the private one is just too expensive at the moment.

I’m glad that this forum exists because I think I’ve never put all this in words before. I’m thankful for Running on Empty because I think it gave me the language to understand myself. I look forward to finding out much more.

Thanks, Jonice. Cheers,


    Jonice - July 15, 2019 Reply

    Dear Conor, thanks for sharing. It is amazing how much it helps to put your experiences into words.

Lesley - July 14, 2019 Reply

Hi Jonice, I’ve been reading your articles for a while now with an acknowledgement that I am a CEN survivor. The worksheet in your latest email link, to assist with the first level of understanding and healing hit home very hard. I can see,now, how essential for healing it is to examine how the child has been affected at a profound level and to accept it in a deeply personal way. Thank you for your work in this field.

    Jonice - July 15, 2019 Reply

    This realization is probably much bigger than you even know, Lesley. Keep healing!

Claire - July 14, 2019 Reply

Ever since I bought a copy of Running on Empty, I’ve been giving the idea of CEN some thought–and I’m pretty sure I’m dealing with it.

I’m autistic, and classify as high-functioning. Throughout my entire K-12 career, my mother was seemingly always battling the school district to get me the services I needed. And when it came to dealing with the school, people did not exactly want to meet her in a fair fight. As I got into middle school and high school, all my parents had to do was threaten to sue and that made the school jump.

But for all my mother’s incredible ability to fight for her child’s academic needs, she was also shockingly immature. Most often, this happened at home. I might be autistic, but even as a preteen I still had typical moments of being defiant or deliberately pushing her buttons. Instead of realizing that I was being a preteen, she would scream at me for hours on end to the point where her face was bright red. During one particular fight, she even told me that, until she was 35, she didn’t think she would ever have a child.

Where was my father during all this? He was (and still is) a stagehand on Broadway (for the sake of privacy I won’t say which theater). Despite having never graduated from college, he was bringing home well over $100K a year. That did mean my parents could afford the services I needed. But that also meant his hours meant I barely saw him. If he was at home, I was at school. If I was home, he was at work.

And when he was home and there to witness my mother’s emotional meltdowns, he was so afraid of her that he kept making me apologize to her for her feelings. Even if it was obvious that my mother bore most of the fault in the fight. When I reached the age of sixteen or seventeen, I began to realize that perhaps in some ways I was more mature than my own mother. And when you’re an autistic teenager, you tend to be emotionally younger than you really are.

My parents are divorced now. My mother lives most of the year as an expat (for the sake of privacy I won’t say where). I still live in the States, and now that we’re both adults I have a closer relationship with my father.

There are some things I can still share with my mother. No matter how much I wish she was more mature, I’ve finally started realizing that will most likely never happen. So, I don’t bother. When she is state-side, I do my best to keep my emotional distance.

Perhaps my biggest coping mechanism is writing. As in I’m working on two novels and have several more that I hope to write. I’m not published yet, but I’m hopeful. If ever there was a good way to funnel my hurt, writing is it.

Theyoungone - July 14, 2019 Reply

Finally, I ve found a therapist trained in CEN who understands what I m talking about. Such a relief! Feel like I m getting somewhere, slowly but surely.

Anon - July 14, 2019 Reply

Hi I was feeling good about how I’m working through my CEN after reading your books. But recently a colleague stabbed me in the back big time. I stayed calm, although I didn’t feel so and calmly stated my case. She claimed her behaviour was entirely defensible and implied feeling hurt was my issue. Whilst I can see recovery is helping as to the way I stood up to her I also realise I still have a long way to go. I felt physically sick for 2 days and am still waking up in the night running the scenario over looking for my responsibility in the event. I suppose i realise my recovery is working as i can stand up and say this is not my fault as i would have done so in the past but these events are still so emotionally upsetting and painful. Will there be a time when i can prevent myself from hurting so badly ?

    Jonice - July 14, 2019 Reply

    Dear Anon, a healthy boundary would allow you to filter out the blame from this other person and therefore hurt less. But also, it’s okay to hurt as long as you allow yourself to feel it and think it through and manage it.

Mary Larkin - June 27, 2019 Reply

I do believe that my third child has this CEN and I neglected her emotional needs when after staying home for the first 10 years of my marriage with my first two children but then worked the graveyard shift to help make ends meet(my husband was an alcoholic but quit but was and IRRESPONSIBLE personality type)…so my daughter was very young and watched me sleep during the day for about her 3 years old to 10 years old. I heard on a Catholic audio that when children are young they need the emotional support of there Mother…and if they don’t get that, they will not bond with anyone. So I immediately made an amends to her but have not found the solution until I found your You-tubes and book, which I have not read yet.
My mother raised 8 children alone because my father was an abusive alcoholic but the Church took over and sent all 8 of us to a good Catholic school for nine years free. How she raised 8 children alone is she never let us in the house…” Go to the park…I was raised by the teeter totter, the swing and the sandbox…and I have no complaints.
I have been in 12 step recovery for 43 years and it gave me the blue print for how to make decisions, let go of what I cannot control, make amends and trust in God.

    Andy Jackson - July 14, 2019 Reply

    I was raised by two alcoholics. There are many overlaps between that and CEN. I was the emotionally needy middle child who never was emotionally supported. Any compliments I got had a big in the middle of them and ended up with a critique. I suppressed my feelings and buried them under food developing an eating disorder by the age of ten. I was socially backed and emotionally stunted. It has taken a good fifty five years to come to grips with the alcoholic rules of don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel. Now that I’ve discovered CEN I feel like I’m starting over but from a different perspective. Thanks.

      Susan - July 15, 2019 Reply

      I’d never heard the phrase “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel” before. But a quick search shows that it is very much “a thing.” It really resonates with how I was raised, too. I’m sorry you’ve had so many struggles. I guess we all have here. Just wanted to say, “Thank you for posting it.”

VVR - June 7, 2019 Reply

Hello. In your video you stated after you acknowledged your emotions that you moved away and found a community that supported you. Can you go into a little more detail. Who did you move away from. Your family? I have been doing this therapy thing for a long time in trying to heal myself. Always feeling and being told there was something wrong with me. Kept my feelings to myself and that was also a problem. Just can’t seem to get it together. However your book really hit the nail on the head for me. My family has been and still is a toxic environment for me and I know I can’t heal there.

    Jonice - June 9, 2019 Reply

    Dear VVR, it’s never good to remain in a place where you are exposed to toxic relationships that harm you. You don’t have to physically move, however. You can learn how to set boundaries inside yourself so that they can’t continue to harm you as much.

RRC - June 7, 2019 Reply

From throught my childhood i never feeled that my parents are behind me instead i feeled fear from them.i feared my dad to death when i made some mistake.i never had any frienda in childhood so i used to play mom never asked me what i want or feel.when i come up with some issue toward her she didnt gave that much attention.i never talked meaningfull to my dad till 6th standard i was sent toward my uncle for school.i stayed therw for 7 that period my mom and dad never called me personally.never asked how was i.i only go toward them in summer those seven years i never feeled any connection toward them.i feeled all those 7 years i never shared my problems at school or anything else.i feared to death to my aunt didnt liked that i am in there she always hated me.i kept myself silent for 7 i have completed graduation.i have only two friends.the tell me i am so weak in all ways and also say yoy are sooo aloof…silent…please help me…

    Jonice - June 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear RRC, I’m sorry you’ve had to endure so much mistreatment and pain. Please see a therapist. It is very important and I believe it will help you. All my best wishes to you.

lisa - May 10, 2019 Reply

Hi Jonice
I’m trying to click on the “N” to find a therapist and its not working.
I was able to click on “P” range for PA but there must be a glitch on the website? Thanks for your time

    Jonice - May 11, 2019 Reply

    Hi Lisa, thanks for alerting me. It’s fixed now! Sorry about that.

A non mouse - May 10, 2019 Reply

Struggling with CEN for a long time. Reading your books was revolutionary but I’ve been unfortunately unable to find a therapist who understands CEN.
I was abandoned as a child and when reunited with my parents treated like an unpaid housekeeper and childminder. My siblings don’t have the same relationship with my parents so I am always being painted as extreme and/or exaggerating. So many other people witnessed the behaviour though so I know it’s real and it happened. I don’t feel anger toward my family anymore I just want to cut them off and live my life without them. It’s very difficult.

    Jonice - May 12, 2019 Reply

    Dear A non, I’m very sorry this happened to you. Have you checked the Find a CEN Therapist page? You can find it under “Help” on this website. I would like for you to have some help navigating this problem with your family.

Sarah - May 5, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb, I’ve just read your first book and I know now I have CEN. I’m 49 and starting to learn about my emotions, thanks to you! However, I am, along with my (same-sex) long-term partner (aged 71!), a caregiver to my ‘mother in law’ with dementia who now lives with us. I find this situation so hard I cannot even begin to explain it. One minute she’s loving, next she’s indifferent, then she’s angry and cruel. To say she’s difficult would be an understatement. I know this is mainly her illness, but I love her and I hate her. I want to help and I want nothing to do with her. I avoid her most of the time but I know she loves me to bits! And I hate her for that too! I’m irritable and angry (below the surface) a lot. I’m being brutally honest here. I know some of the things I’ve said seem harsh. When I have to tell anyone that my partner’s mother lives with us now, usually I get something like “Aw, bless. Isn’t that nice?” It’s a nightmare. I used to wake in the morning feeling a heavy dread but I’ve learned to feel nothing now. My partner is trying to tell me how she feels but I can’t/won’t listen, I’m too bogged down with my own stuff. I think she has CEN, and has spent the majority of her life as her mother’s ‘therapist’. We just kind of drift through each day as best we can, wondering if we should place mother in law in a care home and then feeling so unbelievably guilty for thinking that. We’re in such a vicious circle of conflicting emotions! Sometimes I want to run out in the street and just shout at the top of my voice. Where on earth do I start on the journey to improve this situation for all of us? I do feel hopeful that I can help myself to improve but obviously I can’t do it overnight!

    Jonice - May 6, 2019 Reply

    Dear Sarah, the feelings you describe having are messages from your deepest self telling you that you need to take control of your life and start living for yourself. Please do start on the path to healing the CEN in your relationship, and change what’s happening in your life.

RL - April 20, 2019 Reply

As I progress through this recovery there is one thing that I find truly striking. Learning to recognize, acknowledge and feel my emotions has lead me to understand how I have never developed deep relationships with people and how I feel loneliness to my core. The incredible thing is as painful as this is, it is somehow dramatically more ‘tolerable’ and somehow feels ‘ok’ as compared to that hollow, dark, feeling of despair that comes from believing you are different and living life looking through a window at others. The loneliness somehow feels natural, whereas that feeling inside when you believe you stand alone as an exception–that feels completely bottomless and frankly unsolvable.

Thank you so much!

    Jonice - April 21, 2019 Reply

    Dear RL, I love the way you explained CEN recovery. I have had the exact same feeling and experience that you describe. Thank you for putting it in words that are so descriptive for people to understand. Take care!

Stuck - April 18, 2019 Reply

Thank you for putting a name to something that has plagued me since I was a very young girl. Your work, combined with Brene Brown’s research on shame, is spot-on when it comes to describing what I struggle with on a daily basis. Growing up, my mother suffered from schizophrenia and my father from alcoholism. NOTHING was ever spoken about in my house, and being an only child, I had no one to really share in my emotional experience. Essentially, I learned that there was no place for me or my feelings. We just didn’t belong anywhere. I grew accustomed to stuffing everything down and I adopted the simple (yet untruthful) phrase “I’m fine.” Heck, I even appeared that way on the outside. In college, after being notified of one of my mother’s suicide attempts, I had a quick cry in the shower and then I quickly went off to play in my basketball game as nothing had even happened. As a student, I was on the quiet side, but I excelled academically and athletically, and I was well-liked by all of my peers. Fast forward to today and not much has changed, except for the fact that I’m now a divorced, 38-year old adult orphan. Four to five years ago, my 62-year old mother passed away after a 10-year stay in a long-term care facility, my 67-year old father likely committed suicide (they just can’t prove it), and shortly thereafter I separated from my spouse. The ending of my marriage was actually a good thing, but I’m finding that I feel dreadfully empty inside. I have wonderful friends and I have no problem when it comes to finding a date, but something is desperately missing. I feel like I’m floating along with no solid place to plant my feet. I’ve been seeing a therapist since just after my mother died, but I feel that things are so hard-wired and difficult for me to change. For one, one-on-one attention makes me extremely uncomfortable. I yearn so badly to be seen and heard, but at the same time, I’m terrified of the possibility. Not sure if that’s the shame surfacing, but I become paralyzed and I shut down. If I feel the tears coming (which I feel often), I’ve somehow acquired the skill to be able to blur out the therapist’s face until I recover. I’ll cry in the car afterward (and I’ve confessed this to her), but I have yet to shed a single tear in her presence. It’s infuriating to me, as I really don’t want to be like this anymore. I can go on date after date, but nothing is going to feel “right” until I’m able to let go and allow myself to be 100% vulnerable with someone. I’m a firm believer that our purpose in life is human connection. The problem is that on the inside, I’m still so very afraid of it…

    Jonice - April 18, 2019 Reply

    Dear Stuck, before worrying about connecting with others, Step 1 is to connect with yourself. Pay attention to yourself in every possible way, especially emotionally. By doing this, you’ll gradually become more comfortable connecting with others.

      Felicity - April 19, 2019 Reply

      As Jonice has said, getting in touch with yourself is the important first step. May I suggest yoga? The main purpose of yoga is to help you get in touch with your deeper self and this starts with tuning in to your body. Dru yoga is especially helpful for this. If you haven’t practised yoga before, make sure you find a gentle class and a teacher with whom you feel really comfortable. Try a few classes, if necessary. Once you’ve found a class you like, stick with it but take it slowly. I wish you all the best.

        Jonice - April 19, 2019 Reply

        Excellent suggestion! Thank you Felicity!

    Andy Jackson - July 14, 2019 Reply

    I was raised by two alcoholics. I suppressed all of my feelings because I feared them. When the pain of burying my feelings got too bad I began eating and developed an eating disorder by the age of ten. When I became attracted to men I buried them even deeper because they terrified me. I lived a life of fear and denial and loneliness for 55 years until I finally faced my fears and officially came out in January of 2019. I am learning how to love myself when I discovered CEN. It feels like starting over but it has filled in a lot of blanks. I still battle loneliness but I also have hope!

    Eden - July 15, 2019 Reply

    Dear Stuck,
    When reading your story, I recognize so much in how you “handle” yourself in daily life. I have a therapist now for almost 2 years who is trying to help me with CEN. I used to have my own technique of avoiding ever to cry in front of her, or anyone for that matter. So far it happened 3 or 4 times, of which the first times I was actually mad at myself for not being able to control myself. However the last 2 times I actually felt less alone by crying in her presence. For the first time in my life I felt like: maybe I am not completely alone in my life and maybe I do not have to deal with all this agony all by my self. And although I still find it difficult to accept and I do worry about becoming too dependent on her, it did actually make me feel better and, more importantly, it made my sorrow more “manageable”, like I dealt with it instead of “swallowed” it to be put with all the rest of my sorrows (it wanted to call it “shit”, but my therapist thinks that’s disrespectful to my emotions and experiences).
    So, what I am trying to say is: try for once to share those tears with your therapist. I know it is scary and maybe embarrassing (that’s it what I thought about myself: get a grip, are you really crying about your boohoo childhood after so many years, I am 47), but it does help, it does heal you a tiny little bit every time. And please give yourself time, I know how long it takes. But you worked hard for 38 years to lock your feelings up, so it may take some time, and that is ok. All the best.

      Jonice - July 15, 2019 Reply

      Wise words! Thank you Eden!

Karen Keith - April 18, 2019 Reply

Dr. Webb,
I personally want to thank you for your work in CEN and for bringing awareness to this issue. As a therapist and a person who experienced CEN, your book, “Running on Empty” was truly a Godsend. It helped put the pieces of the puzzle together for me. I could not understand why I felt the way I did in my adult life. My mother had MDD (my own diagnosis of her) and spent the majority of my childhood in bed, medicated on Valium. My emotional needs were never acknowledged, let alone met. I remember feeling suicidal and hopeless . . . as a young child. As a teenager, I chose a friend who was abusive toward me throughout all of my public school years. As an adult, I chose a (first) husband just like my mother: aloof, abusive, emotionally distant. Thankfully, things began to change when I divorced after 22 years, and a year later, met a man, (and married) who demonstrated unconditional love and helped me in my healing process. I returned to college at 51 and completed a BSW and MSW, and now have a private practice. I am grateful for my personal experience in CEN, because I can easily identify it in my clients. I frequently discuss CEN with them and have recommended your books often. From my professional experience, there are so many walking wounded out there who suffer from CEN and do not have a clue as to why they feel so empty. I am grateful to you for your work and will continue to educate my clients and people in general about CEN. So important to understand one’s framework of behavior and feeling in this matter. Blessings!

    Jonice - April 18, 2019 Reply

    Dear Karen, I’m so glad you’re helping CEN people. And I couldn’t be more pleased to hear that my work has been helpful to you personally. Please do keep up the good work!

Callum - April 16, 2019 Reply

I discovered your work on April 12th and I can already tell you that you’ve changed my life. I’ve spent years trying to work out what on earth was wrong with me, constantly doubting myself and being unable to develop a consistent sense of who I was. Wanting to seek counselling but feeling like my issues weren’t serious enough, despite them having cost me a place in a top UK university, and a lifetime of guilt and insecurity. Through sheer will alone I pulled my life together from the depressed mess I used to live in, but after 3 months I realised that it didn’t make me feel any closer to the rest of society — still feeling like an outsider looking in, still feeling like I wasn’t living for myself. I’ve tried and tried and tried to fill this hole for so long, without ever really knowing if it existed. Without wanting to be too grim, I recently walked through the same forested area each day for over a week thinking how it would be a good place to just hang myself and put an end to the confusion and loneliness. Fortunately, one of those days I asked the right questions, and I found your work.

I’ve cried every day since as I think about how it explains literally everything I’ve been struggling with, and probably listened to ‘Numb’ and ‘Crawling’ by Linkin Park over 100 times each haha. You’ve truly given my life meaning, and I sincerely and deeply want to thank you for what you’ve done for me. I’ve ordered your book, I’m seeking therapy to make sure I address everything, and if I pull my life together from hereon out I hope I can get to meet you one day and thank you in person. Your work deserves far more attention and I’m going to try and spread the word for the sake of those who are suffering a similar fate. Thank you.

    Jonice - April 18, 2019 Reply

    I could not be happier reading your comment Callum. And good for you! Stay on this path and you will get somewhere good.

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