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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David - March 22, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr Webb, I am 60 years old and have now found out that I experienced extreme CEN, parentification and enmeshment, which I managed to carry all my life until 2 year ago. When my parents showed me pictures from my childhood and everything looked normal until 6 years of age. But there were almost no other pictures of me until I was 30 years of Age. My parents are in their late 80,s and my question is why did they do this, were they trying to say sorry that they wasted my childhood and adolescence, or were they trying to wound me one last time before they die?
Best regards
David Nimmo

    Jonice - March 22, 2020 Reply

    Dear David, emotionally neglectful parents can harm their children in so many ways. It can be impossible to understand how they could possibly behave this way. My suggestion is instead of trying to figure them out, put your energy into yourself; understanding and nurturing yourself.

      David - March 23, 2020 Reply

      Dear Dr Webb, I appreciate that and accept your reply. But how can I accept that I went back home to help my parents at the height of my life and they did everything possible to destroy me or what I achieved. I ended up in a mental Institution for 6 months & when I came out they had seized all my money & assets so that I would look after them. I was 34 years old without money & very little chance of rescuing my career in a isolated area. I forced my parents to give me some money & eventually fled to Germany after meeting a girl & have been here permanetly since. But never recovered my career & achieved little in my life. Question is how do I put all my energy into myself at 60 years old, when in our culture expects you to make it around 30 years old. Being the only child I will inherit & live alright, but my parents scarified my life for their own good. What makes it worse I know how this happen due to a Trauma from WWW1 on my fathers side that was kept secret for over 100 years.
      Best regards
      David Nimmo

        Jonice - March 23, 2020 Reply

        Thank you for sharing more of your story, David. Feeling some anger at your parents will help you move them into their proper place in your mind. This will help you separate from them and the trauma they experienced so that you can take up your proper space in this world.

Seth - March 21, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr Webb,
I’ve found your book really helpful.
I grew up finding it next to impossible to make friends at school. I vaguely remember my parents asking me how I was doing at school, if I was enjoying it, and I would always say that I was OK; that I could keep going.
All of the kids I did hang out with at school approached me; I always felt very passive, and not invested in them. I think as a result I have grown up without social skills.
I wanted to ask how can I approach therapy when I don’t really have the skills to build relationships with other people? I feel like getting in touch with my emotions is a huge change, and one which I need support from people who are close to me, which I don’t have right now.

    Jonice - March 22, 2020 Reply

    Dear Seth, you’re not required to have the skills to build relationships in order to go to therapy. That’s putting the cart before the horse. If you can work with one of the CEN-trained therapists from my list, that would be really good for you, I think. I encourage you to get going on that because you are right. You will greatly benefit from support to go through the healing process.

Mandy - March 15, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,
Thanks for writing the book “Running on Empty:…”. I am one of your readers from Hong Kong. Being raised by parents from countryside, I felt very difficult to grow up in a city due to our differences in values. My parents focused on providing basic needs for survival only and did not understand they should care about children’s emotional needs and provide corresponding support. I have tried very hard to meet expectations and requirements of different parties as I know my parents cannot give me any direction regarding education and career.

I have been struggling for many years to find out what is wrong with me. As described in your book, I can study and work like other people but I always think that something is missing such that I cannot be happy easily. I have wondered whether I am suffering from melancholia but I do not have relevant symptoms. I do not want to blame anyone but I did bear the negative consequences.

Thank you for giving me the correct answer to explain my situation. I would try to follow suggestions from the book and minimize the impacts of my Childhood Emotional Neglect. I hope that I can no longer live with my parents within 2-3 years such that I can have more space for myself. This requires hard works since living cost in Hong Kong is extremely high!

Thanks again for your effort.

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Mandy, you are on the right track. Don’t give up and just keep doing the work and it will pay off in the future.

Jenny - March 15, 2020 Reply

Could you suggest some help/resources for someone married to a person with CEN? At 30 years of marriage, I feel like the CEN has damaged me in ways that are just as harmful as what my husband went through (verbally abusive and distant mother). Because we went for over 25 years not knowing about CEN, when he would shut down, and appear to “turn cold,” I assumed he was choosing to withhold love from me. He has worked with a CEN counselor, and there has been progress, but he is still so unable (feels unwilling to me) to reach out to me, show me physical affection, talk with me, open up to me, and now it hurts even more, because it feels like he is choosing the safety of “the wall” rather than taking a risk to show me love. He says he loves me, but honestly, I just feel like a chore on his list. Also, after years of feeling like I was going crazy, I came upon the term, “Cassandra Syndrome,” and felt like someone had been in our home watching us! I feel so desperate to be loved. I really do love my husband, and would be devastated if our marriage ended, but I feel so alone. I just don’t know, at times, if I can do this anymore. There are many good times in our life, and most people would be shocked to know any of this goes on in our home. My husband is a hard-working, respected member of our community, who works selflessly and tirelessly for the neediest in town. On top of all this, I am a public school teacher, with a room, year after year it seems, with more and more hurt and broken children. I am emotionally exhausted with nowhere to go. Where is the help for someone like me?

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jenny, if your husband will not go to therapy with you I recommend you go alone. Call a CEN trained therapist from the list on this site and get some support for yourself.

C - March 6, 2020 Reply

I am trying to listen to Running on Empty, but it is difficult and I can only do it in short bursts. I first sought it out because I identified with having a CEN childhood. I always thought of my parents as well-meaning but over their heads– they “had to” get married when my mother was 17 and pregnant with me. But now as I listen, the hard part in continuing to listen is identifying myself as a parent (my children are now 25, 22, and 17) who in many ways emotionally neglected my children. I want to get to Part 3!

    Jonice - March 7, 2020 Reply

    Dear C, it sounds like you are reading my second book, Running On Empty No More. Part 3 has lots of excellent suggestions for you. Whatever went wrong, it is not your fault. And you can do many things to repair the CEN with your children now, even as adults.

Changes - February 18, 2020 Reply

Hi – “audio-read” both books this past weekend and even the second one a second time 😉 Thanks so much for these helpful resources! Looking forward to working through a lot of it step by step.
My well-meaning upbringing as 2nd of 6 left a lot of gaps and holes simply because there wasn’t enough time to go around =) But I see the generational issues with my parents and grandparents (in neon!) as well as the fact that I married a seriously deep CEN.
Facing our 40th anniversary this summer, I am exhausted trying for many years to fill gaps and “do better.” This book is timely, but I’m apprehensive about how to reach my CEN husband with whom our marriage relationship is shriveling and dying from his emotional abyss. =( The disconnect is increasing with our aging; he has little emotion and is less and less inclined to risk anything to try or deal with what is at hand. Facing these realities is so painful, he avoids almost every form of communication. Facing failure is overwhelming. His emotional flatness is also deeply damaging his relationship with our adult son. This grieves me. (Both sets of our parents have passed, but we have a son, and hopefully 20-30 years ahead of us and another generation to do better…)
Would you consider an article for one CEN trying to be married to another CEN who is so overwhelmed that they are essentially paralyzed? The willing-to-work CEN could use some marriage-specific helps. It’s like trying to pull a freight train with a rope. 😉
Maybe put this into your consideration pile!??
Appreciate this dialog/support option! Thanks!

    Jonice - February 19, 2020 Reply

    Dear Changes, the hard thing is that you can’t change or help someone who does not want to be changed or helped. It can be an exhausting, fruitless endeavor. I encourage you to put your energy into yourself and making yourself happy. And call a therapist on my CEN Therapist List for help doing so. You deserve to be happier!

Ja47646 - February 16, 2020 Reply

I’ve lived an interesting life for someone my age. I was one of those oppose surprises, the only girl after 3 boys who were teenagers when I came along. My mom was chronically ill and now I have had to face the fact she was addicted to valium. My dad worked all the time and when he became a grandfather when I was 4 he ignored me. He didn’t know what to do with a very sensitive little girl anyway. I found solace in school and dreams of being loved when I got married so I had a very active fantasy life. I joined a Bible cult at age 17 because I felt loved and understood there. Met my narcissist is husband there and later left the group and then the husband after a 32 year marriage. Now I have moved to a different state and am starting over in my sixties. My life has been a search to be seen and understood. Life is a learning adventure!

    Jonice - February 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Ja47646, I admire your spirit! You are an inspiration for all who are going through trauma, abuse or mistreatment to keep on growing and learning.

jade - February 16, 2020 Reply

Tell me about it! My mother is an ACOA and I’m a recently discovered Highly Sensitive Perosn (HSP), so not a good mix. She was all over the place emotionally when she raised me. I had to be a mind reader because she wouldn’t communicate and when she did her tone of voice didn’t match what she wanted. I kept wondering why she felt a certain way or if it was my fault or whatever. Everything was about her, how things reflected on her and what other people would think. She was controlling, she would dominate the convos.

It was EXHAUSTING, especially as an HS child. I’ve got fibro now (have had it for 5 years and counting) and I think it’s the result of living with that bitch. Sorry to be so blunt and taboo. I’m now researching Childhood Emotional neglect and emotionally immature parents. Woo! she fits the profile of an EIP.

The kicker is that she had a hysterectomy due to uterine cancer and she has to go back in for a CT scan to check out her nodes. If it ends up being terminal, she plans on doing medically assisted suicide. I’m like karma baby. Just do me a favour. I’m tired of your drama. I’m exhausted from everything you’ve put me through. You’re not getting a funeral….you don’t deserve one. Being an ACOA is not an excuse to be an asshole. There are other ACOAs out there who got parenting help from professionals and thats what she should have done, knowing her history/trauma.

    Jonice - February 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jade, you have many good reasons for being angry, it sounds to me. I hope you will keep working within yourself on how you feel about your mother so you can find a comfortable place with it. All my best to you.

Andrew - February 6, 2020 Reply

Hi, Jonice. Thank you for your book. I’m CEN to a T! Your book gives me great perspective, however I’m finding it tough to be “selfish” as my wife has a chronic illness. Every minute of every day is either work or care-taking and when I try to do something for myself I’m met with jealousy of being able-bodied. If I express my emotions, I’m told their wrong or the conversation is immediately steered back to being about her. The irony of it all is she’s the one that gave me your book! What to do? Thanks. P.S. I also loved your second book! ROENM!

    Jonice - February 10, 2020 Reply

    Dear Andrew, I’m glad you loved both of my books! Maybe you could think about how to have a back-and-forth with your wife when you experience this. Old patterns don’t go away easily. She may be unaware of hers and need your help to break the pattern.

TR - February 5, 2020 Reply

I can relate. My 13yr son has behaviours i worry will effect him in adulthood if not addressed and am shattered at lack of respect towards me. Swearing spitting kick fuss if say no. Wont do anything for himself. Im the slave who is sworn at. He plays video games and is scared to participate or have chores etc in case loses the game. Then he gets mad if loses. Its scary to watch this kid with mood swings. I get that teens can have struggles. This is way different

    Jonice - February 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear TR, please meet with a trained and licensed therapist to talk about your son’s mood swings. They’ll be able to advise you on whether this is in the normal range and what you can or should do.

Raven - January 29, 2020 Reply

Hello Jonice! I just got your book running on empty and I really relate on a lot of its points so far. I was wondering if you could talk a bit on parents that act like completely different people when alone vs when around others, and the effects that might have on a child. My father gaslights other people and used it on me as a child as well. It made me feel completely crazy when mostly everyone was saying how nice he was (especially my mother),except for his other victims! There’s probably other parents that did similar things, such as parents that fight while in private but smile in public. If you did something on it already, could you maybe direct me to it?

    Jonice - January 29, 2020 Reply

    Hi Raven, I have not written an article on this. I’ll think about whether I can write on this very important topic. Thanks for the suggestion!

Kristen - January 27, 2020 Reply

Jonice – How do I help the children in my life who are dealing with emotional neglect? I have two nieces (19 and 16) whose parents do not invest in them emotionally. I don’t know what to say or how to help them. Also, I work as a 7th grade school counselor and I see many students who are dealing with emotional neglect (they don’t use those words) and I don’t know how to help them. In both cases, I can’t change their parents!!
I just want to know how to help young people dealing with CEN.

Also, what age do you recommend a person could pursue inner child healing to address CEN wounds?

Thank you!!

    Jonice - January 28, 2020 Reply

    Dear Kristen, it’s wonderful that you are paying attention to this and want to help. The best thing you can do is notice what young people are feeling and validate them and try to talk with them on a deeper level or about their emotions when you can. In reality, there is only so much you can do when you are not their parent. Your second question depends on the maturity level of the person and their circumstances. They would need to understand the concept and be ready to take things in and work on themselves and that could be very different between individuals.

deb - January 6, 2020 Reply

I too have only just come to realize that I have suffered with CEN all my life. I am 65 years old and could never put my finger on just why I felt the way i did until my daughter suggested I read “Running on Empty”. She suggested it because she was also suffering from this and had found and read this book. Her father was the product of alcoholic parents….He gave 99% of his heart and soul to his family, unfortunately, the upbringing he had didn’t give him the best parenting or family life examples to learn from and his sense of pride wouldn’t let him accept that there were better ways. I was the youngest of three but there was 7 years between myself and the next….making me, in effect, an only child. By the time I got to an age where I could join in on “family fun” nights they were grown and gone from home most of the time. Board and card games were big in my family but I was never allowed to play as I was “too young, Deb” to play “Canasta” “Whist” “Monopoly” “Crib” …..whatever was the game of the week. I read in my room and listened to the fun going on out at the kitchen table. My parents cared but didn’t involve me. When my oldest brother got married, the wedding was out of town. We stayed with my aunt and uncle…who had 3 children younger than I. Can you imagine what it said to me when my parents hired a sitter to look after me, at my aunt and uncle’s house, while my cousins got to stay at the reception? I was being babysat at the age of 12 while my 11, 9 and 6 year old cousins were at the reception? These two incidences still bother me 50+ years later. And the effect they had on me left my parenting skills lacking so my daughter got a double-whammy. Like others, I have lived most of my adult live in a different town than any family members. I never developed the skills of relationships from my own family so I have stayed on my own. I would rather be alone than deal with relationships. I find no real pleasure in them anymore. I have not been to therapy….I am quite happy with my life now….brothers don’t expect anything of me nor I from them. I don’t really know my nieces or nephews or their kids. My daughter will never have children so we are happy just the two of us. Might not sound like a great life but we have our animals (pretty much a zoo here) and we are happy to be known as the crazy animal ladies in our neighbourhood!!

    Jonice - January 10, 2020 Reply

    Dear Deb, there are many different ways to live a life. It sounds like you have found yours. Thanks for sharing!

Laura - January 6, 2020 Reply

I am 57 and divorced twice and have 2 children from each marriage (now grown). I have struggled almost all my life with relationships. I currently have difficulty with my relationship with my parents. In the past I assumed I was bad/wrong and I was the problem; but I realize now I think I had CEN growing up. My Mom was harsh and talked over me and for me, and my Dad was distant, occupied with his job and passive. Neither one heard me, and seemed to ignore me alot. I don’t remember talking with them about anything meaningful. It is still kinda like that, when I see them they mostly don’t hear me, talk over me, talk for me and don’t seem to realize they are doing anything wrong. So I usually shut down and don’t talk. I see them because they keep calling me and I finally answer because I feel bad ignoring them, and then they are friendly on the phone (although they still don’t seem to hear me or respond to what I say), and they want to see me and the kids. I finally see them because I don’t want to exclude them from my life, but my time with them is boring at best and misserable at worst.
Any suggestions on how to handle this situation? I feel I have tried everything I can think of. I have tried talking with them a couple times in the past about this and it did not go well. I have tried distancing my self and they keep calling me till I give in and answer. I have one sibling and he is very distant (we almost never talk).

    Jonice - January 10, 2020 Reply

    Dear Laura, this does sound like a classic CEN relationship. I can only suggest that you put your own needs first. And read Running On Empty No More because it has helpful info for you about boundaries, limits with CEN parents.

Alanna - January 6, 2020 Reply

I grew up with parents in particular a mother who was not in tune to emotions and connectedness. She was very isolated and fixated on personal success. My siblings and I were encouraged to excel at sports. It was important to her that we achieve accolades, trophies, etc. She trained me to stare down the opponent and that winning was the most important part not to have fun or display good sportsmanship. This greatly affected me as an adult because I grew up without a strong foundation of values. It took me many years to develop into a loving, consistent, connected individual. I did this on my own and have the many people that have entered my life to thank. They taught me compassion, family, friends, kindness, love, fun, etc. It is difficult for me now because I feel bad not giving my mother the credit for raising me into somebody emotionally capable and strong but it is my truth. I am the hard working, amazing nurse because I developed insight about myself as an adult and changed the parts I did not like that I believe I adopted from my childhood. I have friends that are family now and hope to meet a husband and start a family some day. Everyday I deal with anxiety because growing up there was a lot of neglect and criticism and it has what I believe manifested itself into anxiety. I will continue to seek counselling and educate myself about why I feel the way I feel, the effects of childhood, etc.

    Jonice - January 10, 2020 Reply

    I’m glad you will continue to work on things, Alanna. It is so important!

Shelly - January 4, 2020 Reply

I recently have coe to realise I grew up with CEN. I was adopted at birth. My adoptive parents provided physically but were very authoritarian. My Dad was a cop and my Mum a nurse. Lots of rules, criticism, yelling. No hugs – emotionally distant, no negative emotions allowed. They had 2 natural children after adopting, my brother being born 1 year after me. I believe I grew up believing that I am not good enough. When I was 16 I was diagnosed with depression and was self-harming. At 17 I had an abortion and still deal with the guilt today. At 18 I met my husband who is also emotionally distant. We have 2 children and I struggle with parenthood. I want to have a close family and try very hard to be attentive and loving and try to accept their emotions but then I sabotage it by repeating what my family did – yell in rage or become overly critical. I feel so shamed and guilty that I am passing on my CEN to them and despite all my efforts to improve, get nowhere. Everything I read triggers my guilt about the way I treat my children as well as feels familiar in regards to my childhood. I am in therapy but it is slow going.

    Jonice - January 4, 2020 Reply

    Dear Shelly, you have endured a lot, and it’s no wonder you are struggling. But the good news is that you are grappling with this! That says a lot about who you are deep down. Keep working and grappling and trying, as it’s the best you can do for yourself and your kids.

June - January 2, 2020 Reply

I haven’t read Dr. Webb’s second book yet, but I did find the first book helpful.

I have been realizing over the last 2 years (after an ocean of hurt and regret) that my family set me up for both CEN and boundary issues. I was a middle child raised by a single mother who had to work very hard and put herself last in order to care for everyone else. As such, she has always tended to avoid all conflict and never talks about her own emotions unless they are happy ones. I think this was by necessity. However, it also caused her to invalidate or ignore every negative emotion my sisters or I have had, which continues to this day. There are some pretty big problems in our family which are always swept under the rug in the name of preserving family harmony.

My younger sister has become more cold and emotionally shut down. In the last few years, she’s started bullying my mom and I when she’s irritated or in a bad mood. She’s unpredictable, she explodes in angry outbursts, is rude to us, and treats us disrespectfully. She also stonewalls us for days or weeks. My mom never intervenes or gives her consequences, while I have tried repeatedly to talk out the conflict with her, but she always shuts down and withdraws. Recently I tried a new tactic- to stop talking and display anger, and when she asked me about it, telling her that she sometimes treats me with contempt and that’s not the way a friend acts. It mostly worked.

The dynamic becomes further complicated when my older sister is home visiting. My younger sister looks up to her and never bullies her. I have strong memories of this older sister being cruel to me growing up, but we are now friendly. However, when they are together they completely ignore my existence, almost never speak to me, and take sides against me whenever I try to contribute to the conversation. I’ve learned to withdraw, and so I tend to spend time by myself when everyone is together visiting, while my mom pretends everything is fine with a bright smile. This leaves me with deep feelings of loneliness, inferiority, and being an outsider in my own family.

I’ve struggled with these dynamics and my resulting feelings my entire life. I now live far from my family and no longer deal with this on a regular basis. However, Christmastime and other visits can be complete emotional torture when my older sister is home, or when my younger sister goes off on me. My mother is warm, loving, and utterly incapable of setting boundaries or supporting me emotionally. She over-responds to my and my sisters’ physical needs while completely ignoring the emotional ones. We are well-fed, warm, and comfortable at her house, but I still end up feeling unseen.

I think my mom has also passed on her lack of boundaries to me, as I have struggled with it my entire life. I find it incredibly stressful to deal with conflict and disapproval so I find myself surrounded by friends and family who disrespect my boundaries or take me for granted. My current partner, for example. He crosses my boundaries regularly to an absurd degree even when I’ve tried to reinforce them. There is no place in the house that is just mine, and this means I can never create space for “me-time” or self-soothing when I’m angry. When I moved my things into a separate bathroom, he complained, and when I lock the bedroom or bathroom door to have some privacy for a phone call, bath, reading, or just to cool down after an argument, he gets a butter knife and opens the lock to check on me. It makes me feel like I have no personal autonomy, and I get so angry and resentful.

I am getting better about identifying and respecting my emotions, but now I need to deal with the slew of problem relationships that my CEN and people-pleasing have left me with, and that’s really difficult. I am not yet at the point where I can cut off these problem individuals, as I have a strong fear of abandonment and being alone.

I want to learn more about setting healthy boundaries and self-parenting. I’m also seriously questioning whether I should just stop going home if I know both sisters will be there. If I had more money, I could check into a hotel if conflict brews during a visit, and I would be less fearful about a possible break-up. But I have few resources, and no support network other than my family, partner, and a few friendships which are somewhat one-sided. I’ve always struggled against the feeling of being alone and unloved, and this is causing me to cling to these unhealthy relationships even more. Having just experienced a few very painful days over Christmas, this is in the forefront of my mind, and I’m wondering if I should restart counseling to have someplace to discuss it.

    Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

    Dear June, this is a lot to cope with. I suggest you do go back to therapy and also read my second book, Running On Empty No More. There’s a lot of help and support for healthy boundaries and self-parenting.

    Cat - September 14, 2020 Reply

    Hi June:
    I suffer from a mom and sisters just like you! And my oldest sis hasn’t spoken to me for 25+ years since I left home at age 17 without my parents’ blessing. I, too, struggle with boundaries and ‘honoring thy mother and father’ like I should. Sometimes I want to completely remove myself from my family forever due to their treatment of me at times but I fear I may regret that and it’s my responsibility to keep my kids’ aunts, uncles and grandparents in their lives. I think I’ve decided to think of them in a whole new light to disassociate myself from them, it’s THEIR problem, not mine. You are fine, you’ve discovered your secret to happiness. Good luck!

Cathy - January 1, 2020 Reply

I receive newsletters via email from Psych Central; it was there that I learned about CEN after reading an article written by Dr. Jonice Webb. I’ll never forget that day!! I think I danced around my living room because everything I read made sense & described how I’ve been feeling off and on for the past 48 years. I felt hopeful! Unfortunately, my erratic depression has made it difficult to dig myself out of my hole & stay above ground for longer than a few days at a time. I have now officially driven every friend & family member away. I am obsessed with being alone. I’ve tried & tried to be around people, but I just don’t feel I’m equipped to handle close relationships. When I have felt brave & told friends about what I go through, they just don’t get it & I can understand that. I guess it’s just human nature to not be able to comprehend how someone is, does things, & acts, when they haven’t experienced it themselves. An example is that I have (actually had) 2 friends who get really angry because I can’t talk to them & explain what is going on with me. I can write what is going on with me & our friendship, but I just can’t get myself to verbalize my thoughts in person. I believe it’s fear that holds me back, but I’m not always exactly sure what I’m afraid of. I wrote to a friend a few days ago about what was going on with me & she told me to F*** Off on Facebook. I actually had to laugh because that is a great example of why I don’t discuss anything negative in person! I’m afraid of people’s reactions! I also think that I may be afraid of how I will react. I have the feeling that I have an awful lot of anger in side of me. I must say that I decided fairly quickly that I don’t want to be friends with someone who tells me to F*** Off on Facebook, especially after I had helped her get through a very difficult time in her life. I’m 69 years old. I’m too old for that shit!!

    Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

    Dear Cathy, part of the effects of CEN is making relationships more difficult to navigate. I hope you will continually work on this issue. You can learn the emotion skills you missed!

Beth - December 31, 2019 Reply

Thank you, Jonice!
I found your work 2 + years ago. I’ve learned to tell my mother “no” much to her chagrin. One year ago I changed careers from a self-sacrificing Obstetrician to a focus on Functional Medicine and opened my own practice. I find that becoming more “selfish” has allowed me to blossom and contribute more to humanity and in a way that feeds me deeply. It has required deep trust in the process to proceed blindly. The risk and discomfort has paid off in spades! (Not to mention getting sleep at night for the first time in 25 years!) Thank you for your work!

    Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

    Dear Beth, I am so impressed with the changes you have made! Thank you so much for sharing your amazing new choices and how they have helped you blossom.

Suzanne - December 30, 2019 Reply

Dr. Jonice, what you are doing is so important. Thank you. I’m sharing my experience because it may give someone hope.

I am the product of severe CEN and abuse. I have been working on healing for years. To others who are struggling with this: Don’t give up, things can get better! It takes time. Just keep learning how to tune into your own feelings and honor them, and know that you have every right to do it. Your needs are as important as anyone else’s, and treating yourself as well as you treat the other people in your life is a very good thing! AND it FEELS good!

I learned to bury my feelings deep down from the time I was a toddler. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing; now I know it was necessary for my protection. As a result it took me many years to be able to access my feelings about anything! I went into an abusive marriage—probably because it felt familiar—and after 20 years of that finally began to realize that something was really, really wrong. I left the marriage and have been on a healing journey ever since.

It has taken a lot of work, but it is so worth it. I have good friends and activities that I enjoy. The anxiety that was ever present (without my even realizing it) is gone. I indulge myself occasionally without guilt, and get real satisfaction and enjoyment out of recognizing what I need or prefer, and saying so. I am kind to other people, and also kind to myself.

My heart goes out to those of you who are struggling, because I was there myself for such a long time. But it can get better—hold onto hope and keep working for it. You can get to a place of happiness and feeling good about yourself. You are worth it, and at some point you will know that for yourself. Love & blessings to you.

    Jonice - December 31, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story, Suzanne. Others will surely be offered hope from reading it.

Susan - December 30, 2019 Reply

Dr. Jonice

Thank you so much for all of your hard work for CEN! I never knew anything about this until I found you! I will share my story!
When I was born, my mom & dad had an 18 year old daughter and a 16 year old son. My sister was pregnant with her second child at the same time our mom was pregnant with me!
When I was 2 years old, mom and dad divorced! Mom had to go to work but she began drinking alcohol at this time! So I stayed with the baby sitter across the road a lot! She and her husband wanted to adopt me but my mom said no because of her dad which was very unfortunate for me. I grew up calling them mom and dad, too!
Unfortunately i never had any stability, my mom would leave me with different people for weeks at a time! I never felt a bond with her growing up, I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere!
When I was 17 I moved in with my boyfriend, stayed with him for 3 years, found another boyfriend who was several years older and we were like two peas in a pod! Moved in with him, he lived about 4 hours away from our hometown! Well that lasted 6 months! I moved back home, began using drugs again and found a new boyfriend! But during the first 4-6 months of being with the new boyfriend, I gave my life to God! So as a newly saved young woman of God, I told the boyfriend that he had to marry me or get down the road! He had not given his life to God, I did not really know him nor did he really know me but after a week, he chose to marry me!
At first he was abusive but he gave his life to God after we were married 5 years, a year later we finally had a baby boy that we got to bring home! This pregnancy was my number 7! I had given birth to 4 premature babies who were either still born or died a few minutes after birth and I had 3 first trimester miscarriages!
I thought I had found the man I would share the rest of my life with but I didn’t know he was sick in his own childhood trauma and addicted to sex! I caught him looking at porn, he promised he would stop but he didn’t! He changed the way he treated me a lot! I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 07 and he wasn’t supportive at all in fact, he was mean! He began doing meth and things just got a whole lot worse! I didn’t know he was doing it, I just knew he wasn’t the same person and so did our son! The mental, emotional, and sexual abuse was horrific! I tried so hard to make it work but one person can’t make a marriage work! He wasn’t willing to do therapy at all! In 2016 I had, had enough and he had started hitting our son! I didn’t know what to do, I wasn’t physically able to work, had no family that I thought I could turn to for help but I knew that I couldn’t take anymore!!
So we have been separated over 3 years, he quickly began living with another woman whose married as well! Our son is now 19! Our son and I have been living with family since January 2017 when our lights were cut off! My husband promised me that he would keep our son a home until he finished school! But he didn’t and now our son his working and providing for me! I have ALWAYS felt so worthless and useless!! I have never felt like I fit in anywhere! And i don’t know what to do!!

    Theresa - December 31, 2019 Reply

    Susan, I was trapped in a 34 year marriage with an abuser who also hurt my son. I finally found help at a domestic violence agency. The counselors were wonderful and gently helped me see the truth about my husband. Please find an agency near you and talk to a counselor. You and your son will find help. I benefitted greatly and you will too.

      Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

      Excellent advice for Susan, Theresa.

Debby Harris - December 30, 2019 Reply

Good morning. I am writing this morning as feelings of irrational panic flood my thoughts. Through my daily journey of PTSD and depression I have been unable to process on paper. So, today is a new day and here I am at the starting point! Thanks for reading my entry. Debby

Phil - December 30, 2019 Reply

Hi there I just read the two Running on Empty books and I was just amazed what I learned about myself my wife and my parents. My parents were overprotective of me in everything. They didn’t let me do the stuff that my 4 brothers did. I felt like a outcast. Very sensitive about everything. I went through a lot to get me to where I am. I went through 2 marriages in which one shouldn’t had happened. I went from a labourer to a PSW in which it was fulfilling.Most of all I met my beautiful wife Debra. She came in where I needed most. We got married 10 months after we met. We didn’t know each other and it was a constant ups and downs especially with our communication. It was only now with the passing of my aunt and wrongful dismissal from my PSW job I saw the light. My wife and I took a walk together on Boxing Day and we opened up. We knew we are in this for the long run no matter what happens.Plus changing a career will help too. We both agree that we need counselling. But as long we are honest and open with each other and trust God I know the changes that we need to make will make us stronger and wiser and closer together. I know that I have my soulmate who will stand by me. That’s why I love her so much.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear Phil, since you both agree you need counseling, I hope you will act quickly. It is easy to put it off but it’s risky.

Madeleine Person - December 30, 2019 Reply

Hi, struggling through the holidays, and remembering the one and only Christmas I spent with my family that I can remember except for during childhood, and it is no fun, I was treated bad, and I was guilty and had to take the shame, and I realized then that this is how it must have been when I was little as well. Absolute bullying of one of the siblings by everyone, and the parents enforce it instead of protecting me. I went out in life so crippled and so sure I was not someone that can ever be loved. And the rest is a book I want to write but I don’t have the power to. I was not one of the lucky ones who stumbled upon someone who saw them and cared for them, I had to be very strong and very tough to survive and became shattered and down and socially unfit, very very tragic how it has ruined my life even. It is so overwhelmingly sad how dysfunctional my family is and how there never is going to be any true togetherness, not even now that both parents are gone.

    Theresa Morgan - December 31, 2019 Reply

    Madeline, Please see a counselor at a domestic violence agency. You will find the road to healing and success there with a knowledgeable and caring person as I did. Mental and emotional abuse is violence and you can recover and live a much happier and fulfilling life. I got wonderful help at an agency and now I will graduate in May with a master’s degree in professional writing. I just finished two chapters of my own story that parallels yours. You can do it too.

B - December 30, 2019 Reply

Hi Doc,
Season’s greetings to you all!

I’m struggling with my core belief of worthlessness. Telling myself or hearing someone say that I am worthy of “anything” because I’m alive just isn’t cutting it.

I have been avoiding dealing with this directly, as, quite frankly, I just don’t see how I’m going to shift it.

I have been reading articles on how to build self-worth and from the reading I have done, I can see that I pretty much already do most of what they suggest. E.g standing up for myself, getting to know myself, accepting myself, aring for myself and obviously healing myself, etc. So I’ve done a lot of the work; I just can’t shift this core belief.

I have been working with an awesome therapist (who has unfortunately, recently left the country), and she helped me to see and atleast acknowledge that there was nothing wrong with me, that my core belief of worthlessness comes from a childhood with CEN.
As our sessions ended I found your website and it has been a blessing, thank you so much!

As synchronicity will have it, as I am struggling with this core belief today (it has been brought to the forefront by means of pain – I over did it and hurt myself) I got your email today and came to this page and gave myself permission to submit my question.
Do you have any suggestions on how I can shift this belief?

Thank you and best regards,

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear B, there is a lot to say to answer your question. You can find so much about how to shift out of your feelings of worthlessness (it’s all based in feelings, after all) throughout this website and in both of my Running On Empty books. I’m sorry your therapist left, I know that’s hard. But you can do a lot more work on your own!

Kathy - December 30, 2019 Reply

A post from Karen about switching between old and new selves feels so familiar. After a childhood of learning to be a robot-like, perfect girl to avoid triggering my father’s gambling-addicted wrath, then a lengthy adult relationship with yet another addict in which I continually thought I just needed to try a smidge harder to make him love me, I gave up on trying to make anyone else happy and moved to a new state by myself. Never have I experienced such freedom from being the person who people count on to fill their gaps. Always always. Anyway, my friend came here recently and I was torn between letting her make decisions and take charge as always, and telling her to back off because her need to control was stressing me out. I chose my new way and it was not easy and took a conscious decision, or I should say on-going choices, the whole week. When she got home she said she saw a side of me she’d never seen before. I asked her to explain and she avoided the question. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. I feel such freedom in living my life according to what other people think. All except one person which is a boyfriend in the other state. I moved away from him too. I can’t figure out if he’s good for me or not since I’ve never had a boyfriend who was good for me. I’m afraid I don’t have the strength to break up with him and I’m also afraid I may be pushing away the only man who ever actually was good for me. This may sound ridiculous, but how do I know if a man is good for me? Specific examples or ‘tests’ or things to look for? I don’t trust how I feel with him because it takes so little from a man to make me feel overwhelmed and confused. It would be so much easier to shut him out. Err on the side of caution and sanity and self-preservation before I turn into someone I’m not yet again. The horrid part is that I may not know it’s happening. I’ve turned myself inside out for guys. I’m sick of it.

Jasmine - December 30, 2019 Reply

Hi everyone,
I just want to say that I am so grateful to Jonice and the concept of CEN. It explains so much! I’m 48 and have always been a very sensitive person. My parents are nice people but old school and Dad was (is) such an authoritarian. I love them dearly but ohhh we fight now. I was forced financially to move in with them last year as the rents here became finally too much for me too afford (Bay Area). It’s nice to have a financial break but it’s HARD. They are 83 and 82 and they do try to understand, but they so often…just don’t. After 2018 being a crazy hard year, and 2019 being another one but for different reasons, I’m hoping for 2020 to bring clear vision (get it? LOL) both literally and metaphorically. Here’s to all of us and personal growth!

Dayyana - December 30, 2019 Reply

I’m still working through CEN myself and am glad to report that I have successfully raised a foster son, 7, without CEN. He was with me because his mother has severe PTSD and cannot parent her sons and his father travels all the time for work. This week his father took him back, after 6 years, to live with his new wife. Tears, tears, tears. My heart is breaking for me but mainly for him.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    I’m so sorry, Dayyana. Please take comfort in knowing that you have made a difference in a young boy’s life that will stay with him for a lifetime.

Kim - December 30, 2019 Reply

My lifelong search has been for understanding about why I’ve always felt separate from the rest of humanity. I always was an observer.
I made connections with animals but that was also repeatedly traumatic. Those l loved most deeply were tragically taken from me in a short time.
It’s too complicated to write here, but the main issue is l don’t know what unconditional love and a sense of security feel like, and my early rejection (though my mother said l rejected HER) left me without any tools to do anything more than survive. The only idea l have come up with is to figure out how to love myself as if l were one of my children (divorced 1979) or pets. I am loved, l think, but l want to know what it feels like to THEM, because I’ve never felt worthy, so l doubt it’s validity.
There’s always a “yeah , but” on the tip of my tongue.
Maybe it’s doesn’t matter as I’m likely to die long before my plans and genes would have predicted. I never learned self care or discipline. Immediate gratification is so much easier. An entire lifetime of PTSD and stress have destroyed my health and the conventional medicine cancer treatments (they’re done with me – no bell ringing) have started to destroy my few remaining healthy organs. It’s very difficult to retain hope, but spiritually l feel like if there was no purpose to my life, why didn’t l die in any of the situations that could have just as easily ended that way, starting with my 50% chance of surviving birth? There were even lower odds of surviving without brain damage. I can’t know how l would have been as a baby/child in different circumstances.
I try to find stories l can relate to but in every happy ending, rags to riches, overcoming great odds tale, there always was SOMEONE in the picture who provided enough of what was needed. I can only guess that’s how my kids have done fairly well even with me as a mother. I was a clueless parent but they were loved, in the only way l knew. My main bucket list wish is to know what that feels like before it’s too late.
I’m in touch with my emotions. I easily cry reading good books, watching certain movies, and tear up at occasional commercials and news stories, but not a drop was shed for either of my parents. I don’t know how to make sense of it all. I am in therapy, but been there, done that, a dozen times before to no avail. The latest tidbit was that instead of trying to swim out of the current (life), l need to learn to surf. Sounds good but I’ve been barely keeping my head above water for 67 years. I’m not coordinated or athletic, and now am physically compromised, and so very very tired.

Twins - December 30, 2019 Reply

I am a twin, our mom is not nurturing and of course was very overwhelmed with 2 babies, I’m a 51 year old woman, but I still feel like a scared little girl much of the time.
I’m piecing so much together lately, learning about CEN. My parents don’t think bonding is important for babies development, my parents talk openly about how they never really held us much, and they say we were “such good babies, we hardly even cried”. My mom tells a story that when we were just a year old they came back from a week’s vacation and when they got home, my twin sister and I didn’t even react when mommy walked in the room! That just confirms to me that we had never really bonded with our mommy. She got pregnant again only 7 months after we were born, so our brother was born just 16 months younger than us. As a stay at home mommy, we should have been able to bond with our mommy, but with three babies under 2 years old, she decides to take up a new hobby, just for fun, she became passionately involved in learning a new art skill instead of meeting our needs…and within a year, I am still a neglected little toddler and she is competing against world class artists and is so good at it she is winning gold medals!… she boasts about it now, and says what good little nappers we were and how we stayed in the playpen and napped for 4 hours at a time everyday and just never cried much. …Fast forward 50 years. My twin sister and I have no feelings of being emotionally bonded to our mom, we are both divorced from abusive men, and both of us have had lifelong difficulties with our attachment styles. I have been a loving and emotionally attentive mother to my own children thankfully, but I have suffered from a constant feeling of being invisible and unworthy my whole life, even though people think I’m confident, I can’t seem to allow myself to emotionally open up to anyone or to develop deep friendships.
I’m trying to heal so that I can have a healthy relationship someday! …To love and be loved…. that’s what I really want! I’ve broken up with me. Who I had beautiful and healthy relationships with… and then I regret breaking up, but I always experienced this panic when it got too comfortable… Now I understand why it has scared me to feel deeply bonded with someone, I fear I’ll be abandoned just like I was as an infant. I am realizing that I am worthy of love and I don’t have to worry that I’m invisible or that I’m somehow not lovable. It’s been a long road, and I’m sure it will be a long road ahead too. I hope I can find and keep a healthy love relationship.

Dennis - December 30, 2019 Reply

Reading “Running on Empty” was an epiphany. I’m a successful, married 50 year old man with a daughter. However, I’ve battled depression since my teens and have felt hollow, directionless and empty most of my life. Even with my successes, I’ve felt like a stranger in my own world and have always felt uncomfortable tending to any of my own needs. My mother died when I was 14 and my dad virtually abandoned me and my closest sister, first in his grief and then when he met the woman who is now my step mom. We were left to process (or not) the loss of our mother and my sister and I raised ourselves. Your explanation of CEN is the first framework through which my life and feelings have made sense. I’m still working to understand what I need to do for myself, but being able to understand the what and why has given me the beginnings of a foundation on which to build. Thank you for what you’ve done.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    I’m so pleased to know that I’ve helped you, Dennis. You are on the healing path and can take the steps.

Jan - December 29, 2019 Reply

Hi all,
I’ve had the best Christmas ever. My narcissistic personality disordered mother died in June aged 89, and I was finally free of a lifetime of abuse. My adult children are estranged, sadly. I went to Ubud, Bali and met up with some fellow solo travellers. We had a perfect ‘non Christmas’. It was so liberating. No reminders of painful past Christmases, decades of them, and I wasn’t really reminded about my estranged children (one has Aspergers, the other has cut herself off and lives interstate, has always been quite abusive towards me).
Now I’m back from my holiday, but it’s a memory I’ll always treasure and perhaps try to repeat! Happy New year, everyone. This is a difficult path but we are not alone.

I hurt - December 29, 2019 Reply

Just had my birthday. My husband and 2 boys did not get me a card or a present. We bought cookies because my some wanted one. I am hurt.
My birthday is 3 days after Christmas. Mom didn’t make me a cake growing up because we already had too much sweets for Christmas. I didn’t get cards from family because everyone didn’t think of it after Christmas. Presents were sparse for my birthday because “you guessed it” I had just gotten alot for Christmas. I felt that I was a problem and a bother because I wanted to be celebrated on my birthday like so many of my friends whose parents would throw their kid’s birthday parties especially in the summer.
My husband also suffers with CEN which manifests as narcissism. Everything is usually all my fault and I am not being a good wife.
I was abused by my father sexually so I suffer a “wounded heart”. I did not develop a benevolent trust of authority because I was used. I am reprimanded by my husband if I state my needs. I am difficult and too particular about my needs according to him, which keeps me triggered as being a bother.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear I Hurt, I do hear your hurt in your email. It is important to take your feelings seriously. They are telling you to get help! Please seek out a therapist you can share this pain with. You deserve support and help.

    Mitzi - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear I hurt, I spent 10 Christmas times being ignored or listening to tirades by my ex-husband, and 10 more, having no presents at all, (while watching everyone else open), because of my Narcissist sister. (What a pair; too bad they didn’t marry each other.) I don’t blame you for feeling left out. Eventually I had to find a solution. I did get counseling. I learned to buy some special things for myself. (My ex no longer had control of all the money, so that helped.) I don’t mean to “fix things” and not to listen. But just to say it can eventually get better. But I had to be willing to go forward, and willing to do some new things/ loving things for myself. I wish you love, God’s Blessings, and for you to know how truly special you are. Hugs too!!

    Dearfriend - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear I Hurt,
    I am so sorry for your predicament. You need to know you are worth more than that. Life is too short to be unhappy. Please get out and start living for you.

H - December 29, 2019 Reply

I’ve been following the CEN info through email. I’m in my 40’s and only really knowing who I am. I’m a successful early childhood/primary teacher however I have trouble committing or letting in men in my life. My parents worked hard and we never went with out. At the same time my father was highly critical and his way of thinking rules. I always felt that I had to earn or fight to get my opinion heard. My parents always had conflict and my Dad would always be negative about my mum and used to vent to me. Now he gets along with my sister. I’m the eldest of 5 and only one not married or with a partner. For a long time I have never felt good enough and from experience hesitant to get to know a man. I’m single, straight and backing myself this year 2020. My goal is to focus on me and worry less about what others think. Things I heard and saw growing up still enter my head when I get to know a guy and I end up pushing them away. This year I aim to follow my goals. I know there will be many judgemental things said by my parents and I just have to manage it. Some of my siblings have experienced judgement but they are all in relationships. Thanks for letting me vent even if it doesn’t make sense.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    It does make sense, H. Thank you for sharing!

    Jasmine - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Hi H,
    Boy do I relate to this: “At the same time my father was highly critical and his way of thinking rules. I always felt that I had to earn or fight to get my opinion heard.”

    I’m in my 40’s also but I’ve unfortunately had to recently move back in with my parents due to the insane cost of living here in the SF Bay Area. So I get to not only think about CEN but relive it every day with my parents! (They’re actually really good people, but they don’t understand why I’m unhappy, and they are happy with their partnership and I’m the one moving back in and throwing a wrench in things. We fight. A lot. It’s exhausting. And I feel like a powerless kid all the time.)

    Anyway, I loved this: “I’m single, straight and backing myself this year 2020.” And I came here to say: You’re awesome! I will be rooting for you this coming year! You deserve happiness. We all do!

Patricia - December 29, 2019 Reply

P.S. During therapy this year, I purchased both of Dr. Webb’s books, and it’s like she had a crystal ball into my childhood, and the unconscious coping mechanisms I took with me into adulthood. Well done, Dr. Webb, and thank you so much!

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    I’m so glad to be of help, Patricia. Keep up the good work!

Patricia - December 29, 2019 Reply

I am an Empath, and realize I had to learn to “read” other people to try and stay safe in my childhood. I hated my dad growing up (more on that in a minute) and faced many decades of emotional, mental, and physical abuse growing up. Sexual abuse from a family friend also entered the picture, as well as sexual assault later on in school as a teenager. I had no idea all of this contributed to my lifelong feelings of feeling so different, flawed, bad, and inferior to others. I also had then undiagnosed ADHD. (I suspect my habit of chronic dissociation during childhood contributed to this.) So, absolutely excelling at some subjects, yet failing abysmally in others no matter how hard I tried, plus the social anxiety of ADHD, amongst many other contributing factors, made it so I have never fit in. Childhood was absolutely lonely and painful, and up until the last couple of years (I am 45 now) I have had a lifelong problem with attracting toxic friends and romantic relationships. As a people-pleaser (I had to be to try and make my parents love me as a child, and as an adult) this attracted every narcissist, or toxic person I came in contact with. I did go through years of therapy as an adult for unrelated stuff (I never realized how my toxic childhood contributed to my inability to attract healthy relationships, so we never discussed that in therapy.) Plus, as I have since learned, unless you have a therapist specifically trained in trauma and childhood trauma, they do CBT, which is not very effective, nor does the therapist even know how to spot mental difficulties as a result of childhood and adult trauma. So, years of therapy by very well-meaning therapists never even touched this. This year, my husband of nearly 25 years (who is not toxic, thank God!) made some poor choices that threatened our marriage. Luckily, the therapist we have found specializes in trauma, and childhood trauma, and he spotted the people-pleasing, don’t rock the boat, peacemaker-at-all- costs, dysfunctional traits in me. I realize now (my father was a sargeant in Vietnam, and later became a sargeant as a cop) that my own father’s unhealed childhood wounds, as well as his PTSD from Vietnam, and the need for running his home in a very strict, military-like fashion, was not my fault. My mother is a good and kind unaware Empath who did now know how to meet my emotional needs as a child, because hers were never met as a child. So, a very angry, abusive, volatile father, and an emotionally absent mother, was my childhood. I didn’t stand a chance in knowing how to defend or stick up for myself, thus a whole year of sexual assault ensued in junior high, as well as sexual molestation from a family friend when I was 7. It was never safe having an opinion as a child. My dad’s philosophy was the old-fashioned “Kids are meant to be seen, not heard” and “Spare the rod, spoil the child” disempowered me from ever having feelings or opinions of my own, because it was not safe to express any of that. So, I shut that all down, and it is why I was the perfect victim of sexual predators.
The trauma doesn’t stop there. I’m adulthood, we went through 16 years of infertility, and successive pregnancy losses, and never gave birth to live babies. We also had painful, failed adoptions, and after over 16 years of trying to become parents, we gave up. It was much too painful, and we couldn’t do it anymore. Bring child-free, and not by choice, is another factor that makes me feel so different from others, especially other women. There is a comraderie that all women share who have children, and being unintentionally excluded by other women has been painful.
Thank God for the gifted trauma therapist we found this year! While I do not like what brought us to therapy (my husband’s poor choices) the silver lining in all of this is that for the first time in my life, through EMDR, and other trauma-focused therapy, I feel my life finally has value. I have always had suicidal ideations, and have had a couple of suicide attempts. That is all gone, and slowly, but surely, a zest for life is entering, and I can truly see myself for who I really am for the first time in my life. I can also see some of the silver-linings as a result of all this trauma, and now work with other mental health professionals as a licensed , message therapist with adjunct therapy in helping other trauma survivors with somatic issues in a modality called “Trauma Touch Therapy.” I also volunteer as a massage therapist for refugees who are victims of torture and abuse, in helping to alleviate physical pain, and to help them know that therapeutic, human touch can be positive, as well as helping them feel connected to their own bodies again. It is an absolute honor that despite my own, long history of neglect, abuse, and trauma, that I can hold sacred space for others like me.

    Jasmine - December 30, 2019 Reply

    That was beautiful to read. Thank you for sharing your story. I love what you are doing with touch therapy!

    I, too, am childless and not by choice and feel desperately lonely due to it. I very much wanted a family and somehow ended up alone in life. While I don’t have any specific traumatic experiences in my life, I am interested in finding out more about somatic therapy because I carry a ton of tension in my body, haven’t really truly relaxed in about twenty years, and I desperately crave touch all the time (no spouse, kids, or pets). Anyway, maybe this is CEN too, but I feel like I want to express that I relate but also that I care about you and hope we both have better times ahead, and not sure it’s coming out right. I hope 2020 keeps getting better for you and you keep doing what you’re doing with the touch therapy. Take care.

Thorunn - December 29, 2019 Reply

Coming across your work on CEN has finally put into words the feelings (or lack of) and my behaviour. In the past I’ve been involved with Adult Children of Alcoholics, but even that didn’t quite help me understand myself as much as your work has. I like many did wonder if I had Asperger traits but I’m now convinced I don’t, but it’s all CEN.
What I struggle with the most and would like to work on is friendships as I’m rubbish at making and keeping friends. Some of that is probably due to my feelings of inadequacy and invisibility, and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on friendships and what I can do to help myself. It seems such a filly thing to struggle with and I would normally never admit that but with fellow CEN I feel you will understand and support me. Love and light to you all.

    Karen - January 3, 2020 Reply

    Hi Thorunn,
    Making and keeping friends isn’t easy, especially when you’re an adult. So I don’t think it’s a silly struggle. I found this list on the internet a couple years ago and I think it’s really helpful. The Ultimate Guide to Showing Up for Other People on Buzzfeed. Basically, it’s all the small actions you can do to maintain a friendship. I don’t do everything on the list, but the more of them I do, the stronger my friendships have been.

Anonymous - December 29, 2019 Reply

My CEN journey started with the (unplanned) birth of my twin and me. My parents were always well-meaning but too young when we were born and probably suffering from CEN themselves. What followed was a childhood and youth afflicted by constant parental fighting and feelings of unworthiness, loneliness, and abandonment. My twin and I supported each other, but we would have needed grown-up emotional confidantes. Our parents are fighting much less after us moving out and my relationship to them has improved, but we are still affected by what happened. I got married to a toxic person at a young age and went through an ugly divorce. My twin struggles with procrastination, and we both have mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and burnout. After a horrible episode of SAD in 2019, I want to prioritize my mental health in 2020. I don’t know yet exactly how to do this, but reading “Running on Empty” is on my list.

Thank you for your great help, Jonice. Reading your newsletters has been an eye-opener to me more than once.

Take care and have a great start to the new year, everybody!

Jon - December 29, 2019 Reply

Hey Doc
I hope i can find the words and them well. I have read both your books and many other on creating your self and they are very wonderful and real great concepts. To me they have a basic commoness and that is the action of putting on paper how and what you feel. Journaling. I can do that with ideas like i am know. Writing or even sharing with i feel is very guarded. Being able to trust not to be judged or viewed in a way that is uncomfortable for me. So why bother. Any way this is my story

TM - December 29, 2019 Reply

I bought the audiobook and was wondering if you had some kind of outline for the steps you should take to reduce your CEN and in what order. It just seems so overwhelming, trying to remember things you should work on and even where to start.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear TM, you can download all the worksheets free under the Book tab of this website. Many who listen to the audiobook do end up getting a paper copy too for the exact reason you describe.

Karen - December 29, 2019 Reply

Hi everyone,

I have been working on my issues with CEN for a long time, and it’s going well. I am more emotionally present, I connect to people better, and I understand myself more. However, I have a lot of trouble relating to my parents now. They are in their 70s and so far, I haven’t been able to change our dynamic. Our relationship relies on me being emotionally shut-down (while also reading their minds and anticipating their needs). But I have a really hard time switching between my “new self” and my “old self.” I can be my new self with my sister and my husband, but my parents just seem baffled. They withdraw from me. Sometimes, when the whole family is in the same room, I don’t know how to be.

Does anyone experience this too? How do you deal with this?

    Ros - December 30, 2019 Reply

    I have experienced this too Karen. I found that the more I worked on self love and self actualisation and stopped playing the role I learned to play to avoid rejection by my parents growing up, the more uncomfortable it became spending time with them. I would regress mentally (GAD) and have had to minimise contact with them. I have what could be termed a “tea party relationship” with them now. I have had to grieve the loss of my parents even though they are still alive because in the true sense they were never real parents. This is a small price to pay because living authentically has reduced my anxiety and increased my happiness and enjoyment of life. I really hope you experience that too!

LS - December 29, 2019 Reply

Dr. Jonice,

Thank you for your work on CEN. For most of my life I could not peg why I felt the way I did about certain aspects of my life. I score high on your CEN inventory test and after reading your work feel like I am in a much better place to manage this. Keep the info coming…you’ve made an impact on my life, for sure!

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    I am so glad, LS. Messages like yours are the fuel that keep me going!

S. - December 29, 2019 Reply

At 52, I recently began to wonder if I have some autistic traits which might explain my tendency to generally be the “nice” person who becomes a target for people to not like. I am experiencing things at work with co-workers who can’t stand me because I am competent, but I am so pathetic when it comes to playing games and climbing up the social/management ladder. In 2013 I ended a 17 year marriage to an emotionally abusive man who had zero respect for my boundaries. I realized one night that the only way “no” would mean “no” would be if I got divorced. I realized that I was only existing but the marriage was killing me. My entire marriage was unhappy and I married because I thought I had to. Then after the divorce, as my eyes became open to the idea that I do have basic rights, I began standing up to family members. Even thought I did so politely and diplomatically, the contempt I received from them was immeasurable and I was not prepared for it. I cut them off in 2016 right after my dad died. They punished me with slander. I still have an aunt and uncle who treat me the same way and I am trying very hard to distance myself from them, but unfortunately I obligated myself to a new year’s day lunch. I am really afraid that I might fall backwards after just 3 hours with them and I am tempted to cancel. I don’t know where the obligation comes from. CEN makes so much sense to me, as my parents really were not there for me emotionally, and this was reinforced with my siblings and even outsiders. After I got divorced and my dad brought my ex husband under his wing (after 17 years of never even having any kind of contact or relationship with him), he told me that I manufacture problems and that he “was the father of his grandchildren”, even though my dad did not give an ounce of care for his grandchildren. And this was unprovoked, as I had only wanted my dad to know why I got divorced when I wondered why he was treating me so badly. Never once did he ever ask about how I was doing after my divorce or how my children were doing. He became very cruel and cold, so I thought maybe my ex husband told him something and I wanted him to know why I got divorced. He told me he didn’t do “head stuff” and he didn’t want to know and he didn’t care. Meanwhile, he and his third wife (my mom passed when I was 30) maintained a “close” relationship with my ex husband while pretty much ignoring my sons and me. It was so excruciating. My ex husband quit his job and I was solely taking care of my kids and house after being a stay home mom all those years. They reserved their compassion for my abusive ex husband. Then after my dad’s death I received similar horrible treatment from his wife and my brother, after merely asking politely that my ex husband not be at the spreading of the ashes, because it was hard for me to be around him. My dad’s third wife made sure my ex was at my father’s death bed when I came, and I had not seen ex for 2 years. So much cruelty and pain from family members, all because of my existence. If I showed any ounce of emotion or standing up for myself, they would punish me. Believe it or not, I kept my composure and did not “react” to their antics, and after I cut them off, they slandered me to outsiders, my aunt and uncle. My uncle thought I created some type of commotion and asked me if I reacted similarly to when my mom died. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he didn’t want to hear my side of what happened. They all say that I am just “sensitive” and they mock me. I know now why I have had no boundaries all of my life, because to have boundaries meant I was selfish. I plan to be more “selfish” this year. The anxiety of the upcoming lunch with aunt and uncle is making me sick. I want to cancel, but have too much guilt.

I appreciate your articles.

    N. - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Hello S.
    I can relate to your story so much! You have absolutely no obligation to go to that lunch! It’s only gonna make you feel bad being around toxic people. When I make plans with someone toxic in my family I too feel guilty for trying to cancel it. But then I came to realize that they are the ones who should be feeling guilty because of the way they treat me! But they never seem to feel any guilt so why should you?

    Jasmine - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Hi S,
    I am so sorry you’ve had to deal with all this.
    But this made me smile: I plan to be more “selfish” this year.
    Yes! Go, go, go! Do it!
    And I hope you can come up with a way to cancel the lunch.

Nakita - December 29, 2019 Reply

I always knew something was “off” or missing my while life. Only after my mom died did i start to realize things weren’t what they seemed. after really thinking and reflecting on my childhood i realized my feelings were never validated. i was never encouraged on anything. I had no real connection w/ anyone. I had to learn and do things myself with no direction. no one was interested in who i was and i never knew myself. I was emotionally stunted/immature. as the youngest, i was treated like i didn’t know anything and that what i said Or thought didn’t matter. I followed the life path that was laid out for me not realizing that i had choices. I had no true connection with my parents or siblings but was told i came from a good family and that everything was fine since we all ate dinner together and were together for holidays (where no one ever asked how/whatbi was doing). I felt and still feel like my family doesnt even know anything @ me. Finding out @ CEN and realiZing i have it has been a blessing and a curse. Finally-I found the missing piece w/ CEN but now everything has changed. I question all the relationships i had/have and wonder if they are or were ever real. I am so conscious not to pass any of this neglect to my kids (which i realize i was doing). My 2-brothers dont talk to me (their happiness was put over me or my 2-sisters). My mother was afraid she would “lose” her sons and gave them a sense of entitlement that once i questioned and put up boundaries to how they treated me, they “dropped” me. My sisters realize they also have CEN but since i’m much younger, and my mother treated me differently than them, they are closer to each other and exclude me. I feel like i no longer have any Immediate family left. why should i continue a relationship w/ my one sister who is still unaware and doesnt question her actions or how they make me feel? When i’m excluded its b/c I’ve always been excluded so i guess she cant help not considering my feelings or convincing her self she didnt do anything wrong. I question if i can ever be truly happy. I try to take it 1-day at a time but life seems so much harder than it should be than if i had a family that cared for me for who i am

Matthew - December 29, 2019 Reply

I was severely abused during my formative years. Three years old and on. My father was an angry, violent drunk. I needed to see therapists before I entered kindergarten and on. I’ve never fit in. Always alone. Gone from one entry level job to the next (e.g., washing dishes, etc.) Been homeless. All the while trying to understand myself. I turned 50 recently and by chance I heard about your book “Running On Empty”. And I can honestly say it is the information I’ve been looking for my whole life. It is the answer to my lifelong hellish riddle. This info is circled around by society and by “professionals” alike and yet it is so vital. I’m tired from hanging on, but I was right all along to keep my heart open. The therapists I saw before kindergarten implicitly made me believe I just needed the right info. And as the saying goes “When you know better, you do better.”

In short, “Thank you.”

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    You are welcome, Matthew. All my best wishes to you!

Jane Clarke - December 29, 2019 Reply

Hi, about 3 1/2 years ago I read your book on CEN , after my counsellor detected CEN in me! It was the missing link for me, and while it has given me freedom to try and change , using the exercise sheets, I have been exhausted trying to keep it all up. Six months ago I left my marriage of 28 years, after struggling to love my husband and feel part of things going on around me. I would like to be free, and live a life full of joy and freedom. I adore my grown up sons, but I would love to really know Love and be able to give and receive love; I’m not an interesting person, I have very little depth of knowledge of the world, so I know I’m ‘boring’, despite my sense of humour and classic super servant heart for people. I can’t decide on what I want to do in the future. Im in free accommodation at the mo, but that won’t last forever, so I need to decide what I want to do, but classically CEN prevents me from knowing what I want to do. Help!!!!! (I have read both books by the way.)

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear Jane, don’t forget the key part of CEN recovery: paying attention to your feelings and what they are telling you. That is the best way to choose a path forward: your emotions will tell you.

Miesha - December 29, 2019 Reply


I grew up in a single-parent home.. In which my mother was a drug addict. I’m the oldest out of four siblings so a lot of responsibilities were placed on my shoulder at a early age.To that end, the child hood emotional neglect didn’t really start too affect myself.. Until I got married and realize how angry I still was. In that event, i appreciate a co-work introducing myself too this knowledge from. Dr. Jonice. I have been able to crack the door open for healing, and recovery. I realize that is going to take time. The fact that running on empty focused on emotional neglect makes so much sense with how my interactions are in my relationships of not being able to trust, fear, rejection, and abandonment bring me back to child hood. I declaring 2020 is my year of selfishness. For example, the holidays can be a struggle because. I spend time with my family who either caused hurt, or experience it with me. In that event, my siblings and myself relationships is great. I guess it because we all shared the trauma of child emotional neglect together. Often times, we comfort each whenever my mother attacks one of us. Although, I am a 40 year old adult woman. I find myself haunted by my past. This Christmas my brother lives in Oakland, Ca. He spend time with my mother a day before he drove up from Inland Empire, Ca. I recieved a call from my mother in which started out cool. The next thing she mentioned how my brother shared a memory from the past. I guess it was a not so pleasant one. My mother asked me do I remember. I started mom, I don’t know, and don’t want too talk about it. I wished her well. The next thing, I know I’m recieving crazy texts and phone calls from my mother. In which I felt was trying to manipulate me, and attack me for something I had nothing to do with. I was hurt, disappointed, and devastated. I spoke with my brother, he explained his part and we continually enjoyed Christmas. The sadness still try’s and plague my thoughts. However, the good thing is being that I have been taking steps towards CEN recovery. I learning to take it one day at a time and replace positive boundaries.. instead of negative ones with my mother.

Thanks for allowing me to share my story.

Anon - December 29, 2019 Reply

What do

    Other anon - December 30, 2019 Reply

    I often feel the same way

Laurie - December 29, 2019 Reply

I’m just now at 69 beginning to understand why I’ve suffered all my life with depression and anxiety. It’s crippled my entire life and I didn’t know why except that something was wrong with me and I was defective. I’ve seen psychiatrists and therapists with little to no help. Only my current therapist has helped me begin to unravel the whole mess. It’s so very difficult but I’m trying and your book is helping me figure out things too. There’s a tiny crack in the hopelessness. I’m sitting here crying now because of the pain of it all but maybe just maybe…..

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Maybe, just maybe there are answers beyond the pain. Keep working at it, Laurie!

Paula - December 29, 2019 Reply

I don’t even know how I found your site but when I took the test to see if I had CEN there was no lack of clarity . Nearly, if not all questions were answered confirming that I did indeed experience this growing up. To further complicate matters I married a quiet man ,a trait I mistook for sensitivity. The reality is he is unemotional and was recently diagnosed with Aspergers. I have one adult daughter who shows tendencies towards an Aspergers diagnosis, with my youngest daughter also exhibiting some traits. I have had my finger in the dike trying to lovingly care for my family although they don’t seem to need the same kind of relationship I desire. I have received zero support from my family of origin because they don’t see the deficits that I have experienced and continue to experience. This challenge of trying to assert myself has ripped open the belief that I had about my large “all loving Irish Catholic family.” I have exhausted myself trying to fill in the emotional gaps for my children because of my experiences and limitations in my husband only to realize that I have taken on too much and my nearly adult children have selfishness tendencies much to my dismay.

    Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

    Dear Paula, please, please work on putting yourself first. My guess is that’s what’s been missing all these years for you.

      Paula - December 30, 2019 Reply

      Thank you Dr.Webb I have one more year until my youngest daughter graduates high school and then I can move away and retire from my current profession. It feels like it will go too slow as I am completely exhausted but I will try to commit to activities and personal interests to strengthen that muscle before I move. I have had nearly 60 years of putting other people first but your comment about putting myself first really resonated. Thank you for your groundbreaking work and it is so transformative in understanding what happened to me and that I wasn’t defective after all.

        Jonice - December 30, 2019 Reply

        I’m so glad, Paula, to hear that you are finally putting yourself first. Ironically, it will help your daughter too.

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