Childhood Emotional Neglect: Why You Have it But Your Siblings Don’t



James has always been confused by his family. He’s always sensed that it’s dysfunctional, but he could never put his finger on what’s wrong. Until he realized that his family is riddled with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Now that he can see his own lack of emotional awareness, connection, and understanding, he also sees the CEN pattern of traits in his parents and his younger sister. But strangely, his older brother seems completely unaffected. Baffled, James wonders how he and his sister could be so deeply affected by CEN while their older brother is not. They were all three raised by the same parents, after all. 


26-year-old Michelle sits at the table at her parents’ house for a family dinner. Looking around at her siblings she thinks about how different she is from all of them. Right now, two are laughing and talking with each other while the third sibling is having an involved conversation with her parents. Michelle has been working on her Childhood Emotional Neglect and has been paying closer attention to her family. Watching her family interact at the table she wonders why her siblings don’t seem to be affected by her parents’ lack of emotional awareness. “Maybe I don’t actually have CEN,” she wonders.

What is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?

It’s the kind of parenting that pays too little attention to the feelings of the children. Kids who grow up in this kind of family do not learn how to read, understand, or express their own emotions. In fact, they learn the opposite. They learn that their emotions are irrelevant, a burden, or a bother. And on top of that, they do not learn the useful emotional skills that they need to become happy, connected, emotionally thriving adults.

So what were Michelle and James seeing in their parents? They were seeing an emotional void, avoidance of meaningful conversation, and a tendency toward superficial interactions. James and Michelle recall feeling very alone in their families as children and they still feel this way now. It is only after discovering CEN that they are able to understand what is wrong and begin to take the steps of CEN recovery to address it.

Why Don’t My Siblings Also Have Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Of the thousands of CEN people I have met, a remarkably large number have expressed confusion about why one or more of their siblings don’t have it.

And I understand. How can two kids who grew up in the same family end up experiencing their adult emotional lives so differently? At first glance, it does not make sense.

But there are reasons. Real reasons. Let’s look at what they are.

6 Ways CEN Can Affect Siblings Completely Differently

  1. Gender. Emotional attention is a complex thing. Some CEN parents may find it easier to empathize with one gender more than the other. So, for example, the daughter may end up receiving more emotional awareness, validation, and attention than the son or vice-versa. All of this usually happens under the radar, of course, with no one realizing the differences.
  2. Changes in the Family. Some CEN parents may be struggling with a circumstance that takes their emotional energy and attention away from the children. There may be, for example, a divorce or remarriage, major move, job loss, financial problems, or death that suddenly changes the emotional ambiance and attention available in the family. Perhaps one sibling is able to receive emotional attention for a time, but due to family transition, another is not.
  3. Personality and Temperament.  No child chooses Emotional Neglect or brings it upon themselves. But all children are born with innate temperament and personality tendencies that are unique to them. And there is a harsh reality we must address. The more you are similar to your parents the better they will naturally understand you. And the converse is also true. The less you are similar to your parents the more they will need to work at understanding you. If one sibling is easier to “get,” they may receive more empathy. This gives them an emotional leg-up, even in an emotionally neglectful family.
  4. Favored Child. Truly, one of the most damaging things a parent can do is to have a favored child. It typically damages both kids but in very different ways. These are often narcissistic parents who find one child more pleasing than the others. Perhaps the favored child does better in school, has a special talent, or has just one characteristic that the narcissistic parent particularly values. That child receives extra attention and validation for, possibly, no valid reason. The favored child may grow up with far less CEN than their siblings. But scratch the surface and they likely have hidden CEN as well.
  5. Birth Order. This comes down to what’s going on with your parents when you are born. How many other siblings do you have, and were you born first, last, or middle? Research shows that firstborn and youngest children receive more attention, making middle children more susceptible to CEN. But, for example, the last child may receive less attention due to parenting fatigue. Many factors can lead to one child being more neglected than another.
  6. Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP). Some children are born with a gene that has been proven by research to make them extra emotionally sensitive. This can be a great strength in life if you grow up in a family that teaches how to recognize, understand, and use your incredible emotional resources. But if you are born to CEN parents, you will, sadly, probably be affected even more deeply by the absence of emotional attention.

Trust Your Own Emotional Truth

Almost every child receives some form of attention from their parents. The questions that define CEN are: Was it emotional attention? And was it enough?

Some siblings who receive a different form of attention can seem to be CEN-free, but their CEN may emerge later. Or perhaps, due to genetic or family factors, they may not be affected at all.

If you look around at your siblings and you have difficulty seeing the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect in them, do not allow that to make you question your own.

Having grown up virtually emotionally unseen, you have been invalidated enough already without continuing to doubt your own emotional truth.

Learn much more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and how it plays out plus the steps to heal in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Find the link below.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and hard to remember. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free and you can find the link below.

Watch for a future article about how to talk to a sibling about CEN.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
E - August 26, 2023 Reply

Thanks for a very helpful article. I’m currently in the midst of both of your books; after starting the second one, realized I needed to go back to the basics. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on a youngest sibling pushing aside the oldest sibling in a repeat of the parents’ CEN? I am trying to understand the two different personalities in this case, but it feels like my younger sister is not only enabling the CEN of my mother but has adopted it for herself. My own self-care is needed of course, but it feels strange to have EN (maybe we say “FEN”? Familial Emotional Neglect?) come up at me from below. She is 15 yrs. and a trained physician who has also been on SSRI meds for a couple decades after a profound episode of betrayal by my mother, but now feels and speaks to me in what feels like a very superficial way and never addresses anything I ask her about. Perhaps the solution is the boundaries, but the pain of family loss is very real. FEN may be your next book! Thanks for your thoughts.

Iben - August 25, 2023 Reply

Is it possible that child A has an illness and child B is healthy, but so much attention is given to child A that child B’s emotions are not paid sufficient attention to, resulting in child B suffering with CEN?

    Jonice - September 4, 2023 Reply

    Absolutely! I describe exactly that scenario in my book Running On Empty.

Sandra - January 23, 2023 Reply

Is there a book for parents on how to repair CEN and the relationship it has caused with your kids? Mending it when your children are young adults

    Jonice - January 23, 2023 Reply

    Dear Sandra, Yes, I wrote a lot about that in my second book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. You can get it at Amazon or most online sellers or at your local library.

Caroline Watson - January 20, 2023 Reply

You have not mentioned step families. Children who are abandoned by one parent and brought up in the new family of the remaining one are surely massively prone to this, particularly if they take after the absent parent.
This certainly happened to me. I did not ‘conform’ or ‘fit in’ because I was highly intelligent and articulate like my father and could not see that fitting into a working class family was going to be of benefit to me. I was told that ‘children don’t have nerves’, when I complained that the television got on mine when I was trying to read, and every sentence starting, ‘I feel….’, was met with, ‘Don’t be silly; of course you don’t’.
Fortunately I had wonderful grandparents.

Angel - July 6, 2021 Reply

I’m the oldest child and I was only 5 when my parents were divorced 4 when they separated. My brother 3 yrs younger had no idea what was going on. I was used by my father as a pawn during the separation “Ask Mommy when daddy can come home” which was never, he made me feel this was my fault. We ( mom, my brother & I), moved 3 times in 3 yrs. I went to 3 Elementary schools, while my brother hadn’t even begun Kindergarten yet.
I always wondered why my brother worships the ground my Father walks on.
Now I realize his perception was completely different than mine as he was a baby and
his personally is almost exactly like our Fathers. Jeff my brother has followed in Dad’s footsteps, manipulative, arrogant, rules don’t apply to him, he’s special & also an alcoholic who has to try & control everyone. Ex: My way or the highway! So black and white and competitive that I avoid him as much as possible. I was also diagnosed with ADHD in my 30’s and that explains my emotional sensitivity, lack of trust, love of animals, and my competitive nature in all things sports. dad wanted just boys, so I was his tomboy, competing against him and later my brother. I turned away from both as a teenager; and suddenly I was the outcast of the family.
Dad passed away 3 yrs ago in August, and I was not in his will, as I expected. He’d been telling me I wouldn’t be in his will; for as long as I can remember. My reaction to my father’s passing and memorial service was significantly different than my younger brothers. I was overwhelmed with emotions, shock, and couldn’t face the rest of the family after the funeral. While
I noticed my brother is smiling in pictures with the family at the memorial service Mom had little to none emotional intelligence. I now see that my brother was effected in a completely different way. I escaped be after H.S. and moved out of state shortly thereafter. Now I’m back in the same city as my mother and brother, with a limited relationship. My brother is so like out Father it sickens me, I divorced my husband, whom I now realize was much like my father. And mom just wants to remain neutral in it all regarding my brothers behavior towards me at family gatherings birthday’s and holidays. Why is it my brother seems so unaffected by it all?
I’m an emotional wreck and he’s happy as a clam. Is it our age difference, my being a tomboy/ his competition or is there more there that I can’t see? Any help on dealing with both my brother and mother who enables him and is getting close to the age she’s going to need assistance & I know he won’t be around to help get. He’s in strictly all about himself. So any advice, opinions, suggestions/ options on how to deal with this growing casim of chaos and uncertainty in my life would be very much appreciated.
Thank you.

    Jubs - November 21, 2021 Reply

    Your story is similar to mine. My parents split when I was the same sort of age and I too was used as the go-between to, “Tell your mum this” and “Tell your dad that”. My brother, being two years younger, was spared all the sarcasm, tears and anger that my parents displayed towards me as the bearer of these unwanted messages. How he feels about his childhood is completely different to how I feel. His relationship with both our parents is far closer. I am the black sheep of the family and have been emotionally ruined.

Sonja - June 29, 2021 Reply

Yes, very helpfull. It really can be this way. I see myself always in the center of the family or at the edge, never melt in the whole, separated and lost with my feelings, which don`t fit in the system
As child I had a very strong powerfull and important role in den family with 6 children, but at the same time, my feelings had to be excluded from the herd

Tim - June 28, 2021 Reply

I think it’s also worth pointing out that it’s possible for my siblings to have CEN without my necessarily being aware of it. In more recent years, as I interact with my older sister’s children as they grow, it’s becoming blindingly obvious that they’re being emotionally neglected by not one but two CEN parents. I wouldn’t have pegged her as someone with CEN a few years ago, but it’s really obvious now that she had it all along.

I don’t know as much as I often like to think I know, even when it’s about the people I’m closest to.

Richard - June 28, 2021 Reply

Dr Webb what you said about whether attention was emotional attention and was it enough is very revealing. My parents sent me to a very demanding school which gave lots of homework (I appreciate some homework is a good and useful discipline for children above a certain age but this school seemed to think the more you were set the more good it would do you) My parents would stand over me doing my homework pointing out all the things I had done wrong , how careless I was being, and how I could and should do it better. The more they called me careless the more I lost confidence and made mistakes. I think it is much better to tell a child to do things carefully than that they are careless. I found all the negativity very upsetting and would sometimes collapse into tears. At that point my mother would say “Come on now. You are wallowing in self pity”. My parents would also say “Don’t complain you are the one getting attention”. The thing though was that it was intellectual critical attention not emotional attention. The time when I really needed the unconditional love and cuddles as a toddler they, through no fault of their own, were either at work or looking after my sister who had a medical condition that was nearly fatal. I think though the journey from having not enough unconditonal love at an early age to this onslaught of criticism afterwards was in fact very damaging. My parents have also said they were harder on me because I was a boy and my sisters were (naturally enough) girls. Two things to me are clear. I will never get back the love I needed as a very small person and there is absolutely no point giving my parents a guilt trip about this now. What I feel I really need to focus on is to love myself ever more deeply (apart from anything else it will make me in more of a fit state to love other people) and to build bridges of love and emotion to my parents – something I am doing already. They now are not harsh to me at all. My heart also goes out to other people who had a similar experience to me. Critical attention (or trying to achieve something through a child by making that child very good at a particular activity like swimming or playing the piano) is not the same as loving attention. Of course parents must criticise – but this must be done in a constructive way and the love absolutely must come first. Thank you Dr Webb for all your hugely valuable work.

Rachel - June 28, 2021 Reply

CEN in siblings may also be difficult to see from the outside. Siblings might be outwardly successful and happy, and even seem to have a close relationship with the parents, but could still struggle with the feelings of emptiness in more private moments. Or siblings may have felt CEN but have sought therapy that they may not talk about.

Parvez - June 28, 2021 Reply

In my case, till I was 24 yr old, I did not find this chronic emptiness feeling, that I can relate now to either CEN or a childhood non-fatal drowning incident… Although at family level I can see a lack of emotional immaturity that may have resulted in my CEN as well.

Tamara - June 28, 2021 Reply

Hi Dr, I have recently been diagnosed with CPTSD as a result of CEN, and told that this would most certainly have contributed to my PMDD. It was a huge shock that instead of feeling a victim of CEN because of my PMDD, it was actually the abuse and neglect that caused the condition. Have you heard of or had any similar cases?

Carol - June 27, 2021 Reply

Great article. I recognize that both my parents had CEN by reading Dr. Webb’s articles; and I have it as well which doesn’t surprise me. My sister who is 5 yrs younger than I and my brother who is 6 yrs younger than I do not have it. We were all raised the same way and were never abused. We had a happy house BUT emotions were ignored. There was no hugging, no cuddling, no ‘love you’—nothing—even if something bad happened. The most we ever saw dad do to mom affection-wise was pat her on the back. Being the oldest, I was very intuitive. I saw more and absorbed more being the first child. I always say we were raised in a loving home but were not loved—if that makes any sense.

Simon UK - June 27, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice, I think your insights are always enlightening and helpful to my recovery…

Whilst recognising my own CEN this is a subject I hadn’t given much thought too and decided this is a good opportunity to crystallise my thoughts…

My mother IS a narcissist and my weak father her enabler. I was the 3rd of 3 boys and 9 yrs later along came a sister (half?) who took absolutely EVERYTHING, emotional and material, from us boys that loving kind parents would normally give. I was treated like a slave, no rights, no privileges, yet the only one who gave, now the black sheep…

I can remember that my oldest brother when he was home would stay in his room, never to be seen, and when he was he was miserable and bad tempered. He has disappeared to another part of the country and has nothing much to do with any family.

My 2nd older brother pretty much left home by 12yo and lived with another family. He rarely came to visit even when he was older, although when he did it was like the prodigal son returning. He is only interested in himself and golf and he has deeply sarcastic and hurtful tendencies.

So having recognised my own CEN and working with it I CAN now see that they too were also affected, although, in entirely different ways.

One child avoiding all contact by hiding away and then moving far away, the other actually leaving and finding another family to live with. His defence his sarcastic and hurtful traits….

Unfortunately, as a result of these traits we didnt grow up close, are not in touch and are never likely to see each other again, EVER!. Therefore I cant share my Dr Jonice findings with them…

Does this sound like classic siblings also suffering CEN Jonice?….

PS I made a comment before on an article which you took as being about religion, it wasnt. It was about whether as CEN sufferers we should associate with happy, positive, caring, compassionate people however they are achieving this. It sounds a good idea BUT strangely I find it an overload of positive emotion and simply cant cope with it. I question how people can be so nice even to the point of my being distrusting and shying away from them. Is this a common CEN trait too???!!!….

Kayla - June 27, 2021 Reply

CEN is so insidious because it’s invisible… I grew up in an emotionally neglectful home (parents did it unintentionally in my opinion due to not having the necessary skills to teach us about our own emotions). My mom is like a child and bickers with my sister and emotionally and physically pushes my father’s loving attempts at affection away from her, even going as far as to say, “Eww. Gross!” among other things.

This has, sadly been repeated in my own marriage. Working on me so I can maybe fix what’s left of my marriage relationship, and also repair things with my two young kids.

I am child 4 out of 6, and grew up watching lots of violence from my older brothers towards each other, hearing tons of name-calling, screaming at each other, sexual abuse of both me (sibling to sibling) and my sister (unrelated offender).

There’s so much dysfunction in my family and they all act like it’s normal… never talking about the deeper issues. I am dealing with a lot of anger and had rage last year.

I was also diagnosed as having CPTSD, so the layers of trauma are deep and I have a ton to unravel… But my family is SO not healthy, despite how they portray themselves to the world at large.

We also had no boundaries set, growing up, so I didn’t even know what boundaries to set or with whom… not even my willful children.

God is helping me to heal in many many ways, but most days I, sadly, feel num from the shock of just how dysfunctional my family (and me as well) is.

Astrid - June 27, 2021 Reply

I certainly see that difference with my older sister. She never seems to doubt herself or struggle with loneliness and mental illness like I do. I think in our specific case it’s because she was “the problem child” – she would throw tantrums and fight a lot, and once we got to adolescence she became involved with a gang. Everyone thought she would turn out terribly and I – the quiet gifted child – would do great things. That is not what happened at all, and my sister nowadays has a solid career and wonderful family. I think what happened is that my parents poured a lot more attention and energy into helping her than they did for me. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

LS - June 27, 2021 Reply

Another interesting article article about CEN. I am the youngest of 6 and I had two brothers in front of me in birth order who were very challenging to raise. Because I was much quieter and mostly well-behaved I didn’t receive nearly as much attention as they did and was brought up on auto pilot. Your work does so much good in that it gives those of us a voice who might not have known how to describe how they have been impacted. Thank you for that.


M. Makuye - March 29, 2020 Reply

One of four siblings, I was able to see the variable responses we had to this problem.

An elder brother merely imitated it, demeaning not only his younger brother, but also his own daughter, until that daughter spent some years levering him out of it – if only within his nuclear family. She told me how critically necessary it was that he not influence her own children through modeling Emotional Neglect.

A sister not only chose unwisely, twice,to mate with emotionally demeaning and neglectful husbands, but also , if slowly and in later years, began to model and bias her own daughters toward emotional avoidance. She actually exacerbated some of the problems, through blaming a sibling for the misguided grandparental”favoritism” mentioned in the article. In further misattributing the emotinoal attempts of a brother to escape from the coldness of that taught/modeled neglect and avoidance, it appears that she is affecting ehr own offspring, filling them with bias and excuses to avoid normal family relationships. Even though she is an accomplished RN dealing with emergency room crises , she appears to define any emotional display as malingering.

Another brother, far too exposed to the combination of an emotionally crushing father and a mother who compensated by attempting to steel her children from emotional development – squelching any and every display, has essentially no, interaction with the family. His entire scope of interaction is extremely shallow, when not overtly avoidant.

All are unreachable. I try to sensitively bring our now-elder mother toward greater temerity, from her original stoic suffering, and from her counseling of her children to suffer in silence. This, in hope that due to the lifetime deep emotional bonding of humans, may percolate to her rather dissociated offspring.. So far it has not shown fruit, but at least it eases her feelings, AND, very importantly, gives her reason to remain engaged in healing, thus leading to her better health, as it’s a goal most worth pursuing!

( I haven’t passed her my copies of the two Running on Empty books, as she has always sheltered in religion, and becomes extremely wary in response to my even mentioning tenets of psychology and emotional care. I often have to phrase situations within her religious beliefs, although that placebo teaches, and forcibly remains highly dissociated from life and its value)

Lesley - March 18, 2020 Reply

Sometimes it is oldest child who is targeted. This is the case with both me and my husband. I was the oldest with one brother. My husband was the oldest of 5. We are both Highly Sensitive people with higher EQ. So that was the main reason we were selected as black sheep.

What happens in these situations is that once a new baby enters the home, the mother thinks that most of her child rearing for you is done when you are still a little child. Oftentimes there is a distancing towards you starting in the mother’s pregnancy. Also the parents rely on you too much for a lot for babysitting, doing housework etc. without much acknowledgment. It ends up feeling like you are trapped in an unreal version of the Cinderella story.

    Jonice - March 18, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lesley, it is so painful for an older child to be treated this way. You describe it very well. I hope you are working toward giving the little girl inside you the love and care that she never got but always deserved.

Pat - March 18, 2020 Reply

How timely! I have been planning to question this with my therapist when I see her later today.

I am the oldest of two childen. My brother is 7 years younger than me and he was adopted. Talk about a difference in temperment! My father was extremely introverted, a scientist who was completely disconnected to our family. I am also a quiet, extreme introvert. My mother was surely a narcisist who became a raging alcoholic when I was about 15. She never bonded with my brother and his temperment was very different from ours. He was loud, hyper, began self-harm when he was only two and terribly physically punished while I was terribly emotionally abused. He was still young when my mother started drinking so it only got worse from there. He never made it past the eighth grade. I was given every advantage, went through a great college and have had a sucesstul career despite being emotionally damaged. I became an adult in my early teens as my mother’s caretaker. He became a raging psycopath and I have always been the recipient of his violent wrath. I’ve always only partly understood our differences and you have helped me see why. Thank you.

    Jonice - March 18, 2020 Reply

    Dear Pat, I am so sorry your childhood was this way. I’m so glad you have a therapist. I encourage you to keep working through your childhood experiences. Take care!

sally - March 16, 2020 Reply

I had a BPD father and a depressed mother. I also married a man with the same traits as my father, big shocker. I’ts amazing how random life can seem until you look at the big picture. My brother took his life and my sister suffers from mental illness. I’m the “survivor” of my family but have suffered from the unhealthy patterns I learned from my family of origin. Until recently I didn’t even think I could trust my own perceptions of things. One thing that does throw me about CEN is the happy family description. We never even achieved that veneer. Thanks so much for your work, it has helped me in my journey of self discovery.

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Sally, that sounds like a very difficult childhood. And most certainly, not all CEN families have a healthy veneer. I’m glad you’re on a self-discovery journey!

Rich - March 16, 2020 Reply

I have two siblings, a twin brother and a younger sister. I’m the oldest. While we all have some degree of CEN, I seem to have gotten it the worst and my sister the least. My parents were older when they had us and were from the Depression-era “children are seen and not heard” school. My brother and I were the primary recipients of that. Perhaps because she was a girl, and the baby of the family who had to deal with two older brothers, she got a lot more attention and emotional support growing up. I do believe my parents were doing the best they could with what they knew, however. I’m glad I found you and your work – it is very helpful as I continue my journey. Thank you!

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Rich, that’s a very good example of how this differential effect can happen. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Liz - March 16, 2020 Reply

This is such a valuable article regarding sibling experiences. Thank you so much! It helps to me keep self-validating!

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    I’m so glad Liz! Keep up the good work!

Emily - March 16, 2020 Reply

So how do you parent multiple kids and give each enough? I am about to have 3 and maybe want a 4th someday. Is it even possible not to neglect some kids needs?

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Emily, it’s possible to have many children and still meet their emotional needs. I encourage parents to take their own emotional limits into account when they decide the number of kids to have.

Olivia - March 16, 2020 Reply

My partners family never talks on an emotional level. They talk about the weather mostly. He always says no one listens to him. We have been together for 30 years. He is kind and sweet and a great guy. His mother never asks any questions about us, etc. She likes to talk about the weather. So weird to me. Never uses emotional words.when talking to her. Is this a form of emotional neglect? He never saw any hugging kissing or any emotion between his parents. His parents hoarded their money. Never had a birthday party for him or any luxury items.he was required to work all summer as a teen.

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Olivia, this is not only a form of emotional neglect. It is emotional neglect. I hope your partner is willing to learn more about CEN and how it affects the child once they grow up.

Betsy - March 16, 2020 Reply

You are so right about parents losing interest. I’ve I often thought that my mother just didn’t have the energy for me after my two older brothers and dealing with my narcissistic father. She even said to me once about a school event, ‘I don’t need to go to yours do I, I went to your brothers’. My eldest brother was the scapegoat, the next brother the favored child, and I was rebel, in our relationships with my father. And the favored brother turned into a flaming malignant narcissist, worse then my father, from whom I am now completely detaching (at 62) after a final blow up.

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Betsy, detaching can be a very helpful and healthy coping step. I hope you will focus on yourself and healing your own CEN.

Carrie - March 15, 2020 Reply

Dr. Webb: I have been reading your articles for about a year and really appreciate your knowledge on this subject. I had never heard of CEN before and at the age of 58 I finally had a name for what happened to me.

I am the 4th child in a family of 9 children. My mom had her first child at 19 and the 9th child at the age of 30. My dad was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive to 5 of us. The first two and last two were never abused. They were his favorites. My mom did not abuse us but she allowed my dad to.

Of course I was afraid of my dad and couldn’t wait to leave home. I specifically remember at the age of 12 making a decision that I would never cry when he was hitting me or telling me I was stupid. And I never did again cry in front of him. 3 of my brothers affected by this are alcoholics and we have talked about what happened when we were growing up.

Then I married a narcissist. That marriage didn’t turn out too well.

I have gone to alot of counseling over the years which has helped but no one ever mentioned emotional neglect as a child. During my adult life I have never really allowed myself to get close to people and have always grappled with my self-worth.

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Carrie, I think you have a lot of potential to overcome this. I hope you will work hard on it and keep at it. It will pay off greatly.

Beverley - March 15, 2020 Reply

I found this very interesting as I have 3 sisters and we have all been affected in different ways. My youngest (the favourite) has some narc traits herself and is quite entitled. She doesn’t see me or my other sisters the way we are as adults and ascribes her negative emotions on to me. She however is the only one of us to have a ‘normal’ life ie a husband and child.
I have had the most normal life of the other 2 as I have always worked and been independent, had friends, bf’s etc. My other middle sister sees life as dangerous and black and her reality is skewriff just like my mothers was. She likes to be looked after and babied.
My eldest sister has suffered from huge anxiety all her life and has not worked for 40 years. She is agoraphobic and has severe health anxiety. I think as well as the CEN she is on the Asperger’s syndrome though she has never been diagnosed.
I have suffered from depression since childhood an am more highly sensitive. I have done a lot of work on myself over the years with much success. Thanks to you and discovering CEN I have made more strides. A heartfelt thanks to you Dr Webb

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Beverley, it sounds like you have thoughtfully considered each of your sisters’ challenges as well as your own. I’m so glad you’re making strides in your own life. That is awesome.

Lived Exp of DV & Homelessness - March 15, 2020 Reply

Dr. Webb, I am interested if you have found any correlates of CEN, specifically childhood obesity or intergenerational trauma? Also, when understanding sibling dynamics, have you heard of non-CEN siblings expressing resentment or indifference toward the CEN-sibling for struggling through life, for not achieving the markers of normal life such as college degree, marriage, having children,home ownership, financial success, etc.?
Thank you in advance!

    Jonice - March 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lived, CEN is a natural part of intergenerational trauma, yes. We do now know that obesity is highly genetically determined, although CEN can increase this challenge if food is used as a self-soother as well. And yes, I hear fairly frequently about siblings resenting the one sibling who struggles the most with CEN. That is a sad situation, as the sibs can’t see what the problem is.

Paula - March 15, 2020 Reply

Imagine a mother who is revered by my siblings and a husband whom they love unconditionally even though he is unable to relate emotionally due to his Aspergers issue. Leaving him meant also leaving my family as far as supporting their perspective. It has taken me four years of intense loneliness and isolation to find my way towards acceptance of their limitations. Everything has changed for me in a positive way as I have grown in understanding of childhood emotional neglect. I only recently let go of feeling defective because I couldn’t make these relationships work. I now know I wasn’t being fed and I was starving! As I understand my childhood and adulthood I do not challenge my truth and because I am seeing my experience through my own eyes I am actually beginning to experience some peace. Thank you Dr.Webb for your research it has and continues to help me enormously.

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Paula, I’m so glad you are able to hold your own truth solid and trust yourself. It’s not easy when you have a situation such as yours. Keep up the good work!

Rona - March 15, 2020 Reply

How do you get it so right doctor Jonice since I have read yo your book and comments on CEN I understand myself so much better and have found closure with my past . Being the second child of five children I was the scapegoat to a very narcissistic mother I only got away from her in my early twenties and it took me many years to admit that there was something terribly wrong with my upbringing you put a name to it and now I understand why I am the way I am at peace with myself thank you for giving this abuse a name you are spot on with all the symptoms

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Rona, I am so glad to have helped you figure this out. It’s a great start to giving yourself what you didn’t get as a child. All my best to you!

Carol - March 15, 2020 Reply

This is a very interesting subject which I have often wondered about. I am the oldest of 3, altho my siblings do not appear to have CEN. I am wondering if it’s because I was 5 1/2 before my sister was born BUT my sister and brother are only 18 mos apart, so they had each other. We had a very happy home but looking back none of us were every cuddled, hugged, told we were loved, or nurtured growing up. Nothing uncomfortable was ever discussed and nothing unpleasant or unhappy was ever addressed. Everything was swept under the emotional carpet. And I will say out of the 3 of us I am the one that is highly sensitive, feel like everything’s my fault, and crumble at the slighest criticism. It’s interesting to delve into this altho it does birng up some pretty unpleasant feelings. I love reading these articles.

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Carol, you describe a textbook example of the CEN family. I hope the understanding you’re evolving toward is also helping you to work at overcoming the effects of the emotional neglect you grew up with.

Cassandra - March 15, 2020 Reply

I always read your new posts with great interest; they have helped me so much. But my experience in this aspect is different than what you write here. My family isn’t interested in due to both birth order and sexism/gender issues. In addition, both of my parents were motivated by extreme and unidentified self-loathing. They hated themselves and therefore hated me for being similar to them (in terms of interests, looks, lifestyle, politics and values, etc). They could not relate to themselves and, by extension, me. Do you think this often plays a role in CEN families?

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Cassandra, this description of your parents’ self-hatred and projection onto you is not necessarily common among CEN families but it surely would be a definite cause of CEN. I’m sorry you have had to experience this.

Lori - March 15, 2020 Reply

My older brother hit the CEN wall much earlier than I. I always wondered why he was having such a hard time, why he couldn’t seem to “man” up. When I hit the wall it all became crystal clear. I called him crying and asked him why he didn’t tell me. Of course, he said he didn’t know if I had been affected the same way. We are now in this together. Our much younger sibling experienced a much different set of parents than us. She has difficulty relating to our experience.

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lori, that is an excellent description of what many CEN people experience in their families. I’m glad you and your brother are able to talk about it and help each other.

Christine - March 15, 2020 Reply

Thanks so much for this post. Another point I’d like to add to the HSP arena is those with CEN look into the possibility that they might have Asperberger’s Syndrome. I’m 52 and was recently diagnosed. I have one younger brother, and I’ve wondered a lot about why he never seemed to affected by CEN when I was great affected. Being diagnosed with Aperberger’s now makes everything make much more sense.
It’s not a common diagnosis, but having suffered from CEN all my life, I’d suggest it’s worth looking into a possible Asperberger’s diagnosis.
Thanks again for the great post.

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Christine, Aspergers is much different than CEN but they can certainly be confused with one another. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Marley - June 28, 2021 Reply

      CEN and Asperger’s can also co-occur, especially in a home where the parents do not know or care to learn how to parent somebody on the spectrum (this is my experience)

    ashley - March 16, 2020 Reply

    I have recently been diagnosed also. The specialist said that neurodivergent children are much more likely to experience neglect and abuse. I experienced CEN and emotional abuse. My siblings did not.

Diana - March 15, 2020 Reply

Thank you. I always enjoy your articles and this one was of special interest to me because I was number two in a family with six children.

    Jonice - March 15, 2020 Reply

    Understandable, Diana. Thanks for sharing!

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