How to Identify and Target Childhood Emotional Neglect With Adult Clients

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN):

A parent's failure to respond enough to the child's emotional needs.

Jonice Webb circle

I'm Dr. Jonice Webb,

Childhood Emotional Neglect is invisible, intangible, and unmemorable. It’s not something that a parent does to a child. Instead, it’s something that a parent fails to do for a child. Since it’s not an act, but a parent’s failure to act, it’s not noted or remembered by parent and child. Yet it has a profound effect on how that child will feel and function as an adult.

“Yes, that’s basic attachment theory,” you may be thinking. And I agree. Yet I have noticed a specific imprint that is left upon the child who grows up this way. A specific set of symptoms that are often the root cause of depression, anxiety and relationship problems.

I think that we therapists often end up fighting this invisible force in our offices. I’ve discovered that there is a particular treatment structure which targets this root cause.

The Symptoms of CEN

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    Poor emotional awareness and knowledge
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    A propensity toward shame
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    Feelings of emptiness
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    Problems with self-discipline
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    A deep-seated sense of being somehow different, or flawed
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    Self-directed anger
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    Secret suicidal ideation

Four years ago I wrote the first self-help book (with a chapter for therapists) specifically about childhood emotional neglect. I wrote the book to help people see, understand and recover from the impact of their CEN.

Since the release of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect in 2012, the response has been astounding. I have received thousands of messages from people all over the world asking me for Skype therapy, or for referral to a CEN specialist near them.

Running On Empty book
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In 2015 I created the first and only online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life.

The program uses a series of videos, an online support forum and Q&A Calls to walk participants step-by-step through the process of targeting not just their symptoms, but the source of those symptoms.

I designed the program to be a useful adjunct to therapy.

“This program opened my eyes to how much impact my CEN upbringing had on me. Everything I learned during this course, from Dr. Webb's videos, her homework, our Q & A calls, my self reflection, has initiated an underground explosion in me. But it's been of the best kind, for it enabled me to reorient my therapeutic goal - recovery from CEN. This is not a quick fix, but then again, CEN wasn't a quick experience. Together with therapeutic support following the course, I note measurable progress. My effort is more focused and finely tuned. I can't say enough how important this course has been to me. Thank you so much, Dr. Webb!”

“I very much like the Q&As and the forum. Hearing, over and over again, how my experience is echoed in the lives of people that are different from me, with different circumstances and aspects of CEN affecting them in different ways, yet feelings being similar, was of enormous help to me. I think the course content was well structured and selected. I think offering it in small bites, in a video format, was helpful. It was good to see Dr Webb's expressions as well as hear her voice. It made the whole thing more human, being an over-the-internet thing. I really like the forum. I have found it very beneficial to read the stories on there and am very grateful to the contributors for sharing. I personally did feel a huge shift during the course, one that I was ready to feel, but was not expecting, so the program exceeded my expectations.”

I hope you will find Fuel Up For Life helpful with your clients who:

  • Are long-term users of therapy who need a jump-start
  • Are stuck
  • Whose emotions are so repressed that you are struggling to help them
  • Are deeply uncomfortable with the dependency that’s built into their relationship with you
  • Struggle to express what is wrong for them
  • Have seen multiple therapists, and feel that none has addressed the real problem
  • Report a good childhood, and are baffled by their symptoms or their lack of happiness in life

To refer a client to the Fuel Up for Life program, have them sign up to take my CEN Questionnaire with this link:

They will learn more about CEN and how it has affected them. They will also receive my newsletter and be informed when the next Fuel Up Program begins.

Fuel Up For Life:

Four Steps To Recover From CEN

Module 1: Why You are Running on Empty

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This module helps a client become more fully aware of exactly how emotional neglect happened to her in childhood, and the particular imprint it left on her as an adult. Your client will understand that her issues are not her fault, and this will free her up to stop blaming herself, and attack the problem.

“I had so many pieces of my life that didn’t fit into my complete puzzle. Now they all fit. This program answered a lot of my inner questions.”

Module 2: Visualize Your Wall

Using a series of specially-designed visualization techniques, the client becomes aware of the wall that stands between himself and his emotions.

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“I feel like I've found answers after so many years of struggle.”

Module 3: Break Through Your Wall

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The client will learn special exercises to use to break through his wall and access the emotions and emotional needs he’s been pushing away throughout his life.

“You have peeled away all of the "shoulds" and "should-nots" in simple terms--a primer for way life should be. This is better than all of the myriad self-help books and therapy sessions I have experienced. The book is a great introduction, but the program is the game-changer. The modules allow for the concepts to settle and take root; the forum gives the compassionate support and encouragement necessary for turning yourself right-side-out.”

Module 4: Validate Yourself 3 Ways

In this module, the client will learn essential emotion skills he missed in childhood. He will learn how to begin to use his emotions to take up more space in the world. Speaking up, expressing preferences, putting himself first, and self-care will all be addressed.

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“The program really struck a chord with me and it felt like you were talking directly to me alone. I find tremendous value in the tools that help to validate my feelings, and learning how to say what I want in a more direct way. But of equal value, if not more value, was knowing WHY these feelings of not belonging or being ignored bothered me so. I have spent 55 years wondering why I would feel so hurt or depressed whenever I would open up to people, and they would either not respond or just make a small superficial response. Understanding WHY this feeling has repeated itself so many times throughout my life has been a huge epiphany, and I am eternally grateful to you for shining a light on that. Understanding the root is gold, and is doing so much to help me heal. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Module 4: Validate Yourself 3 Ways

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The client learns how to start taking small risks to begin to deepen his relationships. He’ll learn what to expect from those around him as he makes changes in himself. He will apply his newfound emotions and skills to his relationships.

To refer a client to the program, have them sign up to take my CEN Questionnaire with this link:

They will learn more about CEN and how it has affected them. They will also receive my newsletter and be informed when the next Fuel Up Program begins.