How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Adult Friendships

I have lots of acquaintances, but not enough close friends.

I’m always there for my friends when they need me, but then when I need them they seem to let me down.

My friendships seem to gradually drift apart.

I usually feel drained after spending time with my friends.

I feel like people take me for granted.

I have heard the statements above, in various forms and combinations, expressed by hundreds of people. Those people all share one primary trait. They all grew up in emotionally neglectful homes.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents do not notice or respond enough to your feelings as they raise you.

CEN happens under the radar in many, many otherwise loving families. It also happens in obvious ways in many dysfunctional families, but since it’s subtle and essentially a “failure to act,” it usually gets upstaged by the more apparent dysfunctional events and actions in those families.

The result? We have legions of people walking through their lives being good friends to others while deeply mystified about why their friendship is not returned in kind.

How Growing Up With CEN Affects Your Friendships Now

As a child, day after day you received a subtle message from your parents: your feelings don’t matter.

Growing up with the most important people in your life (your family) ignoring or squelching the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are (your emotions), you have no choice but to adapt.

As a child, your brain walled off your feelings to “protect” you and your parents from them. This childhood coping mechanism, which was remarkably adaptive at the time, set up a cascade of future struggles for you.

That childhood wall is still there now. But instead of protecting you, it is isolating you. It is blocking off the one ingredient most vital to having rich, mutually rewarding friendships. Yes, it’s your feelings.

Contrary to those CEN messages from your parents, your feelings are not your enemies. They are, in fact, your best friends. They will connect, enrich and deepen your friendships if only you begin to allow it to happen.

The 3 Most Impactful Effects of CEN On Your Friendships

  • Along with undervaluing your feelings comes undervaluing yourself. You are giving too much, and asking for too little. This makes your friendships weighted in the favor of the other person.
  • Your lack of access to your own emotions makes you seem somehow unknowable to others. Your friends can’t connect with the deepest, most authentic part of you: your feelings.
  • You didn’t get to learn some vital emotion skills in your childhood that your parents should have been teaching you. This makes it hard to accurately interpret and respond to your own and your friends’ feelings, behaviors, and needs.

These 3 challenges may seem insurmountable as you read them, but I assure you they are not. I have seen many CEN people change their friendships from sparse and anemic to rich and rewarding.

And if they can do it, you can do it too!

3 Ways to Improve Your Friendships

3 Ways to Improve Your Friendships

  1. Force yourself to take up more space with your friends. Start by assessing each friendship for the amount of time you talk when you’re together vs. the amount they talk. Are you sharing enough? Start talking more until it’s 50/50.
  2. Focus on using the words “I feel,” “I want,” and “I think” at least once per day each. Using these words forces you to assert yourself in a way that you probably do not do naturally.
  3. Feel. This one may seem to be the least direct solution, but it is actually the most effective one overall. It involves beginning the first step of healing the effects of the Emotional Neglect you grew up with. It’s the simplest, yet most powerful thing you can do for your friendships. Begin to pay attention to your own feelings. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Download the free Feelings Sheet from my website here: http://drjonicewebb.com/the-book/.

Step 2: Choose a time of day when you reliably have a few minutes alone; for example in the morning right before you go to work or school; on your drive home in the afternoon; or right before you go to bed in the evening. Commit to doing the following exercise every single day at that time.

Step 3: At the designated time every day, while alone, sit comfortably and close your eyes if you can. Turn your attention inward and ask yourself what you are feeling. If you come up with anything, write down the word for the feeling(s) on your sheet. If you’re not feeling anything, write that down too.

The Takeaway

These 3 ways and 3 steps are all so very important. They will help you not only with your friendships, but they will also help you in so many other ways too. When you treat yourself as if you matter you begin to feel as if you matter.

Now here is a key point. The way you feel about yourself and treat yourself shows. Other people will start to see and feel that you are a person who matters. They will naturally treat you differently.

You will begin to draw people closer. You will realize that you are talking about substantial things that previously you would have avoided. You will find yourself getting what you want and need far more often. Gradually, you will notice that you are energized by your friendships, and supported by them.

By doing the direct opposite of those emotionally neglectful messages from your childhood, you may be surprised how very different you feel.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how to repair Emotional Neglect with your partner, your parents, and your children, see the new book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Christine - March 5, 2021 Reply

I was nearly brought to tears reading this article as I relate to it on every level. With the exception of my relationship with my husband (very thankfully so!), I have repeatedly experienced all of those opening points listed with every friendship and relationship I’ve ever had in my 40 years. Even my relationship with my current and very loved best friend of 10 years (longest friendship to date and it’s long-distance!) I find myself feeling these things and it is incredibly disheartening and makes me feel a loneliness that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I have put so much faith in my relationship with best friend – that she’s the one who truly “gets me” and that she is loyal to the core with me, but I still end up feeling let down, like I’m the one who has to maintain the relationship at times (ie, if I don’t make the call, send the text/email, she at times probably won’t). For 10 years we’ve communicated daily and then weekly, and now I haven’t heard from her in a month and I just am feeling like I don’t want to have to be the one to send a text saying ”long time no hear…what’s up?”. Am I not important enough for her to reach out to me or do I always have to be the one to keep the lines of communication going? I realize I may sound a bit needy here, but I am the least needy person in terms of friendships, and often end relationships when I feel the other person is being too needy. Needless to say, I will definitely be ordering your book. I’ve known for awhile I was emotionally neglected along with physical and mental abuse by my parents – but I’m still learning as to how my upbringing currently is and has affected my life, and I’d love to learn more about how to correct and deal with these issues. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Hope - March 2, 2021 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,

Thank you so much for your work!!!. I feel so uplifted with only the simple recognition of what has been mysteriously missing! In one instant I suddenly feel like a whole person even though I’m still hurting the same. The tears are still flowing yet now they are tears of healing. I suddenly know deep down inside without any doubts that I can find the healing I have been searching for my whole life.

Your ability to directly define and address this concept as a whole is groundbreaking! Also, your encouraging and constructive feedback is very helpful to read for those of us that have very little of that available “IRL” (lol). It’s amazing how the smallest encouragement is so impactful. And thank you to all the other commenters who are sharing their stories. It’s an immense blessing to realize that I’m never alone in this journey, even if it feels that way in the moment.

You and your family, as well as the others in distant places who are going through this journey as well, you are always in my heart and prayers!
-Hope

Christina - March 1, 2021 Reply

I can identify with CEN. I observe so many who experience CEN have parents from the so-called ‘silent-generation’. I have often wondered about this. My father (aged 93) also holds steadfast on the Dale Carnegie principle of ‘do not criticize, condemn or complain’ but i feel this taken to the extreme of not talking things out in a mature way expressing feelings in an assertive way.
I have people say but my parents religious and spent lots of times praying for us (me). This had me wonder if they can pray in silence but not talk or show emotions, is prayer a silent way they do in fact care emotionally?

    Jonice - March 2, 2021 Reply

    Praying can be a way to express care, yes. It’s a way to offer support that doesn’t involve direct discussion of anything challenging or potentially painful or conflictual. It sounds like you have figured out what’s missing from your family. Now you can turn your attention toward providing it for yourself. You deserve it.

    Spinster - March 2, 2021 Reply

    “I observe so many who experience CEN have parents from the so-called ‘silent-generation’.”

    I see the same with Baby Boomers. Then again, they clearly got it from the Silent folks…

Matti - March 1, 2021 Reply

I can relate to many of the comments here from those who are saying that they do try to open up and share feelings, and do ask for help from friends or family. I have always been fiercely independent and a giver so my friendships have always been a bit one sided. It never bothered me until I noticed that if I ask for even the smallest favor or support, I don’t get what I would expect on even the most basic level. Because of this and regularly being taken advantage of I have ended almost every friendship I have ever had. Maybe I’m just picking the wrong friends, although all of them seemed to be able to help others in need so why not me? My 2nd ex husband once told me that he thought I was such a strong person and that I didn’t need support in certain situations and even when I tried to tell him otherwise, it never changed. So he would routinely step on my feelings, which I made 100% crystal clear, in order to spare someone else’s. I’ve always felt like I was everyone’s second choice but have always just pushed through and believed in myself no matter what. I was very accomplished in sports as a child and while not academically inclined (due to the clics and bullying generally) I have a good career and am doing well financially. I’m an extroverted introvert and do well one on one but feel extremely uncomfortable at large social gatherings. I spend a LOT of time by myself and I’m just fine with that. I’m curious if most people with CEN are also somewhat introverted. It didn’t help that my father was military and we were told at an early age that children are to be seen and not heard, and not to speak to adults unless spoken to, which I think I took a little too literally even into adulthood. I’m also adopted so that adds a whole other set of invisible issues to the mix. When I tried to reach out to my sister in law several years ago, who is a trained social worker, about my issues with friendships she just told me I needed to seek counseling. So I don’t ask her any of the tough questions anymore. And when I reached out here a while back and mentioned, among other things, that I ended all my friendships because of being used, etc., I was also told that I needed to seek counseling, but nothing else. So even when I do try to reach out, to anyone, it seems I can’t find basic words of support. Story of my life. Maybe it is time to seek counseling and hope that someone will actually hear me.

    Janelle - July 18, 2021 Reply

    Matti,

    My story is very similar to yours. I found Dr. Jonice about a month before I connected with a counselor, who just happened to be well-versed in CEN. Dr. Jonice’s first book coupled with another book, “Winning the War in Your Mind: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life” by Craig Groeschel to be just what I needed. The latter is faith-based, but the principals he teaches work because they’re born from experience that will work for anyone. (He donates all the income from that book.)

    Look for a counselor well-versed in CEN who lives near you or will Zoom. Externalizing your lifelong struggles, even if it’s every other week, will help you process them and leave them behind to help you see your path forward. What you discover from it fills the deep ruts in the path you’ve walked too long! Then, you can view yourself, the world, and where you’re going more clearly. It’s not easy, but worth the journey. I have hope you’ll get there!

    Warm regards,
    Janelle

Kris - March 1, 2021 Reply

Fantastic article. Explains and details how to help oneself. As always Jonice, you are the bomb! I can’t change what happened to me but with help, I can change my future. People harm us, people heal us.

    Jonice - March 2, 2021 Reply

    Yes. Well said, Kris.

NancyAnne - March 1, 2021 Reply

My friends talk 80% of the time, and I squeak in a few words here and there. I find this exhausting due to CEN plus other physical issues. I don’t want to lose these friends, but I need to learn boundaries for myself, without them feeling I am unavailable and cutting them off. It’s a rock and a hard place. Thanks for all your wonderful help.

    Jonice - March 2, 2021 Reply

    Practice speaking up, trying it different ways. You can even tell your friends you are working at speaking up more and talking more, if you think certain ones might understand and be supportive.

Linda - March 1, 2021 Reply

The fact is, I’m simply not LIKE anyone else. Nobody else I know has read 10,000 books on growing up with a parent with BPD … and codependency … and relationships … and childhood emotional neglect. Nobody else is trying to be a writer. My life sort of focuses on these things, and it’s too weird to talk about them when everybody else is going on about what they did this weekend.

My late husband was a novelist and we mainly hung out together because we were both writing like fools and nobody else really understood. Now he is gone and I am alone. Even in writer’s groups, those things tend to be mostly superficial; or if they’re not, it’s like what you wrote above. The other person talks more; or, in this era of Trump, I’m so repulsed by their politics or how they think about other people … I just don’t want to be around them anymore.

My whole life has been a big, long lesson in how not to be childishly dependent on other people and having relationships, how to grow up, how to be alone. I don’t think there ARE other people in the world for me. It’s a little daunting to be a fat old woman at 52 and know you will be facing aging, feebleness, deterioration, and your final illness alone … but you know, this is America these days. Nobody seems to give a shit about anyone else anyway unless they’re prominent, “successful,” and they’ve got money.

I’ve had to understand I’m not a good enough writer for that to ever happen to me. I’m going to be working the day job til I drop dead, and … you guessed it … I chose it to please parents and family. It’s not really me.

Oh, well. It is what it is. I’ve learned a lot this year about abandoning the impossible fantasies we create as children about having our “needs” met, and just getting along the way the world is.

    Jonice - March 1, 2021 Reply

    Dear Linda, I’m so sorry you lost your husband. It sounds to me like you are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in how you’re thinking about friendships. you sound like a thoughtful, contemplative person who would make a great friend for others like you. You just need to find your people. And there are many good people out there for you. Do not give up.

Sue - March 1, 2021 Reply

I have one close friend who has moved away from me physically. I just have never maintained close friendships. When circumstances change I simply drift away. Or they do… I always think it is that they don’t like me ‘enough’ or value my friendship. But this doesn’t bother me now. Hasn’t really ever bothered me. I prefer to be alone more and more. Plus I knowI talk too much which I am sure turns people away from me..

    Jonice - March 1, 2021 Reply

    Your relationships are definitely worth fighting for. If you know that talking too much (i.e., blocking people with a wall of words) is a problem, you can make a decision to work on talking less. I encourage you to consider this.

Walter - March 1, 2021 Reply

Wow! I definitely have trouble with close relationships of any type due to not showing my feelings, in fact, I’ve just became a logical person only and have almost abandoned feelings entirely. I feel like an imposter when talking about my feeling. It’s so foreign and uncomfortable that I would rather just do without them. I know they are important for building lasting relationships, but I can’t get myself to make having feelings a welcomed and normal thing. How do I get myself to actually like having feelings again, cause right now I just don’t like them?

    Jonice - March 1, 2021 Reply

    You are asking what is the process of healing CEN. There is a lot of information about that on this website and in my two books. I encourage you to start learning all about it.

Carl - March 1, 2021 Reply

Thanks for what express on this topic so uniquely. Hey I wanted to ask a question on CEN that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere in psychology: What might be the affect of family order or size on CEN?

I grew up in a family of 8. I was 2nd to youngest. Sometimes I think I experienced CEN uniquely worse than my older siblings. In a way, I had to witness, almost experience, what my older siblings went through with CEN, in addition to my own CEN load.

Does this make sense? What might it mean for how I work through this?

    Jonice - March 1, 2021 Reply

    It makes perfect sense. Birth order, number of siblings, and personality match with the parents can all have a profound effect on how CEN plays out with different siblings in the same family.

Stephen - March 1, 2021 Reply

This all rings eerily true in my experience… I am frequently told by my friends I don’t reach out enough and am rarely vulnerable. Deep down I don’t value myself so I figure people are bothered by me – even though I know rationally that isn’t true! So I overcompensate to make myself valuable by giving everything I can to my friends. By being a good listener, helping them make food, construction projects, computer help, and ironically a lot of my friends come to me like I am some life guru who has things ‘figured out’. I 100% built walls around myself as a kid. I remember having my emotions neglected and hurt often and each time thicker scar tissue grew around my heart. I would sit on my bed meditating on how to never let anyone affect me ever again. When I tried to show people vulnerabilities I could have salt thrown in my wounds so I chose to not be vulnerable to my parents or anyone else. I would practice an icy blank stare and flat affect and I would answer everything with as few words as possible. This unfortunately had the opposite affect on kids at school, they would mock me for being ‘dead inside’ and bully me to get a reaction. But having high affect control doesn’t mean you have life figured out… Then this made it even harder to be vulnerable because it was like I was living under a magnifying glass. I was rarely vulnerable, so when I was, it was a BIG DEAL. Narcists and emotionally needy people are drawn to me because I always put them first and that makes me not want to interact with people in general. Ugh this is all such a vicious cycle…

    Jonice - March 1, 2021 Reply

    Dear Stephen, it’s only a vicious cycle until you purposely decide to stop it. Learn everything you can about CEN and how to heal it and then get on the path to change.

      Stephen - March 1, 2021 Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to so many comments! I have been reading your material and it is very helpful.

    Matti - March 1, 2021 Reply

    I hear you Stephen. Lot of similarities here. Especially attracting narcissists and the emotionally needy. I’m SO over it.

Ali - February 28, 2021 Reply

I’m seen as the strong one by my family and close friends, the one that can cope with stuff, the one that doesn’t need help when life is tough.

I worked out a few years ago this might be because of my CEN that I had always had to appear like this so I didn’t “ask for too much” emotionally and also because well if no one notices you anyway then what’s the point in showing your vulnerability if it’s ignored anyway.

So I started trying to be more vulnerable and honest about how I feel. To say I’m struggling etc
But it’s made no difference, ok I expect my family to maintain that label if “the string one” as it means they don’t need to care, but even my good friends, who reach out to others when they need it don’t reach out to me.

They’ve even said how they see me as strong even tho I’ve talked about feeling incredibly anxious many times and my own self doubt and confidence.

I feel I’ve become labelled in the past and I can’t lose it. I don’t feel I can be more open because I’ve been really honest and taken lots of risks already in doing so.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Ali, good for you for taking the chance to do things differently! That’s wonderful. When we make fundamental changes in ourselves, as you are doing, it does often take some time for others to catch up. I encourage you to continue being more open and vulnerable, and maybe even mention to some trusted people that you are working on changing. Give the people in your life some time to notice and see that you are different.

      Diana - March 1, 2021 Reply

      Hi Ali,
      I know how you feel. The same thing happens to me. I have tried to communicate my anxiety, lack of confidence, doubts, but for some reason they still do not resonate well with what I tell them. They still see and label me as “the one with no real problem” or even if I do, “the one who can take care of it well.” So I feel like I always be there for these people, yet they are not for me. All I want is just to be heard and trusted.

        Ali - March 2, 2021 Reply

        Hi Diana
        Thank you for sharing, there are some real similarities here. Maybe other people will take time to catch up but I’m also trying to work on how much I give to others. Sometimes saying “I can’t help you this weekend as I’ve been busy and I’m tired, I need to recharge myself”.

        They don’t like it at first but sometimes will change their idea you’re not always available even if they don’t accept you have needs and are vulnerable/not strong at times x

    perra - March 1, 2021 Reply

    Hi Ali, I hear you, I’m in the same position. Its tough cos when you’re seen as the ‘strong’ one you just can’t afford to break.
    I’m struggling too, and showing my vulnerabilities to others hasn’t automatically worked wonders: I’ve found people back off once their idealised version of me was showing cracks.
    (Don’t know how that can be remedied but just wanted you to know you’re not alone.)

      Ali - March 2, 2021 Reply

      Thank you for sharing this Perra, it’s really tough when others choose to stick to a label rather than the person stood in front of them. It’s helpful to know that I’m not alone and I hope we all make progress on this journey x

GOWR - February 28, 2021 Reply

Family & Friendships : While young , the middle years and into our adult years we are different .

And we are different as we are always running on empty usually not for the self but for others constant pulling our udders dry to mastitis & sickness . We are used up always on call . And we get sick & tired in so many ways we do not know who we are . And then we must stop and look in the mirror upon reflection who am I now?

So people seem to get use to only seeing us in one dark light of being ran to run for them and not the prism of the beautiful colours we want to be seen as running on full for the self first because we may choose to do so and not be chosen by others to do their running . A big No!

Remember you own you . It is then our choice the speed we run not ran to function in healthy prosperous and profitable ways .

And as we have chosen to run on full and now know when to pull over to refill so the tanks never goes completely empty again sends a clear message to others I am here yes but not to run for you, only to assist in any way if I can. Cheerio.

At some point we must acknowledge I am who I am and am valuable to my self first . And I do not deserve to myself to have others run me as ran out on empty .

It may only be a first step to admit to one’s self how empty we have run ourselves out . And ask : What’s in your tank?

And then even by taking the first step on full recharging our batteries we realize we can go to live another day energized and return to our place saying my this feels good to be full of myself as a little humour never hurts the self to laugh at one’s self to start one’s motor the next day fully
charged .

The concern is always in that many know and knew us as ran out runners and are the people who continuously run us on empty until we are run out until we say that’s it and retrain them responsibly it is not who we are now.

Sometimes we must say stop for the self and find new roads that have filling stations along the way so we can refill in peace and go on .

Is it easy no? And until the self lays out one’s boundaries for the self first and the rules of engagement with others and learning, saying “No” is okay then it becomes the most beautiful musical word in the world because well your energy gauge remains on full charge and life seems to have more beautiful colours of the prism we all need to see because we run for the self now not to be outrun by others .

And we look forward to the next day no matter what is in front of us because we left our yesterdays behind to run our another day.

Joan - February 28, 2021 Reply

There is no free feelings sheet….it is just a link to your website. That website has a “questionnaire” page however it requires personal information to access it. Please post the FREE FEELINGS SHEET noted in the article. Thank you

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Joan, just scroll down that page and you’ll see a link to download the Change Sheets. The Feelings Sheet is one of them. Easy and free. Sorry I didn’t explain that better in the article.

Richard - February 28, 2021 Reply

You can have false starts with trying to talk about your feelings. I once went to a group in a psychiatric hospital I had been to designed to support people who had left it. After saying I felt very stressed I was bullied by one man – even to the point of him imitating me. The other people did nothing. I realise now it was a great mistake to join a group which did not have a trained psychiatrist or psychologist as a neutral adjudicator to make sure this sort of thing does not happen. I would urge people to be careful about this. Good groups have good strict and healthy boundaries. But being then passive I left the group without saying anything. I also later on had the experience of having an office meal and having to listen to a woman I loved (she did not know it) talk to her long term partner on the phone and then wait outside for him to pick her up. I didn’t want to interfere in the relationship as I knew the woman I loved was close to her partner and perfectly happy with him. A “friend” asked me later why I looked so upset and depressed. I told her how I felt and why (and wouldn’t have done unless she asked) and she told me I was behaving like a ten year old. This to me is confused behaviour as well as abusive. We have a right to our feelings for people and to love who we choose – what we don’t have a right to is to behave towards them as we choose. Although I was in love with this person my behaviour towards her was really respectful – infact without knowing how I felt she said I always behaved “like an absolute gentleman” to someone. Therefore I think ultimately it is behaviour that can be immature rather than feelings. After the confused and abusive remarks of my “friend” and other similar behaviour I terminated the relationship with her (the “friend”) and I don’t regret it. As it is I have many other friends and aquaintances in my life both men and women. However even with the friends I will have to call them or email them several times before they ring me and I make sure I sound upbeat on the phone and not emotionally draining (I know what a turn off this can be). In the light of COVID though I have decided that I will make more new friends by shaking things up in terms of my social life. I will not be defeated and I will try and make sure these new relationships are healthy 50/50 relationships and I don’t simply spend a lot of time just listening to the other person and all their problems (this pattern even happened with the “friend” that I later walked away from. I spent ages listening to her relationship issues and did not judge.) It is scary to stop just being the agony uncle for so many people but I will do it. Thank you Jonice for your extremely super article which has spurred me on.

Sarah - February 28, 2021 Reply

Hello. I’ve read your books and gone to therapy and have been working really hard to change things for several years. I’m very happy with how things are progressing after a couple years of despondency and self-hatred after I first read your books. So, thank you so much for the change you facilitated in me with your books. An interesting, recent turn of events: there is someone I was ‘close to’ prior to me learning about CEN. We understood each other so well. We both had pretty abusive and highly neglectful childhoods (we knew each other as children, too). Turns out, we both had the same, unhealthy relational ‘skills.’ I think we felt ‘close’ bc we never talked about feelings and just about ideas and academic things and never asked for more from one another, which felt very safe and comfortable (when we were little, we had the same imagination and active playing styles). All this to say: we have a long, shared history and I know she refers to me as the closest person in the world to her. I gave her your books for Christmas. Since then, I find it REALLY hard to be around her and have even found myself wanting to end the relationship. I hate how she talks to her family, including her children. She never listens. She scoffs when people share their feelings or frustrations with her. Sometimes I want to shake her! I assume the reason this suddenly bothers me so greatly is bc I’m not willing to be that clueless, closed-off person anymore, and seeing her is a cruel reminder of how I made my husband feel for over a decade. Is there room, or is it healthy, to continue a relationship with someone deeply and resolvedly entrenched in the things I desperately want to leave behind? The other part of me is also alarmed by my new feelings toward her bc cutting someone off entirely is quintessential CEN behavior…

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sarah, perhaps you don’t need to cut her off. Maybe you can shift how you view your friendship instead. Consider the value she brings to your life, and view her as a reminder of where you’ve been. You should be so proud of yourself for the changes you have made.

      Sarah - March 1, 2021 Reply

      That’s a good perspective, and something I’ve been telling myself the last couple of weeks. I knew having such strong, definitive feelings about wanting to cut ties and the way I viewed her/judged her suddenly being so different after a lifetime of knowing her couldn’t be right (the strong, overreaction when we finally let ourselves face a feeling), but also wondered if maybe I’d start spiraling if I did keep contact. It would have been easier to cut off, so that also made me think it probably wasn’t the right thing since it wasn’t actually an abusive relationship that would have automatically merited that action. Hearing an expert say it, though, is easier to trust in this case; so I thank you again for your insight and taking the time to respond.

Candace - February 28, 2021 Reply

Thank you for your work. You have blessed my life.

Elanor - February 28, 2021 Reply

I found that when I was less aware of my feelings I was a giver in friendships so people who were takers were naturally attracted to me. Finding my feelings, recognizing them, making sure my needs were met, did bring better people into my life.

Evan - February 28, 2021 Reply

Tried this, didn’t work. Being more honest with my emotions (such as talking about my major depression and anxiety) has caused an even greater disconnect with friends and family. I found that I am avoided more often now, because I somehow surrounded myself with emotionally neglectful friends as well.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Evan, it is important to think about who you are talking with and what they are capable of. Talking about depression with someone who is not psychologically minded might actually lead to feelings of disappointment or hurt. Good for you for trying! Just keep working at it, and you’ll gradually get better at sharing the right amount with the right people.

      Stephen - March 2, 2021 Reply

      I like that phrase, “not psychologically minded”. I know people who flat out deny mental health exists and criticize others for seeking help. It’s like some major level of denial. I also think working on yourself causes others to reflect on themselves and they might not like what they see. So they can double down and try to break your will for self improvement. This is where the damage of growing up with CEN really shows, it is so internalized within myself to help/make everyone feel better that I will stint my own growth because my empathy is so strong that it hurts to grow because I am leaving people behind and I see their hurt as well.

LAS - February 28, 2021 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,

Please, more of this! Such an excellent article. Sometimes CEN causes us to carry people along with us that we would be better to have let go along time ago. Thank you!

Regards,

LAS

Erin - February 28, 2021 Reply

I can relate to this. But I think more along the lines of, I often don’t ‘feel’ like an adult even though I’m 42 and have two kids and own a home etc. I always feel like a kid when interacting with other adults and have a hard time connecting with them as an equal/friend. It’s hard to explain.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Erin, perhaps you are treating yourself as a child. Do you pay attention to your own feelings and treat them as something worth noticing and expressing? Something to think about.

Jill - February 28, 2021 Reply

Hi, I have been suffering from being excluded and bullied by my siblings for years now and so much so I have developed PTSD. I avoid them if at all possible these days to protect myself. However, very recently one of my siblings has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I am feeling very unemotional about this but can see my presence may be required soon. I am a bit stuck about whether to follow similar advice to yours above or get sucked back in to an unhealthy dynamic. What would you advise, please.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Jill, please know that you are not responsible to anyone who has bullied and excluded you. I suggest you do whatever works best for you. Your primary responsibility is to protect and care for yourself.

      Jill - March 1, 2021 Reply

      Thank you, Jonice, for taking the time to reply. Also for your advice which I shall try to follow. I shall try to ignore the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ in my head and stop people pleasing. You are right, I am only responsible for my own actions and feelings.

Beverly - February 28, 2021 Reply

And with that whole CEN effect , it’s compounded when I tend to pick friends who have experienced CEN and don’t realize it. And then after years of what I thought was a close great friendship, they disappear or build a deep chasm and we aren’t close. I’m left dealing w feeling abandoned again and working through it again.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Beverly, maybe you can start paying attention to people’s level of emotional connection as you get to know them. That way, you can put more effort into people who are capable of deep and lasting relationships.

Vicky - February 28, 2021 Reply

Great article Jonice, thank you. Your work has helped me understand how much CEN has impacted me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationship with my mother, but your article on friendship really resonates. I’ve always felt a bit of a loner and somewhat disconnected from the few friends I do have. I’ve also tended to hide away when I’m feeling down, on the basis I don’t feel acceptable for company i suppose. I’ve worked hard on being more open with my feelings and that is deepening the friendships I do have. I still feel a bit lonely and that’d like more quality friendships. CEN and my social anxiety make it challenging, but your work inspires me to keep going.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Vicky, thank you for taking my work and running with it. Clearly, you are doing things right. Keep on going, and the deeper friendships you are looking for will happen.

Rich - February 28, 2021 Reply

I’m often aloof from my friends, not contacting them for weeks and months on end. I’ve been told more than once that I am “unavaliable.” I think this is another way to deal with friends and feelings– keep them all at bay.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Rich, yes, that is a typical outcome of Childhood Emotional Neglect. I do hope you will start addressing the problem by connecting with your own feelings, paying more attention to yourself, and learning the feeling skills. You will notice the difference and so will the people in your life.

Lynns - July 26, 2018 Reply

My friends definately have issues. It’s looking like 2 or 3 are depressed as well as other issues.
Because my friends have issues, I’m feeling like I am emotionally not where I need to be.
Hope this makes sense!

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 27, 2018 Reply

    Dear Lynns, it does make sense. We can all be greatly affected by our friends! I hope you will think about building up your boundaries as a solution.

mynamedoesntmatteranyways - July 25, 2018 Reply

“The way you feel about yourself and treat yourself shows. Other people will start to see and feel that you are a person who matters. They will naturally treat you differently.”

what if people already ignore you and don’t see the changes you make? What if you already feel neglected and shunned by everyone; that no one sees when you feel good?

I’ve struggled with this for too many years; and until this article I didn’t have an understanding why…. but now I’ve spent most of my life building walls; that no one notices when i open a window and try to get out or let people in. I’m so re-closed that taking myself to a therapist or counselor ALONE is impossible for me now… because I feel so deeply that no one really cares or listens.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 25, 2018 Reply

    I am so sorry that you’ve been living this way. You are the only one who can turn this around. I hope you will take a risk and take the chance of opening yourself up, even just a little, to a carefully chosen person, hopefully a trained therapist. Sending you all my best wishes.

      mynamedoesntmatteranyways - July 25, 2018 Reply

      Why does everyone tell me that I have to do this alone; but not understand how difficult that is for me? I think my situation is more unique because of my rare life difficulties. I’m sure I’d make a good study case if I was important enough. I identify with everything you’ve said; but I’m also a surviving twin. I never knew my twin even though we were both born. He died a few months later. I’m rambling. I’m sorry. Thank you. I don’t think I have any hope anyways.

Bill - July 25, 2018 Reply

I call this The Law of Isolation. I’ve found that it applies in even the most life changing circumstances.

For example, 9 years ago I was told I had a form of chronic leukemia. I informed my boss of what was happening as I had to have a tests to determine the nature of the cancer which meant taking some sick leave. During the week between being told I had a malignancy and getting the actual diagnosis, I had several discussions with him (initiated by myself) on the matter as I was stressed out of my brain and thought I needed someone to talk to (nobody else cares so I chose him). When I returned to work after the diagnosis he asked once what the diagnosis was and never raised the subject again. He showed no concern when I was suffering from insomnia for months after the diagnosis. He never asked me once how I was feeling or if he could do anything to help. It was as if nothing had ever happened. I should also point out that I was seated right next to him and he was widely liked within the team.

I’ve told several others and they all behaved in a similar manner. With the benefit of hindsight, I should’ve kept the entire thing to myself. Anyway, I’ve found that sharing my problems is of little personal assistance. It doesn’t change the facts of the situation and people’s sympathy/empathy runs of me like water of a duck’s back. I think I might be immune to kindness.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 25, 2018 Reply

    Dear Bill, I encourage you to talk with a therapist about this. Something is going wrong for you somewhere, I agree! Choosing the right people and cultivating relationships with them is the best way to ensure that we’ll have someone in our corner when we need them. And growing up in an emotionally neglectful household can make it very difficult to learn how to start and nurture genuine support systems in your life. I hope you’ll check the “Find A CEN Therapist Page” on my website and contact a therapist near you. Sending you my best wishes.

Peter - July 23, 2018 Reply

Dear Jonice,

I read your books and found many answers. Thank you very much. But not all answers. How does CEN apply to immigrants? In their case CEN may be due to difficulties in adjusting to life in a new country. They may accept CEN as the price to pay and be grateful for being able to immigrate. Does CEN apply only to people who solved their other problems?

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 23, 2018 Reply

    Hi Peter, CEN happens for different reasons in different cultures and populations of people. It cannot be boiled down to any one group or type. CEN does not only apply to people who’ve solved their other problems! It can, however, be covered by other more obvious or visible or tangible problems, making it hard to see. Sometimes I talk about it in its purest form because that makes it easier for people to see and understand it. Hope that answers your question.

Jane - July 22, 2018 Reply

The article makes a lot of assumptions. It also blames the individual for their needs not being met. Not every child that grows up emotionally neglected builds walls around themselves and/or undervalues themselves. In fact, being emotionally neglected can make you more aware of your value, what you really deserve and the need to be open to people. Sometimes despite our best efforts to connect we just do not have the right people around to connect with. I understand this popular blaming the victim culture is a way that they can feel like they have control over their circumstances; if they just did the right thing and acted in the right way then surely positive friendship would come their way. Sadly, this is not how reality works. Sometimes the cards you are dealt are bad parents as well as bad friends.

Additionally, we are living in an age of digital connection where likes and generic comments on someone’s social media constitute a friendship and it focuses us on ourselves sharing your thoughts, your pictures, your goings rather than connection with others. It’s hard enough in this climate for people without as much emotional baggage to connect, let alone people who really need meaningful connections with quality people.

Telling people who are already in emotional distress that if they just got “healthy” they would attract the right people is false science and downright cruel. It assumes they aren’t already healthy or doing right things and sets them up for failure and disappointment. There is no guarantee you will have the right people to connect with regardless of your emotional health or attitude. Perhaps a better use of time would be helping people in these situations connect and cope with living without being able to have their needs fulfilled.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Dear Jane, there is nothing in my article about blame. It’s about understanding what went wrong so that we can fix it. Yes, the digital age is a problem, I agree! And it is hard to meet people in person in today’s world, yes for sure. But if you read my article again you will see that I’m encouraging people who were ignored as children to stop ignoring themselves further by over-focusing on others. I have seen, time and time again, that the path to healthy relationships involves giving ourselves what we missed in childhood. There is no blame or shame. It’s all about working ourselves toward the solution. Thank you for your comment.

      Jane - July 22, 2018 Reply

      The blame is implied. You are making an assumption that just because someone was emotionally neglected that they overlook themselves and need to “fix” something.

        Jonice Webb PhD - July 23, 2018 Reply

        What you are calling an assumption is just the way human psychology works. Blame is not involved.

    Linda - March 1, 2021 Reply

    Yeah. I get it. It just doesn’t seem like there are people around me I would resonate with. Being in a career that isn’t quite the right fit, with a lot of people who are either twenty years younger or in a totally different place in their lives doesn’t help.

    I have been through a LOT of pain the last seven years with my husband dying, caretaking elderly, dying relatives, and having my heart broken. There really isn’t anybody around I can share with, because it would be too much of that and not enough of whatever it is normal people talk about. I don’t even know anymore!

    I’ve begun to realize that life does not pony up with what we believe we “need.” A lot of the things I thought I needed were things a six year old came up with to meet a six year old’s developmental needs and were totally unrealistic and needed to be given up. I’ve had to grow up enough to learn how to live without those things. So it is with having friendships and emotionally close people. I’ve only had a few of these in my life and pretty sure those days are over.

    It’s nice to believe if we only did this and that, then the world would open up and shower us with having our needs met, but look around. There are a lot of hurting people and the fact is that we’re all going to find ourselves alone and dependent on only ourselves at some point in life … especially the older we get. Being able to do that and adapt to our circumstances without falling apart over them the way I did for seven years is part of being an adult and not a child.

Anita M - July 22, 2018 Reply

The problem for me, I think, is that I tend to choose people who aren’t the healthiest emotionally, and are often not emotionally available. How do you find and attract emotionally healthy people that are looking for friendship at my age? Most of the women I know are busy, busy, busy—with family and kids and even grandkids. I’m not the slightest bit interested in an intimate (dating) relationship with anyone, but companionship at times would be nice–someone to share my day, plan trips, go shopping with….it’s not easy.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Dear Anita, that’s a great question! The healthier you get yourself emotionally, and the emotionally available you become, the healthier people you will attract and keep as friends. So the best way to build the best friendships is, surprisingly, to focus on yourself first.

    Sue F - July 22, 2018 Reply

    For me it was joining a club. I’d always wanted to learn to play lawn bowls so I took off by myself and got some coaching. I was welcomed by all the club members. Then my husband joined. That was 3 years ago. I met a couple of ladies who then wanted to do Tai Chi. So that was my next step. They have social events so I’m now meeting other people and increasing my circle. I love that I was able to go out there and do things just for me. For years I just stuck with my family but that wasn’t enough for me. Take a risk. You definitely won’t be disappointed.

      Jonice Webb PhD - July 22, 2018 Reply

      Awesome Sue! Thanks for your encouragement to others. Keep up the good work.

    Jane - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Antia, the problem may not be that you “chose” the wrong people as much as the people you are able to have contact with do not happen to be emotionally available. It’s very hard to cultivate meaningful friendships. I would be happy to be your internet pal if there was an opportunity provided to connect through this site. I wish you lots of luck in finding quality people! You are not alone in your struggle!

SW - July 22, 2018 Reply

Love your blog, was skeptical at first because I’m used to signing up for subscriptions to these things and them turning out to be scams and plugs, but your articles are well-written, insightful, and have genuinely helped me make some big changes in my life. Thank you so much.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 22, 2018 Reply

    My pleasure SW! I’m very glad to be helping.

Ted Elliott - July 22, 2018 Reply

Jonice, You must notice a real difference in effects of CEN on men versus women. Besides the CEN one receives in the family men also suffer doubly because they also must conform to the Man Box. Breaking through with both can become almost impossible, you may know what you need to do but are afraid or are discouraged from one or both.

    Jonice Webb PhD - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Hi Ted, yes I do notice some differences between CEN in men and women. I wrote a blog about it on this page a year or two ago. Men are definitely expected to squelch their emotions in today’s society. It causes all kinds of problems to be raised with CEN and to then live in the emotionally intolerant adult world. Thanks for sharing your comment!

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