How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Relationships
Growing up with your feelings ignored, Childhood Emotional Neglect or (CEN), takes its toll on you. It’s true. In fact, it takes such a lasting toll that I can see its lingering effects decades later in my adult patients.
The Lingering Effects Of CEN
- A lack of awareness of your own feelings, wishes, and needs.
- A feeling that you are less important than everyone else.
- A massive struggle to talk about and share your own feelings.
- Difficulty asking for help and accepting help from others.
- A lack of understanding of how feelings work in yourself and others.
Children who grow up with their feelings ignored take a very powerful step to get by in their childhood home. They wall off the deepest, most biological part of who they are: their emotions. That way they can stop burdening others with their feelings. What a brilliant and powerful tool for your child’s brain to make for you.
But as an adult, your life is affected greatly.
The lingering effects above are important parts of the toll of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). When your feelings are walled off, you are missing some life ingredients that will have a profound effect on your quality of life.
I know this because I see it in my office every single day.
Whether you realize it or not, this particular group of struggles affects you in many areas of your life. You are living without access to some vital life ingredient that everyone else enjoys. For example, it can make it hard to ask for a promotion or a raise at work, or to trust yourself to try new things or take risks.
But I have also seen that there is one area of life that’s affected far more than any other. It’s your relationships. As you read the 5 Important Ways below, be sure to keep in mind that none of these 5 are permanent. They are only effects from your childhood. You can fix every single one!
5 Important Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Challenges Your Relationships
- It makes them one-sided. Generally, CEN people are not able to be fully present in their relationships. The first two Lingering Effects of CEN all contribute to this result. When you’re not aware of your own feelings, wishes and needs enough, how can you share them with your husband, wife, partner or friend? How can you take up your fair share of space in your relationships when you view other people and their needs as more important than your own? Many of your relationships become too much about the other person, and not enough about you.
- Your relationships seem fewer and feel less rewarding than other people seem to have. This is partly because they’re one-sided, just as we discussed above. Since you’re not fully emotionally present in your relationships, they are naturally limited in depth and resilience. They may break apart more easily, and may not reach their full potential. You offer up so very much in your relationships, but you’re holding back the most valuable gift you can give someone: your emotional vulnerability.
- It makes social time more tiring than it should be. Spending time with people you care about should be rewarding, energizing and enriching. But you often find it draining instead. That’s because your relationships are one-sided (you give too much and don’t take enough for yourself), and also because you spend so much energy trying to be the person you think others want or expect you to be — instead of just being yourself. That takes a lot of energy.
- You feel alone, even with people who love you. All of us humans share a common bond, and that bond is largely based on our feelings. When your emotions are too blocked off, you may not have enough access to your own deep font of warm emotional energy; the source of relationship “glue” that should be connecting you. Since you are unaware of the problem, you’re left feeling, on some level, emotionally isolated at key times. Even though you are actually not!
- It holds your relationships back from becoming as rich and deep as they should be. Just as emotion is the glue that binds you to others, it’s also the fire that lights your passion, and the stick that should be poking you saying, “Speak up!” Without full access to this vital resource, your relationships are missing an important vital ingredient: You.
Never fear! I know these 5 challenges might seem practically insurmountable. But I have watched many people transform their relationships by working in 3 key areas.
3 Answers Taken From Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children
- Your Emotional Awareness: This involves being aware of what you are feeling and what the other person is feeling. It’s being able to observe your own behaviors and responses to things and understand the emotions involved.
- Emotion Skills: Learning to identify what you feel, accept your feelings, tolerate your feelings, manage them, and put them into words. You can learn all of them!
- Communication Skills: How do you tell someone they hurt your feelings? Or that you are angry at them? How do you ask someone for what you need or want? Once you get better at emotional awareness and emotion skills, you’ll have the foundation to learn how to communicate far more effectively.
You can learn far more about how to become more emotionally aware and skilled and how to communicate on an emotional level in the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty No More.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. Take The CEN Test. It’s free!
Reading your book I see myself in so many of the characters you introduce. Fair to say I am sad that at 65yo I am only just finding the resource you have given. However, I intend to use the information you lay out to help myself find and enjoy the remaining years of my life.
Bob, (New Zealand)