How Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Make You an Avoidant Adult

You shy away from the limelight. You stay out of trouble. You prefer to stay out of the way. You try not to make waves.

Of all of the kinds of anxiety people can experience, avoidance is probably one of the least studied and least talked about. I think that’s probably because avoidant folks are quiet. They do stay out of the way and they do not tend to make waves.

But, the reality is, avoidance is a serious problem to live with. Take a look at the characteristics of avoidance below. These are some of the symptoms listed in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to identify Avoidant Personality Disorder. Please note that these are not a full description of Avoidant Personality. Do not attempt to use these symptoms to diagnose yourself or someone else. Only a licensed mental health professional is qualified to make a diagnosis.

  • Secretly feeling inferior to others, and struggling with shame
  • Reluctance to pursue goals, take risks or meet new people
  • High sensitivity to criticism, and fear of rejection
  • Assuming that others see you in a negative light
  • Trying not to get too close to people
  • You suspect that you enjoy things less than other people do
  • Often having anxiety in social situations

You may read through the list above and feel that you are reading about yourself. Even if you answer yes to only some of the items above, it means that you may have an “avoidant style.”

Many people are living their lives with Avoidant Personality disorder. And many, many more folks have an avoidant style. Most avoidant folks fight their own private battles on their own, secretly and quietly.

It is very possible to suffer silently with an intense fear of rejection, closeness, or social situations but still soldier on, essentially unimpaired on the outside, but miserable on the inside.

Now let’s talk about you. Do you see yourself in this description of avoidance? We will talk more about avoidance in a moment. But first, we must discuss Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Because I have seen a remarkable connection between Childhood Emotional Neglect and avoidant tendencies in adults.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs.

What happens to a child whose parents too seldom say, “What’s wrong?” and then listen with care to their answer. How does it affect a child to have parents who are blind to what they are feeling? Parents who, through probably no fault of their own, fail to offer emotional support, or fail to truly see the child for who she is?

Childhood Emotional Neglect teaches you, the child, to avoid feeling, expressing, and needing. You are learning to avoid the very thing that makes you the most real and the most human: your emotions.

When you grow up this way, you grow up feeling invisible, and believing that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant. You grow up feeling that your emotional needs should not exist and are a sign of weakness. You grow up to feel ashamed that you have feelings and needs at all.

CEN is a breeding ground for shame, low self-worth, and yes, avoidance.

Five Important Points About Avoidance

  1. Avoidance is actually nothing more than a coping mechanism. If you avoid something that scares you, you do not have to deal with it. That feels like success.
  2. You developed this coping mechanism for a reason in your childhood. You needed it, and it probably, in some way, served you well in your childhood home. It may have been the only coping mechanism you could learn if no one was helping you learn other, more effective ways of coping.
  3. When you use avoidance enough as a way to cope, it eventually becomes your “signature move.” It becomes a solution that you go to over and over again. It becomes your style.
  4. Avoidance feeds fear. The more you avoid what you fear, the more you fear it. Then the more you avoid it. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.
  5. All of the symptoms of avoidance you saw at the beginning of this article have one common denominator that drives them. It’s a feeling and also a belief. It is this: a deep, powerful feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just don’t matter as much. This is one of the prime consequences of Childhood Emotional Neglect. (I call it The Fatal Flaw.)

It is very difficult to take on challenges in life when you don’t believe in yourself. It’s hard to be vulnerable in relationships when you don’t feel on equal footing with the other person. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you feel so secretly flawed.

This is why you must not let avoidance run your life. You must turn around and face it. Not later. Not tomorrow. But now.

You Can Become Less Avoidant

  1. Answer this question for yourself: What did you need to avoid in your childhood home?
  2. Accept that your avoidance is a coping mechanism that can be replaced by far better, healthier coping skills.
  3. Start observing yourself. Make it your mission to notice every time you avoid something. Start a list, and record every incident. Awareness is a vital first step.
  4. Look through the list, and notice the themes. Is there a trend toward avoiding social situations? Risks? Goals? Feelings? Needs?
  5. Start, little by little, one-step-at-a-time, facing things. How pervasive is your avoidance? If it is everywhere of everything, I urge you to seek a therapist’s help. If you have success on your own, be persistent. Don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets.
  6. Learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect. To find out whether CEN was a part of your childhood, I invite you to take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

The more you face things, the less scary they become, and the easier they become to face again, and the more you face. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.

But this circle is a healthy, strong one that is a reversal of the circle of avoidance that began in your childhood. This circle will take you somewhere healthy and positive and good.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and how it causes avoidance, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
JLS - November 7, 2020 Reply

Thanks for sharing everyone. I constantly find myself subconsciously attracted to narcissists and I really bit the bullet and was like “what if I am one”? CEN makes a lot of sense. I grew up with a mother who did drugs and severely neglected my brother sister and I. My mom kept us from our dad who was wonderful to us. I spent a lot of my younger years raising my siblings. I had to do things like steal clothes from nearby storage units, stole money to pay for lunch and pretty much was a mom to them. My sister and I were sexually abused at a young age. It led her to drink heavily and she died in a drunk driving accident at 19. My brother is suffering terribly from the damage done in our childhood. Not only was there neglect but physical and mental abuse along with rampant drug/alcohol use. I’m scared my brother is now emotionally suffering so bad that he’ll do anything to end it. Its disgusting to witness the damage it’s done to my family. Neglect is a lot worse than abuse. At least you’re seen. At least someone acknowledges you. Neglect is being left to survive on your own. It causes deep seeded invisible damage. A void that you have to fill with something. How do you fix something that you don’t even know exists? We are all kind hearted people people but we have no idea how to make it out here. We were taught that drugs and alcohol is how you cope with things. And unfortunately after my sisters death he never recovered and due to the crippling guilt that we grew up this way, my dad became an alcoholic. He died that day too. I’m in intensive outpatient psychotherapy but I’d really like to read the book and find a way to help my brother cope. He’s lost and I can’t leave him behind.

Suzanne - November 4, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice!
Wow this seems to have struck a cord. Like bullseye. I have all the traits very strongly. ( even avoiding my family and having difficulty leaving my room.) This is all shifting as I am presently victoriously in my kitchen surrounded by people and a dirty floor I plan to sweep. After discovering, at the age of 55 I had trauma, CEN, adrenal burnout, and am empath I got busy ! I have created a healing Team to heal the attachment trauma/physical and emotional neglect and abuse. This includes you, 1 other therapist, 1 energy healer, 1 empath coach and a functional medicine team. I am so excited to do the tips you have given! So grateful for you and your world-changing work!

    Jonice - November 6, 2020 Reply

    Good work, Suzanne. Keep it up!

King's Kid - November 2, 2020 Reply

Emotional hiding, I have come to understand, is a form of inverse pride; of not wanting to be seen or known. Overcoming hiding from myself; figuring out how to, is the first step. Suspect that sharing the wounds & pain by writing, recording, will be immensely fruitful. Fight the inclination to withdraw & hide lest nothing will change. Be brave & courageous!

Harvey - November 2, 2020 Reply

I’ve gone so long avoiding things that now I don’t even feel like there’s anything I want to do. So now avoidance has been replaced by disinterest.
There just doesn’t seem to be anything I even really feel like doing.

    Jonice - November 2, 2020 Reply

    Dear Harvey, it’s not too late. You can turn this around. Start paying attention to your feelings and you will notice glimmers of interest starting.

      Deb - November 3, 2020 Reply

      Thank you so much, Harvey and Jonice, for your comments. I’ve noticed for years that I avoid things but had no idea why it started. I’ve given myself a hard time over the years for being such a coward. Like Harvey, I have lost interest in everything apart from my children. I even avoid things that will bring me praise/pleasure, because I don’t believe I deserve it. Finding the root of these things (CEN) will help me undue all the harm I’ve done to myself. I believe it is possible to recover. Jonice please keep putting up these articles – they help so much. Thank you.

Sabrina - November 2, 2020 Reply

*Spot on*…I have only just recently realized this about myself, thanks to discovering you and CEN and working through my actual feelings. I had no clue that I was literally suppressing AND avoiding things in my marriage. We used to communicate pretty well and then we went through a period of high stress and I completely shut down and started avoiding. Once I realized it (thanks to Dr. Jonice) and really started thinking about it, it does all go back to childhood and CEN and me not having those coping skills. I actually became mildly depressed and it took me over a year to even figure that out because I literally never paid attention to my own feelings. Everyone else was more important and I always put my family first and then had no energy left to deal with ME. I’m really working on ME for the first time since having kids 13 yrs ago and it honestly didn’t feel RIGHT at first, but I kept at it and it’s getting easier, so I just want to tell others DON’T GIVE UP! It takes time. Keeps reading the articles and the feelings word list that Dr. Jonice provides is really helpful, it’s not always just ‘mad, annoyed, angry’ you feel – there’s so much more and she’s right about facing it…nobody else will do it for you, you have to do it yourself. Thank you Dr. Jonice, you are truly a god-send!

    Jonice - November 2, 2020 Reply

    Excellent work, Sabrina! I’m so glad you are doing this. Keep it up.

Richard - November 2, 2020 Reply

I realise what has been happening with me is that I have been avoiding certain things, like doing enough exercise and being more assertive in relationships but I have been dealing with this by being intensively criticising myself and beating myself up about it. What I am going to do from now on is to adopt a more self compassionate approach. I am going to admit how hard it is for me to be more assertive and offer myself all the help I can and reward myself appropriately when I am more assertive. Otherwise the part of me that avoids and the part of me that is the inner critic grow stronger and stronger by feeding off each other’s negative behaviour. I think when it comes to a target of being assertive I will say to myself. “That’s a tough target, but don’t worry. I am here to give you everything you need to complete it and if it doesn’t go the way you want it to it is not the end of the world”

    Jonice - November 2, 2020 Reply

    That is a beautiful plan, Richard. I love it!

Lucy - November 2, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,
Since reading your books and your blogs I have learnt a lot about CEN and it really resonates with me, but before I knew about all this I put a lot of my issues down to the fact that I was introverted and an empath. I felt like I’d shut down my emotions as I had the tendancy to feel things too much. If CEN is real and true (which I believe it is), does it mean that introversion is a product of CEN? Or are some people born that way? I guess its the nature vs nurture debate

    Jonice - November 2, 2020 Reply

    Dear lucy, CEN does not cause introversion. Introversion vs. extroversion is likely determined largely genetically. However, introverts and empaths are more highly affected by growing up in an emotionally neglectful home, especially via being taught avoidance of their own feelings and to be ashamed of their feelings. So each introversion and CEN are separate factors that influence each other.

Dan - November 2, 2020 Reply

I’m not as bad as all that – I don’t qualify for diagnosis with the full disorder. OTOH, I’m remarkably good at avoiding things that will either reward me or prevent problems later. I was what they call a ‘gifted child’, and was hated and scorned by my siblings and classmates for it. It wasn’t my mother’s job to raise me; sons were to be raised by fathers, and mine was absent. (To be fair, she didn’t do much better with my sisters.)

Anyway, I really *need* to address this avoidance, and put it away, and this article brought that to my attention. Thanks for that signpost, Dr. Webb. It’s appreciated – and I do believe that it’ll be enough. I just wish I’d have been able to read this 40 years ago.

Val - November 1, 2020 Reply

what a revelation, your article was an important part of the jigsaw I’ve been trying to assemble for most of my 73 years, as I find out who I am, other than my traumatic upbringing.
Thank you for broaching all these difficult topics, that many people avoid. Shining a light on these painful behaviours and habits helps by offering another perspective.
Thank you

ingrid - November 1, 2020 Reply

A cord was struck when I read Rebecca’s comment, very much because I am also 71 years old and reading that even at this age others have problems being with and communicating with other people. However, I have started to see how my childhood has effected the way I am with others. I found Jane’s comment as well (Rebecca referred to it), and I am also exhausted after being with people. I ticked all the avoidance criteria, and I am so good at that game that when covid-19 and lockdown came to UK, my thought was: “Welcome to my world”. I find it very difficult to make friends, so I do not see or talk to people for weeks (apart from my husband). Living in isolation was not new to me. Being ordered to isolate, I felt it as a relief when the responsibility for my isolated way of living was taken away from me. This triggered me to ask why I live my life as I do. I now understand it is a result of my coping mechanism: avoidance. It is nice to know what I am battling against, then I can do something about it.

Ron - November 1, 2020 Reply

Great article Dr. Webb. I see myself in many of the criteria. Also ties closely into my procrastination that you discussed a few weeks ago. These two issues, along with my extreme fear of conflict, impacts my life significantly. I’ve been able to have a successful career but I believe I’ve limited myself in terms of promotions and new opportunities. I make a good Lieutenant but not a General! It has also impacted my marriage due to my avoidance and fear of conflict. Very hard if I know someone is going to be mad or upset at me. Thank you for all the work you are doing. So lucky to have found you and this community – nice to finally feel “understood” at 51 y/o.

Sherri - November 1, 2020 Reply

I avoided reading that article for a couple of weeks. I definitely have avoidant tendencies. I have just come to understand in the last week or so that I haven’t made deliberate choices in my life, I’ve been carried along. This article helps me understand why that is. Thank you

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Sherri, understanding is an important step to changing things. You can take this on and make things different.

Rebecca - November 1, 2020 Reply

I have all the traits for avoidant personality, and I identified very closely with Jane. I am 71 years old, and my relationship with my daughter has been difficult, due to my actions/inactions in the past. I have been trying harder to connect with her, as well as put myself out there with others, but due to Covid I have been adapting all too well to isolation. I now take anti-depressants, which could have made my life better a long time ago. I have pets, I have a husband with Alzheimer’s (and probably borderline personality), and grandchildren (one of whom has been diagnosed with borderline personality. My daughter, stepdaughter, and grandchildren live in other states, so I am unable to visit them. I immerse myself in my hobbies, t.v., and internet to feel calm; talk long-distance with a friend. I have a feeling my life will continue this way, and I feel comfortable with that.

    ingrid - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Rebecca hit a cord with me and so does Jane (I had to find

Doreen - November 1, 2020 Reply

I can identify will everything in this article. I know I have CEN but even knowing that makes me feel guilty. I am 38 years and have people(meaning family) in my life that loves mebut feel like if I disappear today no one will miss me, which I know is not true.

I have one friend, because I cant seem to be able to make new friends it terrifies me.

I am not in therapy, but my one friend that I have is a counselor and knows me better that anyone. I so desperately want to talk about what I experience within myself but I cant seem to put it in word and then I rather avoid it.

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Doreen, it is so important that you face your CEN and start healing it. You can change the course of your life.

Blake - November 1, 2020 Reply

I definitely resonate with most of these, much less so on social anxiety, which for me manifests more around communications in which I would have to disappoint someone—it’s made me codependent in past relationships. Difficulty setting boundaries, for instance.

My CEN seems paired with ADHD in terms of avoidance mixed with impulsivity and difficulty focusing outside of external exigent circumstances. I wonder if there’s a useful intersection in how to address both conditions?

Thanks, very useful insights.

    Ron P - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Very true. I have ADD diagnosed as an adult and also have struggled with co-dependence. Was married to a borderline in my first marriage – not a good combo for someone who wants to avoid conflict!

Erik - November 1, 2020 Reply

I think avoidance is more than a “style” for me. I WANT better friendships and loving relationships, but I definitely fear I’m not good enough, will fall short, and be a humiliating disappointment. Same goes for my work situations. Aim low, go unnoticed, avoid mistakes.

Rich - November 1, 2020 Reply

Thank you for this post. I checked off every single one of the symptoms for Avoidant Personality Disorder (with strong agreement on every point), and I see the connection with CEN (I have taken that questionnaire before and checked off about 95% of those items). It has been a long and exceptionally frustrating road. I am circling back to work through the program again. I’ll keep going. Something has got to give at some point (I hope!).

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Rich, just keep working on it. the biggest key to recovery is never giving up.

Lee, A. - November 1, 2020 Reply

My emotions were always ignored as a child. I wasn’t “allowed” to have any negative emotions. Any form of disagreement with my parents was deemed as “arguing” or “talking back”, which categorised me as being rebellious and a bad child. I was never allowed to show any anger, frustration, or unhappiness. My parents could shout at me and hit me (Asian family, pretty common), but I was never to raise my voice or display any form of body language that showed unhappiness. I was forced to suppress my emotions from a young age. This is still an ongoing thing (I’m 20). I realised that I still push my feelings deep down and suppress it, thereby avoiding it and feeling as if “it’s not there” or “nope, I don’t feel it, that means it didn’t affect me”. But in actuality, I simply avoided my emotions. When I was younger, my parents used to fight a lot as well and my mother often attributed the cause of their fighting to be us, and used to scold and blame us for it, and have also threatened to leave us before. (Their relationship is good now though) another striking memory was my mother using scissors to cut the birthday card I have done for her because she was upset with my sister and I. ( I was so young back then, probably 7-9y/o. I felt so small, unworthy, & useless. I honestly always feel like an imposter and feel so flawed, thinking people will dislike me when they got to know me better. I always felt so guilty whenever people look up to me because I feel that they are mistaken by who I am and that deep down I’m such an ugly and useless person. Regardless of my achievements, I always struggle to feel happiness and pride about it because I felt I didn’t deserve it and it’s all due to luck. Situation with my parents have improved slightly now but they are still unwilling to listen to us with regards to anything involving our emotions, and often used to phrase “because I’m your parent” as a trump card and final say. I have realised I am avoidant in pretty much every situation from social settings to studies. I have been working on countering that but it does take a lot of effort indeed.

GWOR - November 1, 2020 Reply

Avoidant Tendency’s 01/11/2020
Growing up in a CEN environment one had to learn quickly what to avoid vs what to enter .
If bullied, put down then it was hard to see any trust in being taken in and to learn to avoid negative outcomes that put a stain on one’s well being and reputation.

Avoidance had an advantage to become razor sharp at an early age to read older adults as sincere or devious .
Yes living with always being on guard was necessary to survive . No one likes to be called names and I got my share growing up in a small community.
However after family members and neighbours passing over the years suddenly the need to be on guard needed review and evaluation to its purpose.
It took years to learn to trust again but going from one extreme to another is not advisable to be accepted.It takes time. Humans are not kitchen taps to be turned on and off .
Better to accept self first and take one person, place or event at a time .One should NOT be on a permanent prescription of taking a bitter pill daily . I finally learned to say to others you take it .
However in all things after I found balance I admit
that I follow the expression even today : Beware of what I enter .
And now COVID19 has changed us as we will never be the same now masked because yes it’s purpose is the law but it also will leave scars of avoidance .
One only has to look at the military like hospital notices that went out for Halloween and thinking back what Halloween was as a youngster , my children growing up and now these children yesterday are already cast into concrete any adult would never dreamed of or want anyone to experience .
And COVID19 is going to leave many future Halloween’s and other special times of being together in doubt and in the darkness of being divided that all the fun we had is now frozen in time for those going forward and avoidance is becoming the new new of regimented living .
Yes Avoidance takes on a new meaning it is just sickening COVID19 has to be added to the equation to spoil fun for self as well as and with others and family and especially the children that depend on love, caring and guidance in growing up without needless and unnecessary Titantic anchors that can sink them learning at this stage of growing avoidance is now one of the tools of life to survive .

Joy - November 1, 2020 Reply

Discussing my emotions,etc. with my therapist makes me want to curl up in a ball. One question she asked me literally made me want to run out the door and not look back (just get through the session and then never go back).
Even the topic of CEN makes me angry and irritable. Does this happen to anyone else?

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Joy, it’s very important to try to sort out what the actual feelings are that make you want to run away, angry and irritable. Try to put some other feeling words on it. I’m sure it’s probably arising from something you learned in childhood about how your feelings should be treated.

Mechelle - November 1, 2020 Reply

Soooo insightful. Thank you, Jonice.

Patti - November 1, 2020 Reply

100% of the criteria applies to this 63yo. I feel all of these posters are soul sisters after reading their comments.Many ppl shouldn’t be parents, imo.Myself & all sibs never wanted children- no surprise since we were conditioned to not hold them in a positive light.I asked my mother in later years if she ever was curious about her kids making the childless choice- her reply was “no”, without further comment.
Everytime,I read these CEN blogs it brings tears of anger over lost potential & lifespan that would have happier had we had child focused parenting. Many burdened families are not narcissistic & do not inflict their pain/disappointments, abuse upon their kids- ours, however DID. Hard to find forgiveness in that regard.Years of therapy hasn’t erased this legacy. I am an imposter for happy, sociable & successful.

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    I’m so sorry, Patti. It is important to grieve what you never got. But you can reparent yourself now, step by step as you treat your own feelings differently.

Olivia - November 1, 2020 Reply

I recognised myself in this avoidance trait. I realise that the thing I had to avoid in my childhood home was EMOTIONS. I was not allowed to ever talk about them, admit to having them, discuss them, let them show…
And recently I realised that I do this in adulthood. If there is an emotional upset with someone, I brush it under the carpet and never talk about it. This confuses people and they run for the hills. I am learning to discuss emotions and explain why I reacted in certain ways sometimes.
I am proud that I am teaching my 14 year old daughter about emotions. One time we had a disagreement, then after both cooling down, she came to see me, asked if I was alright and explained why she had been annoyed. I explained my side of it and we made up. I am so very proud of her, she is way, way, way ahead of me in understanding emotions, either when I was 14 or now in my 50s.
Because I have never, ever, ever had a discussion like that with my own mother. If I ever dared to broach a ‘difficult’ topic i.e. about emotions, she would get in a huff, or storm out of the room, or dismiss me as ‘too sensitive’, or say ‘you think YOU’VE got problems? I’ve got that problem too, it’s far worse than yours!’ and completely invalidate my experiences.
So another piece of the puzzle falls into place. I’m already asking myself many times a day how *I* feel and what *I* want. Now to face my avoidant nature.

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Olivia, I’m so happy that you have figured out so many important things about yourself and your childhood. And I admire you for giving yourself and your daughter what your parents could not give you.

    Emily - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Olivia, I’m so happy for you that you are able to teach you daughter about emotions! I missed out on that with my own daughter. She is 42, very judgemental, never wrong, almost narcissist behavior. I definitely use avoidance behavior with her. But I am glad I finally learned about CEN. I’m 65, newly divorced (happily), and I want to meet someone new. So I will be working with my therapist on this topic. Hopefully, someday, I’ll be able to gently help my daughter. Good luck to you and I wish you continued success in your quest to overcome avoidance issues.

SC - November 1, 2020 Reply

Do any of you have trouble in therapy (I personally adore my therapist) with these same issues (avoiding telling her more about me, my feelings, my life, my knowledge of my own issues etc.)? I want to trust more and be closer but it’s so difficult and it’s been a year. I think she knows I have this issue because of my childhood abuse/chaotic family environment but it has not been discussed in relation to my avoidance issues. Feeling a lot of shame. Also, are any of you highly sensitive introverts?

    vel - November 1, 2020 Reply

    oh yes, SC, oh yes. I hate to reveal anything, even if I *know* it is for the best.

    and yep, I’m an HSI.

    Ron P - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Yep – I worry about my therapist being upset with me, disappointed or what she is thinking – even though the therapy is for me and I’m paying for it.

SC - November 1, 2020 Reply

Do any of you have trouble in therapy (I personally adore my therapist) with these same issues (avoiding telling her more about me, my feelings, my life, my knowledge of my own issues etc.)? I want to trust more and be closer but it’s so difficult and it’s been a year. I think she knows I have this issue because of my childhood abuse/chaotic family environment but it has not been discussed in relation to my avoidance issues. Feeling a lot of shame.

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear SC, I encourage you to talk directly with your therapist about your avoidance. That’s the opposite of avoidance. And it helps enormously to put the issue of avoidance into words and share it and discuss it.

Dianne Goode - March 1, 2019 Reply

I was A very quiet child my mother told me l was a disappointment she wanted a boy. She would threaten to go off and leave us. She was not affectionate. Neither my mother or father ever said they loved me. When l first met other children l was only 5yrs old and terrified by how noisy they were. I had problems at school and kept away from the noisy playground.l found socialising as a young person difficult. I am now 62 and can reconise myself as having avoidant personality. I am very isolated l have one friend who cañot be with me much. I don’t socialise l live alone if my friend died tomorrow l would have no one.

jolene weiss - June 30, 2018 Reply

nailed it! Such insight, I have never seen avoidant personality disorder explained like that. You have explained it exactly the way I needed to hear it explained. I get it now…and I see how it ties into social phobia…and childhood neglect. You are good! Keep it coming. Thankyou. I am def. avoidant personality so pervasive…particularly in social situations… I avoid people and dread being around them, even my own children. People drain me. If I could recover from childhood emotional neglect that I have continued into adulthood…I could fix alot. What is really draining me is not people, but the expectations I put on myself to one down the encounters as if I am inferior. I know I am not inferior, but at the same time I believe I am expected to act inferior while others recieve higher privileges and space. Yes, I don’t get equal space as everyone else does, my mom did this to me…and I continued it when I left home unknowingly

Quiet Girl - January 22, 2018 Reply

I was diagnosed with AvPD by my therapist recently. And this awareness has been so helpful because I feel less confused. I strongly identify with the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and rejections etc. And those feelings causes me to have feelings of anxiety and depression. I don’t fully believe that I suffered from emotional neglect in my childhood (that sounds so harsh). I know my mother and my father loved me but life happened and they did the best they could. But I did have Adverse Childhood Experiences. I would strongly encourage anyone to check out the ACE Study to see how Adverse Childhood Experiences can effect both our physical and mental health. The link is below. The study also talks about resilience and protective factors. So a couple of things that were traumatic for me in my childhood were witnessing domestic violence between my mother and the father of my sister who was addicted to crack cocaine and being abandoned the first 4 years of my life by my father and for him to come back in my life to only loose him at the age of 11 years old when he died of AIDs. So I could see how those experiences might have contributed to my disorder in the early years. But I would also had good things going on in my childhood. I have always lived in a stable and supportive environment where I felt loved by my immediate family and extended family. Somehow between the good and the bad I agree that I developed these bad coping skills. However, I’m 36 years old now and I agree with everything in this article on what I need to do to overcome it. But it is so hard and scary to try to change. At this point in my life I have come to realization that I will probably be in therapy for the rest of my life to help me dig myself out of this blackhole I created over the years.

https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective…/adverse-childhood-experiences

MaggieRose - September 21, 2017 Reply

How do you help someone with avoidant style? There’s a guy I really like but he often avoids meeting up with me, or it takes weeks of planning before he feels confident enough to meet. We usually have a good time and he looks happy and relieved – but then the process starts again. He has told me he just needs time and that people usually give up and move on. I haven’t done that. It’s been three years now, but I feel like progress is at a snail’s pace (though it may well seem quite rapid for him!). He was neglected and traumatised in childhood and says he essentially raised himself (mom has tried to kill herself on numerous occasions and is extremely unhappy). Parents fought all the time. If he senses even the slightest sign of criticism or rejection, he runs (but comes back after a few weeks). He reaches out to me, then flees. Okay, he’s a *lot* better than he used to be, but far from functional. What can I do to accelerate his healing? I don’t pressure him at all, show a lot of acceptance, tease him a lot to relax him (which he says he enjoys) and try to be consistent and reliable in his life (always do what I say I will). He says people always let him down but he is learning to be more accepting of people’s erratic behaviour and is trying not to take it personally. He is Mr Reliable, but can sometimes be, like, an hour or two early for our get-togethers (not sure why). Never late.

    azannie - September 22, 2017 Reply

    Although I can’t give you any good tips on how he can get past all that, what I can say is just continue to be there for him for as long as you can and as long as you’re willing. I am somewhat like him and appreciate anyone who can continue to be my friend and be accepting. I am over-sensitive and can’t handle criticism, constructive or otherwise. If it’s criticism in a hateful way, I just tell myself it’s all about them, the criticizer, and not me. Does he know what he is doing and his reactions? If he does, that’s his first step. I’m not a mental health specialist but just my own experiences and what I’m trying for myself. Jonice Webb is great with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Maybe you can get your friend to read up on her blog and her articles. Believe me, when I read up on this, a light went up in my head that I finally have found out why I am the way I am. It’s an eye opener. Good luck to you and your friend.

    Joe K - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Try to help feel him feel safe displaying negative emotions (anger/sadness/regret)? It can be messy and an avoidant person can fear rejection if they display negative emotions. But showing that you won’t run might deepen your relationship and give him perspective. Hope this helps .

    TreadSoftly - November 4, 2020 Reply

    MaggieRose, you are an amazing friend … and I hope you continue you to be. However, I wonder if this is where this person truly belongs … in the friend-zone? Maybe that is all you want, but if you are looking for more, you may have a very long wait. I hope you are open to the possibility of other relationships? Life is short ….

CLS - September 13, 2017 Reply

Great article. I’m just learning about CEN. I can relate to all the Avoidant Personality traits. I think this was reinforced in my life by school bullying, sexual abuse at home, and an alcoholic parent who commited suicide when I was in my teens. I hope this coping style is further studied. I know the effect it’s had on my life and can imagine there are many others who would benefit as well.

guitr25 - October 26, 2016 Reply

I can relate to all the traits. And avoidance is definitely dominating. What bothers me so much is I was very severely abused emotionally and physically, as were my siblings. It resulted in me having a constant look of anxiety. I sought treatment from a whole host of therapists and psychiatrists. NONE of them addressed childhood neglect. One psychologist actually treated my other siblings as well as myself. My sister had a resilient nature (she became the substitute mother-figure in our crazy home), and managed to survive pretty emotionally-intact. But the psychologist who treated me did not seem to like me at all. She literally told me I should not get married! It might have stung slightly less if she explained how damaged I was – I didn’t even know. I did get married and do have two great children. But never having real treatment for my own abuse, I definitely was not a great mother. But kids can be more forgiving than anyone. I struggled all my life with an inability to make friends. Even after seeing more therapists and doctors, I was basically told to stop living in the past. So I pray that therapists dealing with avoidant personalities and the other traits will LET their patients talk about the abuse. None of min ever did.

    Caroline - October 26, 2016 Reply

    I’ve tried therapy a couple of times, but just couldn’t get anywhere with it, my therapists were both lovely, yours sound very unhelpful. I do wonder if in my case, the need to avoid is stronger than the need to heal, so any attemp at therapy would be a waste of time.
    As for living in the past, I bet we all do, if you’ve had a great life you will live and expect a great life, if on the other hand, it’s been a rocky road, your expectations and outlook would be of more crap to follow, why would you want to do that. Avoidance seems almost genius in such circumstances, but in the end you really just become your own prison walls, with no way out!

    TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

    The reality of all of that just sucks. I found long ago that I was my best therapist. Keep researching. There are others that benefit from you sharing your experiences. There’s a very bold line between being someone who references the past in their pathway as they strive forward, and one who uses it for an excuse & good story for every wrong thing in life. Shame on your therapists for not recognizing this.

It's just me - October 25, 2016 Reply

Umm… Id say I have all the above characteristics. I was taken off my parents aged 5yrs old & placed into the system where I continuously moved around home to home. I was also abused in every fashion. I believe I’ve only just got through life living through these so called coping mechanisms. Being me seems rather a chore & struggle & not 1 individual has been able to help in any way & yes I’ve sought expert advice but I’m still stuck in this dreary existence. I’m now at the crossroads of accepting that this is me & I’ll just have to muddle through life as best I can. Shouldn’t be too hard considering I now never leave my house. It’s a scary harsh world outside & im staying in my safe zone.

    TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

    I hope you reconsider. I make myself go out, even if just occasionally, and I feel like I wish there were more people like you out there.
    Maybe we assume noone is feeling a lot of the same tbings we are..this stream makes me wonder if there aren’t more people struggling than we realize. If we stay inside & silent though, we can never build connection, support, & unity.

Jane - October 13, 2016 Reply

I am relating to everyone’s comment about ‘avoidance’ becoming your ‘style’ or pattern.

Today I took a long nap after spending the last few days too physically close to a few people. It’s exhausting being around people. I’m 61 and still learning how to become more ‘assertive’ without being offensive-trying to find the balance between saying what you mean and meaning what you say-if you decide to say anything at all.

If anything I feel much better when I allow plenty of space (recovery time) in between interactions with others. I get energy vampired.

Melody Beattie’s book ‘codependent no more’ covers many of our unhealthy learned behaviors and what we can do to face and improve them. I keep it near my bedside and read it almost daily———-to help me spiral up and do a healthy kind of avoiding by deleting some relationships simply because they are toxic, harmful or reinforce your insecurities….spewing what feels like toxic poison all over you.

It’s about trust issues for me for sure…so now I call it…..’taking time to think before you choose to respond’.

    Caroline - October 14, 2016 Reply

    Jane, it’s interesting that you need to nap if you’ve had too much human interactions, I sleep a lot, I have just worked 4 days and I’m exhausted, I nap in the afternoons for about 2 hours on my days off, I find being alone so much more relaxing and definately need to recharge.

    TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

    Jane, EXACTLY! I used to make excuses for those much-needed recovery pauses. I’ve extracted the toxic people from my life enough now though, that I can say honestly to the people who know & love me, that I just need that alone time between. It is so comforting to hear others say these things that I’ve thought were just part of ‘my weirdness’.

JourneyUpward - October 12, 2016 Reply

It is clear to me that I have all the traits. And in addition to that I have bipolar disorder. I have lived in my current location for 7 years and still have not made any real connections with anyone. My husband is a very social person whereas I’d rather avoid people as much as possible. We are active in our church and I serve behind the scenes. I’m trying to break out of this pattern but then I become anxious and stressed. Not good for bipolar. But I’m trying little by little. My parents didn’t allow me to express negative emotions and therefore didn’t teach me how to deal with them. As a result I withdrew from expressing positive or negative emotions or ask for help with anything except when I absolutely had to. I always felt inferior to everyone else and still struggle with that today.

Caroline - October 12, 2016 Reply

This article is me in a nutshell, I have many avoidant traits if not full blown avpd, caused I suspect by angry critical parents that didn’t have time for us kids. I feel very limited emotion, my needs are for warmth , comfort, which I get from a woodburning stove.I suffer serious depression,
I’m 47 but in my younger years I felt the fear of rejection, self loathing and that I just don’t belong with the human race. Now I think I’ve switched me off completely, I manage very well in my job as a senior nurse, but my personal life consists of as much isolation as I can get.

    Roux - October 13, 2016 Reply

    Dear Caroline. I’m curious. Your referring to your parents; well you nailed it. And the critical voices!!! Anyway I wonder if your wood stove is augmented by domestic animals. I have allowed my involvement with humans to dwindle to almost nothing. I value a relatively new closeness w my older sister but most people are so manipulative and well… Tricky or unkind or just self absorbed. I have relied on my animals an extraordinary amount. I’m looking forward to getting a wood stove. But my work is to love without losing or giving up myself. How is isolation working for you? I’m so alone it kinda worries me. But I’m not wanting to put up w old patterns.
    Anyway, I’m new at this blog thing but you sounded like me and it makes me wonder what you’re learning about countering childhood neglect.

    Bye. Hope to hear from you.

      Caroline - October 13, 2016 Reply

      Hello Roux, yes I have 2 dogs, who are my companions. I have always loved animals of all kinds,
      On the subject of isolation, I have just drifted into it more and more, I don’t have the energy to pretend I’m something I’m not, and due to a deep rooted belief that I’m no good as I am, it’s the only comfortable solution.
      I was married and I have 2 daughters,grown up.
      Relationships are just a source of pain and discomfort, all my inadequesis come into my awareness, and make me shut down emotionally, I am very aware of my issues but don’t have the motivation to change them, I’m at the stage of,accept what is and get on with it.

      TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

      Roux, Again, your response resonates with me..the feeling like your isolation may be too much, and SO importantly, companion animals. There is part of me that keeps striving to get out there in the grand scheme..joining groups, having casual friendships here & there, but almost feel like making a run for it to get back to myself & my dog, and this has always been consistant.

Wanda - October 12, 2016 Reply

I have some of these traits and have always had a very well developed sense of my self-worth. I have a lot of confidence. My son also suffers from all of these traits, but I wouldn’t say he feels low self-worth. I was well-loved by my parents, who were kind, capable, and created a home that was a warm, safe haven. My son has also been well-loved and knows it. However, what we have in common is a childhood event that rocked our otherwise happy home – in my case, the death of my brother; in my son’s case, his father walking out on us – and both of us struggled to make connections and friendships with our peers, partly because we were/are deeply absorbed in our rather solitary hobbies and interests.

Little Drummer Boy - October 10, 2016 Reply

I think this is very useful information, and given a bit of courage and go, most CEN peeps can make headway. Given my personal experience of dealing with this stuff I can assure the timid, of which i was a card carrying member, that changes can be made which will allow you to create your own self fulfilling prophesy of enduring happiness, in spite of subliminal messages which imply otherwise. It is possible to rewire your neural pathways, via affirmations and cognitive changes, particularly under the care of qualified professionals. This way is markedly quicker than DIY though in the context of the fulsome professional advice on this site, it can be done alone….Being of a non toxic process unlike mind altering drugs, there isn’t a dependency issue, unless you like the nice feeling of being Ok after your damn hard work and no f–er can take it away from you..
Try it and good luck..Oh I forgot ,you start making that as soon as you get started, nice side effect if your into that sorts stuff…

GeoLove - October 9, 2016 Reply

It’s as if; our parents were poorly taught and cared for, times seemed harder then,1940-50’s,then when it came to raising us, the continued neglecting behaviors are perpetuated, Looking at my grandmother and her grandmother, I can see how my mom got to be critical,, and further extend that expectation onto her daughter, it’s only in stepping back can you see where certain traits and behaviors began. We often don’t see how society has set up and further enforces these high expectations,
If society wasn’t so hard on each other then maybe ppl wouldn’t be harrased based on what they believe ppl should look like or act like, it’s truly an awful world we live in. Where more hate is outside your door, it’s hard to build confidence, or self esteem in world’s where everyone competes and insults one another. Sometimes what we learn to deal with at home, however harsh it may be,,can often prepare us for the more harsh reality of the greater world. I have read somewhere we are only given what we can handle/manage in life.

    Gunther - April 28, 2020 Reply

    I hate it when religious people state that God will not give your more than you can handle Yeah right. This is the first time I have heard of Avoidant Personality Disorder which is why I avoid people; however, it is not entirely my fault when the people who I have to deal with go out of their way to make my life miserable and in various ways, make you feel that you are not part of society. Frankly, I rather deal with dogs because they give unconditional love where human beings put too many conditions on you before they love you.

Ashley - October 9, 2016 Reply

As usual this article is on par with how I feel daily. I already know I’m a CEN child and have started seeking out therapy to try and deal with this neglect. I just wanted to comment that even the “That common denominator is this: a deep, powerful, perhaps unconscious feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just don’t matter as much.?” I always put everyone first , their feelings are more important, my life and my feelings don’t matter and I don’t value enough to even share them most times because they are pointless. Since I can remember I always put others needs before mine and now I have no idea how to make myself realize that I’m on the same level as anyone else. It’s a hard habit to convince yourself when you don’t trust your own opinion because you’ve been convincing yourself for so long that it doesn’t matter…. If that makes sense.

    Roux - October 13, 2016 Reply

    Dear Ashley.
    I was reading through the blogs and something you said struck a nerve and I wanted to address it. It was what you said about putting others first. I so relate to that. I have been working on self care for a long time. But by putting all others first, I had trouble feeling ok about putting myself first. It was such a surprise to realize that the practice of putting others first is not considered healthy. And the question asked of ecn people; what were you avoiding in your childhood home, well when I thought about that and realized I was trying not to be targeted for abuse, and then the connection between putting others first and hiding out seemed obvious.

    I currently live off off grid by myself and it’s been hard. At first a friend joked w me about how I tortured myself being so alone, but I’m hardly capable of not putting others first.

    I’m working w a therapist because I want to figure out a healthy way to be w people and I haven’t figured that out yet. But I’m working on it. I think the answer lays somewhere in the authentic self arena. And I’m still working on that question.
    Thank you for your honesty. It always helps to have a mirror. Good luck to you

      TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

      Roux, Your post is intetesting to me because I have thought of living off the grid myself for some time. I am curious if you put yourself in places where you are in close proximity, yet not fully engaged with people. I find that a consistent theme for me..sort of an ‘outside looking in’, only reversed, and an ambiguous feeling around it.. sort of wanting to be ‘part of the group’, but when I am, anticipating getting back to being alone where I am WAY more comfortable. Still though, I want to be somewhere close, sort of on the sidelines where I can feel like I’m part of the activity of life, but not exactly.

Edath - October 8, 2016 Reply

Are you reluctant to pursue goals, take risks, or meet new people?
Are you highly sensitive to criticism, and fear rejection?
Do you assume that others see you in a negative light?
Do you try not to get too close to people?
Do you suspect that you enjoy things less than other people do?
Do you often have anxiety in social situations?

I never knew there was a name for or accepted symptoms of ME! I have spent my entire life ashamed for the very fact that I was born. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was accepted and/or even welcomed anywhere and being the singular fat girl in all of the schools I attended, there was no time when I wasn’t belittled and criticized for my size. I can tell you true horror stories but I’ll stop here. I’m 61 years old and I spend most of my days looking forward to no happier event than my own death. I need to find help but I don’t know who to trust. Who’s going to believe a loser like me or blame me for the problems I had. I’m safer just staying home.

    Azannie - October 12, 2016 Reply

    I’m with you on your symptoms except for feeling less enjoyment than other people. I feel less enjoyment when I’m bored and stuck in a rut. I, too, was the chubby kid all through my life. My mother’s family were and are big on looks, face and body. I was the only chubby cousin among 30 of us. On top of that I wear glasses, and had acne! And everyone let me know. What exacerbates that is I’m overly sensitive. It makes me wonder if being constantly nullified because I was chubby has made me sensitive. It has gotten worse, this sensitivity as I get older. but that is my introvertedness and peoples reaction to it that get me. As far as looks, eh. Cousins who were previously slim are now bigger than I am! It’s a secret glee and my dad was in on it! You know what I have learned, Edath? It’s that people who make fun of others are trying to displace attention to their shortcomings on to other people. It’s all about them, not you. I hope you’ll take that to heart.

    TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

    That is just heartbreaking. My hope is that you find new hope in every new day since you have this validation.

mandehble - October 7, 2016 Reply

Maybe this post just didn’t apply to me, but I thought it totally did until I got to this part:

“All of the questions at the beginning of this article have one common denominator that drives them. It’s a feeling and also a belief. That common denominator is this: a deep, powerful, perhaps unconscious feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just don’t matter as much.?

For me, that’s not the case at all. I think I’m awesome. Throughout my life, it’s been a lot of OTHER people who have thought otherwise and gone out of their way to let me know it. I think that other people have a hard time categorizing me and that causes some of them to react negatively to me. It’s at the point now where I do make negative assumptions about how others perceive me, but that’s because I’ve often had the experience of others being critical or downright abusive. I don’t think I have a fundamental issue with my sense of self-worth, I’ve just internalized a negative message about myself that’s been repeated over and over by other folks.

Just speaking for myself, though, obviously.

    JDH - October 9, 2016 Reply

    I had nearly the same reaction you did to this post – everything applies to me except for the feelings of inferiority and fear/shame. Your description of your sense of self worth is something with which I identify strongly. Although the social feedback I receive consistently reinforces the idea that I don’t matter, I haven’t internalized those messages to the point where I believe that I am not as valid but rather have come to the conclusion (does “faced the reality” seem too pessimistic/defeatist/bleak in this context? idk) that this is the reaction I elicit from the vast majority of people with whom I interact.

    I am a diagnosed schizoid. While SPD and avoidant personality disorder share some symptoms I find that where that overlap ends the contrast is rather significant. I’m not trying to give you an armchair diagnosis here, though – it’s totally possible that we both experience similar social stigma and that is the extent of our similarities.

    Azannie - October 12, 2016 Reply

    You make a point, Mandehble. I’m an introvert who constantly, constantly checks to see how people react to me. I think I’m a nice person but it’s my being an introvert that make people nervous. So I see that and then all bets are off. I wish people would stop judging the book by the cover. It takes me awhile to get comfortable with people but a lot of people are not willing to take the time. I identified with 5 points but not with the ones about shame or feeling less worthy. I’m comfortable with myself.

      KT - October 18, 2016 Reply

      You guys have nailed it. I had to find my own self worth, since it didn’t come from parents or extended family. I find myself getting angry when it seems like everyone, from acquaintances to friends to coworkers to bosses to the guy who works at the grocery store, acts like I’m less worthy. Why? There is obviously something about me that elicits this reaction in people. I’m very introverted, yes, but I’m not harming anyone. I’m polite and helpful when necessary but still find my self, feelings, actions, life invalidated at every turn. I don’t need the outside validation anymore, I’ve learned to cope without it, it just angers and bewilders me that others never want to give me the minimum respect they require for themselves. All the other avoidant points are me dead on though.

        Kelly Carson - July 1, 2018 Reply

        I can relate to the anger you mentioned. I grew up with so much verbal and physical abuse, and grit my teeth through it all. But I had no idea how much anger was in me till I left home. I somehow managed to get what seemed a more normal life. But went to a lot of therapy, unfortunately with social worker who criticized my outward appearance (“why can’t you comb your hair”) or psychiatrist who did not think my childhood was significant. My anger and avoidance was driving people away. But so was my anxiety. The bad therapy I endured (esp group therapy: one person said “ I triggered them”) has caused me to stay reclusive now that my kids are grown. I know it isn’t good, but the shame of being criticized in therapeutic settings has hurt just as much as my childhood.

    TA - April 2, 2018 Reply

    I can very much relate to your post. Inside, I’ve always had a solid sense of worth. It became a way of coping to assume others are receiving me in a negative way from my experiences, but inside, I’ve always cherished ME & considered my thoughts, feelings, and all ‘they’ had no interest in, worthwhile. “Their loss” was an inner theme.

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