How Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You More Emotionally Intelligent

CEN and EI

Having a high IQ sets you up for success in life, right?

Well, sure, it certainly helps.

But, over the last decade, research has shown that there’s a kind of intelligence that’s even more important than the Intelligence Quotient traditionally measured by IQ tests. People who have this other kind of intelligence have better leadership qualities, are more productive, more satisfied, and are more successful at work and home. They are overall happier in their lives.

Here’s the real truth: Studies show that the higher your Emotional Quotient the better you are set up for success in life.

Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence (also called EI) consists of 5 skills. As you read the 5 skills below think about yourself and your own abilities in each of these areas.

The 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness of your own feelings: This is the ability to know when you are having a feeling, plus being aware of what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Example: “I feel sad right now because it’s the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death.”
  2. Self-regulation: Once you’re aware of what you’re feeling and why (Skill #1), you are set up to then take responsibility for your feelings and manage your feelings. Example: “I’m not going to let my sadness interfere with my day. I’m going to call my sister before work so we can comfort each other.”
  3. Empathy: This involves applying your emotion skills to others. Knowing what other people are feeling and understanding why they are feeling it gives you the ability to help them manage their feelings. This is an invaluable skill for parents, leaders, husbands, and wives; basically everyone. Example: “You look annoyed. Tell me what’s wrong.”
  4. Motivation: This skill consists of being driven by what truly inspires you. When you are driven by your own passion rather than by external requirements you are more energized and directed. You’re also most likely to inspire and motivate others. Example: “I’m going to start this boring task now because it’s a vital step toward achieving what really matters to me.”
  5. Social skills: Social skills involve a process of taking all of the 4 skills above and using them to manage complex social situations. When you have good social skills other people sense you are operating from your heart. They trust you, respect you, and are inspired by you. You are able to connect and lead and enjoy overall good relationships with others. Example: “I see what’s going on between my two daughters. I’m going to talk with them about it and see if we can nip it in the bud.”

And now it’s time for another definition. This definition helps answer the natural question: Why do some people seem to have higher EI than others. Even folks with incredible academic skills and high IQ can have very low EI.

In my clinical work, as well as the data I’ve collected on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) since I wrote my book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, one thing is clear to me. The biggest root cause of low EI is Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect & Emotional Intelligence

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Growing up in a family that is unaware of your feelings and does not respond to them enough.

Yes, just as you may be thinking, CEN is rampant in today’s world. It is very easy for even loving families to fail to realize the extreme importance of their child’s feelings.

The signature challenge of adults who grew up with CEN is a marked lack of access to their feelings which impacts their lives deeply in multiple ways.

Having been subtly discouraged from having emotions as kids, they are not able to feel, identify, listen to, or be motivated, directed, and connected by their feelings.

And perhaps just as importantly, by growing up with their feelings ignored, they were not able to learn the 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence.

Now, here’s the good news. Just as CEN lowers your EI, healing your CEN raises your EI. And you absolutely can heal your CEN!

5 Ways Healing Your CEN Increases Your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness: In both of my books, my clinical work, and my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life, the first thing I do to help people heal their CEN is to work with them to break through the wall that blocks their emotions. Then we work on increasing their awareness and acceptance of their own feelings. Being able to turn your attention inward, ask yourself what you’re feeling, name your feelings and make sense of them is not only the foundational step to healing CEN, it’s also the first skill of EI.
  2. Self-regulation: As you heal your CEN you begin to feel your feelings more. So Step 2 of CEN healing is learning how to soothe yourself, listen to your own feelings, and manage them. In essence, you are learning self-regulation.
  3. Empathy: All the skills above that you are learning for yourself and your own emotions as you go through the steps of CEN recovery can also be applied to others. As you learn about your own feelings, you’ll be far better able to tell what your spouse, children, family, and co-workers are feeling too. You’ll become more comfortable with feelings in general, as well.
  4. Motivation: What’s the greatest source of energy that drives you, directs you to make good choices that are authentic to yourself, and pushes you to act and create? Your feelings. Clearly, walking through the CEN recovery steps allows your own inner supply of passion to inform and drive you.
  5. Social Skills: A familiarity and acceptance of emotions and how they work opens up a whole new world to you. You can use all of these skills and newfound emotional energy to improve your relationships and your leadership skills. This is why I wrote my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. The more you heal your own CEN the better your personal social skills become.

The Takeaway

Living authentically and close to your own heart requires paying attention to the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are: your emotions. And when you live this way, you will connect and inspire others. You will make good choices that move you and connect you to others.

In short, you will be emotionally intelligent. 

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free!

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and affects you through your adult life see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to honor your feelings in your most primary relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.


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JRo - May 27, 2022 Reply

Does all of your past childhood emotional neglect and the trauma it has created have to be resolved or processed in order to learn to be emotional intelligent?

    Jonice - May 31, 2022 Reply

    Dear JRo, nothing in psychology is that absolute. But generally, the more you heal, the more EI you get and vice-versa. They go together.

Kim - April 20, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice. I have difficulty knowing the difference between feelings and emotions. They seem to be used interchangeably and I was wondering could you give me a dummies guide to the difference. Plus, I am easily guilt tripped and manipulated. For example, if I make a decision to take a trip somewhere and my adult children do not approve or agree, do I still take the trip? I have been identified as being enmeshed and I gave all my parental power away when my adult children were early teenagers as I wanted to be close to them. This was in reaction to not being close to my own mother.

    Jonice - April 25, 2021 Reply

    There’s no difference. Feelings and emotions are two different words for the same thing. I encourage you to focus on yourself more. The process of CEN recovery is all about placing your own feelings first and your own inner needs highest in your priorities.

Samantha - April 19, 2021 Reply

This was extremely helpful. I’ll be honest, sticking with the books has been difficult for me; confusion and resistance set in easily. This brief, punchy outline came thru really clearly. Thank you!

    Jonice - April 25, 2021 Reply

    I’m glad, Samantha! Keep up the good work.

BB - April 18, 2021 Reply

This works.

GWOR - April 18, 2021 Reply

Childhood Disaster
“Then Write & Make Your Own Metaphorical Movie”

Like a long running movie with more negative replays vs good plays into adult hood it is hard to turn down the volume and the amazing colours of the bleak pictures especially back then as B&W TV was it and owning a colour set was the price of a good used car.

But B& W or colour TV either is hard to turn off under the powerful debilitating circumstances of these people that run their hurtful dribble endlessly and their picture and pulling the plug does not help the picture .

However we survive in all our own Individual coping mechanisms to look for our own picture not the inference of others destroying our picture because they always can turn to another channel and drive the narrative their way for self, keeping one in the darkness where chain like ownership is their gift and changing the story on the fly is their puck in your net and a key to open any door and control those in their web until we lock it or have a shut out in the arenas of our minds .

Recently a few of us thought if we each wrote our own metaphorical movie it may bring new light on the big picture of being left out and really it is about our own self survival at all costs .

What came out of this the ending is what it is, we live , we go forward and for each person individually & the discredits etc at the end of the movie were exactly the same category by
category . Many got repeat mentions for being dishonourable in their conduct .

At the end we acknowledge all those who individually stating their name who took us down and purposely left them out of the movie by naming the person, the event , the time the cause & effect etc..and if it is still there today .

Then in time it will be back to rewrite and update the power of intention and a clean moving forward script and take one hill at a time to overcome and move on .

Like they say if you are taking flack then you must be over the target of your enemy you want to completely eliminate . And they know it instinctively.

There is something cathartic in doing this by writing down their vile mean self righteousness bombastic names on one line and the terror and fear as subjects they brought into our individual means & ways of surviving allowed a certain way of finality and finally exposing and ejecting these awful people out of our lives some still living, all dead in our books as we who wrote out our own scripts can always add another name as they are just not worth filling our heads with their maliciousness, time taking away the enjoyment of life and our precious living ruined by others like a drain clogged up with their crap .

Time for the plumber’s helper to clear the mind and get these people gone and down the drain fleshed away to the settling ponds at the water works to settle and disposed appropriately to the furnaces for final incineration to ashes .

Yes , looking at the list we concluded these are the people who stole our life & living away and by acknowledging them we actually agreed we can write our own story/ movie and erase these bad butt characters out of our script and bury their parts anyway we wish to dispose of them environmentally again metaphorically. And just move on.

It may seem strange but to eliminate and extinguish these less than human widgets out of our lives the new chess board of players and pictures and moves opens brighter , with more light , more opportunities for choosing the right directions for the self not their dead ends and less agitation caused by the deadly viruses life like stating many were eliminated from this reshoot in that they were just actors who failed to meet the grade at rehearsal and did not make the cut then, now and forever .

And in closing yes we will still meet them as they never give up for retaliation but recently I just kept on walking in my part of the script to better ways to spend my time purposefully appropriately without carrying their mental, physical, distressing weights they knew they had infected me permanently now being eliminated by a vaccine called self caring & self respect and seeking more light and my compass taking me from my centre to the route I choose first .

Jacqueline - April 18, 2021 Reply

I read your book and do most things your recommend. What I can’t seem to resolve is a deep sense of loneliness and lack of belonging anywhere. I’ve tried many ways to find “my people” but we have no family, my husband is an introvert, my work is mostly solo. I feel good when I’m around kind creative people but it’s exhausting to constantly building relationships and I find that people who have family- sisters, mothers- or childhood friends don’t want or need the same level of connection as I do. Am I trying to fill an old void from having unavailable mother. How do emotionally abandoned children become adults that don’t feel terrible being alone?

    Jonice - April 18, 2021 Reply

    Dear Jacqueline, your body is talking to you. It’s saying, “You need people in your life!” I suggest 2 things: focus on emotionally validating yourself more and expanding your awareness of your own feelings and needs (what your mom didn’t give you). And figure out why building friendships feels so exhausting for you. Perhaps you could be giving too much power to other people instead of just being yourself and allowing them to gravitate toward you. Please do see a CEN therapist if you can use some support on this.

Mac - March 8, 2020 Reply

Found my copy of Daniel Goleman’s EQ, which I’d bought waaay back and had obviously read then but without the knowledge of the full facts of my childhood background.
Re-reading it, and its a bit of a grind, I can relate to the cause and effects of my difficult start in life, but there has always been the spark of a fighter within me so I guess thats a very useful authentic quality, especially as I used to synthesise my considerable passive aggressive issues into a work ethic.
In the present, there seems very little of this, or perhaps its been reformatted as witty humour as my social interactions are now so much more fluid and lighter, and even though I’m well retired aka ancient I’m now able to contribute these and my creative skills as a volunteer in a hospice charity.
Course as Mr Goleman points out, the emo quick isn’t necessarily totally accurate, but allowing ourselves a few errors of judgement is fine, life is a winding road, and it can be real fun, if you like that sort of thing?

Kristen - February 23, 2020 Reply

I was wondering if it’s possible to be very empathetic with other people but completely blind to your own feelings? This is how I feel. I can always tell if there’s something wrong with someone else and people with negative energy are very hard for me to be around…and yet I have little to no idea what to do with my own negative emotions.

    Jonice - February 24, 2020 Reply

    Dear Kristen, in my Running On Empty book, I describe something very similar as one of the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect: Compassion for others, but little for self. It’s a sign that beyond being overly attentive to others, you are under-attentive to your own feelings.

    grumpytig - February 24, 2020 Reply

    Kristen IMO that sounds like you are already aware of your feelings i.e. you are not blind to them, you are just not applying logic to them to organise them

      Jonice - February 24, 2020 Reply

      Good point grumpytig.

      Kristen - February 24, 2020 Reply

      Well, after alienating all of my children, I figured out that how I wasn’t dealing with my emotions was not okay. I have a very hard time calming myself and I get fixated on problems easily…I’m trying to change because I adore my children.

        Jonice - February 25, 2020 Reply

        Dear Kristen, I applaud you for being willing to change for your children. Now it’s a matter of doing the work. You can do it.

          Makuye - April 18, 2021 Reply

          Kt is magnificent that Kristen is deciding to change because of possibly seeing effects on her chi!dren.
          My mother is approaching her death still quite stoic rather than open with her feelings.
          That she is noncommunicative of her feelings since my earliest memory, did handicap her childden, who are mostly uncommunicative as well.
          Since getting bothe CEN books now a few years ago, i made efforts. This winter her illness made herless able to communicate, and her religion always a barrier between parents and offspring, seems to have taken her into that dissociated solace that prevents real love and communication.

          I have wanted to help her feel the deep value of familial love, and thus, love for all that lives. This is difficult from a vast distance and her no longer answering telephone.
          This is so metaphorical, inability or not desiring to answer telephone (facebook distorted her attention for a decade, with strange “friends” largely solely religious. She ceased that and i sent her a laptop 1 1/2_ years back to encourage email – writing her thoughts and emotional outreach, but she did not use it for that, or the skype i put up as another alternative for jntimacy)

          So, Kristen’s courage makes me happy, even if about 3 years of speaking one way about openness, caring, and using CEN suggestions.
          (i could never be accusatory, because i had always seen that her own experience of emotional neglect and her development of “it’s a hard world stoicism” and survival of a brutally emotionally absent husband, was far worse than my own emotkonal impoverishment)

          My own attempts to have and give emotional openness have vastly helped me to connect with others, and with myself (i no longer berate myself for failures as if i were some child to be disciplined, and am happier even when ijured or isolated, as we all experienced this last year)

          The work using the constantly growing understanding of CEN, is itself very creative, satisfying dach day, as if on some sculpture more beautiful, more malleable, than nonliving things are.
          Kinder to myself at last, i am kinder to all, whether they are past memories or present other i meet.

          As the song goes, “acidentally . . . i never thought that life, could be so sweet.”

          For this , you have my deepest appreciation and love.

Denise - February 23, 2020 Reply

Hi Dr. Webb,
I just want to tell you that I have been reading your articles I get in my email & I also got your book “Running on Empty”. Thank you so much for helping me to understand why I am the way that I am. For so long I have been dealing with major depression, negative emotions, excessive guilt, anger, extreme social anxieties, apathy, no motivation & even suicidal thoughts, well not just thoughts because as a teenager I did try to take my life twice. I was sexually abused, physically abused & emotionally abused as a child & after reading your articles & book I now see that it’s the emotional neglect that has really affected me the hardest I think. I remember being so depressed as a teenager that I decided to go into my room with a blade and started to cut my wrist, my cousin saw me through the window & immediately told my mother, they broke into the room & my mom seemed overwhelmed & stressed out about it, but she just hugged me & told my cousin to take me for a drive and that was it. She never spoke to me about why I did it, in fact I don’t remember her ever asking me how I was feeling or how my day was whenever I came home from school, she never talked to me much & as a young girl we really need our mothers, and she never took me to see a doctor after that incident. She’s gone now but I know she must have loved me, she just had the hardest time showing it, I’m trying to understand her since I know it must have been very hard for her too as she grew up with alcoholic parents, I know she was trying the best that she could with so many children.
I also had a bad head injury when I was younger so I wonder if that on top of everything else compounds the problem. I’m now in my 50s and I know that there’s several factors that have helped me through, first & foremost is my strong belief in God. Second I was on antidepressants for a period of time, about 2 yrs. I feel like it has helped quite a bit for the persistent negative gloomy thoughts & feelings, I don’t want to depend on drugs so I eventually got off of them & things are ok. And third, understanding what happened or didn’t happen to us as children can really have an impact on our lives in the future, you have helped me to see that and I am trying to work on improving myself & the quality of my life. Thank you so much for your help and your knowledge & insight, I do appreciate it very much!

    Jonice - February 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear Denise, thanks for sharing your story with us. I’m so glad you have found answers and I’m so glad I played a part in that process.

Julia - February 23, 2020 Reply

I have struggled with self regulation for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure it’s hindered by the fact that I have bipolar 2. Do you have any suggestions that might help me learn how to better manage my emotions?

    Jonice - February 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear Julia, the better you understand emotions and how they work, the more control you will have over them.

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