How Old Feelings From Your Childhood Could Be Controlling You Now

Travis

Travis’s wife notices that he becomes unnecessarily angry every time she asks him to do something, even if it’s just a small chore around the house. Frustrated by his constantly ruffled feathers, she finally points this out to him. Once Travis hears this, he begins to pay attention to his own reactions in a way that he never has before. He realizes that he indeed feels a jolt of anger just as his wife has observed. “I don’t like being told what to do,” he concludes.

Lynn

Lynn is the mother of an 8-year-old daughter, Hayley, and also a 3-year old son. Hayley is doing well in 3rd grade. Her teachers describe her as a well-adjusted, happy, well-liked child who does all of her schoolwork very well. But Lynn has a hard time accepting the teachers’ reports at face value. She finds herself asking Hayley too many questions about her playground experiences, friends, and interactions with her peers. She lives in fear that Hayley will experience bullying.

Ivan

Ivan is out to dinner with his group of friends. Everyone is talking and laughing and having a fun time. But Ivan is struggling. Glancing at his watch he yawns and wonders how long he needs to stay. Deep down, he is feeling boredom that goes beyond boredom, and a swirl of frustration that makes him want to spring out of his chair and leave. It’s a complex cocktail of emotions that, strangely, seems both curiously out-of-place and yet deeply familiar.

Driven By Unseen Forces

Travis, Lynn, and Ivan are no different from the rest of us. We all live our lives under the influence of silent currents that ripple through our lives, coming upon us unexpectedly and yanking us this way or that way. They can leave us wondering, confused, or even sometimes baffled, about why we feel what we feel or do what we do.

These currents are the real reason for Travis’s anger, Lynn’s fear, and Ivan’s urges to flee. They are old feelings. Feelings from growing up that they never faced or dealt with and of which they are unaware. All three of these people are being influenced by unresolved emotions from their childhoods.

3 Principles of How Childhood Feelings Work

  1. Squelched, walled-off, or pushed away feelings do not go away. They simply go underground and pool there, waiting to be touched off.
  2. Old feelings can be easily touched off by any current situation in your life that simulates the original cause of the feeling. This can be completely unrelated to the original cause and they may attach themselves to an event, experience, or person in your current life who does not deserve them.
  3. These old feelings can be just as powerful, or even more so, as fresh ones. They may appear to come out of nowhere. They may even make you wonder what is wrong with you.

How Travis, Lynn, and Ivan Got Their Feelings 

Travis

Travis was raised by an authoritarian father who would come home from work and bark orders at Travis. “Do this,” “Now do that,” he would command in a booming voice. Travis knew that if he didn’t hop to it he would pay a heavy price with his dad. Travis learned early and well how to squash his own feelings, wishes, and needs and do as he was told in order to keep his father from exploding.

Travis has pushed his anger at being controlled by his dad underground for so many years that they are now pooled in his body like an underground spring. When his wife asks him to do something for her, she inadvertently triggers his buried feelings.

Lynn

Lynn’s family moved around a lot when Lynn was growing up. Between grades 3 and 12 she lived in 5 different states. The middle child of 3 siblings and with two busy, working parents, Lynn was mostly left to adjust to all these changes on her own. In 2 of the schools that she attended she encountered severe bullying, targeted for being “the new kid.” With no one to help or defend her Lynn’s main coping mechanism was to simply ignore the bullying and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Lynn is going through her adult life with lots of intense feelings from the bullying that are conveniently walled off. Feelings of hurt, helplessness, and loneliness lurk on the other side of her wall waiting to be touched off. Now, her child’s age is triggering her old feelings, causing her to live in fear that Hayley will have the same experience is attaching itself to Hayley where it does not belong.

Ivan

Ivan grew up in a typical American family that was, by all accounts, “good people.” But those good people had some major shortcomings. Only positive, happy feelings and words were allowed in their house. Ivan’s parents viewed negative feelings, such as anger, sadness, hurt, or anxiety, as unnecessary complaining. They thought they were training their children to be happy, but they were actually literally banning and squelching a great deal of the most deeply personal expressions of their children’s humanity. Ivan always knew that he needed to keep any negativity to himself.

Finding himself in this happy circumstance, Ivan’s deep well of negative feelings, pushed underground by his parents, begins to threaten. He has no idea why, but whenever he should be happy, he feels bored and frustrated and needs to escape. Because his parents always required him to be happy, he now experiences happy circumstances as an unreasonable demand placed on him, and old feelings of rebellion are activated.

What To Do

  1. Become aware. Old feelings can only trigger you when you are unaware of them. Once you realize what’s happening you have the opportunity to take control.
  2. Take control. Put a label to the feeling, or mix of feelings, that are triggered and identify the kinds of situations that trigger them.
  3. Face the feelings and process them. Sit with these old feelings and allow yourself to feel them. Share your story from childhood and allow someone to help you get perspective on it.
  4. Pay attention. Watch for those old feelings to come up. When you feel them, try your best to parse them out and put them where they belong. It is your responsibility to protect those who share your life now from feelings caused by others in your past.
  5. Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Travis, Lynn, and Ivan all grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Sadly, they have no idea. Instead of walling off your feelings, you can learn how to use them in a healthy and useful way. To begin take the free CEN Test and start down the path to recovery.

Learn about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens in the life of a child, and how to heal it in the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
zeeky - May 25, 2021 Reply

Dear Jonice, Thank god with the help of your books I’ve been growing and learning about myself and my emotions; Thank you!!

The most dominant emotions that have been hidden inside me, include intense guilt and shame. What book would you recommend to a Emotionally neglected person on guilt and shame? Thank you so much for all you do, its amazing.

Anthony - March 2, 2021 Reply

Hi i to can relate to Ivan’s story except i had it from both parents. My mother was neurotic and a nervous wreck who was a stay at home mum . We lived in a good area and my father was a career person. He enjoyed our discomfort, my parents used us three kids as an emotional punching back. Emigrated to Australia at 15 my sister aged 14 was homed elsewhere because of the abuse, she basically spent 20 years not working due to trauma. Im now aged 57 estranged like my sister from my mother. My father has been dead 10 years. At 29 i had a bad nervous brake down and have been on antidepressants, anti anxiety and mood stabilisers since. I work as does my middle sister. We both are survivors and marvel how we survied. Today my only real issue is a lot of anger.

Thanks
Anthony.

Parvez - February 26, 2021 Reply

Hello Dr.

I learnt a lot on emotional dysregulations since internet and youtube gave me opportunity, CEN and CPTSD looks same, do you have any thoughts what is different in CEN and CPTSD. I have strange emptiness and heaviness, grief I cannot trace it back to any childhood incident, looks it is from preverbal phase, it is just feeling of resentment, anger , grief, fear and anxiety. Like something is not good. After knowing on this subject from all sources and practices meditation, feeling, giving time to those feelings and got relieved by almost 70% of sufferings. Will with the same practice, meditation and feeling fully will resolve my issue 100%, please guide me.

    Jonice - February 28, 2021 Reply

    Dear Parvez, I’m sorry I can’t answer that question without knowing a lot more about you. I encourage you to learn more about your own feelings and how they work, and start trying to feel them and understand them.

Jesse - February 24, 2021 Reply

Do we really have to protect others from our feelings or only the inappropriate behaviors we might use to express those feelings?

    Jonice - February 25, 2021 Reply

    Great question, Jesse! We need to protect other people from the damage that our unmanaged feelings might do to them. Feelings aren’t bad, but actions can be.

Sharon - February 23, 2021 Reply

I listened to the Podcast and I am wondering how to find someone in my area in Sonoma county, California who has been trained in your program. I am so very much in need to engage in counseling. I am 70 years old. Thank you. I also bought Running on Empty several months ago.

    Jonice - February 25, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sharon, just check the Find A CEN Therapist List on this website. You’ll find it under the Help Tab.

      Sharon - March 1, 2021 Reply

      Thank you. I’ll check that out.

Bette - February 22, 2021 Reply

I so appreciate your books and your perspective on CEN. Having lived a life with many of the challenges of having been “neglected” by my parents I find continuing to learn helps; thanks for the POD cast too..

Diane - February 22, 2021 Reply

Please help me- I have CEN and like Travis have anger issues. I know that when I get angry I deescalate in my room alone, however, my husband, who had the best childhood, just follows me to work things out and hasn’t learned that only incites me further. For 27 years he never learns I need to deescalate alone. And of course his loving hugs don’t do anything for me who never had that as a child.

    Jonice - February 25, 2021 Reply

    Dear Diane, I encourage you, for the sake of yourself and your husband, to start healing your CEN. You can find lots of support and direction to do this in the book Running On Empty. Also, you and your husband should read through my second book, Running On Empty No More, together and do the exercises together. Watch for a new online program for healing CEN in marriage that I’ll be making available soon on my website.

Karla - February 22, 2021 Reply

I identify with Ivan. Thank you for posting this. I often feel like there is something wrong with me because I don’t seem to jive with the good times happening around me. I often feel bored and want to escape. Reading this blog today helped me to see that as a manifestation of CEN. I particularly liked what you said here, “It is your responsibility to protect those who share your life now from feelings caused by others in your past.” I’ve given up the hope for a better past. That past has fallout for those around me. Now I must heal so the pool of suppressed emotions does not leak all over those around me and taint my current relationships. Also, because I have a right to enjoy life and have deep, authentic connections with others.

Michael - February 22, 2021 Reply

Thanks for your work Jonice. It’s helped me realize how and why I’ve felt and acted in so many ways. Sadly, these realizations didn’t come in time for me to save my 22-year marriage. I was often moody and withdrawn, without really knowing why I was ‘different’. When I took the CEN Test and read some of your articles, it all became clear. A father with MS who left the family and left me to be ‘man of the house’ at age 14. A mother who couldn’t cope with the pressures and her own mental illnesses. A younger sister who was sexually molested and developed disorders of her own. Nobody discussed the hurt feelings and pain we were all going through. I was the ‘good kid’, and I just learned to take care of myself and keep things to myself.
I married at 33 to a woman with a pre-teen daughter–thereby recreating the family I couldn’t save as a teenager. We had happy years, but when the going got tough, I always felt the need to put the load on my shoulders and carry everyone through–without thinking of my own needs and wants. Without asking my wife for help, or even knowing how to ask. That doesn’t work. Now, at age 57, with everything in ruins, I’m trying to rebuild my own life and take care of myself. It’s a hard journey, but your articles help.

Peter - February 21, 2021 Reply

Hello Jonice

I was sent to boarding school between 7 to 16 years of age. I experienced intense homesickness. I now classify myself as an anti-social person. I am an INTP on the Myers-Brigg personality scale which probably adds to my tendency to avoid large social gatherings. Any thoughts on this one? Thanks.

Peter

    Jonice - February 22, 2021 Reply

    Dear Peter, I do see some boarding schools doing a good job validating and dealing with children’s feelings but many fail badly on this. Perhaps you are a sensitive type (INTP) who was affected deeply by the lack of emotional nourishment you encountered at boarding school. I encourage you to emotionally nourish yourself now. The more you focus on yourself and your own feelings and welcoming them, the more ability you will have to enjoy other people too.

Cati - February 21, 2021 Reply

I’ve related so much to Ivan’s story! I had always had those feelings and kept trying to figure out why I was sabotaging myself in happy circumstances. Thank you so much for putting things into perspective this way. It’s so helpful!

Greetings from Bucharest, Romania.

NancyAnne - February 21, 2021 Reply

I identify with Ivan. I have always wondered why I am restless in a group setting where everyone is chatting with everyone else except me. I think I send out unfriendly vibes. Of course I wait for others to talk first too…
Thanks for your always valuable help.

Gladeye - February 21, 2021 Reply

CEN is the worst. Because of what I didn’t get as a child, I am too afraid of failure, too sensitive to criticism (especially from women), lack ambition or clear goals, and make a lot less money than I’m probably capable of earning, because I don’t believe enough in myself.

If someone were to ask me what would make me happier in life, all I could think to say is, “Relief.” I don’t even think in terms of happiness, because I can’t relate to happiness as anything more than occasional sample-sized bites. I just want relief from the anxiety and fear and a stable job I can live off of.

    Jonice - February 22, 2021 Reply

    Dear Gladeye, I encourage you to connect with a CEN-trained therapist, if you haven’t already. I’m sure you can use some support and guidance. With the right help, you can deal with these painful feelings holding you back and cultivate joy in your life.

Robin - February 21, 2021 Reply

I used non-dominant hand writing to uncover denial of the feelings I carried from a very dysfunctional childhood with sever emotional, physical, sexual, verbal abuse and extreme neglect. My father hated me with a passion and showed me this in every way he could. As a result I learned self-loathing and fear. But the non-dominant hand writing uncovered feelings and experiences I had ‘forgotten’ (the denial). I was able to communicate with that abused child, from my adult wise self, and so helped her out of her self-loathing and fear. I did the writing every day for a year. It solidifies the whirlwind, cacaphony of noise going on in my head allowing me to organize and dissect what exactly was going on in there. Today I can honestly say I do not loathe myself at all. Neither do I have outlandish fear and anxiety. I still do the writing whenever I come up against a difficulty in my life. I caught Covid 19 and went down hard with it for a couple of days in a very scary way. I managed to do some non-dominant hand writing on it. In the writing, I allowed my body to talk to me though my non-dominant hand and my adult spirit self in my dominant. I found out that my spirit felt ultimately betrayed by my body. I have body issues from being somewhat overweight and not particulary good looking. However, after I did the writing and found some peace between my spirit and body, I got through it rather quickly.

    Jonice - February 22, 2021 Reply

    Dear Robin, it seems you have discovered a unique way to get in touch with your feelings. I applaud the work you’ve done to make your life better.

Helena - February 21, 2021 Reply

Thank you for the article; I found the story of Ivan especially interesting. I was already aware that negative emotions were suppressed in my home in various ways, but never considered it a factor in my dislike of “obligatory” fun (birthday or New Year Eve? you have to have fun exactly today!). If someone asked me, I would probably guess it is related to guys whose “come on, have fun!” actually means “get drunk and have sex with me”, but thinking about it now, it is probably much older thing.

    Jonice - February 22, 2021 Reply

    Thanks for sharing that, Helena.

Richard - February 21, 2021 Reply

I think what you say Jonice is very good and wise. I also think there is an issue in families not only if people are shown no affection while growing up but also if they are only shown affection if they behave a certain way and are not sometimes given spontaneous hugs and kisses and signs of love. Just for being them. I think of people who were rewarded by their parents by affection only when they were good and very brave. I know someone like this who went on to form a major charitable organisation at great costs to themselves and those around them. I don’t think they ever retired. On one level I found their dedication to their charity deeply deeply impressive but I also wondered if they were actually trying still to get affection from their parents even though those parents were no longer alive. Parents of course exist in our heads long after we have grown up. They are in the circuit of our brain. The important lesson I guess is to know when to listen to these internal parents and when to simply ignore them (as author Russ Harris points out if you enter into a quarrel with your internal parent when they are being abusive to you it very often can make them stronger – the trick is to notice the voice and/or feeling and then ignore it)

    Jonice - February 22, 2021 Reply

    All very good points, thank you Richard.

Mary - February 21, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice
Do you think there’s a link between autism and childhood emotional neglect?

    Jonice - February 22, 2021 Reply

    Only in the sense that an autistic parent would be more likely to inadvertently emotionally neglect their child. But CEN and autism are not at all the same.

Donald - February 21, 2021 Reply

Your articles are so dead on with my feelings now. I think I have a combination of PTSD and CEN. I don’t have a good support system in place. I’m seeing a phycologist and she tells I have three areas of Trauma family,work, childhood so I’m trying to figure out what to do without medication.

Tim S - February 21, 2021 Reply

Thanks for this article, Dr. Webb. I’ve found it really helpful in my own journey to start out with the assumption that anything I’m feeling, no matter how “irrational”, is a valid expression of how a part of me is experiencing a situation. At that point I can get down to the business of finding out why this seemingly irrational or out of place feeling is actually nothing of the sort, but is actually (from the standpoint of the part in question) a perfectly logical reaction to the situation I find myself in.

The IFS concept of parts, and (since my childhood was also traumatic, not just neglectful) the idea of emotional flashbacks from Pete Walker’s work have both been helpful for me in responding effectively and compassionately to my seemingly inappropriate emotional reactions. I generally see the flashbacks as coming from various parts (in an IFS sense) rather than primarily from an inner critic the way Mr. Walker describes things, but I’m grateful to have the tools today to respond constructively to my own emotions and emotionally-driven reactions when they’re out of place for the situation I’m currently in.

Thanks for the reminder that nothing about my emotions is a coincidence, even if I don’t yet see why I’m feeling the things I’m feeling.

    Jonice - February 21, 2021 Reply

    I’m sorry you experienced so much as a child. It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job working through it. I’m glad to be helpful to you!

Alan - February 21, 2021 Reply

Hi Janice,
Thanks for another thought provoking article. I can totally relate to travis experienced.

Terri - February 21, 2021 Reply

Thank you! This resonates with what I experienced as a child. I need to be more aware of triggers that release childhood experiences.

    Jonice - February 21, 2021 Reply

    And of your own emotions in general, Terri. Positive and negative feelings, in their great variety as they happen through your day.

GWOR - February 21, 2021 Reply

“Beware of the person you let into your house because you may lose your home in the process “

The same applies to letting people into your heart realizing they may take it and like your house in the process losing its home the heart takes longer to heal once taken out and away by another.

The doors you choose to open and close, you choose for yourself do not let those doors be chosen for you . You decide your course of direction much like tides that ebbs & flows.

Being brought up in a middle class progressive rural successful farming environment I was at that stage my uncle wanted me to learn the business before heading off to one of the best Agricultural Universities and now I was about to live the moment why some farmers were more open to letting callers into their homes while in contrast the town & city folk were more careful who they let in and thus most interchanges & communication are right at the front or side door and if for business reasons to collect money, sell something and the biggest variable the prying & nosey neighbours knowing your business .

Thus so most business was done at the entrance not in the entrance and that’s it , and were reluctant to open their doors any further unless they knew them with an appointment prearranged.

However farmers seemed different and most of my relatives were successful farmers .

With that said this is the experience I lived when visiting my uncle one day at one of the finest farm operations in the area and the side door bell rang and now I was to live this moment to getting my answer .

My uncle greeted the unknown person , respectfully and professionally and invited him into his office area off of the side door and I was invited to sit in to learn the business . The visitor spoke but even then there were flaws in the presentation as to if the need in increasing efficiencies of production and qualities of product care in the adjacent factory could be actually achieved .

So my uncle quietly got up and walked to the door and with the greatest of courtesy listened not saying a word and walking a pace behind the caller . The chap kept walking ahead talking and my uncle and I returned to the house as the person was really talking to himself now getting into his car.
So my uncle said, did you learn anything ?
Yes I said, well what is it ?
You determined there was no point to carry on and being polite the solution the rep offered was not applicable to our production lines so it was better to see his back heading to the car and leaving without any further discussion .

And what else ? Well we have work to do I said, no young man you have work to do in the factory and I have to run the business and not waist valuable time being drained on fruitless costly solutions that may do more damage to our production and concentrate on shipping orders today and planning the businesses we run profitability and successfully .
And as you are aware we employ many returning workers from the area for harvest and those with factory experience in this processing plant are key and crucial to our success and who also need the part time work to make ends meet .

So know when to open the door , be just , fair and right to another but know when to close that door if there are no solutions to your profit having many, many definitions you will appreciate as you are growing up . And money is time and time is money as others depend on us for employment as you are learning .
Yes that day I sure learned a lot about doors and those that open inwards to darkness vs those that open outwards to light and exiting to look for more solutions . We must look after the self first and be the person who determines how, when, where, why and what to whom we both open and close the doors.

Losing one’s home & heart is a big price to pay to be taken in and being shut out by another no matter their original purpose and intentions. There is no profit here just mounting losses of human and associated debts in so many categories gone & taken away at the doorways of life where like the tide everyday regularly ebbs and flows in the 24 hour period and life goes on with you or without you and remembering sometimes the doors of life and living can also swing both ways.
So you must be your own watch person of the directions of the doors of life . You decide not another .Period!

    l - February 21, 2021 Reply

    Interesting comment,many similar can be applied,Such as .. The Yorkshire builder teaching his son one day”said i will hold this ladder for you while you go up it,you can work from top o it!” His son diligently climbed the ladder, before he’d reached the top his father kicked the ladder from under him, the lad tumbled to the ground ladder n all,”what did you do that for”? he asked his dad! “First lesson in’t buisness son” never trust any bugger”!! ” Ont tuther and,yer cant make lambs wi out showing tup tt ewes”!!

Rosemarie - February 21, 2021 Reply

Oh my goodness! My life!
I am learning so so much about myself through your book and articles.
It’s like 27 years suddenly makes sense, and the lights are finally coming on. I truly am so thankful for stumbling upon you, as it is helping me immensely and giving me hope that there is freedom. I have vowed that this generational cycle stops here with me.

Wanda - February 21, 2021 Reply

I am a student of “Running on Empty”. 66 year old middle child. “Perfect” childhood. Since our dad died 4 years ago my 4 siblings have blatantly excluded me from their lives. I googled “my adult siblings exclude me” and you and your books popped up. Wow! I can relate to so many sections of the book! I’m seeking peace in my soul. Not there yet. Thank you for your words. At least I am learning to understand why I have always had one missing piece to the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle I call my life. I will search for that piece until I find it, or, until the end of my time on earth.

    Margie - March 19, 2021 Reply

    Hi Wanda, I can relate. Were you perhaps the favourite in some way? I have so much to say on being the middle child, and favourite, and seen as odd by my siblings that I connected with my mother. Little do they know that it was my way of getting to know my parents upbringing by asking questions, and having empathy with their childhood struggles. I was the empty favourite in the middle.

Joan - February 21, 2021 Reply

Thank you Jonice! I have learned so much about myself since reading your books and your blogs and emails. This is life-changing for me. I am grateful to have this new knowledge.

    Jonice - February 21, 2021 Reply

    I’m very glad, Joan.

Olivia - February 21, 2021 Reply

Can you clarify what ‘being touched off’ means? Does it mean ‘set off’ like you would set off a firework? I’m confused because in England being ‘touched’ means you’re a bit crazy and weird. ‘Touched in the head’ etc.

    Jonice - February 21, 2021 Reply

    Dear Olivia, Touched off just means activated as if a button is pushed. NOT the British version. CEN is certainly not that type of “touched.”

      LESLIE - February 22, 2021 Reply

      Jonice Thank you for your works of of experience ,i have found them useful on my journey to self. Meanwhile can i pass on a little knowledge to you? Being “touched” can also mean being emotionally moved by a gesture or a sign of concern from another. We are stoical in England, thankfully its mostly politicians that are “a bit touched int ead!” Stay safe Les

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