How to Deal With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents

Now that I see what my parents didn’t give me, how do I continue to interact with them?

Should I tell my parents how they failed me?

If I talk to my parents about CEN, won’t it make them feel bad?

How do I handle the pain that I feel now, as an adult, each time my parents treat me as if I don’t matter?

If you were raised by parents who were not tuned in enough to your emotional needs, you have probably experienced the results of this parental failure over and over throughout the years and into your adult life. Once you realize how deeply you have been affected by Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), it can become quite difficult to interact with the parents who neglected you.

One of the most frequent questions that I am asked by people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect is, “Should I talk to my parents about CEN?”

It’s actually quite difficult to answer the questions above. Every single living human being had a childhood, and no two stories are the same. Indeed, the number of possible answers to the question is as infinite as the variety of different ways that CEN can happen. It can be extremely healing when an adult child and his or her parents are able to come to a mutual understanding of how an emotional failure happened and why, and how it affected everyone involved. This, however, can be a complicated business, difficult, and even risky.

It’s important to keep in mind that it is not at all necessary to include your parents in your recovery from CEN. As an adult, you can identify what you didn’t get, and you can give it to yourself. I have seen many people go through this process with great success without ever including their parents.

That said, you may certainly feel a wish or need to reach some understanding about CEN with your parents. If so, it is very understandable that you might feel this way. If you are wondering about whether to talk to them, one extremely important factor to consider is the type of CEN parents that you have. 

The 3 Main Categories of CEN Parents

  1. Self-centered, Abusive, or Multiple-Failure Parents: These parents expect the child to fulfill their needs, rather than the other way around. They may not have treated you with the physical and emotional care and protection that a child needs from a parent.
  2. Struggling: These parents may mean well, but they are simply unaware of their child’s needs because they are struggling in their own lives. They may be struggling financially, emotionally, or with the caretaking of a sick family member or child, for example.
  3. WMBNT or Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves: These parents love their children and give them everything they can. But they are not able to give their child enough emotional responsiveness and validation because they didn’t receive it in their own childhoods. They may be simply “emotion blind.”

Parents who are in the last two categories, Struggling or WMBNT, stand a better chance of being able to get past their initial hurt, guilt, or defensiveness to have a fruitful talk with their adult children about CEN. If your parents were in the Self-centered category, were abusive, or failed you in many other ways as well, see the section below called Self-Centered, Abusive, or Multiple-Failure Parents.

First, let’s look at some general suggestions to consider. Then we’ll talk about how to apply them to the different types of parents.

5 Ways to Talk With Your CEN Parents

  1. Ask your parents about their own childhoods – If you are unsure about why your parents were blind to your emotional needs, ask them some questions about their own parents and their own childhoods. You may be able to see whether and how your parents were failed by their parents. If you can see your own parents more clearly, you may be able to understand why they failed you. Whether you decide to talk to them about CEN or not, your understanding of how they got their emotional blind spots may help you feel less hurt when you are affected by them.
  2. Try to find compassion for your parents – Often, when you can see how your own parents were emotionally neglected, you can feel some compassion for what they didn’t get. This can help you to feel less angry and frustrated with them for failing you.
  3. Anticipate and prepare – Think about whether to tell your parents about your discovery of CEN. Might one parent be more able to understand it than the other? Will your parents collapse into a pool of guilt for having failed you? Will they be completely unable to grasp it? Will they get angry?
  4. If possible, take a chance – If you feel there is a potential for positive results and healing, I suggest that you take a chance and talk about it.
  5. Talk with compassion and anticipate how your parents might feel – Many parents may feel accused, defensive, hurt, or guilty when you try to talk to them about CEN. It is very important to anticipate this and prevent it. Here are some guidelines: 
    • Choose your moment wisely, with few distractions, when your parents are in a calm mood. Decide whether to talk with one parent first or both together.
    • If at all possible, have this conversation in person. It can be difficult to see what your parents are feeling or to respond to them in a helpful way via phone or electronic communication.
    • Tell them that this is a new discovery about yourself that you wish to share with them.
    • Talk about CEN with compassion for them and how they were raised.
    • Talk about how invisible and insidious it is, and how easy it is for loving, well-meaning parents to pass it down to their children.
    • Tell them what you are doing to heal yourself.
    • Be clear that this is not a matter of blame and not an accusation; you are talking with them about it only because you want to move forward and be closer to them.
    • Offer to give them a copy of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect so that they can read about it for themselves.

Self-Centered, Abusive, or Multiple Failure Parents

If you have parents who fall into one of these categories, then you are faced with a situation that is even more complex than those above. Unless your parents have changed and grown since your childhood, I am sorry to say that most likely they will not be able to grasp the CEN concept or to respond to you in any positive way.

For you, I offer one guiding principle that may be difficult for you to accept. But I stand by it, after having treated scores of CEN people with parents like this. Here it is:

Make the decision about whether to talk to your parents about CEN based solely upon your own needs. If you think it may strengthen you or make you feel better to talk with them (even if it causes a rupture or distance between you), then do it. If not, then do not. You are not obligated to take your parent’s needs and preferences into account. On this, it’s all about you. 

In other words, if you had an abusive or multiple-failure parent, you have carte blanche permission to do whatever you feel will benefit you in your life. You, your children, and your spouse come first. You do not need to protect your parents from the knowledge that they failed you.

Parents who were abusive to you as a child, either verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually, are also, by definition, emotionally neglectful. If they had been emotionally attuned to you enough, they would not have been able to treat you this way.

If your parents were/are abusive in any way, then it may be of more value to talk with them about the abuse than about the neglect since abuse is far more visible and tangible than CEN. Because CEN can be so imperceptible and hides beneath abuse, it will be very difficult and unlikely for abusive parents to ever grasp the concept.

Unless your parents have been to therapy, have confronted their own issues and abusive ways, and actively changed, (for example, an alcoholic or addicted parent who gets sober and goes to AA such that his/her personality becomes truly different) they will probably be no more able to hear you now than they could when you were a child.

So, ask yourself, “If I talk with my parents about CEN, what are the possible outcomes?” Will they tell you that you are too sensitive and that you are blowing things out of proportion? Will they blow up in anger? Will they likely say something abusive? Will they twist around what you are saying, and use it against you somehow?

If any of these are likely, I suggest that you put your energy toward healing yourself, and leave your parents out of it. It is extremely important if you do decide to talk with them, that you do it with the understanding that you may need to protect yourself emotionally. It is vital that you be strong enough to not be emotionally damaged by their words or reactions. This is a tall order for anyone but is especially so when you were raised by self-centered or abusive parents.

The Takeaway

It is certainly not necessary to talk to your parents about CEN. You can heal from it without ever doing so. Learning more about your parents’ childhoods and having compassion for them may help make their emotionally neglectful ways less painful to you now. However, sharing the concept of CEN with them can be helpful in some families, and may be a way for you to improve your relationship with them. Be sure to take into account the type of CEN parents that you have when making the decision to talk with them. Your path to healing is unique to you. There are no right or wrong answers.

If you decide to talk with your parents about CEN, follow the tips and guidelines above, and proceed with care. For much more information, details, and support for how to decide and how to protect yourself see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

To find out whether you grew up with CEN Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Above all else, remember that your feelings are important and your needs are important. Yes, you matter.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Beth - August 2, 2021 Reply

I am wondering how to handle the situation I experience with my parents. My father was clearly a WMBNH man who acknowledged me as a person and was interested in who I was, but he was dismissive of my feelings. Now, he says that he probably messed things up did the best he could. He hopes I don’t feel like an “abused child,” but he says it with kind of a joking tone. I am left wondering if he really understands, or if he is just saying it because he sees that the general trend in society is to blame our parents for many of our problems. He encourages me to stay in my emotionally-abusive marriage, asking me, “How much does it really hurt you?” As long as there are no physical wounds, it doesn’t matter what my husband does, how he speaks to me, or whether or not he treats me as an equal. Is my father’s half-acknowledgement of issues that stem from my childhood his way of being supportive, or is he just checking off the boxes of what he thinks he should say? I don’t know if I should continue trying to get him to understand, or if it is pretty much a hopeless case.

R.Clare - August 2, 2021 Reply

Thankyou for all this information and guidance Dr.Jonice Webb and thankyou so much for the responses. I read fully about the experiences of a child of narc. parents which I connected with very much. Other accounts I had to skim read because of fatigue.I vowed when very young, not to cause any more harm to kids and so did not start a family. I was also told by my father that the world was too horrible a place to bring a child into(he told his own child) , so I have stood my own ground which is amazing in one way, but has left me quite alone and with M.S. for some time,on a low income and without any savings at all. Such is life in a capital city in Europe! Having said that, so much headway is made in psychology etc. and many good people are helping to move us forward. So I have to end this by encouraging us all to keep learning and loving,using this energy and enjoying it too, and bringing more consciousness into our actions I think.

    Jonice - August 3, 2021 Reply

    Thank you for sharing that, R.Clare. Your words are meaningful and encouraging to many.

Joanie - August 1, 2021 Reply

I have been wondering if you hear from any children of parents who may have been somewhere on the autistic spectrum. My parents tried their best to be good parents but something felt off. I am now in my 60’s and having raised a child who was diagnosed with being on the spectrum, I can see so many similar traits in both my mom & dad. This was so apparent when I was given a YouTube link to help me learn how autism could present itself, especially in high functioning people. I feel like my parents had enough traits to not be able to foster awareness of emotions, facial expressions, body language, and even tone of verbal expressions, but they did not have enough traits to interfere with their own ability to have successful jobs (both in the sciences), a marriage to each other, and ok relationships with neighbors. They were each other’s best friends, and enjoyed extended family, but had no other close friendships. Do you have any insights or research on children of persons on the spectrum? I am especially interested in how to tease out what emotional capacity I have versus what I was “trained” to omit. Over the years, with the help of a great counselor, I have been able to learn how to pay attention to body language and this has taken away some social anxiety.

    Jonice - August 1, 2021 Reply

    I’m so glad you had a great counselor, Joanie. That is wonderful. I do see spectrum parents being more prone to emotional neglect but it is not a definite by any stretch. Even many people on the spectrum can learn to recognize emotions in themselves and others.

    Karen - August 3, 2021 Reply

    Understanding the lack of emotional intelligence in some ASD individuals is so important. I recently learned through therapy (I’m 49) that I was raised by a narcissistic mother who was incapable of meeting my emotional needs. I went on to marry a high functioning ASD man who was also unable to meet my emotional needs. Not ever having them met in childhood did not raise any red flags that my husband was unable to provide any emotional support as I thought it was completely normal. Now going through the grieving process as I now realize what I’ve missed out on in life and trying to reparent myself. It’s not easy.

Call me by your name - August 1, 2021 Reply

I’m nearly 65 and grew up with material comforts and possessions (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), but was not respected or accepted as a unique individual with feelings. I was merely an extension of mother to be molded into whomever she wanted, and neither parent respected or accepted any boundaries. I was constantly abused verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically (and count myself fortunate to have not been sexually abused by them). I was expected to be their slave and do their bidding. Nothing I ever did was “good enough.” Both parents are narcs— father a typical “my way or the highway,” “Father Knows Best” breadwinner “classic narcissist” with serious anger management issues, who left the child-rearing to stay-at-home mother who is a “closet narcissist.” She is extremely adept at projecting an image of a caring and generous person to the outside, while being extremely cruel, manipulative and exploitative behind closed doors, and effectively manipulates father into doing her bidding, particularly with regard to corporal punishment when I was a child.

I married someone who recognized that the best solution for me was for us to move far away… and we did so. He turned out to be a closet narc, with traits as mother, so similar it felt “comfortable.” I thank God I understood at an early age that it would be prudent to not have children, and I’m proud to say I didn’t have any. As a result, “the insidious abuse, exploitation and resulting damage stopped here,” with me, and will not be revisited on any future generations.

I got lucky after 23 years of a miserable, comfort-filled and loveless marriage when I found indisputable and incontrovertible written evidence of frequent infidelities, and we separated. It took four years for the divorce to be final. I’m still struggling to be free of him, though, because we co-own a house, and there are lots of issues with the house (which is my place of residence) and he continues his lies, abuse, manipulation and gaslighting. Eventually, this, too, shall pass and I’ll be free of him.

And even though they’re still married and co-dependent and narcissistic as ever, probably even more so, and still living in the city where I was born and grew up, more than 1,000 miles away, father and mother, now 92 and 87, respectively, will eventually die and I will be free of them. I’m not angry with them, and have empathy and understanding of whom they are and why they behave the way they do. I’m polite and civil, and will reply to text messages and occasionally a call, but they are so self-absorbed, everything is always about them and their suffering. I remain distant and detached from my three younger brothers, all who became narcs themselves. After both parents die, the source of the ongoing and evolving trauma with this family unit will be over, and I will be free.

Luckily I have two service animals who love and accept me unconditionally, so I do know this love and acceptance and am deeply grateful. With their help and support, I’m learning to love and care for myself. Some days are easier than others.

I’m grateful for all who shared their experiences and comments here, validating that we are not alone in our experience of childhood emotional neglect, and often, abuse, and I’m grateful to Dr Jonice for identifying and illuminating CEN, and paving a pathway to healing.

Jen - August 1, 2021 Reply

Excellent article. Literally, a frame for whom, how, and why of do I try to find out why my parents treated me so poorly. There is possible healing of: I am hurt and angry and want you to know that. The save yourself the trouble, your parent (S) do not have what it takes to hear, care about, feel remorse for what they did.
Take care of yourself, use what you didn’t get a guide to healing yourself.

Ian - August 1, 2021 Reply

What a coincidence that this article come out today when I’ve recently been thinking more and more of whether or not I should contact my mother (who I have excommunicated myself from, along with the rest of my family, best decision I ever made) to voice some thoughts after about a year of discovering CEN and how it has affected me, and while I still haven’t come to a decision, it has been quite helpful towards that goal of coming to one.

Kara - August 1, 2021 Reply

Thanks Dr Webb for another helpful article. I’d say both my parents would be in category #1. Towards the end of his life my father acknowledged he could have been a better parent and we had a couple of enlightening conversations about his childhood. I found this very healing and was able to forgive him for his abuse and neglect. I think that’s the gold standard – to have the parent acknowledge it. In the case of my mother she would see herself as category #2 definitely not #1. For instance, she’s always blamed anything she’s done as being all my father’s fault and is deeply offended any time I’ve raised things with her, to the point that we now have only superficial interactions. And I am very saddened by this. One thing for sure is that I’m very grateful to you for your books and other writings, because these have empowered me to focus on healing and getting on with my own life. Thanks for all your work Dr Webb, it’s greatly appreciated.

Yoamny - August 1, 2021 Reply

I think my parents are alittle of all three. As I started and continued working on my healing and recovery, there have been times when I have brought up how I felt growing up and they have listened, other times they have downplayed or ignored or stayed silent to what I have said or what I was going through, yet other times they have accompanied me to therapy sessions when asked. I realize that my parents have their own pain that they are unable or unwilling to confront. I am still trying to figure out how to interact with them in a way that is safe for me and respectful to the both of us, but I realize that I also have alot more healing to do. I appreciate this article. I have read your book Running on Empty and it home. It really is at the root of my mental health struggles. It good to know that someone has noticed, studied and has spoken up on this topic. CEN is insidious and pervasive, but the effects are VERY real. Thank you for sharing and for the affirming words of encouragement.

Gabi - August 1, 2021 Reply

I am sorry, Susie. It was tough for you – really hard.
My parents are gone now.
The only thing they taught me was how not to treat my child.

    Makuye - August 1, 2021 Reply

    This was the response also of my sister, who largely did a very good job at being emotionally sensitive.
    However, my sister’s retention of resentment poisoned her relationship with her loving husband, and with all males outside her grandchild.
    Resentment is the internal, unnoticed problem with which CEN people must deal, and overcome.

    While i have chosen for over a decade to end my resentment, through replacement with attentive kindness and love, habits emplaced from early childhood, learned from parental grandparental, and elder sibling modeling of resentment and avoidance must be overcome.

    Re-envisioning yourself as kind, attentive, and prioritizing these before, during, and after encounters, sems the only way.
    We must become then, something else than we ever were dropping the damaged and damaging societal values too common in the present cu!ture.

    After seeing one’s own failures, recognition that it is oneself that needs to change, must be primary.

    Following exposure to Dr. Webb’s books, i engaged my mother, who encompassed the latter 2 of 3 parenting difficulties. I spoke of her specific and general successes to her, in the hope she would become kinder to those in her life who she felt mean or neglectful. For this problem is always multigenerational, and fueled by ANY alcohol use, whether disinhibition or escape.

    It is we who must become different in order to make a neglectful, mean culture different.

Simon UK - August 1, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice,

This was an excellent article giving good guidance on whether you should or not discuss CEN with your parents depending upon which type of CEN parenting category they fit into. Its a complex subject but your guidance makes the decision simple…

Having read the comments above it is apparent that most of the parents were category 1 and were never going to accept any responsibility for the past. I have great empathy and sympathy with you all for the pain they have and still put you through.

Personally my parents neglected me in every way as a child BUT even as I got older they became bitter and spiteful about any success I had.

Throughout my life I felt like I was drowning, my family’s foot on my head holding me under!.

A marriage – they don’t like my wife and her weird family, a good job – but it’s never mentioned, children – don’t ask us for any help we’ve done our bit, a house by the sea – we’ve disinherited you as you don’t need the money.

You have to make your own decision as per the article. I did this long ago and it seems as per the article it was the right one.

I cut my parents and siblings out of my life 15 years ago completely and will never let them back in. They couldn’t love me, they are coming nowhere near my children!. It was tough at first but, honestly, the best thing I ever did.

Knowing about CEN and the cause means I can and have broken that cycle and love my kids unconditionally, hug them, praise them, guide them, enjoy their success and let them know how proud they make me and they know I will be with them by their side every step of the way and love them until I die.

I say find a new open welcoming loving family to join, make good friends, have solid relationships with positive happy successful people. Feed on that positivity. Move onwards, plan ahead without the baggage, just leave it behind and start afresh…. there’s nothing printed on your forehead!…

Break down the walls in your heart and allow love, kindness and understanding to flood in. Share these CEN articles with your new friends so they understand you. If they don’t, then move on as they’re not worthy of you.

Leave the worthless abusers behind, give them not another thought and get on with the good stuff in life. That is the best way to move on and defeat CEN and defeat the abusers by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

I read recently ‘living well is the best revenge’. It is..

Best wishes all

    KC - August 1, 2021 Reply

    Thank you, Simon, and congratulations! I appreciate your experience, your conclusions and your advice. Love & blessings to you and your family.

GWOR - August 1, 2021 Reply

Parents :
As an only child in the 1950s in a close knit small town plus other families who had brothers & sisters as youngsters we had to grow up fast and eventually we took care of our parents so when they finally died in their eighties the damage already done we tried to find our own lives and care and finally take time out for the self.

Since COVID19 started in the fall of 2019 there have been many suicides of young people, drug & alcohol abuse and Health & Wellness is being so stressed as our lives are totally disrupted.

Sadly many within the universities/ colleges and those graduating to respectable employment in their first year of starting a new life . Those within the educational system vs doing it virtually will be able to partake finally as a family in the college / university experience to be with others in their age group and grow together where lives can connect forever so matter where we end up in the
world .

Back then there was no support systems ,no way to communicate and no one to talk too and doctors handed out sedatives like candy , and we were told to shut the etc. up and be forgiving but never forgive ourselves .

It is as if we were on a parade square from our cadet , militia days and to show fear was forbidden and if it got around the community who was a mommy’s boy and for girls not sure the labels they were assigned but we all knew instinctively our horrible homelike and surprisingly we the losers all treated each other with caring and respect . Those who called us sissies etc… were trouble and still do a form of irreparable damage to this day as bullies then and bullies now .

These people are poison so we learned to stay away and or move away . Hopefully many of us affected will outlive them to read about them in the obit pages .

And looking back without ever sharing our grief and losses in our home we sensed something from others equally disturbed and without a word showed a caring to get through the school days as we were all under the same element of darkness in the classroom and got the strap boy or girl it did not matter before facing the horrific homes we went to upon returning after school was done for that day .Of course by the time we got home our parents knew we got the strap and we got it
again .

I guess we were done, done and done in and useless in the classroom being exhausted on all fronts.

Having taught school between business contracts I could in an instant Pick out the students who reminded me of my past upbringing in disaster at home and disorder they faced .

Weekends were awful and having a test on Monday many of us just could not cope and got put on that list of not teachable . Must repeat or developed learning difficulties as in later years as divorce became more acceptable and fashionable as more and more women were now getting good paying jobs with benefits . And getting a gov’t job with those life saving benefits saved a lot of families .Dads moved to a basement and were forgotten but miss a court ordered support payment jail was not that far away .

If a child was considered in any way mentally strung there were mental health places one could be sent .And this was the kiss of death. Many did not return except heading to reform school or the street .

So any of us looking after our parents said nothing but our teachers many single or working off the farm to bring in money were trouble . Those who knew us through the church & farming community were caring but had no authority with or within their principals who were less than understanding counting every day to retirement& a pension . Or perhaps their calendars already arrived with the days marked out until it was over .

We swallowed a lot and got jobs mowing lawns , grocery stores etc… but there was no forgiveness as our brave returning veterans were just trying to adjust to finding a job and and also not seeing family leaving when the child was born and coming home when the child was now five , six or seven these were tough adjustments all around so for many years alcohol, drugs , and people who did not serve were somewhat less than caring but genuine in many ways of community support programs and looking after sport teams and related because they had profitable businesses and vital services to run In the community others went so war and so for many without means any outlet to kill the pain all types mental, physical, financial, spiritual, soul and the environment, and the unforgiving mood of some of the community , who had a job, who did not etc. and combined with dangerous sedatives it was not pleasant if the parents were sick no matter how acquired naturally or through a drug and alcohol habit .
It was better to stay out of sight and say nothing and flee the area after high school graduation and start all over again on the lines at GM, Ford Chrysler or any manufacturing firm to get
benefits and overtime .

Although I would never want anyone to have my upbringing I was so blessed with a few friends as we still keep in touch by email throughout North America on as needed basis .

Although we are all in our mid seventies we take care of each other by email as it hits us to say hello.

It was what it was but what I have noticed we have taken the last years of COVID19 all in stride and perhaps the troubles we endured helped us to see our way through it all. Yes there is light and the door must always open outwards to light to find our way to better outcomes .Find new roads as the
Chevy commercial stresses and from a psychological point they are right alive and well to find new light as well.

The fact we were so poor then we saved and saved and many of us although aging were recently forced to close our businesses as COVID19 started while government people never missed a paycheque many of us saw the light of the incoming darkness ahead and closed knowing everyday going ahead “ online “ was the new order of business and to live today & tomorrow we finally closed our doors to not repeat the 1950s and early 1960s we lived everyday never reaching the finish line both broke and broken.

The past prepared us for COVID19 and we did not wish to relive our past staying in the present and living in the now by concentrating on helping our younger families on every point on the compass to get through it so they can return to work this September as the workplaces get some form of normality.

Maybe our troubled past prepared us for the future and to be there for others to tell our story we will get through this without fear and control and regain our freedoms to live and be in the light again taking each day onecstapvat a time .

So may it be …….we must move forward ……

Katie - August 1, 2021 Reply

Thank you for providing separate recommendations for people with parents who were abusive or had multiple failures. Your advice for those situations is spot-on.

Very difficult to follow…following your own needs after a lifetime of putting the parent’s needs first. But it’s important. I still struggle to figure this out with a parent with multiple failures and treatment that falls more toward the abuse category but also in a way was well-meaning and just can’t parent due to severe mental illness. It’s really difficult to heal from.

All that to say thank you for encouraging those of us in this category to put ourselves first and focus on healing. Interacting with our parents even without bringing up abuse and neglect can be damaging.

    Jonice - August 1, 2021 Reply

    Yes, it can indeed. I’m very glad to be helpful to you Katie.

Gregg - August 1, 2021 Reply

Hi Dr Webb,
I’m fairly sure that my mother had mental illnesses beyond her depression, alcoholism, chain smoking, and tranquilizer abuse. “Well meaning” at first, but who knows afterwards?

My Dad was a workaholic and an old school disciplinarian. “Well meaning,” perhaps, but that doesn’t change anything. In spite of my mother’s increasingly erratic behavior, he took her word about me as gospel truth.

My mother died young (47) from her addictions in 1976. I was 800 miles away. My dad died about five years ago (about 1000 miles away) and had refused personal visits for several years before that because he was embarrassed about his loss of bowel and bladder control. I surmised that from oblique comments my stepmother made after his death.

The point of this story, of which there is vastly more, is that they are long gone. I can’t talk to them about it even if they had been willing. So now what?

I’ve been in therapy and on meds for over 30 years. I wish I had known about ACoA and CEN decades ago. It could have changed my life. I should have been in therapy in my early teens.

As luck would have it, I married another ACoA and CEN sufferer. She is much the same as I am, but she refuses therapy because she sees no reason to “dig up that old stuff.” Her mother was able to protect the kids from the worst of her dad’s alcoholism, but I had no such protector. My sister, so is much like our mother, had left home at that point. I was left to fend for myself. Most of my other relatives were also alcoholics, which I discovered when I went to them for advice. They just told my parents which resulted in more trouble for me.

ACoA and CEN have been a strain on our marriage for over 40 years. We didn’t have good models for marriage, so our communication has suffered. We’re now roommates without benefits, so to speak. We’ve very gradually distanced from each other over the years as I’ve changed through therapy. We’re both afraid to talk about our marriage, because she won’t go to counseling to help overcome this and gets very defensive and upset if I try.

Checkmate. I go to therapy and take meds to get by. I’m working on finding my own life and activities other than with her, which I never did before. I expect to live out the rest of my life this way. I can’t make her change.

    Jonice - August 1, 2021 Reply

    Dear Gregg, it is true that you cannot make another person change. Kudos for the work you have done for yourself. Consider seeing a CEN-trained therapist near you to get some guidance on how to cope and make decisions about your current situation.

Susie - August 1, 2021 Reply

For Amanda – May 31, 2021:

I too had only my dog (& my grandma 4,000 miles away) who loved me. My “dad” was narcissist; and mentally, emotionally, & psychologically abusive. My “mom” was physically anusive to me. Both my parents never had caring conversations either, and didnt care if I need help, didnt care about my feelings or thoughts. Because I was the oldest, I had to cook, clean, babysit, etc. Our “mom” favored my brother. Our “dad” favored the youngest. I had Anorexia/Bulimia for about 2 decades. We we not taught manners or etiquette, morals or ethics, how to socialize, or anything positive! I grew up super shy, an outcast. Our “dad” would either kick out mom out of the house, or she would up & leave. My “dad” admitted, before he passed away, that he didnt want me. When I mentioned the physical abuse I got from my “mom” when I was a kid, she said it didnt happen, but then said Sorry. My brother is a revovered alcoholic, my youngest sister does drugs, and the other sister supposedly does drugs but that’s what the druggie sister said.

Leave a Comment: