How to Deal With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents

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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.

To learn much more about CEN and how it affects various areas of your life, watch my free Breakthrough Video Series.

For much more information, details, and support for talking with your parents 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.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Virginia - July 26, 2021 Reply

Seriously! How in the world can a person deal with emotional abuse by talking to their abusers? The abusers just deflect and blame the victim. This is why they are the abusers. I am so sick of reading crap like this. How about useful tips on how the victim can recover from such abuse without exposing themselves to more abuse.

    Jonice - July 26, 2021 Reply

    Virginia, did you read the article? It is not about abuse, it’s about Emotional Neglect. Some emotionally neglectful parents are well-meaning and generally neglected themselves, so they and their child can benefit from a discussion about CEN. Talking with an abuser about abuse is not advised.

Jared - July 18, 2021 Reply

I really struggle with the (majority of the time) wanting you broach the subject with parents who were emotionally neglectful. I believe trying to talk about it, is basically trying to ask for understanding and validation that you were not validated and understood as a child.

So basically asking for care from parents is what you asked for years ago, to be heard, listened to, respected, and with your opinions having value.

Don’t ask for it directly, stop trying to fill the void in your life with parental care and consideration.

As an adult we now have the opportunity to find healthy means to fill that gap – good close friends (us not slipping into emotional leaches, etc.).

Don’t, in my experience ask the asp to cure the snake bite, you’ll likely get bitten rather than heard

Jeremy - July 14, 2021 Reply

Right not I would like my mom no longer talking to me.

anon - June 26, 2021 Reply

I mustered up courage, confessed on the dinner table how their neglect hurt my feelings, and the matter was brushed away instantly, topic shifted to how with all my shortcomings, I’d be in a sad state if not for them. Now I just want to know how to get over everything by myself, I need actual steps or activities or something, but this article doesn’t teach that… only the word heal being thrown around, yes, but how do I do that? I feel really stupid.

Me - June 15, 2021 Reply

Are you kidding me? If and when I dared broach the subject, even in a roundabout way making it aoubt their lives, it was instant slam down.
If I dared mention that I’d been abused, they “don’t remember”.
And after years, many years, I thought they were troubled and needed “help”. Bullshit, they knew exactly how they were and I’m still screwed, and I was a bright, talented, etc. etc. person but I made the mistake of moving “home” for what was to be a small transition period.

    Jonice - June 16, 2021 Reply

    I’m so sorry you experienced this. It sounds like it’s very important to protect yourself from your parents. And don’t forget, you are still bright and talented, and now that you’re an adult, you don’t need your parents to tell you that.

    Michelle - July 3, 2021 Reply

    Your words totally spoke to me. I lost my brother, he had a n amazing sense of humour. The only way to deal with them. Now I have asshole half brother and sister. I’ve been essentially alone for 55 years -is fine , but my mother I never knew still threatens to abandon me because I texted some truth.

Amanda - May 31, 2021 Reply

So sad to read there are so many others who experienced such extreme sadness and loneliness, thinking of you as I write this. My parents separated when I was six, my father was having an affair with a young girl who had herself been neglected by a narcissist mother, my own mother then died two years later and I went to live with my dad, we were then emotionally neglected by him and his girlfriend. I can’t remember any caring conversations, no help when I needed it and when I asked to talk he’d raise the paper in my face. We were largely left alone, expected to do the housework, not allowed to cry when my sister bullied/injured me, she had her own problems (including Anorexia) I had no clue how to be normal and form supportive friendships and was repeatedly told I was too sensitive, a dreamer and needed to toughen up. I had to subvert my personality to avoid physical violence from my sisterhood was favoured. I spent a lot of time with the dog. I wasn’t taken shopping for new clothes, taught life skills or made to feel good. I was taught not to be a ‘nuisance’, and lastly, I have a feeling that my ‘father’ who has now passed is not my father.

    Jonice - June 1, 2021 Reply

    Dear Amanda, I am so very sorry that you had to endure all this as a child and on into your adulthood. You deserve much more and better. i encourage you to contact a therapist from my Find A CEN Therapist List on this site and start talking to a therapist about all this. You can give yourself what your parents couldn’t/didn’t.

Katherine - May 29, 2021 Reply

Im 22 and adopted but my adopted mom abused me physically mentally and emotionally as a child and still doesn’t give me the love i need idk what to do but slowly giving up on my parents i have no compassion from them or love it feels when i get sick ita go take a tylenol no trying to help me feel better her response is always your a hypochondriac or your just a wimp she calles me names but cant see that shes the issue all i do is stay in my room or im out i do my own stuff but she doesn’t care

Jenae - March 16, 2021 Reply

I decided to go no contact cold turkey towards my biological mom a few years back because I had blocked out some horrendous abuse about being kidnapped at 7 by her methhead friends and her actively ruining evidence of my kidnapping and the abuse so the police wouldn’t/couldn’t get involved.

When I decided to do NC, I told my step dad and brother both why exactly I wanted nothing to do with my mom, and they told me that I should at least talk to her so we could try to work it out or so she knows why.

The reason why I wanted NC without talking to her is because she has never changed since I was a child and that it wasn’t going to do anything positive, but both the men believed that she was my mom and that I NEEDED to tell her why. I finally caved in and started to tell her about the abuse that I endured by her friends and their family, and not even halfway through the first abusive event, she told me “Sorry you thought that happened” and then hung up on me.

She did it to me multiple times, but by the third phone call, she had me on speaker phone with one of my assailants in the room, and this time she let me finish talking about the first event only to ask me after if me and one of my assailants (the one that was listening in) were ‘having sex’ in that time frame. “I was 7 and they were holding me down taking turns,” which was my exact response “Even if I had wanted it, which no 7 year old wants to to ‘have sex’ and be held down, I was screaming for them to stop and I was fighting back. It was rape.” She then hung up on me again.

A year or so later, I had to do a brief contact with her because my younger brother was/is still living with her and I had to tell him about a family member of his passing away. When I went to their home, she made that visit about her and about how I don’t speak to her. Once I was done letting my brother know the situation about his relative, she had me go in the middle of the room for her to take a picture of me (without letting me know she was going to take a picture) and proceeded to bash me for ‘stealing’ her pictures that I have kept years before when she was going through an episode where she was throwing away anything sentimental because she was coming down off of crack.

If someone wants NC then let them have NC and don’t try to tell them that things are going to be different especially when they know exactly who the person is that they want nothing to do with.

Layla - March 15, 2021 Reply

My “mom” and “stepdad” don’t care about my feelings WHATSOEVER. They will yell and beat me over every little. tiny. thing. This article helped me, but if I tell them about it, then they will just talk me down call me a “brat” and say I’m ungrateful for what I have. I am extremely tired of living in this household and I just want to live at my dad’s house where I don’t have to worry about them mentally and physically abusing me… I wish I were never born. I’ve run away three times because of them, but it was never successful. My “mom” never trusts me enough to let me have my own privacy on MY phone that my GRANDMOTHER bought me. Please, please, PLEASE HELP ME!

    Jonice - March 21, 2021 Reply

    Dear Layla, it is very, very important that you tell a counselor at your school what is going on for you. Talk to an adult that you trust and they will be able to help you.

    Michelle - March 28, 2021 Reply

    Layla, I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. I’m reading these articles at 32 still struggling to find my peace from the same exact dynamic you described above.

    I was taught to fear my bio dad’s family. Taught that my successes were equally irrelevant and at the same time a symptom of bipolar disorder (causing me to be terrified of every perceived positive aspect of my life having been attained by nefarious means).

    My bio dad passed away recently and I found a tape he recorded of my my mother & her husband (he lost the privilege of being step- anything to me long before I realized how his actions decimated my life).. on the 15 year old tape, I heard two very sick people going ballistic because I tried to set boundaries by addressing their physical and verbal abusive behaviors.

    From an adult perspective, the tape absolutely changed my life. They convinced me that I was the sick one. That seeking help from an outside person would be a waste of time because nobody would believe such a horrible teenager (the older I get the more absurd the notion of my teenage behavior of trying to become invisible and begging to be loved being horrible becomes… I was a good kid!) AND THAT I WOULD BECOME AN ABUSER TO MY SIBLINGS because DCFS would take us all away. (We had a terrifying ordeal with DCFS b4 she remarried and using that experience was despicable to reteaumarize me into silence.

    My point in telling you all this is please, don’t stay silent. My parents had me fooled into my 30s!! They sabotaged my efforts to even simply receive mental health treatment from a psychologist by accusing me of lying to hide my mental illnesses. I just wanted to understand why I was so bad and unlovable.

    Get help. Get away if you can.

    I promise, it gets better.
    Love and light sister.

Ivan - March 14, 2021 Reply

someone very close to me gave birth to her first baby girl 5 yrs ago before she was even born the father had doubts wether the child was his so unless she took a paternity test he wasnt taking any responsibility for his child she refused to take any test so Daddy dearest is a no show… Now lets get into her “mom” 37 living w parents, on welfare ans has all her priorities messed up she selfish rude unattentive only thinks about partying she leaves whenever she comes home whenever barely even tends to her her child since birth she ahs great trouble showing love sympathy caring shes hardly ever even hugged or kiss her the nice stuff is hard for her but the bad comes easy she buys her toys dolls clothing candy mostly toys thinking that thats enough to keep her satisfied her “mom” spends all her time in a locked room hardly ever comes out her daughter has to knock on her door to only have her “mom” yell and growl at her and this has been going on for 5 years its the most unfair her parents did not treat her that way where did she get that from in what world is purposely neglecting your kid Ok ? i also feel like alot of it was premeditated which is just evil Theirs hardly any bond between mom and daughter theirs also hints of bullying and belittleing I just dont know how a parent can be locked in a room all day everyday and not want to check on her childs well being She wont share food barely even makes her food the child is cared for by her grandma which she calls Mom and her mom which she refers to her by her first name…with all that said and shared my ques is how can this be fixed is it hard to get ones priorities straighten out shes in need of a very strong powerful reality check ! Thanks in advance.

Bex - December 1, 2020 Reply

Suppose your parents were all 3?! Not just 1 of them but both parents and step parents, and Suppose they continue the games and tactics of manipulation, toying with emotions and intentionally not caring? We’ve tried talking, they are aware and chose to ignore any need, yet still want their own met. I have cut ties with one, whom it was getting really severe with. The others are not good, but it’s worse with the steps….

Katie - November 25, 2020 Reply

Thank you for this article. From reading, I can truly believe that my Mum is WMBNT and the struggles with this are so difficult.
I am not allowed to express any ‘negative’ emotions (i.e sadness, anxiety, stress, etc) around my Mum/within the household, except for very particular situations, without receiving a very difficult passive-aggressive response. It can be particularly hard as I also have severe anxiety which is not understood by her at all! which definitely in some parts is a response to this relationship and it is making it difficult to recover from my GAD and panic disorder with this situation. My Mum had a very difficult childhood herself and is very closed off with her emotions – very rarely shows she is upset or cries etc… at least around other people! Which has definitely rubbed off on me and I am very closed off emotionally to her due to the worry of the response I will receive. But I love my Mum with all my heart, I know she never means wrong and always will do anything for me! I am working with my psychologist on ways too differently express my emotions to her which I have built the courage too however it seems that it does not matter how I say it, I always receive the same response and that then circles my anxiety and puts me into panic mode. I am only 18, my mum is my best friend but the difficulty with expressing emotions is just getting harder! 🙁 We have a very difficult family life and I have a lot of health needs so my Mum does have to extensively help me with those. I am really struggling with it though, but this article taught me I’m not alone. It’s hard as it’s definitely halting my anxiety recovery and at the moment it seems as though it doesn’t matter how well I express my emotions… I always receive the same aggressive responses and it’s very tiring and upsetting! I just want to be comforted by my Mum. Anyway, any tips would be great but thanks for this great article! 🙂

    Elsa - November 27, 2020 Reply

    same here, funny enough today is her bday.
    she just dismisses some things and always expects me to be there. it’s honestly tiring and frustrating.
    especially this lockdown time, she didn’t even let me go to school once it opened as that is my only help. I cry everyday ‘cos of this and its just a normal thing now especially since nobody is in the house again. and I cant ask her to take me to therapy since I’m only just 15!!

Dan - November 23, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice, thank you so much for offering some guidance in this very difficult topic.
I’m in this very weird situation where my abusive parents are actually nice towards me now. I have very good childhood memories for the first 10 years of my life, but then the next 8 years were absolute hell. Humiliated daily by my mother, she was showing narcissistic traits with my dad enabling her and never standing by my side. We had to get on our knees and read out the bible loud, were isolated from everyone except school and controlled horribly. I was not even a person until I turned 22 and had one suicide attempt because of how emotionally damaged I was.
Now my parents are genuinely nice towards me and I would even say normal, they have been for 4 years.
I have tried confronting them about the abuse multiple times but they are in denial and gaslight me or bring an half ass apology.
After figuring all this out it is very hard interacting with them. They are nice but they don’t admit anything and I’m sick of confronting them.
Any advice on this?

    Jonice - November 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Dan, of course this must be a struggle for you when you see your parents. I suggest you talk all of this over with a therapist. It will help to get validation and perspective on everything that’s happened with your parents.

Josepsh - November 5, 2020 Reply

Parenting has been replaced by prescription meds ?. .

    Jonice - November 6, 2020 Reply

    I’m not sure what you mean here, but the reality is that emotionally neglectful parenting has a significant impact that can leave you depressed. And sometimes anti-depressants can give people who are struggling with depression a boost as they work through their CEN.

KP - October 15, 2020 Reply

How do you deal with others not understanding your relationship with your parents? Both my parents were emotionally neglectful with my brother and I growing up, and my mother was also physically and emotionally abusive. She would say things like “I wish I had an abortion,” make me get on all fours and grovel if I did something “bad,” and slap me across my face. She would routinely call me stupid and fat and compare me to everyone else (they were all better than me). My father ignored all this or pretended it didn’t happen and spent most of his time working, traveling, or working on his projects. The problem is that they are good at putting on an act for other people. They are both very hardworking people so people have said they’re such good parents, they raised me well, etc. etc. which makes my blood boil. People just assume all parents are good parents. Just because they made sure I was clothed and fed doesn’t mean they were good parents. I think that I turned out well despite my parents, not because of them.

My younger brother still lives at home at 22 years old and has many mental/emotional issues. He won’t leave the house and he barely talks to me anymore but my parents blame me for not doing enough to help him. I think him living at home makes his situation worse. But because of his diagnoses i.e. social anxiety, agoraphobia, OCD (which I truly believe are a direct result of how our parents treated him), outsiders looking in show pity and compassion towards our parents, saying “Oh, it must be so hard on them.” It makes me feel a bit sick and angry.

My husband has begun to understand their dynamic but because he is so family oriented with his own (non-dysfunctional) family, he just doesn’t seem to get why I don’t like being around my parents. They constantly put me down and make me feel an inch tall. They disrespect me by always showing up more than an hour late or not at all to pre-arranged meetings. My father’s sarcasm and “jokes” hurt me a lot and my mother’s complete neglect of my emotions hurts me even more. She cries to me when she needs support (and I give it to her) but I often won’t even get a reply back when I text her or call. I’m tired of it and I’m tired of being seen as a “bad daughter” because I won’t put up with it anymore. How do you deal with this? I feel like I really need help.

    Jonice - October 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear KP, above all it is very important to protect yourself from being mistreated by your family whether your husband understands or not. Can you take your husband to see a therapist with you? A trained therapist will be able to understand and validate your pain and can help your husband understand.

    Agustin - November 22, 2020 Reply

    Hi KP,

    I have a similar emotionally abusive mother and the only way I have found to deal with her is to move very far away from her. Distance is the only remedy I find to her wickedness, although it is not a perfect solution. A couple of months ago my first son when to visit her and she told him that I had stolen from her. Even my 14 year old did not get how can I have stolen from her. Anyway, I undestood that she would never stop humiliating me so the only solution I have found is to be far away from her.

    I am very sorry for what they have caused to your bother. Childhood Emotional Neglect can really break people.

    God bless you

    KC - August 1, 2021 Reply

    Oh, KP, my heart goes out to you. I can totally relate to your situation. Please focus on sacred love and self-care. I’m so sorry your parents mistreated you so and don’t recognize your value and beauty. Sending lots of love to you.

Amna - October 1, 2020 Reply

My Parents have done a-lot for me, they have provided me with shelter, food and a lavish lifestyle. Anything i could want, they got me that! But as i grew into my teens i started realizing looking my friends dads, how much of my parents negatively is around me. Im the youngest in my family, so I don’t get much along with my siblings as they think i’m a kid. I have no cousins that r my age. Since i have been 11, my parents and sibling (mostly my sister) have criticized the way i am, my body shape, how i look, why are my eyes small, my body is to wide, etc etc. And now, they say i am a very insecure about myself. Isn’t this hypocritical. My dad and my mom or any of my siblings , none of them have ever hugged me in my entire life so why u people think i will normally be the most social person. When i have not even received the love and warmth of my own family. My dad is a strict person, he jokes around but he gets angry really fast so i have never shared whats in my heart with him. This guy has never ever hugged me. But this guy hugs my sisters daughter, she’s 10 and i am 18. How come he cant hug me. Every-time i see someone dad dancing with them or hugging them or helping there daughter with homework it breaks my heart, I get a sudden meltdown, i think why cant my dad do that for me and i say this one sentence “I Want To Do Home” Now i don’t know what this sentence means but i say it every-time i get a panic attack which is at least one a week. What do u think it means?

I mean-is it that hard? My dad doesn’t even know what school i go to, what grade i am in, how old i am, what day my birthday? He always compares me to his sisters daughters! Do you think i am just being unthankful of god for giving me a dad who provides me with almost anything i need. Or have the insecurities created by him and my mom and my sister eaten me up. Im pretty sure because of thesis insecurities i look in the mirror all the time, i cant even smile without thinking that i look bad, and i have lost all my friendships due to me being insecure. I really need help or am i just being unthankful and should get over-myself.

    Jonice - October 3, 2020 Reply

    Dear Amna, parents can treat their children in certain ways because of their own issues. Your hurt feelings are real and it’s important for you to take them seriously. Can you ask to speak with a school counselor or therapist about this? It seems to me that you should have some support from an adult on this.

Joy - September 19, 2020 Reply

Any suggestions for dealing with emotionally empty siblings who put on a good show and require everyone around them to play along? I have to deal with them due to a family business and investments. As the “black sheep” nothing I say counts yet I am part of the clan.

Belinda - September 18, 2020 Reply

My mom and dad have been divorced for many many moons I never hear from them nor does my child but they will go see my sisters and visit and give them things like Christmas Birthday gifts money food right infront of me when I would go see them and I just sit in a corner with my daughter and say nothing trying to console my daughter and we leave. My husband has watched my dad beat me and did absolutely nothing but just watched it happen several times but tells me he didn’t want to do or say anything because he didn’t want to cause and trouble in the family. My dad has called me everything under the sun threatened to have my daughter taken away from me all infront of my daughter telling me he hates me and to never come back to his house me or my husband or daughter.

    Jonice - September 24, 2020 Reply

    Dear Belinda, this is beyond neglect, it is abuse. Please ask your dr. for a referral to a licensed therapist for help and support.

tania - September 14, 2020 Reply

One problem: My parents are dead. Mom 10 years ago. Dad 1997. What now? Any suggestions

    Jonice - September 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Tania, you can change your relationship with your parents even after they are gone. I wrote about this in my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. Get a copy of that book, it will help you.

Jem - September 10, 2020 Reply

My parents were / are definitely the first. After a year of therapy, I believe they Both have narcissistic personality disorder. My dad is aLso a huge co-dependent enabler. And my mom is also raging and manipulative. I tried to talk with them a few weeks back about how I didn’t feel comfortable attending an upcoming event and why-trying to share honestly. One parent completely tore me apart on the phone. Yelled, belittled, said outright that they didn’t believe me, and told me I was a hypocrite for not forgiving. Literally yelling. I am in my 40’s! This is pretty typical of how it’s always been if they don’t like something I’ve done. Always. But it’s random-sometimes it’s super sweet over the top shows of affection then…bam! So i’m always on edge. After “recovering“ from that, I decided that once and for all I needed to give myself some space. I sent them an email saying I love them and I would like to have a healthy relationship one day, but that they would need to do their part to become healthy first.
My mom emailed back saying take my time to find my peace-which felt like it was putting it back on me. Other than that, I haven’t heard a word from them addressing it at all. It’s been just over 3 weeks. Hope dies hard. But it’s definitely dying. I’m pretty sure I’ll be staying very low contact. I just can’t believe they haven’t reached out at all. Enough is finally enough I guess. Thankful for a wonderful counselor, an incredible husband, a great friend.

Anon - September 5, 2020 Reply

I think my parents were WNBNT and Struggling. But it still hurts because I feel like I never had a true family. I know it isn’t their fault but I don’t really have any connection to them. They don’t mean it but whenever I spend time with them I feel miserable. I want to cut them off but feel guilty about it because I know they were trying their best.

    Jonice - September 6, 2020 Reply

    I’m sorry you are having to deal with this. I recommend you read the book “Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.” It addresses the exact situation you are in.

Parker - August 30, 2020 Reply

Thank you for this article. In late elementary/middle school I was severely bullied. The years I went to middle school were 2008-2010. I understand now why my parents were neglectful to my stress and suffering, as they were stressed and suffering during the recession as small business owners. When I wanted to do nothing but stay home because how severely bullied I was. They would yell at me for being lazy and just wanting to stay at home and would force me to call and hangout with people that bullied me. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Because my friends weren’t my friends. They were bullies who used me and my house for parties and such. I always felt left out, while everyone else thought I was some popular kid.

    Jonice - August 31, 2020 Reply

    Dear Parker, what a terrible situation for you. This means that now it’s vital that you deal with the leftover feelings you have related to that past neglect and bullying.

Anonymous - August 23, 2020 Reply

Hi there,

Thank you for this article. Made me realize how messed up my life has been.

For 24 years of my life, I have been neglected by my parents. It’s not because they don’t know how to be “good” parents but because they always feel that they are at a place of authority.

Growing up, I was frequently beaten. They call it disciplining the child but it always felt like borderline abuse (for eg, when I got a B for an exam, I was locked in my room for 4 days – as a punishment). My parents never made an effort to understand my feelings. They felt that they have been through a lot in life and whatever I was feeling isn’t valid because of my age.

During my teens, my father spent most of this time working and because of that, we never had a good relationship. I would meet him once a while and we never talked. He never cared about my school or friends but mainly bothered about my results and if it was up to his expectations. He was very stressed with work and because of that, he would never spend much time with us as a family. Whenever he did, it would mainly be centered around how I am and how I should be.

My mother, on the other hand, was struggling to fill in the position of an absent father. She was constantly working and whenever she got back home, channeled all her frustration towards me and my siblings. She would shout over the smallest of things and always acted up when we did something wrong. For eg, I asked her if I could go to the library once and she called me a “slut, annoying specimen and failure”. Honestly, I dont know why she did that until today but it has always left a void in my heart. She didn’t care if I had friends or if I was mentally okay in school but only my results and achievements.

My siblings moved out early and had their click of friends. Since our age gap is pretty huge, I spent most of my time alone and making sure I’m good enough for my mother. I was also struggling with my sexual identity during my teens and gradually had an inclination towards women and being a transman. I tried to speak about it to my mother once and I was thrown out of the house for merely thinking about it.

Up to this date, I can never be at peace when I sit with my parents. I would always be ridiculed about my hairstyle, my dressing and that I’m not their perfect daughter. Being in such a stressful household and a closeted transman, I spoke to many therapists and tried to get to terms with my parents and their upbringing.

Up until now, I have mental breakdowns almost everyday because of my childhood. I overthink every single thing in my life and is also constantly anxious. My father has washed his hands from my family and is also present during occasions while my mother has broken everything in my house due to her anger. I’m 24 years old but I’m still so afraid every time she gets angry.

Reading this article made me realize that I’m not the one to be blamed. I’m not the reason why I’m messed up or why I have a hard time being myself. It’s a long and tiring process but I’m slowly trying to accept that I deserve all the love in the world and is worthy of happiness. My parents may have ruined many parts of my childhood but will not be able to ruin my life.

    Jonice - August 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear Anon, thanks for sharing your story. You are at a turning point and your resolve will help you protect yourself better and focus on your own healing and growth.

Claire - August 22, 2020 Reply

I can’t believe I’ve come across this website & can sympathise & empathise with all of the comments!!
I’m a 45 year old woman who feels she needs to run around & deal with all of my mother’s demands…I literally feel like a child sometimes 🙁
I call her daily to check on her & for the last few months (due to Covid) I’ve done her weekly shop for her.
She has started to do her weekly shop again & so the other day when I called her, I realised just how nasty can she be to me. She started talking about lovey dovey people & I asked who she meant & she said me!! Apparently it was because I told my children I loved them & hugged them
I haven’t been hugged by my mum since I was about 7/8 years old & she finds it sickly that I hug my children
My mum was/is an alcoholic & I spent a lot of my childhood alone (brother at boarding school) with her! I took weeks off school to look after her & this period has conveniently never been mentioned ?? She has a different view of our childhood & constantly belittles next if she doesn’t feel great & even belittles my children??
I last spoke to her 3 days ago & she sarcastically brought up how ‘I loved my children?’
My brother hasn’t spoken to her in years & I’ve always felt sorry about that…but I now can’t be be bothered to phone her either! Why is she so nasty? She never calls me either…not heard from her????

    Jonice - August 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear Claire, it seems you are beginning to see your mother in a new light and this may be a new start for you. I encourage you to consult a CEN-trained therapist to discuss your mother and figure out how to protect yourself from the emotional harm this must be causing you.

k - July 22, 2020 Reply

My younger sister was deadly sick when she was very little so my parents are naturally more worried and caring about her because of this past. She grew up to be a great well-functioning being fortunately and now she became a young adult. However, she and I both struggle from the one-sided over-protective parents we have.
Since young, because of my weak sister, my mom was always putting more attention and focus on her. I was not a very needy kid I want to say, but when I felt I was treated differently from my sister in daily basis, I had to release that feeling by channeling the anger to my sister. That made the bond with my sister very weak although as we are both getting old, it seems to be recovering on its own.
However, the root cause of this problem still exists – my parents can’t stop treating us differently (even in daily texts in our family chat, my mom would always ask about my sister’s daily life, her meals, her activities everyday while she does so to me maybe once a week).
Right now, my sister and I both live away from our parents and I feel our family relationship is particularly vulnerable because of the importance of communication when we are all spread out.
I expressed my hurt feelings when my mom showed this kind of behaviour again recently, but she ended up getting hurt thinking her child doesn’t understand her and mistreats her.
My love for my family still stands no matter if they show me equal amount of attention and care to me as they do to my sister or not, but I can’t help myself from getting hurt constantly.
What are some ways to get away from this “victim” mentality and come to terms with this kind of behaviour of my parents if it can’t be changed?

    Jonice - July 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear K, getting away from a “victim mentality” is beside the point. Your experience is real, your feelings in response are also real. It’s very important to accept both as your truths and face them head-on. I suggest you see a CEN therapist to help you build better internal emotional boundaries to protect yourself from the hurt you are experiencing.

Mohamed - July 17, 2020 Reply

That explains why I’m so flawed, my mom had me living in fear and being appreciative when I would get something (everything) 28 years old now, I’ve made attempts to move out and show her that I can be the ONE to bring her glory and pride, only kid from a mistake relationship. My dad was married and had a kid a year apart from me. She would later decide to move us (me and my mom) to the States, she swore I would bring her wealth when I got older. But I was neglected on how to be a man…..her husband she married could care less. I wrote him some cool letters and stuff one day. Totally ignored it. I would interfere with their fights because he always cheated. I helped her raise his kids while he only gave us money. I totally forgot how to speak Italian, so talking to my dad whenever I visit him in Italy is humiliating using google voice.

    Jonice - July 17, 2020 Reply

    Dear Mohamed, you are being abused and, by the sound of it, have been for your whole life. It is essential that you get out from under your family’s influence, as they are very, very unhealthy and damaging to you. I removed some of your comment before publishing for your privacy’s sake and I want to tell you that self-harm is never the answer to anything, and there is help for you! Please talk with your Dr. and get a referral to a licensed therapist near you to help you protect yourself from the abuse.

H - June 6, 2020 Reply

During these times I have been lockdown with my parents. I am 45 yrs old and not long ago have learned for myself I am an empath, and have high sensitivity towards others, places, environments, something I burried deep growing up and denied in order to please and not upset anyone. I would many times numb my emotions, my sensitivity to appear fine and robust. Now my sensitivity is growing, where I allow myself to feel, it has been incredibly challenging living with my parents who do not discuss feelings, get angry when I cry and dismissive when I show any form of emotion. There can be a show of emotional regression when adult children move back into the family home, at times, a blow up of conflicted and misunderstood unspoken thoughts and emotions. We are suppose to be grown, independent, yet for many who have gone through CEN, also for those who are highly sensitive, being independent was never encouraged enough, for you were seen as a child, over sensitive and somewhere growing up, I missed out on the middle part of adolescent where we majure from child to adult. Thankfully my creative work and nature have been great ways for me to be with myself once more. I was not encouraged to talk about my hopes, dreams and aspirations. I have struggled with leaving the family home, some might use many labels for this but I refuse to judge myself anymore. I have been in and out of low paid jobs, drank excessively in stages of my life which did a lot of damage to my self worth and my health which was never discussed in the home. I have stopped drinking altogether and was the best decision I made for myself and am proud of. We are suppose to have children, a well paid job, the house, the car and appear stable, yet I know many people do struggle in life, and because they were unable to express, embrace their most authentic self. I now know, this is nothing to feel ashamed of, though I did feel tremendous guilt for not appearing a fully fledged adult, but over time, learning to heal, to listen to my own feelings, I am learning to accept myself for who I am. As a child I remember I was a mix of high energy, introvert and number of misunderstood sensitivies, which can be challenging for any parent to understand and I know my parents did their best to protect me. Growing up I did my upmost best to understand my parents, to see them and how they feel so not to put blame or anger on them while at the same time placing my own feelings way back and stuffed down until they became almost void and never felt. I went to counselling for two years but unfortunately childhood neglect is not fully talked about in many counselling sectors, and where the counselor did not recognise CEN and I ended up feeling unheard and so left it. I learned for myself where much of the hurt was coming from. I don’t blame my parents, and I do care for them, they are human too, and I see them with their own struggles, I accept them for who they are. They provide me with much though emotionally we all struggle to come together. This outlook has helped me. Yet, equally, there has to be validation and awareness on where, why I have stilted my own feelings in order to stay in tune with them so they do not get angry with me, this stems back from remembering the anger shown when I got upset as a child and has stayed with me. This I realise now is unhealthy, and where I see how stages in my life has been affected by not being able to speak how I feel. Now, when I do speak, to friends, it almost feels self absorbed. People speak of their issues, life to me, as I feel many high sensitives are good listeners, and often place their own feelings aside in order to be with others. Now, I am slowly beginning to feel my feelings, my emotions, though has been challenging while living with family, almost like playing many roles of yourself, trying to find a safe space to feel, and not truly knowing which is your truest self. I know now, if I did talk about my feelings, about any of CEN with my parents, they would see it as I was judging them and I refuse to put myself through that kind of unnecessary hurt and pain. Easier said than done, and have felt one of my self soothing coping mechanisms is taking one day at a time, to not put pressure on myself to fix them nor myself, and to know that my feelings are real, are valid, heartfelt and matter, always.

    SB - June 10, 2020 Reply

    To H,

    You just wrote so much of how I feel but have never been able to put into words.~ especially the part about feeling self absorbed when speaking about my needs. Thank you!
    As a child, if I tried to express myself I was called, ‘soppy’ or Pookie Sue by my dad. My saint of mom tried her best to come to my rescue and I love her for that!
    Again, thank you H and for this great article.

Fran - June 5, 2020 Reply


Thank you for sharing this. It’s been really helpful.

I grew up in a single parent family that was extremely emotionally fraught and volatile. Our mum was certainly struggling in some respects with her health & money as she was too ill to work. My dad had died when we were both very young & so our mum never really grieved. I really remember growing up afraid of how bad her temper was. I spent years walking on eggshells every day. We were talked over, talked about quite often in disparaging ways while we were in the room, our wishes would be disrespected even when they were asked for (for instance mum asked me if I wanted a 16th birthday party. I said no & she threw me one anyway because it was what she wanted). Pushing back & saying no wasn’t even an option without some kind of volatile explosion from her. My brother & I have both used the words ” Stockholm Syndrome” to describe the effect this has had on us. Even now mum will lash out at us if she’s unhappy and then blame it on our dad dying even though this happened 40 years ago. She really has no sense of our feelings being real and worthy of being taken into consideration even now. I tried talking to her about this a few years ago & was told my point of view didn’t count and then she was really upset when I decided to keep my distance. I certainly have really struggled to reclaim my sense of self & identity but I am gradually getting there. I don’t honestly think it would be a good idea to broach the subject again with her. I don’t know how much of this behaviour is who she really is & how much is rooted in how she grew up, trauma (I suspect it’s a combination of the three). Mostly now I just feel sad for her. She’s in her 70s and I don’t think she will ever understand the impact her choices have had but then I don’t think she wants to.

    Jonice - June 7, 2020 Reply

    Dear Fran, I am so sorry you experienced such severe Emotional Neglect and still do. Have you read my second book, Running On Empty No More? It has plenty of support and suggestions for how to cope with this and make decisions that benefit yourself.

Cath - May 17, 2020 Reply

Relationships are about meeting the other. Unfortunately my parents were bought up in a time when the view of the child was quite different.
I knew something was missing very early on as a child but could not put my finger in it.
Both my parents are now in their 7os and were only children. My mother was treated terribly by her parents and my father treated unfortunately like the king. Unfortunately either of them could ever stand back from their own egos enough to meet their children. To them good parenting was discipline and projecting themselves onto their children. To this day I don’t think I have ever had a conversation with my mum that is about “my feelings”.
It has been really hard growing up with parents with a complete and utter blind spot in terms of their child’s feelings. My father is well obsessive neurotic controlling narcissistic person. He keeps files on people and my mother really just runs after him. They kind of feed off each other’s insecurities. I left home early , way before my siblings . To me it was a means of survival . I have three siblings and we are a textbook narcisstic dysfunctional family. My sister the golden child lives next to my parents on the same block. They basically bought her a house. She got married but unfortunately it never worked out because my father was always interfering. She laps up his attention. I am the black sheep rebel . I don’t know why I chose that family to be born into . A lot of me figuring out my childhood did not start until my mid 30s when I had children on my own. You know if my parents had moved on and matured themselves it would have been ok but then I saw the old familiar patterns being acted on my own children. I am lucky to be married to a really nice person who sees them for what they are.
I contacted my mother recently to see how she was given covid 19. We had a short conversation which was ok. But then she sent me letters of her world, her view points , her feelings and well we were kind of back to the same old pattern. What upsets me most is her failure to comprehend that her feelings/thoughts are her own, she has no theory of mind, or sense of someone else.i know my parents inside out but they would not have a clue about me because they both don’t have the cognitive ability to comprehend the other and my father being a narcissist just does not care enough to have real interest about anyone else outside of his agenda.

    Jane - May 26, 2020 Reply

    Hey Cath,
    I am similar to you in that my parents are both only children turning 70 – my mother had loving parents but they weren’t really open about feelings or affection and my dad, like yours, was a child prodigy who was treated like a king. I thought they were good parents until I started getting angry in my 30s and self-harming when I felt frustrated. I started getting counselling and boy, are they narcissists. They’re the same as yours in that my dad has an agenda and anything that doesn’t interest him, is ignored, walked away from and anything ‘other’ e.g. my decision to live in London is mocked (because he’s jealous) My mother literally runs around after him and they have this weird co-dependency shit going on where they shame one another for eating things and my dad puts my mother down for being thick and they stonewall each other but somehow still stick up for one another when it comes to me. My dad used to violently ransack my bedroom and scream at me about my school work and my mother would just turn a blind eye. Even in my 20s and 30s when my Dad attacks my mother just stays silent . The kicker is I’ve always defended her when he’s horrible to her. Including giving her marital advice when I was way too young to do so. You’re so right, it’s the inability to recognise me as another person. Whenever I have an opinion that’s different I’m punished. Or at least I was, now I just set a boundary and leave. But they always try and make out I’m overreacting or being too sensitive. I’ve started playing Dad Bingo – every conversation has to include a) a reference to the top university he went to b) how awful the place I live is (it’s really not – he mocks it for being posh) c) some baiting where he asks my opinion d) a passive aggressive way of calling me a name but he does it in a way where he says people ‘like me’ are called this e) what work have I achieved recently so he can tell his friends. Never, ever, have I ever spoken to them about my feelings. Or, rather I have but it always ends in awful drama with me feeling like I’m going mad. I told my mother a few years back I thought I couldn’t have kids and she replied ‘when you were 16 you told me you didn’t want them’.

    My brother, the golden child (read, more straightforward and who’s realised for an easy life just keep everything in ) lives nearby but I (black sheep) have moved away.

    I really feel your pain. I’ve been getting so much counselling and it hurts so much to realise they’ll never love us the way we need. EMDR is really working for me, have you tried it? It’s for PTSD but can also work for childhood trauma that played out over a long time. I’m finally accepting I’m not going to play their game anymore – I can’t expect anything from them. Material things, sure. But emotional support and understanding? No way. It’s dangerous. Please take care x

      Ally - May 28, 2020 Reply

      Thank you so, so much for sharing this. I’m overwhelmed with a sense of relief to find that I’m not the only one to have experienced everything you said here. It’s been the torment of my life and I feel alone and ashamed to be so disconnected (as the black sheep) from my parents in their narcissistic codependencies. I don’t want to need them or want them, but desperately I ache for the unconditional love and wisdom they cannot give. How do I stop expecting from them what they are not capable of giving? I want to be done with this pain. I can’t reason with irrational people, but I want a mom and dad.

      Regardless, thank you for showing me I’m not the crazy one. My feelings and experience are real and they matter.

Amanda - May 6, 2020 Reply

I grew up in a family where I was shuttles around like cattle, if that makes sense. They made sure I was clothed, had a roof on my head and fed me along with my other siblings but when it come down to bonding or actually spending time one on one with any of us. My mother would only bond with the my eldest sister. Favoritism at its best. When I’d have convos with my mom or if I was in a bind or homeless because I recently left a relationship, she would tell me that I need to learn from this. When I was discussion how I needed a new roof and needed help with a portion of the money, my pops was all for helping me but my mother would say “don’t you help her”, I have always worked since I was 15. Seems like everytime I have an event they seem to just ruin it for me. When I graduated high school, I didn’t know if I should tell them because just 2 weeks later my bro attacked me in the kitchen and my dad did nothing. When I told them I was knocked up at 22, my mother told me it was okay to have an abortion. Wasn’t the expectations I had in mind. When I Took myself to college and graduated, I bought my pops clothes, and I bought my mother a dozen of yellow roses, and they left so early that they didn’t even see me walk across stage, then I found out they left to eat at Golden Corral and didn’t even invite me or my boyfriend. When I got married, after my pops told me he would walk me down the aisle, he sat between my bro and my brother in law and didn’t. Now that I’ve sold my house and land, now all the sudden he wants my number so he can talk to me. And it’s weird. My parents had my number in 2013 and never called. They’ve had my number in the past and never called. They were tied into my water line, pipes froze and busted, water bill was 800$ and they were out of water for 6 whole days before I heard word through my brother. Casing point, they never call. I’m not even jealous that my father sign his name on my other sisters trailer, or that he gave grandpas tractor to my bro in law, that he paid for new decking around my brothers pool, bought new and paid off my eldest sisters car, also pays for her apartment every month, or that they pay for my mothers moms car and lights and car insurance.. there’s more but trying to paint the picture. This past Christmas was the first I endured in a long time. Growing up it was my mother saying “ I only bought couples Christmas. (Siblings who had someone) so I never got anything . I stayed single until I was ready. Either way this past 2019 Christmas was the first I went to and I watched her give the couples money and all the grand nephews money, but me and my husband were skipped and I had also received the tiniest Christmas card in the world from my mom a week before. It was the size of a license. That’s not over exaggerating. What I don’t understand is why am and was always excluded?? Why so eager to help and pass down or tend to the other children and they don’t make the effort to bond with me ever? I also May add I’m the only sibling without kids.. now they want me to call and it’s so awkward. I automatically feel like “what have I done now”

    BRIANNA - May 29, 2020 Reply

    Hi Amanda,
    I have been reading Dr. Jonice’s book “Running on Empty” and came to a part where she suggests coming to her website and I got lost in reading all these articles that have really opened my eyes to so many more things about myself and what I have suffered. Since the start of the year I have been on this fairly strong sense of “knowledge equals power” path and have listened to several enlightening books that have each helped me as well as inform me of many unknowns I had before. The first book I read gave me so much validation that I had been starving for my whole life and made me hungry for more. After reading many comments for some reason yours heavily struck me and I think you may find some answers, comfort, maybe validation from the first book I read called “Healing From Hidden Abuse” by Shannon Thomas. I just want you to know that you are not defined by the hurtful, insidious treatment you have experienced by your parents. You have value, importance, meaning, and you have a purpose, and you matter. I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to tell you that despite not knowing anything about you other than what you wrote in your comment. I think that book could be enlightening. You can get the audio version that makes it easier to set some time out to listen to it. Best wishes.

Mark - March 29, 2020 Reply

I am in my early 50s. My parents loved me and were great providers, but I often feel that they were more concerned with my behavior as opposed to any underlying emotional issues that were simmering inside me. I was a very shy and sensitive boy and I don’t think they knew how to talk about my feelings. If I did something wrong they didn’t attempt to probe the deeper ‘why’ of the matter, they just said not to do it again. I would remain confused, realizing I did something wrong, but not understanding what made me do it. It made conversations about girls and other teen matters awkward. They both worked hard at their jobs and at home. As a result, I think they always wanted a ‘quick fix’ for my pain. I think therapy would have helped, but I was also good at making them believe that I was fine, since that’s what they wanted to hear.
The couple of times I’ve tried to talk with them about these things, they have been quick to shut it down, especially my dad. They really don’t want to go there.

    Jonice - March 29, 2020 Reply

    Dear Mark, you have described the exact definition of “Well-Meaning but Neglected Themselves” parents. Please see the book Running On Empty No More for lots of helpful information in how to cope with your relationships with your parents now.

      Mark - March 30, 2020 Reply

      Thank you, Jonice. I have read your book, it’s been very helpful. It brought CEN to my attention. My parents live a couple thousand miles away, so I don’t see them very often. They are in their mid-80s, and were far from abusive, so I don’t thInk I’ll broach the subject again. But thanks for helping me identify this issue. I’m working through it.

K - February 20, 2020 Reply

Thank you so much for writing this. Between therapy sessions I often need to remind myself that the way my parents treat me is not my fault, or my responsibility to fix and it’s actually a real issue in the world, not just a burden on me. It can feel very overwhelming and as I’ve learned to find my I find my independence and voice, it’s been rejected by my mother. She believes she knows me better than myself, which infuriates me, and sees my new found independence as the wrong path she wants to protect me from. I’m sad that I won’t be able to get her to understand and see me for who I am now. Your sentence about your parent not seeing you more than when you were a child was so impactful to me. It’s like she is stuck in space and time. I’m having a hard time finding compassion for her or to come from a loving place because all I
want to do is be seen and accepted… because I deserve it! I have low tolerance for anyone who can’t see me, it’s like a bloom of a flower that bursted open and if you can’t see it, it’s not my problem. I am some major impatience with my mom because it’s so ridiculous that she shouldn’t celebrate this, but instead she sees it as a flaw, or perhaps a threat? My therapist suggests I try to explain there is nothing threatening about it, but I don’t think she will be able to look past her own self and her needs to see mine. I’m still a little child who doesn’t know what she’s doing to her. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.

    Jonice - February 21, 2020 Reply

    Dear K, some parents do not understand that maturation and individuation are normal healthy processes and instead they feel deeply, personally hurt by it. I encourage you to stay true to yourself and I’m glad you have a therapist to help you.

123 - February 17, 2020 Reply

My parents weren’t terrible people, they just don’t match my emotional needs as a child. As I didn’t have any to talk to, was lonely and my brothers were physically abusive…(my dad would punish them if they did, and my mom just told me to fight back and not be weak. They were 5 years older and I was a 5-6 year old girl at the time) once I’ve told them that I didn’t see them as parents and just as older people that I live with. It was funny, as apparently they went around asking for advice to be a better parental figure. They told me that when they were younger, their parent was never involved in their life emotionally as they had to work at a young age to support their family, and thus didn’t feel the need to engage im conversations with me(I had nothing to do for days, stayed at home and no one to talk to at all(holidays for ex.) and I wasn’t allowed access to the internet either. Basically, people I try to talk to would either ignore or hurt me. This really screwed my social skills and I struggled for a long time to learn social norms )
I remember when they actually started to ask me how I was feeling and being emotionally supportive when I was around 14, it freaked me out because they just felt like strangers, and it was hard connecting with them.
Although, I did realize they really had little interest in my life at the time, and our topics would be how my parent’s day was etc. It’s much better now.

    Jonice - February 19, 2020 Reply

    Dear 123, I hope you will change your email address, as it is such a painful way to address yourself. I’m sorry you were so ignored as a child. It is so harmful. I’m glad your parents are doing a better job now, and I encourage you to pay attention to yourself and focus on healing.

Emily - February 12, 2020 Reply

I think I just made the def realization that the voices I hear in my head are my dads….. and I idolize him…. he’s my world…. but I don’t think he ever realized how damaging it was to hear I was stupid or I should have been aborted when making mistakes that legit HUMANS MAKE……. I’m 28 years old and have been living back with him and my boyfriend for a while now…. but I don’t know if I’ll even be able to look him in the eyes after realizing the damage both my parents have done to me by filling me with this self doubt…… I feel like I stepped into a different atmosphere where nothing makes sense and my heart hurts 🙁

    Jonice - February 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Emily, I know this is a hard place to be in. It’s important and it’s hopeful though! Please find a therapist on the CEN Therapist list and go see them. You will need help and support navigating this process of realizing your experiences and pain.

Erin - January 29, 2020 Reply

A few things that happened with my mother over several days led me to question why she always had walls up. I started googling what that means, and eventually I got to your site, explaining that I am a child of emotional neglect and I can tell you that it was like putting pieces of a puzzle together. Tears started running town my face and I started shutting down emotionally, bit by bit, until I could process as much as I could about all of this. I’m 41 now, and images of my childhood started flashing before me, and then I remember my therapist telling me and my husband that all of anxiety stems from the trauma of the neglect I went through as a child. There it was. The neglect. That was it. Now I’m mad. I can’t face my mom or my dad. How could they be so consumed with their own lives that they could ignore everything I needed emotionally… abuse, death in the family, drugs and alcohol, my mother coming out after leaving my father, my sister ‘s severe eating disorder, and I had no other family close by. I was always “peaceful” she told me… but now I know I taught myself to be. This revelation is life-changing and eye-opening, and I’m breathing much differently. I’m suddenly able to recognize being hungry and not being hungry (I don’t really need to eat that.) But the other emotions are more jumbled than they ever were; especially the ones towards the people who were supposed to love me and care for me and keep me safe and protected… and I’ve always idolized him until coming to terms with this. Now my mission is to make peace with my future, my husband, who hasn’t been able to decipher my emotions from those of an alien I’m sure, but also to do my job as a parent who can keep the emotional points and passages clear for my children and theirs, stopping occasionally to make sure there is no debris I’ve left behind from years past.

    Jonice - January 29, 2020 Reply

    Dear Erin, I’m so glad you have figured out what’s been wrong and are recognizing some feelings in yourself! That’s a wonderful start. Please doyour best to keep walking the path of recovery. You are doing wonderful things for the sake of yourself and your children.

Emma Challis - December 31, 2019 Reply

Thank you. Your words have helped me enormously.

    Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

    I’m so glad, Emma.

Yolanda Boateng - December 23, 2019 Reply

My mom was married to an abusive man since I was 12 (2006) for 12 years and had 2 kids with him. I love my brothers and know that they are innocent in all of this. He was emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive. I was not allowed to have friends nor even sit in the living room when he was home for he would find some excuse to put me on punishment. He bugged the house phone since 2008 to listen to our phone conversations and made me feel horrible for his father trying to molest me at 16. How he found out was that he listened in on the conversation I had with my aunt of that day. My mom was out of the country in Africa with my youngest brother at the time. I was not allowed to participate in sports or any activity that would make my life the least bit bearable. When I would stand up for myself because my mother never did, he would do petty things like change the wifi password so I would have to call him in which he would laugh over the phone, state that things have passwords for a reason and say he’ll deal with it when he gets home. Tactics like this never ended from age 12 to age 24. he would have inappropriate conversations with me and i would beg my mom to tell him to please stop. These were conversations detailing that he is cheating on my mom because she is not having sex with him. She never told him to stop because the conversations continued and when I finally stopped speaking to him, keep in mind im around 21 at this time and my mother stopped speaking to me (She would stop talking to me all the time since I was 12 because of him….and I mean for weeks.) She Refused to help take me to doctors appointments or even to work but would tell me to ask him (he has never even saved my telephone number and we lived in the same house for 12 years…I know this because when i would be stranded because my mom wouldn’t pick me up from work, when i would text him, everytime he would ignore the call and text back an hour later asking, “who is this” EVERYTIME! She refused to help me get my license, thank God I finally got it at the age of 25. But see I can heal from the things that he did to me because he was only able to do that because of my mother. So when I tried talking to her about it, she calls me weak, tells me that I need to get over it because a. my stepdad doesn’t care about me and never will, b. there is nothing she can do to take it back or change it. I remember in 2017 I got pulled over for driving without a license because I had no money for an uber and i was trying to make manager at Taco bell at the time and didnt want to lose my job. So after work at 1am leaving the parking lot I was pulled over. My mother is the one that gave me permission to take her car knowing I didn’t have a license but proceeded to shame me with my family for being pulled over. When i lashed out because it’s upsetting to not receive any help from someone on purpose but they still talk down on you when they know you need the help. All my mom could say was, “so you’re mad cause i won’t help you? there are a lot of people whose parents don’t help them.” She sits on the phone with family members and her friends and tells them I am beyond mentally ill. She shames me for having depression. There is so much more but I feel like maybe I unloaded too much. I just feel ashamed in myself for allowing myself to spiral and now I am 25 with nothing, absolutely nothing- no success and I want to know why she hates me SO much. How could she choose a man over her child for 12 years? they are now divorced.

Tee - December 22, 2019 Reply

Having empathy for my parents helps me to forgive myself when I make mistakes in relationships that are similar to theirs.

Empathy is not a blanket to hide what happened, but rather the beginning foundation for building a relationship that has not happened yet.

While my mother has not yet been able to “see” me, I am hopeful that the openness and forgiveness I possess for the shortcomings of ALL people can one day inspire her to accept her own shortcomings. And if she does not, I can “see” myself by seeking out and surrounding myself with people that want to know about me and want to grow with me.

While I can be mad, I owe it to myself to be better.

    Jonice - December 29, 2019 Reply

    That’s so awesome, Tee. Thanks for sharing!

Jasmine - December 21, 2019 Reply

it is just me, my mother and my sister, and i am pretty sure my mother falls under the WMBNT category, as i have read multiple comments of others in a more worse situation, i still feel emotionally drained, but this has website has helped me.
My mother’s mother (my grandmother) did not respect her emotional needs, therefore my mother is a tough, well around the book kind of mother, meaning if something happens, you say sorry and forget about it the next day. Being the oldest and being 15, i had to mature from a very young age when my father had to be forced out of my family because of his abuse due to his depression and anger management problems, he is now in a (i think) mental institution and is getting the help he deserves, although my mother doesn’t know i know where he might be, as they try to keep it a secret. Being the second mother i am supposed to be happy all the time, and not hang out with my friends as much without taking my younger sister (10 yrs old) with me, being said i have no sense of being a child. Everyday is a day of getting through it without fighting with my family, a day without crying. A day without feeling useless. I can”t seem to help myself through this, feelings come and they won’t go, my mother tells me to get over it, she is the type to fight then try and have a laugh with me an hour later, and i don’t know why i am not like her but i cant do that. I just want my feelings to stop being no one acknowledges them like i want them to, and i don’t want to ask them because its such a childish thing to do, i feel like a lost cause in my own house, i feel so out of place everywhere i go, i can’t escape myself, and i don’t know how to tell my mother about it.

David - December 13, 2019 Reply

Dr. Web,

I want to commend you for providing guidance and I want to praise those who have shared their struggles in the comments.

I want to echo your advice that people who are struggling make their safety and needs the first priority. Protect yourself.

I have actually been accused by my parents of being selfish for talking about my own happiness and trying to make things better for myself. This can be very confusing, so I just wanted to state, very firmly, the following:

It is NOT selfish to want things to be better.
It is NOT selfish to take steps to improve your circumstances.
And it is NOT selfish to take your attention off your parents in order to move forward.
You are not selfish. You are a PERSON. And your parents have fooled you into believing that you don’t count as a person.

If your parents are emotionally unreliable, put all of your focus on becoming self-reliant so that you can find your independence and pursue the things that matter to you. Otherwise, things will deteriorate, and your life will slip through your fingers.


p.s. : Good people DO CARE. Find those people and hang on to them.

    Jonice - December 13, 2019 Reply

    Wonderful, David, thank you!

    Taylor - January 3, 2020 Reply

    This describes my family dynamics. I suffer from guilt because I feel like I do not count as a person. It is a horrible feeling. I really needed to read your post. Thank you.

      Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

      I am so sorry, Taylor. I recommend you read Running On Empty No More which has lots of guidance on dealing with your parents!

    T - June 7, 2020 Reply


    I needed to hear exactly this, exactly today.

    Thank you.

Jayden - December 12, 2019 Reply

My dad has put me over his knee and spanked me with almost full force 16 times in a row, and I just turned 13. Now today I have come to my breaking point because my mom constantly ignores me and is mad at me and watched the thing with my dad happen and didn’t say a word which is weird because she usually protects me. I have fallen asleep crying 4 or 5 times in the past week. I said to my mom today “do you hate me or something?” and all she said was “get your emotional but out of here” and my dad told be shes mad because I wouldn’t shut up. On to my next point, my parents have never told me SHUT UP until the end of 7th grade and every time they say it hits me hard. I have shot myself in the hand with an airsoft gun 5 times a minute ago and put a dent in my wall, and a few minutes ago after I took a shower and addresses my mom about this, she acts al nice and stuff. I just don’t understand, So can someone please help me.

    Jonice - December 12, 2019 Reply

    Dear Jayden we are worried about you! Your home situation sounds like it’s spiraling out of control, and you are in danger of harming yourself. Please, please talk with a counselor at your school about what’s happening and about how you are feeling. There is help for you!

    Alison C - January 23, 2020 Reply

    Hi Jaydon,

    As young as you are, it is very sad to see how your parents act towards you. You have to know you are not at fault here and you did nothing wrong. This is a problem with your parents. You need to be strong and seek out help by talking with someone at your school. You want to protect yourself from this behavior because it may become worse. You may think there is nothing you can do but there is. Please tell anyone with what is going on at home, you will tank yourself later in life.

    Much love and luck,


joe - December 6, 2019 Reply

my parents would DEFINITELY come under the “struggling” category. with 11 kids, i don’t remember my dad ever taking a vacation and, needless to say, my moms life was an endless treadmill of making meals, washing, ironing (ironing was a thing back then), laundry, putting kids to bed, getting kids up and off to school, etc., etc., etc.

religion was everything to my dad and, in fact, he severed his, and the whole familys, relationship with my oldest brother because he finally revealed that he did not share my parents religious beliefs. i am sure this was a formative event in my life because i have ALWAYS been afraid to voice my opinions or challenge authority in any way after that.

i can recall my mom treating a minor wound but other than that i don’t recall any hugs or “i love you” from either one.

i felt nothing when they died except for some relief when my dad died because i would no longer have to hide my lack of religous belief from him.

on the surface we must have looked like a good family … dad working had to provide and mom working hard to make a home but there was really very little love shown.

i envy people who say their mom or their dad was their best friend and that they miss them every day since they died.

    Jonice - December 9, 2019 Reply

    I understand, Joe. Sounds you got some watered-down parenting and watered-down version of parental love. I hope you’ll work on it now that you’re an adult.

Jack - November 14, 2019 Reply

I love my parents, I did everything I can for them, but I am at a point where I need to , I must, cut this affection for them because of their abusive/manipulative/selffish/disgusting/neglect for me, for my 2 baby daughters(1yr and 2.5yr), and my wife. I cant sleep at night when my dad comes so close to my place (at my sisters place), which is literally few stop signs from my place and he just goes back home, without calling me. Forget about me, atleast come see your grandkids. And my mom, omg, lol, I think she’d die in self-shame, than to have the courage to pick up the phone and call me.

    nure maliha - July 16, 2020 Reply

    same here

TheLifeVirtue - November 11, 2019 Reply

Your advice on finding compassion for our parents is spot on. It really helped me in re-connecting with my parents. Understanding and feeling their perspective helps a lot.

    Jonice - November 11, 2019 Reply

    I’m so glad. Thanks for sharing that.

Jamie - November 7, 2019 Reply

Dear jonice this article was very informative.
So I’m 19 years old and I think both my parents are in the first category my dad used to be really abusive , he would beat my mom and if we said anything he would also beat me and my brother but when I was about 10 we left and move to a different city the abuse stopped but then my mom left to, not Physically but more emotionally and I had to take care of me and my 3 brothers at a really young age.
So after that my mom and my dad “fixed their problems “ (not really tough) and started living together again so we were living in a very toxic environment again and things went down
My mom started focusing on her job and she would never pay attention to any of us and then my parents split again but this time it was my mother’s fault cause she cheated on my dad and honestly I feel that I hate her so much and I been thinking of telling her how I feel but she never listens to me , she says that a daughter has no right to judge
The problem here is not that parents are getting a divorce honestly I just want them to be happy but my still dating the man she cheated my dad with

    Jonice - November 9, 2019 Reply

    Dear Jamie, I’m so sorry you’ve been dragged through such a messy situation. I hope you will do your best to turn your attention away from your parents’ choices and focus instead on something far more deserving: you. Your feelings, your needs, the things that make you special. At 19, it will be very important to raise yourself in a loving and attentive way.

erin - October 30, 2019 Reply

my parents fit in the last 2 catagories. my dad has anger spasms and yells stuff at me that i hope he doesnt mean. ive been bullied for years, and when my dad calls me names and yells it hurts me more and makes me more insecure. im scared that if i mention CEN to my parents they will call me dramatic and get defensive. they will make me feel like the guilty one. what do i do?

    Jonice - November 1, 2019 Reply

    Dear Erin, instead of mentioning CEN to your parents, please find a trusted adult to talk with about it. Maybe you can get a therapist?

Debra - October 17, 2019 Reply

i think most parents love and want to raise productive responsible children and do the best they can with what they have. Any person can look back over their past and find fault with something their parents did (maybe too strict, not strict enough, etc), that’s just life. No one is perfect. We are all human. People need to quit blaming everything that makes them unhappy on their upbringing. Our society has become a group of whiners and finger pointers. These are truly sad times.

    Jonice - October 21, 2019 Reply

    Dear Debra, if parents want to raise productive, responsible children, then it’s important that they be educated about how to do so. In the case of CEN, good intentions are not enough to make it happen. Labeling the honest attempts of struggling people to understand why they are struggling as “whining and finger-pointing” is harsh and damaging. That way of thinking is what I am trying to make a relic of the past, and is what I find truly sad.

      Frieda - November 26, 2019 Reply

      I agree with you Jonice.
      Understanding my parents is one thing.
      Forgiving is another.
      Forgetting never happens when the parents never change. Personally, I am now an adult woman. You cannot get blood from a stone.
      Both my parents are old now and expect to be treated with the same reverence as their parents were.
      Difference is, their parents, imperfect as they were, put their children’s success in life above their squabbles.
      My parents are divorced and put their own happiness ahead of their children’s welfare at every turn for many years (at least mine anyway).
      I have tried to be a good daughter. I am barely keeping my own head above water. My parents complain about aging, ailing, etc.
      They should have thought in advance how their miserable conduct towards their kids would effect their children’s ability and willingness to take care of them and comfort them in their old age.

        Jonice - November 29, 2019 Reply

        Dear Frieda, I am so sorry. Please put your own needs first. It’s healthy and a requirement. You must protect yourself above all else, and whatever energy that is left over can go toward your parents if you choose.

Lorraine - September 26, 2019 Reply

I told my parents about CEN and they flipped out. Both are WMBNT and could not process that they were anything but perfect parents that did everything for their kids. They are now calling me a bad person who conjured up this hurtful story against them and said that I’m just a needy person.
I don’t know how to fix it and I wish I could take it back. It’s just made me miserable.

    Jonice - September 26, 2019 Reply

    Dear Lorraine, I am so sorry this happened. You showed great courage by talking with your parents. And you are not alone! CEN parents can have a very hard time seeing it in their own parenting which is why it’s so very important to remove all blame from the picture. If you were careful about this when you talked with them, then their reaction probably has to do with them blaming themselves. Have you read my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships? It has lots of good information and support on how to deal with this. All my best to you!

    Chris - October 11, 2019 Reply

    I had the same recent experience as you. I too regret having that talk.

      Jonice - October 14, 2019 Reply

      Dear Chris and Lorraine, I’m very sorry your talks did not go well. Did you use Running On Empty as a guide? Because there is a lot of useful guidance in there! Sometimes a talk that goes badly leads to a better outcome in the end, even though is very painful and hard. I admire you both for your courage in trying to talk about the untalkable.

luisa - September 25, 2019 Reply

Ok so my issue is my mom home schooled/home schools me and adopted me back when I was 5 but I was scared when she got me so I rejected her of which I have apologized numerous times but it doesn’t matter to her, her saying is “it doesn’t matter how you meant it it only matters how i received it.” So with that being said my mom and I have never been able to get along because she thinks she’s fat and ugly and is jealous because I am skinny and pretty and she somehow makes the fact that she is over weight my fault and me being skinny and pretty also my fault. So when the time came for me to start school she never wanted to teach me and she never tried and still doesn’t try to understand how I think and why some things that make sense to the rest of the world don’t make sense to me. When I was younger and sometimes even now she calls me to stupid to understand or blonde things that really make me feel like I will never be good enough for her. More often than not anymore I feel like she lives to point out all the wrong doings I have done and fails to see all the good things I have done for her and the family. Another thing she does is my brother left the beginning of this year in a very painful way he walked out of the house and pretty much wants nothing to do with us….well he did until recently where it feels like he wants to come back into our lives but of all the lies and all the things he’s done mom wants nothing to do with him so now she compares me and my little sister to everything he does so thanks to my brother my mom has raised the expectation level to IMPOSSIBLE and every failure that she’s done is someone else’s fault. So anyway with the schooling, I am 17 years old and there are some things that I won’t understand and shell be like,”you are 17 you should know that by now” and my thinking is you failed to teach me that so how am I supposed to know it if I’ve never learned it?

    Jonice - September 26, 2019 Reply

    Dear Luisa, I am very sorry you are experiencing all of this, especially at such a young age. Please talk with an adult you can trust about all of this because you will need support and help to navigate it and to protect yourself. A counselor at your school might be a good choice. Or ask your dr. for a referral. It’s important!

Claire Holmes - September 25, 2019 Reply

My dad fits in category 1. He’s a chronic alcoholic and is dying yet he continues to drink. He was an abusive husband/father and i have no happy memories of him. All memories have violence, bullying, intimidation, drunkeness and deep sadness attached to them. My mum commited suicide when i were 16…i’m now 44. My dad has never cared for me and my siblings, his words are empty promises. He tells me he loves me, but to me he’s just saying fake words. The only person he cares about and is bothered about is himself. As my dad is getting sicker and more in need of care i can feel my self pulling away from him, and getting more and more angry with him. He did this to himself, he showed me and my siblings no love, and now he needs caring for. I’ve never been close to my dad. I can honestly say that i have felt hatred for my dad, but yet i’ve also felt love for him. But at this moment in time i’m feeling more hatred than love. He’s brought nothing but sadness and misery into my life, and in the past i have gone possibly years without seeing him, as i didn’t want him in my life and he never bothered to seek me out in my life. I only pray that his death is quick and painless, as i don’t want him to suffer. I have grieved for the father i never had for many years, and i’ve come to terms with the fact that i’ll never have “that” father.

    Jonice - September 26, 2019 Reply

    Dear Claire, you are wise to grieve for the father you never had. That shows a willingness and ability to face a painful reality and that is a sign of strength and courage. Hold fast to what you know. And focus on yourself and caring for your feelings. You deserve it!

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