How to Resolve a Painful Emotion

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Having intense feelings is simply a part of being alive. No one gets a free pass.

But some feelings just keep coming back again and again, like an old nemesis who refuses to leave us alone. They can drive us to do unhealthy things or make poor choices. And they can make us supremely uncomfortable.

A recent article, Eight Step Method to Manage Intense Emotion, was about how to sit with, and tolerate an intense, painful feeling. This week, we’ll talk about how to resolve the feeling so that it actually goes away.

If you find that emotions are extra challenging for you, it may be a sign that you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. If your parents didn’t know how to handle feelings, they likely were not able to teach you. Now, as an adult, you must learn these skills on your own. The good news is that you absolutely can learn them.

Did you know that being able to tolerate a feeling and resolving it in the long-term are closely related? Here’s why:

In order to make an intense feeling go away, you have to be able to sit with it and tolerate it.

Follow These 7 Steps to Resolve an Intense Emotion

  1. Start with facing the feeling itself. Follow the Eight Steps from last week’s article which will enable you to sit with and tolerate the feeling well enough to identify it and put words to it. Example: worthless, angry, sad, and lost.
  2. Track the feeling over time. Start paying attention to when this feeling arises in your life and the possible events or situations that may be causing it. Look back to the past. Did you have it at particular times before? When? Going forward, keep track of when it arises. It helps very much to keep a written record of this which you can look back and review.
  3. Use your tracking record to identify its cause. Is this feeling caused by something from your past, or something in your current life? Hint: Most intense feelings have roots in the past and are touched off by something going on right now. Is the feeling linked to an event or a series of events?
  4. Listen to its message. Every emotion is your body telling you something. What’s this one telling you?
  5. Develop a plan to process the memory, situation, or event that brings up the feeling. If from the past, then this feeling is your body telling you that you need to find a new perspective upon that past event. If it’s your current life that is causing it, think about what you need to change in your life so that the painful feeling will change or fade.
  6. Share the feeling and the event with a trusted person. If you don’t have family or friends that you can trust with it, then talk with a therapist about it. There is something about putting a feeling (and the situation that caused it) into words and sharing it with another human being that reduces its power over you.
  7. Know that this is probably a “core feeling” for you. Core feelings are emotions that are rooted in your childhood and are a basic part of your identity. They are touched off easily in adulthood by any situation that somehow recreates your childhood experience. Unless your intensely painful feeling is caused by a highly unusual, recent, one-time event like a death or traumatic incident, this is likely a core feeling.  A core feeling typically does not go away entirely. But if you acknowledge it instead of avoiding it, and follow the six steps above, you can resolve the feeling, reduce it and greatly reduce its power over you.

The Takeaway

Of course, none of these steps is easy. Each one of them can be quite complex and difficult. But it’s very important to recognize two things: first, it is possible to take control of a feeling that hurts you or holds you back. And second, there is a time-tested process to follow.

So stop avoiding, and stop being baffled. Stop making the same mistake over and over again. Stop feeling worthless, and stop feeling sad. Instead, take it on.

You don’t have to hurt anymore.

To find out if you are living with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free!

To learn much more about how to gain the skills you missed due to Childhood Emotional Neglect see the bestselling book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.


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Veerle - January 24, 2023 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,
Your work on CEN has opened my eyes and changed my life.
I was wondering if you also have helpful advice on learning how to respond to painful emotions in others. This is something I still struggle with: I can take my time to learn to sit with my own intense emotions, but I can’t afford not to be there when my partner needs me to respond to their painful emotions. My reflex to back away from pain has already caused a lot of extra pain between us, and I need hands-on advice that I can use right now to be able to give at least a minimum of comfort while I’m still struggling with the deeper issues.
Thank you very much for your insights.

Beverley - September 9, 2022 Reply

– [ ] I grew up being told about the accounts my grandpa had for my two brothers and I. Over the years I saw our accounts grow and the last statement I remember seeing was when I was about 35 and my account was at 45K. My grandparents passed away and I never heard anything about the money. I figured it just didn’t end up happening and I never asked about it. Two weeks before my 45th birthday, I found a legal trust document with my name on it. It stated that on my 45h birthday I would have full control and access to this account. When I asked my mother (the trustee) about it, she got very upset and angry, got in her car and drove off. My Dad was furious at me for upsetting her and so I showed him the Trust and he said “I’ve never seen this before”. I just wanted to know how much money there was so I could make plans for what to do with it. My father said he would talk to my mom about it. He then came to me and said that because they had bailed me out over the years, we were even and to absolutely never bring it up again. I agreed. It hurt me greatly because all of the pieces started clicking into place. I remembered my brothers buying brand new Harley Davidsons and a stranger on the train even read my palm at the time, saying that I needed to talk to my mother about the money for me, that something was going on with it. I just shrugged it off at the time. What bothered me the most was all the secrets, it it felt like my whole family had conspired against me. I had been homeless and destitute for years. I had had a bad drug problem and had stayed away from my family. I was ashamed. At one point I did call the stockbroker and asked him about the account and he had said I needed to talk to my Mom, that she was the Trustee. I just put it all behind me and now at 52 I have a small savings I’d like to open an account with that same stockbroker, hoping to benefit from his expertise like the rest of my family has over the years. So I asked my folks about it and heard nothing back from them. When I asked whether they had had that conversation with him, my Mom said she remembers I had called him angrily and said I should go with a different guy who was also very good. She also said she didn’t want to re-live the “incident”. I had no intention of bringing anything up about it at all. I have been told I am the “identified patient” and I’ve heard numerous people say they didn’t even know my mom had a daughter. I know my mom thinks I’m almost disabled in a way when it comes to money and has always questioned and dashed my plans/dreams/ideas. I am crippled feeling, a huge disappointment. I am a recovering addict and my Dad still drinks which doesn’t bother me any more. My Mom has a secret eating disorder but had a drastic gastric bypass surgery when I was a kid because she was so self conscious about her weight. I feel like my mom is so embarrassed about me, that I’m still doing nothing with my life. It used to bother me that not once did they ever try to encourage me to find a husband, settle down and have a family. I know her friends and the rest of the family have been angry with me over the years because of all the pain I have caused her. She would cry and get so upset about me. I feel like she hates me and thinks I had so many opportunities, was pretty and very capable but did nothing with my life. How do I sort this out?

Sam - June 30, 2022 Reply

Hi Jonice,
Could you explain what might be some roots of irrational jealousy? Partner is frequently jealous for inappropriate reasons like, a worker coming to the house or a stranger coming to buy something at the house when partner, who does not live with me, is not there. Partner is concerned about me making new friends when taking a classes in the future. Partner has intense feelings of discomfort he needs to share. Also has ocd. Partner can’t understand why this is upsetting to me. Thank you, I am a big fan.

    Jonice - June 30, 2022 Reply

    Dear Sam, this does sound like a significant issue. Can you and/or your partner see a therapist to help you sort through this? Jealousy can be a major threat to a relationship if it’s not addressed, and it may take a professional to help you and your partner with it.

Monique - September 28, 2021 Reply


I know exactly which events caused me the pain and the obstacles. I have a live memory of the these events and I cant process them, they keep hurting me. Should I forget them? I would like to transform them to my inner source of power, but I feel I’m not ready yet. How can I speed up the process? I guess physical exercise will help. But I also want to be sure to make the right decision for my future. Where to start? Cleaning up the past and leave the decision taking for now? Or it goes all together hand in hand? 🙂 Thank you, Monique

MW - May 15, 2021 Reply

Dear Jonice
I have feelings that I feel and these feelings are not helping me in anything. The thing is I don’t know what that feeling is! I mean it’s part sadness part anger part frustration and part empty. It’s like a storm I can’t escape from. How do I overcome that
Again pls don’t email me or trace me. ( sorry I just kinda feel uncomfortable with you emailing me when I don’t know u)

Soni - March 1, 2021 Reply

Thankyou Jonice for your work, you provided the much needed pinhole of awareness, the ‘Ah-ha’ moment, which has further grown since!
Maybe I am just projecting my experience onto the world, but I’m curious as to your option of how many people in the world have CEN. Looking at our emotionally avoidant society, and common types of parenting post WW2, ‘seen and not heard’, ‘toughen up’ etc, I seem to think that perhaps being raised with CEN is the norm due to so much ‘big’ trauma and emotionally unaware societal norms taking too much space and energy from parents to be able to be emotionally present? Is this correct, or have there been many emotionally aware parents in the last few generations and I haven’t been privvy to that so my view of the world is skewed? Thanks!

    Jonice - March 1, 2021 Reply

    Dear Soni, I think many baby boomer parents have been able to be emotionally attuned with their kids. But sadly, a large portion have not. I wish I had numbers to share with you but I do not.

Kirsten - February 12, 2021 Reply

Interesting! I’ve been struggling at work. I’m feeling disliked, unpopular, disregarded, ignored, slighted, and like I am surrounded by a team of “mean girls” who bully me. I realize I’ve felt this way before in certain situations, in childhood. But not always, sometimes I feel like I really belong. I’m wondering if I need to move into a different type of role in my professional career without being part of a team like this, or if I can work through the feelings this work situation is bringing up. I really like the company but I don’t like my teammates – they are not kind to me.

Anon - February 9, 2021 Reply

It’s a little bit awkward feeling to become completely ignored/invalidated in a forum which is all about emotional validation…Oh dear. Could you remove my earlier post from this forum? (and this one also does not need to become published)

    Jonice - February 11, 2021 Reply

    Dear Anon, I’m sorry you feel overlooked! I just want to assure you that this is not a Forum, it’s just a comment section. I try to answer comments when I can but I, unfortunately, can’t answer all of them. Thanks for sharing with us.

Anna - January 26, 2021 Reply

Hi Jonice! Please help, I feel such an awful emotional pain now. My animal friend passed away suddenly, accidentally, way too young. She was the ray of light of my life. Then my “friend” (not a very close one) started to preach and lecture me, how I “should put things on perspective” and how apparently my emotion is not justified, because apparently there are people who have “more reason” to feel bad, for example, according to her “have lost their jobs because of covid”.
She made me feel “wrong”. I started to feel so angry! What right this adult woman has to lecture me, another adult woman, how I “should” feel?! I’m not a 5 years old child who did something unappropriate. I’m a cen person, have followed Jonice your advice a couple of years now…I suddenly felt, right now we are at the very core…in this matter of feeling and owning MY emotions!! I was like, damn it!! If some people have lost their jobs, that’s too bad, but that is currently not MY pain, my pain is this sorrow because I lost my beloved animal friend. How much more time I am going to ignore my emotions, and put other people’s emotions my priority, if other people feel pain, does that somehow exclude that I shouldn’t or couldn’t feel pain too, no matter what the reason for it? I’m 45 years old and up until now always accepted it as if it was a fact…that other people are always right and I am wrong. What if this time this other woman was actually wrong? I believe she was plus very rude, someone without no empathy. I felt pain, she made me feel more pain, and she judged and criticized, minimized my pain and the reason for it. I think it is extremely rude! If I did anything wrong, I think it was trying to share my feelings with a person who clearly doesn’t care and is very insensitive. I won’t do the same misstake again, that person is now my ex friend!
Am I right with all this Jonice? What to do when other people are trying to take me to this kind of a quilt trip…like I’m not entitled to feel bad, because other people (usually this “other people” refers to some collective, people I do not even know, and not even any particular individual) have more “real” or “valid” reasons to feel bad because of reasons x, y and z? Should I always ignore myself, my emotions, because of some “other people” and their possible emotions? Crazy!!
I feel such an anger right now but I think it is good: probably some inner awakening! 🙂
I always felt that I am strong, resilient, persistent like a pit bull terrier, but also vulnerable, fragile, emotional, sensitive…a.k.a. woman 😀 True, I might be more emotional and sensitive, deep-feeling than most people, but so what? Does that automatically make me “wrong”, “worse” than average people?
Maybe I was just born this way. This beautiful thought has recently come into my mind, at this age of 45 I can actually accept myself exactly as I am. Nobody’s perfect. If other people have problem with me feeling my feelings…is it safe to conclude that it is then THEIR problem? 😀

sam - January 25, 2021 Reply

zijn er in België CEN therapeuten?

    Veerle - January 24, 2023 Reply

    to Sam: a therapist in Belgium who is very much aware of CEN and that I can recommend is Jean-Marie Govaerts in Lokeren

Kara - January 25, 2021 Reply

Thanks Dr Webb that is very helpful. I’ve identified whenever I’m feeling irritable this is the cover emotion for something much deeper. Now, if I feel irritable I look deeper and bingo! there it is – a much more intense emotion. It might be anger, sadness, fear or guilt, depending on the situation. Then I look for the underlying cause. Just the other day I was feeling very irritable for no particular reason. When I looked I could see that something my partner had said earlier in the day had triggered feelings of rejection. So I sat with that for a while and realised I was angry and afraid. Then I looked at my self talk and saw I probably wasn’t being rejected at all. I thought of all the loving and kind things he had also said and got this one comment in perspective. Later in a calm frame of mind I asked him what he had meant by the comment and it was clear I’d misinterpreted what he’d said. It’s now led me to a deeper reflection on how easily I feel rejection, its sources and how I can better respond when I think it’s happening. This personal honesty about my feelings is leading to an overall experience of peacefulness in my life. Your work has been instrumental in this process. So thanks!

    Jonice - January 25, 2021 Reply

    I’m so very glad you’re doing all this great work Kara. Keep it up!

Karla - January 24, 2021 Reply

The steps in resolving the emotions is helpful.
Loneliness and shame are my core issues.
Loneliness because it’s hard for me to make friends and satisfying connections. And shame because of it. I’m also an introvert HSP.
Thank you for your informative article.

DJ - January 24, 2021 Reply

Please make some comments on how a parent (73 years) with CEN who made mistakes with her adult child now (36 years) can bring a dialogue with the adult child about what happened to me and why it has happened to her. The daughter does not want contact and there are 3 grandchildren. I don’t know if she has worked her way out of CEN or not. I doubt it as she is repeating behaviors I had toward my mother with me.

    Jonice - January 24, 2021 Reply

    Dear DJ, for a lot of help on that question, please see my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. It will walk you through that problem. I know it is very painful and I’m sorry you are going through it!

      Louise - January 26, 2021 Reply

      Dear Jonice

      Can you please specify exactly which part of the book deals with the relationship of an adult with CEN who has made the same mistakes with their child/ren that their parents made because they were unaware of CEN?
      I have to admit that I didn’t get very far with that book because it seemed to be mostly about relationships with a partner.

        Jonice - January 27, 2021 Reply

        Hi Louise, there are 3 parts to Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationship. Part I is about marriage; Part II is about your own parents; Part III is about your children. Go to Part 3.

David - January 24, 2021 Reply

If a core feeling never goes away, how can I not believe that I am broken or flawed. My core feeling have ruined my life and taken my youth and my marriage from me. I dont want to live if I cant heal my core feelings. Whats the point?

    Jonice - January 24, 2021 Reply

    Dear David, you can heal your core feelings. I encourage you to find a CEN therapist from the list on this website. You deserve to feel better and there is help available for you!

Taylor - January 24, 2021 Reply

I’m so thankful for your resources on CEN! I found your website several months ago while I was working through the 12 steps of recovery for codependency. I came to realize because I am a highly sensitive person but my dad was raised as an only child in an alcoholic home, he had very little understanding for my depth of emotions. My parents never drank but my dad was the least emotionally connected person I had ever met. Because of this I was always told I made a big deal out of nothing and I felt like nothing I said mattered. I learned I couldn’t trust my own judgement. These things led me to where I am today – married to a man with ptsd and alcohol addiction. Last week my brother made a shocking discovery – he has aspergers and he is 99% positive our dad does too. This doesn’t really change anything but it helps bring clarity to why I felt the way I did growing up and has given me a boost of self confidence knowing my dad and I are about as opposite as can be, but that doesn’t mean my feelings and intuition don’t matter. I am learning to trust my gut and not allow myself to be hijacked by other’s claims that I’m “too sensitive.” Having a rich emotional life and sense of intuition is my greatest strength, I just have to make sure I don’t let it drive me to the point of feeling like I need to fix everyone and everything I think is broken. I’m thankful for the tools you provide to help me navigate my journey so I can live the best life possible!

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