Raised To Have No Emotional Needs

How do you raise a child to have no emotional needs? Turns out, it’s remarkably, shockingly easy. It’s so easy that many parents do it by accident, despite wanting everything good for their child, and despite trying to do everything right as a parent.

In fact, raising a child to have no emotional needs is so easy that it’s scary.

You just have to do a few special things. Or, rather, you just have to not do a few special things. We will talk about those special things in a minute, but first, I have a question for you.

Might you think this sounds like a desirable outcome, or a sign of strength, to have no emotional needs? If so, you are joined by lots of other people who think that adults should be “strong,” meaning need little from other people, especially not emotionally.

Yet we humans are emotional beings. Our emotions are built into the deepest parts of our central nervous system. They are the deepest, most biological expression of our past and present experiences, wants, responses, reactions, and needs. Our emotions are the expression of our deepest selves.

What connects two people together in a love relationship? Emotions. What has motivated some of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time? Emotions. What enables every single human being to make decisions that are authentic to themselves? Emotions.

What makes life mean something? Yes, you are right. It’s emotions.

What It Means to Have Emotional Needs

Let’s take a moment to consider what it means to have emotional needs. It means that you are human, and it also means two more things. That you are open to messages from your inner self and that you are open to connections with others that are based on vulnerability and emotional honesty. These are the ingredients that make relationships feel true, resilient, and rich, all of which are paramount to being able to emotionally thrive.

Do you have emotional needs? Yes, you do, because you are human. But the real question is whether you allow yourself to know, express, and try to meet them. 

Raised to Have No Emotional Needs

So, back to our initial question: How do you raise a child to have no emotional needs? Essentially, you raise your child to ignore, hide, or be ashamed of their emotional needs. This enables your child, once grown, to believe that they have none. 

Many well-meaning, caring parents do this without intending it or knowing. Sadly, when you ignore, hide, or belittle (even if only subtly) your child’s feelings, you inadvertently teach your child how to suppress their own emotions and emotional needs. This is a lesson that will endure throughout children’s entire lifetime.

I call it Childhood Emotional Neglect. If Childhood Emotional Neglect (or CEN) sounds like the intentional act of an unloving parent, I assure you it’s usually not the case at all. Many CEN parents are simply missing the emotional awareness, understanding, and knowledge their child needs because they didn’t receive it from their own parents.

The bottom line, we can only give our children what we have to give.

The CEN Adult’s Fear of Being Seen as “Needy”

One crucial point, having emotional needs, and sharing them is not the same as being needy. Nor does it make you appear needy. 

Quite the contrary, having emotional needs and expressing them makes you appear, and be, stronger.

Kasey

At age 24, Kasey has never had a boyfriend. Deep down, she’s always wanted a relationship, but on the surface, she has worked hard to hide that wish. She has told many friends and family members that she has more important things to do than to date. When the subject came up with her friends, she turned beet red and changed the subject. 

Jackson

Jackson visits his parents with his partner and children dutifully every major holiday. Each time they visit, Jackson experiences the absence of emotional connection in his relationship with his parents. Jackson’s family is great about discussing sports, news, and weather, but no one talks about anything genuinely important or real. Jackson is vaguely aware that he is hurt by his parents’ lack of interest in his personal life, struggles, or feelings, but he also learned from the way he was raised that to admit that his parents’ emotional void is hurtful, even to himself, would make him weak and needy. So he works hard to never let himself feel it, and he never expresses a word about it to his spouse or anyone else.

What It Means to Let Yourself Have Emotional Needs

  • First, it means accepting that your own feelings are real and worth attending to. 
  • Second, it means realizing that emotional needs are normal and healthy, and expressing them is a sign of strength.
  • Third, it means that you are willing to take some risk, let down your walls, and let yourself be seen as human and vulnerable.

It’s okay to want things like understanding, comfort, and support. It’s okay to need things like love, attention, warmth, and connection. 

It’s powerful to allow your true feelings to be seen, heard, and felt by others. It’s what makes others able to know you, and what makes you able to feel empathy for others.

Most importantly, acknowledging your emotional needs, and expressing them, is the single best, if not only, way to actually get them met.

To learn much more about how to recognize, accept, and express your emotional needs to others see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Maria - January 6, 2021 Reply

Thank you very much dr. Jonice Webb for this excellent article related to express more own feelings, emotions and needs and less listening, supporting needs of relatives.

Dorothy - January 4, 2021 Reply

I could not even express feeling growing up. Today I am too needy. Expect too much from others that leads to disappointment.

    Jonice - January 5, 2021 Reply

    Dear Dorothy, I encourage you to focus on expressing your feelings to yourself and really listening. Then work on expressing yourself to others in a way that they can respond in a positive way. Much of expressing feelings is about how you say it.

Lisa - January 4, 2021 Reply

I definitely suffered from CEN as a child (raised by 2 narcissists) and have spent years trying to regain my sense that my feelings are actually important and worth feeling. In a sense, it helps that I’ve been on that journey as I can more easily see the same struggles in others and give them “space”. I have a younger friend who says her parents raised her to be a “little adult” from the start (red flag statement to me) and she literally goes into physical shutdown when we manage to have an emotional discussion and her body language changes to that of a small child. I can only bring her back to the present by making her look me in the eye and then saying whatever my heart tells me she needs to hear. We all need to know that the more times we put ourselves out there and someone else listens and respects those intense feelings, the easier this all gets. My friend amazes me with her newfound bravery to share with me as I know how painful it is for her.

    Jonice - January 5, 2021 Reply

    Dear Lisa, you are a very good friend to your younger friend. I’m glad you are dealing with your own CEN and that it’s allowing you to see it in other people too. Take care of yourself!

Kara - January 4, 2021 Reply

Yikes, this one really hits home. I have spent years priding myself on being self sufficient and not needing support from anyone, except for my husband. (I’ve always felt I relied on him too much, but in reality I haven’t.) It’s only been in the last few years I have learned to be more open with my friends. I’m still working on it but I’ve learned people really do care about you and you don’t have to hide how you feel with people. Your articles are so helpful to show us how to recognize these behaviors are not good for us and we don’t have to feel alone and suppress all our feelings. Thank you,
Kara

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Kara, it makes me so happy to read about your efforts to heal and how they are paying off. Keep it up!

Jack - January 4, 2021 Reply

Great article. I identify with Jackson. CEN resonates deeply with me as well. I just completed your Fuel Up program and got some great building blocks for recovery. It will take time. I am currently seeing a therapist and I share CEN info from the blogs. My feelings are very walled off. She asked me a scary question: What do I want? I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t answer the question. I don’t think about what I want. I worked hard and provided for my wife and family. Now retired, a tremendous dissociation set in. I felt like a spectator in my place instead of a participant. We are working on finding answers to the question of what I want. Thank you Dr. Webb for your insightful work.

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Jack, I’m so glad you used the Fuel Up For Life program so well and are finding it helpful. I love that your therapist asked you that question. Keep up the great work you’re doing!

Joanna - January 4, 2021 Reply

Dear Jonice,

Thank you for your insightful article! What you say really resonates with me. My emotional needs were rarely acknowledged during childhood and this left me with a sense of feeling this was a weakness and so I suppressed my feelings and emotions! I have always felt different from others and as though I was lacking something very important as life has felt meaningless and very difficult at times. I am working on trying to get more comfortable expressing myself and my needs as I really want to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships and know this is key to doing that. Thank you!

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Joanna, I am so glad to hear that you are working on expressing your needs. You’re on-track!

Mel - January 4, 2021 Reply

This article explains so clearly why I have always ‘muted’ my feelings so those close to me. Why would anyone be interested anyway in how I feel, my parents weren’t when I was a child and nor was my ex husband. It has come so natural for me to deal with everything I feel myself yet I feel crippled with depression. Having started a new relationship with a loving, caring man, I am struggling to accept his love, I just don’t feel worthy of it.

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Mel, your parents were likely CEN. Just because they weren’t able to be interested in your feelings does not mean no one can! Since you have a new caring partner, I urge you to start the work on healing your CEN. It is the path to a happier, more fulfilling, and connected life.

Joel - January 4, 2021 Reply

Even knowing about its existence, it’s so hard for me to get out of that mindset. Even when I’m seeing a therapist for help, it’s hard to get past the thoughts that I shouldn’t be feeling anything bad so I shouldn’t be talking to them – that mindset completely shut down my first attempt at therapy and it took me 10 years to have another shot at it.

It’s been really slow going the 2nd time around. I’ve found it hard to get around the thoughts when talking with my therapist to really talk about much. I also had a few sessions with a therapist on the CEN list and seemed to have the opposite problem – they were so ready to guess what might be happening and would guess my thoughts/feelings way more forthrightly than I was comfortable with, to the point where I wondered if they had misconstrued things about me and the type of person I see myself as.

I was proud of myself for not being emotional, until I started having anxiety and depression problems I couldn’t recognise or describe. I don’t know how to be ok with myself having emotions now, and can’t help but see it as a downgrade compared to who I used to be.

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Joel, recovery from CEN can indeed make you feel things that you’ve been walling off for decades. It sounds like your therapist is helping you break down your walls. It can make you supremely uncomfortable until you get used to it. Just keep on going and it will start to feel like your new normal.

Jen - January 4, 2021 Reply

Great article. Miserable situation. It is like being dead but alive. You’re so shut off from anything that gives connection and value to your “connections” in life.
Living with CEN is probably like being raised to be a sociopath, feel nothing, experience nothing, don’t connect with others.
When CEN is compounded by an abusive childhood, it can feel hopeless. EVERYTHING is an uphill battle. Just moving through the world feels nightmarish and CEN is like having your legs kicked out from under you. You’re told, either openly or subtly, you don’t matter. You, your feelings, wants, and needs are unimportant. It is very hard to un-convince yourself of this mindset, but not impossible. Try to see yourself as a friend you want the best for in life. Value this person against all the negative, dismissive, hurtful lies you were “raised” with.
“Raised with.” When it comes to CEN, we weren’t raised, we were thwarted. Step by step, year by year, we grew up in homes when we were not allowed to BE. Very possibly, our “caregivers” were abused as well. If you can SEE it, you can NAME it and give it back, not bring it forward. You have to find hope where hope was not allowed. Day by day, moment by moment, whatever it takes. You have to be the accepting, kind loving parent you never had. What have you got to lose? More of Your life.

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Jen, you write with the passion of a person who has experienced CEN firsthand and knows what it means to be emotionally thwarted and diminished on a personal level. Thank you for sharing your inspirational words.

Philip - January 4, 2021 Reply

I like the Jackson example.
My mum only liked babies so I would be cared for till I was 2 years old when my brother was born by a different father.then my sister was born 2 years after my brother by a different father. then my next sister was born 2 years after my sister and went on and on. Bit like out with the old in with the new.we was all just a toy to my mum.don’t know who my father was.there was never any hugs or praise when we was growing up.the only time my mum was pleased is when the social worker said I was a deviant she was well pleased with that.we was put on supervision order but the courts for abuse and sexual abuse that we suffered.it just got worse as we got older.me and my brother used to go to the Chinese takeaway for mum we would just lift the lid of the takeaway and take few grains of rice out to eat.
Now I’m 50 and don’t need hugs don’t need sympathy have no friends.none of us have spoken in 20 years.we have nothing in common and that suits me fine.I put a wall up which no one could get in. Any way emotional neglect is very damaging and very hard to break out of it if that’s all you know

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Philip, I’m so sorry you experienced such abject neglect. And yes, CEN is hard to break out of. But you can break out of it, for sure. I encourage you to read the Running On Empty books if you haven’t already. Beginning to pay attention to your own feelings is the start of healing. It will change everything for you.

Richard - January 3, 2021 Reply

There needs to be I think more of a link up in academic psychology and therapy between childhood emotional neglect issues and children who are sent away to boarding school – especially at an overly young age. My father is a wonderful and deeply honourable man but he was sent away to boarding school at about eight years old and the place was so unhealthy he was caned for not somersaulting in a straight line in the physical education class. I know he loves his family deeply and is warm with other people but not once have I heard him say a sentence which begins “I feel”. I was sent away to boarding school too and was so badly bullied and abused I had to go home and several boys were expelled or suspended. I now have a simple philosophy which is if I feel a certain way and no-one is around I say out loud “At the moment I feel angry/low/deeply depressed/happy. I think if you can admit emotions to yourself it is a start. I desperately want to build emotional bridges with my father but I think this needs to be taken a bit at a time – especially as he is now old and physically and psychologically vulnerable. I certainly do not want to dump the blame on him for what happened at school. I just want to share feelings with him and with my mother as well. Sometimes the gap is so wide it is hard to know quite where to start.

    Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

    Dear Richard, thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments. I have indeed noticed a connection between boarding school experiences and CEN. I encourage you to try to reach your parents as long as you feel able to cope with any disappointment or hurt that might come of it. But, the reality is, not all parents can respond; and you can continue on to heal yourself, even without the emotional connections with your parents.

      Richard - January 4, 2021 Reply

      Thank you Jonice for your deeply sensible reply. Sometimes one needs to remember the lines from that Michael Jackson song “I am starting with the man/woman in the mirror” and I will endevor to concentrate primarily on my own healing. Very often the only person you can change is yourself and this takes time and patience and a lot of love.

Gas - January 3, 2021 Reply

Nice article. I particularly liked the case of Kasey. There is a thing like sexual neglect where parents hesitate or avoid any talk about romance and sex. Children then bury love and sex-related emotions deep in themselves and maybe abstain from sexual relationships. You might want to write an article about CEN and dating issues in adult life. Happy New Year.

    Kelly - January 4, 2021 Reply

    I noticed this exact issue in my life. My parents never talked about these topics and I didn’t enter into a romantic relationship until I was 37. Found out very late that my issues stem from CEN. An article on CEN and dating issues would be very interesting and I believe there is also a connection between addiction/pornography in this area, especially in men.

      Jonice - January 4, 2021 Reply

      Dear Kelly, agreed. I will write an article on CEN and dating issues. I have written about pornography addiction and CEN in the past. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

        Richard - January 4, 2021 Reply

        I am really glad that you are going to write an article on this subject Jonice. For many people regardless of CEN plucking up the courage to ask someone out for a date, even if it is just a cup of coffee is a big deal. Many people with CEN feel very rejected by their parents and also feel unlovable because they did not get that emotional warmth and validation at a vital time. Therefore when they feel “tempted” to ask someone out part of them – in a bid to protect them slams the brakes on to stop themselves being rejected and left alone again. It is like an overprotective parent in the mind and it can be there in other relationships too. My therapist asked me once why I always decided when our session was over and it was time to leave rather than her. I think she knew the answer! It was because if she had told me the time was up and I had to leave I would have interpreted that as rejection. I think the way round this for me at any rate is to admit that if someone you like doesn’t want a certain relationship with you that can be tough and maybe a bit painful. However it does not have to be an absolutely appauling catastrophe as it is for a three year old when their mother is not with them and they are left with unfeeling adults. One can survive it – indeed grow stronger from it – and although some people are very lovely by human standards nobody is completely right in every way for a person anyway.

          Joanna - January 5, 2021 Reply

          Hi Richard, yes I agree! I’ve avoided romantic relationships completely – not because I don’t want one but because I’ve felt unlovable/not worthy of being loved and for a fear of rejection! Thanks to Jonice I recognise where these feelings stem from and I’m doing my best to change things even though it’s very hard. Good luck to you!

GWOR - January 3, 2021 Reply

Sun Jan 3 2021
Your message today vibrates to a long past of being a caregiver and now nearing 75 and for 50 of those years being told as an only child “ they are your problem not ours “ and “the” they were right as it is draining enough and putting family first there was no time to meet my own emotional needs .
And fortunately in later years building a large producing territory I finally had the resources to ensure everyone was buried honourably although at some unfinished moments at the graveside I must admit “ biting my own tongue” to balance realities of caring and obligations taken past even the extremes of infinity no one ever wins a war with self until one ends it inside first and the self reaches outward as in goes the good air and out goes the bad .

Looking back when a person is spent and is “hardwired” to survival then there is always another at some point in time who senses the weaknesses of a injured person and creates their own opportunities bringing others onboard to execute both the real in costly production lost and to unfold as who they really are bringing harm and betrayal to the final dismissal and execution.

An example says it all as an employee who we lent our cottage out of caring started saying “ oh he has psychological problems” on his return to the compounding plant and it stuck going forward.

So we sold the cottage as our children still young sensed something the cottage seemed tainted and if you will haunted . Yes the walls have ears and they do in their vibrations as even both neighbours on either side felt something had changed after that visit so I gave one my boat and his children my growing Tonka collection of construction toys to continue playing on the beach by the river .
The continuous echoing of “ oh he has psychological problems “ persisted and after leaving that toxic environment the owners mysteriously sold the company and two new off shoots companies grew from the employees. Go figure! Winning formulas of success for born losers.

When one’s life is about survival no matter the inputs one has to earn a living first to pay the bills then and provide care and one’s emotional needs are a luxury until the bills are paid that’s it !

Many of us moved away from bad crippling remembrances and constant reminders because even friends can be cruel without the intention as crap happens and even someone slamming a door because the wind caught it can bring Niagara Falls of torrent cascades drowning one’s good moment into memories like a flashbacks to a dead end of no returns .
Going back to the source where it started is a nonstarter and going somewhere else is new to new opportunities not being reminded by a school friend “ I remember “ .

Stick it laddie I did not come back for “ reruns” no matter where they come from .

I have reached the point seeing the ongoing psychological affects and effects of COVID19 no one knows when our days are called and sometimes one must just throw one’s old book of life away and start writing a new one for the self and always ensure the door opens outwards to the light leaving the darkness behind .

For the world will never be the same but those of us who have conquered or work at it seamlessly the pasts are gone and instead of getting drowned by the effects one is better to examine the causes and deal with it or them and let the effects rot in the garbage to be eventually in better shape to preserve the self and see others in need through worthwhile charities to give back even if it is just writing a cheque to know another may both eat and have their utilities and obligations met to be within warmth.

And it is these times we ourselves start to get in touch with our selves and realize our own emotional needs now better than later or not at
all .Then when?

Thank-you Jonice as one person reads your articles one way and another, another ,my hope is if someone reads this comment never to give up hope for the self and let the light in and ensure the door always opens outwards for new opportunities in health & wellness even if it pouring cats and dogs it sure beats keeping it inside those negative feelings and bad outcomes eating our lunch we miss and pursuing owning one’s right to a life and the possibilities of a living and life as one both within & without .

Pip - January 3, 2021 Reply

Wow, perfect timing. I have been very depressed, going through a divorce, having to uproot my home, and I have no idea what to do, where to go. I’m scared of the future.
I’ve been so horribly depressed yet unable to let anyone know.
I pretend I’m coping. I’m acting strong for my daughter. But when alone in my room I cry and cry and I feel so hopeless and alone. A friend has picked up that I’m very low, and she forced a phone call on me yesterday. I was reluctant to share my grief, sadness and feelings of overwhelm because I didn’t want anyone to know! It feels weak. I’m ashamed of being so useless.
But she insisted. So I ended up telling her everything and she was very supportive. She called again today to check up on me.
I still feel awkward and pathetic that I can’t cope. But I admit it is nice that someone cares. I don’t feel any better, but at least I don’t feel so alone.
I have no idea what she thinks of me. But I do know that if I had a friend who was struggling, I would always want to help them, and I wouldn’t mind what they said at all. I would do my best to help. It’s hard to imagine them thinking that about me, but perhaps they do.

    Jonice - January 3, 2021 Reply

    Dear Pip, that is what good friends do for each other. Allowing yourself to feel supported will strengthen you.

Steve - January 3, 2021 Reply

Dr. Jonice Webb
Thank you for sharing your knowledge on CEN! I look forward to your weekly blogs and appreciate the time you take to share your with your audience. You have been an inspiration to me in directing myself to work on something I learned was missing. This journey has given me the opportunity to understand more about emotions and feelings that I had trouble coping with throughout my life. I am looking forward to this years blogs and I would like to wish you and your family a new year filled with hope in curing the pandemic , love, and fulfillment.

    Jonice - January 3, 2021 Reply

    Thanks for your kind wishes, Steve. I’m so glad to be helpful to you. Happy New Year back!

David H - January 3, 2021 Reply

I am definitely like Kasey and Jackson.
But how do you express your needs to get them met. I suppose I still lack any meaningful connections that result in getting those needs met. I have maybe one connections where I feel somewhat comfortable, but because this relationship is a professional one (client/physical trainer) I hesitate to form a deeper connection.

    Jonice - January 3, 2021 Reply

    Dear David, it will probably help to start in a different way, with making more connections with more people so that there will be more possibilities to take emotional risks.

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