Tag Archives for " Childhood Emotional Neglect "

How COVID-19 May Be Affecting Your Relationship With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents at the Holidays

Two things are going on right now that are causing more pain in adults’ relationships with their emotionally neglectful parents. Care to guess what they are? It’s the holidays plus the COVID-19 Pandemic. Mixed together, they create a cocktail of uncertainty, worry, emotional distance, and feelings of emptiness.

COVID-19 is affecting many people in many different ways. But one effect that is shared by most, perhaps virtually all, of us these days is that it, especially combined with the holidays during this unusual year, is making us feel more vulnerable.

Exactly what do I mean by vulnerable? I mean many different flavors of vulnerable feelings.

In this unprecedented time, you may be feeling more physically, socially, and emotionally vulnerable than usual and perhaps more so than ever before in your life.

You may feel physically vulnerable due to the risk of getting sick.

You may feel socially vulnerable due to being cut off or distanced from your family and friends.

And you may be feeling emotionally vulnerable, a product of all three of the factors above. On top of all that, most of us are spending more time alone with fewer distractions. The pandemic, with its social distancing, requires you to sit with yourself more, so it’s difficult to escape your feelings, anxieties, doubts, and fears. And they may be many.

Your Relationships

As COVID-19 drags on, the holidays approaching, and the world awaiting a vaccine, many relationships have been affected. Some have been enlivened or deepened or enriched. Marriages, friendships, and families have become closer, more mutually dependent, and more supportive.

Other relationships have been strained by the present situation we are in. They have been challenged, weakened, frustrated, broken, or pained.

As someone who hears from hundreds of people every week who are doing their best to cope with the pandemic, as well as the holidays, one of the relationship types that I have noticed taking a lot of boosts, as well as hits, are the relationships between CEN adults and their parents.

Whatever your situation with your parents, the pandemic may be complicating it. Your parents may live nearby or far away. You may have had issues with your parents before COVID-19. Your parents may be healthy emotionally and physically or they may be elderly and frail. They may be living in a facility.

Whatever the circumstances, I believe that millions of people are feeling extra vulnerable right now and are finding themselves struggling with their parents in some new way. And it is all due to circumstances that are completely out of their control.

7 Ways COVID-19 + the Holidays are Affecting Adults’ Relationships With Their Parents

  1. You may feel a need to reconnect. As the 2020 holidays approach, you may have become somewhat distant from your parents. Whether that was intentional or unintentional, you may find yourself feeling a longing to be more in touch with them.
  2. You may worry about their physical and mental health. The Pandemic may be making it hard for you to communicate with or see your parents. You may feel less able to be involved in their choices or care.
  3. You may feel more in need of validation. All human beings need to feel seen and known and loved by their parents. We need to hear certain things from our parents that assure us that our feelings and needs matter. If we don’t receive enough of that in our childhoods (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), our brains automatically continue to seek it as adults. To need this from your parents is not a sign of weakness, but of your humanity. Feeling vulnerable right now in general may make you need this validation from your parents even more. It’s painful.
  4. You may feel afraid of losing them. Will your parents get COVID? You may find yourself worrying about or imagining how you would feel if you lost them.
  5. You may find yourself appreciating them more. There’s nothing like a fear of loss to make you more appreciative. You may be feeling more love, more warmth, or gratefulness for what your parents have done for you.
  6. You may experience them as needy. Are your parents calling you more often, asking you for help or advice or support? Do they need to connect with you more often than has been typical of them? This is likely because they are feeling vulnerable or worrying about you.
  7. Family dynamics may be intensified. Not surprisingly, stress aggravates previously existing problems of all kinds. So, in many families, old anger or frustration, or resentment has been fomenting and increasing under the powerful pressure and strain of COVID-19.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you grew up in an emotionally unavailable (CEN) family, you may be experiencing several of the effects above. You may feel a longing to receive the ingredients that were missing from your childhood, while also feeling distant and helpless and disappointed in your parents.

When you do not receive enough emotional attention, empathy, meaningful conversation, or validation from your parents as a child, (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) you are naturally, as an adult, continually driven back to try to capture it. But your CEN parents may simply not have it to give, and this compounds your pain.

3 Ways to Cope

  • Put yourself first. Your parents are important people, of course, but your primary responsibility in life is to yourself. So be sure to prioritize your own needs during this stressful time. Your physical, mental and emotional needs must be addressed before you can give to others, even your parents.
  • Try to accept what you cannot change. This wise principle is one of the tenets of 12-Step Programs and it applies here. You do not have control over your parents and you cannot change their choices. You also cannot get from your parents what that they do not have to give, like emotional validation, empathy, or connection. Accepting your powerlessness in this relationship can be quite painful, but it does protect you from the wheel-spinning and frustration of continually going back to an empty well, looking for the emotional connection that never appears.
  • Take note of what your feelings are telling you. Your feelings are communications from your body. Every feeling carries a specific message. For example, the feeling of longing drives you to contact them more, whereas anger/frustration tells you to take protective action. Your feelings are trying to guide you, but there is a second question to ask yourself: Is this feeling telling me to do something healthy for me or something that may be unhealthy or damaging? It is important to notice and listen to your feelings, but it’s important to process them first. Sometimes, it can help to run this by someone you trust to gain a more objective opinion of what is healthy for you.

Most likely, this pandemic is affecting many of your relationships for better or for worse. And now, with the holidays upon us too, the one thing you can do right now that will make you stronger in every area of your life: nurture yourself, care for yourself, and pay attention to what you are feeling.

When you feel vulnerable, treat yourself as if you are your own number one. Because you are.

Wonder if you grew up in an emotionally neglectful family? Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. See the book Running On Empty to learn what CEN is and how it affects you now; and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships to learn how you can heal CEN with your partner, parents, and children.

Help For the Emotionally Neglected at Thanksgiving

It’s that time again, the holidays are coming. First comes Thanksgiving so let’s start preparing now.

Since Thanksgiving is generally a family holiday, you may be excited about Thanksgiving or not-so-much. And that is likely determined by the type of family you have.

How do you feel when you get together with your family? Is it enriching and enjoyable? Or is it more draining and challenging? Or is your family experience somewhere in between?

If your family has any kind of abuse, grief, or addiction in it, for example, this family-focused holiday may be extra challenging for you.

There is one very large group of folks who either look forward to Thanksgiving and then find themselves disappointed every year, or have learned to dread it because of its draining, disheartening nature.

This large group of people struggles to identify why Thanksgiving is disappointing each year. And the answer is not anything that happens at Thanksgiving dinner. It is actually because of what does not happen when their family gets together. 

What’s missing is a real, substantial emotional connection.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN: Growing up with CEN is essentially growing up in a family that has “emotion blindness.” These families are not able to see and respond to the feelings of the children enough. They may avoid meaningful discussion and tamp down or negate strong feelings instead of responding in a helpful, instructive, and supportive way to emotions.

CEN Families at Thanksgiving

  • In a CEN family’s Thanksgiving gathering, things may appear to be normal and fine. But there is a sense that something is missing. Some vital ingredient that’s hard to name.
  • CEN families avoid talking about the most important things: things that are conflictual, painful, or difficult. If a topic like that comes up it may feel awkward or somehow wrong or unacceptable. This can make your holiday either awkward, superficial, or boring.
  • Thanksgiving, a holiday in which you are supposed to be thankful for the good things in your life, can end up actually emphasizing what’s missing. So if you do not have a healthy family, you are destined to end up disappointed.

Recent research studies have found that feeling gratitude makes people happy. So Thanksgiving is a special opportunity to focus on what you are grateful for.

And there is a silver lining to growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect. Being raised in a family that ignores your emotions forces you to adapt. You learn some life skills that will be useful throughout your lifetime.

So now, at Thanksgiving, you have some valuable things in your life to be thankful for. And when you do, I hope it will help to bring you some of the happiness that you deserve this holiday season.

5 Things You Can Be Thankful For When You Have Childhood Emotional Neglect

  1. Your inner guide for directing you. Having grown up without adequate emotional attention and personalized guidance from your parents, you had to learn how to make choices for yourself without much outside help. So you learned. Making decisions may be a struggle for you now. But on some level, somehow, you often do make good choices. I have seen that most CEN people, even if they agonize over personal decisions, even if they make some mistakes in their choices, generally have good judgment and common sense. And a good gut sense, if only they would listen to their gut more. Your helpful inner guide is something to be thankful for.
  2. Your ability to do what needs to be done. As a child, you couldn’t be confident that your parents would provide you help when you needed it. Now as an adult you are remarkably capable. You learned how to take care of things as a child and you are still good at it. These useful life skills are something to be thankful for.
  3. Your willingness to help others. By overlooking your feelings as they raised you your parents inadvertently taught you how to overlook your own feelings and needs as an adult. This leaves you too focused on other people and their feelings and needs. But there is a silver lining to this. You are there to help others, and you likely ask for little back. Other people can see your good heart and they appreciate how giving and reliable you are. You can be thankful for possessing this lovable quality.
  4. Your parents for the things they did give you. If your parents were abusive or extremely neglectful to you then you do not owe them any thanks. But perhaps they struggled to provide you with life’s necessities; perhaps they loved you in the only way they could. Perhaps they gave you more than they had in their own childhoods. You can be thankful for what they did give you while also recognizing what they did not.
  5. One person in your life who has understood and supported you. Was one of your parents more emotionally responsive than the other? Was there a teacher or friend who showed you understanding or a friend who validated you? A therapist who has guided you through some painful moments or transitions? You can feel thankful for this one special person who offered you something vital when you needed it.

Think about whether there might be one person in your family you can connect with more; it may be a sibling, a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or in-law. Just one person you can perhaps share your CEN experience with. You can ask them to read this blog or the Running On Empty books. It helps enormously to have an understanding person in your family.

Wondering if this blog applies to you? Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable when it happens in childhood so, as an adult, it can be difficult to know. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Yes, Childhood Emotional Neglect left its mark on you. Yes, it will color your holidays gray if you let it. But there is a silver lining to your CEN. And now, at Thanksgiving, you can set your sights on healing and give yourself the emotional attention you never got. You are worth it.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving from me to you.

A version of this article first appeared on Psychcentral.com. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

Struggle With Self-Discipline? Follow This System Every Single Day

Many people struggle with self-discipline in many different ways and for many different reasons.

Do you struggle with:

Poor eating habits?

Overdrinking?

Overspending?

Getting yourself to exercise?

Wasting time?

Keeping a clean and organized house?

Making yourself do things that are boring or uninteresting?

Do you sometimes feel like you have no control over your own choices or actions in certain areas of your life? If so, rest assured that you are in the good company of countless others who feel the same way.

Most of those who struggle simply assume they are lazy or weak or defective in some way, but when you believe any of these things about yourself you are walking down a one-way street to nowhere.

Feeling defective makes you believe in yourself even less which makes you struggle even more. Feeling weak makes you hopeless and helpless to solve the problem, setting up an endless cycle of pain.

The reality is that almost no one who contends with self-control is doing so because they are weak or defective. Truth be told, I have often found the real cause of these problems to be Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your needs and feelings as they raise you.

“What could this possibly have to do with self-discipline?” you might ask. Here is the answer.

The Link Between CEN and Self-Discipline Problems

Actually, all self-discipline problems boil down to one simple mechanism that’s the foundation for it all. It’s the ability to make yourself do things you don’t want to do and to stop yourself from doing things you shouldn’t do.

We humans are not born with our “mechanism” fully functioning and developed. Instead, it is developed by our parents as they raise us.

When your mother calls you in from playing with your neighborhood friends because it’s dinnertime or bedtime, she is teaching you an important skill. She’s teaching you that some things must be done, even if you don’t feel like it.

When your dad gives you the weekly chore of cutting the grass and then follows up in a loving but firm way to make sure you do it, he’s teaching you how to make yourself do something you don’t want to do and he’s teaching you the rewards of that.

When your parents make sure you brush your teeth twice a day, when they say no to dessert, when they set aside and enforce “homework hour” every day after school because you’ve been slacking on homework, when they continue to love you but set your curfew earlier as a consequence of thoughtlessly breaking it; all of these parental actions and responses are internalized by you, the child.

Emotional Attunement = Teaching Discipline

All of these loving and attentive actions of your parents, when done with enough emotional attunement, structure, and love — in other words, the opposite of Childhood Emotional Neglect, literally program your brain. They set up neural pathways that you can use all your life to make yourself do things you don’t want to do and stop yourself from doing what you should not do.

Now, here’s another very important thing. When all of this happens as it should in your childhood, you not only internalize the ability to make yourself do things and to stop yourself from doing things, you internalize your parents’ voices, which later, in your adulthood, become your own.

Unfortunately, the opposite of everything we just discussed is also true. If you grow up in an emotionally neglectful home and do not receive enough of this emotionally attuned structure and discipline, you will emerge into adulthood without enough of the neural pathways you need. It’s not that you have none of these neural pathways. It’s just that you do not have enough.

I know what you are probably thinking so let’s talk about it:

So Is This All My Parents’ Fault?

No, not necessarily at all. All parents have their own personal struggles. Many grew up in emotionally neglectful homes themselves. Most parents do their best (not all, for sure)  and give their children what they have to give. But sadly, in many cases of Emotional Neglect, the parents can’t give you what they did not have themselves: emotional attunement, structure, and discipline.

Another side of this to consider in all of this is you.

I hope that realizing that you are not defective takes you out of that destructive loop of self-blame. I hope now that you see that your parents failed you in this way it will free you up to think in new ways. I hope that understanding the underlying mechanism of self-discipline will inspire you.

For what? For taking responsibility for this problem now. For building your own neural pathways. For change.

It is never too late. As an adult, you can essentially re-parent yourself by rewiring your own brain. You can do it by using a remarkably simple but amazingly effective rewiring program I am sharing directly from my book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

The 3 Things Practice for Building Your Self-Discipline

In this skill-building exercise, you will be wiring your brain with the hardware that’s essential to have in order to be able to make yourself do what you don’t want to do and vice-versa. To take full advantage of its power, you absolutely must do it every single day.

  • Three times, every single day, make yourself do something you don’t want to do; or stop yourself from doing something you shouldn’t do.

It’s best to choose small, doable items that do not feel overwhelming. The size of the item does not matter, it’s the act of overriding what you want that programs your brain.

Three times. Without exception. Every single day. And don’t just do them, write them down.

To help you get a feel for this, I’ll give you some examples of Three Things that have worked for others:

Examples of Things to Make Yourself Do: Face-washing, bill-paying, exercise, floor-sweeping, shoe-tying, phone-calling, dishwashing or task-starting.

Examples of Things to Stop Yourself From Doing: eating a piece of chocolate devil’s food cake, buying a pretty necklace online, having that one more drink when out with friends, or skipping class.

Try to do this program regularly. If you slip, start right back up again. If you keep at it, you’ll notice that it will become easier and easier for you to self-regulate, manage your impulses, and complete unrewarding but necessary tasks. Your self-discipline will build and grow and eventually become an active, hard-wired part of who you are.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, and to read more about the relationship between Emotional Neglect and self-discipline, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Three things. Every day. You can do it.

Can Childhood Emotional Neglect Make You Passive-Aggressive?

“Lingering, bottled-up anger never reveals the ‘true colors’ of an individual. It, on the contrary, becomes all mixed up, rotten, confused, forms a highly combustible, chemical compound, then explodes as something foreign, something very different, than one’s natural self.” 
― Criss Jami, Healology

“Passive aggressive behavior is counterproductive. Communication is key to a healthy personal and work relationship.” 
― Izey Victoria Odiase

What Does it Mean to be Passive-Aggressive?

“Being marked by, or displaying, behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way (as through procrastination and stubbornness)” — Merriam-Webster dictionary

6 Examples of Passive-Aggressive Behaviors

  • Showing up late
  • Making a joke with a hurtful barb in it
  • Forgetting something important
  • Ignoring
  • Canceling a plan
  • Behaving irritably while claiming nothing is wrong

All of the events above happen to everyone often, of course. And they are not necessarily examples of passive-aggression unless they are accompanied by, or an expression of, one key factor. Anger.

So now, I ask you to re-read the list above but add the phrase “out of anger, to punish someone” at the end of each one. These common, everyday behaviors now become ideal examples of passive-aggression.

The Role of Childhood Emotional Neglect in Passive-Aggression

We are all born with the emotion of anger wired into us for a reason. It is a feeling that is essential to our survival.

Feelings of anger are nothing more than messages from your body. When you feel angry, your body is saying, “Watch out! Pay attention! Someone or something is threatening or hurting you! You need to protect yourself!”

That’s why anger has a motivational component to it. Anger is an emotion with energy built into it. Think about how anger is often described as fire or passion. It’s an emotion that pushes you to take action.

Legions of children grow up in homes that are intolerant of their anger. Every day, emotionally unaware parents ignore their children’s anger, trump it with their own anger, or send them their children to their rooms for expressing anger. These are all examples of Childhood Emotional Neglect in action.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when parents fail to notice, respond or validate their child’s feelings enough.

When you grow up in a home that treats your anger this way, your developing brain and body absorb a powerful and damaging lesson: Your anger is useless, excessive or bad.

As a child, probably without your knowledge, your brain does what is necessary to protect you. It blocks your feelings of anger from reaching your awareness. It virtually walls them off to protect you from this “useless, bad, excessive” force from within you.

What happens then? Several unfortunate things.

  1. You lose the ability to fully benefit from this energizing, protective force from within.
  2. You do not learn the anger skills you were meant to learn in your childhood.
  3. Unprocessed anger does not go away. It sits there, fomenting, on the other side of the wall that your child brain built to block it.

Anger must be felt, understood, listened to and, in many situations, expressed before it goes away. Imagine what happens inside of you when so much fire and energy is left to fester in your body.

The very thing that is meant to empower and protect you instead saps your energy and leaves you more vulnerable. This is not what nature intended.

How Your Unprocessed Anger Can Hurt Others

Unprocessed, walled-off, fomenting anger has a way of finding its way to the surface. This is what puts those who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect(CEN) at greater risk than others for behaving passive aggressively.

Believing that your anger is irrelevant and that it is wrong to express it, plus not knowing even how to do so even if you chose to do it, leaves you essentially at its mercy.

So what does a CEN adult do when a friend hurts his feelings, when she’s not given a salary raise she deserves, or when he feels targeted or mistreated? What does a CEN adult do when she senses a conflict brewing or walks into a room where one is already happening?

The answer is, avoid. Avoid letting your anger show, avoid saying anything, avoid the person who has hurt you, or avoid by leaving the room.

But, as we know, this does not make your anger go away. It will now leak around the edges of the block and come out in ways you never expected, possibly at people who do not deserve it. Just like the 6 ways described above or an infinite number of others. And, worst of all, you may not even realize that it’s happening. But many, many other people may.

If you see yourself, or someone close to you in this post, do not worry. There are answers. It is possible to become less passive-aggressive!

4 Steps To Stop Being Passive-Aggressive

  1. Start viewing your anger as a helper instead of a burden. Begin to pay attention to when you feel it. Even if you think you’re never angry, I guarantee you that you do. As strange as it sounds, you only need to relentlessly try to feel it.
  2. Start learning how to be assertive. Being assertive is expressing your feelings, thoughts and needs to others in a way that they can take it in. Assertiveness is a group of skills that you can learn. And this is a skill that will help you express your anger in moments of hurt, upset and conflict. When you can express yourself, your anger becomes useful instead of leaking around the edges passive-aggressively.
  3. Start building your tolerance for conflict. You have spent your life feeling unprepared and overwhelmed by potentially conflictual situations. Your tendency has been to avoid or ignore them. As you welcome your anger and build your assertiveness skills, you can begin to go toward conflict instead of away.  Redefine these difficult situations as opportunities to practice your skills.
  4. Start learning all of the other emotion skills too. It’s not just anger. All of your feelings are messages from your body and can help you substantially in your life. Having grown up in a home that ignored or discouraged your emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), you have likely been under attending and undervaluing yours for your entire life. Now, as your view of your emotions shifts, you can harness the energy, direction, motivation, and connection that you were always meant to enjoy.

The process of becoming less passive-aggressive is actually a process of healing yourself. It involves looking inward instead of outward and accepting the most deeply personal expression of who you are: your emotions.

This process may sound hard, but you can do it. Just as thousands of people before you have already done, you can take the steps and walk the path. You can honor your feelings, and yourself, in a way that you never knew was possible. You can learn to express how you feel.

The Number 1 Way to Become Less Vulnerable to Narcissists and Sociopaths

For centuries people have been baffled about why particular people in their lives continually hurt or manipulate them. For centuries they have searched for answers.

After years of being concerned about labeling people and causing harm, we mental health professionals finally realized that we were failing to educate people about how to manage these challenging and damaging relationships. By not talking openly about narcissism and sociopathy, we were failing to validate and protect the people who needed it the most.

Today, fortunately, you can find plentiful articles about narcissism and sociopathy throughout this entire psychcentral site as well as in many other sources on the internet.

But one thing you will not find much information about is the question of what makes some people more vulnerable to narcissistic and sociopathic people in their lives. What makes you unintentionally gravitate toward people who will manipulate you and use you strictly to fulfill their own needs? Why is it so hard to see how they are harming you or to say, “No more,
to them? Or why do you seem to attract them?

Childhood Emotional Neglect: The childhood experience of growing up with your emotions ignored or discouraged by your parents.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN is far more common than most people would think. It happens in homes that seem caring and supportive, but where the parents are simply emotionally unaware. It also happens in homes with addicted, self-absorbed, depressed, or personality disordered parents.

But no matter why it happens, its effects on the child are the same. It leaves behind a child who grows into an adult disconnected from her own emotions and her own emotional needs. It creates an adult who asks for little, and who unconsciously continues the pattern of neglecting himself.

This is a perfect draw for a narcissist.

4 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Vulnerable to Narcissists & Sociopaths

  1. Your feelings, which should be informing and guiding you, are not accessible to you. We are born with emotions wired into our biology for a reason. They are meant to help us survive and thrive. Our feelings warn us when we are in danger, and tell us when we need to protect ourselves. When your feelings are blocked, you are not able to properly access and use this resource, you may not feel angry when you should feel angry. You may not believe or trust that your pain is real, or you may not even feel entitled to have it. This makes you easy to manipulate and keeps you in damaging relationships much longer than you should be.
  2. Being unaware of your own wants and needs makes you susceptible to theirs. Narcissists and sociopaths are drastically UN-self-aware. But there is one way in which they are excessively so: they are overly concerned with, and immersed in, their own wants and needs. And they will do pretty much anything required to fulfill them. Narcissistic and sociopathic people do not mind harming others, and some of them, mainly sociopaths, actually enjoy it. People with these personality disorders are equipped with a special sonar. They can pick out of the crowd the person who will not say, “I want,” “I feel,” or “I need” very often. They can see that with you, there will be plenty of room for their own wants, feelings, and needs. So sociopaths and narcissists will be attracted to you. They will befriend you or approach you or ask you for a date. You will probably say yes or befriend them back because, thanks to your Childhood Emotional Neglect, you are vulnerable to them.
  3. Living in an emotionless world can make you feel empty and drab. Those who grew up with CEN often express a deep sense that they are not like everyone else. They say they feel emotionally numb, or empty. They say that they feel they are living in a black and white world, where everyone else seems filled with color and life. Being disconnected from your emotions can make life seem somewhat dull. In contrast, narcissistic and sociopathic folks tend to live large. Because they indulge their own feelings and are not burdened by any feelings of conscience or guilt, they can seem to shine brightly with charisma. They may seem to have what you do not have, and this makes you naturally drawn to them.
  4. There is no way to grow up with your feelings ignored without feeling deeply unimportant. Having CEN as an adult you tend to take up little space. In a way, you may feel most at home when you are on the sidelines, but also at the same time feel sad about the lack of acknowledgment from others. In contrast, narcissistic and sociopathic folks seek and require constant admiration, applause, and acclaim. Everywhere they go they seek the limelight. Because of your unfulfilled (but completely healthy and normal) need to feel that you matter, you may be naturally drawn to the “limelight feeling” of specialness that you never got in childhood. This makes you vulnerable to the narcissist.

How To Become Less Vulnerable

If you saw yourself in the description above, then I have one thing to say to you: it’s time. It is time to make yourself less vulnerable.

And the good news is, you can! You can heal the Emotional Neglect from your childhood and this will help you stop attracting emotionally harmful people into your life.

You can start by beginning to pay attention to yourself in all the ways that did not happen when you were a child. To do this, pause for a moment twice each day and ask yourself some very important questions that you were not asked enough as a child:

What do I want?

What do I feel?

What do I need?

Your next step will be to start saying those words, “I want, I feel, and I need,” out loud to others, finally expressing your wants, feelings and needs more.

Through all of these steps, you will be creating your own limelight. A limelight of your own making. A reflection of your inner self that you are finally allowing to shine. A limelight that is healthy and real, and that has been there all along.

The more you pay attention to yourself, the less attention you will get from narcissists or sociopaths.

The more you like and care about yourself, the less you will feel drawn to narcissists.

The more you learn to express yourself, the easier it will be for you to say, “No more” to a narcissist or sociopath in your life.

Starting down the path of recovery from your Childhood Emotional Neglect is the start to your new life. A life free of manipulation and emotional harm. A life in which you are finally protected in exactly the way you were always meant to be.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how to set limits with a narcissistic parent without feeling guilty, and also why CEN makes you more likely to enter relationships with narcissists see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

3 Factors That Will Keep You Stuck If You Let Them

All therapists know that people can change. We know this because we have been party to so many remarkable transformations made by so many people.

We see people change their habits, their ways of thinking, work through feelings, and make durable adjustments in themselves and their relationships.

I have seen countless people alter their lives from the inside by overcoming the effects of their Childhood Emotional Neglect. I have seen people heal their depression, learn to manage and defeat their anxiety, and improve their marriages and parenting skills.

But let’s face it, change is not usually easy. It takes courage, motivation, and perseverance. But so do most things of value in this life.

Watch for a future article about the specific challenges that are built into the process of healing Childhood Emotional Neglect. But there are certain challenges that derail many people as they try to change many different parts of their lives. I have seen countless good people derailed from their heartfelt efforts to grow and change by three very predictable experiences that they encounter along the way.

3 Factors That Will Keep You Stuck — If You Let Them

1. False Beliefs Set You Up For Disappointment

  • The belief that change should be linear: It is natural to expect that, once you start working to make a change, you should see success that gradually builds upon itself, getting better and better over time. Picture a staircase that you are climbing, taking one step at a time, with steady progress upward. Most real change does not work that way at all. Instead, it comes in fits and starts. Two steps up, one step down. The real key is to just keep working through the backward steps, consistently and persistently, until you take another step forward.
  • The belief that setbacks are failures: The danger of feeling like you’ve failed when you have a setback is that feelings of failure can easily turn into self-anger. And self-anger is the enemy of progress. It can freely send you off track or backward.
  • The belief that if you get off track, you may as well give up: Getting off track is built into the process of making a change. If you are trying to eat better, exercise, or change any longstanding behavior or habit, there’s a very high probability that more than once you will get off track. It is absolutely OK if it happens, and it’s immaterial to your ultimate success, as long as you don’t give up.

2. Avoidance Beckons

Change is difficult in four specific ways.

  • You have to make yourself do something that feels foreign and new
  • You have to be able to make yourself do something that’s difficult
  • You have to be persistent, as described above
  • You have to do a lot of work

A natural reaction to all four of these challenges is avoidance. Isn’t it pretty tough to take on all of those? Wouldn’t it be more comfortable to simply put it out of your mind and not worry about taking on those battles? Of course, it would! But avoidance is the enemy of progress. Avoidance may beckon like an oasis in the desert, but it will leave you parched.

The only way to deal with a natural pull toward avoidance is to face it head-on. Take notice of those moments when your avoidance kicks in, then turn around and challenge it.

Remind yourself that avoidance will take you down a one-way street to nowhere. Remind yourself that all things worth having require effort. Then pull yourself back on track.

3. Discomfort Takes You Down

Change can be a very frightening thing. When you start to feel different from your old self, or when people start to react to you differently because of the changes you’ve made, it can feel like you’re living in an alien world.

It can become hard to know how to behave and how you should react. Suddenly, things don’t feel as safe as they once did.

In my experience, most people are unaware of their discomfort. But they feel it. And then they naturally want to retreat from their new selves and go back to where they were before.

This desire to retreat is a completely natural feeling and a very normal response. But it’s just as dangerous as any of the factors above. It definitely has the power to send you right back toward square one.

For example, many dieters, after they’ve lost their first few pounds, suddenly feel different. Even if it feels better, it also feels strange, and that’s uncomfortable. So they lose momentum and their efforts fade. Be aware of the strong possibility that this will happen to you. Watch for it. Recognize that the feelings of discomfort are normal but destructive. Don’t let them take you down. Just keep going, and eventually what feels so uncomfortable at first will become your new normal.

Summary

If you are in the process of growth, I hope you will pause for a moment and give yourself credit. Many, many, if not most, people give in to the avoidance that feels so much easier than fighting for improvement.

Giving yourself credit for your efforts will keep you energized and motivated to keep advancing. Watching for small changes instead of demanding dramatic steps from yourself will prevent you from being disappointed. Be prepared for the uncomfortable aspects of change.

Whether you are recovering from Childhood Emotional Neglect or changing some other aspect of yourself and your life, be ready. Keep at it. Don’t give up.

That is the way to make sure you won’t get stuck.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

Raised By Emotionally Neglectful Parents: 17 Signs to Look For

What kind of parents fail to notice their child’s feelings?

Since this type of parental failure (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) causes significant harm to the child, people naturally assume that emotionally neglectful parents must also be abusive or mean in some way. And it is true that many are.

But one of the most surprising things about Childhood Emotional Neglect is that emotionally neglectful parents are usually not bad people or unloving parents. Many are indeed trying their best to raise their children well.

3 Categories of Emotionally Neglectful Parents

Type 1: Well-Meaning-But-Neglected-Themselves Parents (WMBNT)

  • Permissive
  • Workaholic
  • Achievement/Perfection 

There are a variety of different ways that well-meaning parents can accidentally neutralize their children’s emotions. They can fail to set enough limits or deliver enough consequences (Permissive), they can work long hours, inadvertently viewing material wealth as a form of parental love (Workaholic), or they can overemphasize their child’s accomplishment and success at the cost of his happiness (Achievement/Perfection).

What makes these parents qualify for Well-Meaning Category 1 status? They think that they are doing what’s best for their children. They are acting out of love, not out of self-interest. Most are simply raising their children the way they themselves were raised. They were raised by parents who were blind to their emotions, so they grew up with the same emotional blind spot that their own parents had. Blind to their children’s emotions, they pass the neglect down, completely unaware that they are doing so.

Children of WMBNT parents generally grow into adulthood with heavy doses of three things: all the symptoms of CEN, a great deal of confusion about where those symptoms came from, and a wagonload of self-blame and guilt. That’s because when, as an adult, you look back at your childhood for an explanation for your problems, you often see a benign-looking one. Everything you can remember may seem absolutely normal and fine. You remember what your well-meaning parents gave you, but you cannot recall what your parents failed to give you.

“It must be me. I’m flawed,” you decide. You blame yourself for what is not right in your adult life. You feel guilty for the seemingly irrational anger that you sometimes have at your well-meaning parents. You also struggle with a lack of emotion skills, unless you have taught them to yourself throughout your life since you had no opportunity to learn them in childhood.

6 Signs To Look For

  • You love your parents and are surprised by the inexplicable anger you sometimes have toward them.
  • You feel confused about your feelings about your parents.
  • You feel guilty for being angry at them.
  • Being with your parents is boring.
  • Your parents don’t see or know the real you, as you are today.
  • You know that your parents love you, but you don’t necessarily feel it.

Type 2: Struggling Parents

  • Caring for a Special Needs Family Member
  • Bereaved, Divorced, or Widowed
  • Child as Parent
  • Depressed

Struggling parents emotionally neglect their child because they are so taken up with coping that there is little time, attention, or energy left over to notice what their child is feeling or struggling with. Whether bereaved, hurting, depressed or ill, these parents would likely parent much more attentively if only they had the bandwidth to do so.

But these parents couldn’t, so they didn’t. They didn’t notice your feelings enough, and they didn’t respond to your feelings enough. Although the reasons for their failure are actually irrelevant, you have not yet realized this yet. You look back and see a struggling parent who loved you and tried hard, and you find it impossible to hold them accountable.

Children of struggling parents often grow up to be self-sufficient to the extreme and to blame themselves for their adult struggles.

4 Signs To Look For

  • You have great empathy toward your parents, and a strong wish to help or take care of them.
  • You are grateful for all that your parents have done for you, and can’t understand why you sometimes feel inexplicable anger toward them.
  • You have an excessive focus on taking care of other people’s needs, often to your own detriment.
  • Your parents are not harsh or emotionally injurious toward you.

Type 3: Self-Involved Parents

  • Narcissistic
  • Authoritarian
  • Addicted
  • Sociopathic

This category stands out from the other two for two important reasons. The first: self-involved parents are not necessarily motivated by what is best for their child. They are, instead, motivated to gain something for themselves. The second is that many parents in this category can be quite harsh in ways that do damage to the child on top of the Emotional Neglect.

The narcissistic parent wants his child to help him feel special. The authoritarian parent wants respect, at all costs. The addicted parent may not be selfish at heart, but due to their addiction, is driven by a need for their substance of choice. The sociopathic parent wants only two things: power and control. 

Not surprisingly, Category 3 is the most difficult one for most children to see or accept. No one wants to believe that his parents were, and are, out for themselves.

Being raised by Category 3 parents is only easier than the other two categories in one way: typically, you can see that something was (and is) wrong with your parents. You can remember their various mistreatments or harsh or controlling acts so you may be more understanding of the reasons you have problems in your adult life. You may be less prone to blame yourself.

7 Signs To Look For

  • You often feel anxious before seeing your parents.
  • You often find yourself hurt when you’re with your parents.
  • It’s not unusual for you to get physically sick right before, during, or after seeing your parents.
  • You have significant anger at your parents.
  • Your relationship with them feels false, or fake.
  • It’s hard to predict whether your parents will behave in a loving or rejecting way toward you from one moment to the next.
  • Sometimes your parents seem to be playing games with you or manipulating you, or maybe even trying to purposely hurt you.

Helpful Resources

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and invisible when it happens so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

Knowing the type of emotionally neglectful parents you have is tremendously helpful. It helps you improve your relationship with your parents, as well as protect yourself emotionally. Learn much more in my book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships,

This post is an update of an article first published on PsychCentral.

The Most Personal Question You Can Ask Someone

Before you read the rest of this article please consider this: What do you think is the most personal question you can ask someone?

Some possibilities:

  1. How much money do you make?
  2. How old are you?
  3. How much do you weigh?
  4. What’s your biggest secret?
  5. Boxers or briefs?

Yes, those are all very personal questions, for sure. But nevertheless, the answer is, as you may have suspected, NONE OF THE ABOVE.

The most personal question you can ask another person is “What are you feeling?”

Two things make this question so distinctly personal. First, you are asking about the other person’s feelings. And second, our feelings are the most deeply personal, biological expression of who we are.

Asking a person what they are feeling is inquiring about their deepest self. When you ask this question you are trying to understand or know this person’s inner experience. So this question is very personal, but it is so much more!

Because of the reasons outlined above, “What are you feeling?” is also one of the most caring questions you can ask. It’s a way of saying, “I care about the experience of your inner self. I want to know about the real you.”

“What are you feeling?” has other versions like:

How do you feel? (Emotionally not physically)

What do you feel about that?

What do you feel?

What are your feelings?

Despite the enormous value and power of all these questions, they are, each and every one, drastically underused in today’s world. Jokes and cartoons abound depicting harassed husbands dreading these questions from their wives.

Many people think of emotion as a weakness that is not to be talked about. Others believe that asking someone about their feelings is a violation of their privacy. But neither of these assumptions is actually true or valid in any way.

Of course, the questions can be applied in the wrong way, to the wrong person or at the wrong time. But most people, fearing any of that, refrain from asking it to the right person at the right time, potentially missing multiple opportunities to express interest and care on a deeply meaningful level.

3 Ways To Use The Most Personal Question

  1. Ask it to your partner in the middle of a difficult conversation to express interest and care on a deep level.
  2. Pose it to your child to help her become aware that she has feelings and give her the message that you care what she is feeling.
  3. Put it to a friend who seems out of sorts, to help him focus inward.

The Most Important Way To Use The Most Personal Question

Use it on yourself.

Yes, that is right. Use it on yourself.

As seldom as you pose this question to others, I’m willing to bet that you pose it even less often to yourself. But this is a very, very important question for you to ask yourself multiple times, every single day.

In my experience as a psychologist, and in my study of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), I have found that this question prevents Childhood Emotional Neglect in children when they are asked it by their parents. I have also seen that it cures Childhood Emotional Neglect when adults ask it of themselves.

Asking yourself, “What am I feeling?” accomplishes multiple healthy aims.

  • It turns your attention inward as you try to answer it.
  • It forces you to pay attention to your feelings.
  • It helps you learn how to name your emotions.
  • It validates the importance of your feelings.
  • It puts you in touch with your feelings, which will allow them to help and guide you.

If your parents failed to notice or respond to your feelings enough as they raised you (Childhood Emotional Neglect), they set you up to believe that your feelings do not matter. Perhaps you’ve always felt it best to ignore them.

But sadly, living this way is blocking you from feeling all the joy, warmth, connection, excitement, anticipation, and love that you should be experiencing each and every day. Living with Childhood Emotional Neglect is a little like having a cloud hanging over your head through your entire adult life. It affects your inner life, your decisions, and virtually all of your relationships.

Amazingly, all of these adult struggles can be overcome by a combination of self-focus,  self-knowledge and emotion training. And all can be accomplished by the simple act of asking yourself what you are feeling.

When you shift your approach to “feelings” from avoidance to acceptance, a truly remarkable change happens in your life. You begin to become aware of a part of yourself you never saw before, and a level of connection with others that you never knew existed before.

So ask. Ask the people who matter, and especially ask yourself.

What are you feeling? What am I feeling?

And reap the rewards of daring to ask the most personal question of all.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and hard to remember so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The CEN Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how to deepen and strengthen your relationships by paying more attention to emotions, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Affects Your Relationships

Growing up with your feelings ignored, Childhood Emotional Neglect or (CEN), takes its toll on you. It’s true. In fact, it takes such a lasting toll that I can see its lingering effects decades later in my adult patients.

The Lingering Effects Of CEN

  • A lack of awareness of your own feelings, wishes, and needs.
  • A feeling that you are less important than everyone else.
  • A massive struggle to talk about and share your own feelings.
  • Difficulty asking for help and accepting help from others.
  • A lack of understanding of how feelings work in yourself and others.

Children who grow up with their feelings ignored take a very powerful step to get by in their childhood home. They wall off the deepest, most biological part of who they are: their emotions. That way they can stop burdening others with their feelings. What a brilliant and powerful tool for your child’s brain to make for you.

But as an adult, your life is affected greatly.

The lingering effects above are important parts of the toll of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). When your feelings are walled off, you are missing some life ingredients that will have a profound effect on your quality of life.

I know this because I see it in my office every single day.

Whether you realize it or not, this particular group of struggles affects you in many areas of your life. You are living without access to some vital life ingredient that everyone else enjoys. For example, it can make it hard to ask for a promotion or a raise at work, or to trust yourself to try new things or take risks.

But I have also seen that there is one area of life that’s affected far more than any other. It’s your relationships. As you read the 5 Important Ways below, be sure to keep in mind that none of these 5 are permanent. They are only effects from your childhood. You can fix every single one!

5 Important Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Challenges Your Relationships

  1. It makes them one-sided. Generally, CEN people are not able to be fully present in their relationships. The first two Lingering Effects of CEN all contribute to this result. When you’re not aware of your own feelings, wishes and needs enough, how can you share them with your husband, wife, partner or friend? How can you take up your fair share of space in your relationships when you view other people and their needs as more important than your own? Many of your relationships become too much about the other person, and not enough about you.
  2. Your relationships seem fewer and feel less rewarding than other people seem to have. This is partly because they’re one-sided, just as we discussed above. Since you’re not fully emotionally present in your relationships, they are naturally limited in depth and resilience. They may break apart more easily, and may not reach their full potential. You offer up so very much in your relationships, but you’re holding back the most valuable gift you can give someone: your emotional vulnerability.
  3. It makes social time more tiring than it should be. Spending time with people you care about should be rewarding, energizing and enriching. But you often find it draining instead. That’s because your relationships are one-sided (you give too much and don’t take enough for yourself), and also because you spend so much energy trying to be the person you think others want or expect you to be — instead of just being yourself. That takes a lot of energy.
  4. You feel alone, even with people who love you. All of us humans share a common bond, and that bond is largely based on our feelings. When your emotions are too blocked off, you may not have enough access to your own deep font of warm emotional energy; the source of relationship “glue” that should be connecting you. Since you are unaware of the problem, you’re left feeling, on some level, emotionally isolated at key times. Even though you are actually not!
  5. It holds your relationships back from becoming as rich and deep as they should be. Just as emotion is the glue that binds you to others, it’s also the fire that lights your passion, and the stick that should be poking you saying, “Speak up!” Without full access to this vital resource, your relationships are missing an important vital ingredient: You.

Never fear! I know these 5 challenges might seem practically insurmountable. But I have watched many people transform their relationships by working in 3 key areas.

3 Answers Taken From Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children

  1. Your Emotional Awareness: This involves being aware of what you are feeling and what the other person is feeling. It’s being able to observe your own behaviors and responses to things and understand the emotions involved.
  2. Emotion Skills: Learning to identify what you feel, accept your feelings, tolerate your feelings, manage them, and put them into words. You can learn all of them!
  3. Communication Skills: How do you tell someone they hurt your feelings? Or that you are angry at them? How do you ask someone for what you need or want? Once you get better at emotional awareness and emotion skills, you’ll have the foundation to learn how to communicate far more effectively.

You can learn far more about how to become more emotionally aware and skilled and how to communicate on an emotional level in the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be subtle and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. Take The CEN Test. It’s free!

The Difference Between Honoring an Emotion and Indulging It

One of the most important challenges of growing up with your emotions under-responded to by your parents (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN) is that you then enter adulthood without the essential knowledge of what to do with your emotions.

If your parents had noticed and named what you were feeling; if they had talked with you about your intense child emotions, they would have automatically been teaching you that your feelings are real, are important, and can be managed. And just as importantly, their “emotion coaching” would have taught you some vital emotion skills for your life.

Everyone has intense emotions from time to time. I have discovered that even the people who experience themselves as emotionally empty or numb due to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) actually do have moments of strong feelings at various times.

The 4 Emotion Skills For Dealing With A Difficult Feeling

  • Identifying your emotion

One of the hardest questions you can ask yourself is “What am I feeling right now?” Yet there is a sort of resolving magic, like a salve, that happens with any emotion as soon as you put it into words.

  • Accepting your emotion

If you grew up with CEN, there’s a good chance you have a tendency to judge and criticize your own feelings. “I shouldn’t feel angry/hurt/sad/afraid,” or pretty much any other emotion. But this way of judging something that is biologically wired into you, and outside of your control is a tremendous waste of energy as well as damaging to your self-esteem. Accepting what you feel must happen before you can manage the feeling.

  • Understanding your emotion

The next step after putting what you are feeling into words and accepting it is to try to understand your feeling. Why are you feeling this emotion? What is the cause? Is this feeling old or new or a mixture of both? Is it attached to a particular situation or person?

  • Deciding what to do with your emotion

Your emotions are a message from your body. So each time you identify that you are feeling an emotion, it’s important to quickly ask yourself some questions. First, is this feeling telling me to do something? And second, should I do it?

Honoring vs. Indulging

The first three skills above are all about honoring your emotion. Honoring an emotion involves sitting with it, accepting it and trying to understand it. For some emotions, going through the process of honoring it is enough to make it tolerable.

But some emotions carry messages so powerful that they push you toward action. And for these, Step 4 becomes an absolute necessity. If you fail to follow through with Step 4, these feelings will keep revisiting you until you either attend properly to them or follow their directive. And their directive may be the absolute wrong thing for you.

So Stage 4 is, in some ways, the most important. It’s the difference between indulging your emotion and using it in a healthy and productive way.

Rachel Goes Through Step 4

Rachel has processed her emotion, and realized that the feeling she is experiencing is anger and that she’s feeling it toward her fiancé Toby for forgetting to pick her up from the train.

Rachel asks herself if this anger is telling her to do something. “It’s telling me to yell at Toby. I want to tell him he’s inconsiderate and selfish.”

“Should I do that?” Rachel asked herself. “Does Toby deserve that?” As she considers this question, Rachel thinks about Toby. Has he left me stranded before? Is he generally a selfish person? Am I worried about this happening again?

As with most emotions, Rachel’s answer is complex. Early in their relationship, Toby was thoughtless and careless, and they had multiple fights about that. But Toby had listened and grown, and for a solid two years he had been reliable and caring and devoted to her. The likely reason he forgot today is that he had a stressful job interview that didn’t go well.

Rachel realizes that much of her anger about Toby’s mistake was old anger left over from the early years. Yet she notices that this realization is not enough to make the feeling go away.

I need to tell Toby that his mistake upset me, and reminded me of the past. But I need to do it with care because this time it was an honest mistake. And Toby has earned my understanding.

In Summary

In truth, learning these four emotion skills and using them can change the course of your life. When you learn how to process your feelings in this way, you are finally connecting to a font of natural energy and direction that erupts from your deepest self.

You are also healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be a subtle experience in your childhood so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn more about how to use your emotions to connect to the people you care about, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

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