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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!

10 Telltale Signs That You Are Emotionally Numb

Consider this. Would you rather live a life filled with ups and downs, joy and sadness, frustrations and pride and surprise? Or a life that goes along, one day after another, with few disruptions or changes or shake-ups?

Choice 1 might seem scary; a little like a roller-coaster ride. On the other hand, Choice 2 might seem a little disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, they are both mixed bags. The roller-coaster can deliver some shocks to the system, and it can be hard to sometimes feel that you are not in control of everything in your life. If you are living without the emotional disruptions and shake-ups, you may feel “safer” and more in control of things, but you may also find yourself feeling bored and unstimulated.

As a psychologist, I have come to realize that people living in the Choice 1 scenario are typically overall happier. That’s because if you are on the roller coaster, you are living life in a more powerful way. You are more connected with your emotions, and so you are probably far more fulfilled.

Choice 2 is a sign that you are disconnected from your feelings. Probably you grew up in an emotionally neglectful family. Probably you learned at an early age that your emotions were irrelevant or burdensome. Probably you have walled off your feelings as a coping mechanism.

No doubt, though, the way you are living seems normal to you. After all, it’s the way you have always lived. It’s probably the way you were raised to be. So how do you know if you’re emotionally numb?

10 Signs That You Are Emotionally Numb

  1. You can go through happy life events without feeling as happy as other people seem to be when they have similar happy events. I have had countless patients in my psychology practice describe their joyful life experiences as bland. Some have gone through weddings, vacations, graduations or award ceremonies feeling as if they are watching themselves from afar, disconnected from the experience, or even waiting for it to be over. They feel numb.
  2. You sometimes wonder why you don’t feel sadder when faced with loss. Similar to above, it’s possible to go through a funeral of a loved one or a job layoff and feel little. Your brain knows you should be sad, but your body does not feel it. You are numb.
  3. Your primary emotion is anger or irritability. Unfelt feelings, or walled off ones, have a tendency to all pool together into one big soup. Denied and pushed down or away, the individual ingredients (your emotions) blend to make one big one. This big one is likely to be anger. Anger is powerful and can break through your wall more easily, so it becomes the primary feeling you feel. So you essentially have two emotional states: angry or numb.
  4. It’s hard for you to identify any particular feelings. One of the effects of walling off your emotions is that you lose touch with them. When you’re disconnected from your feelings, you’re not thinking about them or noticing them. If you ever need to explain how you feel, you stammer or clam up. You go numb.
  5. You can observe yourself in certain situations, and wonder why you’re not feeling something more. Others around you are crying tears of joy or sadness. You look at them and wonder, “Why don’t I feel that? What is wrong with me?” You realize that you are numb.
  6. You are often uncomfortable when other people have strong emotions. When you find yourself in a situation where others are having feelings, you may have one yourself: uncomfortable. All you want to do is get away from this situation that seems awkward and unnatural. Unlike them, you feel numb.
  7. You are sometimes envious when other people have strong emotions. Unfortunately, you can’t give up your negative feelings without also giving up your positive ones. When pain, anger, and sadness go out the window, they tend to take your love, warmth, and joy with them. You see others experiencing those wonderful emotions, and you may wish you could too. Sadly, you cannot. Instead, you are numb.
  8. You sometimes feel like you’re going through life on autopilot. One foot after another, you march along, doing what you are supposed to do, and probably doing it well. Like a toy soldier or an energizer bunny, you just keep on going. But you also find yourself wondering what it’s all for. Shouldn’t you be something more, you ask? The answer is yes. There should be highs and lows, pride, joy, and sadness, but you are missing it because you are numb.
  9. You feel more when watching a movie, TV show or commercial or reading a book than you do in real life. For those whose feelings are tamped down, it can be easier to access them when it’s safe; when it’s not personal; when it’s not you. You can feel the emotions of a fictional character or someone in the news, but you can’t feel your own. When it comes to your own life, you are numb.
  10. You occasionally feel empty inside. This is the ultimate sign. Your “empty” feeling may reside in your belly or your throat, or it may be just an uncomfortable sense that something is missing in you. That sense is your body telling you that what should be filling you, connecting and energizing you — your emotions — is not there. This is your body telling you that you are emotionally numb.

If you see yourself in any of these 10 signs, do not despair! There are answers. Your feelings are not gone. They are still there, inside you, waiting for you to reclaim them.

You can break down the wall that blocks them, and welcome them back into your life. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, in a way that feels safe and healthy, you can reverse your numbness, and fill your life with color and energy.

Growing up with CEN you were taught to ignore and marginalize your own feelings. But now that you’re an adult, you don’t have to continue that. You can welcome your feelings back into your life and learn the skills to manage and use them.

You CAN overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect. For help, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. When you sign up for the free test you will also receive my free newsletter which is chockfull of helpful information. I’ll let you know when my free CEN Recovery Videos start.

For even more help into and through the CEN recovery process see my two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children

How To Become Your Best Self Despite Childhood Emotional Neglect

If you look around, and if you pay attention you will see something very interesting and surprising: The world is filled with people who have not yet discovered their best selves.

Many are wonderful people who care about others and are trying to do good things in the world. Many are looking for a relationship or are in one, are raising children, and working at their jobs and doing everything they are supposed to do.

So how can you tell if someone has not yet discovered his or her best self? And more importantly, how do you know if you have not yet discovered your best self?

Believe it or not, to answer those questions, first we must talk about emotion. Why? Because what you feel is who you are.

What It Means To Live As Your Best Self

First, some important facts about you:

  • Your emotions are literally wired into you at birth.
  • Your emotions are the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are. In this way, they are communications from your deepest self.
  • What you genuinely feel is who you genuinely are.
  • What you do with your feelings determines who you choose to become.

Living as your best self requires you to be open to, and accepting of, your own feelings. Attending to what you are feeling is a way to attend to your true self. When you live this way, paying attention to your feelings and caring what they are, is living close to your heart. You are valuing and owning who you are, and this is a very important part of being your best self.

What Gets In The Way?

If your parents paid little attention to your emotions as they raised you (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), then they did not teach you some vital things that you very much need to know. They failed to teach you what your emotions are and what they mean, or what you should do with them.

It’s much easier for us to accept our positive emotions as reflections of our deepest selves. When you feel love, joy, pride, happiness, warmth or connection, these emotions are much more comfortable to own and be. Yet these feelings are no more important than the emotions that make you uncomfortable.

It is at this step of accepting the feelings we do not like that many of us fail ourselves.

When you feel angry, sad, jealous, irritated, frustrated, envious, enraged, lost, confused, weak or judgmental, for example, these feelings we must also own as reflections of our deepest self. Every single person has felt each of these feelings many times during their lives. It is a part of being human.

We do not have the ability to choose what we feel. Who would choose to be jealous or confused? Who would want to feel weak or sad or angry? No one!

Instead, our feelings, including the uncomfortable ones, arise on their own from a well deep inside us. When you can accept and own these feelings in yourself, you have an opportunity to process and manage them and make decisions based upon them (or in spite of them). This is how your emotions can guide you and drive you.

If you refuse to believe or accept that you feel angry, sad, jealous, enraged or judgmental, for example, you are rejecting who you are. Unfortunately, those emotions are actually empowered by your rejection of them. They go underground and may seem to disappear, but they continue to seep around the edges of your life, influencing your decisions and choices without your knowledge. When this happens, you have taken steps away from your true self. The longer you continue to reject your feelings, the farther away you get from your true and best self.

What To Do

So how do you become the best version of yourself? Make an effort to notice what you are feeling, when and why. Accept all of your emotions, both positives and negatives. Never judge yourself for a having any feeling, no matter how much you dislike it. Listen to their messages, but know that what you do with them is your responsibility and yours alone.

So manage and use your feelings, and this will make you noticeably sincere, honest, and genuine. The people around you will notice, and they will respond with more trust in you. They will sense that you are living with integrity, and according to your true inner self.

As you pay attention, accept, own and trust yourself, you will be walking the path toward who you can be.

Because what you feel is who you are. And what you choose to do with your feelings is who you choose to become.

Who do you want to be?

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) takes you away from your true self. Since it can be difficult to see or remember, it may be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take The CEN Test. It’s free.

The Incredible Power of Validation and How To Do It

What Does Validation Look Like?

Tim and Barbie sat slumped in their chairs feeling exhausted and hopeless. A full hour of talking had failed to make progress toward resolving their conflict. In fact, they were now much farther apart than they were when they started.

I see it all the time and everywhere. In families, marriages, friendships, politics, and the workplace. People going head-to-head and toe-to-toe, often with the best intentions to reach a resolution, only to find that their attempts to discuss it makes things worse.

If all these people knew that there is a simple, almost magical thing they can do to reach through the conflict, connect with the other person, and forge forward, I’m sure that they would do it right away.

As she slumped in her chair, Barbie realized that she was perseverating on her own point of view. She became aware of how angry she was at Tim for not listening and not seeming to care how she felt. Then suddenly, a lightbulb went on in her head, and she said,”Tim, please tell me again why you refuse to spend the holiday weekend with my family.”Continue reading