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How Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You More Emotionally Intelligent

CEN and EI

Having a high IQ sets you up for success in life, right?

Well, sure, it certainly helps.

But, over the last decade, research has shown that there’s a kind of intelligence that’s even more important than the Intelligence Quotient traditionally measured by IQ tests. People who have this other kind of intelligence have better leadership qualities, are more productive, more satisfied, and are more successful at work and home. They are overall happier in their lives.

Here’s the real truth: Studies show that the higher your Emotional Quotient the better you are set up for success in life.

Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence (also called EI) consists of 5 skills. As you read the 5 skills below think about yourself and your own abilities in each of these areas.

The 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness of your own feelings: This is the ability to know when you are having a feeling, plus being aware of what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Example: “I feel sad right now because it’s the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death.”
  2. Self-regulation: Once you’re aware of what you’re feeling and why (Skill #1), you are set up to then take responsibility for your feelings and manage your feelings. Example: “I’m not going to let my sadness interfere with my day. I’m going to call my sister before work so we can comfort each other.”
  3. Empathy: This involves applying your emotion skills to others. Knowing what other people are feeling and understanding why they are feeling it gives you the ability to help them manage their feelings. This is an invaluable skill for parents, leaders, husbands, and wives; basically everyone. Example: “You look annoyed. Tell me what’s wrong.”
  4. Motivation: This skill consists of being driven by what truly inspires you. When you are driven by your own passion rather than by external requirements you are more energized and directed. You’re also most likely to inspire and motivate others. Example: “I’m going to start this boring task now because it’s a vital step toward achieving what really matters to me.”
  5. Social skills: Social skills involve a process of taking all of the 4 skills above and using them to manage complex social situations. When you have good social skills other people sense you are operating from your heart. They trust you, respect you, and are inspired by you. You are able to connect and lead and enjoy overall good relationships with others. Example: “I see what’s going on between my two daughters. I’m going to talk with them about it and see if we can nip it in the bud.”

And now it’s time for another definition. This definition helps answer the natural question: Why do some people seem to have higher EI than others. Even folks with incredible academic skills and high IQ can have very low EI.

In my clinical work, as well as the data I’ve collected on Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) since I wrote my book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, one thing is clear to me. The biggest root cause of low EI is Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect & Emotional Intelligence

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Growing up in a family that is unaware of your feelings and does not respond to them enough.

Yes, just as you may be thinking, CEN is rampant in today’s world. It is very easy for even loving families to fail to realize the extreme importance of their child’s feelings.

The signature challenge of adults who grew up with CEN is a marked lack of access to their feelings which impacts their lives deeply in multiple ways.

Having been subtly discouraged from having emotions as kids, they are not able to feel, identify, listen to, or be motivated, directed, and connected by their feelings.

And perhaps just as importantly, by growing up with their feelings ignored, they were not able to learn the 5 Skills of Emotional Intelligence.

Now, here’s the good news. Just as CEN lowers your EI, healing your CEN raises your EI. And you absolutely can heal your CEN!

5 Ways Healing Your CEN Increases Your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Self-awareness: In both of my books, my clinical work, and my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life, the first thing I do to help people heal their CEN is to work with them to break through the wall that blocks their emotions. Then we work on increasing their awareness and acceptance of their own feelings. Being able to turn your attention inward, ask yourself what you’re feeling, name your feelings and make sense of them is not only the foundational step to healing CEN, it’s also the first skill of EI.
  2. Self-regulation: As you heal your CEN you begin to feel your feelings more. So Step 2 of CEN healing is learning how to soothe yourself, listen to your own feelings, and manage them. In essence, you are learning self-regulation.
  3. Empathy: All the skills above that you are learning for yourself and your own emotions as you go through the steps of CEN recovery can also be applied to others. As you learn about your own feelings, you’ll be far better able to tell what your spouse, children, family, and co-workers are feeling too. You’ll become more comfortable with feelings in general, as well.
  4. Motivation: What’s the greatest source of energy that drives you, directs you to make good choices that are authentic to yourself, and pushes you to act and create? Your feelings. Clearly, walking through the CEN recovery steps allows your own inner supply of passion to inform and drive you.
  5. Social Skills: A familiarity and acceptance of emotions and how they work opens up a whole new world to you. You can use all of these skills and newfound emotional energy to improve your relationships and your leadership skills. This is why I wrote my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. The more you heal your own CEN the better your personal social skills become.

The Takeaway

Living authentically and close to your own heart requires paying attention to the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are: your emotions. And when you live this way, you will connect and inspire others. You will make good choices that move you and connect you to others.

In short, you will be emotionally intelligent. 

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free!

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens and affects you through your adult life see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to honor your feelings in your most primary relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Raised By Parents With Low Emotional Intelligence


Ten-year-old Jasmine lies alone on her bed, glad to be sequestered behind the closed doors of her room.  “It could happen,” she whispers quietly to herself. In her mind she’s reliving the fantasy that’s helped her to get her through her life so far: her father answers the doorbell and a kind, well-dressed couple explains to him that Jasmine was accidentally sent home with the wrong family at birth and that she actually belongs to them. They then take her back to their home, where she feels loved, nurtured, and cared for…

Jasmine doesn’t know it, but this is only the beginning of her struggle. She will spend the next twenty years wishing that she had different parents, and feeling guilty about it.

After all, her parents are basically good people. They work hard, and Jasmine has a house, food, clothing, and toys. She goes to school every day and does her homework every afternoon. She has friends at school and plays soccer. By all accounts, she is a very lucky child.

But despite Jasmine’s luck, and even though her parents love her, even at age ten she knows, deep down, that she is alone in this world.

How could a ten-year-old know this? Why would she feel this way? The answer is as simple as it is complicated:

Jasmine is being raised by parents with low emotional intelligence. She is growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Emotional Intelligence: The ability to identify, assess and control one’s own emotions, the emotions of others, and those of groups (as described by Daniel Goleman).

Childhood Emotional Neglect: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs.

When you are raised by parents who lack emotional awareness and skills, you struggle for good reasons.

3 Effects of Being Raised By Parents With Low Emotional Intelligence

1. Since your parents don’t know how to identify their own emotions, they don’t speak the language of emotion in your childhood home.

So instead of saying, “You look upset Sweetie. Did something happen at school today?”, your parents absent-mindedly say, “So how was school?”

When your grandmother passes away, your family marches through the funeral acting like it’s no big deal.

When your prom date stands you up, your family shows their support by making an effort to never speak of it. Or they tease you about it relentlessly, never seeming to notice or care how very mortified you are.

The Result: You don’t learn how to be self-aware. You don’t learn that your feelings are real or important. You don’t learn how to feel, sit with, talk about or express emotions.

2. Since your parents are not good at managing and controlling their own emotions, they are not able to teach you how to manage and control your own.

So when you get in trouble at school for calling your teacher “a jerk,” your parents do not ask you what was going on or why you lost your temper that way. They don’t explain to you how you could have handled that situation differently. Instead, they ground you or they yell at you or they blame it on your teacher, letting you off the hook.

The Result: You don’t learn how to control or manage your feelings or how to manage difficult situations.

3. Since your parents don’t understand emotions, they give you many wrong messages about yourself and the world through their words and behavior.

So your parents act as if you’re lazy because they haven’t noticed that it’s your anxiety that holds you back from doing things.

Your siblings call you crybaby and treat you as if you’re weak because you cried for days after your beloved cat was run over by a car.

The Result: You go forward into adulthood with the wrong voices in your head. “You’re lazy,” “You’re weak,” say The Voices of Low Emotional Intelligence at every opportunity.

How it All Affects You

All of these results leave you struggling, baffled, and confused. You are out of touch with your true self (your emotional self), you see yourself through the eyes of people who never really knew you, and you have great difficulty handling situations that are stressful, conflictual, or difficult.

You are living the life of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Is it too late for Jasmine? Is it too late for you? What can be done if you grew up this way?

Fortunately, it is not too late for Jasmine or for you. There are things that you can do:

  • Learn everything you can about emotion. Start your own Emotion Training Program. Pay attention to what you feel, when, and why. Start observing others’ feelings and behavior. Listen to how other people express their emotions, and start practicing yourself. Think about who in your life right now can teach you. Your wife, your husband, your sibling, or your friend? Practice talking about your feelings with someone you trust.
  • Talk back to those false messages in your head. When that “voice” from your childhood speaks, stop listening. Instead, take it on. Replace that voice with your own. The voice that knows you and has compassion for what you didn’t get from your parents. “I’m not lazy, I have anxiety and I’m trying my best to face it.” “I’m not weak. My emotions make me stronger.”

As an adult, Jasmine must stop fantasizing about a solution knocking on her door. The reality is, she must now learn these skills on her own.

Hopefully, she will see that she missed out on some vital building blocks, simply because her parents did not know. Hopefully, she will realize that she has emotions, and will learn how to value and hear and manage and speak them. Hopefully, she will start beating down those Voices of Low Emotional Intelligence.

Hopefully, she will learn who she really is. And dare to be it.

If you identify with Jasmine, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect for more information about how you may be affected by your parents’ low emotional intelligence and how to build your emotional skills.