Will has no idea how he ended up in his career. In hindsight, he has some regrets….
Jonathan continually dates the wrong women, and then is completely shocked and devastated when they break up with him.
At the first sign of a problem in her pre-med program, Bella decided she wasn’t cut out for medicine and switched to a different major.
“I don’t care, whatever you’d like,” is Sandy’s standard answer whenever someone asks what she prefers.
If only Will knew that his true passion is helping others, he would never have become a computer coder.
If only Jonathan knew that he is actually very attractive and smart, he would choose different women to date, and be less vulnerable in his relationships.
If only Bella knew that her abilities in science far outweigh the small weakness she has in memorizing anatomy, she could have worked harder, hired a tutor, and continued on to become the thoracic surgeon she was meant to be.
If only Sandy knew what she likes, she wouldn’t be living in a house she doesn’t like, married to a man she doesn’t like, feeling trapped and depressed.
If only Will, Jonathan, Bella, and Sandy knew themselves, they would be less damaged by the challenges they encounter. They would have made better choices for themselves. They would be more resilient.
One of the most important qualities for resilience is self-awareness, or in other words, knowing who you are. What you like, what you feel, your strengths and weaknesses. Your preferences, needs, wishes, and proclivities. All of the positives and negatives, talents and faults, when all held in your own mind together, add up to a full and realistic, gut-held sense of who you are. That self-knowledge gives you strength and resilience, guides and informs you, and gets you through challenges, failures, and mistakes.
Sadly, a huge segment of the population lacks this level of knowledge about themselves. A huge segment of the population struggles through life mystified by why they do things, how they feel, and what they want. They give up on pursuits as soon as they hit a snag, make the wrong choices for themselves, and end up doing what everyone else wants.
How did these masses of people get this way? Why don’t they know themselves? Because as children, when they looked into their father’s or mother’s eyes, they did not see their true selves reflected there.
Their parents weren’t looking at all or were seeing only what they wanted to see, or saw a distorted picture of who their child really was. So all of these children grew up without the emotional attention and responses from their parents that would have told them so much about themselves. All of them grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
Can Will, Bella, Jonathan, and Sandy, as adults, gain the self-knowledge that they need to be resilient? The answer is yes. But they may need a little extra help and guidance along the way.
So I have compiled this list of 20 questions. Write down four answers for each one. If you can’t think of four on a particular item, skip it and keep it in mind until more answers occur to you. It may take days or weeks to search inside yourself for your truths. Be sure to honor the process and do not write down glib answers that you do not feel or cannot fully own. All of your answers must be real and true.
List Four Answers to Each Question:
Will, Bella, Jonathan and Sandy, and all of you who cannot see yourselves, here is my message to you:
No, your parents were not looking. No, they did not see you. But that doesn’t mean that you are not worth seeing, or that you are not worth knowing. You are.
You deserve to be known and to be loved for who you really are. You deserve to look inside yourself and know, deep down, that all of your qualities and struggles add up to something real and good.
You deserve to look in the mirror and know that you are looking at someone who is strong, someone who will thrive, someone who is lovable, someone who you love.
To learn more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, how it leaves you less emotionally resilient, and how to heal from it, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN can be difficult to see and remember. To find out if you grew up with it Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.
As parents we want, more than anything, to do right by our children. We know that the way we treat our children matters.
But parenting is probably the most complex role any of us will ever have in our lives, and few of us enter parenthood fully equipped to meet all our children’s needs.
Especially when it comes to their emotional ones.
In truth, the way a child is treated emotionally by his parents determines how he’ll treat himself as an adult. For example, a child who does not receive enough realistic, heartfelt acknowledgment from his parents for his accomplishments may grow up with low self-esteem and little confidence in his own abilities.
You probably love your child “all the way to the moon and back,” as the classic children’s book says. But love simply isn’t enough. Because if you don’t attend enough to your child’s emotions, your child will feel ignored on some level, no matter how much attention you pay to him in other ways.
Emotions are literally a part of your child’s physiology. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who he is. So noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way for you to say, “I love you.”
As a parent, it is not easy to know when and how to respond emotionally to your child. And it’s one hundred times harder when you grew up in a household that under-responded to your emotions (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN).
As a psychologist who has worked with thousands of parents, I have seen firsthand that the best time to learn emotion skills is during your childhood. When your parents don’t have these skills, they can’t teach them to you. Then what do you do when it’s your turn to teach your kids?
Add to that challenge the fact that emotion hides behind behavior. It’s easier to get angry with a child who is sulking than to look for the underlying emotion that’s causing the behavior.
Wondering if you received enough emotional attention and true empathy as a child to give your children what they need? Since CEN is subtle and invisible, it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens and how to recover from it, see my books Running Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships and Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect .