How Procrastination is a Form of Self-Neglect

Procrastination. Is it a choice? Is it an affliction? Or is it simply the annoying habit that most people think it is?

My answer is that it’s a little bit of all three, but not really any of those things. Does that clear things up for you? No?

OK, here’s the thing. Procrastination is actually a coping mechanism. It’s a form of avoidance that you use when you have no other option. It does not work for anyone, ever. It’s basically a coping-mechanism-gone-wrong.

The reason procrastination does not work is that it’s a set-up to bring feelings of guilt, self-blame, dread, stress, and overwhelm upon yourself. In this way, whenever you procrastinate, you are ignoring your own need to feel good about yourself and your life. You are neglecting yourself.

The Relationship Between Procrastination and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

There are many different types of emotionally neglectful parents and many different ways that parents can emotionally neglect their children. Generally, CEN is made up of some version of “not enough.”

Here are 3 different forms of CEN that set a child up to have problems with procrastination which may endure life long.

**Special Note: Most CEN parents don’t emotionally neglect their child on purpose. Your parents may have given you everything they have to give but they did not receive the 3 things below themselves when they were growing up.

  1. Not enough structure and discipline in your childhood home. Why? You don’t get to internalize the structure and discipline and make it a part of your personality. As an adult, you may find yourself lacking in self-discipline.
  2. Not enough attention or responsiveness to your feelings. This teaches you that your feelings do not matter. You do not learn that you are your own emotional steward and that it’s your responsibility to watch out for yourself by, as much as possible, making choices that bring you good feelings vs. bad ones.
  3. Not enough encouragement or reward for your strengths and accomplishments from your parents. This does not set you up with the awareness that accomplishing things should feel good and does feel good. You may lack a sense of pride in finishing things that keeps other people motivated.

A Weekend in the Life of Lisbeth, a Procrastinator

It’s Friday. Lisbeth is leaving work to meet up with her friends as planned, but she knows she hasn’t finished a report that her team needs to see first thing Monday morning. “I’ll work on it tomorrow,” she reassures herself, putting it out of her mind for the evening.

Lisbeth awakens Saturday morning feeling burdened and tired, and goes through her entire day under that dark cloud trying not to think about the fact that she must finish the report. The weight of the unfinished task drags down her energy all day. She ends up watching Netflix all day, feeling vaguely lazy and guilty all the while.

Sunday is like a repeat of Saturday except under more pressure. As the hours pass, Lisbeth feels the available time slipping away from her and grows angrier and angrier at herself for not having attacked and task and finished the report first thing Saturday morning.

Finally, at 10 p.m., the pressure moves her and she gets to work. Immersing herself in the task, she finally finds her focus and ends up finishing the report at 2 a.m. Of course, she pays the price on Monday. She feels sleep-deprived but also angry at herself for having such a burdensome, joyless, unproductive weekend overall.

Do you identify with Lisbeth? How many days or weekends have you lived like hers?

Growing up emotionally neglected teaches you many things that will color your life forever — until you address it, that is.

CEN teaches you to ignore your own feelings which are the deepest expression of who you are, plus also the loudest alarm bell that alerts you to whether your choices bring you positive or negative results.

So, in essence, CEN teaches you to emotionally neglect yourself all through your life. And procrastination is just one of the possible ways for you to emotionally neglect yourself.

Just as procrastination is not simple, the secret to getting over procrastination is also not simple. But it is definitely something you can do! It involves going directly against your childhood experience and making a conscious effort to do the opposite of the 3 forms of CEN above.

How to Start Dialing Back Your Procrastination

  1. Resolve to teach yourself discipline by providing yourself what your parents missed. In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect I shared a daily exercise that will help you reprogram your brain to become better able to control your impulses and decisions better. It’s called The 3 Things Exercise.
  2. Since your parents, probably inadvertently, under-attended to your feelings now you will do the opposite. You will pay attention to what you are feeling and start to value your feelings. This will help you make decisions that bring you positive feelings instead of negative ones.
  3. Make an effort to take pride in your accomplishments. No matter how small, everything you force yourself to do or not do, if it’s a positive decision or step, is something you should feel proud of. Try to focus more on rewarding yourself and feeling proud of yourself in small bursts throughout your everyday life.

Imagine that Lisbeth follows these 3 steps for long enough that she starts to gain better control of her avoidant tendencies.

Imagine she begins to notice her feelings more and realizes that completing tasks brings her happiness while avoiding tasks drains her energy and makes her angry at herself. Imagine that this emotional awareness enables her to start facing tasks instead of avoiding them.

Imagine that Lisbeth finds herself feeling proud of her daily accomplishments and of how she is no longer neglecting herself.

Now, imagine that instead of Lisbeth, it’s you.

You CAN do this.

You can find the 3 Things Exercise to retrain your brain in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

58 Ways to Label and Express Your Sadness

Most people don’t talk about their feelings much. In fact, most people don’t even think about their feelings much.

Usually, we just go through our days focused on our jobs, families, problems, and everything going on in our lives without paying much attention to how we feel.

But, here’s the thing. Sometimes, a situation arises that requires you to know what you are feeling. Or, even further, you may even need to express what you are feeling.

Depending on how you were raised, your family’s comfort level with emotions, and their ability to use emotion words, you may find the process of noticing, labeling, and sharing your feelings anywhere from mildly challenging to extremely difficult.

In my work as a psychologist, I encounter wonderful people every day who are stymied or terrified at the notion of having to identify, name, or share what they are feeling. Most of these people find it difficult for a very good reason. In short, when you grow up in a family that ignores, diminishes, dismisses, or discourages the expression of feelings — I call this an emotionally neglectful family — you simply do not learn how to do it.

As an adult, this can make certain things that other people take for granted very, very hard.

For example, many people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) have only one or two emotion words in their vocabularies. They may use that one word over and over again, painting the complex landscape of their own inner emotional lives with one single word.

Common emotion words that I hear used this way include:

  • Sad
  • Mad
  • Anxious
  • Depressed

How Comfortable Are You With Your Feelings?

  1. Do you notice when you are having a feeling?
  2. Do you pay attention to your feelings?
  3. When you are feeling something, do you try to identify what it is or name it?
  4. How many emotion words do you know?

There are several skills that go into using and managing your feelings the way they are meant to be used and managed. If you don’t think of your feelings as useful or if you do not know what these skills are, or whether you have them, it’s okay.

Emotional awareness and management are not automatically a part of everyone’s life. But they are things you can definitely learn. I know this because I have taught these emotion skills to many people.

Today, we will address your emotion vocabulary. Guess how many words there are for the feeling of sadness? There are many more than just “sad” or “depressed.”

Read through this list with a highlighter, and think about the subtle differences in what each word describes.

58 Ways to Label & Express Your Sadness

Sorrowful

Tearful

Pained

Grief

Anguish

Desperate

Low

Pessimistic

Unhappy

Grieved

Mournful

Grave

Dismayed

Bummed

Despondent

Heavy-hearted

Scorned

Grey

Miserable

Blue

Longing

Disappointed

Grim

Gloomy

Lost

Moody

Burdened

Discouraged

Let down

Lousy

Dysphoric

Dreary

Dark

Morose

Dour

Besieged

Morbid

Down

Accursed

Abysmal

Ashamed

Diminished

Self-destructive

Self-abasing

Guilty

Dissatisfied

Loathsome

Worn out

Repugnant

Despicable

Abominable

Terrible

Despairing

Sulky

Bad

Sense of loss

How To Use This List Going Forward

Next time you perceive a possible hint of sadness or depression, don’t paint it over with the same old color. Instead, pull out this list and read through it, and find one or more words that capture what you are feeling in a more complex way.

The more you do this, the more your vocabulary will increase and it will also enrich you in other ways. As you struggle to name your feelings, it’s the same as exercising a muscle. Your brain will begin to process feelings in a new way and, believe it or not, this is a momentous change.

Have a word for sad/depressed that’s not on this list? Please share it in a comment!

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how it plays out in your adult life, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

The 7 Emotion Skills. Do You Have Them?

Emotions may seem vague, insubstantial, or useless to many. But, in truth, they are actually very, very real and very, very useful.

Emotions are physical sensations that take place in your body. They are, in fact, messengers. They are your body’s way of alerting you to watch out, take care, protect yourself, or seek something, for some examples.

Emotions are messages from your body. It is crucial that you listen to them. It’s not that they are always right, but they tell you about your deepest self and so they matter.

What are Emotion Skills?

Most people would not put the two words “emotion” and “skill” together. In fact, every time I type “emotion skills,” the Word editor tries to correct me.

But, the truth is, that just makes me want to write about emotion skills more! They are, in fact, an incredibly key factor when it comes to your quality of life. They are also far too seldom identified and discussed.

I find myself writing and speaking about the 7 emotional skills quite often because of my specialty in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN is extremely common in today’s world. It simply involves growing up in a household where your feelings are ignored or discouraged. Folks raised with CEN tend to be disconnected from their own feelings and blind to emotions in general, so they have little opportunity to learn the 7 emotion skills in their lifetimes.

I teach these skills every single day to the clients I see in my office and discuss them with the CEN folks in my online CEN recovery program, Fuel Up For Life.

The 7 Emotion Skills

  1. Emotional Awareness — This skill involves being aware when you are having a feeling. Life is full of distractions and external events that pull your attention away from what’s going on in your body (your feelings). On top of that, society in general tends to treat feelings as annoyances and weaknesses. If you grew up in a CEN family, you may be blind to emotions in general. Yet all emotion skills are built upon this one. You must be aware when you are experiencing a feeling before you can practice any of the feeling-related skills.
  2. Identifying Your Feelings — Once you have emotional awareness you know when a feeling is present in your body. Now, it is important to be able to identify and name that feeling. This requires you to discern each feeling from every other. The more able you are to identify different kinds of feelings like angry types vs. sad types vs. fear-based types, the better. Then, you can take a step beyond that and make more subtle and specific differentiation. So, instead of settling for “I feel down,” you also take it further. Is this sadness? Is it regret? Despondence? Grief? The finer tuned your ability to identify and name a feeling, the easier it will be to take the next steps.
  3. Accepting Your Feelings Without Judgment — Once you know what you are feeling, it is crucial — and powerful — to accept that feeling, no matter what it is. If you were raised to believe that you choose your own feelings or that your emotions are shameful or a sign of weakness, you are at risk of judging your feelings and rejecting them which is harmful to you and does not work at all. Since none of us are able to choose our feelings, we cannot judge ourselves for having them. It is only by accepting our ugliest emotions that we are able to understand and manage them.
  4. Attributing Your Feeling to a Cause — Once you have noticed your feeling, identified it, and accepted it, it’s time to consider why you are having it. Many people assume it must be caused by something happening right now. But, in reality, we all carry many old feelings within us that might be touched off by a current event or situation. In this case, you may feel far more intensely or complexly about a current event than it deserves. Being able to sort out a feeling and the reason you are having it enables you to then take the following steps.
  5. Tolerating Your Emotions — All of the skills above and below this one require this skill that seems very simple but, in reality, can actually be quite hard. When you experience a feeling that is painful, intense, or unpleasant in some way, it is natural to want to escape it. But, to make full use of this message from your body, you must be able and willing to sit with it and feel it. This means you don’t use distraction, alcohol, food, shopping, or any other crutch to suppress it right away. Instead, you allow yourself to consider the feeling as you are feeling it.
  6. Managing Your Emotions — Every feeling is a message from your body. So every emotion is important, yes. But that does not mean that any emotion should be allowed to take over and run the show. We cannot choose what we feel but we are responsible to manage what we feel. This means noticing and understanding your feeling while also considering the message your body is sending you. Once you discern the message, then decide if it’s a healthy message for you and whether you need to listen. What is this feeling telling me to do? Should I do it?
  7. Expressing Your Emotions — One common message that our feelings send us: “You need to say something.” Being able to do this is a vital skill that helps you manage your feelings. Your anger may be telling you to stand up to someone. Your hurt feelings may be telling you to protect yourself. Your concern may be telling you to change something. Your warm feelings may be pushing you to tell someone you love them. We are often called upon to explain our feelings to someone, and this is a complex skill that many people struggle to develop throughout their entire lives.

The 7 Skills and You

I hope that as you read the 7 skills above you were thinking about yourself.

How often have you used any one of these skills? Are you better at some skills than others? Is there one or more of the skills that seem foreign to you or particularly difficult to understand?

Three amazing things about the 7 Emotion Skills are: first, you probably never thought about them; second, once you’re aware of them, you can learn them; and last but not least, developing and improving these skills can literally change your life from the inside.

I could write volumes on each of these skills, so I will. Watch for a future article, Examples of the 7 Emotion Skills in Action.

Wonder if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect? Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

Do you know that children have physical needs? OF COURSE, YOU DO! Virtually all parents, and all people, for that matter, understand that children must be fed, clothed, kept warm and sheltered, rested and exercised. Kids need to have all of these needs met in order to physically survive and thrive.

Most people also realize that children have emotional needs. Children need to be loved. But children’s emotional needs actually go far beyond that.

You, when you were a child, needed much more than love from your parents. One of the things you needed the most is something most parents hardly think about if they think about it at all. It’s emotional validation.

Emotional Validation

Emotional validation happens when your parents see what you are feeling, acknowledge your feelings, and seem to understand why you are having them.

Just like adults, children’s feelings are the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who they are. In order to feel seen, understood, and heard, a child must feel that their feelings are seen, understood, and heard.

What happens when you feel seen, understood, and heard as a child? You grow up to feel like a person who is seeable, understandable, and hearable. You feel knowable. You feel valid.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If your parents didn’t have the emotional awareness or emotional skills to see and accept what you were feeling, they may have, perhaps of no fault of their own, failed to validate you.

As a result, you may have grown up to feel unseen, misunderstood, and unheard. You may feel less valid than everyone else.

I call this Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

2 Ways Emotional Validation Can Go Wrong

  1. The Child’s Threshold of Emotional Need isn’t met. Many people can look back on their childhoods and remember a time when their parents emotionally validated them. But that doesn’t actually mean all that much. Here’s why. In order to grow up feeling seen, understood, and heard, you must be emotionally validated enough. Even the most well-meaning parents can “fail” their child in this way. Your parents may have loved you and tried their best with you, but they may not have had the emotional awareness or skills to meet the threshold that is enough.
  2. The Child’s Emotions are Actively Invalidated. These parents have a profound misunderstanding of how emotions work in general. Here, your parents may view your feelings as your choice, which is patently wrong, and judge them as a form of bad behavior, which is also patently wrong. Your parents’ false concept of feelings can lead them to actively invalidate your emotions in all kinds of ways. This takes us beyond not getting enough. It is a form of active emotional harm.

10 Ways You May Have Been Emotionally Invalidated as a Child

  1. Your parents pretend to listen but actually don’t. When this happens enough during your childhood, you learn that you are not worth hearing.
  2. You have a learning disability or some other challenge that goes unacknowledged. This leads to misunderstandings and incorrect assessments of your strengths and weaknesses and may leave you incorrectly feeling deeply flawed.
  3. Your parents act like they are your friends instead of your parents. You don’t receive the limits and consequences that you need to have in order to have self-discipline and be able to structure yourself.
  4. Your feelings are ignored as if they don’t exist. You learn that your feelings are nothing so you build a wall to shield you (and others) from your feelings. You grow up without enough connection to your feelings. This is classic Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  5. Your natural needs to be seen, heard, and validated go unmet. This teaches you that you are not worth being seen and heard, and you feel less valid than other people.
  6. A major event in your family or home is never talked about. This may be a large or small event; divorce, illness, or even the death of a parent may be left undiscussed. This leads you to feel deeply alone in the world and also fails to teach you vital emotional expression skills.
  7. Your emotional expressions are twisted and thrown back at you. This form of gaslighting teaches you that you cannot trust yourself. It also sets you up to struggle with generalized anger throughout your life which you may end up turning at yourself.
  8. Your parent acts as if you are the parent, not them. When this happens, you learn how to be overly responsible. You are set up to be excessively caretaking of others, putting others before yourself.
  9. You receive the message that it’s not okay to have needs. Here, you will learn very well how to have no needs. You may feel it’s wrong to ask for help or accept help. Needing help of any kind may make you feel vulnerable.
  10. You are told that you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel what you feel. Also a form of emotional gaslighting, this teaches you to hide your feelings because they can and will be used against you. It also undermines your ability to trust your emotions or yourself.

Did you see yourself in any of the examples above?

Whether your emotional threshold was not met as a child or your feelings were invalidated (both constitute Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN), I want you to know that it has left its mark on you. The effects are substantial and significant, and they seldom go away on their own.

But they do go away. With your awareness, attention, interest, and commitment, you can reclaim your valuable emotions and learn to listen to their messages. You can learn to understand, trust, and love yourself.

That is the process of validating yourself. It’s never too late to do it.

Let’s get started.

To learn specific ways to emotionally validate and emotionally connect with your child, toddler, teen, or adult see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. You can find helpful resources for understanding and healing Childhood Emotional Neglect throughout this website.

8 Signs That You Have Empty Feelings

It’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time.

Something is missing in me.

I have no idea how I feel about anything.

Sometimes my chest feels hollow.

I feel empty inside.

What might seem like five unrelated statements is actually five different people describing the same feeling. It’s a hard emotion to identify, and even harder to put into words. Everyone says it differently because there is no standard label for it. But for these five people, and thousands more, it is the same feeling, caused by the same problem.

The one word that sums it up best:

Emptiness

Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb.Continue reading

How Many Times Have You Asked: What’s The Point?

It’s a casual phrase, and many folks use it often.

What’s the point?

We mutter it under our breath at times of frustration. We throw it out at a person who is refusing to cooperate. We use it as a way to express hopelessness and helplessness.  In these times it can actually be quite useful as a way to vent some steam and stress.

But some people use it more often than others. For them, it becomes almost a mantra. It starts to run deeper than the current situation, reflecting not just momentary feelings, but an overall philosophy of life.

What’s the point of doing this?

What’s the point of trying?

I’ve observed that many people who frequently question The Point are doing so because they feel adrift in their lives. Why are they adrift? Because they are not listening to their greatest anchor, director, and connector. They are out of touch with their emotions, which should be telling them what they want, feel, and need, where to go and what to do.

Many of the people who ask, “What’s the point” a lot grew up in emotionally neglectful families, in homes that treated their feelings like they were irrelevant, or even burdensome.  If this is you, perhaps you feel helpless and hopeless. Or maybe you feel trapped, or stuck, or lost. Maybe you feel alone.

For some, the question of “What’s the point” runs even deeper and begins to reflect a questioning of one’s very existence.

What’s the point of being here?

What’s the point of being alive?

If any of what you are reading right now applies to you, please consider it as an alarm bell. A bell that calls you to face the fact that there is a big problem in your life and that it’s time to acknowledge it.

Steps to Find Your Answer to What’s the Point?

  1. Start paying attention to when these words come to mind. Most likely there is a general theme that brings triggers this question. Is it at work or at home? When you’re alone? When you’re in conflict with someone? When something doesn’t work out for you?  Take note because understanding this is important.
  2. Start paying attention to the words that follow: What’s the point? What’s the point of __________? This will give you information about the true nature of your question. Understanding this is key.
  3. Start paying attention to what’s the feeling you’re having when you say this. Are you, for example, frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless, afraid? Helpless, lost, alone? Identify the feeling you’re having and it will inform your next step.
  4. Start trying to figure out: What’s that feeling telling you? Feelings exist for a reason, and every feeling carries a message. The feeling, whatever it may be, is telling you that you need to change something in yourself or your life.

Examples

The Feeling                                                The Message

Alone                                                            Open your walls and let someone in

Sad                                                                Figure out why you’re sad and address the cause

Frustrated                                                    Frustration is a feeling meant to drive you to action.

Lost                                                               You are lacking direction. Start working toward finding one.

Those are only a few possibilities. The number of different feelings and situations that can bring about “What’s the Point” is endless. Understanding yours is key. How deep does yours run? Are you feeling hopeless or helpless? Or are you jumping to a simple question as a coping mechanism? Might that be actually allowing you to avoid facing the complexities in your life?

Ask yourself questions. Pay attention, and look inside yourself. Because the answer to your “What’s the Point” is likely not simple, but it’s important. And it is there.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) makes you more prone to asking “What’s The Point.” To understand why, and to learn more about CEN, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your 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.

What Does it Mean When Your Partner is Emotionally Unavailable

What does the term “emotionally unavailable” mean to you? It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.

Have you ever been in a relationship or marriage with someone who you felt was emotionally unavailable? Has any friend or romantic partner ever described you this way?

The term, in my opinion, carries some irony. Because if you are truly emotionally unavailable, it will be very difficult to understand the meaning of the term. In other words, it really helps to be emotionally available if you want to understand what it means to be unavailable.

Much of this has to do with how a person deals with his or her own emotions. This typically goes back to how your emotions were treated as a child. Did your parents notice what you were feeling enough of the time? Did they ask? Did they care what you felt and what you needed, and do their best to meet your true needs? Did they succeed?

Surprisingly, it matters less whether your parents tried. What really matters is whether or not they succeeded. If your parents weren’t able, for any reason, to notice and respond to your feelings and meet your emotional needs, then you are at risk of being an emotionally unavailable adult.

Here’s why. When a child’s feelings and emotional needs are treated as if they matter, that child receives a loud and clear message: “Your feelings are real, and they matter.” This encourages the child to pay attention to his emotions, and teaches him how to manage, express, and use them throughout his adult life. The converse is also true. When a child’s emotional needs are treated as if they don’t matter, the message to the child is, “Your feelings don’t matter.”

A child who receives this message will not be consciously aware of it and will not remember it. This is because typically it was never stated outright; it was a subliminal message delivered by the absence of response and validation from the parents. But that child will accommodate, as children do. She will suppress her emotions by pushing them far and away so that they will not bother her parents or herself.

Years later, in relationships, that child will continue to lack access to his emotions. To his friends or romantic partner, he may seem to be difficult to connect with. Others can see his depth and quality but have trouble reaching it.

Here are some of the complaints that I have heard from various patients about their emotionally unavailable boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife:

“He just shuts down and refuses to talk to me when there’s a problem.”

“She’s a great person, but she doesn’t tell me what she needs or feels.”

“I know that he loves me, but I can’t feel the love from him.”

If you identify with this description of “emotionally unavailable,” do not despair. There are solutions to this problem. And the solution lies with you. The solution is to get in touch with your feelings, accept them, and use them. It sounds simple, but it is not. It’s a process that requires purpose and effort and work. But it can be done.

If, on the other hand, you are in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unavailable, you are in an even more difficult spot because it is easier to change yourself than it is to convince someone else to change. However, there are somethings that you can do.

Six Steps to Reach Your Emotionally Unavailable Partner:

  1. Express to your partner that something is bothering you.
  2. Explain what you feel is missing in the relationship (emotional connection and communication).
  3. Tell your partner that it’s not their fault, that it’s simply because of their childhood experiences.
  4. Explain that there is a way to heal from it.
  5. Offer your support.
  6. The rest is up to him.

To learn much more about how to recognize CEN in your marriage and talk with your spouse about it, see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

This article was initially posted on Psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

4 Reasons It’s Hard For You to Say No to People’s Requests

Is it hard for you to say, “No?” Do you feel the need to explain yourself and give reasons followed by excuses followed by more reasons? Would you be surprised if I told you that you do not need to give a reason?

All the people of the world can be divided into two groups: those who can say “no” easily, and those who cannot.

To the folks in the first group, it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would have a problem with it. Like the famous line from the old movie, To Have or To Have Not, “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow,” people in the first group might say, “What’s so hard about it? Start with N, and end with O.”

But for many, many people, it’s just not that simple. Saying “no” for them carries enormous baggage. This is especially true for those who grew up in households which offered them little opportunity to say no. This is a version of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

4 Reasons it’s Hard For You to Say No

  1.  Guilt: People who struggle with this often tell me that they feel guilty for hours after saying “no” to someone, even if that person’s request was unreasonable. The guilt comes from feeling that they should always be helpful and willing and that if they are not, then they are a bad person.
  2. Low Self-worth: This is a general sense that you are not as important as other people. Your needs, your feelings, come second. Others’ needs and feelings are more deserving than your own. You don’t have the right to put your own before theirs.
  3. Lack of Skill: If you have spent your entire life always saying “yes,” then you may not know how to say anything different. The idea of saying no may feel foreign and just plain wrong. How do you do it? How do you say it?
  4. False Belief: This is a false idea that you have to give a reason for saying no. If a friend asks you to pick up her dry-cleaning, do you have to explain to her the reasons why you can’t do it? Do you have a good excuse? This false belief often leads to long, detailed, unnecessary explanations.

4 Principles For Saying No

  1. All of the people in your life have every right to ask you for anything. In return, you have every right to say “no.” Your guilt will dissipate if you understand and accept your true rights.
  2. Your needs and feelings are every bit as important as everyone else’s. You are the guardian of your own feelings and needs. You have a responsibility to yourself to prioritize them.
  3. Saying “no” does not involve skill. It only involves a willingness to make yourself uncomfortable. The more you do it, the easier it will feel; not because you learned how to do it, but because you’re getting accustomed to it.
  4. You do not need to give a reason. An extension of your right to say “no” is that you can do so with no explanation, no excuse. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” “I’m not able to do it,” or just simply, “No,” are all it takes.

Read these principles over and over. Post them on your bathroom mirror. Digest them. Remember them.

For they will set you free.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how to feel more confident and honor your own needs and feelings more, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

This book was originally posted on psychcentral.com. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.

Your “Gut Sense” is Sending You Messages: 4 Good Reasons You Must Listen

It was a scorching hot day in Costa Rica, well over 100 degrees. My husband and I decided to take our 8-year-old son for a hike to get as close as possible to the Arenal Volcano. We walked several hours through beautiful, lush forest.

As the sun got higher and the day got hotter, we reached an endpoint marked by signs reading, DANGER, KEEP OUT. We walked around the safe side of the area for a while enjoying the beautiful birds and monkeys in the trees and then decided to head back.

As I turned to go back in the direction we had come from, my husband said, “No, let’s not go that way. We can get there by going this way.” Puzzled, I slowly turned around and followed. As we traipsed back through the forest, I had a trembly feeling in my belly that, in hindsight I realized was fear. This did not feel right.

It had taken several hours to reach the volcano, and I knew that if we went the wrong way it could be dangerous. We had consumed all of the water we had carried, and it was getting hotter by the minute.

My gut was telling me to speak up, but my brain said, “You know you’re terrible with directions. You’re almost never right about these things. Just keep quiet and follow.”

The Brain/Gut Connection

Perhaps you’ve seen the many amazing studies over the past few years that have proven that there is a direct connection between your brain and your gut.

These new studies explain many things that used to baffle us: why we get butterflies in our stomachs when we’re nervous, and why Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ulcers are both so closely connected to and influenced by the amount of stress we are under.

Here’s the most amazing thing about the new research. We now know that the brain-gut connection travels in both directions. Not only does your emotional state (and emotional health) affect your stomach; the reverse is also true. Believe it or not, recent studies have shown that the health of your gut can also affect your psychological health and your emotions.

Clearly our human brains are wired to our guts for a reason: to connect our brain with our body in a useful way.

So choosing to ignore this vital source of information is choosing to ignore a remarkable feedback system that we are meant to have, and meant to use to our benefit.

4 Ways Your Gut Can Help You

  1. That tight, pressured and unsettled feeling in your gut tells you when you’ve taken on too much in your life; when you’re over your head or unprepared for something important. It’s your body sending you a wake-up call that says, “Prepare!” “Slow down!” or “Take better care of yourself!”
  2. Your gut informs you when you’re making a mistake. You know that hesitant feeling you get in your belly when you’re about to do something? That’s your gut telling you to pause and consider. Your gut can stop you from making an impulsive error.
  3. Your gut can tell you when you’re angry. When your stomach feels tight and closed, like it’s pulled into a fist, that’s anger. Your belly is saying, “Take action.”
  4. Your gut can help you make decisions. Decisions should be made on two levels: half from your intellect (your thoughts and knowledge), and half from the feeling you have in your gut. When these two forces are working together, you’re primed to make the best possible decisions.

Did some of the “gut feelings” described above seem hard for you to grasp? That is a sign that you are not closely enough connected to your gut. Which means you’re missing out on an incredibly useful tool in your life.

It is certainly true that some folks are not as good at tuning in to their gut. If you’re out of touch with yours, there is probably an explanation for it. Your brain/gut pathway became disconnected for a reason. There are many possible ways for this to happen.

Potential Reasons You’re Missing Signals From Your Gut

  • You don’t trust yourself. Is it hard for you to imagine that your body can give you guidance? Or that the guidance your body offers could be accurate or grounding? This is a sign that you’re afraid to listen to the signals your gut is sending because you don’t believe in them.
  • You are too focused on other people’s feelings and views to tune in to your own. This is typically a product of growing up in a family that gave you the message that your feelings aren’t important or valid (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN). Since your feelings, in general, aren’t valid, the ones coming from your gut aren’t valid.
  • You greatly value thought over feeling. This value is partially a product of our culture, which tends to glorify intellectual achievement and skills, and which views emotions as unnecessary. If you believe that your feelings are a weakness (a loud and clear message of CEN), you are not likely to tune in to the feeling messages your gut is sending you.

Hopefully, as you’ve been reading this you’ve been tuning in to your gut. Perhaps you’ve attempted to feel some of the gut feelings I described. Perhaps you’ve imagined the connection between your brain and gut, or even tried to visualize it.

If you have, congratulations! You have begun the process of joining your brain with your gut.

How to Start Taking Advantage of Your Brain/Gut Feedback System

  1. Knowing about it is a good start. Now that you know messages are coming from your gut, you can make a conscious effort to listen to them. Take the time to check your gut and ask yourself what it’s feeling and what it’s saying to you.
  2. Work on believing in yourself. Knowing yourself, valuing yourself, and trusting yourself will help you value and trust the messages from your gut.
  3. Learn more about the value of your feelings in general. Some feelings originate in your belly, and others in your brain. These feelings are equally valuable and equally useful, and understanding why, and how to use them, is key.

And now to finish the Costa Rica story. As you may have guessed, we were indeed heading the wrong way. We were moving further from our destination, not closer. Eventually, dehydrated, sweaty, and covered with dust from walking down a dry road for several hours, a kind local picked us up, gave us water, and drove us back to our hotel. For me, this was an important lesson in trusting my gut.

It was a valuable lesson indeed.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect and how it leaves you disconnected from your feelings in adulthood, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To learn more about the newest research findings on the gut/brain connection, see:

That Gut Feeling on The American Psychological Association website.

The Gut-Brain Connection on the Harvard Health Publications Website.

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.