How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

How often do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?

The reality is, we can always find someone richer, better looking, more successful, or otherwise better off than we feel we are.

I’ve noticed that some folks are especially prone to self-comparisons. It’s folks who are unsure of their own self-worth. Folks who are looking to find some sort of proof that they are as valid and important as other people.

While some more narcissistic types of people tend to find themselves on top of their comparisons, those who are looking for evidence of self-worth are more prone to experience the opposite.

If this is you, sadly, you probably too often find yourself sadly coming up short.

If You Are a Frequent Self-Comparer

If you’re a frequent comparer, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Because current research shows that some of the things we value most in today’s world are not actually the things that make us happy, healthy, or content in our lives. So we are comparing ourselves on things that may seem like they are meaningful and important, but they are actually not.

Here are three recent psychological studies that offer some surprising things to be thankful for. They may make you re-think some of the comparisons you dwell upon and turn them topsy-turvy.

3 Ways You Compare Yourself That Have Been Debunked By Research

1.  Material Possessions

Van Boven & Gilovich (2003) conducted a fascinating study looking at what makes people happier: Is it material possessions or rewarding experiences?

These researchers gave two groups of students different instructions. Group 1 was asked to write a brief description of something they had purchased in the last year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like electronics, vehicles, clothing, etc.

Group 2 was asked to write a brief description of something they had experienced in the past year that had made them happy. They wrote down things like trips, meals out, concerts and such.

Each group was then asked to reflect on what they had just written and to rate how happy they felt as they were thinking about the purchased possession or rewarding experience.

These researchers found that the subjects felt significantly happier when they contemplated the past experience than they did when reflecting on the purchase.

They concluded that possessions may make you feel happy at the moment of purchase, but they don’t feed your overall happiness the way a positive, fun, and memorable experience does.

The Takeaway: Instead of comparing your possessions to others, try to actively bring yourself happiness by planning and participating in fun events.

2. Appearance

Although being highly attractive has been shown to offer certain clear advantages when dealing with the opposite sex, many studies have found that being beautiful gives people a tremendous disadvantage when dealing with someone of the same sex.

For instance, Agthe et al., (2011) found that when beautiful people are being interviewed for a job by a person of the same sex, they are more likely to be experienced as threatening. This puts the beautiful person at a disadvantage for being hired.

Anderson and Nida (1978) found that those of the same sex are likely to judge the beautiful as less talented than someone of average attractiveness.

Krebs and Adinolfi, (1978) showed that although we think of attractive people as more socially popular, they are actually more likely to be socially rejected by people of the same gender.

The Takeaway: Whatever your level of attractiveness, it’s okay because there are positives and negatives built into every level of appearance. Turning your energy toward appreciating yourself as you are and simply being yourself will work much better for you than meaningless comparisons.

3.  Standing in Your Family

Suitor et al., (2015) surveyed 725 grown children from 309 families.

They found that the child identified as the mother’s favorite in the family was more likely to be depressed than the other adult children. These favored children reported more depressive symptoms and experienced more tension with their adult siblings. They also felt more burdened by the emotional needs of their aging mother.

The Takeaway: Being the family favorite isn’t necessarily something to envy or strive for. Your role in your family is what you take from it and what you do with it.

What It Means When You Are a Frequent Comparer

If you tend to question your own self-worth, take a less-than position in relationships viewing the other person as more important, and come up short in your comparisons, these are all signs that you may have grown up with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

CEN undermines your ability to know, accept, and love yourself as you are. It makes you feel like a less important, less valid person once you grow up.

How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Some element of stopping the comparisons has to involve making a conscious effort to stop. But the most important part of correcting this tendency to compare is to grow more into yourself. And, by that, I mean owning your true strengths for what they are, appreciating your true self, and holding yourself more dearly than any material possession, favoritism, or advantage.

This is exactly what happens as you walk through the steps of healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Remarkably, as you begin to feel your feelings more, you are connecting with your deepest self. You are being who you truly are and valuing your feelings which are the deepest expression of yourself.

To find out if you have CEN, take the free Emotional Neglect Test and see the book Running On Empty.

Next time you find yourself coming up short in comparisons, try to pull yourself back to look at the big picture.

After all, you’ll always be able to find someone who has more than you or seems better than you (everyone can).

And you don’t need to be favored, rich, or stunningly beautiful to be happy.

True and lasting happiness arises from holding your own values and feelings close to your heart. And your own memories, experiences, and relationships in your own high esteem.

No one and I do mean no one can take those away from you.

This article is a new version of an article previously published on Psychcentral.com. It has been updated and reprinted on this website with the permission of the author and Psychcentral.

This Pandemic is a Good Time to Face Your Social Anxiety

Discomfort in groups

Are you secretly relieved that social distancing is giving you a built-in excuse? Few social demands, fewer social gatherings, canceled group activities?

Remember how you used to feel when you were invited somewhere? All kinds of things went through your head as your discomfort grew:

How many people will be there?

I prefer one-on-one.

I’d rather be alone.

I don’t like being in a group.

I don’t want to go.

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How to Give Your Children What They Need Emotionally

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

Even though every child is different, all children are also the same in one very important way. In order to thrive, children require emotional attention, validation, and responsiveness from their parents. 

Knowing that you need to provide this to your child gives you a tremendous leg up on parenting. But knowing how to provide it is another thing altogether.

Think of parenting as a process of teaching your children how to manage their emotions. The better you handle your children’s emotions, the better they will be at managing them throughout their lives.

The 3 Essential Emotion Skills for Parenting:

  1. The parent feels an emotional connection to the child
  2. The parent pays attention to the child and sees the child as a unique and separate person, rather than, say, an extension of the parent, a possession, or a burden.
  3. Using that emotional connection and paying attention, the parent responds competently to the child’s emotional needs.

Although these skills sound simple, in combination they are a powerful tool for helping children learn about and manage their own nature, for creating a secure emotional bond that carries the children into adulthood, so that they may face the world with the emotional health to achieve happy adulthood.

In short, when parents are mindful of their children’s unique emotional nature, they raise emotionally strong adults. Some parents are able to do this intuitively, but others can learn the skills. Either way, the child will learn them.

Zach

Zach is a precocious and hyperactive third-grader, the youngest of three children in a laid-back and loving family. Lately, he has gotten into trouble at school for “talking back.” On one such day, he brings a note home from the teacher describing his infraction by stating, “Zach was disrespectful today.”

Zach’s mother sits him down and asks him what happened. In an exasperated tone, he tells her that when he was in the recess line Mrs. Rollo told him to stop trying to balance a pencil on his finger, point-side-up because he might “stab himself in the face.” He frowned and snapped back at Mrs. Rollo by telling her that he would have to bend “alllll the way over the pencil like this” (demonstrating) to stab himself in the face and that he isn’t “that stupid.” In response, Mrs. Rollo confiscated his pencil, wrote his name on the board, and sent him home with a note.

Before describing how Zach’s mother actually responded, let’s figure out what Zach needs to get from the coming parent-child interaction: he is upset by the incident with his teacher, whom he generally likes, so he needs empathy; on the other hand, he also needs to learn what is expected of him by his teachers in order to succeed at school. Finally, it would help if his mother has noticed (emotional attentiveness) that lately, he is very sensitive to “being treated like a baby” because his older brother and sister leave him out a lot due to his age. Zach’s mother needs the three skills: feeling a connection, paying attention, and responding competently, in order to help Zach with his problem.

Here is how the conversation went between mother and son:

Mother: “Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed by her thinking you could be stupid enough to poke your eye out with a pencil. But when teachers ask you to stop doing something, the reason doesn’t matter. It’s your job to stop.”

Zach: “I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”

Mother: “Yes, I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk. Mrs. Rollo doesn’t know that you’re dealing with your brother and sister not listening to you much lately.”

Zach relaxes a little in response to his mother’s understanding: “Yeah, she got me so frustrated, and then she took my pencil.”

Mother: “It must’ve been hard for you. But, you see, Mrs. Rollo’s class is very big and she doesn’t have time to talk things over like we are right now. It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away. Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zach?”

Zach: “Yeah, Mom.”

Mother: “Good! If you do what Mrs. Rollo asks, you’ll never get in trouble. Then you can come home and complain to us if you think something is unfair. That’s fine. But as a student, respect means cooperating with your teacher’s requests.”

This mother’s intuitive responses in the above conversation provide us with a complex example of the healthy, emotionally attuned parenting that leads to the sane, happy adult whom Winnicott describes. What exactly did she do?

-First, she connected with her son emotionally by asking him to tell her what happened before she reacted. No shaming.

-Then she listened carefully to him. When she first spoke, she provided him with a simple rule that an eight-year-old can understand: “When a teacher asks you to do something, you do it right away.” Here Zach’s mother is instinctively attuned to his stage of cognitive development, providing him with a general rule to use at school.

-She immediately follows the rule with empathy and naming his feeling (“Mrs. Rollo didn’t understand that you were embarrassed…”). Hearing his mom name the feeling, Zach is able to express more of his emotion to his mother (“I know! I was trying to say that to her and she wouldn’t listen!”).

-Again, his mother responds to Zach by naming or labeling the emotion that drove Zach’s rude behavior towards his teacher, the behavior of contradicting the teacher that was viewed as disrespectful (“Yes. I know how frustrated you get when people don’t let you talk…”).

-Zach, feeling understood, responds by repeating this emotion word for himself, “Yeah, she got me so frustrated, and then she took my pencil.”

-But the mother isn’t finished yet. She has, in this conversation, demonstrated to Zach that she understands him and feels for him by demonstrating that she sees his behavior differently than his teacher does. However, she can’t stop there, because his tendency to debate (the likely result of having two highly verbal older siblings) will continue to be a problem for Zach at school unless he can correct it. So his mom says, “It’s so important that when any grownup at school asks you to do something, you do it right away.”

-Finally, she holds her son accountable for his behavior, setting the stage for future check-ins on his feisty nature by asking him, “Will you try to do as asked without saying anything back, Zach?”

In a conversation that appears deceptively simple, Zach’s mother has avoided shaming him for a mistake and named his feelings, creating the emotional learning that will allow Zach to sort his feelings out on his own in the future. She has also supported him emotionally, given him a social rule, and asked him to be accountable for following it. And, in the event that Zach repeats this behavior at school, she will adjust her message and her actions to adapt to the difficulty he is having in the classroom.

One of the biggest challenges for most parents in this area comes from their own lack of skills for managing their own emotions. It’s hard to give your children something that you don’t have yourself.

If this sounds like you, never fear. It’s not your fault. Most likely your parents didn’t teach you the skills because they didn’t have them. And the best part: you can learn the skills!

To find out how to learn the skills for yourself, see the bestselling 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.

This blog is adapted from the book: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It was originally published on psychcentral.com as The 3 Essential Emotion Skills For Parenting. It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

Why You May Have Unclaimed Charisma: Childhood Emotional Neglect

Charisma: Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others

What makes a person charismatic? Is it a form of narcissism? No. Do you have to be born with it? Most people would say that you either have it or you don’t, but it’s not true.

I believe the truth is something far more complicated. Charisma is a special collection of personal traits that many people have. One quality that true charisma requires is being in touch with your feelings.

I see many people who grew up with their emotions ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) have many of the right qualities. But CEN people have learned how to hide their feelings. More comfortable outside the limelight, they have learned to tamp down their own light and hide.

If you grew up with CEN, with your emotions ignored or discouraged, you may have a charisma that you have not yet claimed. This is very important since an essential part of charisma is that you have to own it

As you read the list below, think about yourself and which of these qualities you may already have, which you are hiding, and which you can nurture in yourself.

The 8 Basic Qualities of Charisma

  • Integrity and authenticity – This involves being the real you and feeling good about it. When you know yourself, it allows others to know you too. When you’re knowable and visible to others (clearly not hiding anything), people know they can count on you because of who you are. People feel connected to you almost automatically. They are attracted to you.
  • Understanding and responding to emotion – When it comes to interpersonal relationships, emotion is power. When you own your own feelings and work with them, you are immediately empowered. When you recognize what others are feeling and respond to them; by validating, understanding, caring, or challenging, you naturally draw in the people around you.
  • Positive energy – Your energy is infectious. It spreads to others and stimulates and energizes them.
  • Enthusiasm – Enthusiasm gives you and others more energy. It motivates and empowers people. People are naturally drawn to those who are enthusiastic.
  • Fallibility and accountability – Social science research has shown that a speaker or leader who makes a mistake, like tripping over a power cord, for example, is immediately more liked by the audience. Everyone likes their leaders to be fallible. Owning your mistakes and showing that you’re OK with your own humanness is lovable and connecting. Trying to look like you know everything, or never make mistakes, is not.
  • Smile – Smiles hold great power, but only when they’re real; and only when they fit the situation. If you’re always smiling, people won’t connect to you, and if you never smile, people won’t like you. So smile when you feel it, and your smiles will empower you.
  • Being present in the moment – Attention is power. People can feel it when they, or an experience they are sharing with you, have your undivided attention. It’s an unspoken message to them that they matter. Everyone is drawn to this message. People can also sense divided attention, and it makes them feel less important and less connected.
  • Confidence – You can have all of the qualities above, but they will remain hidden unless you own them and project them with confidence. This is the final essential quality of the truly charismatic.

4 Best Quotes About Charisma

  1. How can you have charisma? Be more concerned about making others feel good about themselves than you are about making them feel good about you — Dan Reiland
  2. Charisma is the fancy name given to the knack of giving people your full attention. — Robert Brault
  3. The essential element in personal magnetism is a consuming sincerity–an overwhelming faith in the importance of the work that one has to do. — Bruce Barton
  4. Charisma is the transference of enthusiasm. — Ralph Archbold

The world is full of wonderful people who listen, care, and give. People who smile, own their mistakes and quietly inspire others. People with bright lights shining within them, but who lack the confidence to allow others to see it.

If some little voice within you is saying, “This might be me,” I ask you to listen to the voice and believe in yourself.

Claim your qualities and build them, trust yourself, and stop hiding your light.

Because the world needs more people like you. We need your light.

To learn how to understand and work with emotions, and get to know the real you, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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

5 Ways to Improve Father’s Day With Your Emotionally Neglectful Dad

Father’s Day is easy for all of the people who feel loved by, loving, and close with their dads. If your relationship with your father is strong and uncomplicated, I hope you will give him the wonderful Father’s Day that he so deserves.

But the world is full of people who have more complex relationships with their dads. If you feel either confused or disappointed about your father, there’s a fairly good chance that it’s because of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

  • Do you get irritated or snap at your father for apparent no reason?
  • Do you cringe a little inside when you have to talk to your dad?
  • Does being alone with your father make you feel awkward or uncomfortable?
  • Are you uncertain whether your father loves you and/or is proud of you?
  • Do you sometimes feel that your dad doesn’t actually know you very well?
  • Do you look forward to seeing your father, and then often feel vaguely let down or perplexed afterward?

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The 5 Hallmarks of an Emotionally Healthy Person

Do you ever wonder how emotionally healthy you are?

We all have a general idea of what we think an emotionally healthy person looks like. Maybe it’s not being depressed or anxious, not suffering, or not having a diagnosis. Maybe it’s being happy, or being able to live a good life.

All of these things are important and have great merit, of course. But what are the specific factors that make a person emotionally healthy? Here are the five hallmarks that hardly anyone thinks about.

The 5 Hallmarks of an Emotionally Healthy Person

1. You’re able to hold two opposites in your mind at the same time.

“Is she a good person or a bad person? Did you like the movie or not? Are you talented, yes or no? Who’s right, you or me?” This tendency for our minds to polarize things into opposites in order to settle on a clear solution applies to all areas of our lives. But it shows up especially starkly in very personal questions, such as how we view ourselves, how we think about our childhoods, and how we judge others.

The ability to see the gray areas is a skill that not everyone has, for sure. But here we’re talking about a step beyond that. The ability to say during a conflict with another person, “We are both right, and we are also both wrong.” To be able to conclude, in any situation, “This is both extremely good and extremely bad,” “This person is both well-intentioned and potentially harmful,” “I love you and hate you at the same time.” “My parents gave me a lot, but they also failed me terribly.” All are true.

Opposites go together far better than most people realize. And if you can hold the opposing sides in your mind together at the same time, it gives you a birds-eye view of yourself, a person, or a situation that is far more accurate and real than grasping for a one-dimensional answer.

2. You can manage your feelings while communicating.

Managing your emotions is one thing and communicating is another. Each is a difficult skill to master. Put them together and you have a great challenge. Being able to manage the hurt you are feeling so that you can explain to someone how you feel; being able to manage your anger in order to express the problem in a way that the other person can hear. These are two examples of strong psychological mental health.

3. You’re self-aware.

Everyone knows themselves. But the question is, how well? Do you understand your typical responses to things? Are you aware of what you feel, and why you’re feeling it? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Talents? Likes and dislikes? What do you need, and what do you enjoy?

The better you understand yourself, the more resilient you are in challenging situations, the better you can forgive yourself for mistakes, and the better life choices you can make for yourself.

4. You’re comfortable in your own skin.

This involves being happy to simply be you. Think of it as spending time with yourself, happily and comfortably. Can you sit alone with no entertainment and be comfortable? Can you be in the moment right now and not thinking ahead, thinking about the past, or thinking about something or someone else? Are you able to sit with a feeling, accept that feeling, and try to understand it?

These are all examples of being comfortable in your own skin.

5. You’re willing to take risks.

Being able to stretch yourself, not only within your comfort zone but beyond it, takes a great deal of strength and resilience. Are you willing to put yourself out there? Can you rely on yourself to manage failure, if it happens? Do you know yourself well enough to know what’s worth going out on a limb for? Can you forgive yourself if you don’t succeed?

The strength required to take the risk of failure, and to survive failure, is a great strength indeed.

If reading all of these qualities is somewhat intimidating, don’t worry. Few people possess all five. In fact, most of us would do well to simply be striving toward having each one.

3 Ways to Build the 5 Hallmarks and Become an Emotionally Healthier Person.

1. Become less invested in being right.

When you give up some of your connection to being right, you open up a whole new world; the birds-eye world that is an important part of being wise. You rise above the right/wrong mentality, and you start to see yourself and others differently.

Being able to see the polar opposites — the greater truths — makes it easier to understand your own feelings (which often oppose each other) and to understand others. It aids your ability to see and understand yourself.

2. Learn and practice mindfulness. 

Mindfulness, or the ability to be in the moment, with your attention turned inward at yourself, what you’re doing and what you’re feeling, is a key part of both self-awareness and being comfortable in your own skin. It has also been shown by scientific research to have multiple other psychological and health benefits.

3. Work on viewing failure differently. 

Failure is a sign of courage. Failure means that you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and took a risk. Failure, done well, is a growth experience. We can learn more from our failures than we can from our successes.

As you become more self-aware, more mindful, more emotionally communicative, and more comfortable in your own skin, you will be freer to take risks and learn from them. Your relationships will become deeper and more satisfying. This will ultimately support you to experiences and successes far beyond what you ever thought you could achieve.

Growing up in a family that avoids, ignores, or disparages your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN) disconnects you from your feelings in your adult life. To find out if you grew up with CEN, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

A version of this article was originally published on yourtango.com. It has been updated and published here with the permission of the author and Yourtango.

How Child Abuse and Neglect Plant the Seeds of Racism in Our Children

In the United States of America, it is a time of reckoning.  As a nation, as a people, who do we want to be?

Divided? Filled with hate and judgment of each other? We must decide.

In 2016, a reader commented on my blog, and it made me think deeply about anger, hate, and the harsh way that humanity judges and treats those who are different from ourselves. That reader’s comment inspired me to write this blog post on Psychcentral. Today, in 2020, it is still highly relevant. I have updated it and republished it here.

The Comment (Slightly Edited)

I’m a white working-class man. I was abused physically, sexually, and emotionally by people I trusted as a child.

The unquenchable anger from the white working class is not caused by a government or system or any other institution. It is caused by neglectful and abusive parenting. You simply can’t stay that angry, resentful, and cruel all your life if you grew up with loving people, no matter what government you have.

When people call others, like millennials, “pampered” what they are really saying is that they wish they had received that kind of care when they were young. When they brag how their toys and playgrounds were unsafe and they turned out OK, what they are really saying is that they wish someone had cared enough to put rubber matting under their own swings when they were growing up.

These people’s parents, guardians, and leaders deflected their own anger from the true target, their own parents, to “others” who did not look like them.

As a child, your parents really scare you when they spit out whatever nasty words they may have used to describe people who are of different races or creeds. You get afraid of these people, and because they don’t look nor talk like you they are very easy to spot. The working-class white people’s current anger is the flip side of genuine fear. A fear you were taught before you could form words.

A man stood on my street corner the day after the election and shouted to all of us, “Those ****” are going to get what’s coming to them now.” He looked like a 60-year-old teenage boy who can’t stop being afraid.

Neglect and abuse are passed down like a family heirloom and often go side by side. Parents will often go from one to the other as the day goes on.

As a trained therapist I believe you could provide much value by teaching people with this much hate how to break the chain of hate by raising their children with attention and love.

Anger

Truth be told, I felt somewhat stunned as I read this comment. It expressed in perfect prose some things that I know, with every fiber of my being, are fundamental truths.

Yes, anger is the flip-side of fear.

Yes. The way we treat our children shapes our world.

Yes. Of course. Childhood neglect and abuse are the root causes of anger, racism, and hate.

Anger is a fascinating emotion in many ways. It flows like water, touching and affecting all who are near it. One important way that anger differs from other emotions is that it always seeks a target.

Anger is not satisfied floating freely, like sadness or other forms of pain. Anger is built into us as a self-protective measure, so it naturally needs to be directed at someone or something.

So what if that “someone” who’s the true target is our parent? Our parent who is angry or scary, or inattentive. Our parent who has hurt or neglected us, but upon whom we are completely dependent for food, clothing, shelter, and all forms of care.

A child’s own anger seeks another, safer target; one removed as far as possible from our childhood home. The farther removed the target, the safer it feels for us. It’s a natural human process that is virtually wired in.

How You Can Help Break the Cycle

  1. Be aware of your own childhood-based anger. If you grew up ignored or in any way abused, you do have anger about it. And it’s okay. In fact, it’s healthy.
  2. Listen to the messages of your own anger. What’s it trying to protect you from now? Is it really people who are different from you? Or is your anger actually trying to protect you from the people who, for whatever reason, failed to protect you or nurture you, or even actually harmed you, as a child?
  3. Work toward the courageous act of directing your anger where it truly belongs. When your anger goes toward its true target, it will at first feel painful and scary. But this is a huge step toward your own psychological and emotional health. Your tremendous courage will pay off for yourself and for your children.

Here’s what I believe. Racism will never go away until we all face the true source of our own fear and anger. I hope that we can stop misdirecting our feelings, and have the courage to parent our own children differently than we were parented ourselves.

Let’s face our own pain, and work through it in a healthy way. It’s for the children. It’s for our country. It’s for our world.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test.  To learn more about how CEN affects relationships see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Warm thanks to Tyler, who authored the candid, thoughtful comment that inspired this article.

This article was originally posted on Psychcentral. It has been updated and republished here with the permission of the author and Psych Central.

4 Ways You May Be Keeping Yourself Running On Empty

Julie

Julie loves her husband Dom very much, but lately, all they seem to do is fight. Julie wonders how Dom can possibly complain that she’s not home enough lately when he can see how many demands she is juggling.

Bill

Bill struggles to do everything right in life. He has a good job and a family that loves him. Yet he walks through his days feeling numb. As he provides for his family and responds to his boss’s every request, he sometimes wonders what it’s all for. Recently he’s been drinking more than he should.

House, job, family. Parenting, grocery-shopping, errands, and social media; we are all people of the world. And in today’s world, our lives are overly full in so many ways. So it’s ironic that so many of us feel so very UN-full.

The feeling of emptiness is elusive. It’s experienced differently by different people. Hardly anyone knows how to put it into words. So you may at times say you’re stressed or down because it’s the best word you can come up with, even though it doesn’t seem to quite capture what you feel.

Even more likely, you say nothing. After all, you can see that your life is actually very full. You have no idea that so many people around you feel a sense of emptiness as well.

4 Ways to Feel Empty

  • Numbness: This involves walking through your life with little emotion. You know you should feel more joy, more excitement, more love; and also more sadness, and perhaps more grief. You’re not sure why, but those feelings are just not quite there.
  • A physical ache: Almost no one feels this all the time. But you may at times feel an emptiness somewhere in your body. In your belly, throat, or head for example. A deep, painful ache that’s difficult to name, and seems to come from nowhere.
  • A feeling of being lost and alone: Surrounded by people, and yet lonely. Lots of places to be, and yet lost. Having people around doesn’t mean you feel that you belong with them. Knowing that you love them doesn’t mean that you can feel it.
  • Over-taxed and joyless: So many commitments and not enough of them are to yourself. You’re there for everyone else’s needs, but what about your own?

Whatever your personal experience of emptiness, the roots of this feeling almost always can be found in your childhood.

We grow up in households that are busy or struggling, and somehow not quite nurturing enough. From this we learn everything about how to stay busy and struggle, but little about how to nurture ourselves.

So we grow up looking in all the wrong places for support and fulfillment. We live our adult lives with a sense that something is missing, and no idea how to find it.

4 Ways You May Be Keeping Yourself Running On Empty

  1. By Being Too Externally Focused: It’s natural in today’s world to be caught up with what’s outside of you: your house, your job, your car, successes, failures, sports, and the weather. Truly, those are all good things. They will provide for you, entertain you, and give you topics at dinner. But they will not fill you up.
  2. By Ignoring What Emotionally Fills You: Part of being too externally focused is that you may end up not seeing what’s closest to you: You and the people who love you. You may, for example, be so busy with your many commitments that you have little time to enjoy yourself with your family or children. In fact, you may not find yourself enjoying much of anything. Yet you may seldom notice that your joy is missing.
  3. By Poor Self-Care: Self-care is a way of nurturing yourself. Do you deserve to be healthy? Are you worth the time it takes to buy and prepare healthy food? To plan a family vacation so that you can enjoy your family’s company and make happy memories? Is it more important that you start another project or that you be aware of your own needs, and try to fill them?
  4. By Seeking Fulfillment in All the Wrong Places: There are many tempting ways to fill yourself, none of which will work: activity, alcohol, recognition, admiration, food, shopping, gambling, social media, money, drugs, and success are just a few.

Julie

Julie can’t see what Dom sees: that she is hugely over-committed. In addition to her job and her two daughters, she volunteers on two committees at the school. She’s involved in a town fundraiser, and now she’s talking about starting up a small business on the side. Dom watches helplessly as Julie becomes increasingly depleted and worn.

Over-committed and joyless, Julie has lost her way. She seeks to fill herself up with activity, projects, and maybe some recognition, with perhaps a little money thrown in. On this path, Julie will never stop having those pangs of emptiness that come and go.

Bill

Bill walks through life feeling numb and knowing that something is not right. He knows he should be happier and more fulfilled. After all, he’s the man with everything. Bill has no idea that throughout his struggle to do everything right in life, he has missed the boat on what truly matters to him.

Bill knows how to walk the walk, but he doesn’t know how to feel. He’s caught up in the externals of life, and he cannot see himself. Bill is missing out on what could give his life meaning: his feelings.

No matter what type of emptiness you feel and how you’ve tried to fill it, it’s never too late or too tall a task to change your course.

Focusing inward instead of outward; noticing your own feelings and needs and trying to meet them; finding what makes you happy, and making memories with people you care about. This is the path to filling yourself. 

Surprisingly, once you’re on it you may find that your new path is actually far easier than the old one.

To learn more about how to become more self-aware and fill yourself up, see the book Running on Empty.

This article was originally published on psychcentral.com. It has been updated and published here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral.

For Therapists: Creative Ways to Use the Emotions List With Emotionally Neglected Clients

How do you help an emotionally neglected (CEN) client, who grew up with their feelings ignored or suppressed, learn about emotions and how they work? 

In the process of talking, writing, and teaching about Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN, I have had many wonderful opportunities to talk with hundreds of therapists about their experiences and challenges treating CEN clients.

If you are a CEN therapist, I want to start by thanking you from the bottom of my heart. You are helping me reach my longstanding goal of providing CEN therapy to everyone throughout the world who needs it.

If you are not yet a CEN therapist, I hope that you might consider it. I am trying to make CEN therapy available to everyone who needs one.

As it stands right now, there are hundreds of therapists from all over the world listed on the Find A CEN Therapist List.

Despite the healthy numbers, more CEN therapists are clearly needed. Every day, I receive emails from people with CEN who are upset because they cannot find a CEN specialist to help them.

Throughout these few years of training therapists in the treatment of CEN, one major challenge stands out. How do you help a CEN client learn about emotions and how they work? 

Believe me, I understand this problem all too well. Since clients who grew up with their feelings ignored have their emotions walled off as a defense mechanism, they not only view their emotions as useless, harmful, or weak, they also have likely not learned some of the most basic aspects of how feelings work.

Getting a CEN client to talk about feelings in session can seem almost impossible. So how can we teach them about something they are so repelled by and try to avoid at all costs?

Over the last couple of years, one tool has begun to stand out to me as I struggle with this problem in my own work. It’s the Emotions List from the back of my first book, Running On Empty. I use it in multiple different ways that tailor to what a particular client needs. It allows us to start right where they are and get on the healing path that I know has the potential to help them enormously.

Ways to Use the Feelings List With Your CEN Clients

1. The Homework/Process — Tailor it To Your Client

  • Read through the list with your client in session and discuss with them which words they relate to or respond to.
  • Each day, choose a word from the list and use it at some point that day. This helps increase their vocabulary of emotion words and also requires them to have feelings on their mind.
  • Ask the client, when having a feeling, to use the list to help them identify and name what they are feeling.
  • Read one particular category of words or the entire list before the next session.
  • Read the list and pay attention to any words that you connect with and highlight those words as you go through. Bring the highlighted list back so we can go through it together.
  • In couple’s therapy, if an emotion word keeps triggering a spouse, have the one using the word go through the list to find a less-triggering word to use. For example, they may change “You scare me when you…” to “I feel vulnerable when you…”

2. What Was Your Client’s Experience of Doing the Homework?

  • Did they balk or “forget?” You can point out avoidance/discomfort with feelings.
  • How did the client feel while doing it? Was it really hard for them? Why? This opens up a discussion about their relationship with their own feelings and the feelings of others.

3. Look for Patterns in Your Client’s Highlighted Words

  • Only negative or only positive words?
  • None in the anger category or only mild ones like annoyed or irritated indicates their anger is especially repressed.
  • A high concentration of words in one category.
  • All very commonly used or generic types of words like “Anxious” or “Depressed.” I often explain that anxiety and depression are not feelings, but states. Then push them to identify the actual specific feelings that go into the anxiety or depression.
  • A word is missing that you see the client feel a lot.

4. Identify Your Client’s Core Feeling

  • What feelings did your client feel the most during their childhood?
  • Is there a high concentration of words in one category?
  • A word that your client says they have so often that it defines them?
  • A word that seems to characterize much of their childhood experience?

Some General Points About Using the Feelings List

Reuniting our CEN clients with their feelings is one of our greatest challenges. I find that there is something about the Feelings List that, even though it’s very long, feels manageable, and maybe even comforting to these clients.

Perhaps the notion that feelings can be labeled offers assurance that feelings are real and identifiable and understandable.

Each of the ways to use the list described above is a jumping-off point for you and your client to talk about emotions.

Special Point: Identifying a client’s core feeling — the feeling they felt most in their childhood — can be almost like a pipeline to their other feelings. I will write another blog about this process and how to use it in CEN therapy so watch for that.

I’m sure there are many other ways to use the Feelings List in CEN treatment that we have yet to discover. If you have some thoughts about this, I would love for you to share it! Just post it in the Comments section of this blog.

I would love for you to take my 2-CE therapist training, Identifying & Treating Childhood Emotional Neglect: An Overview. Learn about it here: https://drjonicewebb.com/treating-cen/.

3 Different Things That Cause Anxiety and Their 3 Different Solutions

Maryann was raised by a mother who was both emotionally intense and needy. All through her childhood, Maryann had to be very caring and supportive toward her mother to try to prevent explosions.

Because of this, Maryann grew up with strong tendencies to care for and placate others deeply entrenched in her character. But these character traits, essential survival mechanisms growing up, became a serious problem for her in her adult life. Maryann was such a placater that she wasn’t taken seriously at work. Others often took advantage of her. Maryann was not happy.

Finally, Maryann decided that she needed to change. She decided to stop placating, stop agreeing with everyone and everything, and begin to show more backbone. But it wasn’t easy. Each time Maryann tried to speak up for herself to express disagreement or assert her own needs, she felt intense anxiety come over her.

Essentially everyone knows first-hand what it means to be anxious. Few among us are spared this intense feeling of discomfort.

William James, who is considered The Father of American Psychology, described his own anxiety this way:  “a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach … a sense of the insecurity of life.”

Since anxiety is so common and troublesome, I’ve seen plenty of it in my work as a psychologist. One thing I’ve noticed is that all anxiety is not the same. The particular type of anxiety you have determines not only how it feels, but also how it should be treated and managed.

3 Causes of Anxiety

1. Biology: Research has shown that some babies are born with an anxious temperament. Babies who are observed as edgy and reactive have been seen to grow up to be edgy and reactive adults; in other words, anxious babies grow into anxious adults. This type of anxiety is genetic, and it tends to run in families.

Biology, however, is not a sentence to a lifetime of anxiety. First, because biological anxiety waxes and wanes throughout your lifetime, it may become problematic really only during times of transition or stress. And second, because you can learn to manage your biological anxiety.

Best Solution: Anxiety management techniques are plentiful and effective. The best way to learn them is to see a cognitive/behavioral therapist.  Some common anti-depressant medications are also effective in treating biological anxiety.

2. Childhood Emotional Neglect: This essentially boils down to how you handle your feelings. When you push your emotions down or suppress them, they don’t simply disappear. Instead, they remain there, buried. Repressed and suppressed feelings pool together under the surface and become a diffuse form of anxiety. This type of anxiety seems to come and go at will. It becomes your main feeling. In general, you may find yourself existing in two states: you either feel anxious, or you feel nothing at all.

Best Solution: The best solution for this type of anxiety is to break through the wall between yourself and your pool of blocked-off emotions. Pay attention to your feelings, allow yourself to feel them, learn to put them into words, and how to manage and express them. This may sound like a lot of work, but it will gradually reduce your anxiety and will have multiple other positive effects upon your life satisfaction as well.

3. Personal Growth: This is one of the most powerful, and yet least talked about, forms of anxiety. It’s the anxiety that’s naturally built into virtually every step of emotional or psychological growth that you take in your lifetime. It’s especially intense when you’re trying to give up a coping mechanism that you needed in childhood (like Maryann). This anxiety arises when you’re about to make a healthy change in yourself, and it tries to pull you backward.

Each time Maryann tries to abandon the habit that saved her life in childhood, her body screams, “No-o-o-o-o!” It does this by sending her feelings of fear, to alert her that what she’s about to do is dangerous.

Best Solution: The most helpful strategy in managing this type of anxiety is simply recognizing what it is. When you can accept that it’s only your body warning you against something that’s not dangerous, you can accept the feeling, and then override it. In Maryann’s situation, a vital step in her growth process involves not giving in to the wave of anxiety she feels, but instead letting it wash over her like a wave; and then overriding it. This means speaking up in spite of it. 

Each time Maryann manages her anxiety this way, ending with healthy action, she is reducing her anxiety’s power. She’s essentially re-programming her brain to recognize that the new behavior (speaking up) is not dangerous, but adaptive and healthy.

Every single human being, every single day receives messages from their body.

“Escape!”

“Stop!”

“Stay quiet!”

“Don’t try that,” insist the voices of your anxiety.

So now, you must begin to insist back: “I will not run away from this. I will not stop. I will not stay quiet, I will speak up. I will try that.”

Accept the feeling, understand its cause, and you can take control of what’s been controlling you.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free. To learn more about how to understand, manage, and override your emotions, see the book, Running on Empty.

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