The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms In Adults

Why does it matter if you grew up with your feelings ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect)? To you, it may not seem to be all that important. So let’s talk about the 3 most tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect symptoms in adults.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A subtle, often invisible childhood experience that happens when your parents fail to notice or respond to your feelings enough.

In all of my years as a psychologist, I have never seen anything so seemingly innocuous, yet so powerfully damaging as the simple failure of your parents to notice or respond to what you are feeling as they are raising you. It’s a “simple failure” that becomes a part of your everyday life forever.

Growing up with your emotions disregarded automatically communicates a silent, but powerfully effective, message to your deepest self: as a child, you accept, on a very deep level, that in your childhood home, your feelings do not matter. As a child, you must wall off your own feelings so that you will never appear sad, hurt, needy or emotional to your parents.

Going through life ignoring and undervaluing your emotions has some very predictable effects on your life as an adult. I have seen the pattern play out in the lives of countless lovely, otherwise healthy people. Always the same silent struggles, the same unanswered questions, the same deep sense of being different from everyone else.

When you grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, you end up experiencing the worst of two worlds. First, you are disconnected from your feelings, which should be stimulating and guiding you. You are living without enough access to this marvelous, powerful, energizing feedback system: your emotions.

Second, your walled off emotions remain unaddressed and unmanaged. Those blocked emotions just sit there, unattended, roiling and waiting, perhaps emerging at times which seem to make little sense to you. Or maybe seldom emerging at all, but instead causing you to make poor decisions or develop health problems, like headaches or back pains, or worse.

In the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect I identified 10 struggles of the emotionally neglected adult. They are feelings of emptiness, counter-dependence, unrealistic self-appraisal, poor self-compassion, guilt and shame, self-directed anger/self-blame, the Fatal Flaw, difficulty nurturing self and others, poor self-discipline and alexithymia.

If left unaddressed, all these silent struggles work together to cause some powerful effects on your life.

The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms In Adults

1. You will never get what you want unless it’s by chance

Not knowing what you feel makes it hard to know what you want. That’s because “want” is a feeling, not a thought. I have watched scores of talented, capable people drift in their lives, making decisions that are not quite right for them, or going where the tide takes them. Sometimes they get what they want, but it’s often a matter of chance, not choice.

2. You never get to know yourself

When you are disconnected from your own feelings, you are blocked from the most deeply personal part of who you are. You are probably good at noticing and attending to other people, but you are not paying attention to yourself.

In fact, you continue to squelch your true self in exactly the way your parents, maybe unintentionally, squelched you as a child. You have hurts and triumphs, loss and accomplishment, pains and love, anger and pleasure, sadness and joy, all inside you. If you would listen, you would learn who you really are.

3. You hide your light

Of the 3 most tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect symptoms, this is the one that makes me the most sad.

Other people catch glimpses of your light, although you probably have no idea that you have it. You have caught glances of it in the past, when you have surprised yourself by doing something you thought impossible for you to do, faced a fear, felt a warm glow of connection from someone important to you, or been vulnerable in a brave way. If you think deeply about this you will remember.

Your light is special because it is uniquely you. It is a product of your genes, your emotions, and your life experiences. Other people see it, even though you hide it. Putting yourself on the sidelines or trying to stay invisible; avoiding conflict and being afraid to “rock the boat” are all ways to hide your light.

Sadly, as you continue to squelch your light, you are holding yourself back from being your best and true self. What feels “safe” is actually “dark.”

You deserve better. And you can allow yourself to have it.

The Good News — The Answer To The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms

Just as the cause of all of these struggles seems simple — your parents didn’t respond enough to your emotions as they raised you — so also seems the solution.

You grew up with your feelings ignored, and now you must do the exact opposite. You can start right away simply paying attention to your feelings.

Take the time to notice when you are feeling something, learn how to name what you are feeling, and begin to learn how to use your feelings to inform, direct, motivate and guide you.

When you do the work, you get to reap the rewards. You will gradually start to know yourself, get what you want, and let your light shine.

And all that’s actually happening is that you are becoming more authentically your true self, and that is everything.

To find out if you grew up with Emotional Neglect, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, see the book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

To find out how Childhood Emotional Neglect holds your relationships back and how you can solve it, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Craig - October 3, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,

I can remember a time when my mother was not around several times. I first felt neglect when I was 6 years old I was left in a church with my two siblings. My uncle and father came and got us. Then my dad wouldn’t let her near us and she was out of State. She then procedided to get the law involved that was the last time we seen him before we was back with him before he died she asked for me to be held back I never got to finish school she never enrolled me back into classes after I turned 18 I was tossed out onto the streets I could never find a job I had to look for food that was being thrown out so I could eat I am still struggling to survive even though I am dealing with cen is there any agency that will help a emotionally abused person survive?

    Jonice - October 4, 2019 Reply

    Dear Craig, yes there is help. Google “free psychotherapy for abuse victims” and you will find agencies in your area. I am so very sorry you went through all of that trauma.

Maurice - September 23, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,
your book is about emotional neglect. Can minimal/no physical contact between parent and child – no comforting, no hugging, no kissing – also be categorized als EN? There was minimal to no physical contact between me and my parents for what I can remember and/or for as far back as my memories go, and I therefore have difficulty believing it was any different when I was a baby. Looking back on the family I grew up in, I feel that my parents played parents. I suspect that one or both of them have autism. (I may be autistic as well). I would like to know more about the consequences of such an upbringing. Are there additional symptoms/behaviour that, apart from the CEN symptoms, are likely in a person that experienced a lack of physical contact during the upbringing from the parents? Best regards, Maurice

    Jonice - September 26, 2019 Reply

    Dear Maurice, I am so sorry you were raised in this painful way. recommend you google “emotional deprivation” because when you combine emotional with physical neglect, it crosses over into that territory. Take care!

Gladeye - September 22, 2019 Reply

I can’t remember anything without a pain so deep it hardly becomes known to me.

I am afraid of everything and I feel like I just hurt and disappoint, never meaning to.

I think I am nothing.

    Jonice - September 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Gladeye, you are not nothing! Please start working on yourself. Keep on going. You matter.

Timothy - September 16, 2019 Reply

Thank you for the article and information. Also for your responses to people’s comments; hopefully you can respond to mine as well. This information really helps me understand what is going on in my marriage. My wife is being affected by this and the consequences affect and hurt me in a way that’s hard to describe, but it is very sad because it is so hard to create a meaningful emotional connection with her. It is very clear my spouses parents and their parents have dome CEN from generation to generation. As a husband, can you offer any wisdom on how I can break this cycle, help my wife through it, and heal with her? I desperately crave for her to break free and wish I can develop a way to cope in a healthy way…I tend to think I am the reason and problem in this relationship. Thank you. TF

    Jonice - September 16, 2019 Reply

    Dear Timothy, both of my books would be very helpful for you and your wife. You should both read both books — together if you can — but if your wife isn’t ready to read them, then you should. The second book, Running on Empty No More, will help you a lot with your question.

Alejandra Vélez - July 29, 2019 Reply

What a wonderful article. Your work is amazing!

    Jonice - July 30, 2019 Reply

    I’m glad Alejandra! I’ll keep them coming.

Catherine - July 22, 2019 Reply

Thanks Dr Jonice, I am really trying to be aware of my own emotions and name each one as precisely as I can. This is helping me and it also feels good to pay attention to my emotions, I never knew the power of this technique before! I’m also trying to ask my daughter how she feels every so often now, to help her identify her own feelings. I am glad I found your site on CEN, it is definitely what I’ve been suffering from as I’m sure my mother is narcissistic or at the very least, emotionally immature.

    Jonice - July 22, 2019 Reply

    That is wonderful Catherine! Keep up the good work!

Javad - July 6, 2019 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,
I had 2 years old when my father died because of heart disease. My sister (who is one year older than me) and I have grown up with my mom. Mom most of the time was sad and nervous and threat us she will die, too. I was always worried about how to prevent my mom from dying. As she wanted to take care of us, she gots a very tightly controlling system toward us, which make her unable to understand our feeling, and most of the time she rejected my feeling. After years, when I was 14, my sister got a serious incurable illness, and most of my mom’s attention was paid to my sister.
Now I’m 29, it is about 1 year that I have started therapy. Newly after 1 year, I found that I have a very very big shame and anger in myself and I’m afraid of it, I don’t know how to open this door, because I don’t know what will come out from it, will I survive if I open it?
It is important to say that from outside, people usually find me a very successful, brave, attractive and happy person, but from inside I don’t feel as they do.
What should I do?
Thanks for your suppoprt.

    Jonice - July 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Javad, I’m glad you have a therapist. Please let him or her guide you through the process of opening yourself up. You can do it gradually.

Black sheep - June 24, 2019 Reply

I firmly believe I am living with CEN. My dad passed away when I was 8. I buried my grief and got on with life because A) the cancer nurses at the time said I was to young to understand and B) my sister who was 14 received all the support as it was presumed she would react due to her understanding being more mature than my own.
I have suffered with low self esteem, anxiety, depression, I self harm because I hate myself, I fear abandonment, I never tell people about my achievements or dark moments as I feel a burden or they are not interested, I feel insignificant all the time, I constantly people please. I don’t feel I am getting the right support or therapy for this. I have had counselling, CBT, I’m on medication and currently doing compassion focused therapy. I still don’t feel the nail has been hit. I dontknow where to turn.

    Jonice - June 27, 2019 Reply

    Dear Black Sheep, the “nail” is probably getting in touch with your walled off feelings which is the process of CEN Recovery. I hope you will engage in that process, with help and guidance.

Pippa - June 6, 2019 Reply

Hi. I had a brother, 18 months older than me, who had behavioural problems (I think he probably had ADHD) and I always felt painfully overlooked. My mother was so stressed out that it felt I had to be good and my Father was very distant (We now think he was Asperger’s). My mother was always worried and sent my brother and I away to boarding school when I was 10. In my teens, I started to use drugs and self-harm. I was sexually assaulted twice, once at 15 and raped at 16. My Mother never protected me from predatory older men. I developed depression and body dysmorphic disorder. My brother died in his 40s from alcoholism. I’m now in my 50s and have to care for my Mum, but sometimes interacting with her makes me seethe underneath and I sort of let her know how neglected I felt as a child and she goes all quiet and won’t respond to me or she says “what do you think it was like for me?” Then I feel really bad about bringing up the past and being mean, but I’ve struggled all my life with my depression and BDD. I’m married but never wanted children as I was terrified of damaging an innocent. I feel so weak and guilty when I do this. I do love her but I’m angry with her too because sometimes I am overwhelmed with sadness for my childhood self. My Mum is quite a selfish person, but doesn’t really have the self awareness to know that. How can I be a better person to her? How can I resolve this anger? I feel like such a b**** sometimes.

    Jonice - June 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Pippa, I hope you can focus less on your mother and more to yourself. A far better question is: “How can I be a better person to myself?” You are not a b****. You are a person who grew up in severe neglect and was traumatized. Please work on healing your CEN. All my best to you.

donna - June 3, 2019 Reply

I want to die so badly I can feel it way down. I’m unhappy from a hard life that has worn me down. I’m 59, the only thing that keeps me alive is I don’t want to hurt my daughter, she is 32 and has a happy life. But every day is drudgery for me. I’m sick of therapists, too. Both my parents were alcoholics, need I say more.

    Jonice - June 5, 2019 Reply

    Dear Donna, I am so sorry you are living with these painful feelings. To answer your question, yes you do need to say more! I hope you will look up a CEN therapist on the list on my website. I think you need to keep talking with someone who understands. Please do not shut down, as that’s the most dangerous thing you can do to yourself.

Katmac - February 25, 2019 Reply

I am 68 and recently retraumatised by my work with orphans in Congo. Realized I was trying to rescue myself. Diagnosed with panic disorder and clinical depression, years of therapy. Never married or had children. My only true comfort comes from animals. I am never touched. I am a hoarder and compulsively deprive myself. I have never belonged anywhere in society. At least in Africa I am not expected to belong. I know what I feel but just don’t think my feelings matter. I would love an intimate partner but feel totally incapable of it. I will read your book when I have access to order it.

Jon.e - February 20, 2019 Reply

Thankyou for your website. I was searching why I always attract Narcissist’s into my life, and partners that emotionally abuse me and whether I am a Narc, then I discovered your website and realised I have CEN. I scored 20/20 on the list and now alot of things are starting to make sense. I dont know how to deal with things, but its comforting to see that I am not alone, although I dont know how I will ever change these feelings I have been carrying forever. I dont know what “normal” feels like.

James Ferguson - February 19, 2019 Reply

Hi Jonice,
I just bought your book today online, so it will be 5/6 days before it arrives. I’m really hoping that it helps to explain me to myself, and perhaps my own dysfunctional life, my self hatred, and the fact that I have grown to hate this life, and deeply regret having ever being born in to it, without, however, ever feeling suicidal or suffer depression, thank God. For the first time, over the course of the last year, for some unknown reason, and having never done so before, I have begun to think about and reflect upon my own nature and how my life has worked out the way it has, and that of my broken family beginnings. About two weeks ago, while trying to characterise, for myself, my childhood relationship with my mother, two words sprang into my mind, ’emotional neglect’. I then googled the words and quickly found your website. From what I read on your site that night, you were hitting some nails on the head for me, and when I took your test, answering as honestly as I could, I scored 18. I couldn’t believe it. For the first time, I was reading words that reflected my personality in a quite stunning way, and I felt elated and upset at the same time. Then I told myself that half the population might score high with those questions and shouldn’t read too much into them, but they did seem to speak to me directly, a thing never done before in my experience and I became intrigued and hopeful.
I don’t know if any of the chapters in your book cover CEN by mothers who suffered serious childhood sexual abuse, like my own, because only in the past few months, have I come to realise, that my emotional relationship with her was very distant and not at all close. For the first 5/6 years of my life my mother and I lived alone, my father having left within months of my birth, and being replaced by a man who was a bully, and who I went in fear of. Much later in life they both went into therapy, and as a result they adopted, i’m glad to say, an honest self critical position, which meant they opened up about their actions and perceived shortcomings as parents. Perhaps the biggest insight I got into my first five years, was when my stepfather, with my mother by his side, revealed that he was surprised soon after marrying her that my mother didn’t talk to me, play with me or cuddle me, even although she provided everything else. That revelation helps explain other negative childhood experiences for me. I don’t blame her though, she was a victim herself, who would eventually go on to take her own life. She’d be 70 this year if she had lived. Despite her terrible sufferings in childhood she was still a great and good person, and the insights she gained through her personal suffering, made her in my eyes, very wise. Recently I’ve been on a personally painful inward journey that I didn’t seek, but have come to hope that that’s where I can find answers into the very different life I’ve lived, find peace and the love of a woman, the one and only precious thing in this life that could possibly make this life worth living for, and is the one thing I have completely failed at. I cannot sustain long term relationships with women. I really hope the answers to this personal and deep regret is to be found in my dysfunctional relationship with my mother, and not, as I secretly fear, that I’m merely a fraud looking for excuses to explain and excuse my own miserable failures to make it in this life. Thank you for your CEN insights Jonice, they offer hope to me at a time when I need some. James.

Patrick - February 17, 2019 Reply

In hindsight I knew I was traumatized since birth when the doctors had discovered I have a heart defect and pulmonary hypertension. My nervous system was all a frazzle. I’d always get sun burnt on my neck. I have a good amount of awareness. Neither parent “got” me but my mom and I were close but never had the connection because of CEN. My dad was cut off, distant, did the dad role for awhile but clearly I believe he has some form of CEN. On top of my serious and progressive health and being a HSP makes things worse. My whole life I have felt so disconnected. I have a tremendous grief and makes it harder for me to process. I have no friends. I hate the fact the I have a rare innate ability to connect to women who are unfortunately not available emotionally. It happened 23 years ago and even went on a trip with her. The relationship was a rollercoaster ride that lasted 21 months. The other to a young married woman. Ugh ! Talk about awkward and uncomfortable and it was so immediate. She’s so compassionate and caring. I respect marriage so much. I know about the boundaries but my goodness I never expected it. She, again was the first person who seemed to care. Next thing I know we can’t face each other anymore as I believe some feeling had developed. My mom passed away, will be 6 years ago. I get tired talking to therapist after therapist. I can’t do this myself. Jonice website videos must not be working still waiting for video 2. No follow up email. I am doing neurofeedback and tried EMDR which isn’t easy. Drudges stuff up. Just want a friend who I can confide with. Nothing. Starting to open up a little with my older sister. I have read and caught a couple of videos of Jonice can’t say they exactly help. I have felt some abandonment and rejection issues most likely since birth. What available woman would want to be with a guy who doesn’t work and has all these things going on with him. I am 51 and often wonder if I can ever process this mountain to have a close, intimate relationship ? I have spent 10’s of thousands of dollars on anything that would work, since 1994.

    jhshj - June 2, 2019 Reply

    It feels from your comment that you put a lot of responsibility for your emotional wellness onto women: your mother, your romantic partners, your sister, possibly your therapists though I don’t know their genders. As a woman, this is something I’ve encountered a lot in life–men who cling to any passing female-shaped person and seem desperate to be fixed by them, yet don’t treat men in their lives this way. Let’s take a moment to examine this.

    Part of this has to do with your relationship with your mother. Your mother, as your parent, did indeed bear a lot of responsibility for your emotional wellbeing, as did your father. They both failed you there, which is something it’s valid to grieve. But it may be you’re seeking replacements for that type of care in other people, which already is not really ideal, as no one can ever fully replace a parent–but only from women.

    Why this may happen is complex. Some of it has to do with a social script that what we missed out on at home, we can get a second chance at in romantic relationships. You may be searching for women to fulfill your mother’s responsibilities towards you because you only date women, just as some heterosexual women get fixated on getting a man to validate them in a way their father never did–the stereotypical “daddy issues.” But some of it also has to do with gender roles and the idea that it’s more natural for women to do emotional labor and support. Statistically, a woman is much more likely to have a burden of emotional labor if she has a younger brother–specifically that combination. I often hear men talk about how lifesaving the support of their elder sisters is. But who supports the elder sisters?

    It’s good to have a strong and intimate relationship with your sister, don’t get me wrong! But if your parents were emotionally neglectful, that’s something she likely went through too. Do you try to be there for her as well? Do you offer her support back, for all the times she’s been there for you? Can she come to you with her problems? Does she?

    You doubt your desirability to women as a romantic partner. But it sounds like you’re sort of pedestaling women, assuming women want a man who has his life together–as if all women have their lives together? You would only need to be perfect to be with a woman if all women were already perfect…or if you were just projecting the feeling of being unwanted you had with your mother. There are a lot of women out there, each of them unique. You may indeed find a woman you connect with. But projecting the expectation that such a woman will “fix” you burdens that potential relationship. Even a healthy, loving, reciprocal relationship with a woman won’t change whatever problems you had as a child, “make up for” your parents’ neglect, nor would it be fair to expect it to be a one-way street of her repairing you. You express why you think you’d be undesirable to a woman (no job, emotional problems) but not what you think you could offer her. Why? Your parents may have left you feeling you’re uninteresting and have nothing to offer others, but that certainly isn’t true. Everyone has something to offer, just by being themselves. You didn’t even stop to consider that a woman might be looking for a relationship with you to fix HER, though! Which wouldn’t be healthy either, but it just shows how automatic your assumptions are. You didn’t stop to think how it would feel if a woman thought you could fix her emotionally and solve all her problems, or even expected you to do that.

    Your assumption that a woman will give you the support you need is part of what keeps you trapped like this, waiting for someone else to work miracles on you. It’s a way of avoiding responsibility and feeling helpless. What happened to you as a child wasn’t your fault–but neither is it the fault of women who didn’t even know you as a child. Some of it is taking responsibility and showing yourself the love and support you’re waiting for in someone else. Some of it is broadening your social connections and support–no man is an island to be sure, and we can’t really be emotionally healthy without social connection. But I often see men think a girlfriend or wife would solve their problems when they also lack for every other kind of social connection–you yourself mention not having any friends. Building a base of friendship and social support, with men and women alike, can help with the emotional foundation that you take into a romantic relationship later on. That means pushing yourself into new situations, trying to meet people based on hobbies, going to support groups, and not only focusing on women (or worse, women you find attractive) but on anyone who could expand your sense of community, including men. A lot of problems men have are caused by men not being there for each other and refusing to give each other support, and expecting women to do everything for them. Men get very dismissive about this, saying, “Oh, I just can’t open up with men,” or “It’s much easier to talk to women,” but this really comes off as entitlement. They find women easier to talk to because they feel more entitled to listening and support from women, because they don’t see women as equals or as real people with problems of their own that don’t revolve around helping men. A lot of men like this really need a reality check. You find men hard to talk to? Good–now go talk to them! Open up, offer support, share interest in hobbies, talk about your dads, talk about the things women never get about you.

    You also talk about seeming to connect best with women who are emotionally unavailable. This is another sign that you’re trying to reproduce the relationship you had with your mom, so you can “rewrite history.” Perhaps that’s your comfort zone, even. However your mom treated you was “normal,” so it feels right when women treat you that way. Which obviously is going to retraumatize you and repeat dysfunctional patterns again and again–just as with women who find men to take on the roles of their distant or disapproving dads. Emotionally, it comes out of a desire to heal. The feeling that if a woman “like your mom” were to come around and treat you better, it would finally convince you that you were worthy, like getting the belated acceptance you can never get from your mother now. But it will never work that way. Even if you did get that outcome, it wouldn’t fix you. People who get that kind of validation from a partner only want more and more of it, because they can never actually get what they need from that source.

    Avoid people who remind you of your emotionally distant parents. Don’t try to get approval, attention, or anything else from them. Treat others the way you wish to be treated, treat yourself the way you wish to be treated, and find people who respond well to that kind treatment and repay it in kind. Open yourself up to more varied types of social relationships. Sharing hobbies or volunteering is a great way to get out of a lonely rut and meet more people and feel like part of society again. A big thing CEN can do to people is make them unsure of their identity because of how they felt unseen. Simply shouting at the world to see you can be ineffective–you come across as needy and self-centered, and you don’t know if the results you get are accurate. Do the opposite–try to see others as accurately as you can, try to offer others understanding and compassion. It’s good practice for how you will learn to treat yourself, and often when you offer understanding and compassion to others, they return it to you without being asked–though one should never labor under the expectation that they’re obligated to do anything. This does not mean to minimize or forget your own feelings! Don’t get stuck in a false dichotomy of, “my feelings or their feelings.” It’s your feelings AND their feelings. Rather than it being a competition where if their feelings get focus, yours will be ignored, or your feelings getting focus at the cost of theirs, when there’s mutual understanding and you’re both allowed to be full and complex people with valid experiences, everything is so much better. You may have felt that being emotionally supportive for your parents (which they might have demanded of you, inappropriately) meant repressing your own feelings and needs. But as an adult, that is definitely not how it should look. Search for reciprocity in relationships, understanding and compassion that goes in both directions.

      Jonice - June 5, 2019 Reply

      Dear Jhshj, thank you for your thoughtful and comprehensive response to Patrick. Patrick, a note to you. Please keep in mind that these are the writer’s perceptions, and they may or may not apply to you. Jhshj, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and trying to help Patrick, but it’s hard to go this deep with helping someone through website comments. Thanks to you both for sharing!!

Amanda - January 24, 2019 Reply

I suffered multiple traumas in my early childhood which made it difficult to see that CEN has also very much affected my life. It explains my constant feelings of being different, choosing singleness, and general sense of being lost. I’m hoping to be a Mom myself in the next year and I really want to give my child the safety, validation, and nurturing that I lacked. I look forward to learning more.

Nobody - December 12, 2018 Reply

I must be the odd one out yet again; how are these people who suffered CEN finding love and getting married? You lucky bastards…

I’m 40, never married, horribly emotionally abused and neglected by my adoptive mother from practically the night my adoptive father died when I was 11 (nobody even looked at me, hugged me, or acknowledged my existence that night or honestly ever again) until 2010. I’ve pretty much been destroyed by the abuse: I have no family whatsoever, I only have acquaintances (that is, nobody’s going to drop everything to rush to my side to help me if I get sick or otherwise can’t function), I’ve been single for 18 mos (and that was abusive, too), haven’t experienced any affectionate touch in almost a year, and now my cats have started to hate me because I moved into a one room studio and can’t afford to buy them wet food anymore.
Stupid, that last bit, but it still weighs on me, as they’re all I have for emotional support.

I have one goal for the next year: marriage or death. Either I find a partner, safety and love, or I’m out of here. This life has been far too painful and lonesome to warrant forty more years of misery.

Yes, I’ve sought out therapy, and no, it won’t change my mind. At this point in life, those are my only options and let’s be honest: I’m not loveable (unmarried 40yr old female with two cats on disability…. No actually decent, successful guy wants that trainwreck in his life.) or even valuable, so I’m kind of wasting my therapist’s time.
I mean…. I’d need at least two decades of therapy (at one day per week, because that’s all my insurance deems necessary) to even start feeling like I had something to offer, but I’d be 60 by then, and there’s no one to date at that age who isn’t gross. Worse, I’ll have definitely lost whatever looks I had by then; nobody wants a sexual relationship with an ugly old person aside from Richard Ramirez. And he’s dead!

So yeah, great that I can put a name to what happened to me, but that won’t change the fact that my life is worthless.

    Jonice - December 16, 2018 Reply

    Your life is not worthless! You are somebody. When you believe this about yourself, others will change how they treat you. Please keep trying.

Roger - November 14, 2018 Reply

Ugh, encouraging people to “take the quiz” which automatically puts them on a mailing list. How manipulative!

    Jonice - November 15, 2018 Reply

    Hi Roger, there is nothing sinister about the quiz or newsletter. I don’t want people to take the quiz and then be left on their own to grapple with the results. As a member of my newsletter they receive lots of free information to help them address the problem. If they don’t want to be on it they can simply unsubscribe immediately. I’m sorry you feel it’s manipulative. I am a psychologist and I think like a psychologist in wanting to help people.

Marilena - November 9, 2018 Reply

All that I have discovered in the last couple of years, of coming across your book on CEN, has been the most amazing thing that could have ever happened to me. Whilst having discovered that I had been married to a deceitful, narcissistic/sociopath for the past 17 years,(prior not even knowing the meaning of those words) the dark hole I was in, only forced me to start relying on myself and my loving family and friends, to discover and answer so much about myself. What I have achieved in this time makes me so proud of not only who I am becoming, but also loving and accepting of myself for the first time. The journey is difficult, long, but good. And most importantly, a working progress. thank you, lots of Love, Marilena

Steve - October 16, 2018 Reply

After three plus years in counseling with a gifted therapist she introduced me to Running On Empty. I can reduce a myriad of complex personal issues and subsequent relationship challenges into my struggles with addiction, intimacy disorder and childhood emotional neglect. Ultimately I betrayed my partner of 40 years with a prostitute and have struggled since to make amends, regain trust and help her heal. I finally have looked at myself but because of the harm I inflicted and my wife’s emotional needs I find I struggle to identify and express my needs and wants. She appreciates the effort I’ve put into therapy and believes I have grown and changed. However, she has little patience for my attempts to be a strong independent man who is entitled to like what he likes and express those wants and desires. I keep waiting for her to accept that we both need to feel chosen and that we should want to freely express our preferences without judgement. She acknowledges she has blamed and shamed me regularly since my infidelity. I also am fully responsible for the trauma I inflicted on her. I am embracing your book and have listened to it twice on Audible. I also subscribe to your emails and videos. At this point I will continue to do the work and embrace counseling. I have finally forgiven myself but at times struggle with self loathing. When I read your book I felt like you described me perfectly. Ironically no one would ever believe I harbor the fatal flaw.. thanks.

BTW. I just sawRyan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong. Your book immediately made me see terrifying example after example of CEN. It was a really sad film.

Leigh - July 22, 2018 Reply

I would just like to say that living a lifetime mostly without emotions has left me feeling detached from them. But as you pointed out I’ve become very self sufficient in many ways. However I am now realizing that many opportunities for “help” have been missed. It is hard to even ask for help to do the simplest of things which then get left undone.

That then leads, to in my case,a feeling I didn’t need to keep educating myself and could always “figure” things out instead of actually learning and recording them. Hence I let my life turn to being a workaholic while I fallowed others emotionally instead blazing my own trail which I thought was so important in the “working” world. Kind of a mismatch when it comes to independence. Therefore I became in many ways very dependent on others to scratch at MY emotions to try and wake them up. I was also left at times to fake or fallow other’s emotional path as if it were mine. Confusing myself even further I’m sure looking back.

In the end I think this was an important part of loosing my family due to divorce. I’m not taking all the blame but am left wondering how to connect emotionally to my two teenage girls who at one time loved me anyway. However my ex has now exploited me for not “listening” to their feelings and used it to turn them against me. How do I go from that “strong” loveable dad to reconnecting with my girls emotionally as I HEAL myself in your program. At times I now want to cry in front of them and then get called a victim when all I want is some signs of empathy. The hard part is their mother is a narcissistic and shows no empathy at all to my situation. On top of that she is fostering and creating a very horrible sense of money entitlement in my girls that in hindsight is her to a tee.

Any words of direction and encouragement would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

I’m going on to part five of your program for myself but am unclear how to bridge the gap or reconnect with my girls. With an evil adversary and her having physical custody I’m senseing I may just have to wait. But that denies my right and my girls right to have the good and caring relationship we once had. The word HELP comes to mind.

Leigh Summer

    Jonice - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Dear Leigh, I am very sorry you are going through all this! My answer to your question would be far too long to type, and I need to ask you some questions to give you a good answer. Can you call into our next Fuel Up For Life Q&A Call so I can talk with you about this?

    Elizabeth - July 26, 2018 Reply

    Dear Leigh,
    May I suggest that you create a Journal and a Memory Box for each of your daughters. The Journal, will enable you to keep your memories of their childhood, as children often forget. It will be a testament of your thoughts, hopes and dreams for each of your girls and in time it will be a ‘loving record’ for them of how their Dad truly loved them. The Memory Box can hold tokens that remind you of each of them, their likes such as rings, bracelets, jigsaws, or other items that when you see them remind you of them etc. and date the times of Journal and Memory Box entries . . .
    take care, elizabeth.

      Jonice - July 26, 2018 Reply

      What a beautiful idea Elizabeth. Thank you for your helpful idea for Leigh.

    dsiouf - June 2, 2019 Reply

    My parents are divorced, and I often hear people (usually the father) saying things very like this: that their children are being brainwashed and turned against them by their evil harpy of a mother. My own father said very similar things, all of which I resented. I think people often miss the child’s perspective in this, and tend to just view the child as lacking any agency of their own, just a blank slate controlled by the primary caregiving parent.

    I wanted to have a good relationship with my dad and my relatives on his side of the family at first. But what happened was I could feel all the hatred and resentment they harbored towards my mom. I still loved my mom very much. They couldn’t seem to understand that I didn’t want to hear people say nasty things about my mom, or that I could feel the disdain and hatred they harbored for her, or how they thought she was parenting me “wrong.” (No parent is perfect, but I disagree with the reasons they disliked her parenting, too.) There were so many little microaggressions. Little backhanded comments about her. Inviting me to events but not my mom–when every other relative was invited and every other kid can have their mom there. Not being able to be civil with each other. Seeing my dad disrespect my mom. Seeing him not respect her boundaries. I felt very stressed out by the conflict between my parents, which had been going on before the divorce. The conflict went away when he wasn’t there. Without my dad, things were peaceful. Whenever he showed up, there was conflict again. I hated that when I was with my dad or his family, I was expected to “switch loyalties,” to be on his/their side now, as if I’m not going home to my dear mom at the end of the night. Trying to use me as a pawn against someone I live with and profoundly love. Expected to be okay with all the back-talk about my mom or the air of judgment and exclusion, even the not-so-subtle “pity” for me for having her as a mom, when I did not feel any of this should be a problem.

    Kids who are close to their moms do not welcome fathers who hate their moms. (And vice versa, I’d imagine!) When my dad behaved hurtfully towards my mom, it was very upsetting and I felt concerned about her and resented him for hurting someone I loved. None of this was “brainwashing.” My mom would tell me, “No, I want you to have a good relationship with your dad.” But after a certain point, I didn’t want it. He couldn’t behave respectfully towards her, and I took that very personally. I felt unwelcome where she was unwelcome.

    Further, as my relationship with my dad deteriorated, I began to feel that he was behaving selfishly. I often saw my mom make sacrifices for me. She also knew the real, complex, human, flawed version of me, the child who could be difficult at times, she was my parent all the days when it wasn’t fun, as well as the days when it was. My dad just seemed fixated on his fatherhood as an ego boost for himself, or me as an extension of himself or a toy of some kind. Like I existed to be a source of love and validation for him, rather than existing for myself. He resented my mom for “stealing” me away, when it was him who damaged his relationship with me with his immature and angry behavior that frightened me and made me resent him. He thought that if only he had possession of me, I’d somehow make him feel good all the time, by being an adoring, idealized version of his child. But no child is fun all the time. Children can be difficult, stubborn, and act out. Every time he sought out contact with me, it felt selfish. He thought a lot on his “right” to be my father, and if I had any rights it was only those he decided on for me. He certainly did not respect my boundaries, or leave me alone when I told him to go away. He only reinforced that he didn’t much care about my feelings or opinions that way, and that he couldn’t be trusted to listen to my boundaries and limits. He pestered me most two days of the year: Father’s Day and his birthday, the days when he felt most entitled to my attention. I came to hate both those days. My own birthday, he seemed to forget. Never even sent me a card. Our relationship only mattered when it was about him, when he felt robbed of something. I never once felt like I could go to him if I actually had a problem. I never felt like he would care or be sincere in trying to help me. He would surely insist that I could have, and he would have tried to help, but that was not what he communicated to me with his actions.

    If their mother is so evil, why do they prefer her? Likely, she’s good to them, and there’s a side to their relationship you don’t understand. I know plenty of people with actual abusive mothers who prefer their fathers. People don’t prefer an abusive parent, this is no coincidence, and it isn’t “brainwashing.” By assuming you know their relationship with their mother better than you do, you are invalidating their lived experience. They know how their mother is with them in ways you cannot. You aren’t willing to listen to what their relationship with their mother is actually like, you’ve just decided that it’s this way because that would make you look like the good guy (and the victim) and flatter your ego. Children don’t respond well to a parent who insists on a warped view of their own reality instead of being willing to listen to their experiences.

    So here’s what I’d advise. Don’t linger on an idealized version of the past, the “perfect” versions of your daughters who loved you in the way you wanted to be loved. This will only impede a future relationship with the real them. Any child would feel insulted and intimidated by this idealized version of them obscuring the real them in the parent’s mind. Yes, you had pleasant memories, treasure those. But accept that things have changed between you, and they didn’t change randomly or only because of the mother. If they’ve grown colder to you, it likely wasn’t overnight. They probably felt hurt by how the family changed leading up to the divorce. This put them under a lot of stress, and changed their feelings towards you. They may have seen you in an unflattering light with how you treated their mother, and withdrawn from that. If you’ve continued to try to “win them over” from their mother, they would have felt pressured to choose, which they would resent and blame you for. If their lives are peaceful while you’re absent, but chaotic and stressful whenever you reenter them, they may have concluded that you’re a problem. So the first step is to accept that their feelings and experiences are valid, and that their judgment, as teens, may not be perfect and they may not know everything, but they’re aware of a lot more than you give them credit for, and not merely pawns of their mother. Nor is their mother evil–it sounds like they don’t want you to have custody. Attempting to force this issue against their wishes is something they will view as very threatening. From their perspective, you are trying to disrupt their safety and security, steal them away from their homes, and separate them from a parent they love. You should only attempt to get custody with the full support of the child involved.

    So: back off. Be less threatening towards them. Do not give them the impression that you are trying to trample their boundaries or take them from their homes against their will. Respect them when they say no to something. You may not see these behaviors as threatening, you may think, “I’m their dad, I would never hurt them!” but to them, I assure you, such things are indeed threatening. When I talked to my dad as an adult, he was very surprised at how negatively I’d viewed his attempts to intrude into my life, because I felt like he didn’t care one way or the other what my feelings were: or he just projected whatever feelings he wanted me to have onto me, and anything that contradicted that was “my mother’s brainwashing.” This is threatening and invalidating, so don’t do it.

    You need to be civil towards their mother. Not sarcastic, not backhanded, not resentful, not catty. Be a goddamn adult. Treat her respectfully. If she doesn’t treat you respectfully, so be it, but let your daughters make up their own minds about that, in that case. Refuse to sink to her level if she’s misbehaving, because that only makes you look bad. If you both misbehave, to the child, it looks like the mother’s behavior was necessary, since that’s clearly the level you’re willing to sink to. Be good, and if she won’t meet you there, be the bigger person.

    Try to engage in less threatening ways. Make yourself available for contact–would your daughters know how to contact you, if they wanted to? Could they talk to you on Facebook if they wanted? But don’t pressure or hound them. Leave the ball in their court. If they don’t respond right away, don’t keep pressuring them. They’re likely thinking it over. Give them time and space. Since they likely feel hurt by everything that’s happened–loving kids don’t just decide to hate their dad without them feeling deeply hurt and betrayed by him–start out by being willing to understand their feelings. Apologize, and be willing to listen.

    Don’t drag their mom into it, say negative things about her, or pressure them to side against her. Do offer low-pressure ways for you to get to know each other again, and show interest in ways they might be struggling in their own lives. As teenagers, they have problems other than you. If you only show up to whine and bellyache about how you’re owed their love, and don’t even KNOW what it is they’re struggling with, how can they respect you as a parent? Who knows what problems they’re having. They could be struggling in grades, being bullied, have romantic problems of their own, have body image problems, be coming out as gay–you have no idea! What they probably miss most about you was the sense of a parent who actually cared about them and they could trust to prioritize them and help them with their problems. You need to be opened up and listening to be that dad again. And if they aren’t sharing that with you, it’s because you haven’t been listening and they haven’t felt it was safe to. If you didn’t even care about how you yourself were hurting them, why should they trust you with any other problem they may have?

    To put it at its most blunt: the role of children is not to be selfless saviors of their parents. As long as you aren’t willing to understand and help them with the ways they have been hurt, they will not do any of that for you. I can tell from how you write about them that you just view them as victims and hostages of their mother…but already from your description of their behavior that that is not how they view themselves. You need to practice empathy towards them, rather than demanding they show you empathy. You are the parent. You are there to support them, not the other way around. Accept that, and show them that you understand it.

    I do hope you can manage to make peace there. It would have meant the world to me if my dad had had the emotional maturity to put aside his self-pity and entitlement and his resentment of my mother to simply be there for me in the ways I very much needed. I had a difficult life, and I never felt letting him back in would improve it. That’s a sad thing. Don’t leave your kids in a position like that. Don’t make them give up their mother to have a dad. Let them have and value both. Let them get the benefits from both. They will need both of you.

      Jonice - June 5, 2019 Reply

      Dear Dsiouf, thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts with Leigh. Leigh, please take what’s useful to you from Dsiouf’s comments, taking into account that Dsiouf only knows you and your situation through your comment. Thanks to you both for sharing!

      Kim - June 20, 2019 Reply

      dsiouf, I wholeheartedly agree with you! I don’t know about Leigh’s particular situation, but I was that teenage daughter. Except in my case, the poisoning parent was my narcissistic mother. Children do have agency, and I sure did see what my mother was trying to do to get me to hate my father. Now, at the age of 46, I have finally gone no contact with her.
      Both my parents were very damaged people who came from abusive families, so I have deep issues with both of them. However, my mother was custodial parent, and made a lot of sacrifices for me to exist, which she constantly reminded me of as a child. My father was a “ne’er do well” who couldn’t hold a job, and was often homeless.
      Anyway, children are perceptive, and children hate having to hear their parents talk so badly about each other. My father never said a bad thing about my mother (at least, not til I was an adult and brought the subject up myself). My mother, on the other hand, “worried” that he might be influencing me, and was very resentful that my father did not contribute financially. She constantly told me that she didn’t pursue child support because it would hurt me, that she worked a job that she hated so that I could have what I needed, that basically her life sucked because of my existence.
      From an early age she told me that I was an oops pregnancy, and that she didn’t want to have another child, and wasn’t prepared for it. My father was also the reason for all of her unhappiness – his depression (not called that), his alcohol, his inability to financially support the family.
      Sooo, for all you parents out there who are trying to “win” your kids over by bagging on the other parent… you are going to “lose” in the end. And worse than that, so are your kids.
      dsiuf has it right. Get over yourself, and give a crap about what your kids are actually feeling and thinking in their lives, and realize that most likely, your manipulative, poisoning ways are being noticed and NOT APPRECIATED by your kids. Be an adult, never talk crap about your ex in front of your kids (subtly or explicitly), or even in front of other family members who might say something to your kids about it. Trust me, your kids are suffering more than you are. I guarantee it.

        Jonice - June 21, 2019 Reply

        Dear Kim, thank you for your thoughtful answer to dsiouf.

Linda - July 22, 2018 Reply

These writings have been enormously helpful as I learn to deal with my emotions. Only recently in my senior years, have i been able to trust Gid and feel safe so He can help me heal these deep wounds

    Jonice - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Dear Linda, please also work on trusting yourself and paying attention to yourself. That is the road to healing.

Allison - July 22, 2018 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,
FIRST, Thank u for sharing all of this information. I’m the youngest of 7 children and have spent my entire adult life trying to figure out what is “wrong” with me, why am I so “different” from my whole family?”
Years of therapy and no answers, until now. I gave your info to my latest therapist and she is going to read your book so we can work through this together. I only wish it didn’t take until I was in my forties to discover this. On August 23, 2018, it will be 2 years since I have spoken to my parents. We have gone months without speaking before, but never this long. In the past, I have tried to explain what happens when I feel depressed and have anxiety, but it just seems as if I am speaking another language and my words are falling upon deaf ears. I had once told them that if they don’t hear from me , please pick up the phone and check in with me. I don’t want to keep calling when something is bothering me, if they don’t want to hear it, they look so uncomfortable, like they don’t know what to do with the information I’m giving them. My mother IS a narcissist. If you don’t fit “her” mold she believes there is something wrong with you. So, almost 2 years ago, I stopped calling because of something that had happened (that I knew she wouldn’t understand) and I have not heard from them since. I did have my son, who was 11 at the time, call to say, Happy Anniversary ,Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas etc., no response, he had to leave messages. After, Christmas of 2016, my sister had stopped by to drop off presents from other family members. There was no gift from my parents for me and my husband , which I expected. But, this time my mother crossed a line, there was no gift for my son! He is my only son, by the way, the youngest of 24 grandchildren. All 23 got gifts, except for him. 11 years old, the next grandchild is 6 years older, so she was 17 at the time. ALL 23, the majority ADULTS, got presents except for my CHILD. I was speechless. But, not wanting my son to be hurt or even get him involved in this immature, VINDICTIVE behavior, I went out and bought presents for him and said they were from my parents. As much as I wanted to pick up the phone and say why would you do that to a child? I covered for them. I didn’t want my son to feel he did anything to be excluded or feel unloved in any way.
I don’t know what to do anymore , its been too long. I just had a hysterectomy in April and she (my mother) couldn’t even break the silence to see how I was? I want to explain my feelings, but I know I won’t be heard or understood. I don’t think this can be repaired. My son, now 13, has been accepted to a High School of Technology for the gifted and talented. He will start in one year, when he will be going into 9th grade. We live in NY, but the high school is in Arizona. I think leaving here and starting over, far away, will be the best thing for me and MY family. But I still have guilt about leaving! Any thoughts? Is cutting ties completely my best option? Really, the ties have been cut long ago!
Thanks for listening.

    Jonice - July 22, 2018 Reply

    Dear Allison, I encourage you to manage your guilt instead of giving into it. It is misplaced. You have nothing to feel guilty about, and every reason to do whatever it takes to preserve yourself and your son. I hope you will put all your love and energy into yourself and your son and the people who really do care about you. I know it hurts but it will be healthier for you overall. Best wishes in your healing process!

      Sue F - November 8, 2018 Reply

      Such a great answer Dr Jonice. I still struggle with the guilt sometimes and the need for approval from my parents but I am working on it as I know where it comes from. Self care and self compassion and just being with others who love and appreciate you is definitely the way to go.

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