The 3 Most Tragic Childhood Emotional Neglect Symptoms In Adults

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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.


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Taylor - March 22, 2021 Reply

I’m reading your book right now and am struggling with how to reconcile 1) paying attention to and honoring my feelings but 2) disregarding my feelings of not wanting to take care of myself (the only time my feelings seem to have a stronghold). Any advice on discerning when to go with feelings and when to override them? Thank you for your life-changing work!

    Jonice - March 24, 2021 Reply

    Dear Taylor, great question. I encourage you to start consciously managing whatever feelings tell you to NOT care for yourself. Are you sure you’re actually having those feelings? Or are you simply not having feelings that tell you the opposite? You can consciously cultivate those feelings. It seems it would help to delve more into all these feelings and start managing and dealing with them.

      Taylor - March 25, 2021 Reply

      I hadn’t considered the angle of not having feelings that tell me the opposite, and cultivating them! Thank you!

Lou - November 14, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice, I have revisited your website to reference it to a friend . I have read both your books and they have clearly explained everything I was experiencing my whole life. I feel empowered by your work and am spreading the word . Your book came to me at a time when I felt burnt out after dealing with a difficult relationship with my sister and deciding to go no contact. I felt broken . Thanks to your books I have gone back to University age 46 to study Psychology, you are an inspiration , thank you xx

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lou, your comment makes me very happy. Thanks for sharing!

L/S - November 6, 2020 Reply

I’m crying. Number 3 got me real good. This is me. Now I’m doing this to my children! I need to break the cycle. Thing is, I find it so hard to talk to anyone about my feelings. My mind goes blank. I cannot communicate what I am truly needing to. So because of this I’ve never been to a therapist. I wouldn’t even know what to say. I’m highly introverted as well and feel like a fraud if someone actually wants to get to know me. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before they realise I’m not who they thought. I’m planning on getting your books and doing some more research as I just feel like I couldn’t physically see a therapist and explain anything

Anwin - October 19, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr. Webb,
A friend introduced me to CEN a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve done some preliminary reading and suddenly I’ve been able to frame and understand the parental influences that have shaped my behaviours. I recently had a hynotherapy session that affirmed that I’ve always felt responsible for my parents well being. As a highly sensitive person, I was acutely aware of others’ feelings but was afraid to express my own. I felt that deviating from my parents’ beliefs, feelings, etc. would cause them to stop loving me. I turned to food for comfort; subsequently, I’ve been battling an eating disorder for 35 years and the resulting obesity. Intellectually, I know what I need to do to lose weight and live healthfully. However, something has kept me from implementing the necessary changes. I’ve never felt “worth it.” When I see others engaging in acts of self care I feel both admiration and envy. Having my father tell me that no one would ever love me unless I lost weight and having my mom state that I would never lose weight impacted me more that I realized. My mother treated me like her therapist and friend when I was young. To this day she does not respect my boundaries. My father was emotionally unavailable. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to know about CEN. I’ve ordered your book and am eager to delve into this topic to heal myself.

Lyn - September 20, 2020 Reply

I going to get hold of your books. Listening to you talk about CEN was a lightbulb moment; I read about the signs of neglect and recognised myself. Menopause has seen the adult ‘self’ I’ve constructed crumble and burn to the ground. I’ve suffered anxiety and depression far worse than other episodes in my earlier adulthood. Now I’ve reconnected with my artistic, childhood side, this has brought the process of my upbringing into high relief. I’m SO glad to have finally found a way to help myself, and my relationships.

    Jonice - September 24, 2020 Reply

    That’s wonderful, Lyn! Good work.

Sarah - September 19, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,
Thank you for writing your books and these articles. It has really helped me in ways which I am thankful for.

I grew up with an autistic older sibling so I tried not to bother my parents, in general, by trying to be the perfect kid without ever needing their help. I saw how throwing tantrums and screaming from my older sibling took its toll on my parents. It took me a long time to figure out why I was depressed or why I hated asking for help and etc. It was only after failing 2nd year of medical school (love the course) that I reflected very hard on myself.

I am currently trying CBT, which is quite effective on my repressed emotions but I am still having trouble fixing the unconscious habits I have developed. Do you have any advice on this?

Ruthann - September 12, 2020 Reply

I have tears streaming down my face… I don’t know why … thank you so much for words of understanding for being a light for understanding and growth.

    Jonice - September 12, 2020 Reply

    I’m so glad to be helpful, Ruthann.

    Ted - September 29, 2020 Reply

    Ruthann, thanks for sharing with us. Tears are signs of sadness or joy or loss or combinations of all of the above. Possibly even of hope renewed. Your tears and other feelings are signals for you to make decisions and to show others how to love you. If you don’t know why you’re crying it might be worth exploring with someone safe who can help you develope a language to put to your emotions. Find an empathetic “in tune” person who can help you explore your inner self who also models that kind of openess and vulnerability.

      Arra - October 12, 2020 Reply

      I relate to Ruthann, I had the same reaction I don’t know why. I saw Ted’s response on “If you don’t know why you’re crying it might be worth exploring with someone safe who can help you develope a language to put to your emotions. Find an empathetic “in tune” person who can help you explore your inner self who also models that kind of openess and vulnerability.” – but what happens if there is no one around that fits that description… is there anything that can be done alone..?

        Jonice - October 12, 2020 Reply

        Dear Arra, that’s when a therapist is needed. Check the Find A CEN Therapist List on this site.

Will - September 8, 2020 Reply

Wow… This explains so much.
Thank you.
Growing up “invisible”… I learned not to bother desiring anything.

    Jonice - September 9, 2020 Reply

    But you do desire things, Will. And you need things and you feel things. Now is the time to start learning what those things are!

Jeff - September 7, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,

I recently discovered, at age 41, how CEN completely dictated my entire life. I’m cold, aloof, and have never had any relationships. I feel empty and a burden on people. Despite being very intelligent and a dedicated worker I struggle to hold down employment. Positive things happen by luck and I’m always worried about the negatives. I’m in cognitive behavior therapy trying to work through things. Specifically I’m working on rational behavior therapy.

My question is this: have you witnessed folks who grew up in emotionally neglected households be able to successfully get in touch with their emotions in a healthy way to enjoy life as an adult? My fear is that you only get one shot to develop emotional intelligence and it’s mostly done by modeling therefore adults can’t make too much progress. I just long for the day where I can experience emotions in a normal way. I even wouldn’t mind being “properly sad/angry/etc” as long as it was “normal”.

– Jeff

    Jonice - September 7, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jeff, yes I have! Many, many, many people reclaim their emotions. I encourage you to get busy breaking down the wall that blocks your feelings off. There is lots of free info about this throughout this website. And in the two Running On Empty books you’ll find much more depth and guidance on this process.

Tiffany - September 6, 2020 Reply

I was always told I was “too emotional”. I was raped at the age of 13 and a couple of months later sent to live in a children’s home for 2years. My mom ignored me to the day I was sent away.
To this day no one in my family has ever talked about what happened except my mother telling me at my age of 49 that I got myself into that situation.
I was always ignored and my mother was crazy if any of us kids did anything she thought wrong. She would throw eggs everywhere, butter all over cabinets and scream and yell all the time. I tired to just be out of her way.
4 years ago my new husband & I let my mom and her new husband move onto our property and all was fine until I found out I had kidney cancer. I can not even begin to explain the gas lighting and horrible things my mother would tell me was my fault for getting cancer from I didn’t pray correctly to I brought it on with my own thoughts. I literally wanted to die and felt so alone as I didn’t share with my children or my husband much because it was too unbelievable what my own mom was doing.
I’m recovered with a partial nephrectomy. I just can’t get over the way I was treated even though she moved from my property 4 months ago and surgery was 2 1/2 years ago.
My dad is mostly unavailable but nice, we just don’t discuss anything.
Lately my brother is pulling away from me because his daughter is a licensed therapist and thinks something is wrong with me. We were always so close. I do drink a bottle of wine a day to numb my pain but I keep to myself but feel so alone and always wonder why I don’t fit in with my siblings.
I have 3 adult and wonderful kids that I’m super proud of and close with but I’m always scared that may change so I try to my as “normal“ as possible but it never seems right because it’s not the real me.
My 2 siblings, in the past have even asked my mom if I’m on drugs because I’m so ADHD which they know nothing about but still made me feel so bad about myself.
I have so much healing I need to do for me but more than anything I want to know how to channel my highly sensitive self to be all I can be even if I’m already 52 years old, I have always felt I have so much to give! And I also love animals more than people because they love back unconditionally.

    Ted - September 29, 2020 Reply

    Tiffany thanks so much for trusting us with your story. My heart breaks for your sense of profound loss. I can relate to your story alot. IT sounds like you have Narcissistic abuse syndrome. You are valuable to God and your story and your needs have not escaped His gaze. bless you. Its so hard to understand why we didn’t get what some other people have and take for granted but I promise you this, as you learn to take your unmet needs to God and others who are safe you can heal and find meaning from all the loss.

Liam - August 31, 2020 Reply

Right now I’m angry at parents. Though they gave me possessions, there was total disregard and addressing of feelings.
Parents weren’t malicious, just never asked how I was, never rubbed my shoulder. Now I feel totally numb and disconnected at 39 years old.
I want to pass this bitterness. I want to not be angry at parents. Should I forgive them?
Please help:)

    Jonice - August 31, 2020 Reply

    Dear Liam, it’s important to address your feelings and work through them. Jumping to forgiveness doesn’t work. Pay attention to your feelings and accept your anger and listen to its message without giving it too much power. Read more of the posts on this page as needed!

    Ted - September 29, 2020 Reply

    thanks for trusting us with your anger. I’ve found that as i allow myself to own my anger , admit it to other people and process it to sadness, loss, fear, something more vulnerable then it turns into forgiveness and compassion for those who hurt me or my parents who were damaged themselves and couldn’t impart a blessing. I would venture to say that judgements against others turn into judgements against ourselves. sounds like you are really hurting and have every right to be angry, embrace the anger to work through it. Allowing yourself to emote with compassionate people will unlock your own compassion for those you have anger toward. Sit with the anger as long as you need to and direct it in the right places. Anger can be a dangerous emotion so it needs careful direction. I directed my anger inside for many years and attacked myself and it turned into depression. I learned to identify and name my anger, direct it to the right places, releasing guilt and shame for having “unpresentable” emotions and found that not everyone will be afraid of emotions or have a strong reaction to them. When you are honest about your anger you give everyone in the world you trust your light to permission to come out of hiding and bring our whole self to relationship. thanks for showing us your light.

julie - July 3, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,
I live in the UK and read both your books about 3 years ago. The realisation that I have CEN was life-changing for me. It explains a lifetime of recurring severe depression and many symptoms of CPTSD. I am now in the process of recovery which feels like a long road. However, my most recent breakthrough has been the realisation that both my parents were autistic. It explains so much. They loved me, and they did the best they could, but they were neurologically unable to perceive my emotional needs and respond in the way that I desperately needed. I don’t blame them at all, and having this new understanding helps me with that. It’s a delicate area to talk about in the public arena because of the implication that those on the spectrum can unwittingly cause this kind of damage. I’m wondering if you are aware of any articles, books, or support groups that address this particular combination of factors in CEN? I would like to move forward, without blame, in my understanding and healing of this, but there doesn’t seem to be much out there. (I am aware of FAAAS and OTRS, which I know is also contraversial). Thank you for any signposting you may be able to provide!

    Jonice - July 3, 2020 Reply

    Hi Julie, since autism is a physical/neurological disorder, it is in a different category from CEN. I am not an expert in that area. I’m so sorry that I can’t help except to say that what really matters at this point is healing your own CEN, and the reason your CEN happened does not change the effect it had on you.

      Stacy - February 21, 2021 Reply

      I politely disagree that CEN and autism are in different categories. Autism is a clinical diagnosis, as there isn’t a lab test yet to confirm it, not to mention psychiatrists and psychologists are often the ones trained to test individuals, and treat them. CEN and Autism 1 AKA high functioning or Aspergers, are very similar in emotional presentation and given the fact that both vary greatly from person to person, could easily be mistaken for the other. What are your thoughts on that? Do you not think making clear diagnostic differences would be of benefit?

    Sarah - August 9, 2020 Reply

    Hi Julie,
    I have recently come to the realisation that I am autistic, when I discussed with my mum she recognised herself in the description too, I think you are right and I have thought the same thing, although I think it is more complex for me. I’m convinced I have CEN which I suspect has been caused by my mum’s autism, partly due to her lack of ability to recognise and respond appropropriatly to her children’s emotional needs, but also because she allowed herself to become completely absorbed into her areas of special interest and seemed to frequently become completely overwhelmed by our needs to the point where all she could do was to withdraw from us, emotionally and / or physically. I consider her to come under the ‘well meaning but neglectful’ category as I don’t believe she intended any harm at all. Additionally there are several traits which are common in both CEN and autism, such as difficulties with recognising emotions in self and others, feeling inherently different to other people and suicidal ideation.
    As an autistic person trying to fit into a neurotypical world I developed special interests in body language, psychology and later child development and emotional intelligence. This has helped me mask my autism, which long term can be exhausting and very damaging but the knowledge I gained also helped me be a better parent to my own daughter. Jonices’ books and articles have been very helpful and validating for me, as as a daughter and a parent. Whilst the exercises and recommendations in Jonices’ books are great for neurotypical people, autistic people often struggle with executive function and social communication, these along with other specific issues could make it hard to follow the advice fully if undiagnosed (I struggled with this myself). Discovering my autism has been absolutely crucial to my self identity, self healing and the realisation that I have a specific way of interacting with and perceiving the world which is not wrong but simply different.
    I have not heard of FAAAS or OTRS I until now, I suggest you join some forums and groups which are run by autistic people to get a balanced view as many ‘autism’ site are run by professionals and parents who generally have an overly negative view of autistic people and their abilities / potential.
    I am not aware that as yet there is much of a recognised link beween CEN and autism, but I think it is an area which deserves to be researched.

Rebecca - June 29, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,

Thank you so much for your work and writing, it is helping me to validate myself and my experiences. I was wondering if you have any advice for someone who still lives with a CEN parent and currently cannot relocate due to circumstance. It is hard being in such close proximity at times – there are more triggering incidents and as such a lot of re-activation of old hurts on a daily basis. Any advice would be deeply appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

    Jonice - June 29, 2020 Reply

    Dear Rebecca, you can build your inner boundaries even if you are living with your parents. For help with this, I suggest you consult a CEN therapist from my list.

Jane - May 26, 2020 Reply

Hello Dr. Webb, your book was the first light into my 4 month nightmare after marrying my best guy friend of 10 years. It’s been a year now since I found your book.

My husband’s childhood neglect was physical and emotional abuse specifically when he showed ANY emotions or feelings.

Even on Christmas Day, he was not allowed to express excitement.

He had an Enmeshing mother, we are pretty sure his dad has functioning autism, he lived on a farm in Indiana with parents who were addicted to religion and used religion as a weapon rather than a gift.

If he showed emotions or feelings, he was paddled hard with a wooden paddle and told that emotions and feelings were a sin and he was going to hell.

He was also TOLD what he was feeling and he had to agree or be whipped.

Worse, his parents displayed massive amounts of emotion and feelings in front of him, arguing and going at it to one another ,
thus causing deep confusion.

I can’t find a case like this: where the neglect and abuse occurred as punishment for showing EMOTIONS or FEELINGS of any kind.

He has a child alter, and a few others on and off, but the worst part is when I express hurt or any emotion or feelings of any kind, he “checks out” – disassociates.

emotions and feelings are literally the trigger.

It’s like being married to the man I love but never being able to talk about anything deep or personal like we seemed to do as friends.

And because his father was a narcissistic type who would pick on you as a joke my husband doesn’t realize at times when he says things that are inappropriate and hurtful to me but I can’t respond or react because if I do he dissociates or goes numb or becomes a child or hypo arousal.

He’s finally confided to me to faking feelings during that time and the 2 years we dated. He has feelings, but there’s about a 6 to 48 hour delay before he realizes what he was feeling to the point where he can’t tell if he’s feeling angry or happy. I wrote him a beautiful love notes with each one on each step of our stairs at home for one of our special occasions and I waited for him to come back excited and he ran into his office and shut the door scared frightened didn’t know what to do. This is not normal. And it hurt my feelings deeply. An hour later he’s making me breakfast I’m serving it to me in bed but not even bringing up the notes. This is not normal. And he knows it too he finally knows.

As an Empath, it’s stings.

I also theorize that he has a form of covert fragile narcissism which explains why I didn’t detect it as a danger when we dated. My past abuse was overt narcissism. I had no idea of covert, fragile, vulnerable. Etc

We need help. I won’t make it another year and he was my business partner in my company which is now in the red.

I am psychologically so altered having dated blissfully for 2 years and at 51, waiting 20 years to remarry and 9 of them celibate, taking the plunge after the abuse I’ve endured was the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever done.

He definitely has Alexithymia and he’s displaying more a more narcissistic traits (covert) and this has kept me in a fight flight state for 13 months straight.

He has something neurological wrong Around emotions or feelings when they are expressed.

simple things, not even big talks, he shakes, he become hypo-aroused.

He yawns and becomes bored when I talk (this man loved me for 10 years as friends).

Today he fought so hard to stay present – he’s trying to stay present when he sees I am hurting and I need to talk. The impact of that is his eyes keep rolling into his head as he’s fighting to stay aware and not go inward.

I became so reactive and triggered by all this after several months.

2 no married he comes in and says “hey guess what I’m a narcissist after all!“

I did not know he was working with an alternative therapist who focuses on the subconscious mind.

He comes home from a session and acted like a totally different person.

A child alter and another one that has no emotion and one that sounds like Walter Cronkite.

The moment I heard the word narcissist, I triggered and never got out of fight flight. I realized I have CPTSD from the experiences from this 12 mo marriage.

I have way too many years of abuse around narcissism.

What’s worse is no matter how hard I cried or what physical ailments manifested in my body, he would just act as if he did not notice them.

He even called 911 in the little boy personality misunderstanding a situation which landed me in a psychiatric hospital that was more like a psychiatric hospital and I have never ever ever been in something like that and was forced to take drugs that I did not know what they were. I was forced to stay there for five days.

I interpreted it as him being cruel sick con artist when in actuality I think he cannot see my emotions.

I don’t know how I’m still alive with as much stress this is putting my nervous system under. I don’t have a company anymore and I don’t have any money anymore and he is getting worse and yet better at the same time. He’s finally aware but now he’s finally showing me what he’s been hiding like the eyes rolling on the child personality. I believe with the right help he can learn to feel safe around emotions and feelings but he doesn’t know how or what to do. He has the emotional I don’t know how I’m still alive with as much stress this is putting my nervous system under. I don’t have a company anymore and I don’t have any money anymore and he is getting worse and yet better at the same time. He’s finally aware but now he’s finally showing me what he’s been hiding like the eyes rolling on the child personality. I believe with the right help he can learn to feel safe around emotions and feelings but he doesn’t know how or what to do. He has the emotional Intellect of a bout a nine or 10-year-old. I never saw it before because I wasn’t considered “family“ so in business he was always sharp and on point.

If he is covert fragile and I think that this might be a personality or alter that has the form of narcissism or just the traits, it makes sense why he self terminated without telling me and my company and took it down basically because if he has a low self-esteem And doesn’t feel powerful and has always felt powerless he would naturally want to bring me down even if it’s unconscious.

He has provoked me a lot in the past on purpose but it’s not him it’s a part of him. It’s subtle provoking very very subtle backhanded insult that nobody would see is an insult for example. It triggered me so badly to the point where my boundaries are broken so many times that I begin to express rage and scream and call him names which is so not me. March 10 and she left for two months And would not tell me where he was staying. Very much but a little boy would do if you were scared. Unfortunately he left me in a state where I didn’t know how much money we had and my bank account is now in the negative from the money I brought into the marriage of my own. I felt like a sitting duck in his home.

I can’t live like this another year but I have nowhere to go and I do care deeply for him and I want to get him help but I can’t discern if he has narcissism that is malice or if the narcissism is more just childhood traits that never grew up because children are naturally narcissistic. Please please please please please respond. I feel he needs some sort of brain scan and I have over 1000 audios and also video when he shifts. I have his permission to show whatever necessary to the right doctor. I just don’t know what kind of doctor we need. It must be someone more than a therapist.

He wants help. He has always been someone who is pursued personal development spirituality and being a better person so I know his heart is there but I think he’s been living a false sell his whole life and I’m the one who discovered this shortly after getting married because of my hyper attunement to my environment and other people’s needs as a traumatized empath as a little girl.He wants help. He has always been someone who has pursued personal development spirituality and being a better person so I know his heart is there but I think he’s been living a false self his whole life and I’m the one who discovered this shortly after getting married because of my hyper attunement to my environment and other people’s needs. I had narcissistic parents and abandonment issues and my mother was an alcoholic and a drug attic so I’m sure you can put the dots together on that as far as how I’m coping which is not good. Three years ago I was making $360,000 a year in my own company working from home and today I just don’t ever know what I’m going to wake up to. He is such a beautiful soul and so am I and we’re both highly educated in fact he has a genius IQ. We need help. We need someone to take this seriously. This is more than just being able to read a book and practice the techniques which we’ve done and it was helpful up to a point but this is very serious Reaction to any emotion at all. No one can live like that and if I leave him life will be hard for me and life will be very hard for him he will just go in inward.

I don’t want a therapist to tell me I just need to walk away. I’m so tired of that mentality. He’s never verbally abuse me or physically abuse me. And the saddest part is the psychological abuse and the emotional neglect that I have experienced is unconscious to him because it’s normal to him. He’s literally re-created the relationship he had with his parents except I am the child that he once was and I’m dying a slow soul death. Sorry for the melodramatic comments but I am not exaggerating when I say it’s that serious. I’ve never seen a case like this and I have scoured the Internet obsessively for 12 months.

Please please get in touch with me or email me.

We need the right help. I will need therapy just from what I’ve experienced but right now I need to get him evaluated and find out what all he has and what is all happening to him and get him the right kind of treatment plan..

I need to understand what it’s treatable and what isn’t so that I can stop wishing for things to be different but also hurting him as much as he he’s unintentionally hurting me because I just don’t know what to do or how to act when he disassociates.Are usually become quite emotional and I realize now that this is not good But I cannot pretend I’m not upset about something or heard about some thing for the rest of my life nobody can. And it’s not fair to him either because that’s why he is where he is. No one ever took the time I got close enough to him to help him see and understand what was going on. He always perceived girlfriends as having some sort of problem and that’s why they broke up with him but he never could understand why people would stop being his friend or girlfriends would leave him. They just wouldn’t say anything. One girlfriend he was very volatile and verbally abusive even named each of his personalities as if it was a game. It makes me sick to think that somebody would be that unkind. And she used him financially.

Linda - May 18, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,

Thank you for identifying and acknowledging CEN; I was neglected by my parents as a child & never understood what I was feeling (or not feeling) until I found your website. Now, as a 30 yrs old I finally know what it is: CEN. It was such a liberating moment when I realised that I was not abnormal.
I would like to get some input from you about guilt I feel regarding my parents now. They are aging & unable to speak english (in an English speaking nation) and I feel a lot of guilt that I dont want to “take care” of them. I ensure things are done for them if they need it (medical care, sorting pension, sorting problems with bill’s etc) but I dont “care”, I am just doing my job and responsibility as a daughter (as they did with their job as parents in making sure I was always fed and clothed, but nothing more)
Is what I am feeling normal? Should I care more about my parents and why do I feel guilty that I dont?
I hope to hear your thoughts as I feel you are the most knowledgeable person in this area.
Many thanks

    Jonice - May 18, 2020 Reply

    Dear Linda, you cannot help how you feel! It’s a natural reflection of your true relationship with your parents. You are being a good daughter by taking care of your parents, and I encourage you to try your best to put away your guilt and stop judging yourself for what you don’t feel. I also recommend my second book for you, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationship. I think it will really help you in your situaition.

      Linda - May 19, 2020 Reply

      Dear Dr Jonice,

      Thank you for your thoughts, I will look for your book. Your website is very insightful and accessible, it really has opened my eyes to what I grew up with and understand that IT IS a condition (even if it is intangible)

Michael - May 12, 2020 Reply

Your very article. I feel what you say. I am trying day by day to improve my emotions. Thanks you!

    Jonice - May 15, 2020 Reply

    That’s wonderful, Michael!

DeadChild - April 22, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr Jonice,

I have taken your CEN assessment and aced it by scoring 20/22 (sorry for the sarcasm). Currently, I have started my therapy and looking forward to heal.

Like many others, I have same childhood experiences. My parents never failed to provide physical things like food, clothes, shelter, education and so on. But were not emotionally available. Like I remember a childhood (younger than 10) period where I would stay up past bedtime just to wait for my father to come home, but they would never acknowledge my emotional needs and would get busy in their routine. On other instances, I would left alone to cry in a room for being too cranky and whining child. Gaslighting was the only thing I would end up if I ever complained. Between all these experiences, only thing that mattered to them was whether I was practicing religion according to their needs/definition or whether. These things got worse when I started feeling isolated from my siblings too. Probably, being cranky was the reason.

Above everything, it was their absentness that led sexual abuse which I have never been able to tell them. First it was fear that held me and later it was this feeling of worthlessness that made me kept this to myself.

This made me think if I was an adopted child? As a child I ignored these thought, but in adulthood I did investigate if I am their real. Unfortunately, I’m not an adopted.

Now my question is what will happen after getting treatment? I have read adults with CEN do get heal. But what does healing means? Past is not going to change. I wont get a new life, or a new family. Then what? How does inner anger and pain go away?

Hope what I wrote make any sense!

    Jonice - April 22, 2020 Reply

    Dear DC, I am so sorry to read what you went through as a child. It sounds like you felt very alone, at least emotionally. Your question is a very big one that is not possible to answer here. I just want to assure you that even though you cannot change what happened in the past, you can certainly change how you feel about it and how you view it. I encourage you to keep working through all of this with your therapist. It will be worth it.

Kent - April 11, 2020 Reply

Dear Dr. Jonice,

I have a younger sister 47,
When i ask if she is ok or if i can help with something, she gets very angry and upset at me.
She writes with BIG letters that she REALLY don’t want me to ask her again, she will tell me if she is not ok.

She has had these anger outbreaks all her life and has blamed it on low blood sugar.

When our Mother died 2 years ago, my sister wrote to me and told me, for the first time in her life, that our Mother, had never been a real Mother for her, at the best, a very bad Mom.

We had some bad mail correspondance, but she managed to tell me that, all her life, she felt that she had never been seen or heard by me or my other two sisters.

All my life, when i have asked her “how is it going”, she has always replied “everything is ok”.
But when asking the same to her husband, he always had another story, often not so glorious.

She is aleays VERY “correct” and by the book.

She never gets really drunk and controls it very hard at partyes.

Once we were out drinking, she accidently lost count and drank to much and got drunk.
That day, she and i cryed at the dancefloor and hugged realy much.
She told me she missed seeing me more and was very kind.

She has never been drunk again and is always in control.

She hides that she smokes and so on, always perfect on the outside.

She was always fighting verbaly with my mum when we were children.
And were always sleeping over at friends.

I feel like i have had the best Mum and childhood ever.

Is it possible that she suffers from childhood emotional neglect, when i don’t ?

Best Regards The Brother

    Jonice - April 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Kent, it is very common for siblings to be parented very, very differently by the same parents. It is possible that your sister has CEN or some other form of psychological issues that you do not. Your sister will definitely trust you more if you believe her experience with your parents are real and offer her understanding and support, even though her experience is so different from yours.

Nea - February 13, 2020 Reply

In what ways would CEN differ from Autism (in women?) I think I’m on the spectrum- but I also know I grew up in an emotionally starved home. Over the last couple of years I’ve really dug deep into increasing my self-awareness and emotional intelligence (because I had zero clue who I was), and this has helped tremendously. Yet, I still have other issues. I do not like to touch others or be touched by others. I’ve always been hypersensitive to touch. Even if my husband rubs my arm or leg, instead of feeling good, sometimes it irritates. I’m wondering, if after learning about emotional intelligence and awareness, if some of these issues persist then it must also be Autism right? I do know I get overwhelmed easily. I’m sensitive to loud noises, crowds and smells.
Seems like CEN and Autism signs/symptoms have a lot of overlap in their relation to social/emotional connection and expression.

    Jonice - February 13, 2020 Reply

    Dear Nea, I suggest you see a CEN-trained therapist from the list and talk this over with them. This is not an easy diagnosis to make and it would be good for you to have help with it.

      Nea - February 15, 2020 Reply

      Thanks for your response- the link to the list for CEN therapists is not working.

        Jonice - February 16, 2020 Reply

        Hi Nea, here is the link to the list:

Lisa - February 10, 2020 Reply

I have these constant and pervasive thoughts that I am a narcissist or a “bad person” and that I’m not like other people and so I almost feel afraid of myself. The partner I have been in for 10 years is extremely neglectful. And I know it sounds cliché but I don’t think he actually understands what he is doing or how it affects me. How can I determine if it’s CEN or narcissism?

    Jonice - February 12, 2020 Reply

    Hi Lisa, that’s a distinction best left to a therapist. Can you get him to go with you? If not, I suggest you go on your own to try to sort this out. I’m sure you are not a bad person. You just need some guidance and support!

Anne W - February 5, 2020 Reply

I’m 43 and finally diving into this. It’s so hard. My mother was a “superstar” on the outside. Amazing career, married for decades, accolades. She was bright and respected. Plus she had 4 kids! Wow! And in truth, she was never cruel or belittling, so the articles about emotional abuse don’t ring true. From the outside, we had a healthy, stable family.

But my mother was emotionally vacant. Absent. Totally disconnected. She bristled at being touched. She’s walk by me and is freeze, hoping for a touch, hug, or kiss that never came.

If I cried, she told me to go to my room until I could pull myself back together. Same thing if I was angry. My mom was always calm as a cucumber. She didn’t yell or raise her voice, but she also didn’t want emotions around her. She took us to appointments, made dinner every night, took us on vacation. But she was never present.

She would “check-out” with books each night. She didn’t know my friends’ names. She didn’t ask me what I felt or thought about anything. The only positive memories I have are the times I was sick. She could handle swooping in during a crisis. She’d actually touch me and rub my head; make me soup and play cards with me.

It’s so sad looking back because I always tried to do big surprises for her or get perfect grades to get her to notice me. I remember once when I was 14 I cried at her, “why don’t you want to spend time with me?!” She calmly responded, “We are spending time together. We’re doing dishes.”

As an adult, it’s made me very unsure of relationships. Very unsure of myself. I feel like a chameleon, wanting to transform to fit into the groups around me because I have no true sense of self. I struggle to keep friends because I either panick at being left out or become so distant I hurt other people.

Looking back, it breaks my heart to think about how much that little girl hurt. How desperately she wanted love. And how she spent her whole childhood thinking that something was wrong with her. That she wasn’t worthy of affection, time, attention. That her emotions weren’t welcome.

I’m now married. To a fairly emotionally closed-off person. Go figure.

And I’m terrified that as much as I’m trying to be different with my own daughters, I’m bringing some of the same reactions, overwhelm at chaos and crying, and checking-out to our family.

    Jonice - February 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Anne, if you are continuing some of the CEN with your kids, it’s not your fault. It’s never too late to change and become more emotionally connected with yourself and your kids. I recommend starting with both of my books if you haven’t read them yet and subscribe to my free newsletter. There’s lots of good info about healing in them.

Ivonne - January 7, 2020 Reply

Can people with CEN be abusive? Or can CEN be confused with (covert) narcissism in the way it is displayed? I just ran into this because my husband has many characteristic of narcissism but his childhood does not seem to fit it so much. He was diagnosed as bipolar 2 but still I’m not convinced it’s either. I ran into this is this rang a bell, his family does not like to hug, and they are say this outwardly. He also says his mom took care of 15 kids when he was a baby, so he did not get much attention. They also ignore negative feelings. Just curious because this makes more sense to me than NPD or Bipolar.

    Jonice - January 10, 2020 Reply

    Ivonne, people often confuse CEN and narcissism but mental health professionals certainly do not. They are very different! I’m not able to advise you on your husband’s diagnosis without interviewing him but you could see a CEN-trained therapist yourself and get some advice about your concerns and perhaps answers to your question.

Sindy - January 1, 2020 Reply

Wow .I have just discovered there is such a thing as CEN through reading this.i scored 21 out of 22 on the quiz. I could relate to everything except the question..often want to be on own. This is a massive realisation. I have suffered with depression and binge eating since about 10yrs.i’m 45 now and have taken antidepressants for 14 years.the more I find out about myself it’s like bits of a puzzle making the whole picture. I’m really hoping I can get to the bottom of who I really am and who I’m ment to be. Thankyou for sharing this.

    Jonice - January 3, 2020 Reply

    Dear Sindy, please do keep learning more about CEN and read both of my Running On Empty books.There are many more answers for you about what’s wrong in your life and how to move forward.

KJB - December 20, 2019 Reply

I’ve read both of your books and they are so insightful. My ex partner I believe suffered CEN. Basically he has a very loving family but anything remotely negative is immediately just buried with love and an overwhelming affection so he was distracted from the negative and at the age of 40 he’s never learned to deal with situations life brings. Anything slightly negative makes him react in anger and I felt intimidated into saying nothing despite some of his actions having a huge impact on my life. It felt like I was punished for not suppressing my feelings by being cut out of his life bit by bit, was stonewalled or he would just end it every time I wanted to discuss his actions rationally. He ended it a while ago during a therapy session. Nobody in his life has tried to properly help him. They meet often and talk about nothing of substance, while quietly suffering themselves. So I’ve been trying to support him still which he’s been open to. I talked to him about CEN and it seemed some stuff was making sense to him. Then last night I wanted to talk rationally and he had a huge meltdown, screamed at me and called me a thousand different names. It hurts so much as all I’ve tried to do is support. I was scared and physically intimidated, yet he locked himself in the bathroom and called the police saying I wouldn’t leave. It’s so sad as he’s a lovely guy. It hurt when he blamed it all on me and said I made him feel like that. I had to message his mum although I doubt she will help much. I begged her to get him the right help. I love him so much but I need to protect myself and my child (from previous relationship) now. Thankfully the police were going to make a mental health referral to the crisis team. It hurts so much that he said all of those hurtful things and I’m afraid now he just won’t get the proper help. He has a copy of your book but I doubt he’ll read it 🙁 Sorry for the long comment, needed to get it off my chest.

    Jonice - December 29, 2019 Reply

    Dear KJB, I’m so sorry you’re going through all this. I do know that it’s impossible to help someone who does not want help. You gave him the info, and now it’s up to him whether he uses it or not. Please do protect yourself and your child.

Rhonda - December 4, 2019 Reply

Omg this has to be what happened to my brother and myself. But you’d have to throw in narcissism and extreme authoritarianism along with religion shoved down our throats because that was all there too as well as sexual abuse. I’m pretty sure mom was narcissistic and was very good at gaslighting and was also only loyal to herself. One time my mom let my cousin steal a toy of mine right in front of myself and her just because she didn’t want to deal with any of it. She just told me to be quiet and be nice and to just let her take it. That was just one of many times similar things that screamed “you don’t matter” happened. My brother was more sensitive than me and couldn’t handle it as well and decided he’d had enough of trying to navigate life and took his life at 31. I get it, it’s emotional torture to go through life this way. I do feel like I’m always being fake, hiding behind humor or whatever to get by or feeling things that don’t make sense for the situation, it’s confusing and depressing. And then let’s not even talk about the anxiety it causes and the numerous treatments and meds over the years for that! Now mom is sick and I’m the only child alive to help. Can’t even look her in the eye more than 2 seconds because I just feel so worthless and ashamed when around her and feel so judged and I’m hating every second of having to deal with any of this. I would never consider talking to her about it though because of course she has never done anything wrong, just ask her. Plus not much sense in talking to someone when you feel gross looking them in the eye. It’s a shitty way to go through life but I just tell myself that I must have done something bad in another life I guess to deserve it. It sucks because in all other aspects life is perfect but it’s so marred by this I can’t even enjoy it. Sheesh.

    Jonice - December 7, 2019 Reply

    Dear Rhonda, you need some boundaries to protect you from your mother! Please let a therapist help you with this.

Samhitha Srinidhi - November 30, 2019 Reply

It was brought to my attention by my partner that some link missing and that it has something to do with my past. He is a highly intuitive person.
As with any problem I decided to take the design approach, research first then build a game plan.
Now I didnt know what I was looking for, I just stumbled onto this and things havent made this much sense in a long time.
To put into practice what the article says, I feel relief and clarity and also anxiety shortly after cause I’m questioning if my feelings are valid.
However I understand now. Baby steps.

    Jonice - December 1, 2019 Reply

    Your feelings are valid! Just keep taking those baby steps and it will pay off.

Patrick - November 16, 2019 Reply

I might be late on this but I have posted on this site before with not much help on feedback then to read your books. I have found that answer was not helpful to say the least. I was born with a serious heart defect and a father that was totally invalidating me. I never could process even through reading a book nor find a practitioner that can help. I am so overwhelmed and can’t afford the high prices. I don’t even know how to find the “right” therapist because I tried quite a few. Nothing has worked and yes I am a HSP. What can you tell me that is something that can legitimately help me ?

    Connie - November 27, 2019 Reply

    Hi. Patrick . I sort of ended up here in a desperate attempt to get myself some relief from my painful emotions.
    I just wanted to reach out to you and suggest something that is helping me…
    I found a therapist who specializes in Trauma. Progress is slow, but it’s progress.
    I spent FIVE years with a previous therapist who just couldn’t figure out why I was “stuck” . He finally admitted I had suffered a trauma and needed special treatment that he could not provide.
    Anyway, I’ve since learned a lot of my current issues arise out of never having been nurtured. I attempted suicide at the age of 4 1/2. That’s not a typo…. I would try several more times till I finally became convinced I will not leave this earth until it’s my turn.
    I’m making the best of things I guess but not really “living”. It truly is a miracle I’ve made it this far. I’m 50. I’ve had zero support, love, acceptance or encouragement. Everything I have was fought for. Nothing coming easy. Life = Pain.
    I’m only trying to find ways to cope with that pain.
    I just saw your post and wanted you to know you are not alone! Best of luck to you my friend.
    Look for therapist near you specializing in trauma.

      Jonice - November 29, 2019 Reply

      Dear Connie, it is so kind and caring of you to reach out to Patrick and offer him wise advice. I suspect that there are probably people who would be there for you if you would be comfortable enough to allow them in. All my best wishes to you for happiness and comfort.

    Gina - December 26, 2019 Reply

    Unsure if you’re still looking but I experienced CEN and developed a personality disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder. Often time people that experience invalidation constantly develop this condition or have traits of this personality disorder.

    There is a very special and AWESOME therapy that was developed for it called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT for short! It directly deals with all of these issues mentioned and requires special therapists, presumably the kind that deals with trauma but they will be DBT certified, so make sure to ask directly for a DBT therapist.

    I also struggled in therapy most of my life with no results. I self-diagnosed myself with BPD at 23 but didn’t receive my official diagnosis until I was 28 and 3 therapists later who did laugh at my concern/suggestion if the disorder, because it is a serious one.

    I’ve been in therapy with a great DBT therapist for a year along with being in a DBT skills group. I highly suggest it to everyone but especially those of us who deal with emotional regulation problems.

    DBT has also now been proven effective for a wide variety of disorders and addictions. It really gave me control back over my life and I want to share that with as many people as possible.

Richard - November 11, 2019 Reply

I grew up with emotionally neglectful parents and was a surrogate husband to my mother whilst my father was off having affairs. I don’t remember much happiness, just a constant bouncing from one emotional drama to the next. I’ve suffered all my life with the consequences of my emotional needs not being met.

It was only 6 months ago I finally had to cut my parents off altogether. I’m now in my mid 40’s and slowly I have started to see how their toxic behaviour impacted on every part of my life. It’s not an easy road to recovery, even having trained as a therapist during the past 6 years! But ultimately it’s taking the action I did to empower myself that’s helped. I am nowhere near being where I want to be, but I know I made a big step forward by ceasing contact. And since then the learning has come thick and fast.

I originally read your book some 4 or 5 years ago. I think I’ll be reading it again now my mind is a bit more attuned to how my past has influenced my life.

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.

      Christopher Renaud - October 17, 2019 Reply

      Dr. Webb,

      My wife is currently going to a therapist, with the focus on CEN. While she does share symptoms of CEN, I have also observed multiple signs of narcissism, and wonder if a CEN treatment plan would identify those traits. I am cautiously optimistic, however it has left me thinking that the real problem is not being addressed. Is it possible the CEN is symptomatic of narcissism?

      Thank you


        Jonice - October 17, 2019 Reply

        Dear Chris, please look for the article about CEN and narcissism on this site. It will answer your questions, I think. In a nutshell, CEN is only one part of narcissism, which is much bigger than CEN and generally requires different kind of treatment.

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.

    Linda - June 16, 2020 Reply

    You have a wonderful sense of humour! You need some inspiration, to think of a person who you could be but not yet are. Somebody with a great sense of humour is very attractive to people, both friends and relationships. take care, spoil yourself like no one did when you were a child.

      Jonice - June 16, 2020 Reply

      Thank you for pointing that out to “Nobody,” Linda. Very good point indeed.

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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