The Highly Sensitive Person In An Emotionally Neglectful Family

HSP ハイリーセンシティブパーソン

The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

In research that has gone on since the late 1990s, psychologists and neuroscientists have found that a fraction of the population is simply “wired” differently than most (Aron, E. & Aron, A., 1997).

In 1997, Elaine Aron, Ph.D. wrote The Highly Sensitive Person. She describes the HSP as more sensitive to sounds, textures, and essentially all outside stimulation than average.

HSPs also think more about decisions and actions, and naturally process more deeply. This is thought to be an adaptive, survival mechanism. It has also been found in animal species, like fruit flies, fish, and almost 100 other species.

According to Aron and her research, some of the signs that you may be an HSP are being easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, and loud noises. You may get rattled when rushed, avoid violent TV shows, and withdraw into bed or a dark room when you get stressed. As children, HSPs also have a rich, complex inner life, and are often seen as shy by adults.

A very important thing to know about highly sensitive people is that they are born this way. In the classic question of nature vs. nurture, scientific evidence shows us that the HSP falls soundly in the Nature camp.

So we know that your parents do not cause you to be highly sensitive by the way they raise you. But it does beg another kind of question:

Is the highly sensitive child affected differently by emotionally neglectful parenting than a non-sensitive child might be?

Based on the thousands of emotionally neglected adults who I have had the privilege to know and/or work with, I would have to answer that question with a resounding yes. In my experience Childhood Emotional Neglect affects HSP children differently than non-HSP.

The Emotionally Neglectful Home

What is the experience of a child growing up in an emotionally neglectful home? It is a feeling of growing up deeply alone, even if surrounded by people. It is a process of having your emotions ignored, or even thwarted. It is what happens when you are not asked often enough:

What’s wrong?

Everything OK?

What do you want?

What do you need?

What do you prefer?

What are you feeling?

Do you need help?

In the emotionally neglectful home, it’s not so much what your parents do to you that’s a problem. It’s just the opposite. The problem comes from what your parents fail to do for you: validate and respond to your emotional needs enough.

This can be very confusing for the child since from the outside (and sometimes even from the inside too), for many emotionally neglected children their family appears perfectly normal in every way.

Children who grow up in an emotionally neglectful home learn some powerful lessons very early and well:

Your feelings are invisible, a burden, or don’t matter.

Your wishes and needs are not important.

Help is not usually an option.

The HSP Child Growing Up In An Emotionally Neglectful Family

As we talked about above, the HSP child is born with some special sensitivities. Deep thinkers, thoughtful and responsive by nature, HSPs are greatly affected and more easily overwhelmed by external stimulation. HSPs also have greater emotional reactions and more empathy for others.

Imagine being a deeply thoughtful, intensely feeling child growing up in a family that is neither. Imagine your intense feelings being ignored or discouraged. Imagine that your thoughtfulness is viewed as a weakness. Imagine if it seems the people around you are operating at a different speed, and living on a different plane than you.

What do you do with your powerful anger, sadness, hurt or confusion? How do you try to fit in?

Many HSP adults have shared with me the words they heard often in their childhood homes, from parents and siblings alike:

“You are overly emotional.”

“Don’t be a baby.”

“Stop over-reacting.”

“You are over-sensitive.”

Some HSPs are actively made a joke of in their families. Some can be chided and derided or identified as “the weak one,” “the slow one,” because of the more thoughtful processing, or “the dreamer” because of the rich and complex inner life.

Most emotionally neglectful families are not only unaware that emotions are important, but they are also deeply uncomfortable with the feelings of their members, typically either passively or actively discouraging the show of any feelings.

What if one particular child feels more deeply than the rest? What will he learn about his feelings in this family? How will he learn how to value, tolerate, understand, and express his feelings?

The HSP child in the emotionally neglectful family learns that she is excessively emotional. And since our emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who we are, that HSP child learns that she is different, damaged, weak and wrong. She may grow up to be ashamed of her deepest self.

Help & Hope For the HSP Who Grew Up Emotionally Neglected

Do not worry, there are plenty of answers for you!

From the many posts on this blog, or by visiting my website (also linked below), you can learn much more about the Emotional Neglect you grew up with, the messages you received, and how to heal. You can also learn about what it means to be an HSP by visiting the website of Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Understanding is a good start. After that, there are clear steps to take to fight those messages and heal your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

It is only by clearing the Emotional Neglect from your life that your HSP qualities will be allowed to shine. Only then will you be able to allow your intense emotional energy to empower you, and your deep processing abilities to guide you.

Only then will you be able to celebrate the unique qualities that make you different, and see that being set apart from birth, and again in your childhood, does not need to keep you set apart for life.

Learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and/or Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty. 


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HSENP valerie - June 8, 2020 Reply

I bought a copy of Elaine Aron’s book years ago, and recognised myself in it but haven’t really done anything about it. Having recently identified what I went through as a child as being CEN, I didn’t even consider a connection until I found this post. I will definitely re-read her book with that in mind. This pandemic has brought a lot of difficult issues to the fore for me, and I can no longer ignore them. My mother is 92, my dad passed 7 years ago and I have had to endure her ‘tongue lashings’ on a twice-weekly basis since then. I realise from what she has told me of her childhood that she was also subject to CEN, but I have yet to work out what to do with this knowledge. I know that there’s not going to be an epiphany from her, or any remorse, acknowledgment or understanding from her so talking to her about it is not an option. She has hidden herself for so long, she is an expert at avoiding any emotional talk. The closest she gets to expressing emotion is the “poor me” pity party she throws every time we speak (either in person or on the phone). My husband and children are very supportive of me, and we have had some conversations about our own emotional development, and we are all trying harder with each other on that front. I dread every interaction with my mother though and don’t know yet how to deal with that, but since CEN fits so perfectly with my experience I will continue to explore this avenue. Strangely (or maybe not), all my hobbies, passions and interests are all, without exception, related to communication! I am beginning to understand why that is.

Julie - May 26, 2020 Reply

Three years ago I read your book, Running on Empty. It was a revelation. It explained so much to me about my consistent struggles for 48 years to function normally in life when I couldn’t identify any particular ‘trauma’ before the age of 16. It explained my vague memory of my childhood. My intense sense of emotional loneliness despite having many good friends as an adult. My guilt over not falling into severe depression over and over again. More recently, I started to study the HSP phenomenon and although I clearly fit every category of this ‘condition’, I don’t know where it stands in the view of most therapists, particularly outside the States (I am from New Zealand and live in the UK). Today I read this article of yours, bringing those two things together – HSP and CEN. I can’t deny how perfectly it describes my experience. I’m currently starting long-term therapy for the first time in my life, having always stopped it before as soon as I felt a bit better. I don’t think my therapist knows about HSP or much about CEN, but she is really good. I feel embarrassed about trying to ‘educate’ her in these matters. After all, she is the therapist. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you so much for bringing these two areas together, and all the work you have done to explain our experience to people like me.

Amy - May 24, 2020 Reply

Thank you for this article, Dr. Webb! I only found out about your work recently so I’m just coming to this article now. I’d already self-identified as an HSP due to Dr. Aron’s work, but CEN was a new one for me.

My parents were both emotionally unavailable when I was a kid, with my mom was more obvious and harsh in that way. But from both I learned early on that my feelings didn’t count, and I grew up thinking my mom especially despised me because I was “too sensitive” (I didn’t get that sense from my dad, because his temperament was closer to mine). Yet when I got older two of my older siblings said our mom never should have become a mother, and the other older sibling said we kids didn’t get enough attention from our parents while growing up. I wasn’t surprised that the one older sister was so critical of my mom, but it was a shock that the other two found fault with our parent(s). But it meant I didn’t feel quite as alone.

However, I think we kids grew up a little more understanding of our parents (or at least excused their parenting behavior more) since they’d had so many of us in a short period of time (the old-fashioned Catholic way), and thus had very little time and money to give to us. They did try their best, at least, to give us the vacations and special-occasion celebrations that they could afford.

As adults, we kids had the “buying power” to pool our money to give our parents big-ticket gifts like a new TV, a weekend away, things like that. It may seem that we were trying to buy the love they couldn’t show us when we were kids, but I do feel we really did have the sense that they had had so little when we were kids, and so were trying to make their fixed-income years easier.

Were we kidding ourselves about the impact of CEN in our lives and making excuses for our parents? Or did our folks actually have just enough compassion that some of it rubbed off on us?

In her defense, my mom did mellow out a lot when she got older, to the point that I could gently tease her and she could laugh back. She approved of my mothering skills by then too, which also helped relieve a lot of tension (she was critical of my parenting when my daughter was a baby; fortunately I lived far enough away then that I rarely had to deal with her critiques).

I have always tried to be emotionally present for my daughter. I have been honest about my upbringing and how it affected my own sense of self-worth and any parenting issues I may have. I am far from perfect and have told her that, but in general we get along very well and I treasure her. She’s turned out to be a lovely person as a young adult. I know I’m giving her the love I never felt as a kid, but at least she’s the better for it.

    Jonice - May 24, 2020 Reply

    Dear Amy, yes, no doubt your daughter is benefiting from your ability to give her what you didn’t get yourself. Thank you for sharing your story of CEN.

KLF - January 23, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,

Great article! I have also just recently finished reading ‘Running on Empty No More’ and I can not tell you how validating a read that was! So thank you.
My journey has felt painfully long and slow. After what I thought was a normal, happy childhood and upbringing, in a happy and loving family, and while I wouldn’t have said I was excelling in life, I had always been a positive, ‘glass half full’ kind of person. But at the age of 36, all of a sudden in what seemed like over night, my whole life totally fell apart, I felt like a spectator that could only watch from the side line as it all blew up in front of me.
I found myself at 36, unmarried with no children (actually it had been over 5 years since I had even been in a long term relationship), diagnosed with Server Chronic Depression, which later became a diagnosis of an extremely rare (like so rare your GP has to Goggle it) condition called Sneddon’s Syndrome. I lost my job that I loved, then my house that I loved, and then quite rapidly all my so called friends that I had always given too much to, now it seemed. I had to move to the Peninsula, which while therapeutic, was also extremely isolating. My family, while never really asking me much, as not to ‘invade my privacy’ apparently, was financially supportive but never emotionally supportive.
I went to see many specialists/therapists and doctors, but never found anyone I clicked with or that seemed helpful to me. Many told me that I seemed quite angry, and that maybe there wasn’t a reason that could pin point as the cause of all my “issues”. One therapist even told me that she could not continue seeing me, and terminated our sessions because she felt that there was nothing more she could do for me, and that she was unable to help me any further (even though I clearly did not feel like I’d found any kind and understanding or answers).
I was left with no words.
Then finally the Universe… and Goggle, through what seemed to be no more than a series of lucky clicks, revealed to me an article about CEN, which in-turn lead me to more articles, and ultimately to your book.
The Penny dropped hard, and multiple Ah-Ha moments ensued! I’d finally found my answer!!
I was, and never had been wrong! I have never felt so validated!! How not one of the many therapists I saw, never once even mentioned CEN to me, when they had clearly identified so many of the signs, I will never understand.
I now know that I am a HSP, the eldest of three children (who’s siblings lives I apparently selfishly ruined with my over-sensitive behaviour), I was raised by loving and extremely well meaning parents who themselves, separately both also suffer from CEN…although unaware.
At a glance we portray a happy, well adjusted, middle class family, but scratch only a little beneath the surface, and it’s easy to see how fractured and seemingly apart we all are.
Being the only HSP with CEN, in a whole family that (apart from me at this point) is blindly suffering multi-generational effects of CEN, has been extremely invalidating and isolating.
Despite having an extremely loud voice, many times I’ve felt invisible, like someone hit mute on my life. Being a HSP in a family that frowns upon ever openly speaking about or sharing any kind of feeling or emotion, whose relationships are physically unable to ever be anything more than surface deep has been lonely. While they remain blissfully unaware, they also don’t ever experience a want, or a need for anything more, or feel that they’re missing out on anything, consequently only ever seeing my want of closer relationships to be overly needy. All of this goes a long way in explaining why I have always felt like I am different, like the black sheep, like I didn’t belong and was from a different planet, or like I had to of been adopted.

Although my healing journey has really only just started, the fact that my long time search for the why and the how has now been answered, I feel like I can finally breath, and like a massive weight has been lifted. I has taken me five years, but now I no longer feel alone, I feel stronger and more validated than I have ever felt in my whole life, and as you say it’s never to late to heal.
Thank you for reading my story, I did not know I was going to say so much when I started typing.. I really only meant to send my eternal gratitude. xx

    Jonice - January 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear K, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through. And I want you to know that having helped you means a lot to me!

Julie - January 11, 2020 Reply

Hello~! I chuckled my way through this. How did you know??? I am so grateful. I just want to add another sentiment we never heard expressed: “I’m proud of you”… as we have learned to become our own parents, the lessons are amazing. Next, we must choose those who resonate similarly so we surround ourselves with uplift and not a codependent survivor’s guilt of rescuing. We can’t save others, we can really only save ourselves. And now, my Alzheimer’s Mom is 94. And, guess who her caretaker is!!! How could i be anywhere else? And be like her? Not in a million years. Interesting, no? Forgiveness is a powerful life tool. My love to all. Happy 2020!

cmw - November 12, 2019 Reply

My wife was an emotionally neglected child with all the signs and symptoms. However, her sister, 2 years older, seems to be the opposite. Is this common or does this make any sense?

    Jonice - November 13, 2019 Reply

    It is not uncommon. Parents can have an easier time meeting the emotional needs of the child they have the most in common with, that is a certain gender or temperament. Parenting is so very complicated.

Jay - October 9, 2019 Reply

I’m HSP without a doubt. Middle aged male who came from an abusive CEN family. Full gamut of abuse old school blue collar Italians. Oh the stories I could tell about the insanity of my childhood.

I’ve embraced my HSP but have also been forced by an abusive family and culture to fight back. This caused a phase in my life of being aggressive and intolerant of even the slightest slights at times. Sort of a bully Slayer that also found himself becoming a bully in ways. It as time to reel it all back in.

What an intense experience this has been. We all have a dark side and mine could be mean, judgemental and intolerant at times. Have been aware of this for many years and am proud of how I’ve integrated the dark side while using mindfulness to keep it all in check.

I now find myself disliking conflict. Looking for ways to avoid it more so because I’ve discovered what I’m capable of and don’t want to hurt others. Some days I’m phenomenally balanced others not so much but thats ok for a guy whose been through as much as I have.

Everyday is an evaluation and an attempt at showing myself and others sincere, functional empathy. Also remembering no one is perfect including myself.

Life is a balancing act. Some of us must put a little more effort into balancing than others but that’s OK. We are a work in progress remember that.

I’m phenomenally grateful for people like Jonice and websites like this one. This is literally life saving work and I’m very grateful. Also extremely proud of all the CENs/HSPs I see coming here daily sharing their stories finding the strength to help themselves and others. It’s often an honor to be amongst such great company.

Anyone who has endured this insanity knows how difficult it can be to find yourself underneath all the layers of abuse. So I say the things above with the utmost sincerity.

God bless you all. Stay strong, keep sharing your story and all you’ve learned. This truly helps with the evolution/progress of mankind. I realize that sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s true.

    Blandine - February 20, 2024 Reply

    For Jay: Sadly, I can relate. My Italian-American family could so callous. It used to feel like a punch to the gut the way they treated me — like I was a pain in the ass. No one ever asked me what was wrong or if I was ok. Not even as a small child. If I got upset, I’d be told, “Hey, kid, you’re driving me fucking nuts. Give it a rest,” if not much worse. The alienation and hurt was tremendous. I wanted to die by the time I was seven. They blamed me for everything. Like you, I started developing a mean streak. It wasn’t my nature, but they rubbed off on me. I have so much hatred towards them today. It’s so deep within my body, I don’t know how to let it go.

Cheryl - October 7, 2019 Reply

This article definitely describes me. I have always been this way, and several of my family, mother and siblings alike, have not understood. I am reasonably intelligent, artistic, and creative, but have been told so many times over so many decades that I am “too sensitive”, as well as “silly, ridiculous, over-reactive,” and even “stupid”. I have been diagnosed with BPD, and am suffering immense emotional pain as a result. The constant invalidation has left me feeling at times worthless to the point of attempting suicide, as well as engaging in self-harming behaviors. Some of these family members display narcissistic traits. They all refuse to think they have/are doing anything wrong, and that the fault is mine. My saving grace is a loving husband. But at times I find even accepting love and caring from him is hard. I don’t trust anyone.

Kristen - September 2, 2019 Reply

I am a sensitive person, and I was ridiculed as a child for it by my mother, father, and brother. That has made me think my feelings are wrong, and that there is something wrong with me. (I would have emotional neglect regardless due to my family situation.) I get upset over things other people would ignore. How am I supposed to function in the world? What do you do when you are overly sensitive? People easily offend me, I get hurt easily, and then I back off and keep to myself.

    Kristen - September 2, 2019 Reply

    Also, how can I trust and act on my feelings if I know I am too sensitive? I hide my feelings so as not to make a big deal out of everything.

Norah - August 19, 2019 Reply

Asian culture with its emphasis on achievement and status can be extremely toxic to HSPS. The pressure to be Ivy League Model
Minority can adversely affect an artistic empathic HSP. I’m still recovering and learning to be true to myself, to transcend my culture and the toxic pressure to always be ‘perfect” and a crazy rich Asian.

Catherine Rowsome - August 11, 2019 Reply

Hello! I think i am an HSP and grew up in an emotionally neglectful family, and recently found out that both of my parents are probably on the autism spectrum.
My question is, one thing that never resonated for me in your description of CEN adults is the feeling of being emotionally empty. This article suggests that might be different for HSP’s which could explain that. Would you agree? Thanks! Kate

DramaQueen - July 14, 2019 Reply

This is me. I am the “drama queen” in my family because I ask for emotion, for kind words, to be thought of, to be included. My mother often said, “Be happy, you have a roof over your head, food in your belly and warm clothes to wear, so many others don’t.”
Yes, well, an orphanage could provide all those things too, but no more love and affection than I got. I always felt I was too emotional. Now I know, I am normal, I am not a crybaby, drama queen. It still hurts though to be thought of that way.

    Sweetie - December 5, 2019 Reply

    Right, my mother always said, “Tomorrow is another day” and whenever I wanted to talk about emotions she just told me “That’s enough”.. She’s even managed to take my son away using my emotions (normal highly sensitive emotions!) to accuse me of being a bad mother, and he believes that.

Daniel - July 10, 2019 Reply

I was only recently made aware of the idea of being a HSP or that CEN even existed. I know that I am a product of this but I have no idea how to come back from it. Anytime I want to express my feelings to my family I quickly stop myself and think that my emotions and thoughts do not matter. I have always thought that I was better or stronger for putting my emotions in check or burying them deep down so that no one else has to deal with them. At this point I feel ashamed for feeling or having any emotions. It is better to present a happy and fulfilled demeanor so that no one has to deal with my emotions. Very few people have ever asked me how I am feeling or how I am doing. I feel uncomfortable when someone asks me how I am feeling as I do not feel that I deserve to be asked such a question. I have no idea how to express anger and I fear what may happen as I was never allowed to growing up.

Vicky - June 25, 2019 Reply

I bought “The Highly Sensitive Person” in the mid-90s. It is an awesome book that wound up being the starting point of gaining my self-confidence. It taught me how important my personality type is in this world and it allowed me to have my voice heard.
When I was a pre-teen I suddenly lost my nerve in large groups. Prior to that, I would make up dance routines to show my extended family. I organized variety shows with the kids in my neighborhood that we would later perform in front of our parents. And I created carnivals that brought funds that I donated to various charities. Almost overnight, I lost my nerve and my desire to take on these endeavors. I wonder if anyone could give me their feedback with ideas of what could have made this gigantic change in me.

Nikki Denley - March 11, 2019 Reply

I’m not the only one. It’s lovely to know. I have just found out about HSP and in trying to find out more stumbled on this article. I also just realised I grew up with CEN . Mum verbally abused and Dad beat me. My sister teased me unmercifully. I was bullied at school. The list goes on.
Thank you all for sharing your stories. I feel ok with my new found knowledge. I just need to work through it.

Christine - March 5, 2019 Reply

Oh my this is amazing. I still feel at 54 like my mother and sister most definitely think theres something wrong with me and keep me at a distance which causes me much pain. I just want to be loved. Yet to cut them out is to be cruel and heartless just like them. I have decided to be true to myself which is to be loving regardless because thats what I need to be. I am being most living of all to myself. I am trying my best and dont always succeed in keeping thd pain and anger at bay….

Robert Elliott - February 26, 2019 Reply


As a kind of military brat I recently read a paper on how frequent moves in childhood can have a detrimental effect on sensitive children. It always amazed me that when you mention this the pat answer is always “well so-and-so also grew up with that and it didn’t seem to affect them”.

The reference to the paper is likely found in ” As the new study published in the Journal of Social and Personality Psychology documents, frequent moves are tough on kids and disrupt important friendships. These effects are most problematic for kids who are introverted and those whose personalities tend toward anxiety and inflexibility. Specifically, adults who moved frequently as kids have fewer high quality relationships and tend to score lower on well-being and life satisfaction. Fortunately, the results – like all findings in psychology – are more nuanced than that. One major reason that kids are negatively affected by moves is that moves are often precipitated by problems – a divorce, job loss – that are tough on the family. Or the family moves because one parent’s job requires it, but this mean the other parent (usually mom) loses theirs. When parents are stressed and upset (and trust me, moving is always stressful) their parenting suffers and the kids always, always always notice. Moves are also hardest on kids in the midst of other transitions – like puberty and school changes. Middle school seems to be the toughest time to make a transition.”.

Cheers, Ted

Mallory - January 25, 2019 Reply

It was very rare for my mother to ask me how I was doing or “what’s wrong”. But whenever she did and I would explain what was wrong, she would get irritated with me and it would always turn into an argument that would end in me crying alone in my bedroom for hours. I learned to always withhold my true thoughts and feelings from others. When asked if something is wrong, I lie and say “nothing is wrong”. When asked how I am doing I always say “fine”, even when I am dying inside. Because I am used to being around selfish people who dont genuinely care about me. I love my true self but am ashamed of how this narcissistic world treats me. It is hard not to be bitter and feel like everyone on this planet is a self-centered and fake person. Though I struggle through this journey to overcome and heal I refuse to treat ANYONE the way that I have been treated. I wish that on no one. Not even on the most cruel people in the world. Thank you for all of your research and writing on HSP and CEN- I just discovered your work online over a year ago and have been making great strides in my recovery (been struggling for 22 years with the aftermath of CEN). God bless you and your work to help others!

Mercy - December 15, 2018 Reply

Definitely HSP, read Arons material 20 years ago. Gifted chiropractor said I was very sensitive and had to process more than most people as soon as I stepped in the room. CEN zeroed in on the mysterious feelings something was horribly wrong. Emotionally absent primary caregiver and a mean older sibling. Definitely misunderstood by friends and who likes a males’ vulnerable side. Difficult journey. Sobbing helps(need more) but alone for obvious reasons. Just went through a year long suffering and am trying to bring life back into perspective and be kind to myself. Hardest part is wanting genuine closeness and human touch. Massage is ok and I can only get my hair cut so often. Ha. Also interesting is how I feel from each ‘haircutter’ some are like wow even if the haircut is so-so.
Thanks for clarifying invisible problem.

Shelli - November 30, 2018 Reply

I definitely suffered from CEN. My older sister was a beauty queen and I was left to fend for myself. My Dad was aware of my issues, being extremely shy, not having any friends from 7th grade through 12th grade and simply not being a happy child/adolescent. He knew of my love of dogs and bought me 3 St. Bernards which gave me a social outlet and probably saved my life. I confided in them, my thoughts and feelings. My mom focused completely on my sister and hated my dogs. I had to escape to the bathroom to hide my tears whenever Lassie or any animal got injured on TV. I finally got to leave this madness and went 400 miles away to college. My mom insisted I join a sorority, so she could brag. I did so, reluctantly and overall it was a great experience, but having so many friends was overwhelming and uncomfortable. Although I excelled in school, graduating with honors for my BS and being awarded a full fellowship to UC Davis for my MS, this still wasn’t good enough for me. I minimize anything I do. I have been depressed all of my life and suffer from severe panic attacks. I wonder if CEN could be the reason I’ve suffered all my life. I’m excited to learn more!! Thank you!

Pat - October 31, 2018 Reply

When reaching out for emotional help as a teen I was told I was “being dramatic”. I was mocked for giving emotional greeting cards, and after a health scare for my dad I said “I love you guys”. Their response was “ we like you too.” My psychiatrist/therapist has promised not to abandon me and we are working on childhood abuse and emotional incest. While growing up I convinced myself I had a happy childhood.

Alicia - October 18, 2018 Reply

I believe both my husband and I are HSPersons. I have a question about childhood neglect. Can you be both abused and suffer from emotional neglect? I would think so, but your description makes me wonder if they are actually different creatures.

What if one parent is emotionally abusive, and the other is caught up in themselves being abused?

How about if you were emotionally neglected, then you went through being abandoned?

    Jonice - October 18, 2018 Reply

    Dear Alicia, emotional neglect is automatically involved in every incident of abuse, because you cannot harm a child without ignoring his feelings. CEN often happens in tandem with other forms of childhood mistreatments. I separate out CEN on purpose and talk about it specifically because it gets overshadowed and overlooked; yet it has separate effects on the child of its own.

      Alicia - October 18, 2018 Reply

      Thank you, this cleared things up for me.

Faith Keiser - October 15, 2018 Reply

Hi! I’m a HSP with a narcissistic mother. I underwent years of psychotherapy, and while I was doing that, the dating pool dried up, as HSP men get married quickly. I dated for 30 long years as I tried unsuccessfully to find an HSP single man my age. I finally met a widower online (I highly recommend answering hundreds of questions on OKCupid, and using just the sheer fact of a man’s willingness to answer hundreds of hard moral questions as a great way to spot another HSP – not to mention OKCupid’s great computerized matching system.) My husband and I are perfectly compatible. We have had 5 wonderful years and I feel so liberated from my past, finally, at age 56.
Drama entered this happy scene when my narcissistic mother lost her 2nd husband, and was single for the first time at 75 years old. (She only ever had 2 weeks of singlehood before meeitng the 2nd husband.) Mom went online dating, and spent her entire life savings on two successive romance scammers. Romance scammers are perfect for narcissists because they provide a fantasy of “perfect” love that the narcissist can respond to with their characteristic fake intimacy, and this is perfectly fine with a scammer, of course, as he dupes them into giving him money for various projects with the promise of loving them, and paying them back – and the “payback” turns out to be money laundering. My mom almost unwittingly committed a crime by getting “paid back” and then laundering this scammer’s money. My husband and I ended up taking care of my mom and placing her in a nearby retirement community, spending thousands of dollars to situate her there.
Having my weird mom nearby has been hard on my HSP husband. I am used to her ways, but my husband was raised in an excellent family, and he just hates her mental neglect and abuse. It’s been a real strain on our marriage, and also, unfortunately, my husband sees through me a little better when I make narcissistic mistakes in our otherwise loving marriage (I tend to default to narcissism when under stress.) The honeymoon is definitely over and now the real work of marriage begins.
Luckily for me, my sister never did any recovery work and she is actually friends with my mom. She has agreed to take mom at her house, hundreds of miles from me (whew!) in 2019.
I’m trying to start a group for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents in Montgomery County, PA and Bucks County, PA near where I live, since no one can support me through this marital strain like someone who also had NPD parents. But it has been hard to get interest in the group. Please look at my new blog at and email me at adult.children.npd.parents[at]gmail if you can attend. I would love to get a group going!

    Cheryl - October 26, 2018 Reply

    I hope you do not risk hurting your marriage by trying to help “strangers”. Have found that when talk about problems a lot with partner it can cause tension.

Nessa - October 14, 2018 Reply

I was a HSP…Was because all my life it wasn’t safe to be. Abusive family, cruel world, and church that told me my emotions were wrong I was to sensitive….so the only way I could survive was to stuff and control my emotions.
Now Im in therapy, but it is such a struggle to understand what Im feeling and then what do I do with what Im feeling?
Get flooded, cant deal with the emotions, do anything to stop them ….its miserable.

    Tem - September 30, 2019 Reply

    That sounds a lot like what I experience with PTSD. There are therapies specifically for PTSD that help when you feel flooded and overwhelmed. It feels like I have been emotionally hijacked in those moments. Very painful. I am sorry you experience that and it makes sense if you have been through abuse and neglect. I find I have to do things using the 5 senses to calm my body when I am flooded. I don’t try to get rid of the emotions but i try to validate them and do things that help me stay grounded to where I am now. The safety of the present even though my body is feeling things from the past. I like scents, my weighted blanket, soft things, going for a walk somewhere pretty, music, looking st pictures of my sweet kids, etc. Once the flooding passes, I try to get support and talk through whatever I experienced/ re-experienced. That part is still very hard for me but I am working on it.,

peaches - October 11, 2018 Reply

What category do you land yourself in if you were asked those questions (or one or two of them) but with either the expectation you said all was well and perfectly fine (or else risk the rath of the parent for being ungrateful/not realising how good you had it) or that what you said would be used, pawn style to argue with the other parent “look what you’ve done…!”. Even today if someone asks my instant reaction is either of huge irritation (how dare you/back off b*tch!) or with suspicion (what do they want to use this information for). I have since learnt just to my lines and that actually no one cares, they are just trying to break the ice and rather than ignore them, to just play nice.
But I don’t know if this is emotional neglect or some sort of pressure to stay silent or exploitation of my needs for their own benefit and if it is, then what does it get labelled because that’s a lot more of a mouthful to come out with and sounds a lot less slick! 😉

    Jonice - October 12, 2018 Reply

    Dear Peaches, parents who exploit a child’s emotional needs cross the line from Emotional Neglect to emotional abuse. This plays out in the child similarly to your description. I hope you will come to accept that many people really mean what they say, unlike your parents. I encourage you to talk about this with a therapist. It’s never too late to heal.

Linda Mercadante - October 10, 2018 Reply

Very helpful. But what do you do if you are overwhelmed by the political turmoil, human rights abuses and impending climate catastropes, plus my pending and very soon retirement? I’ve been able to stay on an even keel (in spite of many life disasters) by working in a field that allows my HSP to be useful. But now I am getting ready to retire. That was bad enough because I feel I will be invisible once again. But when I add in my despair and desperation about the world situation (not the first time I’ve felt this — I remember being periodically stressed about things like this since a child — but it seems much worse now), I just don’t know how to function. Of course, I am seeing a therapist, but it isn’t enough. Thanks for answering me.

    Jonice - October 10, 2018 Reply

    Dear Linda, you can continue to use your HSP as an advantage (because it is one) even in retirement. There is a process of using and feeling your feelings that will help you to do this. I also think it may be helpful for you to work on boundaries so that you can protect yourself better from the world around you. Take care!

C - October 10, 2018 Reply

Gosh, I can’t remember my mum EVER asking me any of those ‘are you ok?’ questions! I’m happy to say that I ask my daughter those questions very often however 🙂

    Jonice - October 10, 2018 Reply

    Good for you C! It’s important to give yourself credit for that.

Jasmine - October 8, 2018 Reply

Thank you so much Jonice. I came on this site to see if I can find someone to talk to. I wanted to express what I have been going through my whole life, feeling all the things you mentioned. And there was your post. I can’t believe how accurate it is. I am working on myself because I am tired of feeling bad for who I am and feeling guilty because very few people understand. I will look into your book as well . Thank you so much . It’s like a burden lifted off reading about the HSP.

    Jonice - October 10, 2018 Reply

    Dear Jasmine, it’s amazing how helpful it is to finally understand what’s wrong. And now you can value your emotions in a new and different way.

Frank - October 8, 2018 Reply

I took Dr Aron’s HSP test and it revealed exactly what I expected, that I’m HSP. Coming from a CEN home, this is no surprise. I’ve been told since childhood, “You’re too sensitive!” I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the years and have been largely successful. Adult relationships are still a big problem for me. The gift that sadly has kept on giving. It’s taken until I was completely alone in life, no relatives nearby, to finally respect and accept my own thoughts and feelings. I thank you for bringing CEN to light. A former counselor once called it passive abuse. Now it has a real name. Now I know my extreme sensitivity didn’t just happen. Thanks for all you do, Jonice!

    Jonice - October 8, 2018 Reply

    I’m glad you are seeing the problem Frank! Now you are focusing on healing which is great. Keep up the good work!

Corey - October 8, 2018 Reply

Dear Jonice,
Thank you for all your wonderful work, and this article in particular. I’ve loved Dr. Aron’s pioneering work since my HSP mom brought home the first HSP book. Excellent connecting point to cross your two trajectories! I hope it bears much good fruit for your practice and those of us working to heal.
A particularly powerful moment for me in this article were the hypothetical questions your parent asked the CES/HSP child “Are you okay?”, etc. These are exactly the kinds of questions I would’ve loved to hear and felt supported through in my youth. Nicely done.
As a healing practice lately, I have been using my innate HSP emotional power to re-create my childhood in the way I would’ve loved to have it, full of nurturing support, engaged parenting, emotional intelligence, etc. Your questions are giving me ammunition to explore those aspects more deeply. I’m using them to reimagine my childhood and feel what it would be like to receive the love I needed to flourish. As I do, I can feel shifting inside my physical body as if history was being rewritten. My mind is retraining my belief systems to feel empowered rather than deficient. My physical body feels that it was nurtured for my entire life. It’s really remarkable. Your questions are helping promote a profound change in every area of my life. This is a technique I would recommend highly to everyone but especially CEN/HSPs who can harness their powerful imaginative powers to manifest healing by reframing their past.
Keep up the great work! Blessings to you and yours.

    Jonice - October 8, 2018 Reply

    Dear Corey, your story is a great example of something I tell people every day: CEN can be healed. I love how you’re using the questions from the article. Keep up the great work!

    Meghan O - January 29, 2019 Reply

    Dear Corey,
    I too have been cherishing Jonice’s books/work over the years, and I’m now getting into Aron’s, though her work has been in the atmosphere for my whole adult life (I’m 33).

    I too am having success with recreating my childhood anew with my HSP “powers.” It’s amazing how literal these recreations can be and how dramatically they affect the nervous system, no?! (For example the latest discovery is of a recreated teddy bear from my early childhood ($35 on amazon) which works like a charm to soothe certain kinds of anxiety. Just the sensory feeling of the fur and ears… and sometimes the wind-up Brahmans lullaby music box I sewed into it. It has very little to do with my cognitive awareness, but it works better than drugs. Also cheaper!)

    I’ve been joking with my other healer friends with the hashtag #normalizevoodoo because this method is so bizarre on the surface, it’s funny! My wish for everyone is that they can find their own “bear” to untangle whatever is “in” them.

    Along with some other commentators here, I am looking forward to seeing more work in this general CEN/HSP vein.

    Beth - February 28, 2019 Reply

    I found your comment interesting because I have done the same thing recently. I found a very private place and wrote my “new” story – how I imagine my childhood could have been. I wrote in a lot of detail so that it would feel real to me, and I return to it occasionally – to re-read it and to add more details. I felt like this was a way of reparenting myself. Still lots of stuff to deal with, but this, intuitively, felt like a good first step.

Jeremy - October 8, 2018 Reply

Thank you for this article. I consider myself both an HSP and someone from a CEN household growing up. I can relate to being the kid in the family that was made fun of, by both siblings and parents, so my coping skill growing up was to disappear and not show any feelings, which is of course negatively effecting my relationships as an adult.

    Jonice - October 8, 2018 Reply

    Dear Jeremy, I’m sure that coping style is getting in your way now, as an adult. Fortunately, you can change it! I hope you will learn everything you can about CEN and start working through the healing steps.

PhysEdd - October 8, 2018 Reply

I found your article to be profound and spot on.
As the youngest in the family, I was always trying desperately to keep up with my sister and all my cousins. They did what normal kids did with someone who was exceptionally sensitive…tease, ridicule, leave me out of all their games(feeling like Rudolph the Reindeer!), blaming me for mishaps that happened(that they did!), bullying before that was the name for it… I think they felt that they won when I would start to cry. I cried… a lot.
When I first started to analyze memories from when I was a child(12 step ACA program), there was a distinct memory of running into my room, jumping onto the bed, covering my head with my pillow and blanket and screaming at the top of my lungs “I wish I was dead!” over and over again. I never had this memory connected with any context and it was the one memory that I had that was so out of left field for me. I was younger than 10.
I must say that I was never hit, screamed at, overly punished or any of the other things that I have heard from others in meetings. There are times that I feel embarrassed for being at a meeting for the fact I wasn’t physically abused as others have been. My affliction was that my mother was a narcissist.
She gave me everything I asked for… I went to summer camp for more that 5 years, I did things that I wanted to do, I participated in sports and theatre from middle school through high school. But she showed no interest in me, my needs, my fears.
By the time I was in high school, I would go to school early to practice with the swim team then stay after school for whatever play, assembly or presentation was going on and would not get home until after 10pm… almost every night.
This article now puts this all into perspective. The 7 questions that you have at the beginning of the article, all having to do with being interested, showing concern, validating and responding to my emotional wellbeing.
Once you can put a name to a problem, you can now start to resolve that problem. I can now start to resolve this issue in my life.
Thank you for putting this into the world where I could find it and learn from it.
Peace and love to all.

    Jonice - October 8, 2018 Reply

    Dear PhysEdd, thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s so rewarding to see that you have found these answers, and you can now begin to heal your CEN. Well done!

PsychNurseSue - October 8, 2018 Reply

When i finally heard the term CEN…i was relieved because as a psych major (heal thyself) in school i kept wondering what was wrong with me as i tried desperately to self diagnose in order to understand myself better. The problem was, besides having depression, I never fit any DSM criteria and therefore was at a loss as to why my behaviors, failed relationships, thought processes, just didnt feel “normal”. When I read your first book I thought that my mother, the sociopath (realized this in college also) couldnt be in your book…i was wrong and it validated everything I’d gone through as a child. Years later I realized that I was also an HSP which validated me on a different level. Now, I read that you are discussing the experience of CEN on the HSP and I’m overjoyed! Please share the major contributors to your work and any relevant studies in this area…I would like much more information. Thanks for everything, Ill get the second book asap!

    Jonice - October 8, 2018 Reply

    Dear Sue, I’m glad to have offered you answers! That is my goal. I will try to write more about HSP for you. In the meantime, take care.

Luk - October 7, 2018 Reply

Article really described my experience. Thank you for making feel less alone.My mother died tragically when I was a toddler. My siblings persecuted my father for it, even though it was not his fault. When he died they turned on me. I became ‘it’. The designated vessel to place their rage. I do not know how I have survived. Writing about my experience is helping.

    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Dear Luk, I hope you will focus on nurturing yourself now. You are indeed not alone! It’s important to accept that you matter, and treat yourself accordingly.

cen guy - October 7, 2018 Reply

Hi Jonice, thanks for writing these posts. As with most of us we probably don’t let our feelings be heard but know that there are a lot of folks with CEN who have feelings of gratitude for the work you are doing well g and that you make some of it free of charge. I know these posts, including this one, are helping me both understand me and understand my family Dynamics.

    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Dear CEN Guy, I appreciate your kind comment and I’m glad to be helpful to you!

VK Ryther - October 7, 2018 Reply

In the current climate- this guy who’s bothered by the pronouns? Tell him to back off.
I knew I was put on a back burner by my parents because I was the good kid. But, when you grow up w/o being asked about yourself you don’t realize what you want. I’m just nowing learning this applies to me. But now, I spend a lot of time asking myself what I want- I don’t know.
Hearing those questions no one asked me makes me feel like crying, but I don’t. In my life I’m now seeing the bad relationships because it was easy to groom me to fill what that person wanted.
This is really difficult to realize.

    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Dear VK, even though you don’t know the answers, keep asking yourself the questions. Then pay attention to the feelings you have, because they hold the answers. You are on the right track. Keep going down it!

Echoe - October 7, 2018 Reply

I had someone reply to my message about writing ‘she’ and he felt excluded.. I know ‘man’ is common for both women and men (humans) and yet is still not really gender neutral but as he felt excluded. Perhaps use ‘one’ if that is grammatically correct. Though the English language is ever evolving and with the revolution of gender fluidity and binary classifications I think you will find ‘they’ as more apt and current. You can use HSP when referring to those who are.

    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Hi again Echoe, I’m not sure I understand your comment fully, but I do understand that you are bothered by my use of the terms “he” and “she” in the article. Thank you for your comment.

Ashly - October 7, 2018 Reply

What happens to an HSP child when one parent is emotionally attuned and the other is emotionally neglectful? What happens if the neglectful one was the dominant one?

It seems likely to me that this is a common scenario. Would love to hear your thoughts.


    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Great question Ashly! I think having one parent who is emotionally attuned can be enough to prevent Emotional Neglect in the child, especially if the attuned one is the primary caretaker. But because an HSP needs more help processing powerful emotions, he or she would benefit greatly from having both parents attuned.

      bMd - October 16, 2018 Reply

      Hi Dr. Webb,

      What if you were the oldest child of 3 and the only HSP member, where one parent’s enmeshment with me (toxic) and the other emotionally neglectful. Highly dysfunctional addictive family environment.

      Any insight would be truly appreciative. Thank you

Echoe Revivify - October 7, 2018 Reply

I think this is a wonderful article, I only ask that you perhaps change it from ‘she’ to ‘they’ as there are HSPeople. Thank you

    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Dear Echoe, I’m glad you like the article. I don’t use “they” even though it is common practice, just because it’s phonetically incorrect. I go back and forth between he and she, and it’s not meant to exclude either gender.

      Meghan - January 29, 2019 Reply

      I have noticed this in your writing and appreciate the effect. While I value gender neutrality in writing, I find your approach to have a more personal feel that I can relate to more immediately than with use of the word “they.”

Alice - October 7, 2018 Reply

I am an HSP, and growing up with a raging, out of control mother was excruciating, however I took all of the negatives in my life (no father, extreme poverty/no phone, car, refrigerator, tub or shower……snow which came in through a crack in the wall (120-year old tenement house with no foundation), molested while asleep as a child….much more trauma….Married an abuser and got a divorce after 31 years of abuse; then my church voted me out of membership, with my name up on a big screen, followed by the words, “Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God.” I fought the religious system for 18 month to try and bring understanding to those men regarding women and abuse…..I used my live story to win a scholarship and started school at 60, I am now a Sophomore (mental health field) at 72! I have written my memoir (Ghost Child to Triumph) and a poetry book, Sanctuary of the Soul (poems of anguish, healing, hope, comfort and celebration). My passion is to speak on National Television regarding verbal abuse, and I presented my paper on the subject to my State’s Counseling Association. I am a Vietnam Era Veteran Iwould rather be an HSP, and experience all of the emotions…than not…although of course it is difficult to be so sensitive in a world which for the most part…is not..

    Jonice - October 7, 2018 Reply

    Dear Alice, you are an example of fortitude and resilience. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

      alice carleton - October 7, 2018 Reply

      Thank you for your kind words, Jonice!

    Jasmine - October 8, 2018 Reply

    Hi, I read your post and I am so proud of you !!! I don’t even know you so I hope that doesn’t sound weird. You have totally inspired me. This post really touched home for me. I hope sometime I can chat with you. I am 31 and my research of the HSP is fairly new . I am tired of feeling bad for my emotions and for who I am . I to grew up similarly in the ways you did and experienced what you did. Anyway, thank you for your post I hope to chat with you sometime.

      Frank DeRosa - October 15, 2018 Reply

      Hi Jasmine! I’m very flattered and happy that I have inspired you. I’ve always faced an uphill struggle but finally at age 66, I’m free to completely feel my own feelings. Being the HSP in a CEN home was tough. Adult relationships have been very difficult for me. Sadly, that is the gift from my CEN home that has kept on giving. I don’t want to give up and neither should you. At 31, you have plenty of time. You got this knowledge a lot earlier than I did. We can chat whenever you’d like.

    Ann - October 9, 2018 Reply

    You are one awesome person. Your shared story will, like ripples in a pond, move outward and give hope and live on in others. Thank you for this.

    Lorri - November 8, 2018 Reply

    Oh Alice good on you for your wonderful achievements after your unhealthy childhood. We have alot in common and I too chose to keep going forward and I’m too a much healthier me. God bless xo

    Kristen - September 30, 2019 Reply

    I am proud of you too! If you can do all that, I can do anything. Truly you are an example to us all. So sorry you had to go through all that. All the best to you!!

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