The Sad Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

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Believe it or not, there is a sad connection between Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and narcissism. If you know very much about either, you probably find that difficult to believe.

After all, people who grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect have a strong tendency to view themselves and their own needs as unimportant and secondary to others whereas, in contrast, those with narcissism are known for putting themselves and their own needs first.

How, then, could these two opposite personality styles be related? Actually, in quite a few very important ways.

But before we talk about how these two are linked, let’s first define them both.

Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs as they raise you. This sends you, a child, a subtle message, “Your feelings don’t matter.” Children who receive this message automatically push their feelings down, basically walling them off, so that they will not be troubled by them.

This may allow you to cope in your childhood home, but in adulthood, having your feelings blocked causes all kinds of problems in your life. Having your feelings walled off is basically a recipe for feeling disconnected and unfulfilled in your adult life. It makes emotions puzzling, keeps your relationships lacking, and makes you feel less important, less valuable, and less valid than other people.

Narcissistic Personality

Narcissism exists on a continuum, all the way from having some narcissistic traits all the way to the other end, the more extreme narcissistic personality disorder which is an official clinical diagnosis.

A person with narcissistic traits is likely seen as self-centered and somewhat grandiose. For example, they may tout their own accomplishments often, be willing to step on others to get to the top, and thrive in the limelight.

A person with narcissistic personality disorder takes all of those a few steps further. But some other likely qualities of the personality disorder include a desperate need to be admired, inability to feel empathy for others, arrogance, plus a willingness to exploit others to achieve their own needs for power and control.

5 Sad Connections Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

  1. One of the causes of CEN is being raised by a narcissistic parent. Narcissistic parents are a major source of Childhood Emotional Neglect. Narcissistic parents are unable to see the true nature of their children or respond to them emotionally. They are taken up trying to get their own needs met, and are not capable of giving emotionally to anyone, and that includes their child. So children of narcissistic parents often have their emotional needs ignored or discouraged, the very root cause of CEN.
  2. Most narcissists grew up with an extreme variety of Emotional Neglect. The extreme type of CEN that contributes to narcissism happens when your parents not only ignore your emotions, they actively squelch your feelings and your true self.  Narcissism may be partly determined by genetics, but to become a narcissist, you generally must grow up with a complex mix of being emotionally squelched (CEN) in some ways, and overly indulged or excessively praised in some kind of superficial or inaccurate way. CEN is at the core of every narcissist.
  3. People with pure Childhood Emotional Neglect are drawn to narcissists and vice-versa. When you have CEN, you tend to take up little space. Deep down you feel unimportant and invalid, so you don’t ask for much, and you don’t allow yourself to want or need much. On the other hand, those with narcissism are the opposite. Narcissists put their own feelings and needs first, and feel most comfortable when taking up lots of space. This predisposes people with CEN and narcissists to feel comfortable with each other. They often fall in love with each other, but it seldom works out well.
  4. Many Emotionally Neglected people have a narcissistic sibling. This is because when the parents are emotionally neglectful, the various levels of sensitivity of the children combine with the differing ways the emotional neglect comes across to each child. One may grow up with the struggles of pure CEN and another sibling may end up with narcissism.
  5. The hidden inner cores of narcissistic people and those with Childhood Emotional Neglect are very much the same. Since CEN is a contributing part of the development of narcissism, this is not surprising. The shared inner core of these two very different styles is a shared inner feeling of being empty, alone, and insignificant. This is how adults end up feeling when they grow up with the most deeply personal, biological expression of who they are (their feelings) squelched or ignored.

Yes, There is a Sad Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Narcissism

If you were to meet a CEN person and a narcissistic person on the same day, you would see how truly opposite they are. Yet these two disorders, though so very different, in a strange and paradoxical way, cause and perpetuate each other.

Both narcissism and Childhood Emotional Neglect could be wiped off the planet if all of the parents in the world did one crucial thing: noticed, validated, and responded to their children’s emotional needs.

Then the sad connection between CEN and Narcissism would not matter at all. Because every child would know, deep down, and without a doubt, that he matters.

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


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Jake - August 12, 2022 Reply

My husband of 54 years died and I found evidence of his having a 40 year affair. I had no idea. It started my reading about narcissism which led me to CEN. His mother was bipolar and his father left him to watch her while he worked. Many bizarre incidents happened while he was young. I knew all this but felt he had overcome. I recognize many of the traits of narcissism which I called bad temper and I now realize my son and I were emotionally abused by him but we also had many happy times together. I am struggling to deal with this by it seems my whole life has been a lie. When people tell me what a wonderful man he was and how he loved us, I want to scream. I had a happy childhood which is how I was able to continue in my marriage. I have lots of friends and strong family ties. My husband was not able to take that away and I had freedom to pursue my own interests. I just can’t deal with the 40 year affair. I thought he was a moral person and, of course I thought he loved me.

Steven - February 3, 2022 Reply

I am a 65 year old male victim of narcissistic childhood neglect with a interesting spin (also spent 5-6 years in therapy with 3 different psychologists).
My mother was severely emotionally abused as a child. After trying for years to have a child, it died from rh blood incompatibility. I was the first to live. She doted on me and treated me like an angel until I developed autonomy. Seeing my autonomy as rejection of her, she gave me a message that I could not survive without her, while at the same time telling me I was a failure and needed to be more independent. I became the family scapegoat. This conflicting message was maddening. Then, to make matters worse, I developed a serious illness that I thought would kill me (age 4). I don’t speak to my mother anymore and still feel, when I am alone, that I will die. I have managed to become both a successful engineer and musician but it was not easy. I am also facing my own all too real mortality. In the meantime, my father died and, at the coaching of my narcissistic sister, gave the entire 3 million dollar estate to my her.

Pete - September 18, 2021 Reply

Wow, this fits my family perfectly. My mother has very covert narcisist – like qualities. My brother and I were raised by her with CEN. Our feelings were always subject to her ” approval”. We were not allowed to feel any ” negative” emotions like anger or sadness. Our opinions, if different , were always ” wrong”. My brother acts just like a narcicist and I am the opposite, very empathic. My mother thinks she is the best mother in the world. My brother used to call her the ” evil one” when we were growing up before he really turned into a narcicist. Its sad and shocking to come to this reality. I always knew something was not right with our family, but I could never put a finger on it. It was just this year that I discovered this and I am 47. I feel like I missed out on a lot of my life, not believing a lot of my feelings really mattered. I really fit the description of someone dealing with CEN. I cannot afford much therapy. What is the best way to try to recover if you cannot afford therapy? Thanks for writing this!!

    Jonice - September 21, 2021 Reply

    Dear Pete, you can do a lot of CEN work using my two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. You can start there. I also have some online programs, even some free ones, that may be accessible to you. Check out the Programs Page on this site.

      Pete - October 24, 2021 Reply

      Thank you. I just read “Running On Empty No More” and it was very helpful. I think this info could help my narcicist brother, but because he is a narcicist, he is not very open to ideas that are not his own. I do not know how to approach him with this info. He was definitely emotionally neglected but at the same time overly praised and treated like he was superior to most others. Do you think its a lost cause trying to make him aware? I guess ignorance is bliss for a narcicist! (thats a good rhyme! I dare say myself! 🙂

Peter - August 29, 2021 Reply

Wow so many stories I relate too. I always seem to go into panic mode or struggle to get a laugh to seem normal. In the end I end up screwing it up. As an adult i’m terrible at conversations. It started as a toddler. I still remember that day at 68 years old. I was 2 plus. My mother was holding my younger brother. We were at a department store. I was standing next to my mother looking around. It seemed like a long time at the same spot so I stepped in font of mom and said mom can we get going? She didn’t respond but I remember feeling assurance she heard me because she never spoke to me. Another few minutes went by and I said it louder this time. No response. Then a few more minutes went by and I started to feel upset and pulled on mom’s pant leg and said it louder. No response. Another few minutes went by. This time I was very upset and pulled her pant leg and screamed. This time I looked up and was shocked to realize it was not my mother. So I desperately looked around and saw her on the other side of the room. My immediate thought was maybe I’m not supposed to go with her. I looked into another room but didn’t see any other place to go. So I went over where my mother was and stood probably about 6’ behind her. So it set the stage for my whole life. Stand at a distance and don’t say anything. Of course I have to shove my emotions down my throat. So that is my life pattern. Work alone. Figure out how to hide in a crowd and don’t say anything if you don’t have to! Women are incredibly intimidating for me. They seem to share emotions and have so many friends. Such confidence!!! It is so wonderful to be able to share.

    Jonice - August 29, 2021 Reply

    Dear Peter, thank you for sharing. I encourage you to check the Find A Therapist List on this website and start talking to a trained professional. You deserve to feel better and happier than you do now.

LIggy - October 31, 2020 Reply

I am a 55 y.o. accomplished, successful professional. I am a mother of three wonderful young adults, making their way into this world and I have vowed to myself that I will be their rock and support in whatever they path they travel. I am blessed with a solid, loving marriage of 28 years. According to my mother, it is all because of her. She was the best mother, firm and strict, but that gave me self discipline and of course she paid for everything. She was a homemaker that had a parttime job in a Dry Cleaner because my father (a successful businessman and pillar of the community) didn’t know how to save money. (I am being sarcastic here)–Anyway, I don’t want to go down this path of disparaging my mother and her delusions because what makes me the most incredible saddest is that she was a victim of CEN. Her mania is not unfounded. Her emotional and extensive abuse toward me has a root cause. She was unloved as a child. My strong, offensive, defensive, ill-fated, cunning, deceptive, perjuring, thief of a mother was truly a victim, just what she always professed to be. I am not angry with her for this. I hate her parents. Grandparents that I never really knew because they lived in Italy, but was told to love and I did to please my mother. A gold watch that my grandmother sent to my mom when I was born but she never gave to me. Maybe she really wanted it or herself? I somehow did end up with it but sold it. I hated it. It exuded negative energy. It made my mother sad. I’m sorry. I had too much to drink. I always did. It got me through High School and College and post grad. I now know it is escaping. I start therapy finally on Weds. I confronted my mother about an incident where she treated me like sh!t in front of people at a party at her house 18 months ago. Her response to me was acting like a toddler. Pulling out her hair and beating her chest (where hours of worry and surgery now held a pacemaker and A-fib procedure). She called me a liar. It never happened. This incident changed me. The straw that broke the camel’s back. I am torn between shutting her out and taking care of myself or helping a sad soul that was abused as a baby through no fault of her own. I hate my grandparents. (I am sorry to vent on you all but thank you for this outlet)

Robin - September 16, 2020 Reply

Thank you for the insights you’ve shared here. I’ve just been dumped, after a very intense 6 month relationship, with a man who I’m starting to realize has narcissistic traits (if not fully narcissist, I am not yet sure). I absolutely have CEN and I suspect he does, as well. Until now, I never knew there could be a link between CEN and narcissism.

Both my mother and father were narcissists (one overt, one covert), and as an only child, I learned to not be seen, not have needs or even feelings if I wanted life to be somewhat OK.

My (now ex) boyfriend, from what I’ve learned, grew up in a difficult family. He lost his mother at a young age, and his father, overcome with grief, dumped him with his grandparents. They proceeded to wait on him hand and foot. At some point, he went to Thailand and entered boxing training, where he competed for many years. His father was cold and distant, preferring to throw money at problems instead of connecting emotionally.

My (now ex) boyfriend was my dream come true: a handsome tough guy with a heart of gold… or so I thought. He smothered me in love messages, cuddled me all night, wanted to be with me almost all the time, and made me feel like the centre of his world. This gradually reduced until a couple of weeks ago, at which point he treated me like I was worthless to him (and basically said the same, during an alcoholic binge).

I have been left absolutely broken. I’m not sure I can ever come back from this, as he really was my one ‘big love’. Knowing that CEN has a role to play is helpful, so perhaps it will help me to understand more going forward.

Thanks, Robin

    Joe - October 25, 2020 Reply

    As a man in my 60s, I realize that my C.E.N had a definite contribution to becoming a narcissist. I have been a liar all of my life in order to preserve myself in the eyes of othets by denying, deflecting, devaluing and dismissing. This has caused me to be a poor father, unemotional husband and a true friend to others. My wife of over 20 years has been wonderful who supported me in many ways but I did not value her or show her loving empathy…we’re still married (on paper) but she has lost her love for me because of my narcissism and now I’m in a position of losing her and all that we have built together. To the narcissist who may read this…if you can not change and stop bleeding your narcissism all over the place then practice social distancing and stay away from loving and caring people.

      Alison - October 28, 2020 Reply

      Joe- I don’t think it is necessarily too late. If you can explain to your wife that you are narcissistic, and if she can educate herself on it and see that it comes from your own childhood trauma, maybe some sort of relationship with her can be salvaged.
      Same with your children- admit your mistakes, sincerely apologise and see a therapist if possible- show them you are really committed to change.
      It may well take time for them to believe it and trust you but it is possible and it has to be worth trying, doesn’t it?

      JP - January 27, 2022 Reply

      Your story hits close to home but just because you have NPD does not mean you cannot make choices that are not harmful or abusive to others. Have you heard Of Sam VAKNIN I highly recommend his material. It has changed my life and has helped me be honest with myself and those who can benefit from it. I choose not to bully or abuse others but if I’m honest I would qualify for a clean diagnosis as I always get put in the cluster b not specified. Not all people with NPD are the same and the pop psychology obsession in society with it does much damage to the idea that we are lost causes. It is not true. People without any diagnoses make terrible choices that harm people every day. Your comments mean that you have insight and can change and your relationships have hope of becoming different if you make the choices. Don’t count yourself out. I’m not. Sometimes the ways we are are what we needed to survive horrendous and confusing childhood neglect and NPD I believe is very rooted in trauma of childhood. I could be wrong but I don’t believe so, but maybe that is the narcissism talking. Do check out Sam VAKNIN he had classic NPD and is self healed I believe I did a lot of that already, much of what he says makes so much sense. He is developing a therapy modality that is in its infancy stages but I believe it holds great promise as it’s dynamics are what helped me not operate from ways that were self damaging. NPD can present in many ways. Inside we are still neglected kids and many of the suggested ways of healing are exposure based and borrows much from child psychology. Check it out, not many people in the western cultures like him but I find his many of his insights and work truly validating and helpful. So much love to you in your journey.

    Michelle - March 30, 2021 Reply

    I hope you realize by now you were in love with an illusion. And that you can come back from this. You were live bombed and callously discarded by a first class A$$. It wasn’t you, personally. You were ‘conquered’ and emotionally used and abused. I truly wish the best for your recovery in learning to test people to make sure they are worthy.
    — but not test so far as to push away a worthy one! That balance is what we never learned, but we can learn it. Take care.

Teresa - August 20, 2020 Reply

It was 4 weeks ago today that I woke up and realized my husband was abusive, mentally and emotionally even sexually at times. 2 days after that I found out he has been cheating on me with a 21 yr old over the course of 2 yrs. I was told by a friend frlm another country that he is a narcissist. I researched what a narcissist is and wow he is one to a tea. I have had to do all my own investigation into his lies and that has been hard. He has never paid so much attention or given so much love to our kids (14&15) and I know the game he is playing. I have been very open with my kids about the truth of him cheating (screenshots provided by the girl) and quite a few other lies he told. I have been collecting proof and evidence of his behavior. He was always scared of me as he should be. The first 2 weeks were really hard but the more I learn about him, the lies, understanding narcissism and talking to a lot of people as well as seeking counseling I am becoming stronger. I did a narcissist test as if I was him knowing his personality and the test came back 31/40. The average narcissist is 12-15/40. I feel like I am living in a psycho drama movie. I wish I had learned this personally behavior years ago. There is so much more to this that it would make your head spin.

Anon - August 16, 2020 Reply


I am posting anonymously because every part of my life is ripped apart and devalued by my girlfriend.

She left over two months ago but still calls me to verbally abuse me. It was after the first month of being alone that I began to read everything I could on NPD. This article came as a revelation to me. We worked because we were both damaged. I still love her. She says that she is not coming back but her belongings are still in the house we share together. I feel compassion for what she experienced as a child and what she must go through everyday. I also realise that my own needs matter, boundaries matter, privacy is a right and to be validated as a person is essential. She tells me that she doesn’t love me, hates me, that I’m filth, that she will never come back, that I’m worthless, that nobody will ever want me, that I’m heartless and cruel , that I’m a narcissistic sociopath etc. and yet she insists on remaining in contact and questions my every movement when it suits her. I can’t keep feelings of love, of compassion or nurturing or understanding when I’ve been physically and emotionally abused for over two years. She believes that she has done nothing wrong, has apologised 3 times in 2 years over trivial things. I believe now that CEN has kept me going for this long and is the reason I will continue because I think only her pain matters. My needs are few. Her words have become to have less impact because the same things are said over and over again and I now see them for what they are: a way for her to feel validated. I will continue to validate her because I love her and finally understand her.

    Alison - October 28, 2020 Reply

    Ooh…..sounds like you might be dealing with Borderline rather than Narcissistic PD- although the two can occur together.
    Ok- I get that you love her and won’t walk away and I respect that – but colluding/enabling isn’t love.
    She can get better, but you have lay down boundaries – tell her that you want to talk her and will take her calls but will hang up as soon as she gets abusive- and follow through. I would put money on her continuing to call you.
    Tell her you want her to be happier and get more out of life and that she can achieve that through therapy – DBT is very helpful in BPD. Tell her you believe in her and that she can do it.
    If all this fails, you have to keep contact minimal, and insist she is not abusive, but keep repeating your offer to support her in therapy when she is ready.
    I don’t agree with all the “No Contact” advice on the internet- nobody should tolerate abuse or enable it, but “toxic people” are people and many are traumatised and hurting – nobody can do their healing for them but you can encourage, support and continue to express care.

Claudia - July 9, 2020 Reply

An acquaintance (I was incapable of true friendship) remarked long ago that I never expressed feelings. I responded, in my arrogance, that feelings were for people who could not think. I am an example of the person you described who experienced CEN and over-indulgence mixed with unwarranted praise. This toxic combination led to a series of failures in employment and love until I was in my 40’s. (Fortunately, I was forced to confront my psychological issues when substance abuse drove me into a 12 Step recovery program.)
At the same time, I started psycho-therapy with a woman who remarked “We seldom see people of your type in therapy”. My narcissism led me to believe she was appreciating my special-ness! lol
It’s been a long and winding road for me, and I am ashamed to admit the road is littered with the victims of my untreated CEN and narcissism. Those who have remained in my life are amazed at the change in me, once I acknowledged my “damage” and diligently worked to mature.
I eventually married a person with CEN and together we worked on healing ourselves and each other through conscious awareness and effort. We did this because we fell in love and wanted to be there for the other and for ourselves. We didn’t even have a name for our “issue” at the time.
We sometimes look at each in wonderment, as neither of us is the person the other married, and being present in relationship to another is not the chore it sometimes was in the beginning.
I promise you that recovery and joy are possible, even for those of us with the twin challenges of CEN and narcissistic traits.
You are a life-saver, Jonice.

    Jonice - July 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Claudia, acknowledging the harm done to others is, in my opinion, the singular greatest hurdle to healing for most narcissistic folks. The fact that you have done this and are reaping the rewards is a wonderful example to others. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Jen - July 6, 2020 Reply

Can you recommend a counselor for someone who’s CEN resulted in covert narcissism with abusive behavior

    Jonice - July 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jen, I can only recommend that you check the Find A CEN Therapist List on this site (under the Help tab).

PK - July 5, 2020 Reply

I am 37 years old, and have only this year been able to see my father (who is a pastor), as a covert narcissist. I was the scapegoat child. My father never directly abused me, but his disinterest in me was very obvious from a young age. He is quiet, he plays the victim, he directly denies the cutting comments he made to me, and has never validated my hurt or concerns. He does not self examine, or believe he could ever be at fault. I worked so hard over the years desperately trying to prove that I was/am good enough and loveable enough to want a relationship with. I’ve done a lot of introspective work this year, and it all started when I pulled away from contact with my father for a few months. I am speaking with him tomorrow regarding these issues, and unless he is willing to self examine, I will likely be letting him know that I choose to step away from our relationship because it is unhealthy for me. It has been a long and confusing road, and I am so grateful to have finally been able to call the situation for what it is.


    Jonice - July 5, 2020 Reply

    Dear PK, it takes a lot of strength to set boundaries with your father. I’m so glad you’re planning to put yourself first and protect yourself from harm!

Abused by covert - March 23, 2020 Reply

My ex gf identified herself as an Adult child of an alcoholic.
but she was cruel. I think a covert narcissist. I think its identication with the aggressor ( her dad ) any thoughts?

    Jonice - March 23, 2020 Reply

    Dear abused, you can think of it this way: cruelty begets cruelty between parent and child. A child treated cruelly can grow up to be also cruel. Once you protect yourself from that it’s not necessary to look back and diagnose, right? I encourage you to consider it a lesson learned for yourself; move forward and focus on yourself and your own healing and strength.

maria - March 1, 2020 Reply

I am now realizing that I am in a Narcissistic Abusive Relationship and I’m scared. I don’t know where to start to get out of this.My partner is so dominating, he uses his skills to make me feel helpless…

    Jonice - March 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Maria, please seek help immediately. Check the Find A CEN Therapist List and call one near you. You will need help and support to protect yourself!

    Ars - July 27, 2020 Reply

    Dear Maria, I married one, also have both parents (dad deceased) who are/(were) narcissists. Without telling my mom, siblings, nor spouse about the two books of Dr. Webb’s, I used her skills, from the second book after healing myself from the first, towards all the family narcissists in my life, possibly 5, another sibling, I have single-handedly helped my heart relax after feeling pangs of awful degradation from years of emotional abuse. I’ve also started helping them to better initiate communication after conversations I stuck with/through to use the vertical questionings. Feeling too I’m well on my way to being able to stand up for my own needs, especially as a daughter and a wife, and it’s been life transforming. It might mean my marriage has a way of turning around, since 10+ years of our relationship has been wrought with berating and mischaracterizations, is now me “re-parenting” his views of himself and his needs emotionally which I see so visibly he’s so unfamiliar with acknowledging. I’m ill right now, and recovering, and the worst feeling you could ever give a narcissist is that their reflection in you is damaged and thereby makes them imperfect by being with you. So, divorce came up but this time I called it and said being with someone in health as well as sickness is what I want. If they’re unwilling to adapt to your needs, you’ve already won by sticking up for your needs. Huge steps from my initial way in our first years where I didn’t even feel secure to say I needed the heat up in the winter. So, this time, he apologized and said he’ll try harder! And, for the first time, made me breakfast while I recover! Dr. Webb is an angel from Heaven sent to help each soul one step at a time, as warmly as possible. I’m never going to allow another human being make me feel less than what I actually am. I am unable to see life as less anymore, and you won’t either once you’ve healed yourself as a priority. God bless you and sending positive thoughts!!

Michele - February 24, 2020 Reply

this makes a lot of sense. I have been in on again off again relationship with a narcissist. They told me what their life was white like as a child. Very much full of neglect. One parent household, absentee father. Because I know these things I struggle with letting go. It’s hard to know if they even realized what they’re doing. And on the other hand if they do They have to want to change.. But they would need to recognize it what it is. Or maybe I just have to accept the possibility that they may never want to change even though they recognize who they are.

    Jonice - February 28, 2020 Reply

    Yes, it’s true, Michele. It’s not possible to change someone who’s not motivated, and that applies doubly to someone who is narcissistic.

Sindy - January 1, 2020 Reply

This is overwhelming for me.The realisation that my dad is a narcissist my mum conforms to CEN.
My older sister a narcissist and me CEN.At 45yrs old .I am finally starting to understand myself. Thankyou for sharing your article.

Laura - November 30, 2019 Reply

Hello Jonice,

My story is unfolding, but the clarity of your writing is so healing. I am stunned by the reality that has been staring me in the face.
Our family seems like a textbook case with myself being the black sheep and always bewildered as to why after 3 decades of therapy, I am still odd one out. The family system was flawed, not me. Due to CEN I remember holding my breath in high school in our home, because I didn’t want to take up all of the oxygen for myself. DID can be added to the bucket of garbage I was left to sort out- alone.

    Jonice - December 1, 2019 Reply

    I am so sorry, Laura. I’m glad you’ve realized it was your family that was flawed, not you!

Adam - November 20, 2019 Reply

I’m 38 years old with a wife and 2 kids. I discovered I have CEN about 2 years ago and ever since then I have been in a kind of roller-coaster ride between feeling a lack of confidence/invalid/pure CEN (whatever you want to call it) and a kind of rebellious manipulative sexually charged narcissism. Before I found out of my CEN, I was more leaning towards pure CEN with every once in a while a burst of aggression and passive-aggression.

It seems that my CEN has given me a highly developed “outward emotional intelligence” (i.e., recognizing what others are feeling), while basically destroying my “inward emotional intelligence” (i.e., recognizing what you’re feeling). I’m starting to experiment using this outward emotional intelligence to manipulate others in order to validate or compensate for the CEN. It gives me temporary feelings of high, power and confidence…but it is just a deception.

CEN has basically subdued for many years my natural personality, which is an extroverted, highly sensitive, highly intelligent, goal driven, dominant personality type (ENTJ).

I am starting to figure out that many people in power and leadership roles who border on or have narcissism actually have CEN.

Dealing with CEN is a continuous struggle with ups and downs on a weekly if not daily basis. With moments of joy and realization of your potential, to moments where you wish you were dead.

If you have high energy levels, exercising is absolutely key ! …..Exercising on a regular basis will actually help to correct almost every aspect of your life, from food (you automatically start craving watery food like veggies and fruits) and sleep (deeper and better sleep) to hormones and a calm state of mind (negative energy release).

    Jonice - November 22, 2019 Reply

    Dear Adam, your situation sounds more complicated than CEN. I hope you will be aware of this charged, narcissistic side of you. Using it to manipulate others will not take you anywhere good. You sound very self-aware and that is wonderful. I encourage you to explain everything you are going through to a trained therapist who can help you sort out what is really going on for you.

Anon - October 13, 2019 Reply

Can I establish a distinction between people who become narcissistic and inflict their selfishness on others and those who (through no fault of their own) are forced to grow up with that?

My experience is that people who were affected by the chaos of narcissism have trouble shedding that influence for some period of time until they sort out what is and is not healthy.

I did. I was raised by a “queen” style narcissistic mother. A lot of my siblings got with her program, but I was the worm in the ointment. I was a dispensable child. After a dozen years of therapy I have a pretty good grasp on where I fit in the family system. And, very importantly, I don’t hate my mother. I understand her much better now. Warts and all. I get it.

I was never going to be one of her playmates. She claimed her children were the interesting people she created because everybody else bored her. Those are her own words. Scary.

Of course she groomed us to take on roles. You can’t build a little society of playmates without grooming them to act against their own sense of self. She groomed us daily with a little comment here. A little comment there. Reminding us who had status with her.

I was completely oblivious. I was just a kid being a kid. And she didn’t like me.

As an adult I am a visual, possibility thinker. An introvert who quietly interprets the world around me. I had had a keen sense of right and wrong. Except where she short circuited my natural thinking patterns. And boy did she. Especially about trusting my own instincts. When I left home I was a confused young adult. It took me years of therapy to rebuild those instincts. No doubt I experienced CEN. I personalized the negative messages.

I have a wish to please not judge people with CEN. Please, please, please be patient with them. Be patient with your parent who was raised by a narcissist. Be patient with your friends or even a sibling. Be patient with coworkers you may figure out were hurt in childhood.

Just because you suffer from CEN does not mean you are a narcissist. Of course it can happen that way. But it is not a given, in my humble opinion. The people I have talked to who were raised by narcs do not want to repeat those values and habits.

On the other hand we need to identify what is dangerous to us and protect ourselves. We have always needed that from the dawn of time. We will keep needing that.

But we do have a societal dilemma with no purely perfect answer. Not when the average person lacks skills to see deeper into people’s personalities and lives like professionals can.

We do not want to be victimized. But we also need to be careful not hurt others.

Because of the internet we have access to more information than we know how to handle. Google is our oracle. But Google does not have a wise mind.

Google will return whatever results works for you in any given situation.

I don’t know how we can close this gap. Sadly some people cannot afford therapy. And a good therapist is really helpful if you have been subject to narc abuse.

Narcs create chaos for innocent people. And they often get away with it. That’s why we as a society are so motivated to root them out of our lives.

    Stephen DeMarco - March 1, 2020 Reply

    I can offer a possible answer as to how we can fix it.

    We should give parents-to-be a few brief classes that explains how to raise their children. Answer the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of parenting.

    Intrigate them in into Lamaze classes, so once the baby is pushed out, the mother/caregiver knows how to raise them.

    Let OBGYN’s and Psychologists work together when seeing a patient. Psychologists would be able to determine if a child would need help in the caregiving department.

    We teach our children reading, writing, and arithmetic because we know that they haven’t been taught these things yet. So, why do we expect these same children to grow up knowing how to raise their own children properly?

    This isn’t information that needs to be hidden. It should to be shared to every soon-to-be parent.

    Explain to them how personality disorders manifest, and how to raise their children so that they can avoid developing a PD as best as possible.

    Seems better to cut the problem off at its head, instead of working on treating the symptoms in therapy.

      Jonice - March 1, 2020 Reply

      Could not agree more, Stephen. Thanks for sharing!

lars - June 23, 2019 Reply

I have thought about this too… some reaction to a big trauma but then the “protective shell” remained in adulthood.

I know someone who had a very difficult childhood for reasons that were beyond her responsibility and to some extent the responsibility of her parents either. Nation-wide conflict and a series of events shook the family when she was a small child. She has been emotionally neglected by both her parents, possibly bullied as school, and she has difficulties spending more than a couple of days visiting her family. She told me a few things, but never in much detail. I see this causes pain in her and I have the impression she has put up a massive wall to keep feelings away, initially as a child, but now 45 years later the wall is still there and it seems to have damaged her ability to connect overall. I can see she longs for connection, but somehow cannot let go off the pain she suffered as a child.

I have CEN but I don’t consider it a severe case of CEN. Where I see there are roots in CEN, is my behaviour in relationships. In my youth I either prefer not to have a relationship or was too ‘people pleasing’. It took a few years to find the middle ground and learn to protect myself from being drawn into other people’s turmoil too. Still remain connected, but in a much healthier way.
Then I got to know about CEN and it all made sense: I suddenly saw where all that inner turmoil and self-directed anger was coming from.

I have read the article on how CEN is affecting men and women in a different way. My friend and I seem to be the exception, as she exhibits traits usually found in men and viceversa in my case. Could this be possible?

Also, is it possible that some CEN-related behavioural reactions do overlap with narcissistic behaviour? I ask because sometimes behaviours do seem to have a narcissistic root… the denial, anger, projection, stonewalling etc. So I’m a bit puzzled sometimes. These disorders seem to be often presenting themselves together with a bunch of other issues, such as depression, anxiety, social withdrawal… They all seem to originate from some kind of childhood trauma, but develop into slightly different adult behaviours. This can be confusing. Thanks for shedding some much needed light!

    Jonice - June 23, 2019 Reply

    Narcissistic people seek the limelight and need to be adored, whereas CEN people are uncomfortable in the limelight (mostly) and do not seek to be on a pedestal. These two issues are very different.

      lars - June 25, 2019 Reply

      ah true… “limelight and pedestal avoidance” fits with both of us.
      Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my comment. Much appreciated!

      Rosie - September 11, 2019 Reply

      I feel I have the need for the limelight and the cen traits too. Mainly cen but used drama and music and performance to help me to develop confidence and skills. I was always told by strangers mainly I was good at these things. I feel like a strange mix of low self esteem and grandiose self belief. Also I was praised for being good at performing so this is part of the people pleasing. Does this make any sense? Thank you so much for your helpful books x

        Jonice - September 12, 2019 Reply

        People are complicated indeed. Perhaps you have some aspects of both CEN and narcissism. I suggest you just keep working on your CEN and look for self-love based on things other than musical talent.

      Andrea Wolfson - September 10, 2020 Reply

      Hi Dr. Jonice,

      How do you know if you are dealing with CEN or covert narcissism? There are people who seem to both want attention/affirmation but are also reclusive and hide.

      Also, because CEN and narcissism all result from attachment wounding, should it be possible, with insight, commitment , and therapy, to heal from both?

      Thank you.

        Jonice - September 10, 2020 Reply

        Dear Andrea, the differences are complex. Pure CEN people are not manipulative or looking for aggrandizement. They are likely more comfortable out of the spotlight but may have an inner wish to be seen.

Sad - May 5, 2019 Reply


I have CEN and had 2 relationships that gradually became obvious the other person was a narcissist.
This makes so much sense . I’m sad, but I know I can recover. Thank you.

KBull-1 - November 24, 2018 Reply

This is the first time a relationship between CEN and narcissistic parents being subject to CEN themselves….which was something I suspected relating to my parents….from those depression years and the descriptions of what they had to go thru….apparently, some people went without alot of things….including attention to matters at hand like children….tough to do when you are a adult and have to have the kids work too for the family to survive without starving. Some people simply never recovered from those times(Great Depression Years of the 1930s)….and when one is down and out like those times….some never, ever forget what they went thru as a child….such that, now as an adult, they can buy whatever they want….and some do just that, don’t they? (And, as always….some do in excess, isn’t that also true?)…

    Anon - October 13, 2019 Reply

    My mother was affected by the great depression too. I have a girlfriend whose mother was also affected. And another girlfriend who recently passed away. Her father was hard as nails. A great man. A brave man in WWII.

    Both of our mothers cannot stand to hear children complain about things. Neither one of them was protective mothers. They expected their children to bootstrap themselves through problems.

    I believe children who grew up in the great depression were subject to so much uncertainty and danger that they became like little adults. They had to. A lot of people were homeless. Not just individuals, but whole families.

    Try to imagine how hard it was for parents to travel all the time with children and no home. Living in cars. A mother would need to keep some kind of schedule, like potty stops, meals, etc. If a meal was missed, everybody went hungry. No matter what, you had to keep on going to the next job. That’s not a childhood. That’s not even something an adult could handle year after year.

    So, they had to buck up and not complain. Stuff their emotions down so far they were no longer afraid. That generation became the soldiers in WWII, and they knew how to do without. They were the greatest generation, but not without their own scars.

      Jerry - March 1, 2020 Reply

      you make an interesting point. my father was born in the depression and this is certainly where his narcissism originated. his entire family except his mother exhibited some strange but subtle psychopathology. father was kind and caring, but had an explosive temper when angry and dealt with things thru threats of violence and anger violence (born in the late 19th century). mother had an identity but was kind and caring. oldest son (my uncle) was abused by and hated his father, oldest daughter kind and caring woman but terrified of her father until his dying day, 2nd son nice man but passive aggressive control freak who harmed his family thru his need for control (he knew the right way), my father was very similar but extraordinarily skilled covert, got a kick out of manipulating other people/fooling them with BS stories, 2nd daughter was phony and superficial loving but ‘lights are on but no ones home’ kind of person who married an asshole policeman who looked down his nose at everything and everyone and found some kind of fatal flaw in everyone except himself, 3rd daughter, was the oddest mix of superficial caring and nasty, who also married an asshole policeman who looked down his nose at everything and everyone and also who found some kind of fatal flaw in everyone around him that allowed him to elevate himself above everyone else to feel better about himself. They had strange psychopathology around money matters, money equaled power and in the depression when you had no money you had no power, so they all spent their lives obsessing about it and orchestrating their lives around it. Oldest son was the most normal in every way and I believe family rumours he was not my grandfathers son due to personality traits he had his siblings didn’t have. Likely due to not having any cultural awareness of these issues, let alone acknowledgement or guidance with dealing with these types of problems, they became phony / fake about them or a hardass like you describe. they surrounded themselves with people who they know used them to meet their own personal needs for attention / company / getting basic needs met like food, and while they were polite to their faces, behind their backs they ridiculed and heaped contempt on these same people for their flaws. I asked several of them later in life why they spoke so horribly about these people all the while being so nice to their faces and the explanation I got was very sensible, in a way : because they depended on them to survive. They needed them, and vice versa were needed for what they had. It was obviously a dual fold double resentment on both sides, no one felt they could be honest or open about how they felt about anything because the people you hated helped you meet your basic needs in life. The depth of psychopathology of the so called “greatest generation” (it wasnt, no generation is better or worse than another, they are all unique in their individual ways) was unique for its time and at least in my family, was a product of not having the knowledge or skills or awareness to at any differently and being from a time where their psychopathology was formed by an extraordinary poverty that I cant even begin to imagine. Most of them (there’s only a couple left) remained in denial about their childhoods their entire lives, the way they spoke it was all fun and games. One of the gifts from my father was his use of denial as a life coping strategy, that was the main tool I used to cope with his profound psychopathology for a very long time.

Ella - November 21, 2018 Reply

Which of your books is more geared toward parenting? I have a young child and I am doing my best to raise her in a thoughtful way. Thank you!

AL - November 20, 2018 Reply

How much validations / responses does one narcissistic mom needs from their child in order to come out or be healed from it? Or is it ever possible to expect real emotional connection from a extreme narcissistic parent.

– CEN daughter in recovery

P.D. Reader - October 23, 2018 Reply

I have wondered for years what makes people like this and what the connection is between the two. This makes such wonderful intuitive sense. I love this website (and am learning a lot)! I also have your first book and loved that.

You are performing an important public service. Keep it up!

Bre - October 6, 2018 Reply

So glad to have read this article, and to see narcissism in a new light. This CEN work is good medicine. Thanks

James Lindsay - August 28, 2018 Reply

I’m so grateful for this article.I was diagnosed with ND, and I knew it was wrong, now,after reading your column, it makes sense .My ex fits the self indulgence, I always sacrificed, even riding a bike to work for 45 years..thank you….feeling relieved of much confusion. Jim.

    Jonice - August 28, 2018 Reply

    Dear James, I’m glad to be helpful to you! Take care.

Frank Troy - August 23, 2018 Reply

I’m really grateful for your insights into the ties between CEN and narcissism. I had a narcissistic parent and as a child experienced exactly the family dynamic you describe.

    Jonice - August 23, 2018 Reply

    Dear Frank, that surely makes for a tough childhood. It helps to realize that it’s not your fault. All my best to you.

Alberto Rodriguez - August 23, 2018 Reply


Maybe there narcissism is a response to become strong internally vs. a difficult environment? If you think you are on your own, then you have to take care of yourself. But, eventually, in order to mature, we have to come to that conclusion. Maturing earlier is probably part of the problem.

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