The Side of Grief That Nobody Talks About

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Grief. No one likes it and no one wants it.

But sadly, it’s a near-universal experience. It’s difficult to get through your life without having to go through some amount of grief.

Much has been written about how grief works, the most well-known being, of course, the writings of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the world-renowned Swiss psychiatrist who identified the 5 Stages of Grief which have comforted and validated legions of people by explaining the seemingly inexplicable feelings and stages that grieving people move through and share.

But right now I want to talk about a different aspect of grief that I see in an extraordinarily large percentage of people who lose someone. It’s not a stage of grief; in fact, it can be so ubiquitous that it’s not something people move through very well even if they are an emotionally healthy person.

It’s guilt.

Guilt is not a feeling that’s usually associated with grief, even though I observe that it’s very, very common, verging on being ubiquitous.

Since most folks don’t realize that guilt is a common and somewhat natural part of grief, they assume that their own personal guilt feelings must mean that they are guilty of something. To them, their guilt seems true and important.

But, from what I have seen, it’s usually neither true nor important, it’s just a feeling most people get when they lose someone close to them.

Why Guilt and Grief Go Together

  1. Grief is a powerful emotional experience that fully engages the brain and the body. Grief is, essentially, the body’s attempt to absorb a shock (all deaths are a shock even when you know they are coming). Grief is like a combination of an earthquake and a hurricane both occurring together. In your body, all systems are activated and you are likely to feel many different feelings so it’s not surprising that guilt would be one of them.
  2. The death of a person, being the cataclysmic event described above, is an occurrence that carries great gravity. When we lose someone, it is natural to re-evaluate not only what they meant to us, but also our relationship with them. We begin to ask questions about our role in their life and in their death.
  3. Grief causes us to question ourselves. Was I there enough for them? Did I show enough care, love, concern? Did I miss their last phone call? What if I had done something just slightly differently, would they have felt better or lived longer? Could I have saved them? Could I have made them happier when they were alive? Does my secret wish for them to finally be relieved of their pain make me a bad person? These questions, plus many more variations on them, are ones that I have heard countless, blameless people torture themselves with after losing a loved one.

Are Some People More Prone To Guilty Grief?

Yes, most definitely. Although I have seen that most people are vulnerable to guilty grief, there is a large segment of the population who are far more prone to it and can get more hung up on it.

These are the ones who have a general tendency to take excessive responsibility for things, too often blaming themselves for events and situations outside of their control.

They are usually folks who have a tendency to be hard on themselves and are perhaps even highly self-critical. If you are prone to self-blame and self-criticism, you can get stuck in your guilt instead of moving through it as others would.

And, even if you are not a self-blame prone person you can end up experiencing more discomfort than is necessary. When you are already suffering from a loss, why suffer more than is absolutely necessary?

What’s The Solution?

An Ounce of Awareness + A Dose of Reality

As an expert on how Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN affects adults I work constantly with people who are out of touch with, and unaware of, their own feelings. So, I find myself saying to multiple people almost every single day, “Pay attention to what you are feeling. It matters!”

  1. The way you treat your feelings makes a big difference in how you experience and move through your grief. So, when it comes to grieving, it is extremely helpful to allow yourself to feel it. Yes, it hurts, and I know you want to escape it. But the more you escape it the more it lingers. It’s a sad fact but a true one.
  2. As you make an effort to feel your feelings, pay special attention to guilt. Watch for it so that you can be aware of when you are feeling it. Being aware of a feeling is half the battle because awareness allows you to manage it.
  3. Actively manage your guilt feelings — yes, you can do that — by tempering them with a dose of reality. I invite you to think about it this way. Wouldn’t we all behave differently if we knew the future? It’s simple. Yes, we would. This is a very important fact because some of your guilt is only happening because of your current ability to observe the past. “If only,” “I should have,” and “I shouldn’t have,” are all based on hindsight. Like the proverbial quarterback on Monday morning, everything looks different after an event than it does while you were living it.

Take This Forward

Truth be told, most people, whether they are grieving or prone to self-blame or not would benefit from following the steps above. I say this for two reasons: first, far too many people are not aware enough of their own feelings to manage them as effectively as they could. And second, guilt is a feeling that occurs the most to the people who deserve it the least. And useless guilt is draining and, well, useless.

Learn about why Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is hard to remember but so impactful and why it makes people prone to self-blame, guilt, and shame in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

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


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Edward - June 16, 2022 Reply


Such a small word but a big wallop to the psyche.

This article was written the week that I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November of 2020.

Since that time, I have gone through chemotherapy, 3 separate hospital admissions and 3 different surgeries. AND I’M STILL HERE!!!
I have known more than 7 people who have been diagnosed with the same type of cancer who didn’t make it to 4 months, no less 18 months.
When I was diagnosed in 2020, a fellow traveler who ran our men’s ACA yellow book meeting for over 2 years, was there for anything I needed… an encouraging word, a prayer, a ride to the emergency room, a concert…. even a joke!
He never asked for anything in return and was always one of the first to call me when I left the hospital or finished with a chemotherapy session.
I have been recuperating for the past few months and have gotten the “all clear” from all my doctors. NO MORE CANCER!
In March, my friend and I were discussing the latest reports from my doctors when he said that he was having a problem not being able to recoup from his daily walks that he would go on.
He went to the doctor and found that he had a spot on his lung and something wrong with his lymph nodes.
He just passed away on Saturday.
3 months.
My guilt is profound.
My guilt is deep inside me.
How is it I am still here, and he wasn’t able to last more than 3 months?
We had spoken about my feelings in our group sessions and my overwhelming feeling of guilt that I was able, with everyone’s help in our group, to understand, process and let pass over me.
But this feeling like a big rubber band that’s snapped on your wrist.
It hurts.
But it’s supposed to hurt.
That comes from love.
I will attend the celebration of his life on Sunday. I will rejoice in his spirit,
and we will laugh…
and cry…
and hug one another…
and consider ourselves lucky having known this extraordinary man.

What a horrid thing to have to go through.

I would like to change this word…

to Love.

With thanks,
And love.

Darth Vicious - May 27, 2022 Reply

I lost my Gf Renate to suicide in Sept of 07. The night before she’d asked me to bring her a Coke. Thinking she was dehydrated I brought her some water instead. Days later I spotted the cup I’d brought the water in & thought “I denied her the last thing she ever asked of me.” Of course the guilt along with the roller coaster of emotions was almost overwhelming. However with time I realized I did the best I could & what I thought best at the time. Grief is like a tunnel and the only way out is through…

Frank Troy - January 25, 2022 Reply

Thank you for your extraordinarily helpful work.

    Jonice - January 25, 2022 Reply

    Absolutely. And it’s nice to hear from you, Frank. Hope you’re doing well.

Annie - December 2, 2021 Reply

Dear Jonice

Thank you for your informative website. I’ve only recently become aware of CEN and the huge effect this has had on my life.

To be honest, it’s proving to be difficult to process when I’m not very well in tune with my ‘feelings’!

Self-criticism, taking excessive responsibility and perfectionism have been strong factors for me in my struggles over a number of years.

One aspect that weighs on my mind is an uneasy feeling (guilt, I think) around the death of my mother 2 years ago. I had no connection with her at all – I believe that her emotional neglect of me began at a very early stage in my life.

She had progressive MS for the last 30 years of her life. Her life became so miserable but even then we had no connection and no meaningful conversations. I felt sorry for her but couldn’t find a way to express this. I could never have spoken with her about my troubled childhood and it’s lasting effects.

When she died my confused feelings included guilt and a sense of relief but not sadness. My confused feelings linger. There was so much unsaid.

Now that I’m aware of CEN I hope to come to a better understanding of myself so that I see this and some other troubles in a new light and move on…

SUE - January 11, 2021 Reply

“These are the ones who have a general tendency to take excessive responsibility for things, too often blaming themselves for events and situations outside of their control.” This definitely struck a chord with me. My “role” was the responsible one, the one who “fixed” things, or made things right. So when I became estranged from some of my family members I felt as if it was my “fault”. Also the pressure to reconcile with dysfunctional family members when I left was also placed upon me to “fix” it all and make things “right”. So yes I do get the grief and guilt.

    Jonice - January 15, 2021 Reply

    Dear Sue, thanks for sharing your own experience. The thing that matters most is that you be aware of your tendencies and fight against them. Keep exercising boundaries and self-care and don’t let the guilt drag you backward.

Barry - December 20, 2020 Reply

Thank you very much for this article, it was very insightful. I am currently processing alot of grief due to realization similar to one person above that my parents did not have the emotional capacity or ability to deal with feelings at all. I have a quick question if you are able to comment of a particular behavior of my mother that I’ve never been able to make any sense of: she is aware of many of my life struggles, and has never spoken to me directly about any of them or provided me with anything resembling emotional support, but what I have heard from her for decades is this: I was talking to so and so family member about your situation and they have alot of empathy for you. Or, they said this supportive thing for or about you. It’s never her saying these things coming from herself, it’s always from other people who know me, who also, interestingly, never take the time to talk with me about that issue themselves or help me in any way whatsoever. Apart from being profoundly phony, what is this behavior all about? I find the mixed messages confusing, distressing, and deeply unsupportive.

Anna - November 17, 2020 Reply

What also came into my mind about grief/grieving process…some days I notice I feel better. Or I “feel better” because I’m distracted , occupied or focused with everyday life stuff (but this is good, isn’t it?). Interesting thing about guilt feeling is that…when I perceive I feel better (meaning, less sad), then somehow I feel guilty about it. As if the feeling better equals, that “I don’t care about the person who passed away” (not true), or that “I’m not loyal to him”, and that I’m horrible, cold person if I just somehow “get over it” (the grief).
But then this beautiful thought came into my mind: what about me caring about myself? Me being loyal to myself? What or who does it serve, if I feel awful all the time? Isn’t this the exact moment when I should care and show some self-love towards myself, too?
By the way, recently I read somewhere that “review and ruminating” and “becoming crazy”-syndrome and obsessing is normal part of the grieving process. Just knowing that made me feel relieved. When I give myself full permission and acceptance to “review and ruminate” as much as I like…amazing, then I don’t feel the need to do it so much anymore.

    Jonice - November 20, 2020 Reply

    Wonderful, Anna. Thank you for sharing your realization with us. I’m sure many who read it will find it reassuring and hopeful.

Kate - November 17, 2020 Reply

I can see similarities with Ambiguous Loss/Grief.
I work with families who have someone in their life with mental illness and the amount of guilt I hear from parents/children/partners/etc who are caring for a loved one. They ask the same questions “what if I had done x,y,z, would they be mentally healthier?” It keeps them stuck in the caregiver space 24/7, always giving, with no boundaries or limits, often resulting in burnout and resentment.

Healthy dose of reality – We need to put the oxygen masks on ourselves first, then support others to put the oxygen mask on.

Anna - November 16, 2020 Reply

“When someone leaves us forever”
Ouch, what a painful and horrible comment to say, I felt sting in my heart. You actually hurt me with this one, made me feel more sad than I already do.
My ex romantic partner and friend died recently. In no way he or anyone will leave us forever…he has simply changed form. The love and connection, of course a little bit different type of connection, is there forever. I know this to be true. Some things just cannot be explained with rational mind.

Michelle - November 16, 2020 Reply

I am currently at a crossroad regarding my relationship with my emotionally unhealthy elderly parents. Do I set up strict boundaries and pull back from them, or, for their sakes, do I continue ‘being here’ for them on their terms. One of my biggest inner conflicts at present is whether I will someday be able to live with the guilt of having deserted them in their old age.

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Michelle, You do not have to desert them. But it is important to protect yourself emotionally. You can work on finding a way t expect less from them emotionally and share less with them as a way to be less vulnerable while also being there in whatever way will allow you to be a good daughter.

Jennifer - November 16, 2020 Reply

I have found your talks so interesting and helpful. Thanks. I identify with those comments that say the problem is they don’t feel Anything When clearly there should be grief. I just don’t seem to react as others do and I am expected to do. Accusations from daughter about not shedding tears or showing emotion on the loss of my husband and her father led to serious falling out. I must have wanted him dead to get the money whereas I did everything I could to care for him in his last illness and keep him alive so not feeling or being able to express feelings of grief can have lasting consequences

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jennifer, that is an important point about how this can affect others; in your case, your daughter. If she is an adult, might it be worth explaining CEN to her and how you are blocked off from your feelings? It’s something to think about.

Parvez - November 16, 2020 Reply

What to be said about a strange grief, that is like always there, like a slow burning coal/wet wood, an unfinished grief & guilt feeling always there, like a weight on heart, without any clear connection to any of the life events…? Please help!!

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Parvez, I urge you to see a professional and be evaluated for depression as soon as possible. Depression can definitely feel this way.

      Ducky - December 14, 2020 Reply

      I have gotten a lot from reading your website and I read some of your book (1st book) it has provided some relief. But I want to address the comment to above person. Like her, I am feeling awful, for years, with two sibling (estranged ) who could not feel anything. I was the “negative” one for feeling things. I was the baby and both parents died young. I have tried to explain to them in the past when things were not so fractured, that we all have different childhoods, that I have found feelings are important. But no go. Since I had a serious illness my brother and his family, that I moved 3K miles to try to have relationships with, stopped all contact. The brother says I was “negative” about having cancer (OMG) and his kids just take from there example. Apparently I am a horrible person for having emotions about grief, death of our parents, and having cancer. To the point about getting help: I have been seeking it for years. I only have state insurance due to the cancer treatment. No therapist. In Covid, near impossible. There is no way my familly, should any of us every be able to talk again, would buy into “CEN” or anything. They would rather drink, drug, shop, or work it away. I too am lost. I am a miracle to have survived all these years.

        Jonice - December 15, 2020 Reply

        Dear Ducky, I encourage you to redirect your focus away from your family and toward yourself. Try to feel your feelings, accept them in the ways your family cannot grasp. Keep working on validating yourself. You do not need your family for this. You can do it on your own.

Jacqueline - November 16, 2020 Reply

When my beloved father was in a coma and I was sitting next to him, I recalled the phone conversation we had the night before he went in for his angioplasty. He had said he wasn’t afraid of the surgery, he was afraid of the pain of healing. Janice, as he laid there and I held his hand, I told him he didn’t have to come back if he didn’t want to, I wanted him to, but I basically told him he didn’t have to. I felt strength leave his arm I was holding and he died minutes later. please give me your perspective, cos I think if I hadn’t told him that, he’d have pulled through.

    Diane - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Jacqueline – I read your comment and was immediately brought back to my own very similar story. I was 18. A police trooper knocked on my door. My mom had been in a terrible car accident. She was alive but it was grave and we needed to come immediately. My sister and I were in college and made the long drive back home. We arrived just as the sun was coming up. I had the most vivid “dream” as we were pulling into the hospital. It was my mom and she was just standing there teary-eyed. She told me she had to go and she needed to know it was okay. I told her I understood and said good-bye. I immediately woke up and was shaken with regret and remorse. We walked in and found out mom died just moments prior. I held onto that for years. That was 1984 and although painful, I made peace with it knowing it was never really a choice. Not even for her. It was her time and now she’s in a better place. A more peaceful place. At rest with the world.
    I wish you well. Be strong knowing your dad is where he was meant to be. Find peace knowing you can feel his presence when you need it.

John - November 16, 2020 Reply

Thanks so much for this wonderful column. It came at a time when I really needed it. I’ve been grieving and feeling guilt over having my beloved cat put to sleep last week. I rescued and adopted him 3 years ago. He was FIV positive and suffered from stomatitis which got very bad towards the end. My vet and I tried everything we could for him but nothing was working in the end and his mouth and the pain was obviously also getting worse even after upping his pain med dose to 3 times a day. My vet and I both agreed that euthanasia was the right choice and I held him on my lap as he left this world. Logic tells me I did the right thing for him but I still feel guilty about ending his life along with missing him terribly. That last line about hindsight being very different from the reality of the situation at the time we made the choice to relieve him of his pain really helped me to remember how bad his stomatitis was at the end and that we had tried every course of treatment my vets could think of.
Thank you.

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear John, I am sorry for your loss. It sounds like you did the only thing yu could do. I hope you will allow yourself to move through the grieving process without over-complicating it with unnecessary guilt.

    Marie - November 27, 2020 Reply

    John, I understand your pain. I had to put my beloved cat to sleep a year ago. I thought we had caught and eradicated his severe stomatitis with the full teeth removal in 2013. He developed cancer in his mouth in late 2018. Which I found early, but the prognosis was extremely poor. I watched him deteriorate over five months. I cried almost every day. The decision to put him to sleep was the hardest thing I have ever done. (and there’s been a lot of hard decisions in my life). Please know that your pain will lessen. And it’s okay to grieve for him. I understand.

Virginia - November 15, 2020 Reply

I came home a week ago Tuesday to find my husband dead. We both had CEN and spent most of our 41 year marriage not understanding each other. The early years were filled with yelling, swearing, passive aggressive behavior and rage. We calmed down and worked together and in the end we were mostly loving and were growing closer and more accepting. My problem is that I feel immense guilt for not being more loving and understanding and for thinking so many times that it would be a relief and so much easier if he was gone. That was terrible and I am grieving him greatly as is my family. It turns out he was an amazing and talented man who was loved and respected by many from all walks of life and I feel like I didn’t see it. He loved me and cared for me and he did in a really grumpy way. So, I have guilt and shame and a bit of self loathing. This was a good article for me. Thank you.

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Virginia, everything looks different after someone is gone. Please fight back that guilt. Learn what you can take away from this painful and difficult loss. Take it forward with you, and this will be your gift to your husband: learning from your relationship and going forward to thrive.

Heather - November 15, 2020 Reply

Thank you Jonice for all of your insights. They have been very helpful.
I seem to be on the other side of grief. As a child of 2 CEN parents, I was required to suppress all feelings including crying. When 3 of my grandparents passed (in my geographic location) I was phoned with the news but no service, memorial, family get-together happened. 3 out of 4 grandparents!!! Talk about stuffing feelings all around.
So currently when people around me die, I have no feelings. I certainly don’t cry. So no guilt…but no anything.

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Heather, I encourage you to try to break through that wall that’s blocking your feelings in general (not only grief). It will enrich your life in so many ways.

Laurie - November 15, 2020 Reply

Why don’t you address those of us who feel nothing when somebody near us dies?

    Jonice - November 16, 2020 Reply

    Yes, good point. That happens to many CEN people and is a function of being separated from your feelings. I have written about this in previous blogs.

Tracy - November 15, 2020 Reply

Thank you Jonice. Had a lot of grief come up for me uncovering old trauma. Had no idea about the guilt. It was very profound and I changed my perspective and wrote down lessons learned from my past choices and suddenly the guilt dissipated. Turning the regret and guilt into wisdom. Thank you for your beautiful teachings. You are blessing to many!

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Excellent work, Tracy! Thanks for sharing your experience.

Julia - November 15, 2020 Reply

My outreach worker is leaving me after 3 years. She says I haven’t been doing enough on my part. I suffer from can bpd and ptsd. I know it’s my fault she his going. My psychiatrist says I push people away because I get too close to them . I very very close to this person and shared my most intermit parts of my life with her. She has given me 6 months but I only see her fortnightly. I do not want to trust anyone any more. I have no friends and are alone most of the day but volunteer a couple of mornings a week in AN op shop. I have overdosed numerous times but I don’t know what the guilt of her leaving me is going to do. K still have my go who I see each week. She days my husband and I have grown apart
I am now anorexic but will not now go and see anybody to trust again and for them to leave me. The outreach worker said their job is not to be a substitute friend . But you share more with them than a friend….I do not trust easily since being abused all my childhood and my children have moved away for their own benefits. How do I get over this grief again??? I can’t persuade her to stay.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Julia, she is telling you what’s missing, and it sounds like it’s you focusing on yourself and doing the work on yourself that is necessary to get stronger and improve your life. I encourage you to focus on making that happen as best you can. Perhaps other readers here will have some other input for you.

    Lori - November 22, 2020 Reply

    Dear Julia,
    I can identify somewhat with what you have shared and it can be sooo painful! I too had a very traumatic childhood that lasted for years. I think when you grow up in a household where emotional and/or physical vulnerability is dangerous (and we ARE vulnerable by the very nature of being a child) then later, we subconsciously seek out from others what we didn’t get from our parents or guardians growing up.
    One of the most painful lessons I have had to learn is that there IS no going back for a re-do. In other words, no matter how much I may cling to someone or think I NEED someone to mother me, to show me gentleness, to be open to hearing about my emotional life, my day to day experiences that are painful or disappointing, I can’t go back and be that little girl–and the person I am “needing” can’t become my mother nor can she be available 24/7 or every single time I hurt. She can’t promise to never leave you. Why? Because to do so would not be healthy for her and in the long run it wouldn’t be healthy for YOU. And I am guessing this worker wants the best for you!
    That kind of dependency (likely not intentional at all on your part) isn’t healthy and does YOU no favors even IF she were to promise to always be there every time you called, every time you needed someone. That is not her role. Her role is a professional one and it must have boundaries to protect YOU as well as HER. IF she were there for you every single time you called or needed her to listen, to care, to fill your loneliness/emptiness, WHY in the world would you need to learn to meet at least SOME of your own emotional needs when it felt sooo good to that inner neglected child to have that caring!
    I don’t know for sure that any of this applies to you because I don’t know you but if I read correctly, you said you have bpd. Are you referring to bipolar or borderline personality disorder? Either way, maybe a type of therapy called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) could help? Or maybe it’s a matter of putting yourself out there socially–as hard as it’s going to be, and make more friends so that you can call a friend rather than a worker when you need nurturing and support. I don’t know, as I said I’m just throwing things out there based on feelings I had for a while growing up and also once in a therapy relationship.
    My therapist had announced a month ahead of time to give me notice that she was having to close her practice and relocate out of state for her husband’s job change. I was DEVASTATED–even to the point of occasionally thinking of suicide. I felt like I was losing my one safe person. She tried to refer me to someone else and for a while I refused to consider it. I told her I wasn’t going to therapy again because “why bother, if you let someone know that you need them, they will use that need to hurt you and leave you anyway!” Nowadays, I can hardly believe that 30 yrs ago I thought that way. Nowadays, though I sometimes yearn for comfort–and seek it, it feels MUCH less desperate. And first, I often try to soothe myself. It doesn’t always work but when it doesn’t I feel good that I at least tried.
    I wish you well. Hang on, it WILL get easier…
    Lori a.k.a. Velveteen Rabbit (for Jonice in case she has more than one Lori commenting here lol)

David - November 15, 2020 Reply

Yes, this is our identity; who we think we are. We try to keep people in our environment from being upset so we feel safe. We try to control their feelings and when they leave, we loose that mirror of who we think we are. In the case of my mother, it was a relief. But then, who am I without her? I only know how to hold the mirror for others, hiding behind it where I can’t be seen. But now I’m learning to hold the mirror for myself, though It’s scary to loose sight of “other”, whom I think I must control, and turn the mirror so it reflects me (who I can control) !

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Hm, David, I wonder what you mean by “control” and if you are perhaps misusing that word. Maybe you could focus on nurturing instead. You no longer need to nurture your mother or anyone else. It’s you who needs and deserves emotional nurturing.

Sandra - November 15, 2020 Reply

Thank you for sharing about grief and CEN.
It reminds me of speaking to my dad’s sister as an adult about my grandfather’s death. I was about 11 years old when he suffered a severe stroke and died shortly after.
My aunt told me she found me in the funeral home’s bathroom crying. She told me I was hiding in there because my mom had told me not to cry in front of my grandmother because it would make her sad. My aunt was appalled and said she hugged and comforted me.
The crazy thing is that I don’t have that memory. No recollection at all about crying in the bathroom or anything other than a quick mental image of standing in front of his open casket.
While I understand my mother didn’t have the tools to relate to or comfort me (having been raised by a very abusive, alcoholic mother), I cry for the little girl who tried to crush her feeling so others wouldn’t be bothered or upset. A trait that has unfortunately defined much of my life.
Your articles about CEN have helped me reconnect to that little girl and find a way to re-engaged my emotions.
Thank you, Dr. Webb.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Sandra, I’m so very glad you have connected with that little girl. She — and you — deserve much more and much better.

Ian - November 15, 2020 Reply

I’m assuming that grief – and the associated guilt you talk about – doesn’t just occur when someone (close to you) dies. When I was very young, I witnessed my father very seriously assault my mother – and, to this day, I still feel partly to blame (could I have done more to keep my father happy/calm etc., if only I had been in the room with my mother before my father walked in and attacked her…) and guilty… It’s also interesting that, whilst a neighbor called the police and supported my mother, I was told to, literally, ‘walk round the block’ – which I did by myself – and calm down. Forty years later, my mother and I have never talked about it…

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    That sounds so traumatic, Ian, and it surely sounds like there is nothing you could have done. Being told to walk around the block and then never discussing it is a very clear example of CEN. I hope you’ll work on letting go of this burdensome, unhelpful guilt and work on attending to your own feelings instead.

Angela - November 15, 2020 Reply

What a great article. I have suffered under the weight of guilt from my first remembrance. Guilt in grief for certain. I not only just felt guilty but was made to feel guilty for every little thing it’s seems.

My cousin, whom I was very close with from early childhood and was more like a sister, died two years ago. The situation was horrible as her husband left her alone in an assisted living facility instead of a healthcare facility as she desperately needed, and she died a horrible and painful death as she was not treated medically for her disease and she didn’t eat or drink hardly anything for a year and slowly died from starvation. He did nothing to help her. I feel guilty as I wanted to report him and the facility to the agency in our state that handles cases of neglect of patients in her situation but I never did. I know it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of her death at 59, a week before her 60th birthday because she was sick, but she would have at least been more comfortable. The assisted living place did not treat her bedsores or anything. I feel guilty for not visiting her more before (we did not live in the same town) she became so sick because of my intolerance of her husband. I was telling my dad about waking myself up yelling her name to which he gave the perfect CEN answer, “You just need to not think about it and put it out of your mind and forget it.” After reading your book, I was able to tell him, ” I will not & am not going to forget about her.” Meaning she meant a lot to me & why would I ever want to act like she and our relationship didn’t matter to me. If ever two people suffered with CEN it is my parents. Your book has helped me understand an anger I’ve had toward them since early childhood that has manifested itself in adulthood with boughts of intense anger and weeks of not speaking to them. When I read your books it was finally the revelation I needed to understand myself and them more fully. Before your book I would have become intensely anger with my father for that careless answer but I understand that is how he has dealt with his grief and hurt all of his life and I was more sad for him rather than angry with him as I would have been in the past. Because of reading the books and having so many answers I was able to give him a heartfelt answer to his response to my grief. I still have a way to go to work through many things but at least now I have a better understanding of my myself & my parents. It was nice to know finally that my feelings are real and I have a right to feel them.

Thanks so much.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Angela, I am so very sorry you went through that painful situation. I hope you will be able to move forward and try to enjoy life for yourself and for your sister. Think of it this way: You are living for two now.

Caroline - November 15, 2020 Reply

It’s a huge relief to read that the guilt which my family was burdened by for so many years can be explained and understood. My Dad died suddenly when I was five. My Mum seemed to blame herself, even though she was not at fault in any way. My sister and I also seemed to feel guilty even as children. Thank you again Dr Jonice for your wise and unique insights.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    You are welcome, Caroline. I hope you will be able to let go of the unnecessary and harmful guilt.

Karen K - November 15, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice. As usual, your insightfulness is spot on. I am a therapist who experienced the loss of a beloved husband to cancer last December. I had not considered CEN in my grief process, but it certainly makes sense. I am quite self-aware, but this puzzle piece makes what I am feeling more clear. I also have a client whose adult son completed suicide last month. She experienced a tremendous amount of CEN in her childhood, which I now know contributes greatly to her grief and loss. I will begin this week to frame our grief work in the context of CEN. Very helpful. Thank you for your work in this area. I see it constantly in my practice and incorporate this in my work.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Karen, it’s therapists like you who can make a deep and permanent impact in so many people’s lives. I appreciate your work so very much.

Elizabeth - November 15, 2020 Reply

Wow, this really struck home. I’m working with a therapist to deal with childhood grief that I didn’t recognize at the time (I’m in my 50’s now). I lost my mother, not to death, but to emotional neglect. And yes, the guilt is part of this grief. Recognizing these feelings has been so hard but so freeing. Thank you for this article.

Olivia - November 15, 2020 Reply

My dad died of leukaemia when I was 13. I was not really allowed to talk about it after a few months, I was encouraged or told to move on, get over it, stop upsetting other people. I had no counselling, no-one wanted to talk to me about it or just listen to my feelings, it was all too difficult for them.
So I just stumbled on, in a haze of grief as my family had suddenly been reduced from 3 people to 2. No one was interested, they just thought I was a ‘moody teenager’ and left me alone.
So…10 years later when I went to university- away from home, surrounded by strangers, no adults to support me, I began to fall apart as the 3 year course progressed. By the end I was paranoid, crying all the time, no doubt with the tears I wasn’t allowed to shed aged 13. My life fell apart, I so nearly ended it all.
My doctor said recently, ‘just a little bit of counselling at the time would have helped you immeasurably’.
But my mother has no emotional skills, I realise she is very immature emotionally and probably a narcissist, so she suppressed all my emotions from birth.
Now I realise I can learn about and manage my own emotions and life is better.
But soooo much of my life has been wasted struggling with grief…I’m now 52!!

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Olivia, I am so very sorry that happened to you. I’m glad you have discovered what’s really been going on for you. Realizing this at age 52 is a wonderful thing, as sadly many people never do.

Steve - November 15, 2020 Reply

I am grieving the end of my marriage and have a tremendous amount of guilt about my role. I’m constantly looking back to what I could have or should have done. I want to move forward and be happy but this is holding me back. The death of a relationship is hard too!

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Steve, some research has shown that the loss of a relationship causes equal or even greater grief than the death of a person. Marriage is a complex loss and it is different from death in that there may be things you can learn from this that can help you in future relationships. I encourage you to talk with a professional and try to get the best possible understanding to take forward with you. Take care.

Carol - November 15, 2020 Reply

Hello, my name is Carol and I have just experienxed a death of a resident who I manage the unit. I found her dead in the balcony. It was an abnormal hurricane/earthquake that hit myself and also my daughter as she was with me.

Thank you for sending this information at a perfect time in my life.

I also fall under guilt as she had texted me the Friday before the weekend if her death. It is still undertermined the day and cause if her passing.

Many emotions were releases that day and many that were suppressed over the last 5 decades.

Thanks again Jonice

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    I’m so sorry you experienced this shock and loss, Carol. Please do keep in mind that everyone dies somewhere, sometime. It was this resident’s time and it has nothing to do with you. Please do take extra good care of yourself right now.

Julienne - November 15, 2020 Reply

This couldn’t have been more timely for me Dr. Webb. My dog died 2 days ago and I’m certainly going through all that you’ve described re: grief. Given my CEN, I’m still having difficulty identifying my emotions, but I’m consciously trying to pay attention daily. Thank you for your wisdom.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Julienne, I’m so sorry you lost your dog. Just keep on paying attention to your feelings, take care not to blame yourself for things outside of your control, and you will get through it.

Andrew - November 15, 2020 Reply

“These are the ones who have a general tendency to take excessive responsibility for things, too often blaming themselves for events and situations outside of their control.”… the story of my life…As I approach my seventh decade I am still living with profound feelings of guilt and compulsive people pleasing tendencies . It’s almost as if the article could have been written for me Jonice.. Thankyou

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    Dear Andrew, it’s time to stop treating yourself this way! I encourage you to work on this.

Michelle - November 15, 2020 Reply

Very insightful article. It’s helping me understand myself better.

    Jonice - November 15, 2020 Reply

    I’m very glad to hear that, Michelle. All my best wishes to you!

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