Not Sad Not Hurt Not Angry: Empty

By Jonice Webb

5448337288_626fb64142_oIt’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time.

Something is missing in me.

I have no idea how I feel about anything.

Sometimes my chest feels hollow.

I feel empty inside.

What might seem like five unrelated statements is actually five different people describing the same feeling. Everyone says it differently because there is no standard word for it. But for these five people, and thousands more, it is the same feeling, caused by the same problem.

The one word that sums it up best:

Empty

Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb.

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Childhood Emotional Neglect: Real People, Real Stories

By Jonice Webb

99863335_a00a8b90b0_oSome of the most powerful words are those of real people sharing their stories. Some of the quotes below were emailed to me (with permission to share), and some were posted as comments on my website. Here is a sampling of the real words of people who grew up with CEN.

The CEN Childhood

The first 16 years of my life that my family lived together, I can’t remember a single meaningful or real communication that occurred between any of us in that time.

My feelings and emotions were the last things on my parents’ minds. The best they could do was provide a home with basic amenities.

I honestly don’t remember my parents much at all, though both are still alive and married today.

I never heard the phrase “I love you.”  There was no one to talk to, no one who cared. I brought myself up in every sense of the word.

I remember the intense indescribable pain that I felt as a young child when my mother wouldn’t acknowledge the simple child affection I wanted to give.

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Robin Williams and Childhood Emotional Neglect

By Jonice Webb

13790103_f44dd462db_oSince Robin Williams’ sad and shocking suicide on August 11, friends, family, fellow stars, and even reporters have offered multiple explanations for the virtually inexplicable:

Why did he do it?

Some of the many possible factors which have been proposed are depression, alcohol, drugs, and Parkinsons Disease. But I see another potential factor which is never mentioned by anyone. A factor which falls between the cracks just as its sufferers do: Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

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Why Don’t Therapists Talk More About Emotional Neglect?

By Jonice Webb

José Manuel Ríos ValienteChildhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

“After reading Running on Empty I told my therapist that I’m pretty sure I was emotionally neglected as a child. He understood what I meant but he never mentioned it again”.

“I’ve been seeing my therapist for a year and she has never mentioned Emotional Neglect to me.”

“I live in San Francisco. I can’t find a therapist who is an expert in Childhood Emotional Neglect!”

Since I first started speaking and writing about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) in 2012 I’ve heard the above comments many times, from people all over the world.

Yes. In a way, it is puzzling. CEN is so widespread and causes so much pain. Why don’t therapists talk about it more directly and more often? Why aren’t there Emotional Neglect specialists? Emotional Neglect articles and workshops?

This is one of the main reasons I wrote Running on Empty and took up the cause of CEN. After talking with other mental health professionals and doing an exhaustive literature search, I could find virtually no research or writings specifically about Emotional Neglect. And I couldn’t identify a recognized, accepted, universal term for the concept that meant the same thing to every mental health professional.

It seems that just as an instance of CEN goes unseen and unnoticed, so does the CEN child himself. In a case of parallel process, so does the concept of CEN. But for therapists, the concept is not surprising or new. Remarkably, I think that’s part of the reason that therapists don’t talk about it. For us, it hides in plain sight.

Here are the main reasons I’ve identified for the lack of direct attention to Emotional Neglect by mental health professionals:

  1. For therapists, CEN hides in plain sight. It’s so ubiquitous and such an integral part of Attachment Theory (a basic tenet for mental health professionals) that therapists just know it. It’s like the blurred backdrop behind the picture. In the mind of a therapist, CEN is not a thing. It just is. So we’ve never bothered to give it a specific name.
  2. Research. Therapists don’t necessarily think of CEN as the cause of the specific pattern of adult symptoms that I have identified and described in my book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. So as of now, there is no body of literature or research for them to consult. Establishing research data to support the pattern is my next goal. In the meantime, the only source of this full picture is the book, Running on Empty.
  3. Memories. Most therapists like to deal with memories and facts as much as possible. CEN often offers neither.
  4. Eclipsed and Blurred – “Child Abuse and Neglect.” When I scoured the professional literature for mentions of Emotional Neglect, I found many references. But it was virtually always as part of this phrase: “child abuse and neglect.” I realized that this phrase has contributed to CEN being so overlooked. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous use of “child abuse and neglect” has taken the concept of Emotional Neglect and thrown it into a pot mixed with three other things which are far more visible and memorable:
    1. Physical abuse: hitting, physical threatening of a child.
    2. Physical neglect: not providing enough food, shelter or warm clothing, for example.
    3. Emotional abuse: actively saying damaging things to a child, calling her names for example.

In this way, I think the phrase “child abuse and neglect,” which is so ubiquitous and useful, has actually done an inordinate amount of untold damage by blurring awareness of CEN.

For me, right now, my goals are unwaveringly clear. I want to make CEN a part of everyday conversation in this world. I want parents to know how to meet their children’s emotional needs, and why it matters.

I want every single person to be able talk openly and directly about CEN with his therapist.

I want every therapist to mean the exact same thing when they use or hear the term Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Think of all the children who are, at this very moment, growing up surrounded by Emotional Neglect. And all the adults who are suffering in silence, baffled by their pain.

If I could speak for all the therapists in the world, here is what we would say to them:

Your pain is real. It’s not nothing. You have it for a reason. It’s not your fault.

You feel invisible, but we see you. You can speak, and we will listen. So stand up and talk. And let us help you heal.



The Most Important Relationship of All

By Jonice Webb

“Although many of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think”

     — Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist and author of My Stroke of Insight.

First MemeWhat is the most important relationship in your life? Your spouse? Your child? Your mother or father?

If you answered yes to any of those, that’s nice. But you actually have another relationship that is more important than any of them. It’s one you probably never thought about before.

It’s your relationship with your own emotions.

How we treat our own feelings has a tremendous impact on how we treat others. Your relationship with your emotions is the foundation for all other relationships in your life.

Emotions are complex and can be mysterious. Sometimes they do what we tell them. Other times they refuse to obey. We may fall in love with someone we don’t like, or stop liking someone we love. We can lose our tempers unexpectedly, or surprise ourselves by staying calm in a stressful situation.

Just as you have to listen to the people in your life, you also have to listen to your emotions. Your emotions are your body’s way of speaking to you. Indeed your emotions provide an invaluable feedback system that can anchor, inform and direct you through life.

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Raised By A Narcissist

By Jonice Webb

Few phrases sum up the idea of narcissism better than:

It’s all about me. 

But the most defining feature of a person with narcissism is actually not his self-involvement. It’s his deeply concealed fear of being exposed as inadequate.

Underneath the bluster and arrogance of the narcissist lies a hurt and fragile core. Deep down, narcissists fear others will see that they are not special or superior (they are just human beings after all), so many of their grandiose behaviors are designed to prevent that exposure. Surprisingly, this deeply buried vulnerability is the trait that can do the greatest damage to the narcissist’s child.

What is it like to grow up with a narcissistic parent? Meet Lucy, who was raised by a narcissistic father. 

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Three Tips to Teach Your Child Emotional Intelligence

By Jonice Webb

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Emotional Intelligence (EI) is your ability to manage and understand emotions and relationships, your own as well as others’.

Research has shown that Emotional Intelligence is more vital to life success and satisfaction than general intelligence. This makes EI a very important skill for parents to teach their children.

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Do You Have Alexithymia?

By Jonice Webb

Alexithymia: Difficulty in experiencing, expressing and describing emotions.

Identifying & Naming Exercise

Every day I hear from folks who have just realized that they grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Often they say, “Finally I understand what’s wrong with me!” Many describe a huge weight lifted from their shoulders.

It is a wonderful thing to finally understand yourself in a new and useful way. Unfortunately, however, it is not enough. Step 1 is seeing and understanding the problem. Step 2 is healing the problem. 

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Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test

By Jonice Webb

Take the ENQ

During twenty years of practicing psychology, I started to see an invisible force from childhood which weighs upon people as adults. It’s a “non-event” which is unnoticeable and unmemorable, and yet leaves a profound mark upon the child which endures throughout adulthood. It’s Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

CEN is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

This failure to respond can masquerade as loving parent behavior. It can happen in families which are seemingly healthy and fine. And it can be overshadowed by more obvious child mistreatment or abuse. In any case, it goes unseen and unnoticed while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.

Many people have found answers to problems that have baffled them throughout their lives, by recognizing that CEN is the cause. But because CEN is so difficult to see or remember, it can be very hard to identify whether you are living your adult life in its grip. I’ve devised the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire to help you discover whether you may have grown up this way.

I have found it very useful, but have not yet been able to establish reliability or normative data through research. So please know that, at this point, the ENQ is based upon clinical experience, not science.

Emotional Neglect Questionnaire

Circle the items that apply to you.

            DO YOU:

  1. ž  Often feel disappointed with, or angry at, yourself
  2. ž  Sometimes feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends
  3. ž  Pride yourself on not relying upon others
  4. ž  Have difficulty asking for help
  5. ž  Have friends or family who complain that you are aloof or distant
  6. ž  Feel you have not met your potential in life
  7. ž  Often just want to be left alone
  8. ž  Secretly feel that you may be a fraud
  9. ž  Tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations
  10. ž   Judge yourself more harshly than you judge others
  11. ž   Compare yourself to others and often find yourself sadly lacking
  12. ž   Find it easier to love animals than people
  13. ž   Often feel irritable or unhappy for no apparent reason
  14. ž   Have trouble knowing what you’re feeling
  15. ž   Have trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses
  16. ž   Sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in
  17. ž   Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit
  18. ž   Have trouble calming yourself
  19. ž   Feel there’s something holding you back from being present in the moment
  20. ž   At times feel empty inside
  21. ž   Secretly feel there’s something wrong with you
  22. ž   Struggle with self-discipline

If you circled six or more, this indicates, in my experience, that you may have grown up with significant CEN.

_________________________________________________________________________________

To learn more about CEN; how it happens, why it’s so invisible, and how to heal from it, visit EmotionalNeglect.com, or see Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.



Invalidated Child: Invisible Adult

By Jonice Webb

 

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Zach

Our childhoods are in the past. As adults, we must put childhood behind us and focus on the now. Right?

Wrong.

Today we know that our child selves live within us, and that the power of that child is remarkable. Our parents’ view of us as children is the way we view ourselves as adults. The way our parents treated us as children in large part determines how we treat ourselves as adults.

This child/adult connection has been proven over and over again by research. I see it every day in my psychotherapy office; and never more clearly than in the case of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

In CEN, the child is given a subliminal message, often inadvertently, that his/her emotions are irrelevant. This leaves a profound mark upon the child in adulthood. To see how this works, let’s look in on Zach as a child, and then meet up with him again twenty-three years later.

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Recent Comments
  • Gina: Agree. It seems to me that this is the same in all families in the world. All parents need professional help,...
  • trying2be: I circled 16 and three of them with double or triple circles. How is one supposed to deal and heal the...
  • Mia: The Fatal Flaw – I live with that my whole life. I live my life without words to explain things to myself...
  • Douglas Eby: Thanks for this important message. Trauma takes many forms, and has different sources and levels of...
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