What Everyone Should Know About Emotional Affairs

By Jonice Webb
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Photo courtesy of Flickr

As a couple’s therapist, I’ve worked with many people whose marriages are threatened by an affair. When it comes to affairs, there are two types: sexual and emotional. In my experience, these two types of affairs are different, and happen in different kinds of relationships.

While sexual affairs are often born of anger, emotional affairs are frequently a result of loneliness.

Before we go on to talk about emotional affairs, one large caveat: none of the reasons I’ll talk about in this article are meant to excuse or justify affairs in any way.

Always, without exception, the healthiest way to deal with marriage problems of any kind is directly with one’s spouse, not going outside the relationship. If the problems are not fixable, it is vital to work it through and to end the marriage before getting involved with another person, either physically or emotionally.

That said, here are the Five Reasons People Have Emotional Affairs:

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How to Tell Emotional Neglect From Emotional Abuse in a Relationship

By Jonice Webb

2445981396_6c10f67ab0_zLet’s face it, relationships are complicated. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me, “Is this normal?” about their relationship.

One of the most confusing gray areas is the difference between emotional abuse and Emotional Neglect. Since neither is physical, both are difficult to perceive at all. Even more difficult is telling them apart. Even mental health professionals sometimes struggle to define the difference. And sometimes Emotional Neglect can be so severe that it crosses over the line, and becomes abuse.

How good are you at differentiating between them? Read about this interaction between Marcy and Jeremy below. Identify each option as emotional abuse, Emotional Neglect, or neither. Then read on to see if you got them right.

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Are You an Invisible Hero?

By Jonice Webb

 

InvisibleThe world is full of Invisible Heroes. People who are changing the world. People who do not realize how courageous they are. Quiet, unsung Emotional Warriors, who avoid the spotlight, even though they should have it.

How do I know this? I meet them every day.

The truth is you may be one yourself.

Maybe you’ve never saved anyone from a burning building, and maybe you never will. But still, you may be one of the most courageous among us.

How? By breaking through the bonds that were placed upon you in childhood, and looking your own weaknesses straight in the face. By seeing and owning and believing and working. By having the courage to sit with your pain.

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Are You Living Life on the Outside?

By Jonice Webb

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

3534880514_b2488a6392_bPeople who grew up with CEN end up feeling on the outside. It’s a sense of being alone, unable to join, separate, different. This feeling is compounded by the fact that the cause of it all, Childhood Emotional Neglect, doesn’t get talked about.

But in the last month I’ve noticed several news stories and articles that touch upon CEN, addressing it indirectly. They are all important and teach us something new. Here they are:

  1. The Story: In the Boston Globe, a headline says, “For Neglected Children, Path to Recovery is Difficult.” The article is about a house in Massachusetts in which two children, one 3 years old and the other 5 months, had been hidden away from the world by their mother. No one, not even the children’s father, knew that they even existed. They had been traumatically physically neglected.

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7 Steps to Conquer a Painful Emotion

By Jonice Webb

5427078006_9c519f77f9_oHaving intense feelings is simply a part of being alive. No one gets a free pass.

But some feelings just keep coming back again and again, like an old nemesis who refuses to leave us alone. They can drive us to do unhealthy things or make poor choices. And they can make us supremely uncomfortable.

Last week’s article, Eight Step Method to Manage Intense Emotion, was about how to sit with, and tolerate, an intense, painful feeling. This week, we’ll talk about how to resolve the feeling so that it actually goes away. Next week, I’ll walk you through an example of a real person as he goes through the steps and resolves a painful, repetitive feeling which has dogged him throughout his life.

Did you know that being able to tolerate a feeling and resolving it in the long-term are closely related? Here’s why:

In order to make an intense feeling go away, you have to be able to sit with it and tolerate it.

So here are the Steps for Resolving an Intense Emotion:

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Eight Step Method to Manage Intense Emotion

By Jonice Webb

3356410440_c96be2df81_oRecently I received this request from a reader:

What I have found lacking is books or articles on the process of revealing my feelings, the associated pain and some kind of plan to work through the feelings that would help DURING the healing process. Knowing the common steps of healing would be very encouraging and provide both patience and hope.

When you push your feelings down as a child in order to cope with an environment which cannot tolerate them (Childhood Emotional Neglect), you grow up lacking access to your emotions. A large part of the process of healing involves breaking down the wall between yourself and your feelings, and welcoming them.

But what if many of those old feelings are painful? What if the process is so painful that it’s too hard to let the wall down? What if you lack the skills needed to cope with the pain because no one ever taught you?

Managing painful feelings happens on Two Levels:

  1. In the Moment: Coping
  2. The Long-Term: Resolving

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Five Steps to Break Down Your Wall

By Jonice Webb

Walls Don't Exist

 

The fuel of life is feeling. If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise we will find ourselves running on empty.

 

From Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

What does Empty feel like? What causes some people to feel it? In last week’s article, Not Sad Not Hurt Not Angry: Empty, we talked about how the Empty feeling is a result of having a wall inside of you which essentially blocks your emotions away.

Having a wall like this is functional in some ways. It can get you through your childhood by allowing you to cope with a family who is emotionally unavailable, ignoring, rejecting, devoid of love, or even abusive. But when you grow up and are living as an adult, you need to have access to your emotions.

When your emotions are walled off, you pay a heavy price.  You pay the price of deep, meaningful, supportive relationships, a feeling of purpose and direction in your life, and a strong sense of self-worth and confidence.

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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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Recent Comments
  • LadyMBee: Wow… I tick these boxes… I’m glad I’m aware now. Thanks :)
  • Izzy: Thank you for this! I have CEN, have done loads of work on it. Recently I did an exercise from Carnes’s...
  • Jonice Webb: Hi Ruth, it sounds like you’ve had plenty of hurdles to jump throughout your childhood and adult...
  • Ruth: I’m nearly 50 and grew up with emotional neglect and emotional abuse, and it caused many years of mental...
  • KNH: It’s sad to say, but many people I’ve met would consider Option 4 as coddling or babying, and refuse...
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