Black Sheep

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read
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I’m the black sheep of my family,”

said the young man who sat before me in my therapy office. I tried to imagine this adorable, sad young man being the “black sheep” of anything. I couldn’t.

Generally considered the outcast of the family, the black sheep is typically assumed to be an oddball. Furthermore, the rest of the family believes that the black sheep brought this upon himself.

It is true that sometimes the black sheep is indeed “odd” by anyone’s standards (sometimes the result of a hidden mental illness). Or she may be a sociopath who violates the family’s boundaries and care, so that the family has to exclude her to rightfully protect themselves.

But surprisingly, very seldom is either of these scenarios actually the case. Many, many black sheep are lovable folks with much to offer their families and the world. In fact, they are often the best and brightest. They may be the most creative of the family, or the one with the most powerful emotions.

In truth, the world is full of black sheep. Think hard. Does your family have one? This question is not as easy to answer as it may seem, for many black sheep are not physically excluded from the family. For most, it’s much more subtle. The exclusion is emotional. 

Three Signs That Your Family Has a Black Sheep: 

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I’m 32 and Just Discovered I Have Feelings

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

feeling magnets joanna

Guest Post: By Joanna Rogowska

I am 32 years old, and as weird as it might sound, I have recently discovered that I have emotions.

This discovery has changed my life. It sent me on a journey to find a way to live my life more fully and at peace with myself.

I am still learning how to deal with my emotions. There are still times when they get the best of me. But now, as I am much more prepared for times of crisis, I do not let them take over.

Let me tell you a story about one of those moments when things got a bit much and I had to put my newly acquired emotion management skills to use.

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Emotionally Neglected in a Highly Emotional Family

By Jonice Webb • 4 min read
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“I scored high on the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire, but I actually grew up in a family that was the opposite of what you describe. My family was constantly yelling and screaming. How can this be?”    –A question posted by a reader on PDAN.

Six-year-old Marcus feels invisible as he sits between his two older sisters in the back seat of the car. He actually hopes he IS invisible, because he doesn’t want to be the target of either of his angry parents.  Marcus’ sister Marsha is sobbing loudly on his left. On his right, Blair stares ahead stone-faced with her headphones on, purposely shutting herself off from the brutal but familiar battle between their parents which is taking place in the front of the car.

Eight-year-old Marsha tries to sob loudly enough that her parents will hear her over their yelling, hoping they’ll realize what they are doing to their children and stop fighting.

Eleven-year-old Blair appears to be listening to music. Instead she is acutely aware that her mother will scream and hurl insults at her father until she “wins,” as she always does. Blaire repeats over and over in her head, “I hate these people. I’m going to run away from here as soon as I can.”

Here we have three children who are all responding differently to what is happening in their family. None of the three are experiencing direct verbal abuse, and no one is purposely harming them. But each suffers alone, unheard and unseen, in the back seat of the car. Each one is experiencing Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

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Five Simple Steps to Learn Mindfulness That Really Work

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read
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Fifteen years ago a colleague dragged me to a Mindfulness Training for mental health professionals. At that time, mindfulness was not considered a fully valid concept in psychology.

As a psychologist who valued science, I viewed it as nothing other than new age, mystical hippy nonsense. I anticipated a flaky conference, and I was not disappointed. At one point, they had us all stand up and mill about aimlessly while humming for 20 minutes. Then we had to ask and answer some very personal questions with the strangers next to us.

Ugh.

Fast forward to 2015, where Mindfulness and Science have met and married. And oh, what a glorious union it is! Mindfulness studies are pouring from many of the best researchers in the world. And the meaning of mindfulness has matured from simply “being in the moment” to a richer, more complex definition.

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Living Life on Autopilot? 3 Steps to Find Your Vitality

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read
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Do you feel bored in your life? 

Do you enjoy happy occasions less than you should? 

Do you sometimes feel emotionally numb? 

Do other people seem to experience more intense joy, love or closeness than you do? 

Do you sometimes question the purpose and value of your life? 

Do you put others’ needs before your own? 

If you answered “yes” to two or more of the questions above, it may be a sign that you’re on autopilot. What does this mean? It means that you do not have enough access to your true emotions.

In my work as a psychologist, I have heard many people express these concerns. Almost all have been fine, good-hearted people who are successful in many areas of their lives. But for them, something is missing. Some mysterious ingredient that makes life feel full, rich and stimulating is simply not there for them.

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Love and Wealth are Not Enough

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read
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What’s the most important ingredient for a happy life?

Philosophers, clergy, psychologists and researchers of all kinds have offered opinions on this question over the last five decades. Some say wealth, some say religion. Still others say family is the most important thing.

But one factor emerges over and over in study after study as a primary ingredient which must be present in childhood to produce a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult. That factor is emotional attachment, warmth and care. In a word, love.

This factor was recently studied very specifically by Harvard researchers (Vaillant, 2012) who wanted to compare the effects of childhood financial wealth with childhood warmth. By following over 200 men (yes, only men) over an extended period of 70+ years, they were able to identify clear patterns. They saw that childhood financial wealth has little to do with adult success, satisfaction and adjustment. And that parental warmth and care throughout childhood is a much more powerful contributor.

Some may wonder, “What’s the big deal? Don’t virtually all parents automatically love their children?”

In my years as a psychologist, I have seen for myself that money is not enough to raise a healthy child. But I’ve also seen that love is not enough. At least not the generic, “I love you because you’re my child” kind of love.

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A Secret Cause & Cure for the Socially Anxious

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read
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The Fatal Flaw: A deeply buried, un-nameable sense that:

Something is wrong with me. I am missing some vital ingredient that other people have. I am set apart, different. I do not quite fit in anywhere.

Fortunately the Fatal Flaw is not as bad as it sounds, because it’s not a real flaw. Instead, it’s something far more powerful than a flaw. It’s a feeling.

Legions of people walk this earth held back by something which they cannot understand, and for which they have no words. It’s a feeling with the power to hold brilliant men back from achieving their full potential, and powerful women back from becoming presidents of companies. It’s a feeling that will not break you, but it will dog you. It will keep you standing alone at the PTA meeting, or sitting pretending to work while others chat freely at a conference. Unaddressed, it can set you apart so that you feel alone, and gradually wear away your connection to the world.

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Got Issues? It’s All Your Parents’ Fault

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read

Everything that’s wrong in your life is the fault of your parents. Whatever your struggles, your mistakes and your pain, you are not to blame. You are an innocent victim of those who raised you.

At least that’s the way some folks interpret my definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

The definition of CEN: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs. People who grow up this way go forward into adulthood out of touch with their own emotions, feeling empty, alone and disconnected, and are baffled about what is wrong with them.

Here’s a comment that was posted on Ten Steps to Learn Self-Discipline:

Are you saying that when a parent fails to teach their children this skill well enough, that parent is guilty of Childhood Emotional Neglect? This article was insulting.

I’ve received many such comments. They point to one of the biggest barriers I have encountered in my efforts to bring the concept of Childhood Emotional Neglect to more people: the discomfort of blaming the parents.

Despite the overwhelming body of research proving it, many people strongly resist the fact that their parents’ treatment of them in childhood had a profound effect upon who they are as adults. It is uncomfortable to blame our parents for the problems and issues that we experience in adulthood. It feels like letting ourselves off the hook. Some people consider it “whining.”

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Big Boys Don’t Cry: The Emotionally Neglected Man

By Jonice Webb • 3 min read
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Luke prepares himself to walk into the office party. Despite his reputation as the most helpful and productive salesperson in the company, his self-confidence flies out the window when he has to face people socially. “I never fit in anywhere,” he thinks to himself.

Often they are referred to as, “the strong, silent type.” They are giving, reliable, stand-up guys. They may be excessively driven, but that drive is mostly to provide for their families. They are there for others but ask for little in return. They are baffled by other people’s emotions, and typically just want to escape when anyone cries, yells or shows intense feelings of any kind. They live in dread of the moment when their wife says, “I need to talk with you about something.”

Feeling numb, isolated, empty and alone, these men mistake their intense individuality for strength.  But since they are out of touch with their own feelings, they sense that they lack some vital ingredient that other people have; and deep down, they feel overlooked and unseen.

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3 Ways to Harness Your Brain’s Power & Change Your Life

By Jonice Webb • 2 min read
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Between psychology, medical science and neuroscience, we have never known so much about the human mind. Recently I’ve been amazed at the number and quality of studies which are showing us the amount of pure power our brains have; powers that are truly amazing. Powers that change the meaning of the old phrase, “put your mind to it.”

Here are a few of my favorite discoveries of what our brains can do:

  1. Build muscles and increase your metabolism: In a study by Ranganathan, et al., 2004 a group of people who listened to guided imagery of themselves going through a strength training work-out built almost as much muscle mass as people who actually did the work-outs. Scientists think that the mental process of imagining a work-out releases the same hormones to build muscle that are released during an actual exercise session.

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