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Childhood Emotional Neglect: Real People, Real Stories


Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you. This can leave you feeling misunderstood, empty and alone as you grow up, and through your adulthood.

Some of the most powerful words are those of real people sharing their stories. Here is a sampling of the real words of people who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (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.

The CEN Adult

I do not know how to tell my story, and I do not know what I feel, and even I cannot remember most of my childhood.

All my life I had felt the emptiness. I got so desperate to find out why I felt the way I did.

Despite my parents being wonderful people themselves and giving me everything possible, why did I feel so ungrateful angry and tearful?

I have the outward appearance of total success, great husband and kids, great job, financially secure.  But I lived my whole life in a depressed state, while publicly trying to maintain a façade of good cheer and happiness.  No one knew about the suicidal thoughts that plagued me at various points in my life. I felt a deep howling despair as a child and into adulthood, and never, ever understood it.

Being neglected, you have learned and know no different. That is the world to you, almost from the moment you are born. And you believe it is your fault and unchangeable. Again because of the neglect, no one tells you any different. No one pays attention or even notices you.

People use words like depression – ok, yeah – deep sadness – ok yeah that too – but it’s more than that. 

And it can be your friends that don’t get it too even though they love you and they care about you – it’s so hard to explain, even to yourself. 

I think when a lot of people think of childhood neglect, they see in their mind’s eye some child in tattered clothes, underfed, living in raggedly surroundings. They think, this couldn’t possibly be happening in a nice house, to a child with nice clothes, who is so well behaved and does well in school. But the raggedy, underfed tatteredness is inside. 

Healing From CEN

And like you said, hopefully we can learn. I know I sure did, but it did take a while and a lot of work. It’s so hard to figure out especially when a lot of people don’t get it.

Not until I went through tremendous hardship, and being completely alone during all of it was I even able to come to the conclusion that I had been severely emotionally neglected. At least now, things are getting better. Much, much better.

Now I understand and have started taking the steps suggested. I hope one day I successfully create a positive voice in my head which I can own.

With the understanding of CEN, I was able to “plug up” the holes and start the recovery process of “filling my tank.” Although I am not out of the woods yet, at least now, I know the problem…because knowing and understanding the problem is half the solution. 

Now I no longer revolve around a complete unknown.

My children and I have many discussions about CEN. We are a work in progress and moving forward in healing the hurt which will help them to become a good parent.


To all of you who have shared your stories, and all who have yet to reach out, I want to say: You, the silent sufferers of this world are the ones who hold the answers. Now that you see what is wrong and why, you can stop blaming yourself. You can see who you really are and let others see you too. You can start to fill that empty space and know that you deserve more.

The pain of a child who is growing up unseen, the emptiness of the adult who feels unknown, the strength that comes from facing the invisible. These are the voices of courage, the sounds of healing.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be invisible and hard to remember, making it difficult to know if you have it. To find out, visit and  Take the CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

Childhood Emotional Neglect: Real People, Real Stories

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2017). Childhood Emotional Neglect: Real People, Real Stories. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2017
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