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A Secret Cause & Cure for the Socially Anxious

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.

The Fatal Flaw is a product of the invisible, subtle powerful force, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): A parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

Children who grow up in households where their feelings are ignored or discouraged push their emotions down and away, to adapt. As adults, they lack access to their own feelings, which are a vital source of richness and connection in life. Deep down, they sense something missing in them that other people have (it’s their emotions). These two results combine to form this un-nameable sense of being different, of not fitting in, of being alone and out of place; a perfect breeding ground for social anxiety.

Because its source is so invisible, many people who grew up with CEN are completely unaware, and so many with the Fatal Flaw are completely unaware. It is in fact your lack of awareness that gives the Fatal Flaw so much power over you.

Meet Donald, who is completely unaware of his Fatal Flaw:

“We’re invited to the neighborhood barbecue!” Donald’s wife Barbara says excitedly to him. They just moved into the area, and she is happy for the opportunity to meet their new neighbors. “Oh, that’s nice honey,” Donald says back. But in fact he is cringing inside. Secretly, he is making a plan to schedule a long meeting at work that afternoon so that he will not have to attend…

Now meet Donald again. It is two years later, and he has worked on his CEN, and has become aware of his Fatal Flaw:

Barbara and Donald just walked into the Johnsons’ anniversary party. They only know a few people there. Donald stands uncomfortably next to Barbara while she introduces herself to some guests. He fights the urge to excuse himself and flee the room. “I feel that I don’t fit in here, but I know that it’s not true,” he thinks to himself. “It’s not real, it’s just a feeling. It’s my Fatal Flaw.” Donald takes a deep breath and puts out his hand, because he knows that as soon he puts warmth out there, it will flow back to him. And his Fatal Flaw will be neutralized for the remainder of this party.

If you have the Fatal Flaw, there are four things that you can do that will quickly and effectively put you in control of your social discomfort.

  1. Recognize that your social anxiety is not based upon reality, but only on a feeling. You feel you don’t belong, but it is not actually true. Don’t give the feeling so much power.
  2. Start trying to get in touch with your emotions, in general. This will begin to break through your CEN barrier, and help you tap in to the rich source of connection and belongingness that other people enjoy.
  3. Tell someone close to you about your Fatal Flaw, so that they can help you by reminding and supporting you in social situations.
  4. Prepare yourself before every social occasion. Close your eyes, and walk yourself through it in your mind. Imagine yourself at the gathering, behaving warmly and confidently. Remind yourself that you are worthy and that you matter.

Repeat to yourself often the words that Donald used:

I feel that I don’t fit in here, but I know that it’s not true. It’s not real, it’s only a feeling. It’s just my Fatal Flaw.

To learn more about the Fatal Flaw, CEN, and how to overcome it, see or the book, Running on Empty.

A Secret Cause & Cure for the Socially Anxious

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. (2015). A Secret Cause & Cure for the Socially Anxious. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Feb 2015
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