Home » Blogs » Childhood Emotional Neglect » How to Know What You Want

How to Know What You Want

It’s amazing what good things will come your way once you simply accept that you want them.


A good job fell into Evan’s lap right out of college. He had majored in business, but he found himself editing textbooks. The job paid well, and he became a valued employee.

All was well with Evan’s career for an entire decade. Then a large conglomerate bought his company, and Evan was suddenly informed that his job would end in one month.

Evan worked out the month, and then found himself unemployed. “I need to figure out what to do next,” he said to his wife, Grace. Sitting across the table, Grace asked, “What do you want?”

Evan took a moment to consider this very reasonable question. Grace noticed a subtle look of panic in Evan’s eyes as they met hers. “I have no idea,” he said.

If you read the title of this blog and thought to yourself, “That’s silly,” then this article is not for you.

On the other hand, if you saw the title and thought, “I need to get better at that,” then you are in good company. It’s surprising how many people in this world do not know what they want. Even further, many have seldom, if ever, asked themselves:

What do I want?

I don’t necessarily mean knowing what you want only on big decisions, like career, marriage, or life direction or purpose. I also mean small things, like what restaurant you’d like to eat at, what movie you want to see, what type of clothing style, activities or people you like best.

I’m going to ask you to think back into your history for a moment. When you were growing up, how often were you asked what you wanted?

There are many family circumstances that can result in the children not being asked this question enough. A family that’s struggling financially, or one whose parents feel overloaded by life’s responsibilities; Depressed, workaholic, alcoholic or addicted parents; or parents who do not realize how important this question is. Most such parents weren’t asked the question enough themselves when they were growing up.

What do you want?

It’s not a part of their own vocabulary. They do not ask their children, and they do not ask themselves..

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if asking a child that question often might make him spoiled; and if asking yourself that question often might make you selfish. Those are some very reasonable concerns, but I would like to allay your fears.

Yes, always giving your child what she wants will spoil her. And always demanding what you want will make you selfish. But keep in mind that asking your child what he wants is not the same as giving it to him. And asking yourself what you want is very different from demanding it.  

Asking gives you information. Knowing what you want is vital. This important self-knowledge guides and motivates you and has a profound effect on what you get in your life.


Evan was the 6th in a family of 7 children. His parents were loving and they did their best, but they each worked full-time in demanding jobs, and they were admittedly always exhausted. Most family decisions were made based upon what would work for the majority of the 7 children. There simply was not time or energy to take each child’s wishes into account.

Growing up this way affected Evan in two surprising ways. First, Evan failed to receive a message from his parents that what he wanted mattered. Evan grew up never asking himself what he wanted partially because he didn’t even know that what he wanted was “a thing.”

Second, Evan grew all the way into adulthood without being required to reflect upon what he wanted. At age 31, he suddenly was faced with the fact that he really didn’t know himself in this way.

3 Steps to Get Better at Knowing What You Want

  1. Ask yourself what you want. This step seems simple, but it’s actually not. You have been “trained” to focus outward, not inward. Until now, what you’ve wanted has not taken up space on your radar screen. Now it is time to turn all that on its head. It’s time to start asking yourself what you want, at least twice per day. Ask this question about both large and small, everyday things.
  2. Learn how to focus inwardly better. Asking yourself what you want is only half of the formula. In order for this to help it’s important to be able to answer, and that requires an ability to turn your attention inside of yourself and pay attention to yourself and how you feel about things. If you find yourself struggling with this, take a class in meditation or mindfulness. They are literally a way to train your brain to focus inward.
  3. Self-monitor your likes and dislikes. As you get better at the first two steps, take notes of your answers on a daily basis. Create a document on your laptop or phone that allows you to list every “Like” and “Dislike” that you realize. Or you can download the Likes & Dislikes Sheet from the book Running on Empty by going to my website HERE. Just click on the big purple link to download the Change Sheets and you’ll find the Likes & Dislikes Sheet among them.
  4. Allow yourself to want. It’s one thing to ask yourself what you want, and it’s another to feel okay about wanting it. All of the great work you’ll be putting into Steps 1, 2 and 3 will only help if you can make sure to follow Step 4. 

Is it okay to want?

It’s important. Because life will hand you all kinds of things both positive and negative. And you can simply go with the flow.

But it’s amazing what good things will come your way once you simply accept that you want them.


If you’re not sure what you want, this can be a sign that you grew up with some Emotional Neglect. To learn more, see or the book, Running on Empty.

Photo by Jinx!

How to Know What You Want

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

14 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2016). How to Know What You Want. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2016
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.