Having asked too many times, and received no answer too many times, he knows.
Imagine that child, surrounded by people, knowing deep down that he should not let too many of his feelings show.
Having let them see his feelings too many times, and suffered their reaction too many times, he knows.
These are the messages of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
Most likely, none of these messages are stated outright. And none of them are absolute, so it’s confusing. Because, at times, someone does answer your question, someone does seem to hear what you say, someone does meet your need, or seem to care what you feel. Those times are remarkable and powerful, and so you remember them still.
Yet the effects of those affirming, memorable events are buried under the massive number of times that the opposite happened. Your questions went unanswered, your feelings unnoticed, your needs unmet. These times when no one answered are even more powerful, due to their sheer number, their painful mandates, and their subliminal, global message:
You don’t matter.
From this, you learn early and well that you should not take up too much space in this world. You shouldn’t burden others with your needs, nor are your feelings acceptable.
When you are launched into adulthood with your feelings pushed away and a belief that you don’t matter, how do you come back? Is it possible to repair what went wrong for you?
Yes, yes, yes, it is possible. Fortunately, legions of others have been where you are and rebounded. There is a well-travelled path, already laid out for you to change your direction.
5 Things You Must Do if You Grew Up Emotionally Neglected
- Accept the unacceptable: You have needs, just like every human being on the planet. Needing and wanting things from people is not a sign of weakness, it’s simply a sign of being alive. Your needs are healthy and acceptable, and it’s important that you own them.
- Make friends with your enemies: All your life your emotions have seemed your enemies; perhaps they have even been your secret shame. You’ve believed you should not have them. But now, to heal, you must invite them to play a larger role in your life. Begin to honor your feelings, learn how to name, manage, and use them, and they will enliven your life in a very good way. They will tell you what you want, what to do, and whom to trust. Make friends with your emotions, and they will guide you.
- Recapture what you chased away: Growing up among people who were not there for you enough, you learned it is best to keep people at a distance. Now you must change your stance, and not only stop pushing people away, but actively pursue relationships with them. Watch for those who seem genuine and trustworthy, and begin to open up to them. Accept that they can bring help and depth and value to your life.
- Know the unknowable: Are you worth knowing? Perhaps you’ve always thought not. That’s because the people who should know you in the deepest way (your family) hardly know you at all. But the truth is, you are not only worth knowing, you have a responsibility to get to know who you really are. You must learn all that you can about yourself, and then you’ll finally feel yourself standing on a firm foundation.
- Open the lock: You have coped so far by circling your wagons. Stay within your circle, and you’ll be safer, you’ve believed. You can’t be disappointed if you don’t expect anything. You can’t be let down if you don’t ask. But now you must do the opposite. Unlock your circle and venture out. Do things you wouldn’t normally do, including talk more, ask more, reach out and connect more. Take chances, and explore the possibilities that you’ve previously been closed to.
Imagine a person who feels invisible making a difficult decision, “I won’t be invisible any more.”
Imagine that person beginning to believe that he matters, and acting that way.
Imagine that person asserting his needs, connecting with people, learning to express himself. “I’m just as important as anyone else,” he finally realizes.
Imagine him recognizing his uniqueness, his strengths, and his value. Imagine how different he feels.
These are the things you must do to heal your neglect. This is the well-worn path to accepting that you matter.
Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible. To find out if you have it, I encourage you to Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire (it’s free). There, you can also read more about the emotion skills and how you can learn them.