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You Can Become More Resilient, Even if You Grew Up With Emotional Neglect

Do you ever wish you could be less affected when difficult things happen in your life?

Challenging life circumstances, like a lay-off, marital problems, or severe financial difficulties, can take their toll on anyone. But if you grew up with parents who weren’t able to provide you with the emotional attention and validation you needed (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you may struggle even more. And there are some very good reasons for that.

First I want to tell you about an important study on resilience, and then we’ll talk about the special case of Childhood Emotional Neglect

An important study (Maddi, S. R., 1987) followed 400 people going through extreme hardship in their jobs, to see who thrived through it, and who folded under the pressure. They found that three personal traits separated the thrivers from the folders.

3 Traits of The Resilient

1. Commitment: People who are better able to commit to trying, or to stay committed to their goals, even under adversity, fare much better than those who give up easily. Commitment provides the drive and energy that will help you feel your way through a difficult situation. If you are quick to detach from the situation, like for example decide that you don’t care, you are far more likely to be defeated.
2. Control: People who try to influence the outcome, by exercising whatever control they can muster, feel less hopeless and are less helpless. If you take an active approach rather than passive, you will feel much less powerless.
3. Challenge: If you have a positive attitude toward being challenged and view a challenge as an opportunity to learn, you will stay energized, hopeful and motivated.

These three traits do not come naturally to many. When things get difficult or painful, it may seem far easier to simply disengage yourself from the situation. However, thanks to this research, we know that disengaging when the going gets rough actually reduces your overall resilience.

For example, let’s say that you love your job and are very happy in it, until you get a new boss. The new boss is a difficult personality; pushy, demanding and unappreciative. You find yourself enjoying your job less and less as the days go by. Co-workers start to resign, and you begin to think that you should also jump ship.

According to this study, you may fare best if you stay as long as you can to try to improve the situation. This is the “control” trait. Working to change the situation requires you to learn skills, pay attention to your own feelings and needs, and persist. This reduces your feelings of helplessness, as well.

Viewing this relationship as a challenge instead of a lost cause can keep you energized to keep trying. “Challenge” is the third building block of true resilience.

These 3 personal traits are extra difficult for those who grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). If your parents failed to notice you struggling with challenges in childhood, and didn’t offer you the support and guidance you needed to get through them, they missed opportunities to instill these 3 traits in you. Now, the primary traits of resilience do not come naturally to you. It’s not your fault. It’s probably not your parents’ fault either. But that doesn’t change the reality that you do not have enough of these 3 traits.

Fortunately, you can cultivate these traits in yourself now!

4 Ways To Cultivate Resilience

  1. Choose a challenging situation; one you’re in now, or the next one you encounter, and make a decision to treat it as a learning opportunity. This sets you up with the “Challenge” trait, from the start.
  2. Decide on a time period that you will commit to stay in the situation and fight. Commit to hanging in there for at least that length of time.
  3. Try to identify the skills you need to help you hang in there. Do you need to learn how to speak up for yourself in an unfair situation? Protect yourself from a harmful person? Handle a difficult individual? You may need to learn assertiveness, or some new emotion skills. And that is good, because it will increase your overall resilience.
  4. Keep adjusting and re-adjusting your view of this situation. It is a challenge, not a disaster. And it’s key to continually bring yourself back around to that point of view. You will find that it energizes and motivates you to keep finding new ways to cope and control the situation. And it all builds your resilience.

Of course, there are certain situations when you should simply leave. If there is abuse of any kind, if your physical health is affected, or if you turn the corner from thriving to suffering greatly, it could harm you to remain.

But generally, you owe yourself the opportunity to give yourself what you didn’t get in childhood. And cultivating your own resilience is one of the greatest ways to do it.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable, so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

You Can Become More Resilient, Even if You Grew Up With Emotional Neglect

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). You Can Become More Resilient, Even if You Grew Up With Emotional Neglect. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Nov 2017
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