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Is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Finally Becoming A Household Term?

The What

Way back in 2008, I began to notice a distinct pattern of struggles among the patients in my psychology practice. I knew that I was seeing the footprint of something important, but I had no idea what it was. I became intensely curious.

The pattern I was noticing involved vague feelings of emptiness or numbness, a deep sense of disconnection, and a general lack of fulfillment; a sense of being different, out of place, and missing something important in life. All of these clients were also baffled and confused about what could possibly be wrong to cause all of this.

I wondered:

What does this pattern mean?

Why is it appearing in so many dissimilar people?

Has anyone else ever noticed this before?

In 2009, as I continued to notice the pattern over and over again, I was feeling even more baffled and intrigued.

By 2010 I had finally found my answers to the questions that had been troubling my psychologist mind for years. I had figured out what was causing it and had coined the term for it, “Childhood Emotional Neglect,” or CEN for short.

By 2012 I had published the first book ever written on CEN, Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

The Why

2010 was a pivotal year in the life of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). During that year, I finally realized that the pattern I was seeing was real, and was caused by something invisible and important. But this unique pattern of symptoms was not caused by childhood abuse or trauma or by any other events in the life of a child. This is why it had been so hard to see and identify and name.

It was not caused by anything that happened to my clients as children. It was instead a product of what had failed to happen for them as children.

I had finally identified the one shared characteristic in all of these clients’ lives.

Their parents had failed to notice or respond to their feelings enough throughout their childhoods.

This small, every day, widespread, seemingly innocuous failure to act was causing scores of lovely people to struggle with a secret question, wrapped in a thick layer of self-blame and shame:

What is wrong with me?

In 2010, after I gave this powerful force from childhood the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, I did a massive search of the databases of the American Psychological Association. I wanted to know what other mental health professionals were saying about this important topic so I could begin to help my patients with it. And I was astonished at what I found.


There were articles at that time about emotional deprivation, the severe form of physical and emotional neglect of a child’s needs that occurred in orphanages mid-century. But the mild-to-moderate lack of emotional responsiveness that I was seeing the effects of, even in well-meaning, otherwise loving homes, was not mentioned.

When I found the term “emotional neglect” anywhere in the professional literature, it was lumped in with emotional abuse like this: “child emotional neglect and abuse,” and actually referred to physical neglect or emotional abuse. Not pure Childhood Emotional Neglect.

That’s when I realized that I had a responsibility to speak out.

I set a goal that was rooted in my personal experience and stoked by my passion for psychology. I knew, without a doubt, that if people knew about this silent killer of their joy, it would change their lives.

I knew, without a doubt, that I had to make Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) a household term.

The Now

Here we are, it is 2018. And so much has happened in the last 8 years. Many thousands of people have felt finally understood and validated by taking the CEN Questionnaire. CEN has been discussed on NPR and dozens of other shows across the US and Canada. There have been articles about Childhood Emotional Neglect in many national and international publications. 

The book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect has become a bestseller. Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children (2018), takes the topic of CEN even deeper into recovering people’s lives and is also on its way to becoming a bestseller.

By treating hundreds of CEN people I have developed a distinct series of steps that guide CEN folks through the process of reaching their blocked-off feelings, reclaiming them and beginning to use them. The first ever (and free!) online CEN Recovery Program has offered thousands of people vital information about how to get through the steps of CEN recovery. The Childhood Emotional Neglect Newsletter has 80,000 subscribers and is growing exponentially.

Mental health professionals have enthusiastically embraced the truth and value of this concept and theory. Many professionals intuitively perceived the pattern, or “footprint,” long before it received a name and description, but never had a term for it or a clear way to address it with their clients. Hundreds of licensed therapists have read the Running On Empty books or taken the CEN Professional Training courses and have become designated CEN therapists.

Now, in self-help books, blogs and on YouTube, many other mental health professionals are talking about Childhood Emotional Neglect, adding their own personal or professional observations and experiences. It is a most gratifying and wonderful thing to behold. Today, in 2018, CEN is becoming ever closer to becoming a household term.

Sometimes I think I could step back now, and let the seeds that are planted continue to grow and flourish. But another, much larger, part of me shouts, “No!”

Driven by the fuel of my own feelings, I will continue. I will speak, write and illuminate as many people as I can reach.

I will not stop until I am satisfied that we have given answers and validation to the legions of people who are out there, struggling in silence. And wondering what is wrong with them.

Since CEN is often subtle and unmemorable, it can be difficult to know if you have it. Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn more, watch my brand new YouTube video:  Why Scores Of People Are Unaware Of Their Childhood Emotional Neglect.

You can find both books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and  Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children in most bookstores and online booksellers.

Is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Finally Becoming A Household Term?

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. (2018). Is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Finally Becoming A Household Term?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Apr 2018
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