One of the most fascinating yet frustrating aspects of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is that it is very possible to recover from it; yet built into its very existence are some powerful roadblocks to healing.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when your parents fail to notice and respond to your emotions enough as they raise you.
When your feelings are ignored too much during your formative years, your child brain knows just what to do to meet the demands of your childhood home: Feelings aren’t allowed.
Your brain automatically pushes your feelings away, blocking them off to prevent them from burdening your parents and yourself.
When you grow up this way, with your feelings walled off, you end up facing a predictable set of challenges throughout your adult life. First, you sense that something is missing in your life (it’s your emotions). You probably focus on other people’s feelings and wants and needs, and tend to ignore your own.
Deep down, you question your own value as a human being. Without enough access to your feelings, you doubt yourself on many levels. It’s difficult to know what you feel, and this makes it harder for you to make good choices, connect with people on a deep level, or share your emotions with those who matter to you.
Finally realizing that CEN is the cause of your secret, unnameable lifelong struggles can set you free in a remarkable way. Finally, you realize that you weren’t born flawed. Finally, you know that you are not to blame. Finally, you see that there’s a path to healing that others have successfully walked before you.
Finally, you see the possibility of a happy and fulfilled future. But…
On your road to healing, you take step after step and you experience many meaningful changes. But some of the aspects of CEN form roadblocks that get in your way and try to throw you off-track. Being aware of these roadblocks and knowing that you face them in the company of many others can make you stronger and better able to overcome them.
The Obstacles To Healing Your CEN
You don’t believe your own experience and question whether it matters
The self-doubt that lies under the surface of your life is a major obstacle to your ability to change. It makes you question your memories of your own childhood, and doubt that they’re important. “All kids have negative experiences.” “My parents were great. They did the best they could.” “So what if my parents failed to respond to me emotionally. Other people had it so much worse!” “I’m not even sure my memories are accurate.”
How To Stay On Track: That voice of doubt is the voice of CEN. You were not raised to trust your emotions, so your path to healing must take on that voice. You must talk back to it to keep your healing on-track. “It doesn’t matter how great my parents were in other ways. They failed me in one very important way.” “My memories are real, and they matter.”
You fear that you will become selfish
Growing up, when you were not asked enough what you feel, what you think or what you need, you learned that you were not to take up space in the world with your feelings, wants, thoughts or needs. So as you heal your CEN you realize that you must begin to speak your truth to others. But this old message makes you feel selfish for taking the chance to say, “I’d like to have pizza tonight,” “I disagree with you,” “I need your attention,” or “I feel hurt/sad/angry…”
How To Stay On Track: Of all the people I’ve helped heal their CEN, I have never once seen anyone become selfish. Believe me you have a long way to go to start to take up too much space. With every effort you make to speak up for yourself, you are simply inching toward the middle. Let go of this worry as best you can!
You don’t feel worth the work involved
Undervaluing your own feelings has a very predictable effect: you end up undervaluing yourself. That’s because your emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who you are. Somewhere, somehow, deep inside you feel less worthy. This makes it hard to prioritize your own healing and feel good about it.
How To Stay On Track: First, the truth about this. Your personal worth is there; you simply have not discovered it yet. Your recovery depends on your ability to make commitments and investments in yourself. So continue the work of valuing your own feelings and paying attention to them. It takes nothing away from your everyday life, yet it is the single most powerful thing you can do to heal your CEN. The more you realize, value and listen to your emotions, the more you are realizing, valuing and listening to yourself. The more you do this, the more your sense of self-worth increases.
Reaching out to others feels wrong
As a child, when you reached out to connect emotionally (as all children naturally do), the lack of response sent you an unspoken message, loud and clear: Don’t reach out. So now deep down, when you need help or connection, you are stopped from making connections by a block inside of you. Somehow, it just feels needy or wrong to ask for help or even want to connect.
How To Stay On Track: The way to tackle your CEN is to do the exact opposite of what your CEN voice has always told you to do. That deep feeling that it’s dangerous to be emotionally vulnerable, and wrong to have emotional needs, keeps you emotionally disconnected. So do not give in to that childhood voice. Fight it instead.
These obstacles are in your way, yes. But they are not in charge. They are only old voices from your childhood, and you are now a strong, competent adult. You can take on these obstacles and power through them. Because just like your CEN, they too can be overcome.
CEN can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take the CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.
To learn how to overcome your fear of being emotionally vulnerable in your relationships, see the book Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, your Parents & Your Children.