Few of life’s challenges are more poorly understood than Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
Yet CEN has so much influence in today’s world that it’s difficult to convey its true depth and reach.
Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs as they raise you. It dwells in the everyday life of a child, lurking unnoticeably in the shadows, hiding in plain sight. It happens when your parents simply fail to address, notice or respond enough to your emotions.
As CEN quietly drains the color and verve from countless lives, it takes refuge in its own invisibility. All the while, unsuspecting parents follow the pattern set up by their own parents, quietly delivering the “family ban” on emotions to their own children.
Childhood Emotional Neglect is incredibly contradictory. It is simple, ordinary and ubiquitous but also powerfully destructive.
CEN dwells in moments of nothing. Yet it is, most decidedly, something.
6 Important Facts About Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
- CEN is invisible for good reasons
Much of CEN’s power comes from its invisibility. It happens in many small moments of a child’s growing-up years — unremarkable moments that seem like nothing — moments in which the child goes unseen, unheard, or unknown. Moments in which no one says, “Are you OK?” “Are you sad?” “What’s wrong?” “Did something happen that you’re upset about?” These moments seem like nothing because they are nothing. They are non-events; things that don’t happen. Our brains are not designed to see, note and remember things that do not happen.
- Childhood Emotional Neglect is different from childhood emotional abuse
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who refer to CEN as a form of abuse. It is, in fact, in some very important ways, the exact opposite of abuse. Abuse is an event. It’s something that your parent does to you. CEN, in contrast, is something your parent fails to do for you. Abuse of any kind causes you direct harm, like an impact. Emotional Neglect, on the other hand, is more like a very gradual failure to offer you something you need to have in order to thrive. It’s more like a gradual emotional wasting away.
- CEN affects your emotions as an adult
When your parents under-respond to your emotions as they raise you, they are programming you to continue to do the same thing to yourself. Children who grow up this way invariably ignore, suppress, or wall off their own emotions all through their adulthood. Emotions become a burden rather than the source of energy, connection, motivation and direction they were meant to be.
- CEN affects your relationships in a very profound way
Emotions are the energy that attracts others to you and the glue that holds them there. In order to have resilient, rewarding and meaningful relationships, it is vital to have full access to all of your feelings both positive and negative. You must be able to feel hurt, sad, warmed, angry, frustrated or overjoyed. It’s also vital to know what you are feeling and to be able to share it.
- If you are motivated, you can heal your own CEN
As a psychologist for over 20 years, I have helped countless people who are depressed, anxious, stressed, or having problems at work or with their spouses or families. I have not found a single diagnosis or emotional struggle more responsive to treatment than Childhood Emotional Neglect. Once you see what’s wrong, and see how CEN has affected your life, you can change the way you treat yourself. You can give yourself the emotional attention you should have always had. You can learn the emotion skills that you missed learning as a child. You can begin to treat your feelings and needs as if they matter. And when you do, your world will change.
- Repairing your CEN will change your relationships for the better
When you begin to treat yourself as if you matter, a funny thing happens: the people in your life begin to see you differently and respond to you differently. They start to see your personality, your emotions, and your needs. And they start to respond to what they can finally see. The more comfortable you get with feeling, thinking and talking about emotions, the closer your partner and other people in your life will feel to you; the more they will trust you, and the better they will want to know you.
I have seen intelligent, capable, caring people live their lives thinking they are none of those things. I have also watched these invisible people become visible, and I have seen gray lives fill with vivid color.
One final important fact about Childhood Emotional Neglect. You can change your life on the outside by beginning to know and value yourself on the inside. As you begin to feel your feelings and share them with others, you will become the best version of yourself.
Finally, after giving yourself what you never got, you can finally live your life as if you matter.
Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.
To learn how to heal the effects of Emotional Neglect in your relationships, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.