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Are You Prone To One-Down Relationships?

Miranda: Where do you want to go for dinner tonight? I’m craving that place we went for lunch last week, The Rotten Grub Emporium.

Doug: OK, Hon. Sounds fine to me.

The exchange above may seem outlandish, but it’s far more common than you may think. Lovely people all over the world go along with bad ideas every single day. Even when they know, on some level, that they are bad ideas.

The majority of people have no problem knowing what they want and what they need and asking for it. But there is also a large subset of the population who have no idea what they want or need. Who take up too little space, expect too little and ask too little. Just like Doug.

So why would Doug agree to go to the Rotten Grub Emporium? What could possibly cause you to make a decision to agree with a suggestion like that? It all comes down to two reasons, one from your childhood and one from your adulthood. One is caused by someone else, and one is caused by you.

Both can be overcome!

The 2 Main Reasons You Are Prone To One-Sided Relationships

  1. In childhood, you were not asked enough by your parents what you want, feel and need – I call this Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN. This gave you the idea that your wants, feelings, and needs are less important than other people’s. You now feel on a deep, (probably unconscious) level that your wants, feelings, and needs do not matter. Your parents emotionally neglected you.
  2. In adulthood, you have done what you were never meant to do. You have inadvertently continued the pattern of ignoring your own feelings and needs. You are unconsciously continuing to inflict upon yourself the Emotional Neglect that you experienced in childhood. It’s not your fault.

This pattern is not at all unusual. I see it often, in fact. And there are some very good reasons why #2 naturally follows #1.

Research has shown, over and over and over again, that the way a child is treated by those who raise her becomes the way the way she will someday treat herself. Hundreds of studies on childhood attachment have looked at this question from many different angles, and it is now a well-known, well-understood fact that mental health professionals no longer question.

Do you identify with Doug, in that you tend to go along with what other people want? Or do you identify with Miranda, in that you have a spouse, partner or friend who does not seem to speak up for him/herself?

Neither position is a good one because every one-sided relationship is limited in its depth and range. It will not be able to develop to its full potential. That’s because the “one-down” person, despite all of the care and heartfelt generosity toward the other, is not fully present in the relationship.

It may seem there is only one solution to this dilemma. Doug must start speaking up. But actually, just as with most things, the answer is not so simple. But there is an answer, and it is clear and time-tested and true.

And it works.

Follow These 3 Steps To Even Up Your Relationships

  • Accept that your feelings, needs and wants do matter as much as anyone else’s. You must accept this fact before you can take your rightful place in your relationships.
  • Start paying attention to what you feel, need and want. Make lists on your phone or laptop or on a sheet of paper, and add a new item to each list every single day. You can’t speak up for yourself unless you know what to ask for.
  • Start making a conscious effort to be aware of your own needs and wants, and put them into words. When someone asks your opinion or preference, push yourself to offer one every single time. The more you do it, the easier it will become. The easier it becomes, the more you will be filling your own shoes, and taking up your fair space.

In childhood, you were not asked what you wanted or needed or felt enough. In adulthood, you have not asked yourself what you wanted, needed or felt enough. You have continued to neglect yourself. The funny thing about neglecting yourself is that it radiates an unspoken message to everyone around you, “Neglect me, I’m not important,” the message whispers in everyone’s ears.

Why should those around you value you more than you value yourself? Why would they care about your happiness more than you do yourself? Unfortunately, they can not. And they will not.

These three simple steps practiced persistently over time can make a tremendous difference in your level of self-worth and self-confidence. And you will gain the added benefit of actually getting what you want a lot more often. You will never again have to eat at The Rotten Grub Emporium. Getting what you want and feeling equal and deserving. This will, without a doubt, make you happier.

So. Much. Happier.

To learn much more about how to heal the effects of CEN in your relationships, see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, your Parents & Your Children.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (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.

Are You Prone To One-Down Relationships?

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). Are You Prone To One-Down Relationships?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Jun 2018
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