Many lucky children are raised by families that are able to provide them with all of the tools to live a happy and healthy life.
But as a psychologist who specializes in Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), I know that many adults were not so fortunate. In fact, I can say without a doubt that children who grow up in families who are not aware of the importance of feelings or emotions usually grow up with some important gaps in their emotional toolbox. These are the people who grew up with CEN.
As you read the 7 Secrets of an emotionally healthy person below, I hope you will be thinking about yourself and about how well you are able to do them. And about the possibility that perhaps you grew up in an emotionally neglectful home.
7 Secrets of an Emotionally Healthy Person
- Manage your feelings. Life is so hectic and stressful that we all find ourselves trying to manage schedules, jobs, children, and finances, believing that the better we do at all of those things, the happier we will be. And all of them are very important, of course. But few things can erode your quality of life more than unexpressed anger, unresolved sadness, or unexpressed fear, for example. Unacknowledged, unresolved feelings have a way of sapping our energy and strength. They also can emerge at the least helpful times, and ruin a whole day. Most people are unaware that emotions are important messages sent by their bodies. Most folks do not realize that if they pay attention to their feelings, they will receive answers to many questions they might have about themselves, their lives, and the people around them. Acknowledging that you feel sad, for example, helps you think about why you feel sad. And that may be your body saying, “You’re losing something” or “You need something.” Your feelings can tell you very important things about your life.
- Know what you want. It’s entirely possible to go through your whole life seldom paying attention to what you want for yourself. For example, some folks fail to consider what they want to do for work, instead of taking whatever opportunity presents itself. Some people worry too much about what other people want and organize themselves around that. This can even apply in much smaller decisions, like what to do, what to eat, or where to go. Failing to check in with yourself and think about your wishes and desires leaves you vulnerable to ending up with a life you never chose. But when you pay attention, consider your wishes, and plan for yourself, you’re far more likely to end up in a place you have consciously chosen, and with a life that you purposely carved out for yourself.
- Welcome criticism. Receiving negative feedback from others is difficult, for sure. It’s never easy to hear negative comments from another person. Most of us will go to great lengths to avoid hearing criticism; and once we hear it, we get too hurt, angry or upset to adequately process its message. But if you think about it, it’s not humanly possible to go through life without making mistakes. And the people who are willing to criticize us are the ones we should value the most. Criticism is, after all, an opportunity to learn. Not that it should be accepted without question; all criticism is a product of its creator, and it usually says as much about the criticizer as it says about the person being criticized. But as long as the criticizer is generally well-meaning, once you sift through his motives and needs in your own mind, you can usually glean a helpful bit of information about yourself, and how to be better.
- Stop thinking in black and white terms. I have seen children harmed, marriages damaged, and businesses tanked over black and white thinking. When you think in terms of good/bad, right/wrong or yes/no, you often miss the truth, which almost always lies somewhere in-between those extremes. When you open yourself up to more complex thinking, doors are opened for you to understand other people better, as well as understand yourself better. “Bad” things become mixed, good things develop layers, “right” things have wrong things embedded in them, and “yes” encompasses conditions. Interestingly, the people who are willing to grapple with these challenges end up making better choices and get along with other people better.
- Keep looking for ways to grow and learn. Watching people age has shown me that people who allow their world to become small generally end up feeling stuck in a small world. On the other hand, the happiest people are the ones who know that they will never know everything they need to know and that they will probably never be able to meet their full potential. Knowing that life will never stop challenging you, you can continually watch for ways to improve yourself. It will keep your brain and body stimulated while also preparing you for what life will dish out next.
- Don’t be afraid to commit. In most situations, the worst decision you can make is no decision. Even if you make the wrong decision, taking the responsibility to commit to it and follow it through will take you on a journey of learning and growing. Making no decision is like refusing to take control. It leaves you at the mercy of other people, other situations, and circumstances, and deprives you of an opportunity to learn. When you are not actively deciding what you need and what you want and committing to that, you are missing chances to take control of your own fate and fulfill yourself.
- Treat yourself with compassion. Life doles out plenty of challenges to all of us, and the way we cope with those challenges is a very important factor in our level health and happiness. I have watched many lovely people beat themselves up on the inside for making mistakes, or for their perceived weaknesses or flaws. Many of these folks would never treat a friend or loved one with such harshness. Blaming, insulting, guilting or shaming yourself accomplishes nothing but self-harm. But when you show yourself as much compassion as you would others you can save your energy and your self-esteem, and use them to work through the problem. This makes you far more resilient overall.
When you grow up in a household that under-responds to your feelings (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you do not learn how to do the 7 practices described above. Those who grow up this way often end up feeling vaguely disconnected, unsatisfied and unfulfilled as adults. To learn if the effects of CEN are at work in your life, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.
To learn much more about why CEN is invisible and unmemorable, how it affects you through adulthood, plus how to heal yourself, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.