For centuries people have been baffled about why particular people in their lives continually hurt or manipulate them. For centuries they have searched for answers.
After years of being concerned about labeling people and causing harm, we mental health professionals finally realized that we were failing to educate people about how to manage these challenging and damaging relationships. By not talking openly about narcissism and sociopathy, we were failing to validate and protect the people who needed it the most.
Today, fortunately, you can find plentiful articles about narcissism and sociopathy throughout this entire psychcentral site as well as in many other sources on the internet.
But one thing you will not find much information about is the question of what makes some people more vulnerable to narcissistic and sociopathic people in their lives. What makes you unintentionally gravitate toward people who will manipulate you and use you strictly to fulfill their own needs? Why is it so hard to see how they are harming you or to say, “No more,
to them? Or why do you seem to attract them?
Childhood Emotional Neglect: The childhood experience of growing up with your emotions ignored or discouraged by your parents.
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN is far more common than most people would think. It happens in homes that seem caring and supportive, but where the parents are simply emotionally unaware. It also happens in homes with addicted, self-absorbed, depressed, or personality disordered parents.
But no matter why it happens, its effects on the child are the same. It leaves behind a child who grows into an adult disconnected from her own emotions and her own emotional needs. It creates an adult who asks for little, and who unconsciously continues the pattern of neglecting himself.
This is a perfect draw for a narcissist.
4 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Vulnerable to Narcissists & Sociopaths
- Your feelings, which should be informing and guiding you, are not accessible to you. We are born with emotions wired into our biology for a reason. They are meant to help us survive and thrive. Our feelings warn us when we are in danger, and tell us when we need to protect ourselves. When your feelings are blocked, you are not able to properly access and use this resource, you may not feel angry when you should feel angry. You may not believe or trust that your pain is real, or you may not even feel entitled to have it. This makes you easy to manipulate and keeps you in damaging relationships much longer than you should be.
- Being unaware of your own wants and needs makes you susceptible to theirs. Narcissists and sociopaths are drastically UN-self-aware. But there is one way in which they are excessively so: they are overly concerned with, and immersed in, their own wants and needs. And they will do pretty much anything required to fulfill them. Narcissistic and sociopathic people do not mind harming others, and some of them, mainly sociopaths, actually enjoy it. People with these personality disorders are equipped with a special sonar. They can pick out of the crowd the person who will not say, “I want,” “I feel,” or “I need” very often. They can see that with you, there will be plenty of room for their own wants, feelings, and needs. So sociopaths and narcissists will be attracted to you. They will befriend you or approach you or ask you for a date. You will probably say yes or befriend them back because, thanks to your Childhood Emotional Neglect, you are vulnerable to them.
- Living in an emotionless world can make you feel empty and drab. Those who grew up with CEN often express a deep sense that they are not like everyone else. They say they feel emotionally numb, or empty. They say that they feel they are living in a black and white world, where everyone else seems filled with color and life. Being disconnected from your emotions can make life seem somewhat dull. In contrast, narcissistic and sociopathic folks tend to live large. Because they indulge their own feelings and are not burdened by any feelings of conscience or guilt, they can seem to shine brightly with charisma. They may seem to have what you do not have, and this makes you naturally drawn to them.
- There is no way to grow up with your feelings ignored without feeling deeply unimportant. Having CEN as an adult you tend to take up little space. In a way, you may feel most at home when you are on the sidelines, but also at the same time feel sad about the lack of acknowledgment from others. In contrast, narcissistic and sociopathic folks seek and require constant admiration, applause, and acclaim. Everywhere they go they seek the limelight. Because of your unfulfilled (but completely healthy and normal) need to feel that you matter, you may be naturally drawn to the “limelight feeling” of specialness that you never got in childhood. This makes you vulnerable to the narcissist.
How To Become Less Vulnerable
If you saw yourself in the description above, then I have one thing to say to you: it’s time. It is time to make yourself less vulnerable.
And the good news is, you can! You can heal the Emotional Neglect from your childhood and this will help you stop attracting emotionally harmful people into your life.
You can start by beginning to pay attention to yourself in all the ways that did not happen when you were a child. To do this, pause for a moment twice each day and ask yourself some very important questions that you were not asked enough as a child:
What do I want?
What do I feel?
What do I need?
Your next step will be to start saying those words, “I want, I feel, and I need,” out loud to others, finally expressing your wants, feelings and needs more.
Through all of these steps, you will be creating your own limelight. A limelight of your own making. A reflection of your inner self that you are finally allowing to shine. A limelight that is healthy and real, and that has been there all along.
The more you pay attention to yourself, the less attention you will get from narcissists or sociopaths.
The more you like and care about yourself, the less you will feel drawn to narcissists.
The more you learn to express yourself, the easier it will be for you to say, “No more” to a narcissist or sociopath in your life.
Starting down the path of recovery from your Childhood Emotional Neglect is the start to your new life. A life free of manipulation and emotional harm. A life in which you are finally protected in exactly the way you were always meant to be.
Childhood Emotional Neglect is often subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.
To learn how to set limits with a narcissistic parent without feeling guilty, and also why CEN makes you more likely to enter relationships with narcissists see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.