In my work as a psychologist, I have discovered a most amazing thing. Scores of people had something vital robbed from them in childhood. And very, very few of them even know it’s missing.
It’s their voice.
Not literally, of course! Most of these fine folks have plenty to say and they say it. They are quick to say things like:
How are you?
Is something wrong?
Sure, I’ll do that favor for you.
All’s well here!
I don’t need any help.
I’m sorry, I can’t go to your party.
I’m happy to take on that task. Go ahead and assign it to me.
While all of the above may seem like a random collection of statements, they all share a common theme. They are all about “you” and none about “me.” They are all made frequently by people with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). They convey the life stance of those who grew up with their emotions ignored.
The Voice of a Typical Child
Have you ever been around a typical infant? All the way from birth through the age of 2 or 3 they express themselves. Before they have words, they cry or giggle to communicate what they feel. As they get a little older, they point and say nonsense words. They yell and point out the car window and say, “Truck!” as soon as they know how to say it.
My point is that children are born with a voice that they are innately wired to use. What a baby feels and thinks has no filter. It comes out automatically and immediately.
But sadly, too many children must start filtering their voice all too soon.
The Voice of the Emotionally Neglected Child
Imagine being an older child who gets your feelings hurt (as all children inevitably do). Your face and body language show your feelings very clearly for all to see. But your parents go on as if everything is fine. They don’t even seem to notice.
Imagine going to your parent for help, but, for whatever reason, they are not available.
Imagine walking through every day of your life as a child seldom being asked personal questions by your parents. Questions like:
What are you sad about?
Did something happen at school today to get you upset?
Is this scary for you?
What do you want?
What do you feel?
What do you need?
When you don’t get asked these questions enough, it is natural for your child and, later adolescent, brain to assume that your personal feelings, wants and needs do not matter. After some time, you learn that you may as well not express them because no one really cares anyway.
Imagine going through every day of your life as a child receiving little feedback about who you are. Feedback such as:
You are amazing at math. But we need to put some time into increasing your vocabulary.
You seem to get bored and distracted at baseball practice.
You have a great sense of humor!
Your temper gets the best of you sometimes.
You’re my little pizza lover.
You like to help others. It’s so sweet to see.
I love how you want to make the people around you laugh.
You seem to be unhappy when your friend _______ is here.
When you don’t hear these observations and feedback enough, you don’t get to learn two vital things that you are meant to learn in childhood:
You don’t get to learn who you really are
And you do not find out that you are worth knowing.
This is how, growing up in a family that did not notice, validate, or show interest in you enough, you learned that your feelings do not matter.
This is how bereft of enough emotional response and care, you learned that you should keep your true self under wraps.
This is how, by asking for things and having your words enter an empty void, you learned that it hurts to speak up.
This how Childhood Emotional Neglect took your voice away.
How To Take Your Voice Back
You were born with a strong voice, but your childhood took it away. So you do not now need to create a new voice, you just need to recapture what you once had. Your voice is there, inside of you, waiting to be reclaimed.
- Learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect. As you do you will begin to realize how it happened to you, and you will start to see it in many different aspects of your life. You will discover how disconnected you have become from your true inner self, and how that has disconnected you from others. Understanding this will help you see how there is a “you” inside that you have been ignoring all these years.
- Start tracking what you want, feel and need. What do you like? What do you enjoy? Who do you want to be with? Where do you want to go? What bores you, or annoys you, or troubles you? Pay attention.
- Once you know better who you are, you can learn the skills to express it. Learn all you can about assertiveness, which is the ability to say things in a way that others can, and will, hear it. Practice saying, “I want…,” “I feel…,” “I need…,” and maybe even, “I think…” Each time you speak up makes it easier to do it the next time.
Every Time You Speak Up You Are Sending a Message to Your True Self
Just as each time you speak up makes the next time easier; each time you pay attention to that small, quiet child within, you send him or her a powerful message.
By doing the opposite of what your parents did, by providing for yourself what they didn’t give, you are validating who you are, and listening to what you need. You are saying to yourself and that silent little girl or boy: You do matter.
What do people do when they know that they matter? They express their feelings, their desires, and their needs.
What will you do when you realize that you matter? You will learn to speak your truth.
You will take your voice back.
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN can be subtle and invisible so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.
To learn how to heal your own CEN see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn how to express your wants, feelings and needs to the central people in your life, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.