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What the Process of Recovery From Childhood Emotional Neglect Really Feels Like

Every day I receive emails and comments from people who are in the process of healing their Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. Some have read my books, others have watched my videos or taken my online CEN recovery program.

I began to realize that each of these lovely folks is offering a valuable description of their own CEN recovery, and exactly what it feels like to them.

Today, I am sharing with you snippets from just a few. I did not select these for the purposes of painting a rosy picture of CEN recovery. Instead, I deliberately chose to go the opposite way. Each of these comments was chosen for its complex description of the writer’s unique, layered experience of Childhood Emotional Neglect, and their own steps to healing.

Although there is overlap in the topics, the comments are sorted into these key areas of CEN recovery: CEN Awareness, Emotions, Relationships, Parenting, and Overall Life Changes.

As you read them, I hope you see yourself and your own struggle in the words of these courageous, dedicated people, and realize that you are not alone.

Real Comments From Those in the Midst of CEN Recovery

Becoming Aware of Childhood Emotional Neglect

  • I didn’t know I had CEN until I read about it. I happened to read about it only when I really wanted to find out what that unexplainable, empty, depressing feeling I felt all the time was. I am so glad I now know about CEN because I spent my life feeling guilty for no reason or reasons like me being unlovable, that I created in my head. I am starting to accept this part of my life and try to bring out the best in me. It’s definitely easier said than done but I really believe that acceptance is the key. For a long time, I lived in denial and it did not help. It only piled up and made things worse. Also, it is good to know that you’re not alone. However, it is something that I’d never wish upon anyone, ever.
  • Just putting a name and ‘face’ on CEN was immensely therapeutic- one large entity to finally describe all my foibles and difficulties life had thrown my way that made perfect sense.


  • For all my life I never thought about actively managing my emotions on a daily basis. I was on a rollercoaster ride- some days I would hide them, other days I would burst forth, wondering later why I acted/reacted (perhaps out of character).
  • Understanding the Wall has helped shed some light on how I manage situations. Your comment that an emotion has to be powerful enough to break through it is a revelation. I think we CEN folks tend to not “sweat the small stuff” and convince ourselves that it’s all small stuff until it’s really big stuff.
  • Most of my life I felt alone, neglected, abused physically, mentally and emotionally. Lately, I just want to cry. Not sure how to deal with all the emotions I have been having. I have been writing to try to get my feelings out on paper. I do have a therapist and she has been helping me to acknowledge how I feel and accept them. I do feel more in control and more calm than I have ever been in my life.


  • I’m closer to my wife than I have ever been in our 16 years of marriage.  Through the CEN lens, she understands me and as I am beginning to understand myself.
  • I have shared my CEN realizations with my Dad and am starting to poke a bit at my siblings, which is making some uncomfortable (no surprise).  I’m also asking myself what I want and challenging previous paradigms.  I look forward to what surprises lie ahead as I dig and work on myself.
  • Relationships with others have improved tremendously and I feel less alone, but I could do with more close friends so am going to have to cope with more pain and terror of disclosure. I find it impossible to completely accept how limited my emotional up bring was. I can’t even tell when I am hungry or thirsty. Pain was another sensation that was opaque to me until recently.
  • I need to be aware of not being “cold” or dismissive when my husband is talking to me or sharing things with me. I know where this comes from and I certainly don’t want to repeat what I learned or saw in childhood. There is nothing worse than not having your feelings validated.


  • Your articles have been so enlightening for me. My parents were abusive to us and each other. Yet nobody saw it because in public they gave the appearance of a “perfect family “ and expected us to act accordingly. Everything was a facade. Unraveling this and learning to parent differently has been essential and exhausting. The hardest part is the attachment feelings to a mother figure I still long for. But it also makes me acutely attuned to my kids needing that safety and love consistently. Hopefully breaking the cycle!

Overall Changes

  • This …. has helped me realize that my feelings of unworthiness are valid, but that it is possible and essential to release the chains of blame. I am taking the steps to grieve, heal, and enjoy life in a way previously impossible. People who knew me before have noticed. It is much easier and fun to be with new people as well. This … gets to the “truth” of the way we were intended to live.
  • I have found my elements of truth here: validation, acceptance, forgiveness, my personal mind-body connection, and building THE foundations necessary for authentic connections with others. You have peeled away all of the “shoulds” and “should-nots” in simple terms–a primer for way life should be. This is better than all of the myriad self-help books and therapy sessions I have experienced.
  • I find tremendous value in the tools that help to validate my feelings, and learning how to say what I want in a more direct way.  But of equal value, if not more value, was knowing WHY these feelings of not belonging or being ignored bothered me so.  I have spent 55 years wondering why I would feel so hurt or depressed whenever I would open up to people, and they would either not respond or just make a small superficial response.  Understanding WHY this feeling has repeated itself so many times throughout my life has been a huge epiphany, and I am eternally grateful to you for shining a light on that.  Understanding the root is gold, and is doing so much to help me heal.
  • It’s really hard to shake off that emotional and mental programming from early childhood. I find it’s two steps forward and one step back. There are times of exhilarating clarity and light and times when it’s so difficult.
  • I spent 10 years trying to do different programs to “fix” myself. While listening to other men (12 step men’s group), l became embarrassed as they described how they were abused by their parents: screamed at, physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally. I felt like a fraud. I had none of that. This is where the emotional neglect came into my purview. Since this time, l have been working on emotionally supporting myself, loving myself (this was extremely difficult to learn to do after 50 years of cursing myself) and learning to be my own best friend. I tried to have conversations with my mother regarding my transformation in the past couple of years but she’s still the self-centered person she always was. When l feel angry, frustrated or mad, my go-to mantra has been as follows: MY MOTHER LOVES ME TO THE BEST OF HER ABILITY. It allows her the space for how she was brought up, how she reacted to her childhood and all of the ways that she neglected me AND allows me the grace to excuse her for how she can treat me, at times, now towards the end of her life.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn how CEN happens and how to heal it in yourself, see the book Running On Empty. To learn how to heal it in your marriage and make sure you do not pass it on to your kids, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

Special Note: I have permission to anonymously share each comment. Some have had small grammatical corrections which do not change the meaning of the sentence. Warm thanks to all of you who have shared your experiences, challenges, and accomplishments.

What the Process of Recovery From Childhood Emotional Neglect Really Feels Like

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. (2019). What the Process of Recovery From Childhood Emotional Neglect Really Feels Like. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Mar 2019
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