Childhood Emotional Neglect is an ordinary, unremarkable experience that happens in legions of homes, to legions of children, every single day. Many such homes are loving and caring in every other way.
It is also a powerful, painful process that leaves its mark on the child, who will grow up to suffer its results. Compounding the problem is the strong likelihood that the child, now an adult, will have no memory of what went wrong.
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN happens when your parents fail to notice and respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs as they raise you.
It does not need to be a dramatic failure, although it can be in some families. In fact, it’s often an exceedingly subtle, unnoticeable, unmemorable failure of which no one is aware.
In many families, the parents simply fail to notice their child is having a feeling, fail to validate their child’s feelings and fail to ask their child about his/her feelings. Not necessarily all of the time, but too much of the time.
Believe it or not, yes, that is all it takes to leave the mark of Childhood Emotional Neglect upon the child.
The variety of emotionally neglectful families is infinite. They can be warm or cold, wealthy or struggling, loving or angry or depressed. They can be single-parent, two-parent or with a stay-at-home mom or dad. None of those things even matter. All that matters is that your parents fail to notice, ask or respond to your feelings enough.
Just as every CEN family is different, so is every CEN adult. CEN folks can look completely varied from the outside so much that they appear to have nothing in common. Yet on the inside, they have some extraordinary things in common.
All CEN adults share a unique pattern of struggles which are so woven into their sense of themselves that most believe that everyone feels this way.
The 10 Characteristics of Those Who Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect
- Feelings of emptiness
- Lack of self-knowledge
- Poor compassion for self (probably plenty for others)
- A tendency toward guilt and shame
- Self-directed anger and self-blame
- A deep sense of being flawed, or different from everyone else
- Struggles with self-care
- Struggles with self-discipline
- Difficulties identifying, naming, and understanding how emotions work in oneself and others
How Did You Get This Way?
So you grew up with parents who ignored your feelings. You realized very young that your emotions were not welcome in your childhood home. How did you cope? Your young brain knew just what to do. It built a wall to block off your feelings. That way you could ignore and squelch them. That way your anger, hurt, sadness or need would not bother your parents or yourself.
Now an adult, you are living with your feelings on the other side of that wall. They are blocked off, and you can sense it. Somewhere deep down you can feel that something is not right. Something is missing. This makes you feel empty, different from other people, and somehow, deeply flawed.
Having gone to your parents for emotional support and validation as a child, you too often walked away painfully empty-handed and alone. So now it’s hard for you to ask anyone for anything, and you are afraid to expect support and help from anyone.
Since you grew up with little awareness of emotions, you are now uncomfortable any time strong feelings arise in yourself or anyone else. You do your best to avoid feelings altogether, perhaps even positive ones.
Feeling flawed, empty and alone and out of touch with your feelings, it’s hard to feel you belong anywhere. It’s hard to know what you want, feel or need. It’s hard to believe that it matters. It’s hard to feel that you matter.
As you read the 22 statements below, please think about whether you say, or feel, them often. If so, do not be alarmed or discouraged. There are answers and solutions to this problem!
Childhood Emotional Neglect is not a one-way street to nowhere. In fact, it is just the opposite. You can reverse it from the inside, and it will change your view of yourself and your life forever.
20 Things People With Childhood Emotional Neglect Often Say
- I don’t want to intrude.
- I don’t need any help.
- Whatever you want is fine with me.
- I don’t have anything to say.
- I don’t feel anything.
- I’m sorry.
- I’m lazy
- What’s the point?
- I don’t need anything.
- It doesn’t matter to me.
- I don’t need anyone.
- It’s my fault.
- I don’t know how I feel.
- I can do this on my own.
- I can handle it.
- I’m not as smart/attractive/capable as other people.
- I don’t fit in anywhere.
- Why can’t you just be happy?
- Just stop feeling that way.
- I don’t know what I want
I have heard thousands of CEN people offhandedly make these comments a countless number of times. The startling reality is that very few of them are true!
How To Stop Saying — and Believing — These 20 Things
- Start listening to yourself. When you do, you will begin to hear what you say. This will start to make you more aware of how you feel about yourself and life. This will show you how CEN is distorting your sense of yourself and the world, and hopefully, help you realize that you must change this.
- Learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect. See the resources below to understand how CEN happens, why it’s so unmemorable, and how it has played out in your adult life. Plus how to heal, because you absolutely can!
- Get yourself on the CEN Recovery Path. Getting yourself on this healthy, enriching path involves declaring war on your CEN. Make a decision to treat your emotions the opposite of how your parents treated them. Start valuing and paying attention to your feelings and learning emotion skills.
By treating yourself and your feelings in a new and different way, you will begin to feel a new and different way. Changing how you feel on the inside affects what you say on the outside. “I don’t know what I want” becomes “I know exactly what I want.” And knowing who you are, how you feel, and what you want is one giant step toward happiness.
Not sure if you have Childhood Emotional Neglect? Take the CEN Test. It’s free.
To learn much more about CEN, how it happens to you as a child and affects your adulthood plus how to take the steps in CEN Recovery, see the books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.