Way back in 2008, I began to notice a distinct pattern of vague struggles among the patients in my psychology practice. I knew that I was seeing something important, but I had no idea what it was. I became intensely curious. What was it? And what was causing it?
The pattern I noticed involved vague feelings of emptiness or numbness, a deep sense of disconnection, and a general lack of fulfillment. Also, a sense of being different from other people, out of place, and missing something important in life. All of this was accompanied by a baffled confusion about what could possibly have gone wrong to cause all of this.
What does this pattern mean?
Why is it appearing in so many dissimilar people?
Has anyone else ever noticed this pattern before?
By 2009, as I continued to notice the pattern over and over again, I was feeling even more baffled and intrigued.
By 2010 I had finally found my answers to the questions that had been troubling me for years. I had figured out what was causing it and had given it the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN for short.
By 2012 I had published the first book ever written on the topic, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. And in 2017 I published my second book, taking the topic deeper into recovering people’s lives: Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.
2010 was a pivotal year in the life of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). During that year, I finally realized that the pattern I was seeing was unique. This particular pattern was not caused by childhood abuse or trauma or by anything else that happens in the life of a child. No.
It was not caused by anything that had happened to my clients as children. It was instead a product of what had failed to happen for them as children.
The one shared characteristic in all of these clients’ lives was this: their parents had failed to notice or respond to their feelings enough throughout their childhoods.
This small, every day, widespread, seemingly innocuous failure to act was causing scores of lovely people to struggle with a secret question, wrapped in plenty of self-blame and shame:
What is wrong with me?
In 2010, after I gave this powerful force from childhood the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, I did a massive search of the databases of the American Psychological Association. I wanted to know what other mental health professionals were saying about this important topic so I could begin to help my patients with it. And I was astonished at what I found.
There were articles at that time about emotional deprivation, the severe form of physical and emotional neglect of a child’s needs that occurred in orphanages mid-century. But the mild-to-moderate type of lack of emotional responsiveness that I was seeing the effects of, even in well-meaning, otherwise loving homes, was barely mentioned at all.
When I did find the term “emotional neglect” in the professional literature, it was lumped in with emotional abuse, like this: “child emotional neglect and abuse.” These uses of the term emotional neglect actually referred to physical neglect or emotional abuse. Not pure Childhood Emotional Neglect.
That’s when I realized that I had a responsibility to speak out.
I set a goal that was rooted in my own experience and stoked by my passion for making a difference in people’s lives: To make Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) a household term.
Here we are, it is 2019. And so much has happened in the last 9 years.
- Hundreds of thousands of people have taken the CEN Questionnaire. The test has been translated into Urdu, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, and many other languages.
- The Childhood Emotional Neglect Page is one of the most-read blogs on psychcentral.com.
- The concept of CEN and the Running On Empty books have been discussed on CBS Boston Evening News, NPR, NECN Morning News, and dozens of podcasts and radio shows across the US and Canada.
- There have been articles about Childhood Emotional Neglect in many national and international publications. An article about CEN was featured on the Yahoo homepage.
- The bestselling book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect has been translated into several languages and is available in Chinese in the U.S. and mainland China, as well as Korean and Turkish.
- The book Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships has already helped thousands of people heal their marriages and emotionally validate their children. Its reviews, popularity, and sales are continuously climbing. It is being translated into Chinese and Korean.
- The first ever online CEN Recovery Program, Fuel Up For Life, has walked hundreds of people through the steps of CEN recovery.
- The Childhood Emotional Neglect Newsletter has exceeded 100,000 subscribers.
- Mental health professionals have enthusiastically recognized the value and truth behind this concept and theory. More and more licensed therapists have read the Running On Empty books or taken the CEN Professional Training course and have become designated CEN therapists on the Find A CEN Therapist Page on emotionalneglect.com.
- Now, in self-help books and on YouTube, many mental health professionals are talking about CEN, adding their own personal or professional observations and experiences.
Today, in 2019, is “Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN” closer to becoming a household term? Yes. It is.
Is it there yet? No. It is not.
This is why, driven by a realization that has validated us, a common language that has connected us, and a path forward that has appeared for us, we will continue. We will keep talking and healing, knowing that we are no longer alone.
A common struggle unites us, and it offers us a promise of connection and healing. We can become better parents, better spouses, and healthier people by taking those first steps and continuing along the CEN recovery path.
And I will continue to speak, write and teach as many people as I can reach. I will not stop until I am satisfied that we have given answers and validation to the legions of people who are struggling in silence, wondering what is wrong with them.
Learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), how it happens and how to heal it in the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Learn how to heal CEN in your marriage and make sure you don’t pass it down to your children in the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.