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10 Tall Tales People With Childhood Emotional Neglect Tell Themselves

Once upon a time, there was a family.

Every family has its stories. Some can be so powerful that they are passed down through many generations.

You may have an ancestor who courageously left their homeland in adverse conditions to build a new life. You may have an alcoholic or abusive grandparent who passed trauma down through generations. Or you may have a hilarious great uncle whose antics have been discussed over and over because they are so funny.

Stories say something about a family. What trials have your people faced? What have they overcome? What has been their undoing, their poor choices, their triumphs? Do you know?

There is one kind of family whose stories are few but whose messages are many. And, because they are people of few words, their unspoken messages take on extra power.

They are people who, however much love, care and good intentions they may have, magically transfer unspoken, untrue tales from one generation to the next never knowing what is happening.

These are the families of Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN happens when your parents have “emotion blindness.” They may see and love you in every way they can, but they simply are not able to see, read, respond to, or validate your feelings.

Since your feelings are the deepest, most personal, biological expression of who you are, emotion blindness, though very possibly no one’s fault, takes its toll.

After all, there are no more powerful tall tales than those we live by but never say out loud. Subliminal messages enter your unconscious mind as a child (just as they did to your parents when they were children) and become guidelines for your everyday life.

And the worst part: once your parents have finished raising you, you continue to follow them. You continue to tell the Tall Tales to yourself. You continue to live by them every day of your life.

10 Tall Tales CEN People Tell Themselves

  1. Whatever everyone else wants is fine with me. Because you pushed your feelings down as a child to keep them from bothering your parents you have lost full contact with your own feelings and needs. You have also lost the primary energizing force that should be telling you what you want and need and driving you to voice it. You DO have preferences, wants and needs. But sadly you are out of touch with them.
  2. I don’t have anything to say. Emotionally neglectful families generally avoid talking about things that are meaningful, difficult, or emotional. They don’t ask each other enough feeling-based questions or comfortably tolerate enough painful or conflictual conversation. The result? Now, as an adult, it’s hard for you to talk with substance. You feel you have nothing to say, but you are wrong. You have countless shots and feelings that are share-worthy every day but the connection between your heart and brain and voice has been broken.
  3. I don’t feel anything. Since you’ve been reading this, you already understand. You are disconnected from your feelings and so you think you have few. But you are wrong! All of your feelings are still there; you are simply unaware of them.
  4. I’m lazy. Your emotions are your main driver in life. They are meant to tell you what you want and need and then provide you with the energy and passion to pursue it. Going through life without fully harnessing your inner power, you find yourself at sea. But you are not lazy!
  5. I don’t want anything. Of course, you do. You just don’t know what you want because you are not listening to what your emotions are telling you each and every day. If you will only listen you will know.
  6. I have a good life and I should be happier. Even if your life seems good on the outside, the problem is on the inside. Feelings like happiness do not follow “shoulds.” You feel what you feel and you must be connected to your feelings to be happy.
  7. I can do everything on my own. Growing up emotionally alone taught you that you can’t and shouldn’t rely on others. And you also, out of necessity, learned how to take care of things yourself. This silver lining of CEN makes you a highly capable person and so this Tall Tale is partially true. It is, in fact, just true enough to believe. But it ignores the fact that we all are made stronger by support and help from others, and asking for help and accepting it would strengthen you.
  8. I’m not as good as other people. Growing up with your feelings under the radar gives you little feedback about your true self. Who am I? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Am I good enough? These are the questions that go unanswered by your parents. Lacking true, reliable data you assume the worst. You are not able to see yourself clearly.
  9. I don’t fit in anywhere. Being disconnected from your inner self makes you disconnected from others too. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you may find yourself trying hard to be who you think others expect or need. When actually all you need to show people is your true self.
  10. I don’t matter. This is the granddaddy of all Tall Tales. It sums up all of the painful, false lessons of CEN and rolls them together into one. Deep down, you feel that you matter less than other people. But, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now that you have read these Tall Tales, and perhaps identified with some of them, I want to ask you to think about one more thing. Although you absorbed them as a child, it is the adult you who still holds on to them. And it’s the adult you who has the power to let them go.

Every tall tale you tell yourself you are also telling others. Through your own words and actions and ways, all of those around you receive your CEN messages every day.

“I don’t matter,” you are unwittingly shouting from the rooftops in your own quiet, inimitable way.

Now ask yourself a question: “Do I want to continue doing this?” Because you have a choice! You can choose to stop the telling of these Tall Tales to yourself and others. You can stop believing them.

You can reach inside yourself and start to connect with your feelings. You can heal your Childhood Emotional Neglect and accept the inescapable truth that you have a choice, you have a voice. And you matter.

CEN is invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out take the free Emotional Neglect Test (find the link below).

To learn much more about CEN, how it happens, how it affects you, and the 5 Steps of CEN recovery, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (link below in Bio).

To learn how CEN affects relationships among family members and how changing how you relate to your family can change everything, see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children (link below in Bio).

10 Tall Tales People With Childhood Emotional Neglect Tell Themselves

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). 10 Tall Tales People With Childhood Emotional Neglect Tell Themselves. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Nov 2019
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