Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you.
What exactly happens when you grow up in a household that ignores your feelings, invalidates your feelings, and fails to talk about difficult or emotional things?
Very big things happen. Invisible things, yes, but also impactful. As a child, you are every single day receiving unstated, subliminal messages from your parents.
Feelings don’t exist.
Feelings do not matter.
If you feel something, hide it. We do not want to be burdened by your emotions.
You are essentially being raised to undervalue, under attend to, and under respond to your own feelings as well as the feelings of others.
When you grow up receiving a message — even if it is never stated outright — that the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are—your emotions—don’t matter or are unacceptable, you naturally push your feelings down and away, so that they won’t be visible, or bother anyone, including yourself.
This may get you through your childhood, but as an adult, you need to have access to your emotions. You will have no memory of having pushed your feelings away, or that your emotional needs weren’t met in childhood. Yet you will suffer the effects.
In my first book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, I talk about the ten common struggles that I’ve noticed in adults who were raised with Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
Most of these ten challenges occur in 3 primary areas of your adult life. It is helpful to be aware of the effects, mainly because once you see them, you can heal them.
Yes, it is true. Childhood Emotional Neglect can be healed.
The 3 Areas of Your Adult Life Most Affected By Childhood Emotional Neglect
Emotional Skills and Knowledge
When you grow up with parents who are not attuned enough to emotions, you don’t get enough opportunity to learn about emotions; about how to identify, express, or manage your own feelings, or the feelings of others. It can then be hard to make sense of relationships, or of your own behavior, or of the behavior of other people. You may be mystified about why you do certain things and find relationships to be pretty confusing.
The message, “Your feelings don’t matter,” comes across to a child as, “you don’t matter.” If you grew up receiving this message, as an adult, you will put other people’s needs and wants and feelings before your own. It will be difficult to say “no” when someone asks you for something. It might be hard to depend on others or to ask other people for help. You have plenty of compassion for others, but very little for yourself. You feel like an island upon who others can rely, but who is not allowed to have any needs of your own.
Blame, Shame, and Self-Directed Anger
Childhood Emotional Neglect causes you to struggle with all kinds of confusing feelings that are difficult to name. When your emotions are pushed away, it can make you feel a sense of emptiness as if something is missing inside of you, but you can’t identify what it is. And, when you don’t have access to your emotions, it can be very difficult to connect emotionally with other people. So you end up feeling alone, and kind of confused, and you have no explanation for any of it.
As an adult with CEN, you are caught between all of the challenges I just talked about. Yet, because the CEN that caused them is so invisible and unmemorable, you have no explanation for why you have these struggles. So you feel ashamed that you’re not happier, you blame yourself for feeling empty; you’re angry at yourself for being confused in your relationships or for avoiding relationships. You feel deeply, secretly flawed, and you blame it on yourself.
The Good News
I know all of this sounds painful and negative, but there is a positive side of Childhood Emotional Neglect. I have found that CEN people are not actually flawed. CEN is not a disease or a defect.
It’s simply something that failed to happen for you as a child, and you can provide yourself with it as an adult. It’s entirely possible, with some hard work and dedication, to heal from CEN.
So if you question whether CEN might be a factor for you, don’t be discouraged. The first step is to visit my website, EmotionalNeglect.com and Take the Emotional Neglect Test (link below). It’s free.
Learn much more about how CEN happens, how it affects your adult life, and how to heal it in your marriage and as a parent in the books Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships (links below).