Last August I ran a Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Recovery Retreat in California. At one point a CEN woman stood up and said, “I declared this my year of being selfish.” She then went on to describe how she had been consciously making a choice to do things differently than ever before all throughout 2019. All year she had been speaking up for herself and paying attention to her own wishes far more than ever before.
Now, I should mention that, of all the people in the world, I am probably the one most able to appreciate what a monumental accomplishment this was. It’s because of my expertise in the cause, the pain, and the cure of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.
I know that when your parents ignore your emotions while they raise you, they send you a message that’s probably never stated outright, but which nevertheless stays with you forever and it is this:
“It is selfish to pay attention to your own feelings and needs.”
I know that, as a direct result of that message, adults who were raised with their feelings and emotional needs ignored as children grow up to ignore their own feelings and needs as adults.
I also know that when you ignore your own feelings and needs you end up being overly vulnerable to everyone else’s feelings and needs. You over-focus on what other people want, what other people enjoy and what other people need. In short, you live far too much for others’ happiness and not nearly enough for your own.
And, one more thing I know: When CEN takes what you actually should be focused on (your own needs and wants) and turns it on its head, it sets you up to confuse what matters between yourself and others. It sets you up to feel selfish — or fear that you may become selfish — your whole life.
3 Ways CEN Sets You Up to Feel Selfish Your Whole Adult Life
- Basic aspects of self-care require you to put your needs ahead of others. And this feels wrong so you assume it’s selfish.
- Saying “No,” to someone’s request requires you to put yourself ahead of someone else. This feels bad so you assume it’s selfish.
- Having grown up with your attention on others instead of yourself has deprived you of essential self-knowledge. What do you want? What do you enjoy? What do you like and dislike? What do you need? As an adult, here is your answer to all of those questions: “I don’t know.” So you can’t practice self-care or say, “No” because you too often don’t know what to do for self-care, or to what kinds of things you should say, “No.” In a painful twist of fate, not being aware of yourself or your needs makes it possible to avoid making yourself feel selfish.
So, now back to the 2019 CEN Recovery Retreat. After telling the woman how delighted I was to hear about her Year of Declaring Herself Selfish, I thanked her for giving me this idea to share with others. So now, I am sharing it with you.
2020: Your Year of Living Selfishly
Because you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, your yardstick for measuring selfishness is off. So, for you what is not at all selfish appears selfish, and what is actually very selfish on the part of someone else may seem not selfish at all. In other words, you are prone to judging your own needs and wants as selfish, while other people in your life can enjoy lightyears of latitude. You probably seldom judge others in this way.
The results: You have been living your life mostly focused on others. By not representing yourself the way you were meant to do you have been unintentionally and unconsciously training the people around you to assume you need and want little. You have successfully made them very comfortable prioritizing their needs over yours! And it’s not their fault. It’s not your fault. It just is.
So now, looking forward to 2020, we will declare this your year.
2020 — Your Year To
- Pay attention to yourself. You can (and must) now give yourself the attention you did not get as a child.
- Ask yourself. Three times per day, ask yourself “What do I want?” What do I need?” What do I feel?”
- Listen to yourself. When you start asking those important questions, your brain may not know the answer, but your body will. Your body will say, “I want Chinese food,” “I need to be comforted,” “I feel happy,” or an infinite number of other possible responses. But this time someone will actually be listening.
- Allow yourself. Allow yourself to have wants, feelings, and needs. Allow yourself to feel things, even when you don’t like them. Allow yourself to have needs and to voice them. Allow yourself to take up space and to be seen and heard.
- Prioritize yourself. Enough of making everyone else your priority. It is your biological imperative to put yourself first. It’s not selfish, it’s responsible.
How many years have you dwelt in the tamped-down, gray world of the unattended? How many years have you continued the Emotional Neglect you grew up with, revisiting it upon yourself day after day after day after day after day?
How many more years do you want this? I think I know the answer. If you can accept that self-care, self-attention, and self-prioritizing are healthy and definitely not selfish, then your answer must be this:
No more years like this. No more running on empty.
I declare 2020 My Year Of Living “Selfishly.”
Goodbye, 2019, it’s time for a fresh start. Bring it on, 2020. I am ready.
To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, how it affects adults and families, and how you can heal, see the books Running On Empty and Running On Empty No More (links to both books below).
Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free! And you can find the link below, in my Bio.