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How Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Doubt Your Own Memories, Experiences, and Feelings


Miranda is standing in front of the restaurant waiting for her fiancé, Mark, to meet her. 20 minutes go by, followed by 15 more. As she continually checks her phone to see if he has texted, she vaguely remembers this happening the same way about 3 weeks ago but quickly erases this memory from her mind.

Just as it starts to sprinkle, and right when Miranda has completely lost her patience, Mark runs up and taps her on the shoulder. “Sorry, Babe, my meeting ran late at work,” he says casually. “I hope there’s not a big wait for a table,” he says as he grabs her hand and they run through the door of the restaurant.

Miranda has no chance to utter a word of her frustration. As they are seated and start ordering, she hides her anger from Mark. On the outside, she seems fine. On the inside, she is working hard to manage her frustration.

“Mark didn’t seem to think it was a big deal that he was late, so I must be over-reacting,” she tells herself. Over the course of the meal, she successfully manages to bury her feelings under 6 feet of ever-present self-doubt.

In this brief glimpse into Miranda’s life, we see some serious problems. Did you notice them?

  • Miranda abolishes her memory of a previous similar incident from her mind.
  • Miranda gauges her own feelings against Mark’s. His feelings are actually irrelevant in this situation since he’s on the opposite side of the problem.
  • Miranda overrides her own feelings instead of expressing them and giving Mark the chance to understand her. In doing so, she actually dishonors herself. She also deprives Mark of a valuable opportunity to work through it with her and deepen their connection.

This is only one small example of the myriad ways some folks discount themselves. I see people doing it in large and small ways each and every single day. I’ve seen people doubt the reality of significant events in their pasts, and question their own version of events not because they are wrong but because they do not trust their own perceptions.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Discount Your Own Memories, Experiences, and Feelings

Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN: Happens when your parents under-notice, under-value, and under-respond to your feelings as they raise you.

When Emotional Neglect happens to you as a child, you receive a message that stays with you for a lifetime: Your feelings are not valuable, useful, or worthwhile.

This sets you up to discount the most valuable source of direction, connection, and self-protection you have: your emotions.

Much of our experience of life happens on an emotional level. We all have many emotions inside us all day long, every day.

Many of our memories are anchored by feelings. In other words, it’s because of what we felt at the time an event happened that the event becomes lodged in our memories and stays with us.

In this way, when you discount your own feelings, it damages your connection to your own experiences and your own memories. And there’s no way around it, this makes you vulnerable.

4 Ways Discounting Your Memories, Experiences & Feelings Makes You Vulnerable

  1. It makes you far more likely to end up comparing your feelings to what other people seem to feel. This seldom works because their experience may be totally different from yours. We saw Miranda doing this in the vignette, and you can see that it makes no sense. It leads to judging your own feelings and discounting your own feelings — and self — even further.
  2. You become less likely to get your own needs met. Miranda did not need perfection from Mark. She really only needed one small, valid thing: consideration. If Mark had texted to keep her informed and apologized in a more genuine way; if he had allowed Miranda to express her frustration and acknowledged it; if he had said, “I will try to be more considerate in the future,” and then followed through with effort, Miranda’s very real and honest need to feel considered and cared for could have been met. She deprived Mark of this opportunity by discounting her own experience and feelings instead of expressing them to him.
  3. Your ability to trust yourself is undermined. You can’t really trust yourself if you don’t trust your own memories, experiences, and feelings. If you are quick to doubt what you have gone through and the feelings you feel, you are undermining yourself every single day. You may end up trusting other people’s experiences and feelings more than your own.
  4. You are giving up your greatest strengths. You are vulnerable. Quick to dismiss your feelings, making unreasonable comparisons, trusting others more than yourself, you lose some of the primary tools you need in order to protect yourself. When you dismiss yourself, others sense it, and they become much more likely to dismiss you too. This sets up a feedback loop that makes your boundaries weak so that others are not sure how to treat you.

If This Is You

If you, like Miranda, think you may be discounting your own memories, experiences, and feelings, it is imperative that you take a moment right now to acknowledge it. Once you are fully aware of what you are doing to yourself, it becomes harder to do it to yourself.

Consider the possibility that you grew up in an emotionally neglectful household. Maybe even with loving parents who were trying their best, but who perhaps were also raised this way. The sad truth is that parents can’t give their kids what they do not have themselves.

CEN is difficult to see and remember. To find out if you grew up with it take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free and you can find the link below, in the Bio.

The Takeaway

You must be able to rely on your perceptions and your experiences and feelings to make sense of the world. You need them at work, in your marriage, in your friendships, and with your family. You absolutely must be able to believe yourself.

Now, keep in mind that trusting yourself does not mean assuming you are right. It only means that you automatically trust and follow your own rudder until you have a reason to question it. Even then, you question it carefully, in ways that make sense and remain true to yourself and your perceptions and needs, while also making room for others and their perceptions and needs.

All of this is correctable! You can get much better at it. You can learn to focus on yourself, pay more attention to your feelings, your perceptions, your memories. You can make an intentional choice to believe yourself.

After all, you are worth it.

Find lots of great resources to learn about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) in the author’s Bio below this article.

How Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Doubt Your Own Memories, Experiences, and Feelings


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 EmotionalNeglect.com.


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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2020). How Childhood Emotional Neglect Makes You Doubt Your Own Memories, Experiences, and Feelings. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2020/06/how-childhood-emotional-neglect-makes-you-doubt-your-own-memories-experiences-and-feelings/

 

Last updated: 7 Jun 2020
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