48 thoughts on “7 Signs You Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect

  • July 23, 2017 at 11:12 am

    I know I was emotionally neglected and I knew it when I was a child. My father worked a lot, and then after work, he either worked in the basement or on his farm in the country. I know he was miserable with my mother. She was divorced with 2 small children when they married. He treated them like he was their father, but she made no attempt to hide she still loved her 1st husband. My dad was a wonderful father. I loved my half sister and brother as much as my younger brother and sister. My oldest sister married when I was 5, and moved away with her Navy officer husband My older brother was and is pretty much a sociopath and cares about nothing but money. He was my mother’s favorite child, and when he married a female version of himself, she became my mother’s favorite daughter. My younger sister moved away too, but I became an RN and stayed in my hometown. The only time my mother touched us was to paddle us or hold us down for some medical procedure. She told us if we got in trouble at school, we’d get in trouble at home, and if we didn’t feel well and wanted to stay home, we had to go to the doctor, who gave painful penicillin shots for everything. Mom never hugged us or told us she loved us. I had my appendix removed at 11 years, and I thought she might love me because she stayed all night in the hospital. My problem is I am overly emotional. All of my report cards said “cries easily.” I still cry easily. I spent my entire life trying to get my mother to say she loved me but she never did. She died at 83 with only me at her bedside. I wish I could forget my childhood, forget her, but even as a child I knew the way she treated us was wrong, and when I married and had a son, I made sure he knew he was loved and gave him lots of affection. My point is, I couldn’t identify with your article because I can’t forget ANYTHING. Am I the only CEN patient like this? I had a “nervous breakdown,” major depressive and anxiety disorder in 1995. I am on medication and see a therapist but I don’t think she understands me. My son can’t deal with my crying, so when it starts he goes home. I feel like I’m the only one in the world who feels this way. Am I?

    • July 23, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      Dear Jayne, you are not the only person who feels this way! Bouts of tears are a sign that your relationship with your own feelings is not what it should be. If you don’t think your therapist understands you, that is very very important. Please do take the time and energy to find a therapist who you feel does understand you and can help you learn new and healthy ways to welcome, manage and express your emotions. Sending you all my best wishes.

    • October 30, 2017 at 6:21 am

      Over several years I went through therapist after therapist after and a psychiatrist until I researched psychologists that specialize in PTSD and/or CEN. This was only 3 months ago and I am already feeling the relief from my anxiety and being over emotional. I can only somewhat understand what you’re talking about because I am not you, but I can completely understand not getting the help you need. Find a psychologist who has been doing for a while and who specializes in trauma, PTSD, or CEN. I also have been meditating over 3 years and daily for over a year. Meditating is an absolute recommendation as well. Good luck and hang in there. I understand the term “hang in there” because I was suicidal for a while year ago and had I not hung in there I wouldn’t be able to write this to you and give you some hope, just like you’ll be able to one day.

  • July 23, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Dr. Webb,

    Thank you so much for the work you are doing about CEN. I have learned so much about myself from your program. It has answered so many questions I had about myself, why I feel the way I do, why I respond the way I do, etc. I am following your program to continue healing from CEN. I do have a question – sometimes I feel angry this (CEN) happened to me. It has impacted my life so deeply, in that it effected all my life choices (career, relationships or lack of relationships, etc.) I sometimes think my life would be so different (of course, for the better) had I received the proper help for this years ago. It is hard work to make the changes I need to make and I do get tired. I know that feeling angry about what was accomplishes nothing. Is this a normal reaction and can I use the anger to my benefit somehow in recovering from CEN? If not, is there anything I can do to get over it. I tried to apply your 4 step method and it helps but I get stuck at the end – should I do anything about it (the feeling) or just acknowledge it? I try to do some physical things when I have the anger, like clean the apartment or do an exercise routine.

    I appreciate the work you have done in this area. Thank you so much!

    • July 23, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Hello Lauren, it sounds like you’re doing some excellent work in the Fuel Up Program. Anger can definitely be a sticking point for many folks who are working through their childhoods. Exercise is a great way to work off the anger. But in addition, I encourage you to remind yourself of the many strengths you probably ended up with because of the hardship of your childhood. If you’d like help with that, read my article, “The 5 Uncommon Strengths of the Emotionally Neglected” at this link: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/2016/02/the-5-uncommon-strengths-of-the-emotionally-neglected/
      Accepting and allowing yourself to feel your anger is also important. And I’m wondering if interactions with your parents might be fueling your anger as well? If you don’t have a therapist, finding one may help you to work through this. Keep up the good work!

  • July 23, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Dear Dr. Webb:
    The following is to enlighten your understanding and research. Because I do so appreciate your work to bring awareness to the long term consequences of childhood neglect.

    As with Jayne the previous comment, I too did not find childhood neglect to be invisible or unmemorable. The accute pain of it pierced my heart with every blow. Why? Because I had expectations. One has a tendency to begin to compare life to others they observe. Oh sure these expectations do finally falter away but initially they are there. Jayne mentioned her brother being the golden child. So was mine. This thought concept opens another dark door that many abused children of neglect are likely dealing with a narcissistic parent or parents. And the sad truth is sometimes neglected children are prone to narcissism themselves; over-compensating in self love to fain self value. We lose the ability to believe we can depend on anyone to support our self worth. But I did learn to depend on God. But unfortunately still haven’t completely hurdled the people arena. My mother (perpetrator of neglect) was a motherless child. She and two sisters were raised by an alcoholic father. So we somehow must give grace to these parents who have damaged us. Because obviously they too are damaged.

    • July 23, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      Dear Marty, CEN is not always invisible. I’ve heard many people describe going through childhood fully aware that they were not being responded to appropriately by their caretakers. The more severe the CEN, the more visible it is for many children and adults. I do think that some parents deserve forgiveness, because they were trying as well as they could; but others do not deserve forgiveness because they were selfish or purposefully hurtful. Everyone is different, and must handle their relationship with their parents their own way. I’m sorry you grew up with such neglect, and I hope you’ll keep working on yourself, because you are worth it!

      • July 24, 2017 at 4:27 am

        Dr. Webb:

        I would caution you about not advocating forgiveness in any situation no matter the severity. Because forgiveness is an essential step in the healing process. The inability to forgive causes bitterness that further leads to health issues. And yes forgiveness does not come easy. It is a process. It does not come natural because it is a supernatural act. When Jesus Christ hung dying on the cross of crucifixion He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He set the standard for forgiveness in that His death atoned for my sins. So I must do the same in forgiving others. Its not easy but its necessary to set us free from the pain of the past.

      • July 24, 2017 at 8:25 am

        You are thinking of forgiveness in the context of christianity, whereas I am coming from the context of psychology/science. For psychological health, the pressure to forgive the unforgivable can be harmful. Thank you for your comment.

      • February 19, 2018 at 4:52 pm

        I’ve always tried to separate actions from the person committing them. A father who abuses because his father taught him to handle his emotions that way can certainly be forgiven in that respect, though his actions may be unforgivable. It’s not always black and white, forgive or not forgive. And forgiving a person does not mean forgetting or accepting the bad behavior. Of course, there is no right or wrong here, just what best helps someone find a healthy modicum of peace and resolution. Faith can be of help in this regard by reinforcing a feeling of empathy/compassion even towards those least worthy of it.

    • July 23, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      My mom died in 2003 and I feel I have forgiven her, but I cannot forget. I’ve been married for 38 years to a very affectionate man who has probably saved my life. I do believe in God, but was raised in a strict Baptist church that taught nothing about God’s love, only about hell. There was no Sunday school and the sermons were actually broadcast into the nursery. I was there from birth till age 14 when I refused to go back. I don’t attend church for that reason. My older sister died last January and I was extremely saddened. The death that affected me most was my father’s. I found him. and realized I didn’t know what heartbreak was until that day. Mt mother’s death was easier to bear, but still hard because I did love her in spite of everything. I believe my mother loved her 1st son so much because he is so much like she was. She enjoyed causing pain for rest of her children. He didn’t even bother to attend his sister’s funeral, send flowers or even a card to her daughters. I won’t be attending his, if he dies before me. I have no contact with him now. Anyway thanks for responding to my comment. I appreciate your remarks.

      • July 24, 2017 at 3:56 am

        Jayne –
        Thank you for responding to my comments. I must confess that I didn’t fulling forgive my mother until some years after she passed in 1999. I intentionally did not attend her funeral and had been in no contact for quite a while. My two brothers hate me to this day for not attending her funeral. And many other family members resent me for it. But they don’t know what I suffered. I actually love and adore my brothers but it seems that she has passed the torch of her indifference toward me to them.

        Jayne do keep in mind that your relationship with God is personal. Don’t let a bad church experience hinder your spiritual growth and relationship with Him. Because we need God to help us forgive. Forgiveness is a part of healing. You are extremely blessed to have found true love Jayne. I never married and have no children. Its hard and lonely the older I get. But I just try to stay productive.

    • April 17, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      THANK YOU! Yours is the first comment I have been able to relate to. My son is 38. I’ve been married to his father for 40 years, and I love them deeply. But my husband is a victim of sexual abuse by his father since age 3. I didn’t find out until shortly after our 30th anniversary. Needless to say, he has issues too. I tried to be loving, nonviolent and compassionate in raising my son, but he visited the other day and told me he and his girlfriend in Texas have decided I am a narcissist with a borderline personality. It absolutely broke my heart., but your post explains it. I scored straight A’s on all my Psych and Advanced Psych courses. I know borderline personality is pretty much hopeless, and I know I don’t have it. I was appalled to hear him say I was a narcissist however. I have given up so much for him and his dad. My teeth have rotted because I put their dental health above mine. My glasses prescription is 5 years old and I need new ones, but he and his dad have brand new prescriptions and glasses. Never in a million years did I consider myself a narcissist. I worked 11pm-7AM shift for almost 16 years. I slept 3-4 hours a day for 15 years, so I would be awake enough to pick him up from school. He was bullied and I didn’t want him to experience torture on the school bus. My husband and I worked different shifts so one of us was always with him. I just didn’t get it, until I read your post. I wish I COULD forget my childhood. I know I’ll never commit suicide because of both of them, but frankly I would welcome a lobotomy. I live in Kentucky so my choice of therapists is limited. I had to leave my job as Nursing Supervisor (a job I LOVED) in 1995. Not only did I lose my vision in one eye, but my ability to drive, both my parents and much loved brother in law who bled to death in my arms due to agent orange exposure lung cancer. He was just 53. I think I would’ve coped better with all this if I could still drive. Driving was my sanctuary. Reading this make me see how I sound like a narcissist, ironically, but I don’t feel like one. My son barely remembers any of his childhood. That’s a gift I would give anything to have. Thank you for allowing me to see my situation in a different light. Bless you, and I wish you happiness. 🙂

  • July 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Sorry but earlier info posted seemed more accurate to me. As an only child of two only child parents who too has had an only child history is repeating here. I had a dysfunctional relationship with both parents and have an equally dysfunctional relationship with my daughter. I do feel alone because I am. I only relate to my animals and trust no one. I felt was an inconvenience. However time does strange things and my mother now lives with me. it is a strained existence and all the difficulties I had blocked from my memory are flooding back. My future too is something I block from my mind as the ingredients that most have in their lives for a happy future are simply missing here.

    • July 23, 2017 at 3:59 pm

      Dear Monia, I am sorry that you feel so alone in your life. I urge you to begin filling your blind spots so that you can give your daughter more than your parents gave you. It is vital that you try your hardest to do that. The ingredients for a happy future are inside of you, and you can find them. I encourage you to visit my website and look at the Find A Therapist Page. See if you can find a CEN therapist near you. I send you all my best wishes.

  • July 23, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Feeling like something was always wrong with me and that I am different from everybody else is how I’ve always felt. I am jealous of people who can display their emotions for everybody else to see. I was never allowed to do that. When my father died, I felt absolutely nothing. When my mother died, all I felt was relief. I spent most of my childhood trying to make her happy. I don’t know how to have fun and I can’t even smile for a photograph. Other people just show their teeth, and I can’t even do that. I’m trying to learn some compassion for myself, but it’s hard. Another thing I can’t do, (and this is serious) is stand up and say “I don’t feel good. I need to see a doctor.” Whenever something is wrong, I let it get so bad that I can’t stand up. I feel like I don’t know how to take care of myself because I was always so busy trying to take care of everybody else. I also feel like I’m supposed to feel miserable all the time, because that’s who I am. I know it’s CEN.

    • July 23, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Dear Chocoholic, I am so sorry that you grew up this way and that it is having such a profound effect on your life. Have you worked with a therapist to address this? It is very important that you change your relationship with your emotions so that you can engage in life in the way you are meant to do. Please seek help. Sending you all my best wishes.

      • July 23, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        I have had some sessions with a therapist, but it is expensive. I did learn a few very important things just from those few sessions. Your CEN book at least identified what was wrong. I know my parents did the best they could based on what they knew, just as most people do. Thanks for your sympathy, but the only reason I wrote was to see if anyone else had trouble with taking care of themselves physically and being able to say “I don’t feel right” because they needed a doctor.

      • July 23, 2017 at 6:58 pm

        I can tell you that I have seen these things in others with severe CEN. Hopefully some other readers will chime in to share their experiences.

      • July 23, 2017 at 11:45 pm

        I empathize with Marty. I went through the death of both parents(13 years apart). I felt relief when my mother died. As much as I hate to admit it by putting it in writing, I was finally free, I didn’t have to deal with her ANY MORE! When my dad died, I admit, I was a little sad, but I couldn’t find that grief-stricken state. I was sort of “matter of fact” about it. I consoled everyone around me, and never admitted to anyone how I felt…or in this case “didn’t feel”. I have wondered if there is something wrong with me because I just don’t feel that deep grief others do. It’s like I don’t care… The problem with that is I am a very caring and compassionate person, also a nurse, and I have realized over the years (I’m now 60) that I was guilty of taking care of everyone else but me. How I have come to accept the fact of my lack of sadness over my parents deaths is thinking about all the heartache and sadness I don’t have to live with every day. Friends of mine miss their mom every single day and talk about how they are changed forever without them around. I’m truthfully glad I was spared that devastating burden. As a nurse, I did work hospice for 7 years and helped quite a few people through that transition, so maybe I just got used to it, I don’t know. I never say anything, but when people go on and on about their grief, I have no idea what that would feel like, and it would be all right with me if I never do. Maybe the good Lord is sparing me from all the pain.

        Call it a silver lining? There is a bright side…all depends how you look at it.

      • July 24, 2017 at 8:05 am

        Dear Recovering Chocoholic
        Everything you said rings true to me too. Before I knew about CEN my therapist had me writing a journal so I could express some of my pain… my opening line was about me ‘feeling that there was something terribly wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was’ and the deep shame that accompanied it. I would hide when writing it so no one would know and keep my journal hidden, I didn’t even want the professionals treating me to read it. I also know what it is like not to be able to ask for help and I too leave it too late; it’s not until I’m at breaking point that I can ask for help. Growing up my brother and sister were much older than me and I was often left in their care, unfortunately they did not always treat me well and when my mother returned home and I told her what had occurred she never believed me, even though I was telling the truth. Consequently I’m always afraid that people will not believe me and find it difficult to reach out for help for fear of being invalidated. I also struggle to take care of myself and have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. When I first found Jonice’s website I completed the questionnaire and was shocked to score 21/22 however I was relieved to finally be able to identify what was wrong with me. I read Running on Empty and then bought one for my psychologist; with her guidance and lots of hard work I am recovering, however I still have a long way to go. It has been a slow journey but life has definitely improved. Stay strong, you are not alone.

      • July 24, 2017 at 12:53 pm

        Luna: We are practically twins! I do not understand people who miss their parents either and go on and on about their loss. I asked God to please take my mother out of this world and if He would do that, I would serve my little heart out for Him. A month after she died, I was appointed to be the head of our women’s organization at church and I have been serving other women for three years. I like it. I am learning compassion for others and maybe I’ll learn to have some for myself. I feel like I’m being given a chance to grow in areas where I am lacking in normal development. I just wish I could smile for pictures like everybody else does! Thank you for your comments. It helps to know we’re not the only ones trying to overcome this kind of negative programming.

      • November 11, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        I feel so much shame when I am sick. It is overwhelming. After four years of pain I finally went to the doctor a few months ago, and they found a huge cyst on my ovary. It is likely benign (will be removed next month with biopsy), but that was a bit of a wake-up call. So, based on my own experience, that inability to care for yourself it is definitely a symptom of CEN.

      • December 17, 2017 at 11:32 am

        It iS hard to find the right therapist because of the insurance companies. I live in KY and my husband works in WV at a university. I’m was an RN supervisor and had great benefits until I lost most of my vision due to optic neuritis/optic nerve atrophy in 1995. I lost my job, my ability to drive, both parents and my brother-in-law, my little sister’s husband, who bled to death in my arms from agent orange related lung cancer at age 53. All that before 2000 and before I ever heard of CEN. I already had a history of depression I believe because my parents had a blond, blue eyed baby who died of Tetralogy of Fallot at 10 months. when I was born a year after his death I was female with dark hair and eyes, left handed and an obvious disappointment to my mother. My dead brother’s picture and bronzed baby shoes sat on our TV my entire childhood and my four other siblings are blond, blue eyed and right handed. I look like my father, they look like my mother. Also I loved school and my 1st grade teacher was wonderful, but 2 days after school closed for the summer, she hanged herself. In my small town it made the front page. My sociopathic brother said “No wonder she killed herself, she had to put up with Jayne all year.” Then he and my mom had a good laugh. I laughed too because I was 6 and thought I was supposed to. I’m not trying to get sympathy by saying all this in this forum but I pay out of pocket to see the therapist I’ve been seeing since 1999, and I feel better than I have in years. How would I ever be able to explain all this to a new therapist? I just don’t have the energy. Any medical care I have has to be in WV, necessitating my husband to leave work, come and get me, go back to WV, then bring me home, and go back to work. He has to use vacation or sick days to cover that time. Recently, my blood pressure med almost put into kidney failure and I had to see 2 additional doctors (you know, you have to have one for each body part these days,) and had many expensive lab tests that of course the insurance wouldn’t cover. So changing therapists is difficult if not impossible for some people. I’ve grown used to feeling the way I feel and I’m okay with it. Your blog and all the comments have really helped. At least I know I’m not alone. Thanks everybody! 🙂

    • May 20, 2018 at 10:17 am

      There are groups and if there aren’t any in your area, perhaps start one. There’s are a few manuals online and I know a few groups here in la that do exactly this. Socializing and sharing helps heal us. When you follow the program and share journal entries. You recognize the changes. Are you strengthening bad habits or weakening them? Doing this with people allows you to allow yourself to fall and pick yourself up. A baby never stops trying to walk. Remember where you came from. Best regards

  • July 24, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Great article, it’s nice to find an answer to something that’s bothered me my whole life. I’ve done countless hours of researching, but nothing really “clicked” until I came across CEN.

    One question I’ve been having is how do you get past the fear of changing yourself? Being able to use my emotions to make better decisions, find happiness, and not feel so cutoff from the world sounds great, but at the same time it seems like it’s worked as a good defence against being hurt. So how do you approach allowing yourself to get rid of your defences that have protected you for so long?

    • December 9, 2017 at 3:50 am

      In small steps. Baby steps.
      It’s scary, I know. Keep your eyes on the prize: getting better at it.

  • July 24, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Dr Webb

    I would first like to say thank you for writing this article as I never knew about cen before accidentally coming across it on FB. I read your article and took your test. I was shocked to see that I could answer yes to 19 of the questions which shocked me. As until I read your article and took your test, I hadn’t realised that all the problems I have had all my life could also be connected to my childhood.

    I am the oldest of four children. Don’t get me wrong me and my siblings were never left wanting for much. We were always feed and clothed, had family holidays all the normally family stuff. But it wasn’t until I was 21 years old and left home to start a family with my late husband that I realised that my childhood had not been normal.

    As a child I was never allowed to socialise with anyone, not even my own siblings. As all of my childhood up to that point had been spent locked inside my bedroom on my own unless my parents wanted me to go out with them visiting or I went to school etc.

    Because of this I never spoke to anyone, not a word until I got to 18 years old and I was preparing to leave Secondary school. As I didn’t have the social skills people learn while growing up. So I didn’t know how to interact or even if I should do. (Which I still have problems with to this day.) I only spoke as I had to pass my oral A level English exam or fail it, this forced me to speak which shocked all my tutors as until then they thought that I couldn’t speak.

    I thought because I never spoke to anyone at all that everybody spent all there time in their bedrooms by themselves when indoors, like I did. The only friends I had as a child were library books and a radio. Which I still love. I didn’t know how much I missed out on and how much I didn’t know until my late husband showed me. It was during this time that I realised that I had, had a neglectful childhood, but didn’t know what to do so I started researching.

    I am 50 years old now with grown up children of my own, I still do not do people or have family or friends as I stay away from them, keep myself to myself, as I get seriously high anxiety and get seriously stressed, and have panic-anixty attacks when around anyone, even if one of my children bring friends around. Other people wear me out and make me feel tired so I tend to stay indoors most days.

    My doctor has forced me to receive help from a CBT therapist, who is passing on to the crisis team and someone else as she can’t help me. As she frightened that I might hurt myself because she discovered that I also have depression.
    But thanks to your article I can work with my son’s to help them with some of the things your list informed us about.

  • July 26, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Nice article! I definitely have had all of these, but now I’ve healed from 2 of them. I always felt like something was wrong with me. Now I’m 35 years old & realizing how messed up my childhood was. I’ve been diagnosed with CPTSD.

    • December 16, 2017 at 7:50 am

      Dear Eva,
      Would you like to share with me how have you healed with it?

      Thank you so much.

      • December 17, 2017 at 7:18 pm

        Sure! I quit spending time with & talking to my mother which really helped! I’ve also been practicing Transcendental Meditation ( http://www.tm.org) for several years.

  • July 27, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Dear Jonice,

    Thank you for this article. It’s been hard, so hard to understand why I pretty much cope with every sign of CEN. After years of therapy and many meds later, I’m much better, and yet I still struggle to understand how things went so wrong. My parents are truly great people, unconditionally loving and kind and I had a great childhood in terms of the basics: safety, security, freedom from trauma/abuse etc. And yet, in regards the nuances involved in “attunement” I somehow internalized a very shame-based, emotionally shut down and deflated sense of self due to their parenting (I have a sensitive temperament which was at odds with their temperaments, yet another factor). This is also know as “sins of omission” (as opposed to actual abuse, know as “sins of commission”); a parent-focused family in which I always felt so alone, so very alone. I still struggle to call this “neglect” because of the unconditional love, to the best of their ability. And yet, the signs of CEN are all there, have been my whole life. To be honest I sometimes feel like I hate their guts, even though I know I don’t, especially when I see them on holiday, and all the old shame/guilt/self-blame and severely questioning my reality (thoughts, feelings) occurs. I really don’t know what to do, because as you say, “it didn’t happen though it did.” Props.

  • July 31, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    My mother has BPD, my father some other kind of disorder. Both yell all the time, offend me and my sisters to the worst. When I was smaller (back then my sisters weren’t born) they wouldn’t talk to me for WEEKS because I did something wrong. I’ve been 6 years old then but I remember almost everything. They also said I must have ADHD and sedated me with awful drugs. I actually never had ADHD, a psychiatrist later estimated. They always did and do treat me and my sisters to give us away to another family/children’s home because we are so terrible kids & selfish & stupid & annoying. They say, they will end up in hospital and might die because we are so abhorrent and make them feel sick. I can remember to be suicidal since I’m 9 years old. When I was 10 I tried to run away from home a couple of times. By now I’m an emotional wreck. I cut & hate myself and have emotional outbursts. I can’t maintain any friendship, I feel like I have no personality and always have to make up for one even about the most mundane things. Nothing has a meaning for me. I have psychopathic tendencies – I torture animals and I know that’s terribly wrong but it’s like realizing of my own cruelty makes me feel ANYTHING at all. I’m 16 now but my sisters are 3 and 6 years old and I fear they might became such shattered personalities like me. I could never forgive myself. How am I even supposed to save them? Everyday I hear their crying when they’re accused for the silliest things – like laughing too loud! P.e. My mother says to the 6- year old: -Stop laughing so stupid! Your voice is ugly!- Or so. Some days ago she told my sister: “God, you inherited that that fat ass from your grandmother. Go out of my sight, I don’t want to look at this!”
    But themselves they see as the greatest parents. I can’t criticize them. They then say ‘ you could live in a 3 rd world country or be. beaten up. ‘ And then I hate myself for ever having considered them as bad.
    Forgive my horrible English. I’m no native.

    • July 8, 2018 at 1:11 am

      Dear Liusaidh, Thank you for being brave enough to write about you and your sisters’ lives. You do have some caring feelings inside for your sisters, yourself, and even for the animals that you say you mistreat. Something you might consider doing to help you feel like you are helping “save” your sisters, yourself, and the animals is to think about and remember how you felt when you were growing up- -how you felt afraid, sad, in pain, and like you didn’t have any hope. That is how your sisters and the animals feel now. Maybe you still feel that way yourself. If you can remember what you wished for when you were 6, you might be able to give those things and feelings to those younger and weaker than you.

      I’m sorry that no one wrote to you when you first wrote to this site. Someone should have helped you then but maybe this will help. I do care what happens to you and there are other people who care, too.

  • August 1, 2017 at 3:28 am

    I was sexually abused by my father but I have all of the issues you listed. Maybe I haven’t recognized there was emotional abuse also.
    I can’t open your questionnaire on my phone

  • November 11, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Dear Dr. Webb —

    I have just finished reading your book, and it is the most helpful resource I have found to date. It succinctly and effectively integrates so much of what I had already gleaned from the literature on narcissism and attachment theory to clearly describe how the combination of these concepts can lead to CEN. One area where I would have liked more information is on the intersection between CEN and highly sensitive children. I feel like high sensitive puts children who experience emotional neglect at even higher risk — I answered 20 of the 21 questions with an emphatic ALWAYS or YES.

    Stories like mine are familiar to you, I’m sure. I was a very bright and sensitive child raised in a very stable middle-class family. My physical and intellectual needs were met, and I was given the means and the motivation to excel in school, music, and sports. It must have looked like a perfect childhood from the outside, but my memories are dominated by anxiety and loneliness. My mother was highly narcissistic, and her primary concern was that we reflect well on her in behaviour and achievement (she would also go weeks without talking to me if I did something wrong). My father came from a traumatic background, and had no clue how to make emotional connections with anyone, including my mother despite being a very fine man.

    At this stage I am convinced that I had learned to repress my emotional self before I even began to start forming memories. As a very young child I was highly attuned to the moods of my mother, and I am quite sure that I started learning how to appease her in early infancy. Everyone describes me as an alarming placid baby, who never cried or fussed about anything. They thought there was something wrong with me. All my life I have felt like there is a wall between me and other people, and that I watch the world as a detached observer. If my very best girlfriend died, it wouldn’t affect me very much. The exceptions have been a few boyfriends, and then my emotions were so intense that the relationships ended in mutual disaster. After a few rounds of this I partnered with a man who as almost as emotionally repressed as me. We enjoy each other’s company very much, but there no passion. We do not have children, because I would never wish childhood as I remember it on anyone.

    Over the past few years I have been walking close to the edge of mental breakdown, for multiple reasons. I realized that I hate my high-end job, but that I do it because I am good at it and it earns me the praise I was trained to perceive as love. I met a man for whom all those big feeling started pushing out from wherever I keep them. The lights and the sounds and the hustle of the city where I live started closing in around me. It all left me with the feeling that I am an actress in my own life. I entered therapy right away and stayed for as long as I thought was necessary, no longer — your book suggests that I should probably go back.

    I’m not sure why I am writing all of this, except to say that CEN runs very deep. I am glad to finally be alert to it as a woman in my 40s, but I struggle with my ability to DO anything about it. The work sheets in your book are a bit helpful, and I have already found myself going through some of the mental exercises but the old habits are deeply, deeply engrained. Your book had a few tempting allusions to people who had “recovered” from CEN, but it would be useful to have more information about what recovery looks like and how feasible it really is. I assume at this point that I am simply incapable of being like a person who was raised without CEN.

    Thanks for you time,


  • February 20, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    I took the questionnaire, though I knew what the answer was already. Scored 21 out of 22 for YES, and much if what this article says and other things I’ve been reading have made me think back very hard on my childhood, and despite my parents being well meaning and fulfilling my sister and I in the physical needs, we both have poor mental health as adults. Well, I’m barely an adult at 19, but my sister is 24. Anyway, over the years I’ve learned my mother is just not very good at reacting to my emotions. When I was sad, it’s like she didn’t notice, angry, same thing, excitement was met with annoyance or nothing. This instilled in me as a child that emotions should be suppressed and not expressed. It kind of makes me hate my mother to think of every little thing she didn’t do, so I’ll stop there, but I can think of many other instances where my emotional needs simply were either not met or ignored by both parents. Now that I know the cause of so much of my self hatred and negativity, I think I can begin to heal.

  • February 28, 2018 at 6:40 am

    I may have had one of the most wondrous childhoods, ever. Of course “wondrous” is exaggeration, but I did grow up with loving parents who truly only wanted the best for me. Of course they made mistakes I vowed I would never repeat, but I’m certain I came up with my own custom imperfections — parenthood is a work-in-progress most safely reviewed in hindsight like any role we learn on the job.

    Just thought I’d include a positive response among the sadder ones inevitably filing in.

  • April 17, 2018 at 5:30 am

    My question is HOW exactly do we ‘heal’ after realizing we were victims of childhood emotional neglect? It seems like articles on this end on a high and hopeful note saying ‘Now that you have realized this, you can heal!’ But where is the advice outlining the actual steps we should be taking? It’s been about 1.5-2 years since I first heard of childhood emotional neglect and realized that my parents were emotionally neglectful during my childhood. While this realization was helpful in explaining why I have struggled with issues throughout my life (depression and anxiety, problems forming close relationships, feeling “different” or like there was something wrong with me, feeling alone, always pleasing others and not knowing my own needs or what I really wanted, etc), just the awareness that childhood emotional neglect caused these issues has not enabled me to heal. So could you please give someone like me some advice as to what exactly I should be doing in order to move forward in my life, and to make it better? How can I stop the self-destructive behaviors and how do I learn to really connect with people and be happy in life (like “normal” people who did not experience emotional neglect do all the time)?

  • May 6, 2018 at 1:07 am

    Yup i was emotionally neglected and v3rbally abuse by my parents.but how do I heal I am a very insecure and angry adult because of it.PLEASE help

  • May 7, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    I am a Child

    I am permanently a child.
    For decades a child
    staring into every face
    hoping for a touch
    that doesn’t scald.
    Eyes darting three ways
    at once, looking
    for the way
    for the crossing guard,
    for the green light
    for the safe way home


    I am trying to let go.
    The string of a balloon
    long deflated and bereft
    of buoyancy
    is knotted around my wrist,
    the rubber remnants are
    flopping around my feet.
    I am biting at the knot,
    trying for a single strand
    if I can yank one out
    it will release the rest.
    My wrist is slimy
    with spit and blood
    from my clumsily aimed

    • July 8, 2018 at 1:21 am

      Your poetry is beautiful and so very meaningful. Thank you.

  • May 17, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    I am a parent of an adult child, who otherwise thought I was a great parent, but is now telling me he needs healing from my emotional neglect. I didn’t understand and I kinda still don’t. He silenced our relationship for a number of weeks. He says he knows without a doubt that I love him immensely. I always told him his feelings and he mattered. Darn, he was ALL that mattered to me. I wanted him to have a great childhood, with great experiences and good upbringing. Sure, we all have made mistakes, but I am still in awe. I love that dude with all my heart. We had talks. Sure, we lost his daddy while he was only a toddler and had some other tragedies, but I always tried to talk to him. When I saw he was down, I tried to talk to him and cheer him up and keep laughter in the home. I thought I was NOT being neglectful. I made time for him, had him in many extra curricular things, trying to make sure he was well-rounded.
    I don’t know what I did or didn’t do, but I am very sorry. He has always praised me for being a great mom and so have others. I want him to heal. Since he has gotten married, he has come to this conclusion. Is there any help for me to learn more? I also don’t want to beat myself up because I did try!!
    I can also identify with some of those 7 things, too.

    • May 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm

      Unfortunately, a son needs a dad. Mom cannot replace a father figure in a boy’s life who can provide the emotional perspective and validation that only a man can give. And the death of a spouse alters how the surviving spouse parents. I lost my dad early on too, not to death, but to alcoholism and his own upbringing with an alcoholic, emotionally neglectful father. My mother, as a codependent, couldn’t properly validate my emotions as a boy since she was preoccupied with my father’s disease and abuse.

      • May 20, 2018 at 5:39 am

        I agree Mark. I had a wonderful father. He wasn’t demonstratively affiliate but we all knew he loved us. My siblings and I couldn’t wait for him to get home from work because that was the only tie we were safe from my mother’s physical abuse. He raised her 2 children from her first marriage like they were his. He also mentored a neighbor boy who was being abused, took him to our little farm in the country every evening, etc., After my dad died, the boy, now a man who is a Big Brother, a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and a great example for our community, gave our local paper man interview. He said that my father was the reason he turned out the way he did. I was so proud. My mother abused my father emotionally too, I think. She didn’t appreciate anything he did and her son by her first husband is exactly like she was. I’ve cut off contact with him. My oldest sister, also from her first marriage was totally different and I loved her as much as my younger brother and sister. She died 2 years ago. Her brother and only blood relative didn’t go to Florida from Kentucky for the funeral. He didn’t a card or flowers or even call my nieces. Of all of us he could have afforded it more than we could. My husband was a great father to my son and I think I was a good mother. I tried to be. But he seems to hate me now and I don’t know why. He’s 38 and I’m not supporting him financially anymore. It’s past time for him to grow up. What his dad wants to do is his business. We are still together and happy but when our son visits, I end up leaving the room to avoid the inevitable argument. Sorry I got off track, but I think you’re right. All the best to you.

    • May 18, 2018 at 7:32 pm

      Hi Don’t Understand,
      I am having the same problem with my adult son. His dad is still with us and just retired after working as a Systems Analyst/Computer Programmer for a University for 30 years. I was a Registered Nurse and had to work full time untill 1995 when I lost vision in one eye and could no longer safely administer meds. I was 6 months pregnant with my son and only child when I graduated Nursing with a degree in Applied Science. My husband worked day shift and I worked night shift so one of us was always with him. He was extremely intelligent and we never expected him to have a problem in school, but it turned out he dudid, He was born a month early and I had to have an emergency Csection. We know now he has a mild case of cerebral palsy as his right hand and foot are deformed. While he was in school however they were not, and his teacher said he was just lazy. His right foot was 3 sizes smaller than his left and he had a slight limp, which set him up to be bullied. I got off work at 7:30AM, his dad took him to school before he went to work at 8:00AM. It took me 2 or 3 hours to get to sleep, then I got up at 2PM to be awake enough to pick him up at school at 3PM. This was because he was bullied on the bus. I did everything for him my mother didn’t do for me. I hugged him, told him I loved him, read to him, expressed interest in what was going on in his life-everything I could think of. He was born in 1979, and we found out later he has Asperger’s Syndrome. One of the symptoms is brutal honesty. He told me at age 13 that I used to be his favorite parent but now his dad was. I laughed it off at the time and told him I was glad I got him when he was little and sweet and not a smart aleck teenager. Well he meant it. Everything I say is wrong. His first grade teacher told us he liked to argue. When we came home and told him, his reply was “I do not!” Point proven. He recently visited and said that he and his 25 year old girl friend have decided that I am a narcissist and have a borderline personality! I aced ALL my psych courses. Maybe because of my CEN I show some signs of narcissism, but not toward him, and I do not have a borderline personality. He lives in a house we own, free of charge. We pay his utilities and buy his food and clothing. He doesn’t want me to IM, email or call him and he has told me he can’t take care of me when I get old. I am heartbroken. I have no idea what I did to him to deserve this, but I’ve decided he is on his own. If his dad wants to support him, fine. but my money is staying in my account. He should understand that, since I’m such a narcissist I just wanted you to know you’re not alone. I don’t know why this happened but nothing hurts more. Love and good luck to you.

      • September 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm

        I don’t know you or your son, but it sounds like you might have made some assumptions about what he needs, even though at some point he might have tried to tell you what he needs. You’ve convinced yourself that you’ve done everything right, and he just thinks you’ve done everything wrong, and therefore it’s him that’s wrong. I don’t know, but it sounds like you see yourself as the victim of neglect, when it’s not his job to pay you any attention. That’s your job, not his.

      • September 10, 2018 at 5:59 pm

        Hi sam, You are absolulutely right. I wish there had been support for children when I was in school, but in the 60’s, it just wasn’t there and if I got in trouble in school I was in trouble at home. I remember being in first grade and thinking “I will NEVER treat my child like this.” So I treated him the way I thould I should’ve been treated and that was the exact opposite of what he needed. Since I wrote that last post, he and I have come to understand each other much better. It also didn’t help that he was born the year Adam Walsh was murdered, and Stranger Danger” was all the rage. That, and being an ER nurse made me too protective. There is no therapist anywhere near me that treats CEN, so I left my previous one, who just wanted give me anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants. I weaned myself off the valium and temazapam, and got my regular MD to prescribe my Zoloft and I’m feeling good. Thanks for your constructive comment to my post. I’m 65 now, and all I can do is pray I haven’t ruined my son’s life. So far, he’s doing well.
        Thanks again, sincerely,


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