Need treatment? Find help or get online counseling right now!

47 Comments to
The Unseen Root of Many Disorders: Childhood Emotional Neglect

The comments below begin with the oldest comments first. (If there's more than one page, click on the last comments page to jump to the most recent comments.) Jump to reply form.

  1. You are so on target with your work on CEN. Very thankful for what ever reason you were lead on this path to help others with it.

  2. “To relieve your parents and yourself, you would push the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are, your emotions, away. You would build an internal “wall” to keep them away, to protect your family and yourself from them. You would experience your own feelings as harmful, not helpful. They may even become your secret shame.”

    That paragraph somehow so easily sums up a lifetime of inner turmoil, it almost makes me cry. It was no ones fault, and yet… it (CEN) happened. I only wish I had been able to read your book as a young person and to recognize that “putting on the brave face” was not necessary ALL of the time. Knowledge is power, but I think Understanding is even more pivotal. I always believed that I knew myself. I guess you could say I was “confidently insecure.” I was always on a mission and I was good at what I did…. too good, in fact. Thus, I could never understand why things rarely worked out the way I intended them to. After coming to terms with CEN, I’ve realized that I never really quite *understood* myself. For example, finally understanding that I was overcompensating during my “missions” brought to light that I was ultimately sabotaging what would bring true resolution. Being able to understand myself essentially became the “key” to my knowledge. Now that I have that key, so many doors have opened and can successfully make it through to the other side. I am no longer confidently insecure, but rather, comfortably secure.

    Thank you so very much for continuing your work on CEN and helping me (and my loved ones) simply, understand. I really can’t thank you enough.

    • Dear Cheyenne, I am honored to be able to put into words your experience, and that of so many others. And I’m so happy to have helped in your self-understanding and healing!

    • I can relate to what you are saying. To me shame and perfectionism has played a role in my CEN. Always be “good” and “nice”. Now there is nothing wrong with being those things but everything else is “not seen”.

      • I agree sue! Pushing away all that isn’t “good” or “nice” is being very unfair to yourself.

  3. This is something I have always struggled with, and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve become aware of the root of some of the social awkwardness I’ve know about, but not sure how to deal with. This article absolutely pins down not only some of my own problems, but problems that other people I know have faced and are unaware of. Thank you so much not only for the article, but for truly understanding where some of us have such a difficult struggle.

    • Hi Krystal, yes I have noticed that social awkwardness is usually nothing more than a lack of emotion skills combined with emotional disconnection. I’m so glad to have been of help to you!

  4. Thank you again for an incredibly insightful article. Thanks also for the thoughtful comments from your readers. I resonate with everything that has been said. Cheyenne I really love your phrase ‘confident insecurity’ and its consequences. That’s me to a tee.

    Dr Webb, you and your readers are showing me what’s ‘wrong ‘ with me. I have spent a lifetime studying, researching, engaging in personal development and counselling to get answers.

    One of my questions is why do others seem to enjoy life, have successful careers and get on well with others. Bosses love them, they get recognition, they laugh, have fun, get excited, have no difficulty relating to others, easily create and sustain friendships and just naturally go through life. Others warm to them and next thing they’re out socialising and sharing life’s experiences. It all seems so easy and natural.

    On the other hand I’ve struggled to survive work environments, family gatherings and social situations. Now you are giving me this amazing explanation for those struggles. I am very grateful.

    You mentioned that one of the contributors to CEN is that the parents can’t handle the child’s emotions. I’ve realised I’m not sure I can now handle my emotions either after having spent almost all my life living behind the wall. I feel as if behind that dam wall is a torrent of pent up emotions, both positive and negative, that will engulf me if I let them out. What do you suggest?

    • Hi Karen that’s such a good question! I have developed a series of CEN recovery steps that are amazingly effective, in my experience. If you’re a member of my newsletter you’ll learn lots about how to break down your wall gradually, and then learn the emotion skills you missed in the free videos I’ll be releasing soon! All my Best wishes to you!

      • Thanks so much that’s very encouraging. How do I join your newsletter?

      • Just go to EmotionalNeglect.com and you’ll see the sign up to take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. That will sign you up for my newsletter too.

      • Dear Dr Webb:
        Abuse or neglect…inexcusable!

        I continue to learn. Thank you very much for your book, comments and tapes.

        I m interested in receiving your newsletter and steps methodology.

        Yiu are providing great insights and help for many. Keep it up Doc!

        Best wishes,

        Darlene V Taylor
        541 326 2655
        PO Box 367
        Medford OR. 97501

        Future doctoral candidate-Psychology. OSU

      • Hi Dar, I went to OSU for undergrad! I’m so glad you enjoy my work and would love for you to join my newsletter. Take care!

  5. I wish I had known about CEN years ago. I have wondered my whole life, what was wrong with me! I now know that my parents neglected me emotionally. I have never been able to have a loving relationship with anyone. I have felt so very alone my whole life. My parents are both deceased. I go in between loving them and hating them on a daily basis. For now, I just take one day at a time.

    • Dear Beth, now that you understand what’s wrong, you can take the steps to heal! Please go to EmotionalNeglect.com and join my newsletter. There are answers, and clear steps to take to fix this. It’s the one good thing about CEN. Sending you all my warmest wishes.

  6. The only thing I’d add is that children will eventually translate “My feelings don’t matter” to “I don’t matter”. This often gets reinforced in your teen years by how your peers react to you. I think many teen suicides can be traced to this neglect.

    I see each of us as being composed of three interlocking elements, cognitions, emotions and body. You can’t separate them. You can’t just treat one and ignore the other two..

    An example is that you may have as thought that makes you angry which then gives you a stomach ache. Or you may be coming down with a cold that makes you snappy with people that then leads to bad thoughts about yourself.

    As an emotional neglected child I was one highly intelligent little bastard and physically fit but felt useless and alone in spite of those gifts.

    If you seek therapy, I can say that when you first experience every day emotions you’ve had since before you were born it may seem like someone turned the knob up to eleven. Ignore it. You’ll adjust quickly and learn how to set it.

    In fact, as an abuse victim, you may be much better than the average person in detecting peoples fleeting emotions.

    Some people may not like the new you but that’s their problem not yours.

    If I was king of the world I would embed emotional education into school curriculums beginning with second graders all the way to college level.

    • Thank you for outlining what true recovery from CEN feels like! It’s wonderful to hear it from someone who truly “gets it.” I agree that is absolutely key for emotional education to be taught in schools. I believe (and hope) that we are moving that direction in today’s world. Thanks for your thoughtful and helpful comment!

  7. Shared to my blog: https://makebpdstigmafree.wordpress.com/ I always wondered what was wrong with me. My emotions were too intense for my parents to handle. I got the message to stifle them. This, along with bullying from my peers at school, led to my developing Borderline Personality Disorder. I am now on a mission to educate and be a support to others.

    • Dear Joyce, I’m sorry that happened to you! Intense emotions are simply a part of children’s biological make-up. It wasn’t your fault that your parents didn’t know how to handle yours. I’m glad you are working to help others. Don’t forget about yourself! 🙂 All my best wishes to you.

  8. Hi Jonice, yesterday I started a online search about children of autistic parents. I followed the blogs and articles, very few it appears, and became more and more excited and hopeful as I slowly found my way to your site and began to realize that I am not alone and not broken. I have two autistic parents and checked every box on your survey. Thrilled may be a strange word to use but I feel like a window into myself has been thrown open. I see now that it wasn’t their fault, they were doing their best but I see how an infant, then child, then adult would be damaged by being raised by people with no real understanding of emotions. I’m 60 and for the first time in my life I’m not totally pissed off with myself for being me. I’ll be damned, there isn’t really anything wrong with me, I was just missing something really, really…..really important all those years. At 13 years old I walked into the living with a pair of pants my father didn’t like. He went ballistic, called me bad things and stormed out. My mother leaned over and said “don’t look now but that’s it for this marriage”. Later that day I asked her “did I do that?” and she said “yes”. I see now that she wasn’t answering the question that I was asking. I was asking if I had just broken my family by walking into the room and she was answering yes it was those pants. A month later they were divorced. One example among very, very, very many. I haven’t had the smoothest sailing through this life and now for the first time I understand why.

    • Dear Doug, that sounds like a severe CEN childhood. I am so sad that you grew up receiving so many painful and wrong messages. Now that you understand what’s wrong, you absolutely can heal! I hope you will take this on, because you can do it. Sending you all my best wishes.

      • “To relieve your parents and yourself, you would push the most deeply personal, biological expression of who you are, your emotions, away. You would build an internal “wall” to keep them away, to protect your family and yourself from them. You would experience your own feelings as harmful, not helpful. They may even become your secret shame”. And with this simple paragraph my life changes so much for the better. My ever-present emotions of sadness and anxiety and low self-esteem were my worst enemy, my greatest shame and weakness and my purpose in life was to try to make them go away. I got angry with myself when they arrived which was pretty much all the time. Years of therapy with very kind capable therapists have helped me greatly but this sentence turns what was I felt was my greatest weakness into appropriate feelings that any little creature would have when their caregivers simply don’t speak the same language they do. My mother cheerfully tells the story of when I was an infant and I was squalling my brains out in the other room. She thought that I was hungry but It wasn’t’ feeding time so she just let me yell. It turns out that I had kicked my foot through the wicker bassinet and was dragging my leg back and forth through the broken wicker. She happily recounts that my leg looked like hamburger not understanding that the other people listening to the story can tell the difference between I’m hungry and I’m in agony. And she was much better than dad. Jeez, I get it. I’m supposed to feel the way I do. Ok, I’ll stop babbling, this is just a pretty exciting moment.

      • Dear Doug, I am so happy to finally provide this missing piece for you. This is a powerful realization that can change how you feel about yourself and your life. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

      • Now that I know what the mechanism is it’s so easy to see. An emotion comes that was never able to be expressed or understood so instead being able to say to someone “I feel small and afraid” it becomes “I am small and afraid”. I’m sitting here watching an emotion that comes, is a pure feeling for about a second, and then morphs into a quality of me. I then hate the emotion because it instantly leads to bad feelings about myself. On a purely intellectual level, aside from it’s rather dramatic effects on a life, this is fascinating to watch. It’s also clear to see how even if it’s not seen as a quality of self it spreads into the body and manifests as a discomfort or a stomach ache or something.
        It seems, at least so far, that there is a brief moment of pure emotion that quickly changes into a negative quality of self. I find myself closing my eyes and taking that pure emotion and walking up to my parents and saying “this is how I feel”. So far they just turn and walk away but then again that’s what the problem was in the first place. You really hit the nail on the head with this stuff.

      • Dear Doug, what an interesting way to describe how a feeling can do damage if it is not acknowledged, named, and owned. I’m sure many will identify with your description. Thanks for sharing your reactions!

      • I think that emotions are like walking. As we learn to walk, we practice, learn what works and what doesn’t’ and get lots of feedback from gravity and objects in the world around us. We learn by watching how the people around us do it and being held up and supported by them because they understand how difficult and and important and wonderful learning how to move around the world is. We learn patience and how to deal with frustration and finally we succeed. How would learning to walk work out if we were never allowed to stand up, move our legs and no one knew what we were trying to do or why we would do it, much less help or support us.
        As I look back on my emotional life growing up this is a perfect analogy. I never had the chance to learn anything about them. There is a lot of angst and guilt etc. around this issue because of the very negative impact on a life that not being in touch with emotions can have but on a practical level we just never got the chance to learn what they are and how they work.

      • Dear Doug, I like your analogy very much. But don’t forget that emotions and emotion skills can be learned, no matter how devoid of skills and attention you grew up. I know this because I have walked many through the process.

  9. Please could you email me questionnaire as I’m unable to open it thank you’

    • Hi Ann, I’m sorry I can’t email it to you. But I can suggest you try to open it on a different device. A computer works better than a phone. Thanks for your question!

  10. I’ve discovered that cessation of “nice guy” behaviors quickly transforms one into persona non-grata. My dad, when he recently had a little too much to drink, revealed his deep hatred for me by saying he’d like to kill me. He’s about as malignant a covert narcissist that’s ever lived, and after I heard this, I decided no more gestures of filial piety would be forthcoming. I also tried to talk to my siblings about it, but they brushed it aside, and resolutely would not engage. No one wants to touch the issue of our dad’s depravity, so we go it alone (as, it turns out, we always have). It’s just that now I’ve been identified as the bad, ungrateful child, the others can keep their facade intact by playing their “goodness” off my “badness.” This is painful for me, but like the Israelites expelled out into the desert, I don’t have a choice.

    • Dear Tom, what matters is what you know: that your dad is a narcissist, and that your siblings have their heads in the sand. Please go forward and build yourself up. You are set to far outgrow your family. Warmest wishes to you going forward.

  11. In other articles you have mentioned that people raised with CEN are very sensitive to others feelings, just not their own feelings. Is this always the case? My husband agrees he was raised with CEN after reading your book. I think his parents were as well – they don’t seem to display emotions themselves. He is very concerned what ‘others’ think – the neighbors etc. but he does not seem to care about my feelings. He is logically always right and I have ‘overreacted’ or reacted in illogical way. He is incapable of making up when we have a disagreement…he just ignores it every happened after being distant for a certain time. He does not understand that his tone of voice matters. Does this seem like CEN or do you think there might be other things going on here as well? I know you can’t say for sure…I’ve asked him to get help…but he seems to think we can’t afford it. Once people get help, how long does recovery take? I’ve been trying to hang in this marriage, but it’s getting harder and harder. I am sorry that people were raised with CEN – no one deserves that. My husband doesn’t seem to understand when I do things to help him understand our son’s feelings or put my foot down so he doesn’t hurt our son – I’m not trying to be controlling – I’m trying to stop CEN from being passed down to them. Is there a resource for spouses of people with CEN? I could sure use some help.

    • Dear Wondering your husband has recognized he has CEN which is important. But he now has some work to do! Many CEN people are blind to others feelings as well as their own. He can learn everything he needs to know and get in touch with his own emotions so he can have empathy for you and your son. Please insist he get help. Have him join my newsletter, and if he refuses to work on his CEN, find a CEN therapist on my website and go yourself. All my best wishes.

    • As I read your comment my first thought was “You go to therapy first so you have a steady hand to help you.”

      As man with two failed marriages I can tell you that if you think of emotions as a language your husband is probably at a fifth grade reading level. Not his fault but that is the truth on the ground. That “logic” thing is so typical of an educated but emotionally ignorant man. Someone like me needed emotions explained like I was fifth grader.

      Relationships don’t have an on/off switch, they are fluid. In both my marriages the women just up and left in the night without a word so remind him what lucky bastard he is.

      A good therapist can break down the emotional process for him so an overly logic-reliant man begins to get it and step gingerly into this new realm of felt emotions. Reading the visual and audible cues people give off about their emotional state can be learned. I found that practicing listening and responding skills with children easier than with adults at first. Their uninhibited enthusiasm gives great reinforcement to my understanding that this is the way out of prison. Also you feel so damn good after.

      Many CEN victims aren’t so much blind to other people’s feelings as so focused on wrestling with their own unexpressed and frightening feelings that they have little time for you. Even happiness is a frightening feeling. That rush of tears that you may feel while, say, watching a good movie, feels like a freight train roaring through. I couldn’t see or hear anything if I didn’t shut it off.

      Maybe some of the benefits of emotional awakening:
      The arts suddenly make sense on a completely new level. You toss the damn critics and their opinions and let the art of any kind just speak to you in this language you never understood before.
      The dynamics of work-life sharpen more into focus. You begin to see people’s motivations and insecurities which helps you understand your place in it and what you need to do next.
      You turn off the distractions and find simply being with your fellow humans joyful and meaningful in itself.

      But mostly it’s family. I would give and do anything to be able to go back in time and have helped create a big noisy imperfect family that I love. Hell, maybe even grandchildren by this time. Everything else you do in life only matters because they matter.

      Like alcoholics in AA the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. My dad was a close combat veteran yet he ran from the dinner table at the first sign of a raised voice. So your husband’s second step to truly man-up and go with you to therapy.

      Find and budget the money. Cancel the damn cable bill.

      Lastly this idea of treating emotional health as a focus is still in its infancy. The “How do you feel about that?” that therapists used to ask has now been expanded out into a full treatment. It completes the trilogy of healthy body, thoughts and feelings. But not all therapists are on the same train yet. Use your emotional wisdom to judge whether the one you chose is working out for you and don’t be afraid to move on if they are not.

      Better a new therapist then new marriage IMHO.

      • Thank you Tyler for your thoughts and support. What you share is not only valuable to me but to people on the journey with you. I wish you well as you continue to work on mastering emotions and learning to connect with others in a loving way. I have been getting support when I need it. I am excited about the new book that Dr. Webb is putting out and looking forward to reading it.

  12. adjust to new awareness, and our family members only know to stay in their comfort zone, we then deal with a greatly fractured original family. Now we learn to identify what familial support looks and feels like. Not sure what’s going on with this formatting, but at least you get my gist. With gratitude, Julie Thank you so much for validation and reassurance! As us CEN, PTSD, GAD or whichever acronym,

    • Hi Julie, I think you’re saying that sometimes we have to let go of our families who are not able to see the true problems. It’s hard, for sure. Thanks for your comment!

  13. Do you have sources for parents to not pass on CEN? I will take your survey but I think I was subject to CEN and try to be aware of how I react to my children’s feelings. But in a household that doesn’t have much outside support and both parents work, I still need them to cooperate and don’t have time for long heart to hearts all the time. I try to tell them it’s valid what they feel but they still have to get ready for school, not yell, not hit, not slam doors, not hurt people back etc. Sometimes even while acknowledging their emotions I still have to shut down their episodes and force them to do what is needed. I can’t be late constantly to make sure their emotions aren’t pushed aside. So is acknowledging it enough or are we talking about letting them throw fits and having their long drawn out episodes? I hug them and say I understand how they feel but we need to continue functioning. This often isn’t enough and the times I let them go on it can take forever so I usually end up having to shut it down. I really don’t want to hurt them but we also have business to attend to daily. They are extremely intelligent and thus emotional often. I don’t see this as a bad trait but an understandable one. Yet where is the line between getting through life as a busy parent and neglect? Any sources or references would be great. Thank you.

    • Dear concernedmom, I hear your struggle! Validating a child’s feelings is not the same as indulging them. In my new book Running on Empty No More I talk a lot about how to navigate this complex parenting tightrope. It’s remarkably easy and powerful once you understand what to do. Also see my previous blog “how not to emotionally neglect your kids.” Your kids are lucky that you are trying so hard to do what’s best for them.

  14. CEN is the cause of my issues which through the years have included OCD, panic attacks,social anxiety (mother told me “No one will ever like you”) depression, agoraphobia, body dysmorphia (mother said I was a fat lump,ugly and that I sank)
    To outsiders she was fine, CEN is often mothers little secret.

    • Hi Anna, that seems like emotional abuse, which emotional neglect is an important part of, for sure. I hope you will work to overcome all of these false messages. You deserve better!

  15. Excellent article.

  16. My CEN is of the passive type, it’s not what my parents said but what they didn’t say and do. We never touched, talked or displayed emotions which I thought was perfectly normal. It’s not that emotions were discouraged, simply none were displayed. I believe, that my childhood emotions were walled off as an infant, since there was no effect from my parents, I believe my subconscious buried them as useless. I became cerebral, withdrawn and insecure. I don’t have to work through my emotions since I can’t sense them, I’m mostly flat internally and break out into physical sensations when aroused by something that should evoke an emotion; eyes watering, blushing, guts in turmoil, heart racing, etc., I have found therapist to be useless as they usually start out by asking how do I feel or that all humans have emotional needs and the need for connection, etc., I don’t think I ever bonded with my parents or anyone for that matter, so the idea of bonding with a therapist to help me locate and release my emotions seems illogical and impossible. Therapist seem to have little to no understanding of attachment disorders such as mine. I don’t have drug or abuse issues, had a great career, am financially independent and don’t display any troublesome emotional issues like anxiety or depression that therapist are used to seeming. However, I’m an emotional wasteland, not being able to express what I want nor to discern the direction of life other than from a logical or physical standpoint. Knowing all this does nothing to help me find my emotions, just to answer why all my relationships suffer from superficiality. I’m curious if you believe there are therapists out there that actually understand people like me and have had success in improving our ability to contact our emotional selves?

    • Dear James, yes there are therapists who can understand you! Any therapist who has read Running on Empty and/or attended one of my trainings can help you with this. Please go to my website and look for the list of CEN specialists and see if one is near you. Please do not give up on this, as you can heal with the right guidance and help, I assure you.

  17. You nailed it. I needed to read this today. Thank you.

 

Join the Conversation!

We invite you to share your thoughts and tell us what you think in this public forum. Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines. A first name or pseudonym is required and will be displayed with your comment. Your email address is also required, but will be kept private. (Please note that we use gravatars here, which are tied to your email address.) A website/blog/twitter address is optional.

Post a Comment: