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31 Comments to
4 Ways Emotional Neglect From Your Childhood Can Harm Your Relationships

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  1. One of the problems of growing up with CEN is that the neglect and the coping behaviors developed to deal with it become so ingrained that knowing what you were neglected of in the first place becomes pretty hard to perceive. It’s like someone whispering in your ear what you want, but the whispers are drowned out by the loud drone of heavy metal you use to avoid the terrible feelings. Then when you finally turn off the music, the whispers are silent, having long ceased, and you wonder what they were saying in the first place.

    • Frank, that is an excellent metaphor to explain the experience of CEN. The key is to keep listening. If you keep the music off, and listen and listen and try to hear, you will break down the wall that blocks your feelings, bit by bit. Those feelings are there; you just have to let yourself have them.

    • Wow. Just wow. Frank you have nailed it…so poetically and tragically. Yes….that’s it exactly. You can’t just shut off the grating metal (music/noise)…..but then, you can’t shut off the whispering when you want to either. And even worse… cannot turn off the screaming silence and cold, dead numbness. When you’ve finally gotten your wish….and the blood stops spurting out your ears from the grating metal (I call it fingernails on the chalkboard in my brain) or out of your heart from the pain induced by the unreachable promises made by the whispers…’re left with………..nonexistence, nonperson, a ghost.
      All that said….I had a lot more than CEN. I had severe CSA from 4 yrs to 12. So….not much of a me there…..more of an us really. In fact, I never realized the extent of the CEN because the CSA was always the more obvious, in your face. Actually I guess there was CEN with the CSA in that household, in addition to CEN in another household.
      Always figured I just wasn’t a feely person…so what. The CEN was no big deal….it made me stronger. The CSA was what deatroyed me. But really…it was all of it in constant combo and dischord.

      • Child abuse experiences of all kinds can surely be healed in adulthood. But the Emotional Neglect that was a part of the abuse experience continues to linger until it is addressed. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  2. I tried to talk this stuff over with my family, and they most definitely did not appreciate it. In fact, I learned not only are they continuing the CEN, they stridently do not want it to stop.

    • I’m sorry you had this experience Tommy. Some families take a great deal of time to begin to see CEN, and others are not able to recognize feelings or their importance at all. I recommend reading my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships if you haven’t yet. It is full of advice and support for you.

  3. I got a YES 20 of 22 times on that CED test. Almost aced it. Awesome!

    • I like your sense of humor Simply99. But actually, your score on the CEN Test opens doors for you that you probably didn’t know existed. Try to learn everything you can about CEN and this can be the start of something good!

      • I’ve never heard of this before, but it seems the way I’ve been coping with it was to separate myself from my siblings and other family members. One of your tests also claimed I was extremely depressed and possibly suicidal. I’ve coped with this by trying to be alone as much as possible and not offing myself. Seems to be working though if I did die tomorrow I wouldn’t really care, and it’s doubtful many other’s would care as well. It’s all good though.

      • I can understand your automatically trying to cope by isolating yourself (many people do). But it doesn’t work very well. Feeling depressed and possibly suicidal is not an acceptable way to go through your life. I very much hope you’ll reach out and ask for some help, and begin to address the problem.

      • I appreciate the concern, sincerely. However, the problem is, if I have to spend $300.00/hour (50 minutes) of money I really don’t have to talk to a shrink it would just cause me to be even more depreased and suicidal. It seems that the “deal with it” method is best for me. However, I do like the free resources here to help cope. Good part is I’m almost 49 so I hopefully don’t have much time left to have to deal with it. It all will work out in the end on its own, I’m confident of that, but again I do appreciate the concern on your part. It’s nice to know somebody cares even if it’s a complete stranger.

      • Just took another quiz which stated I now have extreme ADD. Man, I really seem to be a bag full of nuts. Oh well, nothing I could do but live with it all, I guess.

      • That is one very expensive therapist you mention! Most are far far more affordable. Anyway, I hope you will one day change your mind about all this but that is your decision to make, of course!

      • Get help brother….don’t take the easy way out…it’s hard to love ourselves…and that will be your way out

      • I would, but there are a few problems with that. First, like I said, I can’t afford to pay the high prices this profession demands. Second, my mom forced me to see shrinks many times in my youth, and these strangers kept asking personal questions that were none of their business, demanding answers in threatening ways. I clammed up after one told my mom what we were talking about after telling me it’s all 100% confidential, so they broke their own trust. Make a them a liar as well. Third, if I did start seeing a shrink and my co-workers and spouse found out I’d have to quit my job and get a divorce for I couldn’t face anybody who saw me as nothing more than a living Whack-A-Mole game. Also, I don’t believe most shrinks really care about their patients only charging them enormous amounts for their services, and their true objective is to keep you just nuts enough to keep willing to come back and make the therapists rich. They don’t care about their patients; I know this from first-hand experience. Thanks for your concern, though. It really brightens up one’s day. Free therapy like that is more valuable than anything any shrink can offer.

  4. I just read this first thing in the early AM and got the most intense insight. For me ignoring my emotions, desires and points of view lead me to develop a private me that I still at 62 for the most part maintain very separate from lots of people. In my marriages and relationships with men I just do not trust and am always ready to run out the door or have an affair, just have an alternative private life. The most damaging cost physically was my private world involved/involves drinking – I always prefer a private drinking zone, its my space to dream and be protected. I have faced this many times and in all aspects am getting better if I very clearly listen to my own needs and desiers.

    As a kid especially my mom had this vision of what I should be, unfortunately it was tempered by her lack of desire to respond to any of her 3 kids when they hit tween and teen-hood. I was lumped with my 1-5 yr older sister – she made me study viola because that meant one trip to the music lessons, my sister is a professional talented musician. At about 12 I sat unplaying in a punkish pre-punk torn sweater during a recital of the Bach Brandenburg suites. I was just pissed and she made me sit there, what a total bitch. I was torn from my one activity ballet because my mom, a do nothing stay at home with plenty of economic resoruces, just did not want to provide transport or permit me my taste, she really hated me all her life and I just did not fit into her definition of person.

    Left her and home at 17 thanks to a great dad who was also abused by her. During U and after I did become a dancer and choreographer and later and now work in media and still do ballet, so I did achieve my private world. I am an expat – it is much much easier for me outside my country of birth the USA to be true to myself. I still struggle with real mistrust of any man who wants to get close, interestingly but not surprisingly it is with young and non-US men that I am most comfortable. Beginning way back in U people have described me as having a feel of orphan about me and I do tend to attract and have these friendly families filling in. It is very lonely being neglected emotionally as a kid. Thanks lots for your work, it is truly a gift to see and feel this recognized as a cause of my own weirdnesses and self-destructive behaviours.

    • Dear Zapf, you do indeed describe a classic CEN childhood, where your mom was trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. I hope you will (or already are) start addressing your CEN, getting in touch with your feeling and breaking down your walls. When you do that, you won’t need thousands of miles to protect you. Sending you all my best wishes!

  5. For most of my life I have lived in a vortex of confusion, not being able to identify my feelings much less process them or articulate them. In 1999, during a psychological assessment for disability, a PhD suggested that I had probably struggled with low-grade depression most of my life because of the many accumulated, unresoslved losses I had experienced as a child without knowing how to identify my feelings, much less process them or even begin to articulate them.

    After much therapy now, I have a better understanding of myself, can identify my feelings and have shared my own story several times in different arenas of recovery. I have come to understand how the neglect of my childhood contributed to some of my medical issues.

    I look forward to reading this new book

    • Good for you AHF! You’ve done some great work and are an inspiration for others. Thanks for sharing.

  6. A great read. It’s been my experience – failed relationships with partners who would appear to have experienced CEN – the disconnect from ’emotion’ (feelings) is the deal-breaker. And as those in relationships shaped by CEN might agree, the “you’re not perfect” card can be tough to address. For what it’s worth, this is not to suggest ‘unhealthy’ Childhood Emotional Attention (sic) does not create issues in adulthood, but as I see it, the real damage done by CEN is, removes “emotion” from the toolbox. When a person lacks the basic “assets” necessary to navigate life in general, it stands to reason, they would by “bankrupt” in terms to specific emotional/personal relationships. 

    • I agree. It’s like trying to build a house without the most elemental tool – a hammer. I like your description. Thanks for your comment!

  7. “I tried to talk this stuff over with my family, and they most definitely did not appreciate it. In fact, I learned not only are they continuing the CEN, they stridently do not want it to stop.”

    I can relate to what Tommy G. wrote above. Have spent my entire life trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Throughout my childhood, I was labeled the “high-strung” “emotional” “hyper-sensitive” one. My mother gave me the labels, my siblings picked them up and ran with them. My dad went to work, came home and read in his chair (tuned out). I’ve always tried to be supportive of my siblings even though we were raised to be competitive with and belittling of one another. When I try to talk to them about our dysfunctional childhood and how we were rarely built up, only torn down by each other and our parents, they judge me as being “overly-sensitive, high-strung and emotional.” It is sad that the roles we take on or are given in childhood can remain with us a lifetime.

    Lately, as I’ve become more aware of my CEN, the distance between my 3 siblings and me has grown. It is too painful to be around them and not be able to express my feelings because to them, any expression of negative emotion (anger, sadness, depression, fear) is unwelcome and any expression of positive emotion (joy) appears to be good reason to knock the wind out of my sails. It is exhausting.

    • Annie, your family sounds like the classic emotionally neglectful family. It’s a very difficult kind of family to be around. I encourage you to strengthen your boundaries carefully before you interact with them, and lower your expectations. You have my sympathy!

  8. I have never heard of CEN, but this is interesting. My childhood was from the outside, pretty awesome, but I was considered a high maintenance child and so was usually ignored, or yelled at, punished. My needs were def not met. So now I am extremely sensitive, emotions everywhere, drama…I am a very talented artist and performer, so in that way its great….but in my personal life, way not great.
    I have been to many therapists, read (no lie) about 60 books on mental/emotional health and do quite well. But I am in a new marriage with a wonderful man and I freak out when it comes to his ex and anything about them. I feel that is unfair and I do not want to feel this way. Or react so strongly or feel so frightened.
    I do not know what “this” is?
    Are there any good books out there that can address this?
    Does anyone have an idea of what that is or how to make peace with it?

    • Hi Catherine, this may or may not apply to you, but jealousy is typically a partial result of deep insecurity. Don’t stop working on yourself! Now that you know about CEN, you can heal it.

  9. For me it is not just an emptiness from being ignored emotionally but knowing how to reprogram healthy responses and knowing how to relate to people who also may be suffering from CEN. I find that the workplace and society in general does not respond to all emotions in a positive way. We are conditioned to suppress anger and frustration and are encouraged to be happy and carefree when we may be dealing with very difficult issues like grief, poverty and loneliness. No one really wants to hear anything negative and why do people ask how we are doing if we cannot say the truth? It all seems to be a mirage because we cannot really be real with anyone except ourselves behind closed doors.

  10. Hi,
    I just read through this thread and want to share my story. But right now, maybe not. I’m having a lot of trouble getting through each day right now–I sleep a lot or just lie down and close my eyes. Through no fault of my own (or maybe yes) I live in a large city and have not one friend. My only good friend moved out of state six months ago.

    I have so many issues, physical and psychological, I don’t know where to start. I’m in my early 60s so perhaps I’ll die early. But a tiny part of me knows that if I felt better I’d want to keep living.

    I read that you have a book you’re recommending, but books seem so foreign to me right now for help. It’s a lonely experience reading a book when what I need is a community, no matter how small.

    Thanks for listening.

    • Hi Lagunagrl: I can identify with where you are in your life right now. I have been there myself several times before. I don’t have a lot of friends but the few that I do have are ones I trust and enjoy being with. I encourage you to join one club or activity you enjoy and stick with it. Eventually you will feel a sense of community with these people who share at least one common interest. You may even make a friend or two. Please give it a try for the next several months. It does take time but is worth the effort.

      Wishing you well.

    • Hi Lagunagirl,

      I, too, can relate to what you’re feeling. As someone in her early sixties who moved to a new city a couple of years ago, I also long for a community of like-minded people or even one close female friend who I could meet for lunch. When I’m in one of my depressed and insecure modes, it is very difficult to get out there to do anything that will bring me what I’m seeking (meaningful connections). It’s particularly difficult when you’re not only feeling poor emotionally but also physically. At times like those, I challenge myself to go for a walk in nature and/or if the weather is bad (I’m in Ohio and weather can add to the struggle this time of year) I do yoga in my house or put on some music and dance. Moving my body always helps. Lately, my challenge is to get out there and have one meaningful, face-to-face interaction with a new person at least every day and then write how that felt in my journal. If I miss a day (like I did today) I don’t beat myself up about it. Just make more of an effort to get out there tomorrow. I do a lot of work from home so it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the moment with my clients (phone and e-mail) and find myself drained from never getting out of the house to focus on my own needs for connection and meaning. Know that you are not alone and please share your story when you feel up to it.

  11. Are there particular brands of therapy that seem to work more effectively with the effects of CEN than others? I know CBT is always at the top of the list but it does not go far enough in addressing emotional awaremess and growth.

    I understand that sometimes it just rests on the skill and empathetic skills of the individual therapist regardless of their training and experience.

    I know you are working up a protocol for therapists but in the meantime … are there?

    • I have had several kinds of therapy. What helped me the best, was CBT and gestalt therapy. The foundation of the latter is that for any problems or questions you might have, the answer to them lies in you. For me, it has made me reconnect with my feelings, feelings I didn’t know I had and also feelings I didn’t trust (after being taught for years that I’m oversensitive and seeing things wrongly, you probably know the drill). For me, a person who relied mostly on her intelligence, it was very hard at first, but I learned a lot from it.


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