41 thoughts on “6 Things Adults With Childhood Emotional Neglect Need to be Happy

  • February 24, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    No. 3 is so so so me! I can’t bear not to be perfect and make a mistake. It’s hard to get over that.

    • February 24, 2019 at 4:51 pm

      Dear Catherine, yes it is hard. But you can do it. Knowing the problem is a good start.

  • February 24, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    They’re all me, all six of them a thousand times over, but 2 and 4 for some reason have been weighing on me lately. I’ve had a hard time staying asleep lately, and my brain has been insisting on waking me up at 2am to tell me pearls like, “To be seen to need things makes one disgusting,” and other wonderful things. I know it’s BS, but it’s exhausting to have your brain shovel that at you in the middle of the night when you know it’s wrong but it’s getting shoved at you in the guise of rationality.

    And 4 is another one. People don’t often ask at this point, but I can’t help but think that when they do, I’m supposed to perform my emotions in some way that makes them appear valid or else I’ll be told that I’ve done it wrong and hence the other person is released from any expectation I might have that they’d give a damn. “You know, I WOULD have cared about what you said if only you’d done it slightly differently, but since you did it wrong … ” Easier to just not say anything.

    God damn it, this is like getting loose from a tentacled sea monster. You slip one tentacle, and five more take its place.

    • February 25, 2019 at 7:27 am

      Dear Janis, when things plague you at night, it’s your brain telling you to process them during the day. These old messages can be disempowered if you start taking them on. Start walking through the steps of CEN recovery, and it will help you.

  • February 24, 2019 at 11:23 pm

    Thank you for this i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y helpful article! It made so many things clear for me, put into words what I always felt but could not identify.

    Coincidentally, covered many points in therapy this very morning before I saw the article in the afternoon! It IS difficult finding words for emotions I was never allowed to express. I struggle every day. Feels very strange to be stumbling while using my own language as if it were a foreign language! But I suppose it IS a foreign language as I never learned to use it that way!! Imagine that?!??

    Thank you so much for your work! So very needed, so very important!!! THANK YOU!!! <3

    • February 25, 2019 at 7:29 am

      Dear Ki, it sounds like you are on a wonderful track. Keep going on it!

  • February 24, 2019 at 11:49 pm

    1,2,4,6 for me ..
    I’m a fake extrovert with a force field around me when it comes to people.. strange thing is when it comes to other people emotions I can read people very well.. I think it comes from studying my moms mannerisms to get ahead of the abuse and neglect that was to come my way during the drinking..
    I’ll walk 10 miles for gas before calling anyone,
    I’ve been the go to guy all my life. Strong proud always getting it done, I’m the one that makes the right decision in the heat of an emergency, I would go hungry to make sure my dog was fed when I was a kid.
    Yet inside sometimes I’m that scared little boy hiding under a bed praying that my mom doesn’t get to drunk, that we won’t get kicked out of the Motel and be homeless again..

    • February 25, 2019 at 7:31 am

      Dear Rex, your inner strength comes through in your comment. You can work through those old feelings without losing the strength that you earned by being neglected as a child. I hope you will do so. You deserve to be happy.

  • February 25, 2019 at 5:24 am

    I found your article looking for answers to why my lovely wife is so unhappy. She constantly says no one cares. She has not let me touch her in years. I had no idea her troubling upbringing had a name. In fact I find myself wondering if I suffer from the same thing.
    When I tell her I care she tells me I don’t. I find myself constantly doing tasks to try and make her happy but that just seems to make her more angry. She is so unhappy and depressed it has become debilitating. I am obviously not good at saying or doing the right things but I need to figure it out or we have to separate for both of our own good.
    She really is an amazing cool and good hearted person, I desperately need to figure out how to change, how to find the right actions and words to help her.
    I am going to go order both your books but you have any suggestions I can do to start the healing process?

    • February 25, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Dear Witheld, you may indeed be in a double CEN marriage, and there is a lot of info about exactly what to do in Running On Empty No More. But I suggest you start with the first book first. See if your wife will read through them with you. Your love for her is there, and that will help enormously.

  • February 25, 2019 at 7:04 am

    I very much related to most of the six things people with CEN see as being necessary to happiness, but even though I agreed that the six opposing statements are accurate, the explanations sometimes missed the actual obstacle I face in putting them into practice.

    I don’t feel like it’s wrong to need people, I feel like the instant I actually need someone they are absolutely guaranteed to disappear (no matter how close we might be). It’s not a fear of doing something wrong that holds me back, but a fear of being abandoned yet again by everyone that I’ve ever allowed myself to lean on.

    Perhaps this is merely indicative of there being something other than CEN contributing to my situation, but I wanted to at least mention the existence of the “it’s too dangerous” obstacle to growth and healing in under the assumption that I’m probably not the only one out there.

    • February 25, 2019 at 7:38 am

      Dear Tim, it sounds to me that you had some form of abandonment in childhood. This can add an extra fear of abandonment on top of your CEN issues. It’s important to deal with the abandonment in addition to the CEN. The good news is that this can be done! And it can make a tremendous difference for you.

      • February 27, 2019 at 4:45 pm

        The abandonment was pretty acute for sure, but since it was pretty clearly driven by a colossal degree of obliviousness, I’ve generally viewed it as a manifestation of the neglect. Perhaps that’s inaccurate, but certainly I’ve been aware for some time of the fact that being emotionally abandoned was a very formative offset of my childhood. Ultimately, the worst of the damage came not so much from the abandonment as from the ensuing experience of having the staggering level of pain I was in be utterly invisible to everyone around me, which is why I relate so much to most of the CEN symptoms and problems.

        The last few months have been difficult, as the abandonment issues have been front and center in a rather overriding fashion, and some rather significant progress that I’d made in the months leading up to it vanished on me.

        There’s finally starting to be a crack in the armor of the little kid who up until about two weeks ago could only scream “no” at the top of his lungs anytime there was any indication that I might take an action that could lead toward healing, and we’re finally starting to have the occasional conversation in which he is able to acknowledge that his methods aren’t going to ever get him what he’s actually looking for. Hopefully, moving forward more in tandem and less with me pushing forward alone will produce some longer lasting fruit, but we shall see.

        The bit about people tending to give only what we expect them to was interesting, and not something that I’d thought about in this context. I’ll have to keep that in mind, as one of the challenges I face is allowing myself to see the things that contradict the old (and falsehood-ridden) belief system instead of seeing only the things that I can twist into confirmations of it.

        It’s amazing how impossible it is to argue with an old and deeply rooted set of beliefs when the mind can’t even bring itself to recognize events that contradict those beliefs, but since it’s hard to knock the walls down without cracking them first, I keep trying to let myself see the things that can introduce those cracks.

      • February 28, 2019 at 8:34 am

        Dear Tim, you describe vividly the dilemma we all face when it comes to healing and change. I can hear the progress you’re making in your description. Keep at it!

    • February 25, 2019 at 4:57 pm

      This is a big part of it for me as well — expressing a need to someone isn’t only frightening because it will make me appear disgusting but also because it’s just not going to work. Expressing a need so often feels like going outside and doing a rain dance when the crops are dry. It’s wasted energy — why bother? And when we CEN people are already so damned exhausted already, it makes no sense to us to waste even more energy on gestures that won’t help.

      • February 25, 2019 at 7:53 pm

        Dear Janis and Tim, asking for help is far less effective when you don’t expect to get any help. Unfortunately, others can sense our expectations, and generally deliver what they sense we expect. I hope you will both work to change how you feel about accepting help, and that will change how others respond.

      • February 26, 2019 at 10:55 am

        I try to remind myself that it’s not just me being dumb or wrong, but that these rules worked for me when I was in a certain situation, and they don’t work now, and that I just don’t know the new ones. Like how wearing skates works when you’re on ice, but if you’re on the sidewalk now, you have to take the skates off … which can be hard when you don’t know that anything but ice skates exist and you grew up wearing them. But sometimes it’s like quicksand …

      • February 26, 2019 at 11:07 am

        Dear Janis, that is an excellent metaphor for letting go of those old childhood messages and beliefs. It can feel scary when you start taking the skates off, and you must have something to replace them with. That’s where learning the emotion skills becomes so valuable and important.

  • February 25, 2019 at 11:23 am



    I have quite a few friends on Facebook, none of whom I really engage with regularly. Sometimes I wonder if they think me a cold, distant bastard when that’s really the furthest thing from the truth.

    It’s simply that friendship has always been presented to me as “You have your friends from 8:30 to 3:00 Monday through Friday, then you go your separate ways on weekends and during the summer so you don’t overstay your welcome. *And,* on top of that, *you* are there for *their* benefit. Leave your personality to one side with them.”

    I yearn for good, long-lasting friendships, but that other part of me remains far, far too strong, even at almost 32.

    There’s a lot that I’m unpacking even now.

    • February 25, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      Dear Nick, it sounds like you are living according to false and damaging rules set up in your childhood. You can relearn those messages. Please learn everything you can about Childhood Emotional Neglect! It is important.

  • February 25, 2019 at 11:32 am

    “I have seen CEN people try to hide their desire to find a spouse, conceal the warm feelings they feel toward a friend, or try hard to conceal their hurt feelings from the person who hurt her.”
    Well, that’s my life in a nutshell right there! The accuracy of that sentence borders on the creepy. Good to know though that I’m not the only one on that.

    It’s a tricky thing though…
    I gave up my wish to have a relationship already back when I was 10 years old (I still remember it very clearly, even though I’m already 32 by now). Reason: Somehow I felt there was something very wrong, either with me personally, me physically or my family surroundings. Even back then, I figured that even if my personal/physical worries were unfounded (they were; for the most part), my family ones were not (thoroughly and controversially confirmed real by now). And since this “being cursed” was larger than myself and stronger than I could possibly deal with, I didn’t even bother to try. After all, I care deeply about other people, so how could I morally ask them to put up with someone as damaged as me for any prolonged periods of time?!?

    Then next thing that happened, I develop a crush on a girl anyway (oh, the wonders of puberty) and had to keep telling myself every single day to stop – feeling – stupid – things! We became friends, but eventually she found out and became awkward/stopped talking to me. And therefore I hid my warm feelings towards my friends virtually all throughout my life.

    To make this better, that particular girl later became a good friend of mine after all and we’ve now known each other for 15-20 years or so. But as I’ve recently started to cautiously open up about my feelings, it turns out she really cannot cope with even a slight bit of more-than-friendly feelings from my side. And so we’re back to no contact, even though I honestly thought we were past that by now.

    This happened in the middle of my 1-2 year long depression. I had no real problem coping with being rejected; but losing a good and long-time friend over something as innocent as my genuine positive feelings towards her caused me quite the existential crisis. I withdrew from all people for 3 days as I honestly felt completely unfit for human contact after that…

    Of course I didn’t tell her any of this. She’s my friend. I care about her and I want her to be happy regardless of anything. And so my pain is on a need-to-know basis and she doesn’t need to know.

    Or as another example, when I became very (bizarrely!) friendly with another truly wonderful girl, I did my best to be a good friend to her but never told her how much I liked her. Then apparently, her two relationships afterwards went South, leaving her as a single mom who doesn’t even talk to her best high-school friend anymore, let alone to me. I also recognised the way I had treated her in a video about “how not to be a narcist”, even though the reason WHY I treated her that way was BECAUSE I cared about her.

    When I found out at the end of last year, that broke my heart more than anything else could ever have done. And I couldn’t help feeling responsible for at least some of what happened to her; even if my brain (and my therapist) tell me that makes no sense. The only thing I could think of in response is to finally take her kind advice to me from a year-and-a-half before and start dating, which I did. But that proved downright painful and didn’t lead anywhere.

    Just before the Christmas holidays, in combination with the previous story, I had been hurt so badly that I had to stop again. Then I spent those holidays with my CEN family, where of course I ended up feeling more and more ignored over the days. The first week of the new year was rough indeed and by the time I finally spoke my psychologist again (of course there weren’t any sessions for a month due to the holiday seasons), he was SHOCKED with how badly I had relapsed. All things considered, I had been doing pretty well the previous time we saw each other.

    Thankfully a lot has happened since then, including a fair amount of good things too. And so I’m finally beginning to feel like a human being again. Good thing too, as the health insurance won’t cover more sessions with my therapist and I’m on my own again now.

    Maybe eventually I’ll give dating another shot. Once I think I may be able to cope with it again.
    One day. Perhaps…

    • February 25, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      Dear Pieter, it sounds like you are really trying to sort out how relationships work. One thing you can do in or out of therapy is to start improving your understanding, knowledge, and empathy of and for your self. The better you know and love yourself, the better others can know and love you.

  • February 25, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    All of these points resonate with me, and I am working on it and feel I’ve made a lot of progress.
    . . . But now my mother has moved in with us, and some days I feel so angry with her over the smallest of things, which of course is not the real reason for my anger; it’s anger I stuffed down many years ago. We can’t really work through any of this because she has moderate Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, my husband is very understanding and supportive of me and my feelings and he is my sounding board, however he is in early stage Alzheimer’s himself.
    A couple of years ago I finally admitted I have been depressed all of my life (I’m now 69) and was suffering from so much anxiety I hadn’t slept well in about 25 years. Medication has really helped me cope, but I seem to still struggle with forgiveness and letting go of the past.

    • February 25, 2019 at 3:32 pm

      Dear Rebecca, I am sorry that you find yourself in such a difficult situation. But forgiveness and letting go are not the beginning of feeling better. Beginning to feel your feelings, put them into words, and sharing them is the place to start. I hope you will work on that. Sending you all my best wishes.

      • March 1, 2019 at 11:52 am

        I’m glad you said what you said … Forgiveness and letting go to me always sounded cruel. Put your tormentor’s feelings ahead of yours, and stop feeling your feelings is what they always sounded like to me, which I think is why I’d always get angry when someone told me to do that. 🙁 I have the right to be angry on my own behalf, especially when no one else ever was. SOMEONE had to give a sh*t about what was done to me.

        It’s just hard to know when the anger stops being a positive thing and starts getting in the way. On one hand, I think it’s a GOOD thing, that it means that even if the rest of the world thinks there’s no big deal, that at least I recognize on some basic level that I was worth defending. On the other hand, it can get in the way. I don’t know how to stop letting the anger get in my way while still seeing it as a valuable expression of self-esteem. “Stop being angry” sounds to me too much like, “You aren’t worth defending” and “your feelings are bad,” like one of those limp memes you see on Facebook with a picture of some lady doing yoga on the beach.

        So I will not throw out my anger since I DO think it has value. But I don’t want to trip over it all the time either. I need to find a way to put it on the shelf so I can still keep and value it without carrying it around all the time, and that “let go of your anger” junk doesn’t help. The whole world, including every adult authority figure in my childhood and most of my adulthood, told me very clearly that what was done to me for decades wasn’t worth getting angry over, and now I’m supposed to agree with them and fall silent on my own behalf, too?

        Oy …

  • February 25, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    When I was a child my father was never really around, he worked pretty much all the time. At 11 years old my parents got a divorce, after that I would see my father a couple times a year on holidays until I was a teenager and was scheduled to stay with him every other weekend. The reason for the divorce is a sore spot. My mother claims it was he who left her. In reality, she had been seeing another man and stonewalling my father until he had no choice but to leave.

    After about a year or two she decided to marry this man and moved me and my sister into his house. I had to leave my hometown at the beginning of middle school and start fresh in a new area. I quickly made friends in the neighborhood and school wasn’t horrible.

    Now the problem, is that the man my mother married already had children. His two daughters left his house and moved in with their mother. His son stayed.

    This man despised me. I was the extra, the unwanted burden that was barely tolerated. He purposefully made me take the bedroom that had a messed up door. It wouldn’t latch or close all the way and had no lock. Every single day this man would find something I did wrong or not well enough and burst into my room, telling me how stupid I was, how dirty I was, how I’ll never have a girlfriend, how I couldn’t do anything right.

    I endured for many months before I was pushed to my limit, and I asked my mother for help. Big mistake. I asked her to keep her husband from bothering me so much, and how did she reply? Her face twisted with pure rage and hatred, she stuck her finger out and pointed at me and roared:

    “How dare you say that about MY HUSBAND”

    It was that day that all the respect I would ever have for that woman died. She made her choice, and she chose to sacrifice me for cock.

    Needless to say, I have no relationship with her at all. Sometimes I like to get a sick pleasure from reminding her of how much of a piece of shit she is, remind her that when her husband dies I probably won’t have enough money to put her in a home so she will have to fend for herself. The anger I feel for them is absolutely overwhelming and has colored all parts of my life red.

    Now the true fear I face is that any woman who I manage to attact will inevitably become tired of me and leave for someone better. I have no self esteem, I have no faith in love or emotional intimacy at all, and marriage according to my experience is for taking all a woman can from a man. Now from the years of stress I’m starting to develop physical health problems. I understand that I need to seek help, but I have already been thru the mental health system three times and came out worse for each attempt. I regularly numb with whatever substances I can get my hands on. I understand there are consequences, but what’s the point of even caring? Live longer in misery or try to forget I’m alive, if it happens to finish me off then that’s a plus in my book, I can be a victim instead of a suicide, cause that matters apparently.

    • February 25, 2019 at 3:37 pm

      Dear Joschmo, you deserve so much better than you got in your childhood. I am so very sad that happened to you. I know it’s hard to resist that old message that you don’t matter, but believe me, you do. Please stop continuing the abuse upon yourself. Please talk with a counselor, and start on the road to sobriety.

  • February 25, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    Thank You, Dr. Jonice, for putting into words exactly how I feel! I’m pretty sure my Dad had Aspberger’s (high functioning autism) and my Mom still suffers from anxiety. As the oldest daughter, both of them were highly critical of me. I still mentally “beat myself up” when I make a big mistake. I remember working on a science project when I was 10 years old, and my Dad grabbed the hammer from my hand, telling me I did not know how to hammer properly. He went ahead to finish my project! I felt so ashamed. I am reading your first book, and it is helping me to understand. Thank You!!!!

    • February 25, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      I understand totally how that must have harmed you Susan, and the messages it must have give you. I am so glad to be helpful in your road to understanding yourself and how to fix it.

  • February 25, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    All 6 of these things are very much me! I’ve been able to fix so many issues in my life, dating back to childhood, except for one thing, adult relationships. I was the product of a marriage that was faltering before I was born. There wasn’t any violence, but there was a wall of silence and suppressed emotions. Subconsciously, I made up my mind I would do anything not to repeat my parents’ marriage. I succeeded but paid the price for it. Now at age 67, after a litany of failed adult relationships, I wonder if it’s even worth trying anymore. Number 2 (To never, ever, appear emotional or needy) really stands out for me. So does #1 (To be 100% self-reliant). I’m very good at both of those. Is there any way I can somehow let someone in despite all this?

    • February 25, 2019 at 7:55 pm

      Yes, there is Frank. Start valuing your feelings more, identifying and expressing them to yourself and others. That’s a good first step to healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Then just keep going through the rest of the healing process.

  • February 26, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    I felt in love with a guy with serious issues with his father. He made significant progress in 3 years but got scared of intimacy and pushed me away.

    I was devastated but I know he is not healthy in his own mind. It is not that I am not good enough, it is him not trusting himself that an amazing woman could love him.

    He is divorced twice and doesn’t know how to trust himself.

    • February 26, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      That sounds like a difficult thing to go through, Alisa. It sounds like you are able to keep perspective on it and to make sure not to turn it against yourself.

  • February 27, 2019 at 7:54 am

    When I read this, it was like reading about myself. I’m sure this is why I now have an anxiety disorder. I feel it’s the answer to why I never wanted children and had a tubal ligation as a single woman, age 28. I wasn’t a loose woman, I just wanted to make sure that I could never, ever have kids. I was the oldest of 3 and most affected by CEN. We grew up in a loving home. BUT there was emotional neglect and I grew up devoid of all human contact, no hugs, no nurturing. I was abducted from a city street at age 5 and never remember being held or comforted after I took off and ran home. The only thing I remember is the police officer that came to the house giving me a piece of Wrigley’s gum. I was raised as a little soldier who internalized everything.

    • February 27, 2019 at 8:42 am

      Dear Dove, your childhood sounds like the classic CEN one. Loving but emotionally void. The good news is that you have everything you need to heal. Just walk through the steps of CEN recovery.

  • February 27, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Dear Jonice,
    There is not a single word you wrote that doesn’t resonate with me.
    I’m on a very difficult and painful journey as a result of CEN (and other factors too). But I’m starting to feel a bit more empowered in that, finally, I’m taking steps to address the underlying issues rather than plodding through life merely masking the difficult feelings. I wish we could meet! (I’m in the U.K.), you just ‘get it’ like no other person I’ve come across. Please keep imparting your crucial knowledge, we CENers really value your support and insights. Thank you

    • February 27, 2019 at 8:43 am

      Dear Yasmin, I am so glad to be able to offer you answers and help in your recovery. Keep up the work you’re doing and it will pay off!

  • February 27, 2019 at 9:17 am

    This expression of adult-survivor-of-CEN matches a loved one closely. How can I support her in moving toward happiness, that is, are there resources to guide me in supporting her in moving toward happiness?

    • February 27, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Dear Bruce, you can share my blog or one of my books with her and ask her to read about it. Have her go to my website and take the Emotional Neglect Test. In Running on Empty No More there are lots of suggestions for how to talk to a loved one about CEN.

  • March 20, 2019 at 4:47 am

    I’m struggling to understand why a person with CEN is described as ‘she’ in this article…do boys not suffer with emotional neglect?

    • March 20, 2019 at 7:41 am

      Hi Sophia, yes they do, very much so. I go back and forth between he and she when I write


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