45 thoughts on “20 Things People With Childhood Emotional Neglect Often Say

  • April 28, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Hi Jonice,

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoy and personally agree with all your articles. I am one of lucky ones and feel I am finally on the other side of this terrible debilitating early life set back. I have both of your books and love them. You are helping so many people become their authentic, true amazing selves again and I just wanted to thank you. You are wonderful and helping in enormous ways! I admire you and your work.


    • April 28, 2019 at 12:37 pm

      Dear Chelsea, I am very glad to read your comment. I’m so happy to be helpful to you! Take care.

  • April 28, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Since I read your first post on this, I was surprised how close CEN is to my childhood and adulthood. When I brought this to the attention of my Psychiatrist he understood what was going on inside of me. Which brought about my diagnosis of CEN. I did research of CEN and found it has confounded my issues. Awareness is the only way a person can realize how CEN tricks your mind into believing things that internally true but, externally false.

    • April 28, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      So true Joseph, and well said. I’m so glad you and your psychiatrist are addressing your CEN together.

  • April 28, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    Wow… This explains so much.
    Thank you.
    Growing up “invisible”… I learned not to bother desiring anything.

    What are the books you have written concerning this?
    I am grateful!!

    • April 28, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Dear Marjorie, now you realize that you DO desire things, and it’s OK. And if you start paying attention, you will see what they are. My books are Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. They are both available on Amazon and most bookstores. Thanks for your comment!

  • April 28, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    Dear Jonice,

    Thank you – I feel like you’ve just provided me with a “hallelujah” break-through moment! I can’t tell you how strongly I relate to list items 7, 8, 9, 10, and 20 – these factors have been ruling my life for the longest time.

    I’ve been an avid reader of your books and newsletters for a long while, and I work hard at identifying my feelings – but my progress often feels glacially slow (and I seem to need to re-hear and re-learn this stuff over and over and over again for it to stick – and even after it seems to stick, I often need reminding).

    But I felt something close to a sense of pride this morning as I read your list, and realised that I can not only relate to it, but that I had noticed these things before. Feeling helpless and hopeless is profoundly unpleasant, but at least being able to *notice* feeling that way is progress!

    Here’s a passage I wrote in my journal a few days ago, which specifically references some of the points in your list:

    “The idea that I don’t WANT anything has long been a recurring theme for me, especially in the depths of depression.
    This ties in very closely with my old mantra of: “what’s the point?” (what’s the point of ANYTHING, including living?)

    I’ve recently found myself searching online for threads like “what’s the point?” and “there’s nothing I want” – and have found other people in a similar boat, and they all sound utterly depressed and hopeless”.

    Realising that these are common CEN beliefs has given me the insight and inspiration I’ve been looking for – thank you.

    • April 28, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      Dear Samantha, it’s never stopped amazing me how even non-depressed CEN people say these 20 things often. It arises from being disconnected from your emotions. And that’s something we can fix!

  • April 28, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    I think I’ve said those 20 things to myself at one time or another throughout my life. I’m grateful to you that this issue is at long last being brought into the open. I’ve spent so much of my life in and out of therapy. Growing up invisible, I learned my feelings didn’t count and everyone else was more important than me. One therapist pointed to his heart and told me in no uncertain terms, “This will never lie to you!” Absolutely! Some years later, another therapist brought the concept of “passive abuse” to my attention. She told me that was more harmful than active abuse because when it’s passive, the child knows something is wrong but can’t identify it. Just another name for CEN. That’s what I was dealing with! I’ve come a very long way, with the exception of adult relationships, which continue to be problematic. My current counselor always tells me, “There’s someone for everyone!” Still haven’t been able to make that work for me. Therein lies my counterdependence. I stopped desiring a lover. I just wonder at age 67, if that ship has long since sailed.

    • April 28, 2019 at 10:06 pm

      Dear Frank, I have seen that others tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves. The more you value your own heart and your own feelings, the more others will value you. That’s the best route to a meaningful relationship. Keep healing!

  • April 28, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Dr. Webb, thank you for keeping this blog up and running as it’s the best information out there. I refer to the article and your books often.

    May I ask about this quote?
    “Since you grew up with little awareness of emotions, you are now uncomfortable any time strong feelings arise in yourself or anyone else. You do your best to avoid feelings altogether, perhaps even positive ones.”

    I have to think about this. I don’t think I have strong feelings because I don’t really have any feelings. What I don’t understand is, should I go back into childhood and relive some of my most hurtful experiences where I can draw on and focus? Therefore, experience that pain NOW in order to feel it and free it. Or do I just do that with current painful experiences?

    • April 29, 2019 at 8:40 am

      Dear Ava, I have no doubt that you do have strong feelings. You just have them pushed away, or walled off. Going back to painful childhood experiences is indeed a good way to welcome all of your feelings back. If you are concerned about how powerful those old feelings might be, I encourage you to find a CEN therapist (use the list from my website emotionalneglect.com.) They can go through the process with you. It helps to have support!

  • April 29, 2019 at 12:33 am

    Perhaps this can be added to the list of 20: “I am always O.K.”

    • April 29, 2019 at 8:41 am

      Dear Christina, yes! Absolutely it should be added. Very helpful, thank you!

  • April 29, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Thank you. I grew up KNOWING I wasn’t “right”. I was different. And I DIDN’T fit in- I didn’t know how to- I STILL don’t know how to, and I’m 52! ( makes me angry )

    • April 29, 2019 at 9:13 am

      Dear Lee, the best way to fit in is to simply be yourself. You were raised to believe that you are not good enough, but it’s not true. Being yourself is the best way to find your people.

  • April 29, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Happy to say that I am now seeing a therapist because of the CEN quiz! We’ve only had 3 sessions, but she’s bought your 1st book & is absolutely committed to helping me heal. Your books bring me to tears (& sometimes even anger), but at least I’m feeling both of these differently than in the past. I’m grateful for the recent article on abandonment triggers….story of my life! Glad you are so very available through this blog & your emails and videos. Thank you!

    • April 29, 2019 at 5:10 pm

      Dear Taza, that is all wonderful to hear! I love that you are doing the work and have found a great therapist to help you. Way to go!

  • April 29, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Please expound on the statement “childhood emotional neglect is an ordinary, unremarkable experience…” I strongly disagree, and this opening statement contradicts the rest of the post.
    Otherwise an interesting read.
    Thank you!

    • April 29, 2019 at 5:11 pm

      I mean unremarkable because it is so common, and dwells in the parents’ lack of action. It’s a lack of emotional validation and attention, which makes it invisible and hard to see or notice.

  • April 30, 2019 at 6:25 am

    I am so grateful for you being there in you blog and also in your two books!
    I, at 62 , have found myself and I now fit in with people as before I was always on the outside and thought I really didn’t matter. I made many mistakes in my past especially with relationships but when I read your books I knew it wasn’t ‘just me’. I feel as though you have given me a new lease of life and cannot thank you enough!

    • April 30, 2019 at 7:52 am

      Dear Caroline, what you are describing is the realization that you matter. The more you can realize this at deeper and deeper levels in your life, the better you will feel about yourself and the more you will enjoy life. I couldn’t be happier to know that I’ve helped you get there. Keep up the good work!

  • May 2, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Your insights have been very helpful to me Jonice.
    I’m pretty ancient, and for much of my life like 50 plus years, there was a mystery about the early missing years.
    Quite by accident, the truth came out including CEN and an event which had been blanked by memory loss, so I’d never had a reference to the awful sense of inferiority I displayed because of the terrible feelings which were as a result of this.
    However, being of a mulish disposition, I had a go at sorting in the sense of tuning into the negative feelings and their cause which was very helpful.
    The result is much more spontaneity and a move away from the self absorption which often accompanies this depressed state.
    In fact MBTI now has me in the extravert type, as I’ve managed to deal with a lot of my shadows.
    Still work to do, but thats Ok , I’m much more connective and cheeky as against withdrawn, and permit myself to make loadsa mistakes, its what ordinary peeps do…Do we not?

    • May 2, 2019 at 8:42 am

      Dear Mac, it sounds like you’ve done some amazing work on yourself and your life! That is a show of courage and strength on your part. Keep it up!

  • May 3, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    I’d like to point out that it’s not just your parents that can make you feel this way, it’s any adult(s) that you come into contact often and/or have a large impact on your life. I had a teacher who betrayed my trust and physically and emotionally abused me in grade 2 followed by a long series of neglectful/abusive teachers, and now exhibit most of the characteristics listed. I had great, loving parents and a happy home life, and am still like this.
    That being said, thank you for writing this article and bringing light to the problem.

    • May 4, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      Dear Alice, you experienced much more than CEN. You are describing trauma that must have taken a tremendous amount of fortitude to get through. I encourage you to find a trauma informed and trained therapist to help you work through this.

  • May 3, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    What made it worse is when my mother went to the school principal about it, he said “oh no, she would never do that!” and got she off scot-free. The repercussions have affected my life to this day.

  • May 19, 2019 at 10:27 pm

    My husband is so vocally expressive, especially watching TV. His emotions are right on his sleeve. This is something I love about him, however it makes me feel alien since my emotions are hidden inside. I find myself trying to mimic him just so I can feel “normal”. I should be able to enjoy the TV show just like him. I feel broken. Incomplete. Like I don’t belong. In public I fake emotions so others don’t think I’m too serious or boring. I laugh along with others even when I don’t think it’s funny. I’d like to know how to become the real me. I’m curious what it feels like to be able to show constant emotion. ThankYou Dr. Jonice for helping me begin to understand.

  • June 12, 2019 at 10:40 am

    My siblings and I grew up in a dysfunctional family dominated by a narcissist, our mother. We are all in our 60s and 70s. My concern is about my sisters and brothers who definitely display signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect. When they are having a tough time and look to me for support, they are very difficult to deal with because they don’t recognize that Childhood Emotional Neglect is the reason why they have trouble coping with life. They are “fine,” “don’t need help,” “have things under control.” I have received psychotherapy at one time or another since I was 18 and still see a therapist when needed. So they come to me when they are having problems (which drains me) even though I’ve told them they really need to see a therapist or a psychiatrist?

    • June 19, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      It’s such a hard dynamic! Sounds like becoming a broken record is the way to protect yourself. Keep saying, “I really think a pro therapist could be of help here.” “That sounds really difficult.” “You know what I always say, get some help with that.” And if they don’t let up… say “you know what to do.”

  • June 13, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you for writing this article. I identify with most of the CEN characteristics. I knew as a child, that my feelings did not matter. I learned to become invisible and that no one cared about me.
    I will definitely try to listen to myself and determine what it is that I’m feeling and what do I really want.
    Thanks again!

  • June 23, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Can’t afford to subscribe right now and by the way Hi may name is Cherelle McFadden I would love to know more

  • June 24, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    I recently wrote this piece about my struggle with not having goals and feeling directionless, meaningless, rootless, unhappy, and alone: https://medium.com/@hereherehere/i-dont-have-any-goals-in-life-9c5432b9ddf7 (some rude language- warning because, as many who can relate probably know, this is all very frustrating…)

    A few days later I found an article about CEN and I feel like a lot of things are starting to click in place. I’ve been reading and crying and then reading more most of the day. It’s sure been an exhausting one.

    I grew up in a hostile household where fighting was an everyday deal. I don’t remember a time when my parents would’ve gotten along, and I was about 8 years old when I first asked why they wouldn’t just get a divorce (They only separated a couple of years ago, and fall right back into their toxic patterns the second they’re in the same space. It’s so bad that I do my best to avoid those situations to this day. Holidays are fun aka humiliating, because my parents don’t care if other people see and hear them.) Screaming, tension, insults, belittling, etc. on my mother’s side, whereas my father would completely shut down, no matter how ‘truthful’ my mother’s problems with him were. There were threats of physical actions from both sides, but as far as I know, it never got that far.

    No wonder then that I, as a child, would feel invisible. They were too focused on fighting/shutting out each other to pay attention, and if you tried to get involved, to get my mother to stop yelling, there was the chance that she’d start yelling at you. Which she would do anyway sometimes, if she was upset. She was irritable a lot and unfortunately it often got directed at me and my brother, even though it wasn’t about us (I don’t think?). Took me years to understand that she wasn’t necessarily screaming about the dirty mugs on the table for two hours straight, but that there was something else to it…

    So, head down, and hide in your room, reading or writing, until someone forces you out.

    I know this is a long message, but as I noticed that I couldn’t really find this kind of parents, who are constantly focused on fighting, in these CEN articles, I figured I’d share my experience. After all, I find my feelings/situation very similar to those described in the CEN texts, even though in most of them the families that are used as examples are more on the ‘not obviously toxic’ side. (I’m not actually sure what to call my family. Maybe it’s an abusive one, but as I grew up in it and know of nothing else, to me it’s just ‘normal’, sadly. – I’m also highly sensitive/HSP so that adds to the fun.)

    Feeling ignored when you’re scared, everything is out of control, and it is normal for one of your parents to storm out. I even hoped for it at times, so the yelling would stop, and I grew resentful of my dad overtime. We are very distant even to this day, after all he was ‘why’ my mother was so angry, and my mother was the only one we could ever hear. I acknowledge the unfairness of this as an adult, but as there were other issues with the relationship with my father, I’m really struggling to reconnect with him, or even wanting to. There was no visible love in their relationship and my father slept on the couch for longer than he didn’t. Nothing is never discussed and both parents talk badly of the other behind their back. Apologising wasn’t and isn’t a thing.

    Most of the time no one had the capacity to comfort you and you couldn’t ask for it because that might’ve caused the screaming to be directed at you. Who knows which was worse… Still you know your parents love you, 100%.

    There’s a bear in the house, causing terror, and you just want the bear to ignore you – and hug you.
    It won’t do neither. – And now the bear is gone, except it just moved to live inside your head.

    • September 28, 2019 at 12:02 am

      Well said!

      I can relate to your story in some ways. My family fought constantly in fact they were uncomfortable if they weren’t fighting, disagreeing, making snide comments or cruel “jokes”.

      They displayed little, if any, peace of mind and only seemed content when feeling miserable. They thrived on misery. If things were feeling good rest assured they would start complaining, attacking, blaming you name it.

      They were insecure and anxiety ridden to the core of their beings. They thrived on drama and creating drama.

      The bear does reside in your head once all is said and done. I’ve been taming that bear for decades. Some years it’s a bear skin rug others it has felt like it’s eating me alive. Nature of the beast.

      One thing I know is some people do not realize how good they had it in their families. Hugs were rarely if ever offered in ours and if they were it was so awkward feeling nobody wanted to experience them anytime soon again.

      Sad part is we never asked for this we were born into it.

      We had no choice and those who look down upon people like us couldn’t survive a single year in it. They should be thanking their lucky stars.

      You are not alone my friend. Keep your head held high and remember you are worth something. Their unhappiness their inability to deal with their pain and anxiety in a more functional manner is not a direct reflection upon you.

      They couldn’t give you what you needed because they couldn’t even give it to themselves.

      But YOU can love yourself. Remember that.

  • July 21, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    The characteristics are confusing? What if only some apply to you? How do you know if your ascertion is correct? also what are the weighting of each characteristic? Imho this can only be determined by person with skill and experience in this space

  • August 28, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    None of these solutions have worked for me.

    • August 29, 2019 at 7:47 am

      I know it can be frustrating but the key is to not give up. Persistence is the most important ingredient in recovery. Also, consider getting some help with it. Check the CEN Therapist List on emotionalneglect.com for a therapist near you.

  • September 2, 2019 at 6:49 am

    This list is all me. The more I read about this stuff, the more i think its me. It mostly affects me at work, im so different to the others and how they are together.

  • September 3, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    I’ve just been gut crying for about 20 minutes because of everything I’ve read about CEN describes me. I just want to feel joy. I’ve tried not to expect anything from anyone for so long, to protect myself from getting hurt. Feelings of emptiness, sadness, anger, resentment, shame, guilt, unworthiness, have dominated most of my life. I’ve spent so much energy trying not to feel. That wall is real. It’s an invisible prison I’ve been locked behind, while trying for years to figure out how to escape it. I just want to feel hope that life can be different, that I can enjoy life, and be positive. I would love to do the program, but can’t afford to do it.

  • September 17, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    As I read through the comments, I saw a woman say she doesn’t know how to fit in and your response was to simply be herself. Well, I’ve been told that a lot and it is not helpful because to be yourself, you have to know who you are first. I think a lot of people who have abusive childhoods and neglect struggle with their sense of self. That statement, “be yourself” has always annoyed me because I’ve always thought, what does that mean? I don’t think I have a clue who I am even at 35. My trauma has become my identity. I have never known who I was without it.

    • September 20, 2019 at 8:04 am

      Hi Stacie, my answers on these comments are often short because of the platform and also because it would be irresponsible of me to try to do therapy this way. I do totally understand your situation and what you are saying. I hope you have been working with a trauma therapist. There are many who are highly trained in working with trauma folks. Sending you all my best wishes.

  • September 25, 2019 at 7:40 am

    Gasp! I will be asking my counselor about these. Thank you Dr. Webb.

  • October 12, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    Spot on .Validation is vital to parenting!

  • October 21, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Commenting on several topics in the same vein. i actually find after having several childhood issues i can be quite cold towards myself. My father used to tell me “you get up,go to work,get on with things my girl”. No real other emotion,a few hugs but not very warmly at all. I can be very lovely to people but i can be stone cold and quite hard!. Nasty in fact,very nasty. I think ive gone through being nice to others now and doing for others. Probably as im finding out quite late this sort of behaviour has damaged me!. Its true,,after menopause sometimes i dont care what i say and have no brakes!!. But with some people im worrying about upsetting them. But i can be quite emotional at unexpected times too. Normally when im alone. Watching emotional tv starts me every time. I think like my troubles im complex.

  • October 23, 2019 at 2:08 am

    When both parents are narcissistic,full of drama,anger,alcohol,fighting,you didn’t know what would happen next.As a kid,you acted one way with one parent,to appease them.To appease the other parent,you acted a different way.In the end you didn’t know who you were.. Eventually,my parents did divorce and were bitter til they died.I never married nor had children,nor did I abuse drugs nor alcohol.I figured that this craziness was inherited-Aunts and Uncles on both sides acted the same way.Most of my cousins have been married and divorced several times. Everyone keeps to themselves.


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