59 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of an Emotionally Neglected Child

  • September 8, 2019 at 11:41 am

    I’m trying to understand if it might be more than just emotional neglect. Maybe it’s emotional abandonment and it is really messing with my life hard . It causes me to freak out. It’s like being tortured. It definitely is all the things that you say are emotional neglect and it’s also combined with the fear of being abandoned emotionally since I’ve experienced that as an adult and in the marriage I left behind

    • September 8, 2019 at 12:47 pm

      Emotional Neglect and emotional abandonment can definitely go together for many people. Once you see what’s going on for you, you can begin to heal it and manage it in a different way.

      • September 11, 2019 at 9:21 pm

        Is it possible to remove my full name from my post on this conversation?
        Thank you.

      • September 12, 2019 at 11:06 am

        You must have accidentally filled out your full name on one comment. I have fixed it now.

  • September 8, 2019 at 11:42 am

    I have purchased your book, “Running On Empty”, and have been impressed by how well this book captures the essence of my entire childhood. Sadly, I had one child and had raised him the same way without ever knowing (or even hearing) about CEN until now. Thank you for your wisdom in this arena, however, I feel like it has come too late to save the relationship between my son and I. He is now 32 years old, has 2 children of his own, and has temporarily (I hope and pray it is temporary) cut me out of his life. It has been a year already since he made that decision and there has been no contact from him yet, no matter how much I try to engage with him. Is there any hope for us?

    • September 8, 2019 at 12:49 pm

      Yes, there is hope Shari! Never give up on your son, no matter what. Just keep knock-knock-knocking on his door and eventually, he’ll open it.

      • September 15, 2019 at 2:46 am

        Unless there is complete honesty on her part then I don’t think he will ever open that door

    • September 11, 2019 at 8:04 am

      Shari I can palpably feel the pain that comes from raising a child to an adult, in ways you would love to go back and change. I experienced CEN, and actually was aware of it, even if I didn’t have descriptive terms for it.

      I raised my children (they’re now 30 and 27) quite the opposite—but did destructive things I did not know I was doing as an attempt to demonstrate love to the extreme. Over leniency which came out to be CEN in the end. Doing everything for them, so they took it as they were not capable. When what I was trying to do was let them know they could depend on me and the world. And there are more but my brain doesn’t remember everything at once as it once did.

      The result is that my adult children, who I love painfully intensely, are fairly distant from me. They have a lot of pain that I respect, and only partially understand (but try hard to) because the suffering is from quite a different type of CEN.

      There are times when my children come and spend time with me, and things are loving, and times when they become angry with me, and want little or nothing to do with me.

      As a widow who moved 500 miles away from my homebase (where they still live) because I basically had to due to finances. I grew up in the Bay Area and they are still there. I had to move to Oregon in order to find housing. (I’m also disabled). Anyway, I feel more isolated than ever and I can’t just try and visit or arrange to see them anymore when they are feeling angry with me.

      What I’ve learned, and what they’ve expressed to me, is they want me to focus on my own wellbeing and health. I have been terribly ill this past year and have not quite shared with them the extent of it as I am afraid that will alienate even more. It feels like I’ve reaped what I’ve sown by my mistakes and the one thing I can do is to care for myself and try to set an example of healing to them.

      There’s so much more I’d like to express to you. But I can’t remember everything. I feel your pain and I wish you immense peace and love.

      • September 11, 2019 at 9:05 am

        Dear Rachel, thank you so much for sharing your experience as a parent so candidly with us. It is so easy for CEN children to grow up to be overly permissive parents or over-protective parents in an attempt to over-compensate. I suggest you tell your children your true health challenges but also do as they ask: focus more on yourself and taking care of your own needs. Those two things go together and are each healthy for you and your kids.

  • September 8, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I didn’t realise til recently- my mum is not focused on emotional support, comforting or listening to my problems. She focuses on possessions, money, gifts and thinks if she throws enough of those at me, I won’t have any other problems or needs. I know that ‘giving gifts’ is one of the love languages, but to me that is unacceptable for a parent. I needed emotional support from her, and gifts are optional for me.
    I can’t remember my mum ever giving me emotional support, she was too busy having a social life and charming other people. Her answer to any problems I had was: ‘Do X and Y, and that’ll sort it out. Now, back to something that interests me.’

    • September 8, 2019 at 12:50 pm

      Dear Catherine, I am so sorry! But now that you have realized this, it’s time to start giving yourself the emotional support your mom can’t (or won’t) give you.

  • September 8, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    I felt anxiety rise in my gut as I read Connor’s story. My dread has to do with my own growing up with stressed out parents as well as my fear that I was similarly stressed out and disconnected while raising my newly grown (now 19 and 22) children. I’ve read your first book but haven’t gotten up the nerve to read the second one because I’m married to a CEN man who is no where near ready to deal with these issues. I don’t want to attempt change and yet again run into the same emotional distance that always has made me feel isolated in my marriage. Maybe I’m just not finished dealing with myself. Still, I do want to broach these issues with my son and daughter. Thanks for keeping the matter in the open!

    • September 8, 2019 at 12:52 pm

      Dear Cheryl, I do think Running on Empty No More (second book) will be useful to you! If you’re not ready to read the marriage part, you can read the big part on helping parents connect emotionally with their kids and heal CEN in parent/child relationships. It has a lot about reaching out to children and how to do it.

      • September 10, 2019 at 10:40 am

        Thank you for responding! Like others who comment here, I feel invisible and like what I say and feel doesn’t matter, “no one cares” is my mantra, my true belief. I’m telling myself it is not The Truth and working with a CEN counselor from your list to overcome so much.
        I’ll do the work and hope I feel ready to move on to the next book soon.

  • September 8, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    This is so powerful. I was completely blown away with the part about visiting his parents, with the conflict and especially the guilt. I can’t believe how many times I’ve asked myself why I feel this way when I go to see my own parents. I keep telling myself I’m grown now, I have a better perspective as an adult, but each time I go to visit I go through it again. And the guilt is consuming.
    I can relate to it all. The holding back of emotions and being used to just “going away and not bothering anyone” is so spot on. As an adult I’ve never understood my purpose for being here. While “logic” tells me I’m not worthless, I do feel pointless. And at 51 years old now, I can’t believe I’m just now understanding how I’ve been feeling all my life.
    Thank you for these articles, they’re really eye-opening.

    • September 8, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      I’m so glad to be helping you understand what’s wrong. It’s not your fault! And you can heal.

  • September 8, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    I was an only child growing up in the 50’s My mother worked 2nd shift leaving me with my father. I can remember very little of my life with him, I have no recollection of things like eating dinner or being put to bed, or interacting in any way with him. Remembering him when I was older, I just felt awkward around him as he rarely talked to me. I acted out badly as a young adult and I have never been able to figure out how that happened, but it still haunts me.

    • September 8, 2019 at 3:49 pm

      Dear Penny, I suggest that you take the free CEN Test on emotionalneglect.com. Start from there, OK?

  • September 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    I really have a problem when psychologists make you believe you have some problem that you don’t. Nobody has a perfect life and somehow we have to blame someone or something. Life is tough and never fair and psychologist have to analyze everybody and find some mental issue to focus on. This CEN seems to be just another label for what has gone on since the first child was born into this world.

    • September 8, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      Dear Perry, you are expressing a way of thinking that has been disproven by science, research, and the study of human psychology over the last decade or two. We now have all kinds of neurological and psychological evidence about what human babies and adults need to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and thrive. If you can try to embrace these changes more it may bring you considerable enrichment and opportunities into your life. All the best to you.

    • September 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

      Perry, please also consider one more thing. Just because it has gone on for years and years, does not make it healthy. My husband’s mother (he is 53) was told to smoke cigarettes while she was pregnant with him in order to lose weight. A physician would never suggest that now based on the new safety data available. Our body of knowledge and research evolves, so I encourage you to embrace it. Also, please ask yourself why this topic hits you the way it does. There may be a wound there that is waiting to be healed.

      All the best to you!

  • September 8, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    I experienced this and more. My father and perhaps my mother were narcissistic and showed no emotion whatsoever to me or to each other. My mother had a lot of fears, personal problems etc. and was always crying, with my dad yelling at her to turn the water works off. It was dreadful. She was there physically but not emotionally. This childhood has affected me deeply. I have never received any healing from it. I am unable to hold a job for very long as the same things keep happening at work. My feelings don’t count at work either. I am a hard worker but after a while the same things keep happening. XYZ is not fair to so and so but no one cares about me. I am ignored. Kudos on everyone practically is printed in the Friday memo. I have never seen my name there and I do accomplish things, but no one knows. It is like I am invisible everywhere I go. I have to continue on, suffering. I was wondering why this is, Jonice? Any insight. I am in my late 50’s and it is still very painful.

    • September 8, 2019 at 8:52 pm

      It’s impossible to answer without knowing you much better, Denise. But perhaps you are invisible to others because you are invisible to yourself. Try paying more attention to your own feelings, wants and needs and see if it makes a difference.

  • September 8, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    I’ve read your book and it’s been such a revelation for me. It’s made me re-examine past failed relationships as well as current ones and now I can really see what went wrong (I was lacking emotional intelligence). CEN has affected every area of my life. Your book identified and has given me answers to so many questions i’ve had throughout my life. It has also made me finally realize that I’ve allowed my in-laws to treat me the same way as I was treated growing up-their wants/desires before mine. No more! Thank you for liberating me and making me realize that there is more to life and that my feelings matter. I’m setting boundaries. I only wish I read this many, many years ago – my life may have turned out differently

    • September 8, 2019 at 8:53 pm

      I am very happy to hear you’ve made such amazing progress Nakita. Keep it up!

  • September 8, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    As I read Connor at 16, what I saw was a mom who very much was trying to interract, congratulate and show interest in her son. She greeted him, she congratulated him, she showed interest and asked him to tell her all about it.

    Why is this being held up as an example of emotional neglect? I feel like this mom is trying to do everything right, and the son is the one who is cutting off relationship between them.

    • September 8, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      Great question! It’s because at age 16, Connor had learned not to get too emotional about anything in front of his mom. He knew his mom’s limitations and he had learned how to dial himself back so well that he had lost touch with his own emotions. Many emotionally neglectful parents can be interested, but there are simply too many incidents, over time, that require the child to shut himself down so that he becomes too good at it.

  • September 8, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    I think I am kind of confused.

    When I read “16 year old Connor” all I see is an interested, enthusiastic, supportive mother. She’s happy for him, and lets him know. She wants to know all about how it went. He is the one who decides he has to not really share openly with her – for no real reason. He is the one who is trying to escape, sit alone in his room and block real relationship.

    • September 8, 2019 at 9:58 pm

      CEN parents can sometimes be more emotionally connected. But CEN happens when that is too rare of an occurrence. Connor has experienced dull, emotionally unavailable responses from his mom enough that he now knows not to risk showing emotion to her his feelings.

      • September 9, 2019 at 10:33 pm

        Thanks for explaining. I was confused at first, too, but after reading your response realized it was an important example to illustrate.

        Like the others, I can identify with it. When you are constantly hiding parts of yourself, you are teaching yourself it’s not ok to be you. After decades, I still struggle with expressing myself, and feel shame for it. Its so painful and years of therapy seemed to make me worse and I feel worthless. It’s difficult to keep any hope alive these days.

        Thanks for your articles.

      • September 10, 2019 at 3:16 pm

        Dear Hope, sounds like you are held up by shame. Please do read some of the works of Brene Brown and watch her Ted Talk on Youtube.

  • September 10, 2019 at 12:06 am

    Telling someone who is mostly out of touch, with their feelings; to ask themselves multiple times a day what they are feeling seems like asking someone who only speaks English to speak French or Urdu several times a day. Yet this is what is mentioned in video, as part of the therapy we are all supposed to be able to do. Are there any gradual steps? That might actually make this idea workable?

    • September 10, 2019 at 3:19 pm

      David, the task is to ask yourself what you are feeling and simply try to answer. You’re not supposed to get an answer. But every time you ask yourself what you’re feeling, you take a chip out of the wall that blocks your feelings. It takes you a little closer each time. Just keep doing it and it will make progress slowly.

    • September 11, 2019 at 4:03 pm

      I identify so well with your comment. In fact, it has been hard for me to identify what “feelings” even are (except for anger and sadness) so it is frustrating being told to ask myself what I’m “feeling.” Thanks for speaking!

      • September 11, 2019 at 5:28 pm

        Dear Cheryl and David, I understand the frustration we all feel when we try to do something that’s really hard for us. That’s the exact reason why it’s important to do. Please do read through the entire list of Feeling Words in the back of the Running On Empty book. It will give you new ways to identify what you are feeling.

    • September 12, 2019 at 4:29 am

      I found a list of emotions and feelings useful in the beginning. Also setting an alarm to go off 3x per day to remind myself to check in on how I was feeling at that moment, and wrote a note on it in a journal. I did this for a few weeks and noticed that it became easier.

      • September 12, 2019 at 11:09 am

        Excellent! Thanks for sharing Anna!

  • September 10, 2019 at 10:41 am

    I first thought that the mom was involved and then looked again and saw that what she does is preempt Connor with the right answers. She loves him but is not letting him express himself for himself.

    • September 11, 2019 at 6:57 pm

      I still am not seeing this. All mom said was, “Did you pass your driving test?”
      How is that feeding him a ‘right’ answer? How is that minimizing his feelings?
      Should she have completely ignored the fact that he took his driving test that day?
      That would seem far more neglectful and uninvolved to me.

      And let’s not even deal with how in the world he got to the driving test to be driving himself home all alone after it. That’s the only neglectful part I can see in any of this. That an apparently unlicensed driver was allowed to somehow go off in a car alone to take his driver’s test.

      But greeting a child when he comes home after a big day with a question that shows interest? I’m sorry. I still think we are really playing the blame game with a mom that does not deserve it here.

      • September 12, 2019 at 11:01 am

        Dear Sue, the CEN in that moment is very subtle and unclear, which is exactly how CEN usually is. Connor’s reaction is an accumulation of all of the years his mom has under-reacted and squelched his emotions. I hope this explains it.

      • September 12, 2019 at 5:22 pm

        I still feel we are being very unfair to the mom here. How was she supposed to react, even when he was 6? He didn’t let her know there was anything to react to. We can’t read people’s minds – and in fact this is considered a cognitive distortion when we assume we know what other people are thinking without them telling us.

        Sure, there are times it should be pretty clear. We can assume if something really upsetting happened, there might be something to deal with. But when the child decides not to tell his mother what he is thinking, calmly walks by without saying a word or even appearing upset – but expects her to know? That’s not fair.

        Do I sometimes wish people could read my mind and feelings and just do what I want? Sure, that would be nice. But, it’s not a reasonable expectation. If we want people to know how we are feeling, we need to be willing to communicate.

        Now, I would feel differently if he had shared that he was feeling anxious and upset about school, and mom said, “Silly you. School will be fine. Go on now.” There, I could see the evidence of emotional neglect.

        But in no description of this scenario did mom ever have a chance. She’s trying to connect, and the son’s reticence to communicate is the cause of the problem here.

        I guess I would appreciate a description of what the “right” reaction would have been.

      • September 13, 2019 at 9:20 am

        Sue, this is not an issue of blame. This mom is doing her best, and it is not her fault that she is not aware of her son’s emotional needs. Nevertheless, the effect on the son is real. Childhood Emotional Neglect does not happen in one single moment; it is an endless accumulation of moments that take place over a child’s formative years.

      • September 13, 2019 at 8:22 pm

        Of course there is blame and judgment. No one ever says, “She neglects her children. What a great mother she is.”

      • September 14, 2019 at 6:58 am

        Anyone who is a parent understands how complex and difficult it is to be one. There are infinite ways to make mistakes. It is one thing to judge and criticize a parent and another to honestly look at what went wrong for us in our childhoods so that we can become stronger, healthier and happier. If we avoid that, we will not be able to grow and change and thrive.

  • September 12, 2019 at 12:31 am

    The “duty” and “guilt” really resonate with me. I have done a lot for my elderly parents because I feel a duty to do it and they have depended on me to do it. I also feel guilty for the way I feel about them. I really do think my Dad (he is deceased now) had Aspbergers (Autism spectrum) as he demonstrated so many of the signs (my oldest nephew has been diagnosed as well). He rarely looked me in the eye or smiled. He wanted to listen to television while we ate dinner and did not like us to talk too much. My Mom wanted to please him, and was always so busy. I am working on forgiveness. Thank You for helping me to understand more.

    • September 12, 2019 at 11:07 am

      Der Susan, it’s so important that you are realizing all of this. Keep healing.

  • September 13, 2019 at 2:32 am

    Like many others here I recognise the feelings of an adult relationship with CEN parents – that dullness and lack of enjoyment of their company, sense of duty and only sharing facts with them. Conversations are generally very superficial and that’s what I noticed in the teenager example – all his mum wanted were the facts and information and so that’s all he gave her. There was no talk of ‘feeling proud’ or ‘nervous’ or ‘relief’. That’s why someone can appear so interested and even caring whilst actually being emotionally uninvolved with their child. Thank you Jonice, it is subtle and complex, and so hard to see until it’s pointed out.

    • September 13, 2019 at 9:21 am

      I like how you put the intention of this scenario into exact words. Thanks for sharing your experience and observations with us!

      • September 14, 2019 at 8:05 am

        Thank you, it’s only really that very subtle example that enabled me to see it clearly – with the help of all the conversation it generated!
        My daughters school has started a programme of emotional literacy support called ELSA which will also help to break this cycle.

      • September 14, 2019 at 8:38 am

        I’m glad this has helped make CEN more visible to you Sarah. And it’s nice to hear about a program that helps reduce CEN. Take care!

  • September 14, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    sometimes just asking myself how i feel makes me cry. but there is no thought content as to what it is about. nothing of note just happened, i have been quietly at home all day.
    then the crying stops after maybe 20 seconds, then repeats, but its all over in a minute or two. if i ask again a minute or two later nothing happens, no insight, no notable relief. perhaps feeling a little helpless.
    this has happened occasionally, from time to time, over the years, before, learning about CEN and Narcissistic parental abuse — but never any thought content or insight, hence feeling helpless.
    So there seems some brief opening, but no way to progress.

    • September 15, 2019 at 8:03 am

      Dear David, I suggest 2 things: while you are feeling your feelings (crying) get a pen and paper or your computer and start writing. Write anything that comes into your head. Writing can be very helpful this way. Another suggestion is to see a therapist from the Find A CEN Therapist List on my website. You may just need some help sorting through your childhood and painful experiences you’ve had.

  • September 15, 2019 at 5:00 am

    Mother had no emotion and father was manipulative and emotionally abusive. He treated the kids as he would his dogs and adults. Siblings fought with intent to harm. No friends, sports, or parties. Always alone to this day. Where are your friends they say? What do you do when you don’t click with anyone? What do you do when everyone leaves you alone? You hide in the shadows!

    Emotional neglact does not mean you don’t have emotions. It means you only feel negative ones.

    • September 15, 2019 at 8:06 am

      Dear shhhh, I’m so sorry you grew up this way. Please see the Find A CEN Therapist List on emotionalneglect.com and make an appointment. I strongly encourage you to talk with someone about this.

  • September 16, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Oh my gosh, I relate so much to Connor’s story, especially the adult portion. My parents are great people but I’ve always felt a bit disconnected from them, even though I love them. Learning about CEN has been helpful. A therapist pointed it out to me several years ago. I’m trying so hard to be emotionally present for my son and to encourage him to talk about he feels.

    • September 17, 2019 at 8:13 am

      Dear Michelle, good for you! I’m so glad you are taking the steps to make sure you don’t pass CEN down to your child. You are an inspiration!

  • February 13, 2020 at 2:59 am

    Inexplicable describes my reactions to my mother and stepfather perfectly. Although there was the more easy to define abuses and ACE’s, ‘Inexplicable’ describes my inability to define my hurt to my mother. Not that this defended woman would has no ability to attune or empathise, would begin to understand anyway! Thank you for this piece of work. I find it incredibly helpful.


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