22 thoughts on “5 Unhealthy Relationship Patterns Set Up By Childhood Emotional Neglect

  • October 20, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    What would you suggest for a couple who both suffer from CEN, as well as other issues as a result of both having been emotionally and sexually abused as children? We married for practical reasons 25 years ago and have lived essentially as roomates for our entire marriage (i.e. loveless and sexless marriage). Whenever either of us shares anything even remotely personal, the other shuts it down through anger, criticism, or withdrawal. We live in the country with low speed Internet and couldn’t possibly afford counseling, even if it were available in the nearby small city (which it isn’t). We are both profoundly unhappy, and feel nothing but bitterness and contempt for each other. We cannot divorce as it would mean excommunication from our denomination.

    • October 20, 2019 at 6:55 pm

      Dear No Hope, it sounds like you and your spouse have become literally trapped in a corner. But there is always a way forward. You can start by reading the Running On Empty books together and discussing each section as you go through. Something needs to break through the barrier here. This is not what marriage is supposed to be!

    • October 21, 2019 at 6:32 am

      You say: ”We cannot divorce as it would mean excommunication from our denomination.”
      Might I suggest that you disentangle yourselves from that denomination asap? Because what kind of spitirual belief system insist that you stick together in spite of a loveless and sexless marriage?

  • October 21, 2019 at 1:04 am

    I believe it’s valuable to say not all are so defined. I am so connected to my emotions. My mother, said some people are sensitive that my heart is on my sleeve, I emotionally feel. And can be sensitive to others. That is to say scenes I can remember . And in one of these house holds. Even though I was neglected by both adults and constantly, hit by my siblings I feel that I could never hurt anyone, cause the pain was so real so I lived in healing. Even my mother could see I never lost my inocents, through time I still believe in people and all emotions around me, and my own. Not saying that I never needed help, I did but for eight years my doctor kept saying, some were so abused, the feeling is real. And that I was one of the lucky ones I know the pain and love empathy . As I put it, I must have a good conscience. And believe not every one is as black and white, or to say, by the text book senario. Thanks 😊 in receiving this message . You probly know this too , take care bye

    • October 21, 2019 at 8:27 am

      Dear Rene, I’m glad you were able to go through your childhood and hold on to your empathy and sensitive nature. My goal is to talk about patterns that apply to many people and gives them answers. But, of course, people are complex and there are many varieties on each pattern, and many people who don’t fit the patterns at all.

  • October 21, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Tragic to see how two partners who were once immensely in love and chose to marry find themselves living like strangers on the emotional intimacy front. Kudos to Jonice Webb, PhD on this truly great article elucidating how CEN affects sensitivity and relationships in ones later life.

    Children’s life scripts are frozen from birth to 5 years of age – not so much in terms of what experiences they face – rather based on how they reacted to those experiences and how they managed the resulting conflict resolution process.This leads us to think of how parents can provide support to their children in dealing with and managing this conflict resolution process so that they grow up as mature, responsible adults.

    • October 21, 2019 at 8:34 am

      I surely do wish all parents could be educated about how important it is to deal with their children’s emotions and how to do it. Thank you for your comment!

  • October 21, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Im currently having therapy,ive had complex trauma in my childhood, and my mother was mentally ill. That left me at 15,,doing household things like an adult woman. And also seeking love and attention of an older man and having a sexual relations,,far too young at 15!. Its all left me a mess with Complex OCD being my main problem,but inability to sustain a relationship or even want one now. Im 55 now. Strangely through OCD ect i find it easy to do for others but crippled when it comes to doing household things for myself,buying things for myself. im hoping therapy will help as its a 2 yr course this time. Ive only had short courses. I have to live and cope with OCD and have accepted that. But its upsetting as i cannot even work at the moment. In time i want to again.

    • October 21, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      Dear Rosemary, I am sorry for what you have been through. It sounds like you will stay in therapy long enough this time to do the real work necessary to repair and realize that you deserve to be happy and loved.

      • October 22, 2019 at 11:30 am

        Thanks Jonice,,its helpful as its Group and tells me im not alone also. Others have their burdens. Terrible i never realized it would leave me with these scars. im going to accept its part of me now but i can work on things so they do not manifest and take over my mind!!. Hard to do. Also been setback i think by the Menopause. Thanks for your kind words.

      • October 22, 2019 at 12:04 pm

        Yes, exactly! Once you understand what’s happening you have the option to address it instead of having it dog you day after day. Best wishes to you!

  • October 21, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Is it possible CEN to manifest itself as an adult by being too emotional and not able to manage emotions? My husband suffers from what seems to be more classic CEN symptoms but I tend to be the opposite and am overly emotional, and not able to properly manage my emotions. I feel like I have was always highly sensitive and that was very inconveniently for my parents. My mother herself was severely abused so I think she just felt like because she wasn’t abisive I would be OK. I struggle so much with feeling like my emotions aren’t validated by my spouse, and he struggles to even know what emotions he is feeling/showing. I tend to get stuck on an issue and press and press and can’t give up until I feel heard, and he stonewalls and closes up. On top of this we have 5 kids to raise and I really want them to know how to properly deal with emotions. How does a couple deal with that?

    • October 21, 2019 at 6:29 pm

      Dear MR, what you are describing is a need for some emotion skills on the part of yourself and your husband. The best way to get those is to go to a trained CEN therapist. Please look for one on the Find A CEN Therapist List on this website. It is important for yourself and your husband to learn how to talk when one or both of you is upset or hurt or angry.

    • October 22, 2019 at 7:23 am

      Dear MR,

      I’m facing a similar relationship issue myself wherein I’m sensitive, excessively emotional and an empath while my partner is excessively practical self-centered and a critical perfectionist. How to deal with someone who pours cold water on emotions while stressing practical, self-centered issues is indeed a challenge and really puts me off. Perhaps, developing an empathetic understanding of the security concerns inherent in their self-centered practicality and hyper-criticality could help us see them as essentially insecure people in need of assurances and security. So, may be we need to catch their hand and lead them along with promises and assurances which they will not necessarily trust. It will take time, but consistency, trustworthiness and being there when they need us, would help.

      • October 22, 2019 at 12:03 pm

        Dear DeeKay, please be aware of how you are feeling and whether your own needs are being met during this process you describe. It’s not healthy to sacrifice too much of yourself while working with someone else’s needs.

  • October 22, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    I’ve been in therapy for 1.5 years and am slowly healing from a severe CEN childhood, and would like to thank you deeply for both your books and weekly newsletters. I’m 29 and married with 4 kids. My husband is great and we both love and respect each other but yet both strongly feel that ‘elusive something’ missing in our relationship… Knowing its CEN has given me so much validation and hope.

    I also discovered that I’m an HSP (from one of your posts) and reading up on that has been immensely cathartic and life-changing. Although i see myself changing- and keep pausing in my life to just FEEL it all, so often its all too overwhelming and such a lonely journey… being an HSP i have millions of feelings every day which totally floods my system.

    Your weekly newsletter is so helpful, reminding me that its totally not my fault and keeping me focused and hopeful! so thank you for your amazing work! me and my kids would not be the same without it!

    • October 22, 2019 at 9:03 pm

      I’m pleased to be a part of your healing, Leah. Good for you for facing all this and having the courage to heal. All my best to you and your family.

  • October 25, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    I really like the work you are doing on CEN, very awesome and helpful. I have many if not most of the CEN traits you describe, but this is confusing to me because I can’t remember my parents being consistently emotionally neglectful. I have realistic memories of unconditional loving from them as a child (for example, consistently expressing joy at my presence). It was well known I was a temperamentally sensitive child (the books about being a “highly sensitive person” describe me very well) and I still am one to internalize the emotional dynamics of whatever relationship-system I am in. Very disconnected with brother whom I never had an emotional connection with. Parents only related to me as a “unified front” and so I never developed a one on one relationship to either of them (known as a “parent centered family”) but I had great emotional intimacy with my best friend and later in adolescence fell in love frequently, so these examples make me think their way wasn’t unhealthy. As adults, both my dad and brother experience marked phobia of processing feelings; my brother shuts down or refuses to discuss matters while my father either blames himself or guilt trips me when difficult feelings or experiences are brought up, so there is clear avoidance or difficulty regulating emotions there, providing a good clue to things. My mother remains loyal to my father and will not discuss emotional matters without my father’s presence (I think there might be a bit of codependency there). As an adolescent I began shutting them out of anything and everything, but don’t know if this was about been a teenager or if I was caretaking their emotions, a process I intuitively think might have been happening. I could go on, there is much more. I guess I’m just trying to tell the difference between NPD issues, how codependency in parents negatively impacts parenting, me being a highly sensitive person and CEN all figure into this. Maybe you can help me with this one!

  • October 26, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Hi Jonice
    While I certainly agree with your description of the 5 unhealthy patterns set up by CEN, as a relationship therapist with 25 years experience I was concerned to see you putting “Absence of Conflicts” first in your list of possible things that make relationships work well. This is a myth that is harmful and has been well debunked (by John Gottman in particular). The patterns you describe are so destructive to because they prevent people from learning and growning through the inevitable and necessary conflicts that couples have

    • October 27, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Dear Nic, I fully agree and I’m very familiar with John Gottman’s work. Conflict handled well = emotional intimacy. I listed it because most people think absence of conflict is good, but I don’t want to mislead people so I’ll take it out of the article. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • December 4, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I was recently with someone for 3 years, who was a victim of CEN … she dealt with things a bit different that hurt us, ultimately causing me to leave. She craved attention from other men. I dealt with it and she told me she felt low self esteem and unloved – no matter how much I showed love to her. She told me I gave more than anyone ever in her life – yet she chose to stay in touch with an unattractive married man than remain in our relationship. She viewed me as insecure and controlling by asking her to stop the communication. I even questioned if she is a narcissist. Its been tough to move on – I always felt if she shared this with her therapist he could help.


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