79 thoughts on “A Surprising Emotion People With Childhood Emotional Neglect Often Feel

  • February 2, 2020 at 10:39 am

    I love your articles! Such great insight! I think people with CEN have the exact opposite of narcissism. Instead of being the only one that matters, CEN folks have a hard time realizing that they matter as you have explained so eloquently. I wish there was a name for this condition, like Cencissism or something…lol

    • February 2, 2020 at 12:34 pm

      Dear Heather, I agree that CEN is the opposite of narcissism. Thanks for your comment!

      • February 5, 2020 at 11:20 am

        So interesting. And I married the narcissist! Not good. I’m guessing this is common for a CEN.

      • February 5, 2020 at 1:11 pm

        Hi Tracy, yes, sadly this is a common marriage choice for CEN people.

      • March 8, 2020 at 5:39 pm

        I always balk at the concept of ‘choosing’ a narcissist. I think it’s truer that we didn’t have the skills nor the awareness to screen them out rather than that we deliberately chose them.
        Also we ‘chose’ something that has never truly existed:the projected reality created by the narcissist. Fooled by a mirage.

      • February 6, 2020 at 4:50 pm

        THE terrible negative affect of guilt drives my (yes, I purchased both your books and attend to your articles) “need” to NEVER say no.
        Additionally, repeated critical testing through the NPI (Narcissistic Personality Inventory, for those unfamiliar) show results at the utter bottom of that scale. In fact, I tend to regard only those who would or do score in that area, as “normal.”
        this may indicate that there is a significant sociocultural factor involved , and I’d suspect that in warmer, less anonymous, tribal cultures, there might be prosocial pressures modeled from earliest childhood.
        I’ve posted before on the problem of cultural modeling of CEN being likely to move a society toward increase in “CEN”-ing offspring through time.
        It may even be likely that the process is implicated in what we might call the decadence and collapse of cultures – as we know from consistent research that human groups violently or recrimintaely fragment, just as largely occurs in CEN families.
        There appears to be a sexual difference, with female offsprinng being more likely to overcome the damaging behaviors resulting from CEN, than males.

        A lot is being increasingly understood about the importance of compassionate, caring signaling (or its opposite) in the development of infants, who are evolved to understand and imitate behaviors long before any ability to verbally approach their social cognitions.

        Your work has helped me to assist my own mother, who at 89, still held resentments and unjustified attributions toward her elders and siblings until just these past few months. Because she now expresses kindness toward those who she felt such resentment, I’m hoping that she will be able to influence her own offspring in facing and understanding the long chains of inability to define – alexithymia – that have emotionally impoverished our own, and others’ families. One day, perhaps, our larger culture can be steered in the direction you’ve attempted to set for suffering individuals. Thank you.

      • February 6, 2020 at 5:36 pm

        Dear M., thank you for sharing your observations and experiences with us. I’m so glad you have been able to help your mother understand the effects of CEN on the generations of your family. My goal is to make Childhood Emotional Neglect a household term in every culture, so I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      • March 29, 2020 at 5:55 pm

        Over the years, I’ve been both exposed to a few NPD sufferers, and , as you know about organized religion, common expressions of self-care being overzealously attacked through religious propaganda and infecting the psyches of those who accept this propaganda without question, the problem of CEN is magnified.

        Thus I’ve taken Narcissistic Personality inventories periodically as a method of reassurance.
        Finding my own scoring always within the bottom 10 to2%, DOES help through objective reassurance that the basis of accusation by narcissists and religionists remains utterly false.

        So I do recommend that those who do suffer from the consequences of CEN, use the tests as an objective and realistic tool to assuage their anxieties about being “too self-centered.”

        I think that every possible tool should be used to increase one’s perception of their own equal value to care, love, concern. The process of overcoming CEN can be long and torturous , and every incidence of alleviation, may well build up an individual’s capacity to assert the necessity and validity of their own needs.
        We so often remain within the influence ofthose who impose emotional disregard, that , again, psychological inventories , now so more easily available, are therapeutic – especially in this present and foreseeably lengthy* period of limiting social interactions outside our small nucleus of intimacy.

        * essentially until a vaccine is developed and taken for COVID-19. Defections from social distancing are inevitable, and we may expect te disease to become more prevalent, ad sustained until the vaccine is in most of us. I am not at all sure that any prediction of immunity following infection will be permanent or prolonged.

      • March 30, 2020 at 7:21 am

        Hi M. Makuye

        Your mention of Covid 19 made me think- I’ve been noticing that it is a clear indicator of who is on the narcissist spectrum. Many people have been saying that social distancing/lockdown is nonsense, they don’t care if they get the disease or pass it on to others etc. I just listened to a radio phone in where a woman said just that.

        It is very interesting to observe how people react to the new way we live…and we’ll remember who they were after the situation changes! Who hurried to help…and who looked after number 1.

  • February 2, 2020 at 11:41 am

    This is spot-on. I’ve been a nurse practitioner taking care of high-risk babies for over 25 years. Only in the last 3-4 years, I’ve been able to address my irrational feeling of being responsible for every patient, even those with whom I have only the most minimal contact. My patients are incredibly fragile and many of them die, which is not unexpected, given their conditions. There are literally hundreds of people taking care of these patients, but I always felt terrible guilt when they died, even if my role in their care was only peripheral. I now realize that this is irrational and only one of the many things about me that are directly related to my childhood emotional neglect. Thank you, Dr Webb, for your amazing work. I have saved every email and article I’ve received from you and I refer to them again and again in my healing journey.

    • February 2, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Dear Beth, I am so glad that you’re becoming aware of your excessive feeling of responsibility. No doubt, it has been weighing you down!

  • February 2, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    I have just developed a chronic illness that requires oxygen. Coming from a position of CEN I have to stop blaming myself for this illness! I see myself as so independent and always the caretaker and this has really thrown me for a loop! I’ve never smoked, always tried to be responsible for my health but I keep thinking this is my fault.

    • February 2, 2020 at 12:38 pm

      Dear Sherry, I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis. I want to assure you that you did not cause your own illness. People get sick. Sometimes out of bad things, good realizations can come. Maybe this is what’s happening for you. All my best wishes to you! Please focus on yourself and taking care of your own needs.

  • February 2, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    I realised that one of the things CEN has taught me is that I grew up feeling everyone else knew better than me and they were always right. So whenever I got advice or criticism, I’d believe it and follow it to the letter. Learning about CEN has made me think ‘hang on. *I* know what’s best for me, not every Tom, Dick and Harry.’

    • February 2, 2020 at 2:42 pm

      Excellent, Olivia and so true. You are the best expert on yourself.

    • February 2, 2020 at 9:35 pm

      Yes I can relate. It’s as if your opinions didn’t matter, that you didn’t matter, that everybody else mattered more. Then one day you realise that you too matter, and that you are important, and that you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just like everybody else does.

      • February 3, 2020 at 10:59 am

        That is so true, Sue. It was like I was the stupid one and everyone else was wise. But they aren’t, we are all the same level in life.

      • February 3, 2020 at 11:02 am

        Yes, so true, Olivia. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses which is why we must rely on each other. But at the same time we must own our own knowledge and trust ourselves and our own gut first and foremost.

  • February 2, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Responsible hit the mark for me. I’ve always used it as one of my ‘good’ traits. After leaving behind my narcissistic, emotionally neglectful, alcoholic mother. Then getting out of a marriage with a narcissistic husband. I now realize I’ve been taking care of everyone but myself. It is my time now! I’m finding it at times very lonely. But mostly empowering. It’s also very difficult to trust, anyone.

    • February 2, 2020 at 2:43 pm

      Dear Kate, I’m glad you feel empowered! Learning to trust yourself will enable you to be vulnerable with others. Just choose your people wisely.

  • February 2, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    Oh, Dr.Jonice! This was so relevant this week. I had the courage this week to say “no” to a former in-law that wanted to camp at my tiny apartment for 2 weeks for 2nd time in 2 months with no regard to my health or needs. Even though I said no, she showed up angrily banging at at my door. I didn’t answer the door or phone. Now she is angry with me, but this time I don’t feel guilty. She has more appropriate choices to make. And I am learning to say no and mean it. Thank you! I read your work every week.

    • February 2, 2020 at 3:06 pm

      That is wonderful, Susan! You are teaching others how to treat you, just by holding your boundaries. Well done!

  • February 2, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    I think the “feeling” you’re looking for is “blameworthy”.

    There are some obvious reasons for this suggestion: for example, “responsible” has a more rational undertone to it, while “blameworthy” is, at most extreme, about perception, or in the ordinary usage it is often used in discussing situations where there is no clear definition for blame and responsibility.

    But the more psychologically relevant information about this term in the context you’re trying to communicate the phenomenon you’ve discovered is that Childhood Emotional Neglect, at least, from my personal experience, in its most severe cases is not about “responsibility”, because individuals who understand the notion of “responsibility” understand that they are responsible for themselves before most other individuals and themes in their lives.

    And the exuberant display of “feeling responsible” doesn’t come from “knowing better” or even more adequately, “being capable of making a difference in that situation” rather from the underlying conviction that if things go wrong, they are to be blamed.

    I think, the opposite of “blameworthiness” is “praiseworthiness” and in that sense, the cure, or better said, the target that childhood rape victim should strive for goes through developing the ability to cheer for oneself.

    I discovered it very recently on myself because never having received praised in childhood – I mean, I did receive nice words like: “you make us proud,” or that “it is amazing that you got a better grade than the neighbor kid so that his mother came to me and asked how did I raise you” but if you listen carefully, these praises aren’t about what I did, rather about how I made someone else feel about him or herself. So, there is this unintentional conviction that “I’m not worthy of cheering,” and that “I don’t deserve being cheered for ideals/goals, I wish to achieve unless I reach such an unexceptional result that it turns heads around and my parents receive indirect praise because of me!” and when one is older, it is not necessarily the parent, but the university, the employer, the wife, the society and etc.

    The other thing is that the opposite of “feeling responsible” is “being irreverent,” which is what the section of your text with recommendations is about. I mean, those recommendations are indeed life-altering for good for individuals with a background of childhood emotional neglect, but only when we are addressing the issue of “boundaries”:

    – Self-reflection
    – Assertiveness (learn to say no)
    – Being one’s first priority in one’s life

    Of course, you know better than me, that these are techniques to enhance someone’s ability to set and maintain his or her boundaries.

    By contrast, if we put the opposite as “praiseworthiness” then there are other techniques that become relevant:

    – Praising the individuals/groups who are striving for the same goal/ideas
    – Distinguishing one’s exertion and external contributions to how things turn out, so, one can have a rational foundation to issue praise or blame for oneself to an appropriate degree.
    – Accepting that you and those individuals/groups are both human beings, though unique and different in some regards, just as you can feel compassion/admiration/praise for them, you too can be, or perhaps, are one of them
    – … [and a host of other techniques]

    I understand that on the surface, individuals with childhood emotional neglect background, look like to take responsibility for everything that goes wrong in the world and it feels counter-intuitive that by focusing on praising them in moments they are pursuing self-actualization that excessive sense of accountability would magically fade-away, but the truth is these individuals have never experienced being praised for things that mattered to them and they were capable to make an adequate difference in – not a groundbreaking but just enough. So, the more time these individuals spend on their own priorities, the less head-space will be available to them to take on the blame that doesn’t belong to them. That’s the underlying magic.

    And of course, I agree with your text’s middle section “How CEN Makes You Feel Too Responsible For Everything & Everyone”.

    PS. I admire your work; I hope, you don’t take my recommendation as a “criticism” rather an invitation from someone who has so far failed to pursue an academic certificate in psychology, so he can contact you through more professional channels and establish a good-will for future exchanges/collaborations by simply sharing his resume and stories of his treatments.

    • February 2, 2020 at 7:03 pm

      Dear Scrappy, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I would encourage you to choose the word that works best to represent what you feel, like blame, blameworthiness, responsibility, etc, and focus on the feeling itself because it is the problem. That’s an excellent description of a narcissistic parent’s parenting; compliments and insults toward the child all hinge on how the child makes the parent feel about themselves.

  • February 2, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    Many years ago at the beginning of my personal development journey a marriage ended because I stopped being his dogsbody (primed by CEN) and he didn’t like it. I’ve since come to realise that setting healthy boundaries based on self respect does not automatically mean I’m selfish, which he accused me of and a mantra I’d grown up with. By grace I’d got the courage to leave. In the intervening years I’ve had a lot of therapy and could see I’d reproduced the abuse and neglect of my childhood in that marriage. Going against all that childhood conditioning and learning to not see myself as a selfish taker because I’d left, took years of intensive therapy. This article of yours explains so much. Deep down I’ve always felt responsible for everything, and intense guilt/shame if I’m not doing more than my fair share, doing for others what they could do for themselves and expecting nothing in return or conversely if I achieved/received something for myself. This complex set of feelings of responsibility/guilt/shame has held me back from achieving at my full potential throughout life. Thank you for bringing this insidious aspect of CEN to light. I can now see what has caused so many poor decisions and kept me in bad situations for much longer than I should have stayed. Since I came across your books and blogs a couple of years ago along with your incredible support and that of my therapist I’ve gradually peeled away the layers of dross caused by CEN and am day by day living a more authentic life – and so many good things are happening as a result. I’m getting on in age but I refuse to give up. I hope in my remaining years I do get to achieve some of my lifetime ambitions that until now I never thought I deserved. Dr Webb I very much appreciate all that you do and may your work continue to be blessed.

    • February 2, 2020 at 8:31 pm

      Dear Karen, I loved reading about the transformation you are going through. I’m so proud of you for your courage and persistence in making all of these changes. That is awesome.

  • February 2, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    always struggled with this concept of responsibility, still do every day. as a survivor of ritual abuse, and one of the oldest kids in the group, if i didn’t protect the others no one would, and still can’t shake that instinct to put every one else first.

    • February 2, 2020 at 9:41 pm

      Dear Jade, I am so sorry you went through that. I hope you will put your focus on yourself now. You deserve the healing, nurturing and attention you didn’t get back then.

  • February 2, 2020 at 11:23 pm

    you know it all makes sense when you read about it and see other people putting words to your experiences, at least to a degree, but out here in the real world, well it seems impossible to overcome all this stuff, especially when it is their voices you hear in your head and not your own

    • February 3, 2020 at 8:57 am

      I know, Jade. I totally understand what you are saying. Think of recovery as one small step at a time, with persistence and never stopping. Fighting back those old voices and turning your attention away from those people and toward yourself.

  • February 3, 2020 at 4:29 am

    Dear dr Jonice,

    I’ve been following your work for a while and it has given me great insight along my own healing journey. This article has hit me in a very uncomfortable way, I had to breathe and feel my body as I read it, because I recognized myself in it so much.
    I agree with the previous comment that there is such a thing as ‘reverse’ narcissism. I read some books about co-dependency but that term and idea doesn’t really resonate for me, mainly because I’m so independent and competent! The terms CEN and reverse narcissism (I agree it needs a better description!)DO make a lot of sense and, ofcourse, also explains so well why we CENners end up with narcissists so often!
    I am quite a way along on the recovery/discovery journey now and your articles are invaluable!Thank you so much.

    • February 3, 2020 at 9:01 am

      Dear Monique, I’m glad you are thinking about yourself and your experience and figuring things out so well. I hope you’ll be able to work on feeling less responsible for everyone now and continue focusing on yourself.

    • February 20, 2020 at 9:43 pm

      I’m newly single after 3.5 years with a man who seemed so sweet. As time went on I realized that he had both a victim consciousness and narcissistic tendencies. I unfortunately tried to take responsibility for helping him with his pain, but ended up becoming one of “them,” after which he abruptly and unkindly ended our relationship.
      Very lucky to have a great therapist who helped me see the abuse for what it was. I am now beginning to realize that I deserve the care I offer others….that I have the right to have downtime….that I’m worthy of self-love! So for the foreseeable future, it’s “Me Myself & I” and learning to enjoy life fully as a solitary woman.

  • February 3, 2020 at 5:54 am

    Thank you, Jonice. Through your observation and research, you’ve shone a light on my own upbringing. The feeling of always being the care giver, and all the emotions that go with that feeling, make much more sense. You’ve given me a place to start, and I don’t feel so alone. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one with this issue, and thanks for giving it a name.

  • February 3, 2020 at 8:24 am

    I always wondered why I wound up in positions where I was taking care of something or someone. I used to be overwhelmed at work with my work load but on the down side I couldn’t understand why others couldn’t perform duties or tasks as I could which made it difficult to get along with some people at work. It would ruin relationships, cause people not to like me, and I would get very frustrated trying to understand why. My personal relationships the same, wound up with people that I wound up taking care of. That’s where I am today. Have a hard time understanding just what my emotions are and often feel lost in the crowd, wanting to get along but afraid I’ll say the wrong thing to cause someone to get mad at me or not like me. Feeling like I never fit in and have become a loner because of it. Makes for a very lonely life. Thank goodness for God.

    • February 3, 2020 at 9:06 am

      Dear Diana, you describe all of the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect. I hope you will learn about it as much as you can and start to take this on. You can recover and feel better and more comfortable in your life.

    • October 14, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Yes, thankful for God. I am 70, have no time to read nor think. New husband always at me. Missing my children so much and seeing pictures of them as children so happy and smiling makes me cry these days. Keep stuffing everything down.

  • February 3, 2020 at 10:06 am

    The younger one is and realizes something is wrong here and being an only child the
    faster one tries to support the parent being maligned and harmed in all categories.
    Not understanding what gives here leads to protecting the parent is important but protecting the house is now no longer a home is equally important from everyone having information that can haunt one for life in a small community. It did until I moved away.
    And the funerals two hours away some loved their moments of glory to find their insidious ways to get even. When I asked what’s your point ? The answers were vacuous and just a way to unhinge my efforts to make the funeral. Once I had to go home on another matter and while at Canada’s well known coffee shop and old HS classmate not seen for 25 years said sorry you could not attend your Aunt’s funeral held yesterday !
    My answer was thank you for attending , I was not invited . See above .
    Many of us carry our burdens into our adulthood and workplace and whether managing an office or years in the classroom we know who is being bullied before the employee or student knows. We see it , we feel it and we hurt the road is all potholes as lived.
    Unfortunately by doing right to and for others a few wanting the positions I had, see an opportunity change for betrayal and taking over . Well back to square one.
    Saw it unfold in the school system from contract work in public school, high-school to teaching at the university after leaving the workplace . Some break, broken again.
    Yes people who take on responsibility in the home at a very early age are susceptible to being read as vulnerable not only on the above and overseeing chairing charity groups so others can take all the accolades. After that I took a horrible hit I decided I would take responsibility for myself but the scars are there however I politely say no thank you and if asked make contributions but there is always someone who senses another’s goodness and like a hawk swoops in for the kill. Sometimes one has to know looking up forward and all around and looking to the self can be a new way to see life . Looking back no one ever said thank you and realizing instead of being my own lighthouse keeper to look at 360 degrees of the compass from the centre I spent too much time on the outside looking in allowing the ships to crash on my shores with the intent to do personal damage . They did!
    The light we are given must be sweeping around 360 degrees to be aware of any incoming ship to warn as a metaphor to turn away or hit the rocks as I can not take responsibility for their demise or mine either anymore .
    Being an only child is no bed of Roses. Thorns are everywhere . And the Rose today is my symbol of survival the thorn protects the Rose so the Rose can bloom and live .Simply we must arm ourselves and like hockey sport teams after so many concussions their thorns are the equipment they wear to play the Rose of the game all out in bloom and protect themselves and then after live their years without horrible debilitating problems whether physical, mental and any other area one relates to as a flat tire to going forward.

    • February 3, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Dear Gwor, thanks for sharing your pain with us. I hope you can remove your thorns and protective padding when you are forging relationships with deserving, trustworthy people. All my best.

  • February 3, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    All my earlier life apparently being a penitent child appeasing a lesser god until I got wind of CEN and its effects…
    Boy was I good at people pleasing and peace at any price with my need for love and approval ,even to the point some 10 years ago of being an unpaid therapist for my ex with her new beau troubles just after she divorced me???
    I could look back in anger at this, but in truth I began to find that synthesising my anger into CEN psychology research and PTSD issues as well, provided a positive springboard for progress.
    This does require a letting go of grudges, not an easy task sometimes, but when achieved there is huge space for self respect and self love to blossom.
    No longer requiring other peeps approval has naturally created a new narc free friend category.
    Those narc gits are now persona non grata in my life..Yay!

    • February 3, 2020 at 5:27 pm

      Dear Mac, the progress you’ve made is wonderful! Keep on going and thanks for sharing it with us.

  • February 3, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    I can feel myself changing through all the wonderful and healing information I am reading and internalising, Thank you Jonice. Cathie D.

    • February 4, 2020 at 3:59 pm

      That is great to hear Cathie! I’m so glad.

  • February 4, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Dr. Webb, I suspicion that my husband and his siblings may have a form of CEN, from some of their behaviors and also from knowing their parents’ medical history (significant and prolonged medical issues when the children were small). At the same time, their resources were slim. At times he and his siblings exhibit various personality-disorder traits (but then, don’t we all, in the right conditions?), and adult relationships are in varying amounts of crisis. I don’t have the green light to bring this up to the family. My question is, can CEN be “turned against” significant others? I hear emptiness in your descriptions. But I witness some aggression (verbal, not physical). Can aggression towards intimates stem from CEN? And, what would you suggest in response . . . because, unaware of possible CEN, my DH feels his inner hurt but looks up and sees me, and he “connects the dots” as if I am the one who hurt him (neglect, abandonment, devaluing). I have not done these things to him, certainly not at the level he feels. I have met a thick stone wall when I have raised the possibility of childhood experiences. Suggestions?
    Thanks, Mary

    • February 4, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Dear Annamarie, When there is harshness and harm happening, this is not CEN. It’s a sign of personality disorder in your husband’s family. I really hope you can go to therapy. If your husband won’t go, then please do go on your own. You need and deserve guidance and support through this!

  • February 4, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    With no disrespect intended, I feel like you missed the mark on this one. Looking back, it seems like my childhood was LOADED with messages that I was responsible for everything around me, or else I was “lazy/horrible/a brat/whatever.” And if wasn’t just from my parents; it seems like those messages were EVERYWHERE – at school, at church, on children’s TV shows…

    So yeah, in short, I don’t think we’re indirectly caused to feel responsible for a number of indirect reasons (or at least not often): I think it’s more that we were DIRECTLY TOLD that we were responsible for everything in our lives. =/

    IMO, I think one of the most harmful is the message that we alone are responsible for everyone else’s feelings; e.g. “Smile at people! It could make their day!” or “Don’t be sad! That’ll make everyone else sad!” One of the things that REALLY steams my cheese about this is the twisted way that empathy is involved: because people can pick up on how you’re feeling, you become somehow responsible for what other people feel. I actually HATE how the average talk/article/whatever about empathy puts it up on a pedestal, as if it’s this perfect thing that can do no harm if only you use it, when looking back, I can actually see how *other people’s* empathy came to be used agaisnt me, and how responsibly would be deflected from the person *experiencing* empathy to the person *causing* it. -.-; And since I’ve also heard things like a more-personal “Don’t be sad! That makes ME sad!” I *especially* hate the notion that empathy *automatically* leads to caring about and wanting to *help* someone, because I’ve experienced firsthand just how wrong that is… and LITERALLY the only places where I’ve heard otherwise is from autobiographies and such from self-identifing, clinically diagnosed *psycho/sociopaths!*

    (I admittedly became interested in the topic of psychopathy partly due to some personal experience on the topic of empathy, and partly because of the belief that everyone – EVERYONE – should be loved, no exceptions. Also the idea of free will conflicts with the idea that all psycho/sociopaths are automatically “bad.” While I won’t claim that they can do no wrong, I *do* think that there are a lot of misconceptions, and that they have too much of a bad rap. …I was admittedly bothered by the part in your first CEN book that talked as if they’re not even people, and couldn’t possibly be reading that segment. =/

    Anyway… I suggest at least looking up James Fallon. He seems to be the most prominent figure who will talk about his own psychopathy.)

    Anyway… another thing that bothers me about all the teachings that “if you X, people will Y” is that – even in cases where some form of empathy *isn’t* involved – it not only makes it seem like you alone are responsible for other’s feelings, but it can also give a false sense of having complete *control* over others – a sense that lead to devastation if someone responds in a horrifying negative way to just trying to make your case, or of bringing something *positive.* (Kind of rehashed from my own, personal experience. -.-; Too important for me to leave out.)

    But yeah, in general, I just don’t think there’s enough focus on the fact that, when it comes to relationships, responsibility for all parties involved should be *shared* by all parties involved – emotions and reactions involved are one part influence of others, and partly one’s own choice. If anyone’s making out the responsibility to be all on one side of the other, there’s a problem. (And from my experience, probably unhealthy narcissism. XD; )

    • February 4, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      Hi Infran, I think we may be defining “empathy” differently. It is true that some people get direct messages, but I want to help those whose messages are indirect become aware of them. I’m glad you are thinking about your own childhood and trying to do what’s best for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • February 5, 2020 at 1:15 pm

      Maybe keep in mind that Dr. Webb’s frame of reference is emotional neglect, not emotional abuse. Which seems more like what you experienced. Maybe?

  • February 5, 2020 at 2:50 am

    We are very much aware of our emotions and feelings…they just don’t usually seem to matter.

    • February 5, 2020 at 8:21 am

      Dear Justin, if you are aware of your feelings, then you are ahead of the curve for CEN people. Learning to value and trust your own feelings is your next step. It is something you can do!

    • February 5, 2020 at 1:28 pm

      As an old joke goes, “What you mean ‘we’ Kemosabe?”
      Aside from “anger” in a sort of generalized form that I can’t break down more precisely and that feels like a constant undercurrent, other words for emotions always feel like hyperbole.
      Or, I guess, in the frame of reference of this blog, almost like I’m not really worthy of them. Like I mentally dismiss them.
      Bad explanation, I know.

      • February 6, 2020 at 5:30 pm

        Dear Steve, this does say something about your relationship with your own feelings. I hope you will work on this!

  • February 5, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Hey Dr. Jonice,

    After reading you article, I sent the following paragraph from your article to a fellow CENer. As she sometimes does, she challenged me, “What does this paragraph mean to you?”

    The paragraph:

    You deserve the attention. You deserve the care. You are responsible for making sure that your feelings, your needs, and your wishes are known and considered. First, you know and consider them yourself. Then, others will follow.

    My reply follows:

    I have an inborn right to attention and care. In absence of that, I get into trouble, think less of myself. That gets in the way of my authentic self. Without knowing what I want, it makes it all the more difficult to convey to others what I want. It is my responsibility and mine alone to stand up for my wants, needs and desires. That’s difficult when the inborn rights have been ignored for lone, causing me to question wether those right exist.

    I have to fight through those doubts and pronounce my rights as a gift given to me at birth. Just because someone tried to take that gift away, doesn’t change the fact that the gift exist. It just makes it harder to find.

    • February 5, 2020 at 1:14 pm

      Hi Stephen, I love your answer to your friend’s question! It is true that what we put out about ourselves is affects how others respond to us. Thanks for sharing this.

  • February 5, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    My abuse was verbal, emotional and sexual from the age of 3 until I was 17. For 40-50 years I always felt responsible for everyone and everything. I remember one time I suggested a group of us go to a club in Chicago where they had dueling pianos. We kept driving around and around looking for a parking place. Unable to find one I kept saying I was sorry; I was so sorry. The guy I was with finally stopped the care and said “Finding a parking place in the middle of Chicago is not your responsibility. Not finding a parking place is NOT your fault.” I didn’t even realize how upset I was, and nervous about not finding a parking place. That’s just one of many examples. But yes, I always feel responsible for how others are doing or feeling. I do better now after many years of therapy. I think part of that behavior was reinforced by my father who could come home from work in a foul mood, have a few drinks and then make me feel like his mood was my fault. He wouldn’t speak to me until I wrote him a letter telling him what a good father he was, and how I didn’t deserve all the things he did for me. I always apologized for putting him in a bad mood. It was hell. Thank God for therapy.

    • February 5, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Donna, I’m sorry your dad put so much onto you. You didn’t deserve it then and you don’t deserve it now! I hope you’ll work hard on stopping this.

  • February 6, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    I think I met the first 3 criteria, but the 4th one (Exceedingly self-contained and competent) is just the opposite. I’m 52 and have achieved nothing in life (take my word for it, you don’t want me to launch into the details). After reading all of the comments, I found that I’m probably beyond neglect; abuse is a better fit. I have never been diagnosed “cleanly” to a particular DSM entry because there are always some things that don’t apply.
    I had, for a year, been getting 1 hour weekly counseling from a Psychology student as part of her curriculum. I asked her about testing, and she had access to a 500-600 question true/false test which I completed after a few of our sessions. I don’t remember any details about the test other than it was “normalized” (whatever that means); depending on the responses, it could possibly come back as being inconsistent (eg if I was being untruthful or trying to “fool” the test); there were 10 categories in which results were given. I had a pronounced “spike” in the results for deviant. When I asked her what this meant, I agreed with all of the characteristics she mentioned except for “lack of empathy”. I would strongly argue against this since I often cry at the sad part of TV shows/movies. I DO have empathy for others, so much so that I try to avoid watching the news because it pains me to hear about all the horrible things that happen to people on this %$@#! planet. So it would seem that even among deviants that I deviate!
    I really wanted to comment after reading the article because it resonated with me, but it seems that I have already answered my own question (ie I don’t belong to CEN because of abuse rather than neglect). Sorry for being off-topic, I must be being selfish like my mother would often say (but deny when I said she did).

    P.S. I told myself to keep this short, too! Well, it could have been much longer, I really did try! :+D

    • February 7, 2020 at 8:59 am

      Dear Darren, keep in mind that Emotional Neglect is always present where there is abuse. I call it the flip-side of abuse. You can have neglect without abuse, but you cannot have abuse without neglect. Many therapists can help you with abuse, but I recommend you get specialized help with the neglect part. Please do ask your therapist about that.

  • February 6, 2020 at 8:41 pm

    I find your articles that have a lot of helpful information that can guide me to acknowledge my feelings and be aware, but I think that telling that CEN is not a form of childhood abuse is wrong just because the parents or caregiver didn’t know the language of emotion. I read the article but the mentioning of not being abuse at the begining of this article stayed with me throughout the rest of the reading. Maybe it is because I didn’t experienced just CEN but also emotional abuse. And they most of the time go hand in hand, so yeah CEN is childhood abuse.

    • February 7, 2020 at 9:14 am

      Dear Rose, thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry that you experienced both abuse and neglect. I’m trying to call attention to the point that although abuse and neglect go together, neglect can also be experienced on its own and it has separate and significant effects. Even many therapists overlook the effects of neglect. But they are important and deserve separate attention.

    • February 9, 2020 at 12:43 am

      Hello Rose I agree it is easy to think of emotional neglect as a form of abuse. In fact most writing on the subject, legal definitions etc usually lump the 2 together without properly differentiating between them or, if so, refer only to physical neglect which as you suggest could easily be considered abuse. By lumping neglect in with abuse such writings are doing a disservice. Dr Webb’s work has shined a light on emotional neglect so it can be addressed clearly as a separate form of damage. Like you I suffered both and had therapy for a long time (decades) that really only dealt with abuse. After all that work I can say I still fell totally messed up and couldn’t understand why. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago when I came across her books and articles and in turn got therapy to deal with it that I started to blossom. The thing no one had ever addressed previously was how the deep and pervasive emotional neglect in my upbringing was far more insidious and ultimately more damaging than any abuse, emotional or otherwise. Emotional neglect is sneaky and dangerous and almost universally overlooked, precisely because it’s invisible. When it’s not recognised as a separate form of damage there’s no chance to heal from it. Once it’s recognised and dealt with then there’s hope for complete healing ie from both neglect and abuse. I do wish you success on your journey. It’s not easy when you’re dealing with the double whammy of abuse and neglect.

      • February 9, 2020 at 6:46 am

        That is very well said, Karen. Thank you for explaining why emotional neglect is so overlooked and so important so very well!

  • February 8, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Thank you for your spot-on article! I would also like to read about people with CEN who have not developed social-interaction skills due to just always finding out how they can help the entire world. (Which is exhausting)! CEN, I believe, is due to the fact that parents like their girls to be “perfect little angels” by cultivating girls to be nurturing – as well as making everyone feel spectacular while you hide out in the shadows! Wonderful read!!!

    • February 9, 2020 at 6:42 am

      Dear Nancy, that is definitely a cause of CEN in women! Unfortunately, men have their fair share of CEN as well; their emotions are ignored and discouraged often, sadly. I will try to write an article about social skills. Thank you for your comment!

    • February 9, 2020 at 7:08 am

      Thanks for writing that, Nancy.
      It gave me an ‘aha’ moment because it’s true- I was brought up to support others and put myself in the background, in the shadows and be invisible while others shine. My whole life and career show this- I’ve always been an assistant to someone else e.g. a teaching assistant, not a teacher. I was an author for a while too because I love writing, but I absolutely hated being in the public eye and being the one to shine, so I retreated and became an editor instead, nicely in the background while authors did the shining.
      What an important realisation this is for us CEN people!

  • February 24, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Omg this certainly rang a lot of bells for me! Since coming across you a few years ago I have realised I was a victim of CEN too. Thank you so much as you have changed my life. I do want to add a couple of points as well. Not all CEN people concentrate on other peoples needs or become good at helping others. I certainly didn’t as I was too sunk in depression to be much aware of anything and others, with the ‘lightness’ of happiness just puzzled me, and I wondered how they didn’t realise life was a terribly grim affair to be just borne. I just withdrew into myself and when I went out on my own in life treated others the same I had been. I could never understand why no one liked me so never had friends.
    The other point I wish to make is that I have come across a number of CEN people and one of the biggest barriers they have to overcome is that if they don’t put others first then they are selfish and thus not nice people. They have this fixed obsession and don’t seem to ever understand that they need to attend to their needs too. They tend to think of themselves as a ‘highly sensitive person’ or even an empath.
    Can you please post a piece concentrating on the points I have raised? If you have already covered this I would appreciate the link please. Many thanks.

  • March 4, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Dearest Dr. Webb, thank you so much! You are wise beyond most in your field & I am grateful to have read this blog. I would love to see a therapist near me in Pinole, California or better yet to have virtual appts. with you, to unravel some of my thoughts patterns & behaviors that aren’t serving me.

    I have a broken foot & I’m not working now so I only have state MediCal for health insurance & I realize this is going to make it rough to find somebody who can help me. I’ve been keeping my head up but it’s difficult sometimes to stay above the downward spiral , especially as I have ADD & a head injury that affect my memory & patience with myself sometimes is a challenge. I have anxiety which leaves me trying my best to make sure there is a constant of peace around me & to get this I often suck back my feelings, my breath, to make sure that my housemates, my friends, anybody I come into contact basically, is at ease. The risk of having somebody angry toward me & there being unrest feels threatening to me & I see myself putting my own needs wants & feelings at the end if the line. I’ve always been like this as an empath & I enjoy seeing others feel better too. It’s a gift & a curse & my outlet of singing is my savior. Still, I struggle. Most of my family is in Greece & I’m pretty much on my own in California. I haven’t spoken with my mother in years because of my feelings that there was child abuse by my stepfather towards my niece (& possibly toward me as a child), though it’s way down deep if it is in my past & I cringe whenever I think about it. I don’t know if that’s a signal that it’s not true or that it is…

    Thank you again for this blog, for helping me & others navigate through the confusion & helplessness of Childhood emotional neglect. It’s brilliant to not call it abuse as I believe it isn’t always intentional & it opens up the conversation & fosters understanding rather than defensiveness & denial. As a child of emotional neglect I’m blessed to have your guidance via psych central but I know that I have deeper inquiry to do that I’d like individual help with. If you know of anybody who would see me remotely or who is in the Bay Area please let me know. Thank you again Dr. Webb! You’re a hero!
    Most Sincerely, Tara💘

  • March 18, 2020 at 10:11 am

    How about I just quit that job. Never felt so good. Being NEC, HSP, or just plain sensitive make you a magnet for the narcissists, who see the workplace as a playground to bully people. Am I going back to work, maybe. It’s been a few months and I’m starting to feel better. I want to go back to work, but now work is just fear to me, and I’m generally afraid of all people, especially women. I’ll probably just ride out my super early retirement and go bye bye here eventually.

  • March 30, 2020 at 9:51 am

    I would like to blog my thoughts, I had always thought of writing a book but it was just too emotional. I just feel I have something to say what I learned , what I didnt and also to set the record straight. I dont feel anyone knows how my childhood hurt me to this day. It also did some good things and I want to say that. Is there a blog out there?

  • March 30, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    I agree that knowing what I know now about NPD and being raised by one that I will always try to be aware of how people behave towards me. I also am feeling the need to take care of myself, possibly first. I am certainly staying in, no problem I’m an introvert. I am careful to not have my behavior harm anyone, although sometimes it does unintentionally. I also think that is life. And most of us are egocentric, to some degree or another. What I know right now is that I can’t go back to looking out for everyone except me.

  • March 31, 2020 at 9:34 am

    I dont see my comment regarding a blog that I would like to write about my experinences. I went into detail. Does it take a week or so.

    • March 31, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      Hi Linda, there was only one previous comment from you and it was short and is already posted and visible. I’m so sorry if something you put a lot of work into was lost.

  • May 6, 2020 at 10:14 am

    Hi Dr. Webb
    I am 66 yrs old and came upon your findings and explanations of CEN. I am the prototypical profile. I saw both Active and Passive neglect. And those labels just stuck to me. I am married to a lovely woman for 45 yrs. However, she is a Narcissist. I came to the conclusion that I consider her an “Authority” figure. Like I am subservient. always have been. I worked in retail for 46 yrs and served many people but not myself. I was indeed a “go-to” guy that everyone depended on. I am very very sensitive to other people and empathetic to even the most broken people. I attract them. I stopped working 2yrs ago due to disability. Lots of time on my hands. Began reading voraciously about anything to do with spirituality. There had to be more to life than work and pain. Recently had a major spiritual awakening and nothing seems quite the same anymore. Then I found your site and I knew why I am the way I am and all the earmarks of CEN. Maybe now some answers. I also looked into Myers-Briggs and may have experienced what is called an INFJ Door Slam. I am open to any advice you may have. I have downloaded your book to my Kindle. I am glad I found your site.

  • July 1, 2020 at 1:32 am

    Thank you for your work in this area. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I work as a prominent voice in the community caring for others, but have lacked awareness that CEN was my experience growing up. As a highly sensitive child, I became used to my father saying “That’s enough” whenever I tried to give voice to my emotions. My mother only seemed interested in my feelings as something to then share with others in conversation as entertainment. (I didn’t feel mocked but I did feel exhibited, even exploited at times). Yet, they were not ever overtly abusive people; they created a lovely home and attempted to do everything “right.” I have arrived at the age of 45 looking to most of the world like I am fully authentic and realized as an individual, but am actually only beginning to unpack my real feelings. Did I choose this life? Not sure that I did–at least not fully. Pieces of my life are my own, but others come from prioritizing others’ needs/opinions over my own. My life looks good from the outside as that’s a way to make things comfortable for other people. The narcissism of my partner (not NPD, but what I’d say is narcissism that is higher than average and seems to be triggered by the times I express strong emotion) felt comfortable and familiar twenty five years ago when we met (we could focus on his needs, not my own unknown ones!), but drives a wedge into our capacity for intimacy today because I don’t know how to even begin addressing this issue without him getting defensive (and thus exhibiting more narcissism). I guess I need to find a therapist and begin this work. I’m not sure where it will take me, but I’m feeling some anger as I write this. I think that’s a good sign? I almost never feel anger. It wasn’t allowed growing up. Thanks again for your work.

  • July 29, 2020 at 6:24 am

    Thankyou so much for your very interesting articles, which have helped me articulate my past.
    From the age of five, I tried to be mother to my family who suffered serious accident and health problems. Growing up, a large gaping lonely hole appeared in my heart, and on the outside I appeared happy and capable, this pain followed me everywhere. I naturally went into nursing, and left to marry a man who insisted I follow him to further his career, and indeed he rose to the top of his profession, often away and not in contact. The loneliness continued, you might guess the next crisis, an affair and abandonment. Here I was at 50, bereft, and all because, it was other peoples feelings that were my priority. At 70, finally with your help, I am looking deeply into my own feelings, and being brave enough most times, to follow them through, freedom is emerging finally.

  • October 14, 2020 at 9:08 am

    I’ve never read this aspect of it before. Every time I read one of these articles I feel like your righting about me. I avoid having freinds because of this, it’s a lot of work keeping everyone happy. Except me ,of course, that’s never a priority

  • October 14, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    “It’s not your fault” – an incredible line from an incredible movie


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