38 thoughts on “6 Ways Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Affect Siblings Completely Differently

  • March 15, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Thank you. I always enjoy your articles and this one was of special interest to me because I was number two in a family with six children.

    • March 15, 2020 at 11:54 am

      Understandable, Diana. Thanks for sharing!

  • March 15, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. Another point I’d like to add to the HSP arena is those with CEN look into the possibility that they might have Asperberger’s Syndrome. I’m 52 and was recently diagnosed. I have one younger brother, and I’ve wondered a lot about why he never seemed to affected by CEN when I was great affected. Being diagnosed with Aperberger’s now makes everything make much more sense.
    It’s not a common diagnosis, but having suffered from CEN all my life, I’d suggest it’s worth looking into a possible Asperberger’s diagnosis.
    Thanks again for the great post.

    • March 15, 2020 at 3:44 pm

      Dear Christine, Aspergers is much different than CEN but they can certainly be confused with one another. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • March 16, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      I have recently been diagnosed also. The specialist said that neurodivergent children are much more likely to experience neglect and abuse. I experienced CEN and emotional abuse. My siblings did not.

  • March 15, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    My older brother hit the CEN wall much earlier than I. I always wondered why he was having such a hard time, why he couldn’t seem to “man” up. When I hit the wall it all became crystal clear. I called him crying and asked him why he didn’t tell me. Of course, he said he didn’t know if I had been affected the same way. We are now in this together. Our much younger sibling experienced a much different set of parents than us. She has difficulty relating to our experience.

    • March 15, 2020 at 3:45 pm

      Dear Lori, that is an excellent description of what many CEN people experience in their families. I’m glad you and your brother are able to talk about it and help each other.

  • March 15, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    I always read your new posts with great interest; they have helped me so much. But my experience in this aspect is different than what you write here. My family isn’t interested in due to both birth order and sexism/gender issues. In addition, both of my parents were motivated by extreme and unidentified self-loathing. They hated themselves and therefore hated me for being similar to them (in terms of interests, looks, lifestyle, politics and values, etc). They could not relate to themselves and, by extension, me. Do you think this often plays a role in CEN families?

    • March 15, 2020 at 5:25 pm

      Dear Cassandra, this description of your parents’ self-hatred and projection onto you is not necessarily common among CEN families but it surely would be a definite cause of CEN. I’m sorry you have had to experience this.

  • March 15, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    This is a very interesting subject which I have often wondered about. I am the oldest of 3, altho my siblings do not appear to have CEN. I am wondering if it’s because I was 5 1/2 before my sister was born BUT my sister and brother are only 18 mos apart, so they had each other. We had a very happy home but looking back none of us were every cuddled, hugged, told we were loved, or nurtured growing up. Nothing uncomfortable was ever discussed and nothing unpleasant or unhappy was ever addressed. Everything was swept under the emotional carpet. And I will say out of the 3 of us I am the one that is highly sensitive, feel like everything’s my fault, and crumble at the slighest criticism. It’s interesting to delve into this altho it does birng up some pretty unpleasant feelings. I love reading these articles.

    • March 15, 2020 at 5:28 pm

      Dear Carol, you describe a textbook example of the CEN family. I hope the understanding you’re evolving toward is also helping you to work at overcoming the effects of the emotional neglect you grew up with.

  • March 15, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    How do you get it so right doctor Jonice since I have read yo your book and comments on CEN I understand myself so much better and have found closure with my past . Being the second child of five children I was the scapegoat to a very narcissistic mother I only got away from her in my early twenties and it took me many years to admit that there was something terribly wrong with my upbringing you put a name to it and now I understand why I am the way I am at peace with myself thank you for giving this abuse a name you are spot on with all the symptoms

    • March 15, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      Dear Rona, I am so glad to have helped you figure this out. It’s a great start to giving yourself what you didn’t get as a child. All my best to you!

  • March 15, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    Imagine a mother who is revered by my siblings and a husband whom they love unconditionally even though he is unable to relate emotionally due to his Aspergers issue. Leaving him meant also leaving my family as far as supporting their perspective. It has taken me four years of intense loneliness and isolation to find my way towards acceptance of their limitations. Everything has changed for me in a positive way as I have grown in understanding of childhood emotional neglect. I only recently let go of feeling defective because I couldn’t make these relationships work. I now know I wasn’t being fed and I was starving! As I understand my childhood and adulthood I do not challenge my truth and because I am seeing my experience through my own eyes I am actually beginning to experience some peace. Thank you Dr.Webb for your research it has and continues to help me enormously.

    • March 15, 2020 at 7:49 pm

      Dear Paula, I’m so glad you are able to hold your own truth solid and trust yourself. It’s not easy when you have a situation such as yours. Keep up the good work!

  • March 15, 2020 at 10:48 pm

    Dr. Webb, I am interested if you have found any correlates of CEN, specifically childhood obesity or intergenerational trauma? Also, when understanding sibling dynamics, have you heard of non-CEN siblings expressing resentment or indifference toward the CEN-sibling for struggling through life, for not achieving the markers of normal life such as college degree, marriage, having children,home ownership, financial success, etc.?
    Thank you in advance!

    • March 16, 2020 at 7:43 am

      Dear Lived, CEN is a natural part of intergenerational trauma, yes. We do now know that obesity is highly genetically determined, although CEN can increase this challenge if food is used as a self-soother as well. And yes, I hear fairly frequently about siblings resenting the one sibling who struggles the most with CEN. That is a sad situation, as the sibs can’t see what the problem is.

  • March 15, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    I found this very interesting as I have 3 sisters and we have all been affected in different ways. My youngest (the favourite) has some narc traits herself and is quite entitled. She doesn’t see me or my other sisters the way we are as adults and ascribes her negative emotions on to me. She however is the only one of us to have a ‘normal’ life ie a husband and child.
    I have had the most normal life of the other 2 as I have always worked and been independent, had friends, bf’s etc. My other middle sister sees life as dangerous and black and her reality is skewriff just like my mothers was. She likes to be looked after and babied.
    My eldest sister has suffered from huge anxiety all her life and has not worked for 40 years. She is agoraphobic and has severe health anxiety. I think as well as the CEN she is on the Asperger’s syndrome though she has never been diagnosed.
    I have suffered from depression since childhood an am more highly sensitive. I have done a lot of work on myself over the years with much success. Thanks to you and discovering CEN I have made more strides. A heartfelt thanks to you Dr Webb

    • March 16, 2020 at 7:45 am

      Dear Beverley, it sounds like you have thoughtfully considered each of your sisters’ challenges as well as your own. I’m so glad you’re making strides in your own life. That is awesome.

  • March 15, 2020 at 11:44 pm

    Dr. Webb: I have been reading your articles for about a year and really appreciate your knowledge on this subject. I had never heard of CEN before and at the age of 58 I finally had a name for what happened to me.

    I am the 4th child in a family of 9 children. My mom had her first child at 19 and the 9th child at the age of 30. My dad was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive to 5 of us. The first two and last two were never abused. They were his favorites. My mom did not abuse us but she allowed my dad to.

    Of course I was afraid of my dad and couldn’t wait to leave home. I specifically remember at the age of 12 making a decision that I would never cry when he was hitting me or telling me I was stupid. And I never did again cry in front of him. 3 of my brothers affected by this are alcoholics and we have talked about what happened when we were growing up.

    Then I married a narcissist. That marriage didn’t turn out too well.

    I have gone to alot of counseling over the years which has helped but no one ever mentioned emotional neglect as a child. During my adult life I have never really allowed myself to get close to people and have always grappled with my self-worth.

    • March 16, 2020 at 7:46 am

      Dear Carrie, I think you have a lot of potential to overcome this. I hope you will work hard on it and keep at it. It will pay off greatly.

  • March 16, 2020 at 7:16 am

    You are so right about parents losing interest. I’ve I often thought that my mother just didn’t have the energy for me after my two older brothers and dealing with my narcissistic father. She even said to me once about a school event, ‘I don’t need to go to yours do I, I went to your brothers’. My eldest brother was the scapegoat, the next brother the favored child, and I was rebel, in our relationships with my father. And the favored brother turned into a flaming malignant narcissist, worse then my father, from whom I am now completely detaching (at 62) after a final blow up.

    • March 16, 2020 at 7:47 am

      Dear Betsy, detaching can be a very helpful and healthy coping step. I hope you will focus on yourself and healing your own CEN.

  • March 16, 2020 at 11:01 am

    My partners family never talks on an emotional level. They talk about the weather mostly. He always says no one listens to him. We have been together for 30 years. He is kind and sweet and a great guy. His mother never asks any questions about us, etc. She likes to talk about the weather. So weird to me. Never uses emotional words.when talking to her. Is this a form of emotional neglect? He never saw any hugging kissing or any emotion between his parents. His parents hoarded their money. Never had a birthday party for him or any luxury items.he was required to work all summer as a teen.

    • March 16, 2020 at 1:49 pm

      Dear Olivia, this is not only a form of emotional neglect. It is emotional neglect. I hope your partner is willing to learn more about CEN and how it affects the child once they grow up.

  • March 16, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    So how do you parent multiple kids and give each enough? I am about to have 3 and maybe want a 4th someday. Is it even possible not to neglect some kids needs?

    • March 16, 2020 at 1:50 pm

      Dear Emily, it’s possible to have many children and still meet their emotional needs. I encourage parents to take their own emotional limits into account when they decide the number of kids to have.

  • March 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    This is such a valuable article regarding sibling experiences. Thank you so much! It helps to me keep self-validating!

    • March 16, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      I’m so glad Liz! Keep up the good work!

  • March 16, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    I have two siblings, a twin brother and a younger sister. I’m the oldest. While we all have some degree of CEN, I seem to have gotten it the worst and my sister the least. My parents were older when they had us and were from the Depression-era “children are seen and not heard” school. My brother and I were the primary recipients of that. Perhaps because she was a girl, and the baby of the family who had to deal with two older brothers, she got a lot more attention and emotional support growing up. I do believe my parents were doing the best they could with what they knew, however. I’m glad I found you and your work – it is very helpful as I continue my journey. Thank you!

    • March 16, 2020 at 5:27 pm

      Dear Rich, that’s a very good example of how this differential effect can happen. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • March 16, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    I had a BPD father and a depressed mother. I also married a man with the same traits as my father, big shocker. I’ts amazing how random life can seem until you look at the big picture. My brother took his life and my sister suffers from mental illness. I’m the “survivor” of my family but have suffered from the unhealthy patterns I learned from my family of origin. Until recently I didn’t even think I could trust my own perceptions of things. One thing that does throw me about CEN is the happy family description. We never even achieved that veneer. Thanks so much for your work, it has helped me in my journey of self discovery.

    • March 16, 2020 at 5:28 pm

      Dear Sally, that sounds like a very difficult childhood. And most certainly, not all CEN families have a healthy veneer. I’m glad you’re on a self-discovery journey!

  • March 18, 2020 at 8:50 am

    How timely! I have been planning to question this with my therapist when I see her later today.

    I am the oldest of two childen. My brother is 7 years younger than me and he was adopted. Talk about a difference in temperment! My father was extremely introverted, a scientist who was completely disconnected to our family. I am also a quiet, extreme introvert. My mother was surely a narcisist who became a raging alcoholic when I was about 15. She never bonded with my brother and his temperment was very different from ours. He was loud, hyper, began self-harm when he was only two and terribly physically punished while I was terribly emotionally abused. He was still young when my mother started drinking so it only got worse from there. He never made it past the eighth grade. I was given every advantage, went through a great college and have had a sucesstul career despite being emotionally damaged. I became an adult in my early teens as my mother’s caretaker. He became a raging psycopath and I have always been the recipient of his violent wrath. I’ve always only partly understood our differences and you have helped me see why. Thank you.

    • March 18, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      Dear Pat, I am so sorry your childhood was this way. I’m so glad you have a therapist. I encourage you to keep working through your childhood experiences. Take care!

  • March 18, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Sometimes it is oldest child who is targeted. This is the case with both me and my husband. I was the oldest with one brother. My husband was the oldest of 5. We are both Highly Sensitive people with higher EQ. So that was the main reason we were selected as black sheep.

    What happens in these situations is that once a new baby enters the home, the mother thinks that most of her child rearing for you is done when you are still a little child. Oftentimes there is a distancing towards you starting in the mother’s pregnancy. Also the parents rely on you too much for a lot for babysitting, doing housework etc. without much acknowledgment. It ends up feeling like you are trapped in an unreal version of the Cinderella story.

    • March 18, 2020 at 3:02 pm

      Dear Lesley, it is so painful for an older child to be treated this way. You describe it very well. I hope you are working toward giving the little girl inside you the love and care that she never got but always deserved.

  • March 29, 2020 at 6:44 pm

    One of four siblings, I was able to see the variable responses we had to this problem.

    An elder brother merely imitated it, demeaning not only his younger brother, but also his own daughter, until that daughter spent some years levering him out of it – if only within his nuclear family. She told me how critically necessary it was that he not influence her own children through modeling Emotional Neglect.

    A sister not only chose unwisely, twice,to mate with emotionally demeaning and neglectful husbands, but also , if slowly and in later years, began to model and bias her own daughters toward emotional avoidance. She actually exacerbated some of the problems, through blaming a sibling for the misguided grandparental”favoritism” mentioned in the article. In further misattributing the emotinoal attempts of a brother to escape from the coldness of that taught/modeled neglect and avoidance, it appears that she is affecting ehr own offspring, filling them with bias and excuses to avoid normal family relationships. Even though she is an accomplished RN dealing with emergency room crises , she appears to define any emotional display as malingering.

    Another brother, far too exposed to the combination of an emotionally crushing father and a mother who compensated by attempting to steel her children from emotional development – squelching any and every display, has essentially no, interaction with the family. His entire scope of interaction is extremely shallow, when not overtly avoidant.

    All are unreachable. I try to sensitively bring our now-elder mother toward greater temerity, from her original stoic suffering, and from her counseling of her children to suffer in silence. This, in hope that due to the lifetime deep emotional bonding of humans, may percolate to her rather dissociated offspring.. So far it has not shown fruit, but at least it eases her feelings, AND, very importantly, gives her reason to remain engaged in healing, thus leading to her better health, as it’s a goal most worth pursuing!

    ( I haven’t passed her my copies of the two Running on Empty books, as she has always sheltered in religion, and becomes extremely wary in response to my even mentioning tenets of psychology and emotional care. I often have to phrase situations within her religious beliefs, although that placebo teaches, and forcibly remains highly dissociated from life and its value)


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