45 thoughts on “Passive Emotional Neglect Vs. Active Emotional Invalidation: 5 Examples and 5 Effects

  • July 19, 2020 at 9:58 am

    Dr. Webb, this distinction between active and passive CEN is extremely insightful and important to me. The idea of passive CEN helps me understand my relationship to my family. I grew up in a “very good” family, and no one understood why I was angry at them. I didn’t understand myself until I’d done a lot of work. But because, at least in our case, it looked like my parents were doing everything right, it was, and continues to be, very easy for the others to deny any basis to my feelings. I would like to read more about the concept of passive CEN. Are there other resources on this?

    • July 19, 2020 at 10:49 am

      Dear Deborah, I’m so glad you found this article helpful in understanding your childhood. You can find lots of resources to learn more about it at my website emotionalneglect.com.

  • July 19, 2020 at 10:56 am

    Hello Jonice. I was placed in infant care in a hospital for 4-6 weeks as a newborn as my mother required an operation that was planned for after my delivery (for a separate medical issue) . I know that this has affected me in life but I’m unable to articulate how it has affected me. What effects do you think this may have had? Thanks, Jodi .

    • July 19, 2020 at 11:03 am

      Dear Jody I suggest you read about attachment styles as i would imagine this affecting your Reactions and feelings in relationships. And talk it over with a CEN therapist from the list on my website. Your question deserves a personalized response.

  • July 19, 2020 at 11:26 am

    This is such an impactful, useful comparison of the two. Thank you.

    • July 19, 2020 at 11:43 am

      I’m glad you find the article useful, Roz. Take care!

  • July 19, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Reading this I think I had both – my parents’ parenting style was erratic but in most cases effective at making me feel worthless and I definitely find emotions difficult to handle – as an adult I tried to tell them I wasn’t happy with the comments they made about me to other people, but they would tell me they weren’t hurtful and that is how we relate to each other in the family. I have now learnt to respond in neutral when my parents make derisory comments to others about me, and put up a wall to protect myself, at 50 I’ve learnt not to try and justify it but merely try to remind myself that they are wrong and I am right. I am now starting to realise that others may recognise their words as unkind without me needing to comment – I still want to talk out loud for someone to hear me and agree but at least your books have helped me see I’m not the person they tell stories about, and I don’t have to remember my childhood the way they portray it to others. Thank you for helping me on this journey – I’m not there yet but I can see things improving.

    • July 19, 2020 at 2:39 pm

      Dear Victoria, you are in the process o of developing a healthier boundary with your parents. I encourage you to see a CEN therapist from the list on my website. You deserve to be heard and validated by someone who understands.

  • July 19, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    Hello Dr Webb. How would this affect identical twins as children and down the road as parents? It seems very complex.

    • July 19, 2020 at 5:34 pm

      Dear Jen, it is very complex. Identical twins might be treated as one child, such as “the twins” instead of distinct individuals. That is only one of the thousands of ways CEN can play out.

  • July 19, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    WOW! Great article. I have 1,3,4 of passive and ALL 5 of active from my childhood. No wonder I became an alcoholic/addict, had anxiety & depression, ate myself to 104kg (230lbs), was single for 11 years and had so many other issues. I love your books and articles and have used them to improve my life and the lives of my clients. I am deeply grateful to you for your work. It speaks to me on so many levels. I am happily in a relationship for almost 2 years and I regularly send your articles to my partner to help him with me as I progress through my own healing. And I am sure they help him too. THANKS

    • July 19, 2020 at 5:35 pm

      Dear Lorraine, I am delighted to be able to help such a worthy person as you. Keep up the great work you’re doing!

  • July 19, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    Dr Webb, is it possible to have been raised with a combination of active and passive CEN, rather than just one? Some of each apply to me, as my parents each had their “style” of dealing with me.

    • July 19, 2020 at 7:09 pm

      Dear Gregg, yes it is entirely possible! I think there are many more passively neglectful parents who do not actively invalidate their children than there are actively neglectful parents who don’t neglect passively as well.

  • July 19, 2020 at 7:15 pm

    Only after having my own children have I become aware of the emotional neglect I’ve experienced. For 10 years I suffered back pain from an injury and for much of that time I ignored the pain or took painkillers. Finally, only when the pain was too much did I decide to find a way to fix it. When my physical pain dissapated I remembered the emotional pain I’d suffered after 4 traumatic bereavements; death of first love at age 11 in bus crash, murder of my dog at the hands of a farmer at age 13, murder of my girlfriend at age 25 and suicide of my cousin and best friend at age 39. Growing up there was passive and active emotional neglect but it wasn’t until I considered how I would react to my own children experiencing what I’d gone through that I realised I had been deeply let down. The lack of emotional support following the traumatic bereavements luckily make this more obvious than it otherwise might have been. Thank you for putting a name to this. I recently confronted my mother about this and asked why she hadn’t shown more support, her answer; “I had a life!”. I haven’t spoken to my father about it because he has been entirely silent about all of it.

    • July 19, 2020 at 7:37 pm

      Dear Chris, I’m so sorry you went through all of this traumatic loss with so little emotional validation and support. You deserved so much better! I hope you will work to give it to yourself now. It is not too late!

      • July 22, 2020 at 7:32 pm

        Thank you so much for your reply, could you please recommend where I should start with this healing process?

  • July 19, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Dear Dr Webb I’m thinking there’s another type of invalidation, namely shaming. Examples would be where the parent laughs at (not with) the child for being upset or accuses the child of adding to the parent’s troubles by having needs. Am I right in thinking this, or is it different type of abuse/neglect?

    • July 20, 2020 at 8:51 am

      Dear Kara, that is an important point. Shaming is definitely a clear example of active invalidation. Thanks for adding that!

  • July 19, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    The doors to insight into why I am the way I am that your book and newsletters have opened are something I never thought I’d find. Before, I always wondered why SO many other families were so weird and liked to talk to each other and share feelings (both happy and sad).

    The passive/active examples open even more doors. Each new example just opens the floodgates to kind forgotten memories. I am have been able to use the insights on therapy sessions to a great advantage. Thank you.

    • July 20, 2020 at 8:52 am

      Dear Bendy, I’m so glad to be able to offer you the missing piece! Thanks for sharing.

  • July 19, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    Knowing the two types of CEN helps. I don’t know how common it is for CEN to coexist with physical abuse. I think that intensive CEN conditioning of a child would make just little bit of abuse go a long way, enabling the child to be less “needy” or “demanding”. Thus, a parent could have an illusion of non-abuse (I only need to strangle each child once, twice if they’re stubborn, to shut them up for a good long time) , yet still achieve the goal of controlling the children. Or at least that illusion. I believe my father did this. I never felt justified complaining about him because he wasn’t that bad… but boy did it have a profound effect on all four of us, each in different ways. Two of us acknowledge it and have taken action to mitigate the damage. One sort of does, and the fourth does anything to keep from talking about it. Fortunately there was only one grandchild between the four of us who got it passed down to him. Instead of grandkids, my dad saw his family line dwindle and die.

    • July 20, 2020 at 8:55 am

      Dear Bearkat, you can’t have physical abuse in a family without having Emotional Neglect as well. The reverse, however, is not the case. (You can have neglect without abuse.) It’s very sad that your father used such tactics with his children and I’m impressed that you’ve lifted yourself out of it.

  • July 19, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    I can relate to all 5 examples of Passive Emotional Neglect you have mentioned and also as a consequence, I have learned those lessons without my knowledge. However, I did not experience any of the Active Emotional Invalidation examples.
    Until I reached my thirties, I thought I am an independent person and I was kind of proud about it, although deep inside, I knew there is something wrong with me too.
    As mentioned in the article, I find it hard to pinpoint exact events that happened. But I can remember how I felt and what I did about it.
    As an adult, now I know I have undergone Passive Emotional Neglect in my childhood, but still I doubt whether it is because of my personality, sensitive nature etc. I often blame myself for my struggles and often hide my pain from everyone around me (now except my wife). Most of my friends think I know the best and have the perfect life. I always give “I am OK” vibes to everyone. I always feel that “there is no point of telling about my pains to others, they won’t understand it. By telling my troubles, I would only make myself vulnerable.”
    I did read Dr. Webb’s two books and now I am aware of my issues. But still sometimes, it’s difficult to deal with some of those consequences that I often feel “empty” and “burned out”.

    • July 20, 2020 at 8:57 am

      Dear Waru, the thing about passive CEN is that it’s so unmemorable that it seems to have never happened. You have taken a fantastic step by reading both Running On Empty books. Your next step is to allow someone into your world to help you process it all and heal. Please consider seeing a therapist from my Find A CEN Therapist List on emotionlnegelect.com. It’s important that you not be alone with this any longer.

  • July 20, 2020 at 2:37 am

    Thank you Dr Jonice , I have written an email to you in time past but I did not get a direct feedback on that specific mail . I am glad I ran into this article where I can comment. I experienced both passive and active emotional neglect during my childhood and I also have been helping others through my page . I will love to have access to more resources from you . And I also want to asked if I can share your CEN questionnaires and other resources with some of the people that followed my page , I will appreciate your permission . I also want you to be my mentor on emotional neglect . I am a Nigerian and I am based in Nigeria . And childhood emotional neglect is like a way of life . I love to enlighten parent on how it can be reduced in our society . I am passionate about emotional neglect because I grew up being neglected so I really understand what it means . Thank you very much because your articles have indeed shaped my world .

    • July 20, 2020 at 9:05 am

      Dear Audrey, I would love for you to share CEN info in Nigeria. I’m sorry you didn’t receive a reply to your previous email. A great way to access everything I do is to join my newsletter on emotionalneglect.com if you haven’t already done so. Please feel free to share links to my work and this link for your readers to take the Emotional Neglect Test: https://drjonicewebb.com/cenquestionnaire/. Email me at jonice@drjonicewebb.com with any follow up questions. I’m so glad to be helpful in your life and I really appreciate you helping to spread the word about CEN.

  • July 20, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Dear Dr. Webb,

    As Waru said, “I always feel that “there is no point of telling about my pains to others, they won’t understand it. By telling my troubles, I would only make myself vulnerable.” Indeed.

    I know my wife doesn’t understand it and I’ve given up trying. I have withdrawn, as is my involuntary style. I need that energy to keep going. I am in therapy (again) and though I’m making some progress, I feel that ultimately no one will ever truly understand. Being a chronic pain patient as well makes my life truly difficult at times. I thought that being medically retired at 61 would help, but it really hasn’t. I just keep plodding on through my life as I somehow always have.

    • July 20, 2020 at 9:34 am

      Dear Gregg, keep in mind that you cannot change someone who’s not ready or willing. I encourage you to put your energies into yourself, listening to yourself and emotionally healing yourself.

    • July 21, 2020 at 3:12 pm

      My personal “one-two punch” combination to address chronic pain + CEN/childhood trauma is:
      Chronic pain- Dr. John Sarno (Healing Back Pain)
      Emotional pain- Dr. Jonice Webb’s books/newsletters on CEN; Dr. Amr Barrada’s book (Making Peace With Anxiety and Depression)

      The Sarno applies to any bodily chronic pain- I’m 33 years old and have experienced what I thought was sciatica for 7+ years. The pain- or worse yet, anticipation of the pain- caused me to drop or vastly decrease many activities I loved. Though I haven’t received actual therapy as of yet, through simply reading his book Healing Back Pain I have found myself nearly 100% pain free and able to enjoy regular 10 mile walks that in the past would have left me bed-ridden for days, in excruciating pain. Anyone with chronic pain really ought to read Sarno!!

      Drs Webb and Barrada both offer treasured insight into the world of emotional trauma. Webb absolutely knocks it out of the park in accurately identifying what blocks were built around us as children to create effective emotional barriers- making us easier to “handle” by our parents/guardians. We learned to compartmentalize as a survival technique. What a tragedy! She gently hands us a map back to ourselves and urges us to follow the labyrinth of trauma to find our young selves- we can then take “little us” by the hand and lead them out, re-parenting ourselves and finally able to progress as adults. This stuff was NOT our fault!

      Barrada presents exceptional insight regarding our internal thought processes as people who were trained to be overly conscientious- baby perfectionists who grew up to say “Sorry” even when something was someone else’s fault. He addresses how we swing erratically from one voice to another when we talk to ourselves, and what it looks like to achieve a healthy balance instead.

      What I love about all of these successful philosophies is that none of them aim to “eliminate” negative emotions. I believe our negative emotions are key indicators of what’s really important to us, and psychology frequently does healing culture a disservice by claiming any one emotion deserves to be quelled, eliminated, or overcome. Anger, frustration, rage, etc ought to be treasured as needles on a compass. All 3 of these incredible Drs do us a huge service by guiding us to accurately recognize our trauma, so that we might better understand ourselves.

      I wish you all the best!!

      • July 21, 2020 at 4:16 pm

        Dear Liz, thanks for your helpful words for Gregg. I’m familiar with Sarno and Barrada and I agree they are both very helpful. Take care of yourself.

  • July 20, 2020 at 10:31 am

    “A child’s parents ignore his natural mistakes and poor choices assuming he’ll figure it out on his own. This child does not have the opportunity to learn enough from their mistakes. They cannot learn how to talk themselves through their poor choices, learn from them, and then move forward. (I call this “compassionate accountability”). The child is also at risk for developing a harsh, critical voice in his own head that attacks him for his mistakes throughout his life.”

    I’m pretty sure that I did this to my children. Especially my son, since he would never take my advice anyway (but everything his coaches said was gospel – so, I hope they raised him right 😉 ). He’s a very anxious man now, fortunately, he has a therapist and medication. Hopefully, he’ll be able to work out the damage I’ve done/

    • July 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

      Dear Trish, I encourage you to read my second book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. It has lots of tips for you to use now with your adult son. Please know this is not your fault! CEN is invisible and unmemorable, and we all pass it on automatically without our knowledge.

  • July 20, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Jonice!
    Could it be because of cen and childhood abuse, that as an adult, I continue to feel inferior and a “b-class citizen” compared to all the other people? Logically I know, I have been doing quite well in some aspects of life, I have university degree and work for example. In many aspects of life, I think I’m average, ordinary. I think most people are “average and ordinary”, unless you are a Hollywood star or something like that, and it is perfectly okay 🙂
    I cannot find any “proof” that I’m inferior, but I have this feeling persistently, and then feel chronic shame etc. I’ve even tried to “work with” this issue, but it doesn’t disappear. How frustrating…to know something to be true (I’m not inferior) but then secretly, deep down feel/believe that it is true (that I am inferior)! What’s the solution? What will heal this?
    I have never been able to find a decent man for a healthy relationship. My inner dialogue goes like…why would he choose me, when he could choose anyone among the “better” women? This feeling/belief that I’m inferior compared to other women too. Ouch 🙁
    Then I also have this nagging doubt, that do I even deserve the very best-best (like to be treated nicely and with respect in a relationship) if I myself somehow am not the “very best-best”? I’m more than ready to leave this toxic “roller coaster ride”, but I don’t know how, the inner beliefs/identity seem so sticky.

    • July 20, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      Dear Elina, CEN does indeed cause this feeling you have. I saw it in so many CEN people that I named it the Fatal Flaw. For CEN people, it stems from not having your feelings validated or acknowledged as a child. You can learn much more about it in both of my Running On Empty books or at my website, emotionalneglect.com. You can change it.

      • July 20, 2020 at 3:39 pm

        Hi, Elina. Jonice is right. Every person I’ve talked to with CEN has said that they felt inferior. Not a scientific sample by any means.

  • July 20, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Jonice and Gregg, thanks for your replies! Not only were my feelings not validated as a child, I was actually punished about “negative” feelings!! No wonder I might have a “little bit” trauma :/
    I have also this chronic feeling that I’m somehow inherently “wrong”. I can see now why I formed this “conclusion” as a child! It comforts me, when one healer said that the first step (to change) is always awareness! I just realised the mind works in a “funny” way, just now I realised I have probably always been trying to hide or “compensate” the perceived inferiority, it has also made me feel quite “competitive”…I’m quite obsessed with all kinds of beauty treatments for example, as if I’d need to “prove” something.
    Uh-huh…I promise to take this issue now seriously and heal it! I realised I have no duty to carry this trauma and be loyal to it…this is actually not MY stuff at all but originally my parent’s failure. Now that’s an empowering thought! 😀

    • July 20, 2020 at 5:30 pm

      Dear Elina, that’s right! It is not yours to carry. You are on the path to truly healing and that’s exciting!

      • July 21, 2020 at 8:55 am

        Hi Jonice,

        I’m so excited to share….this morning I woke up and felt “new”. I must say I’m over 40 years old and for the first time ever I felt this, light, lightness, RELIEF!! I read so many of your articles (and strangely, I often have the feeling as if you would be talking directly, personally to me!) All my life I have felt, 100% sure, that I’m flawed, inferior, different and weird….that it is the absolute truth about me. It is this lingering feeling, very difficult to grab it..something that’s always been in the back of my mind.
        I have felt so awkward and uneasy, worried that people will pick this vibe from me, that they will too discover this “truth” about me.

        My light bulb moment was when you write that this fatal flaw is not real, it doesn’t really exist. It’s just a feeling. I felt incredible relief!!
        Of course I have “flaws”, don’t we all? Like strenghts and weaknesses…simply because everyone is different and we are just humans and not perfect? But I felt so happy when I realised that I am not some “second-rate” person, that I’m not like 100% flawed in my core! I can already sense how differently I can now show up in life, how much different life I can create with new confidence.
        I think in some unconscious level I used to expect “second-rate” life, like being treated poorly in relationships, very low salary etc. , I didn’t think I could deserve better than that.

        Thank you Jonice for this important work you do!! It makes such a difference in the world and definitely in my life!

      • July 21, 2020 at 12:22 pm

        Dear Elina, thank you so much for sharing your realization! You are right, your life is going to be different now. You will never unlearn this knowledge that you are not different or flawed. Amazing work!

  • July 21, 2020 at 12:43 am

    Dr. Webb, I’ve enjoyed your work and newsletter on CEN. I’m a psychotherapist and my clients with passive emotional neglect usually have the most difficulty validating how their relational history impacts them today. Your writing helps make what is invisible visible!

    • July 21, 2020 at 9:24 am

      Dear Stephanie, I’m so glad you’re working with your clients on this. When you see it, it helps them see it. Are you listed on my Find A CEN Therapist Page? If not, email me at jwebbphd@gmail.com. Thanks for helping CEN people!

  • July 21, 2020 at 10:02 am

    Thank you for distinguishing between passive and active CEN as well as your comment at the end about Emotional Neglect and Emotional Deprivation. This insight is so helpful. I’m an author and coach and have shared your book Running On Empty with my audience many times because it’s helped me so much.
    I’ll be sharing this article of yours on my FB Author page – thank you!

    • July 21, 2020 at 12:24 pm

      Dear Danielle, it’s so good to hear this. I’m glad you’re using your CEN awareness so well! If you are not already listed as a CEN specialist, email me at jwebbphd@gmail.com to find out how to get listed.

  • July 25, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    i would respectfuly disagree with you on the sending to the room in my circumstances. When my daughter gets angry i ask her to go to her room to calm down and when she is ready to come back downstairs so we can talk about why she was angry.I do this to teach her that if she is angry to remove herself from the cause of that anger (safety) and release her anger in a safe environment. throw toys rant etc.Also it is helping her to be able to control the emotions in a safe way.am i making any sense its a variation of what i do when im angry.


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