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Childhood Adversity

Love and Wealth are Not Enough

What's the most important ingredient for a happy life?

Philosophers, clergy, psychologists and researchers of all kinds have offered opinions on this question over the last five decades. Some say wealth, some say religion. Still others say family is the most important thing.

But one factor emerges over and over in study after study as a primary ingredient which must be present in childhood to produce a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult. That factor is emotional attachment, warmth and care. In a word, love.

This factor was recently studied very specifically by Harvard researchers (Vaillant, 2012) who wanted to compare the effects of childhood financial wealth with childhood warmth. By following over 200 men (yes, only men) over an extended period of 70+ years, they were able to identify clear patterns. They saw that childhood financial wealth has little to do with adult success, satisfaction and adjustment. And that parental warmth and care throughout childhood is a much more powerful contributor.

Some may wonder, “What’s the big deal? Don’t virtually all parents automatically love their children?”

In my years as a psychologist, I have seen for myself that money is not enough to raise a healthy child. But I’ve also seen that love is not enough. At least not the generic, “I love you because you’re my child” kind of love.


Childhood Adversity

A Secret Cause & Cure for the Socially Anxious

The Fatal Flaw: A deeply buried, un-nameable sense that:

Something is wrong with me. I am missing some vital ingredient that other people have. I am set apart, different. I do not quite fit in anywhere.

Fortunately the Fatal Flaw is not as bad as it sounds, because it’s not a real flaw. Instead, it’s something far more powerful than a flaw. It’s a feeling.

Legions of people walk this earth held back by something which they cannot understand, and for which they have no words. It’s a feeling with the power to hold brilliant men back from achieving their full potential, and powerful women back from becoming presidents of companies. It’s a feeling that will not break you, but it will dog you. It will keep you standing alone at the PTA meeting, or sitting pretending to work while others chat freely at a conference. Unaddressed, it can set you apart so that you feel alone, and gradually wear away your connection to the world.


Childhood Adversity

Got Issues? It’s All Your Parents’ Fault


Everything that’s wrong in your life is the fault of your parents. Whatever your struggles, your mistakes and your pain, you are not to blame. You are an innocent victim of those who raised you.

At least that’s the way some folks interpret my definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

The definition of CEN: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs. People who grow up this way go forward into adulthood out of touch with their own emotions, feeling empty, alone and disconnected, and are baffled about what is wrong with them.

Here’s a comment that was posted on Ten Steps to Learn Self-Discipline:

Are you saying that when a parent fails to teach their children this skill well enough, that parent is guilty of Childhood Emotional Neglect? This article was insulting.

I’ve received many such comments. They point to one of the biggest barriers I have encountered in my efforts to bring the concept of Childhood Emotional Neglect to more people: the discomfort of blaming the parents.

Despite the overwhelming body of research proving it, many people strongly resist the fact that their parents’ treatment of them in childhood had a profound effect upon who they are as adults. It is uncomfortable to blame our parents for the problems and issues that we experience in adulthood. It feels like letting ourselves off the hook. Some people consider it “whining.”


Alexithymia

Big Boys Don’t Cry: The Emotionally Neglected Man


Luke prepares himself to walk into the office party. Despite his reputation as the most helpful and productive salesperson in the company, his self-confidence flies out the window when he has to face people socially. “I never fit in anywhere,” he thinks to himself.
Often they are referred to as, “the strong, silent type.” They are giving, reliable, stand-up guys. They may be excessively driven, but that drive is mostly to provide for their families. They are there for others but ask for little in return. They are baffled by other people’s emotions, and typically just want to escape when anyone cries, yells or shows intense feelings of any kind. They live in dread of the moment when their wife says, “I need to talk with you about something.”

Feeling numb, isolated, empty and alone, these men mistake their intense individuality for strength.  But since they are out of touch with their own feelings, they sense that they lack some vital ingredient that other people have; and deep down, they feel overlooked and unseen.


Emotional Awareness

3 Ways to Harness Your Brain’s Power & Change Your Life

Between psychology, medical science and neuroscience, we have never known so much about the human mind. Recently I’ve been amazed at the number and quality of studies which are showing us the amount of pure power our brains have; powers that are truly amazing. Powers that change the meaning of the old phrase, "put your mind to it."

Here are a few of my favorite discoveries of what our brains can do:

Build muscles and increase your metabolism: In a study by Ranganathan, et al., 2004 a group of people who listened to guided imagery of themselves going through a strength training work-out built almost as much muscle mass as people who actually did the work-outs. Scientists think that the mental process of imagining a work-out releases the same hormones to build muscle that are released during an actual exercise session.



Alexithymia

Man vs. Woman: The Effects of Childhood

Do boys and girls respond differently to the same childhood experiences? How do those differences play out as the boy becomes a man, and the girl grows into a woman?

In my work as a psychologist, I have seen remarkable gender differences in the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). First, a quick review. 

CEN in a nutshell:

When children's emotions are not validated enough by their parents, they minimize and push down their feelings in order to get along in their family. As adults, they lack enough access to their own emotions. Since emotions are a primary source of connection and richness in life, these folks end up going through their lives feeling vaguely empty or numb,  disconnected, and confused about what is wrong with them. You can see other results of CEN in the table below. (To learn more about CEN, visit EmotionalNeglect.com).

When boys and girls grow up this way, are they affected differently? Does a CEN man feel differently than a CEN woman? The answer is yes.

First, two caveats: The masculine effects often appear in women and vice-versa, so please do not take these differences as absolute. Second, these observations are based upon my own clinical experience and have not been specifically researched.


Alexithymia

The 5 Essential Steps to Change A Personality Trait

People don’t change.

Or do they?

It has long been believed that personality, the ingrained set of traits that determine our behavior and decisions, is entrenched and virtually unchangeable.

In the late 1990s, psychologists identified five traits which are believed to form the basis of personality. They are:

Openness to experience
Conscientiousness
Extroversion
Agreeableness
Neuroticism

The notion that personality is not changeable has been tremendously impactful upon the population at large. For example, people diagnosed with personality disorders have felt sentenced to a lifetime of discomfort. Introverts and extroverts have resigned themselves to the negatives that go with each style as permanent limitations.

But now a door has been opened to a new way of thinking. A way of thinking that may forever alter how we view personality, personality disorder, growth and change.


Emotional Awareness

The Four Greatest Psychological Discoveries of 2014

Every day of every year, scientists toil away in their efforts to understand the workings of the human mind. What makes us happy? How do our emotions work? What should we be doing differently in our lives to make ourselves healthier, happier and stronger?

Each year, a few studies stand out as particularly helpful by outlining a clear path to accomplish a better and healthier life; studies that everyone should know about. Here are four such studies from the year 2014. I hope they will help you to shape your coming year.

We look for happiness in all the wrong places: We typically think of major life events, raises, large purchases, and success as the main sources of happiness in our lives. 



Childhood Adversity

Stressful Family? 10 Mantras to Get You Through the Holidays

Is your family happy and supportive? Are your holiday family gatherings warm, loving and festive? If so, that is wonderful. And you can stop reading this article now.

Is your family complicated? Do you often feel hurt, pained, disappointed, damaged, or let down when your family is together? If so, this article is for you. Never fear, help is here. (For more about painful family dynamics, take a look at last week’s article, 4 Subtle Family Dynamics That Can Ruin Your Holidays.)

No, of course we can’t fix your family issues before this year’s holiday gathering. But we can give you some new tools to get you through it. One of the most powerful tools to cope with a painful family is a mantra. It’s a sentence that you repeat inside your head over and over throughout the day. You can call upon it whenever you need to feel calmer and stronger.  It serves to remind you what’s really going on in your family. It focuses your attention, and it provides you with the strength and resolve to get you through the day.

While going through the list below, choose the one that feels most right to you. It should be one that you can feel in your gut. It should make you feel a little stronger as you say it.

Here are Ten Mantras to choose from:


Alexithymia

Invisible You

This comment was posted on the Ask Dr. Webb Page of my website.  It describes an experience that many can relate to: the feeling of being overlooked.

I have a question about invisibility. I was at a study group and afterwards everyone was chatting with each other except me. I had this overwhelming feeling of being invisible. It brought me almost to tears. Then, just this past Saturday I was standing with my husband and other men when a lady I knew came up, stood right next to me and asked where all the wives were. I said “I’m right here” and she replied “I didn’t see you.” I’m not sure of what to make of this.

Are some people overlooked more than others? Yes.

Is it because they’re less interesting? Less important? Less vivid? No.