Childhood Emotional Neglect Discussion Page

 

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**This page is not intended to provide psychotherapy advice or professional services of any kind or to replace a clinical relationship with a psychologist or therapist. It is meant only to share understanding, information and support about Childhood Emotional Neglect.

I’m sorry that I can’t answer individual questions on this page. But I hope you’ll feel free to participate in the general discussion, which is filled with insightful, thoughtful comments and responses.

706 Comments

  1. LG

    After reading Running on Empty and a short course of therapy I have begun to realise the extend that I have been effected by CEN. I am one of eight (I am the third eldest) and my childhood was far from happy.

    My mother had depression, OCD, anxiety and eating disorders and as a result she was mostly at home although we hardly saw her as she would sleep almost all day. My dad tried everything to make her happy buying her lavish gifts like a pedigree dog, phones, computers etc. and rarely ever spent money on us, even making us feel guilty that things like food were so expensive. Although they did give us food (most of the time), clothe us (hand me downs) and put a roof over our heads, there was never any emotion there apart from annoyance and frustration on their part.

    I remember my dad hugging me once, well, I wouldn’t really call it a hug but a loose arm around the shoulder. My guinea pig (one of my only friends at the time) had just died from a heatwave. When we first got him I wanted to keep him in my room but my dad refused so the poor thing baked in a boiling hot shed in the garden because of my dad. It took me absolutely balling my eyes out to get even a limp arm around me which he quickly removed before going inside, leaving me to cry alone.

    My parents certainly never said that they loved me, I remember once asking my mum what the best thing she ever did was. Her response? “Having you children”. I remember thinking, well that is strange because you certainly don’t act like it was the best thing that ever happened to you.

    Because my parents had so many children it was hard for us to get the attention we were so desperate for. I tried really hard in school despite struggling in my early years, eventually I was getting good grades and I wanted my parents to see how good and smart I actually was. Whereas most children would dread the “parents evening”, I wanted my parents to go, but they rarely ever attended. One year I made my dad promise he would go, thinking this was my great chance to shine I organised all the appointments and sorted out the times with each of my teachers. What really happened is my dad ran off for three days after an argument with my mum.

    My parents were never interested in what I was doing, I remember being really young and taking part in the christmas play and looking down in the audience with everyone else’s parents grinning and smiling at my classmates. I just remember feeling so sad that my parents were not there.

    As there was quite a large gap in age (7-8 years) between me and my older sisters I was often left with the responsibility of looking after the younger four children. This put a lot of pressure on me to grow up and be like the favourite older sister (2nd eldest), who received a lot of attention and praise from my father.

    Today, I struggle in so many ways. Thankfully I have a loving and caring partner who is willing to give me plenty of hugs but even then I struggle to open up about my feelings to him. I ignore my emotions until the “emotional vault” I put them in becomes so full it explodes in fits, leaving more guilt and shame in its aftermath. When I do receive praise the happiness quickly passes and I am left with only sadness that my parents were never able to see what others obviously could.

    I am in the process of trying to identify my emotions and understand them but it is very uncomfortable and I am often surprised how intense these emotions I have been trying to hold back feel. I hope one day I can move on from everything that happened to me (or didn’t happen) and live a better life.

    Thank you Dr. Webb for writing RoE.

    Reply
  2. Nobody

    Hello,
    If any of you would know about my life, you would be amazed how I’m still alive. Of course I ‘m not saying I’m the worst case out of all there is, I just realized how my life is pretty bad. The main problem and the only thing I’ve been struggling all my life is fear, I just live by fear. Probably a good thing I’m a female, if I was a man.. I’d probably be a serial killer. I just want to let everything out, because I have NOBODY to talk to or anybody that would listen. I’ll start from the very beginning, and you’ll be the judges.
    As far as my memory goes and what I can remember, when I was 5 or 6 my mom left me to nanny’s cause she was working (I understand that). I stayed in that nanny’s house for about 2 months, she would beat the hell out of me for no reason, she would mock me by forcing me to eat pumpkins all time (this is why I hate pumpkins). I remember precisely how one day she got a metal and beat me with it, in my head (I still have that bump).
    I loved it, I loved it so much that I was the happiest person on the Earth. Now the man she married (I call him my dad), he was a great person.. such a great person. There was always plenty of food, nothing was limited (considering that all my life before I stayed hungry). I was happy, I was so happy that I would say I was the President. I went to my new school, it was fine at 1st but then I got always bullied and it kinda hurt me in some way (that moment I didn’t know how to stand up for myself).
    Everything was good for me, but mom and dad argued everyday, I remember how my mom would yell and yell at him, he would just apologize and go crazy because she made him crazy (I saw everything). My dad was a military worker and also worked for the navy, he was a very good person, he had to leave often. Those moments, mom became friends with our neighbors and left me to their house. She would go to UK to meet an old friend of hers for a fling, I knew this because when she came back she would tell all about it to her friend. Her friend was good, I liked her, she was nice to me, always fed me and she believed in God and tried to tell me how God is always there. She had 2 children, who were super nice to me. It was my 12th Birthday and it was the best Birthday I have ever had in my entire life, everything was like in normal families, parents, friends, cake and presents. Everything was good from there, Christmas, New Year and every occasions went well. But before my 13th Birthday mom went psycho and she said we were leaving (I don’t know why), I understood how my dad felt and I felt sorry for him. We went to UK, stayed at her sisters house (which had a pedophile husband). All those time my mom was married to my dad he supported mom and I financially, so she didn’t have to work. But I didn’t understand why she wanted to leave from dad, we had a very good life. From that moment I left school and never went back to school till this day. But before that, I guess she was super energetic, she leaved me at her sisters house for days and left God knows where. Her sister’s husband would come on to me while watching TV or using Internet, the funny thing.. I knew what it was. But before he ever did something her wife would notice it and just tell him to leave. Soon we had to leave from their house, I guess her sister knew he was a pervert. Mom rented an apartment, got a job and I stayed there always. It went like that for some time, then we would go back to dad. It was good, then after time she would leave again and again, in an year – 12 month period she would travel at least 4 or 5 times. Spending so much money on airplanes and everything. But most of all, sometimes my dad’s income wouldn’t last, and we had to sleep in airports, in some buildings, people’s houses.. as if we were homeless. It went on like that for years, back and forth, back and forth. My dad started working 3 jobs, even then it wasn’t enough. I don’t know why we traveled back and forth to different Countries, it made no sense. Apartments, hotels, airport terminals, people’s sofa, cars, are the places were mom and I spend times at and slept. We would get hungry and go around trying to find food or any change. AGAIN as I am an adult now.. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! We had a lovely home, a great dad, good income and she wanted that?! So in all of this, it comes back to her friend Gail.. she lets us in her home. Until this moment even thought I was somewhat abused, my mental health was fine. Everything changed Gail. At Gail’s house, mom and her are talking about adult stuff and I go to the kitchen and tried to make a coffee (it was a shared apartment), Gail would come to me and say ‘what the hell are you doing?!’ I would reply trying to make a coffee, she would stand there and tell me disgusting things, I don’t know if I can write it over here, but I’ll try to make it more nicely, she would say ‘you’re going back and forth the kitchen and the bathroom because you want men, you want their private parts, ah you little…, you want it so bad, look at you, you’re so pathetic, haha, you are so stupid, you think even those men would want you?! You are you ugly and fat, your… wants some…. well how would you want 10 men at the same time?!’ It was worse what she said, and mom would look at me and laugh at me, she laughed so bad and Gail too, I got very angry, I was crying and mom said ‘don’t cry, save your tears when 10 men will…. you, don’t show it to me, what you want some, want some?! Gail came closer to me and I got afraid and I started running, I ran to the bathroom and locked the door, she opened the door and beat the hell out of me inside the tub, she beat my ears so badly that I couldn’t hear, she spit on me, and called my mom. Mom came and said to stay there. I came out at yelled and said what have I done wrong, was getting a coffee a bad thing. They laughed, and I said I will die and I will kill myself. This is what they said ‘go ahead, you think we care?!, you can die, do it, do it now, die and die and burn in hell. Now the question is, what have I done wrong that time?! What was my fault?! That time my mental health changed, psychologically I changed, I started to become a new person. I hated everyone, I hated people and I hated myself, I hated God and I wanted to die all the time. I was only 14 years old.

    If any of you wanna know how my mother’s insults are.. it’s very severe. It will make even a normal person sick and just wow. She talks very nasty. I tried once telling her that she made me sell my body.. she turns everything against me and makes it as if it’s my fault. She loves accusations, and she certainly loves making fun of me. Starting from my appearance to my personality. Before I never knew why, now I know it’s because she tries to make me feel insecure and bad so she will have power over me. I just hate it, how she keeps telling me everyday that my body is so bad, everyday, about my face, about my personality. And most of all.. she keeps telling me that she gave me a very good life that every child would dream of.
    All in all, I love her in a some way cause she’s my mother. But I don’t forgive her and this doesn’t mean I don’t hate her. I just want to leave her, I wanna get out of this and never turn back and start a new life and erase everything.
    Thank you for taking the time to read this very long story of mine.

    Reply
    • Ann

      I am sorry that you have been through such pain, you deserve so much better than all of this. I feel like you are making excuses for your mother, I believe the only way for you to heal is to remove yourself from this abusive relationship as soon as possible. If I was in your position I would stay with a friend or possibly seek out a woman’s shelter to try and start a new life. Do not let her know where you are or leave anything behind that she could use against you in the future. You are 25, around the same age as me, don’t let this woman control you no longer, you don’t owe this woman ANYTHING. Go and live the life you want to live! One of the hardest things I believe with CEN is asking for help, go find the help you need, and do it now.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Hi, Dr. Webb. When will your new book about CEN be published, please?

    Reply
  4. lvglawfirm

    Your work was very impressive; I really appreciate the research part of it which made your article very rich and understandable. Overall you have done a great work.

    Reply
  5. Dana

    So I have a question? I’m seeing a man who has three amazing children that he loves deeply. The wife and her family are the ones that pushed for the divorce. They are very wealthy and so fighting for custody was a struggle. He did however manage to get the most amazing visitation schedule I’ve ever seen and he will move mountains to be with his sons. He never misses a single visitation and even creates new and inventive ways to be with his children more often, like volunteering to coach the little league team so that he can see them on game days and practice days. Also volunteering to be the boy scout leader which will give them even more time together. I am in awe of his love and relationship with his children. However, the middle son has recently started to discuss with him about his feelings concerning his mother. The oldest son gets most of her time as well as the baby. He is the middle son and actually made the statement that “she doesn’t see me”. His mother has completely over scheduled him as well. She has him so tied up with two or three different tutors each week, (and he is brillant, no tutors needed) physical trainers, and countless other things that he doesn’t even have time to attend his bothers ball games or any family events for that matter. Mom attends to the oldest while leaving him home alone most days. He recently got upset because his shoes for falling apart and he needed new ones. My boyfriend tried to take him to buy new ones and the son refused to let him. Said that his mother was suppose to take care of that. She had one of her “people” by him some shoes on line but they were the wrong size. They are sitting in the house waiting for her to return them for the correct size and have been sitting there for 4 months. He still refuses to let his father spend the money. Mom is a millionaire, dad is trying to rebuild his life. Meanwhile he is walking around with ratty shoes. He says that he feels as if she doesn’t see him and it brings him to tears. My friend has asked the question of him, “what can I do for you son?” he says nothing dad, You do so much already. But my friend feels he needs to be able to do more. The wife will not even speak to my friend. I’m not even sure she would be willing to sit down with him and discuss this matter. She refuses to speak to him as it is. There is no co-parenting. I am witness, he does the best he can but she doesn’t make things easy. What can he do for this child??? What can I do for this child???

    Reply
    • Adam Kilongozi

      Dr Jonice thank you so much for the article on Emotional Neglect. You have really exposed me to something that I wanted to know. I would appreciate to receive more articles on this to improve parental care to my kids.

      Reply
    • Charles Grooms

      Provide as much emotional support as possible, it will help to make up for what the mother can’t or won’t. If therapy is in any way possible that would be best.

      Reply
  6. Holly

    I read your book a few years ago, and it was just what I needed. I remember crying as I was reading, recalling the vulnerable moments as a child when I had been emotionally neglected and had blamed myself. It was very healing. I worked diligently on the activity sheets provided, and found my coworkers commenting with admiration on how much more assertive I had become.
    Your book has made me a happier, more carefree person, and I’m actually capable of relaxing and enjoying life now. I review sections of it periodically when I want to refresh my skills in a particular area, and have enthusiastically recommended it to family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    Reply
    • Sherry Farrow

      For someone like me who always seems to be teetering on the fence about books and products to help me, I so appreciate you taking the time to make this post. I will now read the book! God bless you!

      Reply
  7. Marty

    I loved the first half of this book describing CEN, the causes and symptoms. What a revelation! I felt understood and felt I understood myself and the world so much better. A real life changer! However, when I got to the second half of the book where Dr. Webb discusses how to treat CEN, I felt like asking “did you read the first half of the book?” Specifically, I had a lot of strong negative feelings about the “force yourself to do things you don’t want to do” and exercise/nutrition check sheets. It feels like my entire life has been forcing myself to do things that have no meaning, connection, desire associated with them. So much so that, eventually, I just gave up. The only things I had any interest in doing at all were generally addictive behaviors. They were the only things I had any feelings about that were at all motivating. Even though addictions cause their own problems, it was SO NICE to wake up and actually WANT something — ANYTHING! My parents were all about responsibility — chores — following through — going to church every sunday — all things that seem to teach good self discipline. But, I don’t think they ever backed any of it up with any emotional reason to WANT to do any of it. It was the right thing to do. I was SUPPOSED to do it. But, in a gray, meaningless world, I had no idea WHY. In my experience, just forcing myself to get into the habit of good self care will not create an emotional connection to it. It’s just another action I have to force myself to do in a gray, meaningless world — like every other action — except it’s more difficult and unpleasant. Just what I need! Without any meaning or connection or desire in life — it’s not about “not wanting to” — it’s about why even bother? Just forcing yourself seems like trying to “walk off a broken leg.” If you could do that, you wouldn’t have the underlying problem to begin with. So, I don’t see how the assigned tasks in the book help get rid of the empty meaningless, desire less existence caused by CEN.
    That being said, the book is a life changer — and I will do my best to work at the assigned tasks diligently — even if I don’t see how it all ends up helping me connect with my emotions or the world around me.

    Reply
    • V

      This is really relatable. Thanks for posting this. From your description, I would feel the same way about any tasks that encourage me to just bite the bullet and do what I don’t feel like doing. That’s exactly what my childhood was, emotionless discipline-driven. I’d like to lend you a thought I’ve been chewing on and just recently took action on recently – the idea of finding help to connect with inner resources of nurturing, love, and care. Specifically, I’m referring to DNMS. Perhaps you can read about it online and find that it could help you. I personally like that it doesn’t take this tough love approach to caring for our Vivneglected inner selves. It is very gentle, particular, and requires professional guidance, as I think the case should be.

      Cheers!

      Reply
    • Ken

      Like many other emotionally neglected children, as an adult I have been intermittently plagued by a lifetime of self doubt and low self esteem. I struggle also with being mature. I hope it is not an embellishment to say I recall my parents fiercely arguing when I was young, and I had a dreadful feeling I was in my own. My parents were estranged for a lengthy period. My mum was then a solo parent. My only sibling, who came later, when my parents were happily reunited, has fared better emotionally. Although married four times! Emotionally fragile and reluctant to commit, I have remained independent. I have always strived and largely succeeded in being thus, throughout a long and largely uneventful life. This independence has helped me significantly on occasions, as I am my own man, and seldom accept the stupidity found in private and government bureaucracies. In dealings with them, I have acted as a catalyst benefiting others besides my self. But, this independence, as I now realise, is at a terrible cost. Affection and intimacy play little part in my life. I have never had a long term relationship with anyone, but am saved by still having a good sense of humour. I am now beginning to accept myself. At 76.

      Reply
  8. O H

    Hello everyone,

    Has anyone been in the situation of loving someone with CEN, while being affected by this himself/herself? I recognize many signs of CEN in the man I love, signs that I see in myself as well. The issue is, I tried explaining to him my concerns about MYSELF and he tells me he sees nothing wrong with me and I should stop self-sabotaging. But it’s hard to connect emotionally to him as we both have no idea how to do that. He asked me, how can he get involved and present? And I had no idea what to answer him.

    Anyone? Help?

    Reply
    • Marty

      When I was reading the part of the book about vertical questioning, I thought “NOBODY likes to do this!” lol. I’ve always had partners who might happily help me explore my feelings — but become irritable and confused when I try to get to know them on a deeper emotional level. I get it. I grew up that way. And, I don’t really want some soul-mama type constantly digging at me trying to get me to open up. Obviously, I have some issues around emotional as well.

      I’m going to ask my partner to read this book. I’m not sure how big an issue CEN is for him — but I think many people have some issues with it. It’s just that many people either don’t want to look at it — or they’ve looked at it through some other prism and have made some sense of it in some other way — and don’t want that understanding threatened. For example, my partner goes to AA — and might think that addiction was his problem and not CEN — and doesn’t really want to hear about any other theories because he feels the problem has been solved — at least enough to get by.

      Still, asking them to read this book would seem to be a good opening for understanding where you’re coming from and discussion.

      Reply
  9. catmad

    Hi I came across CEN recently by accident and wow did it strike a very strong chord with me. Like others on the surface I had a good childhood with a nice home, enough food etc. My physical needs were all met. But emotionally it was completely the opposite. My mother had very strong ungoverned emotions and let fly on a regular basis leaving me and my sisters on the end of constant verbal abuse. I was always told no one liked me, I was obnoxious etc. and I was the main scapegoat of the family. Everything was always my fault. I grew up shamed, guilty, depressed. I learnt to build a wall against my emotions and to this day am often detached from them and don’t really know how to manage them.

    From the age of about 6/7 I remember almost nothing about my childhood apart from being very unhappy like a stone was weighing me down. I didn’t know what or who I was. Something died in me then and I have never been able to get it back. It was the ability to love and trust.

    As a consequence I have suffered life long depression. I suppress my emotions and have no idea how to control or make them work for me – I am terrified of them. I have never been able to have a normal life ie a partner or children and in my 60’s now am still suffering from my childhood. I have done a lot of work on myself over the years otherwise I would have topped myself many years ago. But too much damage was caused over too long a time. I always feel alone and unwanted and empty inside. No one would miss me if I wasn’t here.

    I look at the damage done to my sisters too. One is agoraphobic and has suffered GAD all her life, another has a personality disorder. It breaks my heart to see all the damage my parents did to us.

    Reply
    • memyselfandi

      Catmad, your post describes my feelings completely.

      I had a wonderful childhood and wonderful parents with a stay at home mom and a wonderful dad that worked his butt off nights to provide for his family. He never complained, just showed love and caring for his family. We had a nice home, food on the table, two week long family vacations, etc. All I remember was a happy childhood.

      My mom was an only child who’s dad mentally abused her and my grandma often by not talking to them for weeks at a time. They lived with my great grandma for years; as folks did back then and oftentimes the only person he’d talk to was her. After he passed away, my mom told me this story and how her and my grandma were afraid to make even the smallest noise that would set him off.

      Coming from this type of environment, my mom was always very critical of me. I was the scapegoat and she’d often tell me that I needed to set an example for my little sister. She gave me few compliments. One time I read the Christmas letter she sent out to relatives every year and everyone was all fine and good until she got to me. Not one good thing was said. I was basically hell to raise.

      I’d try to help out with cleaning, but she’d always go back and do it herself as what I did just wasn’t good enough. When short skirts were in, she’d make me wear ones down to my knees. When long hair was in, she’d tell me how horrible I looked when I was growing my hair out; in addition to telling me how other folks commented that I looked like “I crawled through a knothole backwards” I’d come down from my room ready for school and she’d remark on my choice of clothes, “You look like a busy highway..”

      It didn’t stop there.

      She hated the fact that my dad and I were so close. All my friends had 10-speed bikes and I was still riding around on my old home made bike. One day my dad found an old used one, repainted it, and gave it to me. Instead of being happy for me (as I’m sure it wasn’t a secret my dad was doing this for me), she said, “You got what you wanted, didn’t you??!”

      I too grew up ashamed and guilty, always trying to please. Like you, I learned to build a wall against my emotions and to this day, I detach myself from them; having no idea how to manage anything negative.

      Thus, I also suppress my emotions..especially anything negative or argumentive; I remove myself from. There are times my heart rushes and I am terrified for no reason.

      Although I still can love and trust my family and my husband; I have issues trusting others due to my fear of not being accepted. Most of the time I find safety and comfort just staying home and not going anywhere, nor getting involved in the things I used to enjoy.

      I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety; yet sometimes I feel it’s worse than my MD believes it is, as I hide a lot, always putting on a happy face. More often than not, I feel alone, unwanted, and very empty inside. Nobody misses me when I’m not there and I have few friends. It’s not even like I’m a “Debbie Downer” or anything as I’ve been told I should come out more; I’m a lot of fun. Yet it’s just too much trouble..I feel much safer in my own four walls.

      Reason being, I’m so unconfident with myself, I’m always trying to please others, and the list goes on and on. I wasn’t always like this as I used to really enjoy my life…yet there was something wrong that I always kept blaming on someone else; when it was actually my own deep seated guilt or shame from my childhood.

      Thanks so much for your post Catmad..it really hit home.

      I’m so glad I ran into this website as it’s tuned me into what’s been weighing on me all these years and what I’ve been pushing into the back of my mind.

      Reply
  10. Merry

    At the wizened age of almost 60, I’ve slowly accepted the fact that the death of my “being” occurred so, so long ago that I often feel like what remains is just a smokescreen of a person. Like so many in here, my childhood was riddled with dysfunction that wore the masks of drug abuse, of narcissism, of sexual molestation, of neglect, of violence, and of jealously to name a few. A family of too many children, too little love, too much genetic malfunction.

    And today, I walk around an empty shell, sadly able to acknowledge what passed me by as a little girl and accepting that it never makes a return visit. And I speak of love–an unconditional love– that soaks into your skin and bathes your soul with a warmth so pure, no evil can steal it. But sadly, the parents of this gaggle of children had no ability to show or give love. And like cannibals, we devoured any signs of love for that showed weakness. And the blade of ridicule and mockery was brandished quickly if a weakness was sensed.

    Emotional neglect was our calling card.

    But when the matriarch of this “clan of the lost” was recently laid to rest, I found I felt nothing but a strange sense of relief mixed with a rumbling sadness that rolls through me like a wave. And leaves me with the eternal question:

    What Was My Purpose?

    And the answer for me has been to undo what was done to me.

    I married very young and pregnant after drifting through life aimlessly. We raised four children and remain happily married today. And there is love in my new family. Deep love. But I sometimes fear that love is like a dandelion in seed and a swift wind will wretch it from my hand forever. For you see, a childhood void of unconditional love is like a twisted gnarled hand: it may function but it will never know the true joy of wholeness. And yes. It is a wholeness that I lack. And not a wholeness based on external features like beauty and status. But a wholeness that makes me believe I’m likable and worthy.

    I’ve been told I’m odd. I’m standoffish. I’m intense. I love being alone too much. I’m driven to perfection. I’m hyper-vigilant. I ruminate. But what people don’t get is: How else would I have scared away the monsters that stole my childhood?

    I can only hope that the family I built only continues it’s upward flight towards true, unconditional love and that one day, I can look back on my family of origin not with ill-will and distain and fear but with pity that our struggle was such that we were left damaged. And that my remaining guilt of “surviving” my upbringing becomes my cloak of honor.

    Thank-you for listening…

    Reply
    • Bern

      Reading this while I lay in my childhood bedroom of my parents house, making myself, my husband, and our 3 kids spend a weekend with their grandparents. I identify with everything you’ve wrote. It makes me feel a little validated in my own way. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Chuck

    I never thought I’d be talking about something like this. I have been very good at lying to myself, convincing myself that my childhood and family was great. The fact that my parents provided a safe home, food, vacations and all sorts of “stuff” coupled with the fact that they didn’t do the extremely horrible stuff like constant beating or sexual abuse made it easy for me to lie to myself. Then, at 45, I found myself betraying my wife through an extramarital affair and a marriage counselor, after spending 30 minutes talking to me, looking me in the eye, telling me that I was deprived of my basic childhood emotional needs. Now it is coming back in torrents. Realizing that I was continually punished for expressing a feeling or desire. Remembering all of the yelling and screaming and “spanking”. Remembering the false accusations; one so bad that my mother actually believed up until recently that I robbed a liquor store because she thought the person in the security video “looked like me”. I’m a reasonably successful, management professional with a home, a 401K and all around OK life without so much as a traffic ticket; I don’t rob people so why in the world would she think something like that? Is she mentally ill? I remember all of the sexual talk and things that would take place in front of me as a kid, as if I was not there or I was a nuisance. There was the attacking (to this day) of anything I liked or wanted to do if my parents did not agree or understand it. Everything was bad or dangerous and other people, especially successful ones, were bad. Being told over and over for years that “The little man can’t get ahead” and “Don’t ever think you are good at something because there is always someone better”. Being told once that “I can’t believe you could be good at that because you “are so uncoordinated” or some nonsense. As an adult, being treated like the 4th grader who didn’t want to go to school one day and faked being sick; having that episode thrown in my face at 35. I remember the 5 year old little boy who cut his knee in a bicycle fall which subsequently resulted in a serious infection. I could barely walk and my dad assumed I just didn’t want to go to school, dragging me out of bed, yelling and spanking me. I eventually ended up in the hospital for a week with constant IV’s and daily draining of my knee. I almost lost my leg. Why didn’t he listen to me or believe me? Why did my mother allow it? Years later my grandfather told me that my dad “felt bad about that”. Why didn’t my dad ever tell that to me? Why did he continue to scream and berate me, sometimes when I had done something wrong but too often when I hadn’t? Why was I called lazy over and over again by my father when I was a bright kid, anything but lazy? That stuff adds up and, while you may not believe it on the outside, you do inside. I really don’t know how I have managed to be a productive citizen. The worst part is that everyone thinks my parents are wonderful; they would never believe me. In many ways they are wonderful; they are friendly and giving with others but they are very immature inside. I feel like I’ve wasted 40 years lying to myself, telling myself that things were good. Now I am here, facing the truth, with a wife who is rightfully angry at me. I’m also shocked to finally see reality; to see who my parents really were and are. I feel like I woke up in a crazy, sad new world. I’m seeing a therapist weekly which is something I always thought I was too much of a “man” to do. I’m on the fence between just breaking off contact with my parents or creating a superficial relation ship with no more enmeshment. Strange how all of this suddenly came up. I guess my subconscious had enough, I don’t know. What I do know is that it isn’t fun.

    Reply
  12. Michael

    Just finished reading Running on Empty – and it has been a wonderful journey. Thank you Dr Webb for shining a light on so many of my issues and helping me label them and begin to understand them.

    Emotional neglect makes so much sense and I hope it becomes a much more recognised area in therapy.

    Reply
  13. Tom

    Would love to see CEN Support Groups on Meetup.com Is that a possibility?

    Reply
    • Marion

      I would also like to find a group or meet up.
      Finding out about CEN is like the emotional holy grail. Just reading other peoples posts has made me feel almost normal.

      Reply
  14. Frank

    Thank you, Jonice, for your groundbreaking insights into CEN and for your book which has been such a help to me. I sometimes encounter a problem for which I can find no solution. It arises when parents describe their children’s behavior and personalities and I recognize they are describing the effects of CEN; or sometimes I know their children and can see for myself the symptoms of CEN. I want to offer help by suggesting your book and website, but hold back because I fear the parents will see my suggestion as a condemnation of their parenting skills or of them personally. Can you suggest ways around this problem? Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Allen

    My story is similar to many here. I am so grateful to have found this book and website. I’ve always wondered why I felt different than everybody else. I’ve also carried guilt about not being able to remember essentially anything about my childhood. I have been blaming my poor memory when in fact there probably is nothing to remember. I have a few scattered memories of my childhood but that’s about it. I’m amazed when my wife can remember seemingly unimportant details from when she was 5 years old. I literally know nothing about my Dad except for the fact that he was a bible thumping authoritarian and nothing about my Mom except that she never said she loved me. Funny thing is I thought until recently that my childhood was completely normal because I had food, heat, and clothing. I’ve read the first little bit of the book and I was inspired to put onto paper my current state of mind. I truly believe some os this is related to neglect.

    When in a crowd, I believe I am being watched. I am intensely fearful of authority figures and everyone is an authority figure until proven otherwise. I am uncomfortable in social interactions. I feel like I am responsible to carry a conversation. And I feel like I’m being watched. I believe I am responsible for other peoples feelings, that I can control any situation enough so everyone is happy. I needlessly procrastinate. I don’t know what feelings feel like. I’m emotionally empty. I am hyper vigilant to the needs of others and neglectful of my own. I don’t think I have any needs. I could easily live a life in isolation. I don’t need anybody. I feel fear, guilt, and shame. I don’t feel sadness, ever. I literally do not remember 95% of my childhood. I feel overwhelming responsibility to take care of the needs of others. I feel like I am different than everyone else, that I notice things that other people don’t. Like I have a special gift or something. I am intensely fearful of criticism. Therefore, I am a perfectionist. I am highly successful professionally and simultaneously emotionally bankrupt. If I were to die, I’m not sure anyone would care.

    I’ve managed to kill two marriages and sink to the depths of hell in alcoholism. Recovering from that, I really would like to recover my heart and rejoin the world as an emotional and spiritual creature and stopping missing my life. Thank you so much for this resource!

    Reply
    • Joshua

      Allen please hang in there. If you keep this type of self awareness up you’re well on your way to true recovery. Do not quit my friend. You are worth the time and effort it takes to heal! Please remember that.

      Reply
    • Babs

      Allen I’m a 36 year old woman. Almost everything you wrote that described your social experience and need to please is identical to what I experience for as long back as I remember. Additionally, my only memories as a kid were disappointment when ANYONE didn’t seem to like me (even an un returned smile would make me so sad). I usually tap into others’ feelings even if they don’t tell me that they feel a certain way. I’m empathetic to a fault and profusely apologize when I didn’t do anything wrong.

      Reply
      • P

        Allen, Babs – me too, pretty much.

        41 – adult life of veering between mother figures, addiction growing throughout, finally left isolated just like you’ve described.

        The mother (my mother) – demure, serious, religious, largely uneducated – hasn’t ever hugged or been physical in slightest, nor given a free compliment of any sort, toward me nor now her grand-daughter. Has complete inability or unwillingness to reflect on herself while reliably wanting ‘the best’ at a deeper level. Not unfriendly, just deeply wounded and deeply unconscious. Yet still I try to make contact on this subject as a deep feeling exists that if there could be the slightest acknowledgement of ‘what is’ – that in itself would be tremendously healing/freeing. Furthest I can ever get is – ‘I am who I am’ and ‘we’re all different’. The guilt, shame, inhibition caused by this relationship is going to be the sadly defining factor of my life if I don’t figure out a way of breaking free. Still looking for a word of approval on my basic character, that she thinks I’m ok… it’s not forthcoming, won’t be.

        Reply
  16. Francis McKenna

    My name is Francis and I suffer from emotional deprivation disorder. From the diagnosis I am aware that bonding with anyone or indeed anything is emotionally impossible. I don’t know if you would like to email me if you think that would be helpful. My email address is elfran49@hotmail.com. I really hope and pray there will be healing for both of us. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis

    Reply
  17. J.R.

    I found my way to Dr. Webb’s book after learning about Emotional Deprivation Disorder (EDD), a concept similar to CEN in many respects. Like others, I was struck by how many CEN symptoms described me to a T, especially the feeling of emptiness and of being on the outside looking in. My parents were not bad people, but they were young and inexperienced and, I have come to realize, emotionally neglected themselves. They were simply not capable of providing the nurturance a child needs. They may have loved me but they did not want me, and it showed. Now in my forties, I have never had a romantic relationship, never said “I love you” to anyone, never even been on a date. I have few friends, most hardly worthy of the word, and I am careful not to disclose anything too personal, ask for help, or otherwise show weakness. I don’t trust anyone. I feel a profound sense of loneliness, but I can’t stand people and just want to be left alone most of the time. I cry a lot from the despair, then get angry and punish myself for being weak and stupid. Sometimes that brings me out of it. I am grateful for Dr. Webb’s work for helping me to better understand the origins of issues and control the behaviors that result.

    Reply
    • Tom

      I have hydrocephalus and was born with it. I am in my fifties and have not had a long term romantic relationship. It is very difficult admitting that I too was a victim of CEN. My parents possibly did not know how to nurture someone with my disability and I also find it very difficult to make friends. I have been to a psychotherapist which did not help to much. Learning to accept my situation has been a task in itself to this day. I have managed to accomplish things that I previously was told I was not able to do although that does not help with regard to expressing feelings from within. It is difficult to accept the fact that I am different. My hydrocephalus caused my head to get big when I was born. I was ridiculed unmercifully in high school which caused me to retreat inside myself. It appears that looking into Dr. Webb’s book might just help out in a case like this in order to regain a sense of self. I wanted to share my feelings. I read your post and felt I related to you in some way with a sense of feeling left out.

      Reply
      • J.S.

        Hi, Tom. I think there are a lot of people who suffer from emotional neglect, more than anyone realizes. I can only imagine that having a disability on top of it is its own kind of hell. Dr. Webb’s book is very good — if you are anything like me you will probably recognize yourself in many of the personal stories recounted therein. The description of feeling like an observer, like you are on the outside looking in, was particularly resonant with me. Psychotherapy can be helpful, but it is important to find a therapist who is a good fit for you. Sometimes you have to shop around. I feel like I should say something positive or hopeful here, but the truth is I don’t have much hope. True healing would mean placing trust in another human being, and that is something I will never, ever do.

        Reply
  18. Sophie

    I realize, looking back, that I had little contact with caring adults and minimal contact with children, except for my two brothers. My father did love me, but was not present much of the time. Nobody knew me because my family moved to a new home and I attended a new school every year, until I was 12 years old. In school, children sat in desks and only spoke when asked a question. I do remember a grade 1 teacher asking “Would you like me to show you how to write paragraphs?” I did feel that my teachers liked me and believed in me, when they had a few moments in a week, to show this. i think that they were my only source of affection and guidance and I am grateful for their impact. I have a very big, extended family, but we had no contact with them, whatever. No adults or children visited our homes and we were not taken to any place where we would have social contact. I missed a lot of what was going on, because I needed glasses. My mother did not emotionally neglect me as a punishment. It seems that she neglected me because she resented me. I think that she was envious that I tried to salvage my life, from the very beginning and to make something positive of myself. I consistently needed as little as possible and did everything that I could think of to be acceptable to everyone around me.

    I always acted, as much as possible as if everything were fine. Inwardly, I blamed myself and experienced much distress for having acute self-consciousness and fear of not being perfect enough. An observant adult watching me would have possibly noticed signs of profound fear and distress. I also tended to be very appreciative of many things that people take for granted.

    I would very easily be able to recognize signs of neglect or abuse in children. I have stood up for children in the community, when I saw that they were being harmed in some way.

    If psychological care professionals, such as psychiatrists and therapists could visit classroom, once or twice a year, and comment on any apparent concerns, they could possibly prevent problems. They could develop methods of teaching parents or bringing other caregivers into the lives of suffering children. This would be of tremendous value to society and would save vast outlays of funding after irreparable harm has been done.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Sophie, I have been on vacation and haven’t checked for comments on my website for several days. I’m now approving yours along with others that were waiting. Sorry for the delay.

      Reply
      • Sophie

        Dear Jonice,

        Thank you for putting up my comment. I see that you have provided many valuable ideas on your sites. It must be very fulfilling for you to have discovered this area of need and to be able to help so many people. with your insights.

        (I can’t be reached at this email.)

        Reply
      • Barbara mortkowitz

        Dear Jonice
        I have your book and am trying to sign up to take the quiz, but your sign up page won’t take my email. ! Help

        bmortkowitz@me.com

        Barbara mortkowitz
        650-302-6213

        Reply
  19. Vadussa

    CEN has made me realise so many things about myself, and for almost half a year now I am experiencing a major spiritual shift. I feel like Im being born again/ going back to being 5 years old (where I got stuck) and as amazing as it feels, I need to teach myself from there how to listen to my emotions and basically, develop my EQ which my parents never did. Does anyone know any sources/ videos to learn how to parent oneself emotionally? Maybe through affirmations? subconscious reprograming or online therapy?

    Reply
  20. Grace

    I undergone my parents divorced when I was about 12. I just recently started seeing a therapist after being beaten up by my constant relationships failure. In my last session there was not much to talk about my last relationship, but I was exploiting about an argument with my mom just the day before. My therapist pointed out that since I was back at home (after almost 4 years living abroad) I hadn’t been able to establish a serious and healthy relationship. He started using a technique where he used a sort of riddle that just confused me. He said it was meant that way. Anyway, besides the argument, I just grew angry at the possibility that my mother’s (and maybe my father’s) drama is the underlying reason why I have challenge with my love life. I have two younger siblings and they seemed fine. They are not married, but still have a family. My brother just separate from his wife and my sister is happy together with two young kids. I wonder how comes I was most affected? what the fact that my siblings were still kids? I’m not sure if my therapist was suggesting I should move out. This is the day after my therapy and I’m feeling extremely tired and emotional and I’m not sure how to overcome the feelings.

    Reply
  21. crybaby

    I have just finally realized that I am an adult child who suffered from fairly severe emotional neglect. I have been struggling so much these past two years to overcome my feelings of inadequacy, disconnect and anger towards my family. Only now that I understand exactly where this is stemming from, I don’t know how to move past my anger and blame. I have been isolating myself and finally decided to talk to my parents about it. When I did, their reactions were an exaggerated version of the neglect itself. I am pretty lost as to how to move forward. I love my parents, but I can’t stop feeling so angry and disappointed with them.

    Reply
    • dfk

      I seem to cycle between anger, fear, and shame. Shame and fear are the worst, so I think the anger comes in to relieve me from them. But when I feel anger towards my parents, I also feel that the rest of the world is in sympathy with my parents, so then I feel shame or fear that I am angry with them. And I just go back and forth.

      Reply
      • Kathan

        I also struggle with anger toward my parents. And I relate to your feeling that “the rest of the world is in sympathy” with parents. Then I feel ashamed for being angry about something no one else thinks is a big deal. What do you feel fear about?

        Reply
        • David F Knutti

          The fear is hard to describe. It is like not knowing what you are, just being an observer but without having any identity. I think it comes from childhood where I was not responded to, and had no information about a sense of self, or who or what I was.

          Reply
          • dfk

            Actually, those things were how I interpreted myself, but the fear was about abandonment. I was never threatened like that, but I grew up feeling like I might have to be on my own entirely. Also, I do now even feel that other people are good, decent, kind, noble, honorable, real, deserving, and I am kind of painful and hurtful to them, in their opinion, and so I have to have good reason to be around them, or I shouldn’t be in their presence. If I make a mistake, I feel a lot of shame. I can see why I feel that way from how my parents acted. They each thought of themselves as the victim of the other one. When Dr. Webb talks about needing access to feelings, it sounds benign, but mine are really painful.

          • Lori

            The fear for me comes from historical fear of my needs not being met if I showed feeling, needs etc. I am learning to have compassion for the fear which is working well

      • Anonymous

        I have been going through a cycle of anger, shame and crippling guilt over the last 30 years. It used to be more balanced but now the anger is lasting longer and is so much stronger. Even after talking to a therapist. I don’t like having the anger still, I want peace from this pain but at least it is better than the guilt. I know that in sympathy for them story – nobody in family, friends of them past or present cares about what they did. I used to think that if they had known when I was a child, someone would have done something. Now I realise people just by and large don’t give a damn. Find friends who value you really. Really. Fake family will make you crazy if you stay with it but real friends will help you feel like you have real value.

        Reply
  22. Jim Coulomb

    I’ve always felt that I didn’t feel right. “No more Mr. Nice Guy” was the first book that I thought really knew me. Until yours…It explains a lot! Thank you very much! My suicidal thoughts have been entering my mind on an off for thirty years. I’m going to TRY to start being present with how I feel(emotion). I don’t know if I can, but I’m not going to stop trying. Thanks…

    Reply
    • Laura

      “I’m going to TRY to start being present with how I feel(emotion). I don’t know if I can, but I’m not going to stop trying. ” I can identify with that statement. I closed my eyes, imagined a blank wall and felt NOTHING. I will keep trying.

      Reply
  23. SMC

    I grew up in southern Africa and considered myself very lucky to have a fun, adventurous and adrenaline charged childhood: plenty of wildlife safaris, extreme weather events to wonder over and many truly wonderful family times spent together. My dad was particularly exciting to be with and all us kids (my brother, sister and myself) vied voraciously against each other for his attention. My mom remained a steady reassuring calm presence in the background. Both parents worked hard in the business they established a week after having married, continuing to work throughout our childhoods even when we were babies and we were looked after by a maid. Those early days were tough times for my parents as they struggled with their business while having to cope with three kids under the age of five. In addition they volunteered for every committee available: town council, PTA, church council, WVS, swimming club, while we waited in the car for them to finish so we could all go home. We didn’t mind too much though, we had grown used to all the free time we had, but it wasn’t long before my school work suffered. I spent an entire year without completing any homework. I was a frequent attendee in school detention and felt shame when laughed at by my class peers every time I came last in class. I had to retake that school year which taught me a lesson. The only interest my parents showed in my work was when my report arrived home, showing poor grades. I had to select my own stick from the tree outside for my dad to hit me with, and hear more of what I had heard so many times before “why are my kids so bloody lazy? Or “why can’t my kids be like so and so’s kids?” I was used to it but remained utterly devoted to my parents and continue to feel that way about them even today.
    I left home at 17 after what I thought was a happy, good enough, typical childhood and was not prepared for what happened next. Simply put, my parents immediately became uninvolved with me, rarely seeking contact: few visits and few calls in forty years. In contrast I made an enormous effort to call and visit them, always feeling very welcome to do so but never encouraged nor invited and contact has remained entirely one sided. Thinking that maybe they felt unsure or anxious over making contact I have regularly spoken to them to provide reassurance attempting to restore mutuality, but my appeals went nowhere and over time I came to realise that they placed their effort in avoiding contact. They have lied to me so often my head spins. My situation is similar to that experienced by my sister and to a lesser extent, my brother. I recently found out that my sister received a letter from my mom when she first left home: when she was newly married, recently graduated and in her first job, to say that my mom was terminating her relationship with her and never wanted to see or hear from her again (apparently because my sister hadn’t replied to some letters my mom had sent her). My sister’s reaction was to ignore the letter. About 10 years ago my parents did visit me and when I said goodbye to them at the airport my dad turned to me and said “you are a lovely girl, we are very proud of you, we have had a wonderful time, and we will never stay with you ever again.” Those last words he said clearly one by one so there could be no mistaking them. When I later asked my mom why he had said that, she said, “Did dad say that to you? Now why would dad have said that?” Yet she never came back to me with an answer. If my parents were badly abusive people I feel that I could draw the line and move on, but because my experience of them is so full of ambiguity and conflict I feel truly stuck as I just can’t understand what is going on. With hindsight I can now see that there were abusive elements to my childhood as well as neglect. I remember one day when my dad deliberately targeted me in a display of his semi-aroused genitals. It had never happened before nor happened since. I was repulsed and confused but considered that he had done it for my own good as I was entering puberty. It was only when my son reached a similar age that I realised how destructive it would be to him if I were to have done similar. Or when, as a young child, they left me with an elderly couple after school so that I could experience a home environment while they were at work. I was terrorised by the man as he kept approaching me with a knife threatening to cut me open so that he could count how many peas I had eaten. My parents are unlikely to have known about this but when they told me years later that he had recently been released from prison after having served time for fraud, I wondered if my parents chose to place me into their care as a way of re-introducing him back into society. Having read “Running on Empty” I am considering the possibility that my dad is either narcisstic or wmbn and that my mom might be either a narcisstic or even a sociopath but I doubt that I’ll ever find out. I am left confused, guilty, and bereft and the owner of an enormous store of love and longing which I am denied but can’t eradicate.

    Reply
    • alii scott

      I just read your account of a seriously traumatic childhood and ongoing craziness of your South African family. Truly your parents sound crazy. As is so often the case, there is a mixture of good and bad which makes it confusing to make sense of. It sounds as if you do have good perception however and I hope you can continue to believe the veracity of those perceptions ever more.

      Reply
  24. dfk

    I read your book some time ago, and looked all over at other stuff, but can now appreciate the value in it. I would like to put in a plug for captions on your videos, I don’t know how hard that is. I was just looking at one of the videos from 2 yrs ago about the type of parents, and it seems like mine were a little of all three basic categories, selfish, burdened, and oblivious. They didn’t speak to me unless they had to. Later, when they thought I should be able to do certain things, I found I had no confidence to do them. CEN is very diabolical, it looks like nothing bad is happening, but wow. And as a child I was so obedient, and feared making any mistakes, so they thought everything was fine. I was terrified, but since I was always terrified, it didn’t seem odd. My older brother got two years of fairly good treatment before things fell apart in the family when I was born, and he gets along much better in life. It’s the early years that count the most.

    Reply
  25. ADIE

    Today my six year old daughter stayed home from school with a tummy bug. I had her on the couch and I was stroking her hair and kissing her temples. I asked her if she liked me fussing over and she said “yes, because you care for me”. It reminded me of how my mom never came to check on me when I was sick in bed as a child. As I teenager once I had terrible menstrual cramps and called my mom to pick me up from school. She refused, saying the exercise would help with the cramps.
    My parents were good parents, made sure we were well cared for, and I guess that was their way of showing love. But they never once said they loved me or even hugged me. Both my parents are very uncomfortable with displays of physical affection or words of affirmation.
    I have two daughters and I have made a conscious effort to give to them what I lacked growing up – my attention, affection, hugs and kisses, etc.
    I want to be their ‘soft place to fall’ in this world!

    Reply
  26. Angie

    My story is a mother who was physically and mentally abusive and a father who was mentally abusive. When I was small my mother would tell everyone that my pediatrician said I would grow up to be schizophrenic because I walked on my toes. I heard this story all the time growing up and would cry myself to sleep and bargin with god about being the best little girl in the world so I wouldn’t grow up and be schizophrenic. She would also play a song called Angie Baby about a girl who went crazy she said it was her favorite song and she bought the album and played it constantly while I was growing up. My name is Angie. My father used to whisper in my ear all the time that I looked like a hog and my skin felt like hog skin so I was very afraid of anyone touching me or hugging me because they would feel that too. He also peeped on me while I would change clothes or take a bath I found holes in the walls. My mother would beat me about once a week with anything she could get her hands on belts, shoes, brushes etc. She is a rageaholic. My mother and father told family and friends that I was crazy and a hypochondriac all my life, looking back I think it was to cover their tracks if I ever spoke about the torture going on at home. I’m estranged from my family because of this. My cousins, Aunts and Uncles tend to believe these stories because they started when I was 3-4 so there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to change their minds. My mother is a nurse so she is well respected so my family has always believed her. I ended up married at 19 to a very abusive person it was pure hell. I had my daughter when I was 20 and that propelled me to start standing up for myself. My husband came from a very abusive background too so I’ve helped him get better too. It’s been a long hard road with many many ups and downs but we’ve been married for 29 years now and we do pretty good. There is hope for us if we stay aware of our bad patterns I would say my trying to be self aware and stopping myself from repeating bad patterns has been so helpful to me and me accepting and loving myself warts and all. Also there are many many more terrible stories about growing up not enough room here. Good luck everyone, Angie

    Reply
  27. HBFJ

    Please consider providing printable and/or downloadable PDFs of your worksheets. I am reading your book on an iPad on iBooks. There doesn’t seem to be a way of printing or downloading the worksheets from the app.

    I have suffered CEN, and your book has explained much of what is wrong with me and my life. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it has been helpful.

    Reply
  28. Peggy

    Hello to everyone, I have only recently read about CEN but I would like to add another form of emotional neglect that is receiving attention elsewhere, but which I can see is nevertheless an important aspect of Emotional Neglect. Dr Jonice may or may not be aware of it. Bella DePaulo PhD has coined the word ‘singlism’ to cover the widespread but often unacknowledged stigma against those who are single. For example, I am aware of all the approval and celebration of self by family, friends and community that happens on one’s wedding day. This is often seen as a rite of passage to adult maturity and usually comes with high social, community and institutional approval of ‘the happy couple’. A converse situation of this is what can feel like the parallel emotional neglect that happens when e.g. an always-single person has never been acknowledged, given the social thumbs-up, or otherwise approved of or celebrated by close friends and family, or society at large, throughout her adult life. It can feel like a real emotional loss. The single, or always-single, status is also discriminated against in many laws, travel and insurance arrangements, and so on, thus increasing the feeling of personal emotional neglect and stigma against the single status. I am just mentioning this here as it feels like a really valid case of emotional neglect but it doesn’t arise from childhood so much as not engaging in one of society’s most favoured rites of passage.

    Reply
  29. James Freund

    If it were me, I’d put energy into building new relationships and getting whole and strong. When you are absolutely unassailable, then maybe reach out to your mother. Or not!

    Reply
  30. grace

    I grew up believing that my mothers needs were more important than mine. I had to be perfect, show respect, and never give any inkling that I wanted something different that she was willing to provide for me. In return, I had a roof over my head and clothes on my back, but lived in a house devoid of affection.

    So, of course I was interested in relationships with guys from a very early age. They would pay attention to and talk with me. However, because I was prevented from having an active social life, most guys would break up with me or not want to pursue a full relationship, because I wasn’t really available for it. Since I was not given freedom to build relationships with others, I spent most of my high school years participating in conversations with classmates through online chats, emails, and phone calls, but little to no quality time.

    Fast forward 10 years and I am finally in a place where I am able to make time to be intentional about building relationships and allowing myself to spend time with others. I just had friends over to my apartment for the first time ever and it felt great! I have hope for me and my future kids, but after finally confessing to my mom about all of this, I don’t think she wants to put work into building a relationship with me.

    Reply
    • Mary

      I’m so sorry Grace. Your mother sounds cold and self-absorbed. She may not change much. Sounds like she has so little to give and probably doesn’t even know how to help you. But it also sounds like your starting to nurture yourself and your starting to build connections to other people. I wish you the best.

      Reply
  31. Willow

    The emotional neglect has damaged me so its very hard to heal the sexual abuse that i did suffer from. its all convoluted. i think i’m not allowed my emotions, that i’m actually bad. to be able to be emotional in front of my therapist is so very hard. i can’t heal the other pain properly until i can accept my emotions. i’ve now been diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder, because its been years and years like this despite therapy. but i’ve got the right therapist and the right therapy now so i feel more hopeful. embracing my emotions is the first struggle. i have a shallow relationship with my mother who cannot show love (she too was sexually abused and she’s repressed motherly loving expressions) but i know it wasn’t her fault and i’m not angry any more. i’m sad though. luckily i’m getting the kind of therapy where i can get a cuddle and i’m learning how to ask for it. most of the time i don’t know i have these needs and if i recognise them i don’t quite know what to do with them. but i’m willing to change this. luckily the therapy is not limited in how long i go for. because its so invisible and i act like i’m less than… a lot of therapists haven’t recognised this block. my current one a few months ago apologised for not seeing me, she fed into my own sense that i’m not important some how. this led me to expressing emotions and i felt i started to turn a corner into opening up. i’m used to being invisible. i feel that she is the first person to truly “see” me. what a relief.

    Reply
  32. KM Marie

    I stumbled on the website talking about being raised by parents with low emotional intelligence and it finally explained my upbringing and my inability to connect with other people; something I struggled with in the workplace and in my personal life, only now coming to terms with it. That website led me to the book “Running On Empty” by Dr. Webb. My situation might be unique, in that I was raised in an abusive controlling religious cult, one that encouraged my parents’ low emotional intelligence and made their disorder grow and grow as they deconstructed my personality and left me lonely and isolated. I am now in recovery and blogging about my personal experiences has helped me to actually understand how I was raised and maybe I can help someone else in my situation. Thank you to Dr. Webb for writing this book and I look forward to purchasing it and reading it.

    Reply
  33. Norbert Steiner

    My wife and I are both what many people call “Children of Holocaust survivors”. Seven of my mother’s siblings and their children disappeared, as did a total of 14 siblings, half siblings and step siblings of my father. My mother saw her father being shot for stepping out of line to help a fallen woman. I grew up in Vienna, Austria where Anti-Semitism is still alive, while my wife was brought to America as a baby, with her parents by the actress Marlene Dietrich.
    My therapist never mentioned CEN, but I believe that she is treating me for that. I took the questionair on your website and answered 16 of the 22 questions with YES. Yet, I am not sure if Emotional Neglect is entirely appropriate for me, though it may be for my wife who refuses therapy and insists she can take care of herself. What was missing from my life was not love but recognition as an individual with a future – the future was never mentioned or planned for and my individuality never recognized. Back in Vienna my sister and I recognized that something was missing from our lives but we could not identify it until we came to America.

    Reply
  34. liv

    Will keep it simple, don’t have the energy to elaborate excessively. i live in Western Australia and i have been searching for answers for so long.

    Dismissed by my mother from age 10 after she left my Dad.
    She then remarried a guy that hated my guts and would never talk to me, then said I would never talk to him. She divorced him too and married 2 more times after. she continued to dismiss my exsistance.

    13 years of age i moved out and lived with my friend from school where i had some attention.
    16 years old i wanted to move back home to mum and she said find somewhere else to live.
    She rarely makes me feel welcome in her home to this day or my kids.

    17 year of age i spent the next 14 years in an abusive relationship of which i was very near murdered. he went to prison for 9 months.
    she did not care, neither did my dad, he thought i was having an affair, this was not true as i had body image issues.
    mum said the father of my kids bashed me because he loved me so much and wanted things to work. Mum also said i only wanted to get married for attention. Mum said i was draining and i needed to get a life and get my shit together.

    Well i have done that alone and with a great struggle.

    I have been a single mum with my kids since 2012.
    I am studying my nursing degree and working.I
    I am a shit parent because i am always tired and i love to sleep all the time. My kids love me deeply and i love them too.

    Reply
  35. Admin

    I hope this is ok Jonice, because this page is not the platform to ask and answer personal queries. Accordingly I have created a forum where people with CEN can come and share stories, find support, and help each other in their recovery. You can find it here: http://centalk.forumotion.co.uk/

    Reply
  36. LaLa

    I was emotionally neglected by both parents. It’s affected me alot as an adult. I deal with depression, anxiety and have a hard time when it comes to dealing with people and the past few years it’s been a struggle to hold down a job. I really have no support from anyone. I am in therapy but still feel so lost in the world. It feels better to just be alone because I am so misunderstood and feel so invisible. I also grew up in a dysfunctional household. I just want to feel normal.

    Reply
    • Phil Blaustein

      I was physically and emotionally abused by both parents. I have not experienced the kind of negative feelings your talking about. I was very sociable, got along well with people and had no working problems. I’m sure there have been consequences to my upbringing. I think I heard the term Teflon child. I’ve been married for 47 years and have 2 children.I have a good relationship with my son and a bad relationship with my daughter. Probably do to my upbringing.I gave her very little emotional support. Didn’t know how. One thing is for sure. I was never romantic to women which is one defect I’m sure. Didn’t know how. I never saw my parents hug or kiss as a child.

      Reply
    • Grs

      Lala, feel the same.

      Reply
  37. Aria

    I’ve discovered several months ago of the possibility that I may be a victim to CEN. When I heard of this term, I felt like all my struggles in life have finally made sense, and I had a huge breakdown even though I’ve been emotionally numb for the majority of my life. I have a hard time accepting it despite the fact that I have nearly all the symptoms and have questionable experiences.
    I’ve never been close to my mother, and my parents divorced when I was 3. I can’t remember much of that time, but I do remember calling my father a couple of weeks later after he left, crying and begging to see him. I don’t remember my mother comforting me after the divorce. Maybe I just forgot? I’ve been living with my mother since then, and I realize now that may be the reason I am the way I am. Since I was a child, I remember never feeling emotionally connected with her. I’ve never experienced moments of bonding between us, and I never thought anything weird of it. I thought that’s just how it was between us, and that others were too emotional and overdoing it with affection. I remember once she tried to comfort me as a child when I was in the hospital, but it was awkward and uncomfortable for me. I remember looking forward to see my dad visit instead. I remember crying in the car once with her in the drivers seat when I was older, and she sat in a silence that wasn’t all that comforting and said nothing at home. While I see she means well sometimes, I don’t remember her ever saying she loved or cared about me. I only remember her briefly praising me for my grades or a few minor things.
    The only affection she’s ever shown towards me felt forced and not genuine and in jealousy of my closer connection to my father. However, I’ve never felt connected with anyone throughout my life, even my father despite being closest to him. I only saw him every once in a while as a child, and with time, we stopped seeing each other less. We see each other once a month now and barely talk. He’s the only one that I believe actually might care and love me for who I am because he shows it continuously without fail, but I still don’t believe he does, because I feel unlovable. That’s why I avoid any kind of relationships, also for the fact that every friendship I’ve had feels empty.
    I imagine that if I ended up living with him after the divorce, I would have been happy and not living with these needless struggles. I always feel like my case of CEN is mild or non-existent and exaggerated. That I’m overthinking this. Maybe I’m just forgetting the good memories with my mother and I’m making all of this up to cover the fact that it’s my fault? I don’t know whether I’m in a state of denial or if I’m just being realistic when I say that I haven’t suffered from emotional neglect as a child. I’m still quite young, but I feel so defected and broken, and have always felt that way.

    Reply
    • Chuck

      The reality of CEN for me is being out of touch with my real feelings. It was never safe for me to show any emotion, especially anger, or express how I felt about anything growing up. Most of all my relationships since then, our devoid of any true intimacy. I was only used by my mother who was a destructive narcissist to meet her insane demands. I ended up being a parent to her.
      Taking responsibility for my life after such a horrific childhood, is a very tall order. Especially, when so many areas of your life has been emotionally impaired. The adult in me finds it best to try and forgive this person. However, the child in me is still searching for ways how to re-parent myself, and fill the deep hole in my soul I’ve made some progress. Yet, people never take me and accept me for me – warts and all. I was never loved unconditionally, or validated. People can be cruel and insensitive. When you don’t bond with a mother and form a secure attachment, You will pay for it the rest of your life. Also, no therapy or counseling no matter how intense, is ever going to change it.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Dear Chuck,
        I am sad to read about your difficult experience growing up.
        I’m writing to say I disagree with your last line. I don’t know for sure – I can’t afford therapy – but am pretty sure I did not form a secure attachment with my mother. My experience so far is, that I don’t have to pay for the rest of my life.
        As an adult, I knew there were difficulties I was having, that I wanted to change. I learned Non Violent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg). It’s helped me discern between objective facts and opinion, emotions and thoughts, and it taught me about human needs. I continue to learn through this process, how to make requests to others, that are more likely to meet my needs in a healthy way. It also helps me empathize with others, instead of judging and blaming.
        I don’t know if NVC would appeal to you. The point is, there are many approaches offered to us now for self-healing and connection, and one is sure to work for you.
        I don’t believe you have to pay for the quality of attachment we didn’t have, all your life.
        I agree that no therapy in the world can alter the quality of attachment we experienced. BUT I know from experience that we as adults can develop the skill sets to live differently, with a lot more joy, authenticity and satisfaction, and we can continue to evolve for as long as we live.

        Reply
        • Veronica

          Hello Chuck and Anon
          I agree that if you don’t bond with your mother, it can be really tough bonding with anyone else. Something I have found really helpful is to do yoga and meditation. There are free videos on youtube, which I follow daily. I have found it really helpful as it brings me into my body and has made me a little more compassionate towards myself, and others. Just being kind and gentle to yourself and others can really change things.

          Reply
          • santiago

            Veronica, can yo recommend the youtube videos on yoga and meditation that helped you please? Or any good channel to follow?

    • Kat

      Dear Aria,

      I stumbled onto your post and couldn’t help feeling compassion for your story. Although I’m a grandmother now, I sometimes still feel the sadness of never bonding with my parents and siblings. One thing I have learned is that it’s not my fault. My parents weren’t able to express feelings, it wasn’t in them do so. They were taught to “suck it up” and that feelings were a weakness. So they couldn’t give what they didn’t have. You said that your father might be the only one who could “love you for who you are” but from your later statements, that may not happen. You have to start by loving yourself for who you are. Warts and all as they say. Because you are vulnerable and because people can be untrustworthy (not all people) you have to be careful of who you chose as friends. Not everyone is good. I know what it feels like to think everyone out there is having a big party and you’re afraid to join in. But because of your wounds you are sensitive and special. So accept yourself and try to be real knowing that your parents were probably damaged themselves but don’t know how to be any other way. It’s not you! You have resources and can go out into the world and be who you are. Not everyone will understand you but I hope you find that there are people who will accept you, the authentic you. You are young and you can do it. Don’t give up, keep learning and trying. And you will be wise because of this.

      Reply
      • Aria

        Thank you for your compassion, I’m glad to get a response. I’ve never believed in loving yourself first, I think that you can teach yourself to love who you are through another ones eyes, but I understand that loving oneself is part of recovery and is one of those things that should definitely be worked on above anything else. I’m not in the recovery stage yet as I still can’t fully accept that I have experienced CEN, so I still have some things to think about before attempting anything. I’m glad that I found this out while I’m still young though, so at least if I recover, I still get to experience the years to come at it’s best. I find it hard to accept me for who I am because I’ve always looked down on myself during childhood. I’ve never felt worthy and always blamed myself for everything I’ve suffered through because I didn’t know why I felt the way I did. I never thought there was an authentic me because I wasn’t sure who the person behind the mask was. However, I’m trying to build the courage to accept and find myself and I hope one day that will be able to achieve that.

        Reply
    • Kim

      Hi..i don’t know how old you are, but I’m 47 and you just described me and my mother! You are not in denial. It’s hard to accept that a parent can be so cold but I’m trying g to overcome my anger for me most importantly. I will read this book too. I think it’s great your realizing this.

      Reply
  38. Some 20ish guy.

    Heard this on the mental health podcast. Being suicidal, so anxiety ridden I’m afraid to go outside, going to work isn’t a problem, I feel it’s a requirement, and I need money…for life and stuff, but going anywhere else, even down the block to the store, I just want to cry I’m so panic ridden. And having no idea why I feel this way, feeling guilty that I don’t know why…It’s nice to know there are so many of you out there.
    I’m almost broken, but I still haven’t shot myself, so not quite broken yet.

    Reply
    • N

      I couldn’t figure out how to post a new comment. I’m replying to this post because I can completely relate. I miraculously survived a near fatal overdose. I went through a year of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It was was the best thing I’ve ever done.
      I’m very happy to learn about CEN. I can relate to most aspects.
      I too feel too scared to leave the house for anything except work. I need my husband to go everywhere with me. I get very angry at myself. I’m trying to figure out why & get over my fear. When I’m depressed I wall others out. I don’t want to walk around so scared

      Reply
    • JD

      You’re not alone! Those thoughts come from internalized misconception as children and it isn’t our fault. We are on a spiritual planet and some people are more prone to attacks by negative energies than others. My experience is that you have something powerful and Angelic to give to the planet and your struggles are your greatest asset and strength! Don’t give up and don’t listen to the negative energy. Be careful of media,movies,people. They carry the evil. God is love and you are love.

      Reply
    • L

      So so sorry. I can relate in many ways. Maybe just knowing someone out there, can relate, and does care, even though I don’t know you.. maybe it can help in some way.

      Reply
      • Brenda

        Hello, I am responding to you because I do not want you to feel sorry, you are worthy, I guess I will share my story, which is something that I never thought that I would do. My parents were in prison when I was born, so I was in a foster home my first year of life, I remember my mother and father making this statement many times while I was growing up “when you have a baby feed them, diaper them, and put them down”, so that explains my infancy. Then when I was four years old I went into the bathroom and saw a dead woman in the bathtub, the bathtub was full of water and she was face down in the water, she had black hair, shoulder length,(this scene kept popping up in my 20’s, I finally asked my Mom about it and she freaked out and ran into her house and locked the door, so I took this behavior to tell me that it was true) then I remember going outside with a spoon and digging up the body, I remember it was blue and very cold, I remember someone grabbing me from behind and then black, both parents were very bad alcoholics they would drink until they could not walk, every night they would fight and throw glass items that would break all over the floor. I remember my parents took me to boot hill and pushed me off, I rolled all the way to the bottom, when I woke up I saw my parent getting into their car, and I screamed for them to help me, that is all I remember about that. They were always late picking me up in kindergarten, I really felt scared and alone then. My mother always made me feel dirty about my menstrual cycle, I never got over that, it was horrible. My dad called me a door to door whore when I would go out on dates with boys when I was 16 years old, I was a virgin. I have a sister that is 4 years younger than me, she and my parents would side together against me and make fun of me when I was in my later teens, that really hurt, because I thought it was my sister and me against them, who knew. My Dad was a WWII Vet, sometimes he would have flash backs about the war, he grabbed me one night thinking that I was the enemy and tried to break my arms, thank goodness he was too drunk to accomplish it. All through school I was made fun of and laughed at, but you know I was used to it by then, they would not let me sit down on the bus, they would light my hair on fire, spit on me, and when I could take it no more, I stood up against them and fought them, I may not have won the fist fight but they did not bother me anymore after that, in fact I became friends with a lot of them. I too am afraid to go out into public for any reason other than work, and I leave the drapes closed so that no one can look in, when I go out into public, I fell like everyone is staring at me and making fun of me, I have gotten a little better about this but not to the point that I would like to be, I am tired of always being afraid. But, despite everything that has happened, in my life, when I was 17 yrs old I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior and he is helping me heal all of my wounds, he is an awesome God!! I do not know where I would be today without him. So, I just want you to know that I truly do understand, and empathize with you. This is the first time that I have shared my story, and now I feel very awkward and embarrassed.

        Reply
  39. Amie

    I am 35 years old and I have only recently realized that I was emotionally neglected. I struggled with depression, feeling aimless, feeling not good enough, not really knowing who I am or what I want, and a series of bad relationships. I finished reading “Running on Empty” and it was a revelation. It put into words so much of what I have been struggling with. So now I’m putting all the pieces together and processing my emotions. But now I have a question about dealing with my parents, especially my mom. I feel angry and resentful towards them. They usually ignore me, but it’s like my mom can sense that I’m angry at her so now she’s calling and texting and asking if we’re (my husband and I) are mad at her. I tell her that everything is fine because I don’t want to get into it with her. I don’t know if I should talk to her about the issues I’m dealing with or just keep going with the status quo. I don’t feel that talking with her will resolve anything. Her birthday is tomorrow and I’m having actual anxiety about it. Plus, the holidays are coming up and I don’t really want to spend time with them but I know she will take it as a personal insult if I opt to spend the holidays at my own home with my husband and daughter. Anyway, I guess I’m conflicted about how to deal with anger and resentment without having a full-blown confrontation.

    Reply
    • Perna Stafford

      When I was growing up I felt that my mother did not want me. She was very neglectful emotionally and I can remember needing comfort and someone to care about me, but there was never anyone there. I cried a lot as a child and my siblings would make fun of me and say hurtful things when I cried. My mom always took care of my physical needs, such as food and clothes, but that was the extent of it. She claims that when I was a baby I did not like to be held or snuggled -she said I would squirm around until I was free. Here is something else strange, even though my mom was emotionally distant she was very protective of me. Talk about mixed signals! When she’d get really angry at me she would lock me in the cellar and turn the light out. To this day, I am terrified of the dark

      Reply
    • Terry

      That’s all you have to say?

      Reply
      • Jess Dreyer

        Yes

        Reply
  40. K

    This is tough, y’all! To be the generation that recognizes all the hurt, all the baggage, all the damage and attempt to turn that rudder… I even hope for joy and healing for my parents, from whatever they’ve carried for so long, without even noticing it. My sister is in a pretty deep depression. I’m finally starting to label what I’m struggling with through the help of resources such as this (thank you Dr. Webb!), and thereby address the root of the problem rather than swat at shadows. But now I notice even more just how much my siblings are struggling likewise and it infuriates me that my parents don’t seem to care. My mom sets behind her computer and uses her work as a shield to keep from interfacing. My dad I’ve discovered is probably on the autism spectrum, which explains his inability to connect. At any rate, I could go on and on… I just wanted to reach out and say that I appreciate you all who have struggled and I admire your strength to share and reach out as well!

    Reply
    • L

      My big question is, how do you deal with your parents now as an adult?? My parents STILL do not give me what I need and they want to have this false image relationship and I see right through it. They continue to do the same things to me now even if I live 500 miles away. I only see them once a year and that experience is so stressful, it usually derails me for a month until I get it together. My husband is so supportive and totally gets it and cannot understand why my parents behave in this way. Do I eliminate the relationship all together? They have no clue – I’ve tried to describe how I feel with no avail. They are sociopath, and narcissistic parents. There is no reasoning or explaining to these people.

      Reply
      • Julie

        I can relate. I’m 54 and for the last 22 yrs have lived over a thousand miles from my narc family. I stopped visiting 6 yrs ago and went no contact with the whole family 6 mnths ago. Low contact was working. I think they figured out I was not planning to visit ever again. My dad started devaluing me and I could see the discard phase happening. It has been very painful. I have read many books and this book has been the best!

        My fatal flaw is I don’t fit in. I am glad to have discovered that.

        If you desire to stay in contact, be the observer when you chat with them. Don’t share much and don’t expect anything, love, understanding, empathy. I couldn’t wear the mask anymore. My family lies a lot and me pretending to like them was my lying mask. I don’t lie nor play games. BUT, I was lying and playing a game by staying in contact. Though it is a hard recovery I feel happy about my decision!

        Reply
  41. James

    As someone recovering from codependency and childhood emotional neglect, I often feel alone and unsure. The recovery process is hard and long. And for every two steps forward, it can sometimes feel like we take three steps back. On the good days, though, I actually feel present and beginning to feel a freedom and relief I’ve never felt before. Thank you, Dr. Webb, for your caring and compassionate book and website. And for bringing together this community. You are doing important work.

    Reply
  42. Lou Hill

    I know that I am a survivor of CEN. I believe, as do therapists, that I had some kind of sexual abuse as a small child. I have tried to talk to my mother; however, she is now rewriting our history to suit her own needs. I cannot talk to her and consider her toxic. What do I do to find closure?

    Reply
    • Terry

      It seems incomprehensible that our mother’s aren’t able to tell us what we need to hear. I tried with mine until she died. She abandoned 3 of us for no reason other than she didn’t want the responsibility anymore. I was 5 at the time. I have come to understand and accept to ” Learn to live without the answers” this will bring peace. It has taken me 55 years though.

      Reply
    • M. A.

      Hi,
      I am sorry I am not writing to offer you an answer. I think only you can find that, perhaps with support from a professional or a wise person you trust, but ultimately only you know your feelings & needs. And as someone who experienced cen, perhaps it may take a while to connect with the layers and sub-layers of needs & feelings you’re experinecing.
      I mmostly wanted to respond because I have similar experiences to yourself: codependency, cen, probable sexual abuse, mum whose version of events seems to change with the weather. How very confusing!
      Wishing you a resolution that works for you, & healing : )

      Reply
  43. Lost soul

    I’m a 48 transgendered woman. My mind is broken and so is my body. I lived for my transition to become who I am. 6 years ago that came true. Now I wake up in the morning wondering what next? My transition filled my life since I was born but now my life is meaningless and empty.

    My parents, not knowing what to do with me rather ignored me or if I embrassed the family would punish me with mental abuse. I’ve build a successful business career and life as a man. Playing the role to fit in. But now my life is empty. My family has rejected me. And I’m alone as well as lonely because I never pursue any romantic relationships.

    I’ve developed a eating disorder when I was 12 because of the abuse and my weight would fluctuate with 20-40 pounds a year.

    My mind and my body is broken and I’ve no idea how to fix it. Well I do but hope stopped me.

    Reply
    • Cat

      I’m a 47 year old woman. Ever since I can remember I have had anxiety and depression and that feeling of not being ‘normal’ for want of a better word. I have struggled in all aspects of my life and with all relationships, not just the romantic kind. Always I have felt that this was my fault and there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I did have a difficult childhood but always dismissed it and tried to rationalize those events, after all my older siblings appear to be very grounded and successful in many aspects of their lives so it couldn’t be the reason for my problems, could it?

      After what has been a difficult year the anxiety and depression spiraled. I started a new job which I couldn’t handle due to being in a large team and working in very close proximity, I had to leave after three gruelling months of self-doubt and my own feelings of inferiority. I am now unemployed and feel I will never be able to work again. My first grandchild was born yet the joy was mixed with an intense fear that I would not be able to love her as a grandparent should ( the birth of my one and only child was a terrifying experience). Last month my eldest brother died unexpectedly and that event was the icing on the cake so to speak. For reasons I found it hard to explain I suddenly found it more difficult than ever to be in the same space as my mother, everything she said and did angered me more than ever yet I blamed myself for my lack of compassion for her, thinking I was a bad person and unempathic daughter. Three weeks ago I walked out of her house after a minor argument and her usual passive aggressive response to the incident. I have talked to her once briefly via telephone last week which wasn’t at all helpful. I came off the phone angry and upset.

      Yesterday morning I woke up feeling as I usually do, incredibly sad and worthless and for some inexplicable reason a light went on in my head and I had the massive realization that I had been emotionally abused and neglected throughout my childhood and adolescence. It is a relief to have this knowledge, I can put a reason to my feelings. I don’t really know where to take things from here, I have ordered Dr. Webb’s book and have therapy booked for next month. I do believe that this may help me to manage the overwhelming and often crippling anxiety and depression that is and has stifled me throughout my life. I do hope this is a new beginning. As for my mother? I honestly don’t know, she’s elderly and hasn’t got many years left, perhaps I can never forgive her.

      Thanks for listening and I’m so glad I found this site, I wish all of you love and peace.

      Reply
      • Cheryl

        I’m so glad you have realized that it’s not your fault. I highly recommend a book to you that I just read. It’s short and easy to read…Horrible Mothers by Alice Thie Viera…excellent information for anyone.
        You are not alone. I am older than you are and still struggling with the idea that it’s not my fault. I always assumed I was defective, too. I’m not and neither are you!

        Reply
        • Cat

          Thank you Cheryl, I will check out the book you recommended. It’s a complex situation as you know.

          Reply
      • L

        Finding this website, for me, has been a lifesaver. I too am a “successful” person who has constantly struggled with self esteem, codependency, wanting to feel special. I’ve had so much therapy understanding what was going on in my family but never realized it was emotional neglect. My parents to this day do not honor my feelings. When I tell them what I need or tell them what they do or say bothers me, their response is “you are so sensitive, you blow everything out of proportion, or you cannot take a joke – lighten up.” I am the only one in my family that feels the way I do. My brother and sister both identify with my parents politically, same religion, image driven and pretentious. I have now realized at age 51, that my family will never change despite my attempts to clarify who I am. I realize that even though they are my parents and siblings, I will never be able to trust and rely on them. I will never feel taken care of by them. I have broke the cycle with my sons and really have to work hard to understand that I am valuable. This book has helped tremendously for me.

        Reply
    • Sally

      Dear Lost Soul…. my heart aches for you! I just want to reach out and hold you and take away your pain and sadness. How I wish I could. To say that your life has been difficult would be trite. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotional, mental and physical pain you’ve lived with for a lifetime then, to finally reach your goal and end up in what may seem to be a pit of despair.

      I’m always appalled at families who judge and reject their own child… it’s cruel. I was rejected from the beginning by my father and my mother in her own special and cruel way, did the same. I know the pain of rejection. I know what it’s like to life my life on the outside looking in. I know what it’s like to feel unwanted and flawed. You say your life is meanignless and empty and it’s no wonder. When family reject us, I think it’s the most painful of all rejections that one can bear in a lifetime. However, their is hope… there are many of us who do not judge or reject others’ because of our differences.

      I am the mother of a gay son and a very proud mother too. I have seen and felt and shared my son’s pain when others’ have attacked him and called him disgusting names. I’ve seen him struggle to come to terms with his true identity. I’ve seen him reject himself for being gay. I’ve been there to hold him and validated him. I feel that this is what you need more than anything right now is to be held and validated for the very special person that you are.

      I’m not a psychologist but, I speak from the heart. I care about you and I wish you well from the bottom of my heart. There are many of us who do not reject others’ because of our differences. Please seek out those who do accept you for who you are and stay well away from toxic people. I wish you well my friend. Blessings x

      Reply
    • Terry

      Dear Lost Soul, It sounds like you have been given two major hurdles in life. CEN is bad enough let alone realizing you are transgender and being not accepted by your family. The simple solution is for our families to wake up and realize what they are doing to us. It seems so obvious to me and so sad that so many refuse. We lose out all around. Initially we don’t get the hugs, love and encouragement we need so we pick careers that we can get by in. Dr Webb is right, we don’t even know what we like or dislike. My friend all I can say is that you are not alone

      Reply
  44. Phil

    My name is Phil, 60 years old, and suffering from PTSD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression and ADHD. I am the eldest of 9 children, however only 3 survived my parent’s abuse and neglect. One of my first memories was that of a four year old child with an 8 month old brother, and I woke up one morning to find him dead in my bed. I had to peel him off the sheet, took him downstairs to my mother (who was addicted to Diet Pills), and told her there was something wrong with Baby Bill. Her response was, “He is dead, and it’s your fault, you were trusted with him!” This was the first of several, no need to go into the detail of all of them, however 2 years ago my mother (although I do not refer to her that way), admitted to having smothered him, then put him in bed with me so it would look like it was my fault. 54 years I have lived with the guilt of this (and other babies), and although I now know it was not my fault, the guilt doesn’t go away. I never was able to grieve any of the siblings, because crying would result in severe punishment. In my house I would see blood drawn either between my parents, or one of them and myself, on at least a weekly basis. I had a social worker that lived next door, and I would try to stand with my arms forced into a door jam while my sister climbed out the window and went next door.
    I have gone through my life as a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I do not deserve to be happy, and when life has been going too well, I self destruct in one form or another. There have been legal issues, marital issues, however I have never in any way abused my children. I have been in and out of therapy for 30 years, usually coming to a point where I am gaining nothing from it and will leave for a period of time, then give it another chance. I am working with a new Therapist that has recommended this book, and although I have only skimmed through it, I can see a lot of correlation, and I sincerely hope that this is something that will finally give me the opportunity to be happy. When you have such an abusive childhood, you can’t experience emotions where it is a safe environment, and once you’ve become an adult, it isn’t appropriate to try and experience them for the first time, so you continue to hold them inside – you survive by your wits and intelligence, and just keep burying things deeper and deeper, until there is no more room to put them.
    I want to go through the book, and would like to post updates as I reach certain milestones, but if anyone would like to chat, or exchange emails – my email address is pdsummer@msn.com, and if you doubt any of my story, do a google search on Janice Summerfield (my mother) and you can see her confession, where they actually exhumed the body 54 years after the fact but were not able to find enough evidence to prosecute.
    Thanks for your time, I know this was a long post, but I also think it is therapeutic for me to be able to share parts of my story with others. Trust me, this is only a very small portion of the things that had happened to me, and I may look for compassion and understanding, but never for sympathy. Thanks

    Reply
    • Jan

      Phil…..your story is incredible and so sad. I cannot even imagine what you have had to experience and endure. ….however, you are alive, you are sane, you are not imprisoned in jail or a psychiatric facility. There must be a core of enormous strength and positivity within you to lift you up to be able to survive such horrendous abuse. Keep looking for that core and rely on it. It has held you up against enormous odds. All the best to you. You are inspirational.

      Reply
    • M. Alejandra

      Dear Phil, I am a 40 year old woman in the U.K. who amazingly is only now discovering the term “childhood emotional neglect”, and finding as you are, that it correlates. My story is nowhere near as harrowing as the small parts you share here, and I want to echo what Jan posted in her reply to you.
      Additionally, I wonder if you have come across the Emotional Clearing process, by John Ruskan? I read the book, & bought the audio program. Both are inexpensive and have offered me a way to learn to experience and process strong emotions. As the nature of the experiences you have shared is so strong, perhaps your current therapist might be able to advise you on whether this would benefit you, and hopefully not re-traumatise you.
      I wish you healing, growth and emotional safety on your journey.

      Reply
  45. Jane

    Thank you! I have just finished reading your book and it has already started to change my life, I am so grateful for your knowledge, understanding and all the hard work you must have put into such an understudied topic. My husband is excited to read it now as he also identifies with CEN. In fact until recently I thought only he did, but I certainly do as well, in the past I just called it an anxiety disorder from being abandoned at birth (I am adopted)… CEN explains so much/everything about myself and my life particularly the battle I have always had with my self-claiming non-emotional parents… They say they failed emotions 101, & say things like why couldn’t I have just loved them from birth… whom have always told me I am difficult and that no one will like me this way… I battled them thinking they were just being negative and mean but know I know my Father is a narcissist/sociopath and my Mother is an authoritarian… The past 4 years I have proudly raise my daughter differently than I was and know understand even more how to! I am studying early childhood education and find myself thinking I might want to get into child psychology as well, thanks to great insightful information from both you and my personal councilor. Thank you again

    Reply
  46. Anonymous

    It’s one thing getting my feelings out here, but I am having trouble starting up a conversation about this. I often feel so lonely, but the book says pouring out your feelings will develop closer friendships, but I can’t help but feel it will burden others. I know, that’s a common CEN concern, but I can’t seem to overcome it. Does anyone have any tips on how to explain to a friend that I am feeling lonely and depressed because of my CEN? I just don’t want to be completely alone anymore with my depressing thoughts.

    Reply
    • Francis McKenna

      Hi

      I do appreciate your difficulty of being able to share your feelings with people. But there is the option of sharing them online with some of the people who have sent comments to the website. Just a thought. Take care. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis

      Reply
    • Lemonbella

      I have found that therapy has been a fantastic (although difficult and at times brutal) process for practising this kind of opennesss. I really struggle as you say you do, feeling i will be a burden if I open up about these things, but therapy has given me a chance to test the water, receive feedback on how someone else experiences me in those moments and I have fund this has led to me learning to be more open with other people in my life

      Reply
    • Kre

      I recently found a support group in my area for adults who suffered CEN. Google support groups in your area. I’m attending my first meeting this Sunday. It will be my first time speaking out about what I endured as a child. Best of Luck.

      Reply
  47. NM

    Dear Dr Webb,
    I just wanted to thank you for the book. I discovered it recently, and have finished reading it in two days. I totally recognize myself in your description of the emotionally neglected, and it has been a real eye-opener. I am in therapy at the moment for social anxiety, but so far I have been struggling to really be open towards my therapist. I also found the last chapter of your book, which you wrote for therapists, very helpful, as I recognize my own behaviour in therapy in what you describe there. I will definitely talk to my therapist about this.
    So, thanks a lot and good luck with your research and couseling.
    Best, N.

    Reply
  48. Anonymous

    Hello- I stumbled across the blog posting about CEN more than one year ago. I cried when I read it because for the first time in 31 years, I felt that someone could put into words what I have only ever felt. I did not read the book until this week-partly because I didn’t want to hear the truth, and partly because I figured I could ‘sort myself out.’ Deep down I knew I could not do that, but still I tried. Taking the questionnaire, I answered yes to almost all. I grew up as the oldest of 15 children, and have no real connection to my parents even though they’ve tried their best. I was angry for years, not understanding why my parents continued to have children. I constantly wondered why/if I(and my siblings)weren’t enough, or if they weren’t happy with who we were. It was a busy household, and I can forgive my parents for a lot of that- they were probably only trying to cope the best that they could. There were also a lot of financial burdens. Too much responsibility was placed on my shoulders, and as much as I resented that, I still kept silent, and did what was required. I didn’t want my parents to be disappointed in me. I was the ‘perfect daughter’ who did it all to make others happy. My dad could get angry and hit (quite forcefully) my younger brothers. My mom also could hit a lot, and get angry, and in their anger blame the kids. A lot of this I see as just coping with so much, but I never felt appreciated or loved, and always wondered what I was doing wrong. I have never heard my parents say I Love You, and I think that was the one thing I needed the most. I am still single and have never been in a serious relationship, even though that is the one thing that I would like the most. When I read in the book that parenting is a great privilege, I felt sad because I don’t believe that I will ever have that.
    As a family we never talked about emotions – the most common emotion I saw was anger and frustration. I became an emotional eater because I could never express any of my emotions. I always worried about my younger siblings, and not so much about myself. I moved away for university when I was 21 because I knew there was something very dysfunctional about our family, but had no idea what it was. I felt free the first year, although I was terrified of calling them, and had no idea how or why to keep contact with them. The guilt of ‘they are my family’ kept me going back to visit for the next 4 years. I didn’t hate them, I just didn’t always enjoy the visits. I felt inadequate, and did not know how to share my life with them. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t connect, and that I was doing something horrible wrong. I was painfully shy as a child, and now believe myself to be an introvert. I have a difficult time in social situations and find it hard to open up to others. After university I moved back close to my parents; I could not handle this, and moved back to where I had done university, and had made some very close friends. That was difficult because I knew that my friends were more important to me than my own parents and siblings. My friends have been my anchor for the past 9 years, challenging and encouraging me in many of the aspects that are in the book. I am so grateful for them. But they have their own family, and should not have to always help me. I often feel like a burden if I need help. I have not been able to keep contact with my parents, but I feel so guilty about that at times. I don’t miss them, or even love them, but then I feel guilty that I don’t visit or call. I can’t; there is no connection, and I am afraid to trust them, or be with them. I am very glad that I read the book, and hope that I can continue to practice and learn self care. I am terrified to fail, and am not really sure how to begin, but I know that I must because too often I feel depressed, and have not much enthusiasm for life. I do not want to keep living like that. I need to somehow learn not to feel guilty because that is holding me back in everything. I am extremely lonely, but can’t share that with anyone. I am very close to a few friends- but they can’t fill my need for love and acceptance in the same way. This book has put into words what I have felt for most of my life. I struggle with how to deal with this. I can’t blame my parents for what they didn’t know, but don’t know how to move forward and not feel guilty.

    Reply
    • Cheryl

      Being from a large family, too, I feel like it’s normal to wonder “why are they having so many kids?” …it is not your fault ! Children in large families often cannot possibly get the attention they need. Again, I want to tell you it is Not Your Fault. They were the ones who chose to have so many children, not you. You have a right to live your own life.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        Hello- thanks so much for the encouragement! I am only starting to see and realize that. It is only in the past few weeks that I am beginning to be able to shake some of that burden off my back that it’s not my own fault. There are times when I get discouraged, and think ‘it’s taken me 31 years to realize this.’ But then I think: I can only be grateful that I am beginning to see this, and no longer feel guilty about so many things. I am so fortunate to have found close friends who have helped me in the past years, and especially in the past weeks, when I fell apart after reading the book. So much is true; I felt like someone else had gotten into my brain and wrote what I couldn’t explain. Thanks again for your kind words. Wishing you all the best!

        Reply
    • Lisa

      Good for you for moving back to your friends, well done! I know your lonliness, and I am sorry that you have to live with that pain. I don’t believe you have any reason to feel guilty. You haven’t done anything wrong. You simply want to have a chance at happiness, and to have that, I think you are right to
      put an end to ANY relationships that continually bring you pain. Your parents are adults who have as much responsibility to make good decisions as you or I. I understand your guilt, because chances are their childhood was grim as well. But SOMEBODY has to be the change in the world. So I guess it will be you, and I will be fighting to bring change right beside you! Don’t give up, you have a beautiful heart, and I love you. Lisa

      Reply
      • Jessica

        Thank you so much! It is heartwarming to know that there are people who understand. That means so much to me. Thinking of you, and wishing you all the best.

        Reply
  49. Christine Marie

    I just stumbled across this site. Oh, my, gosh! What a relief it is to find something that explains so much of why I am the way I am, and why I feel the way I feel. And to read about and be able to relate to others..I can’t even explain the joy I feel right now. Thank you so, so much for doing what you do, Dr. Webb! I will be purchasing your book, and will continue to search about how to bring this up with my parents. I’m 35, married, and have my own family. I have already cut off my parents once, and went back because I want my kids to know their grandparents. We had a huge fight last week after months and months of a normal relationship, and I have been struggling with what to do, feeling alone, feeling misunderstood, and feeling like all the blame is on me and that I was the crazy one who needs to “fix” it. I now feel as if there is hope…assuming my parents understand when I decided to bring this topic up…

    Reply
    • Lisa Bevans

      Christine Marie,
      I probably not caught you in time, but I want to give you a heads up. I am going thru all of this as well. All my life I have just struggled thru, using alcool or drugs to bury the pain, believing one day I would understand what was wrong with me, and that when I did I would fix it. When I talked to my parents, I gave them a very watered down explanation, mostly blaming it on myself for being a ‘Highly Sensative Person’, another thing I only learned recently. Because of the stuggles I have been through with my parents, they didn’t really believe me and they think I am simply trying to blame someone. I pushed away all my friends long ago because of how convinced I was that I was a loser. And when I used to look forward to this amazing moment, never did I realize that I would end up sadder and lonlier than I have ever been. It feels like if my parents don’t buy what happened, then I still must be a loser. I am sorry, I am not saying there is no hope, I just wanted to save you that let down. If they don’t believe you, you can still heal. My therapist reminds me that I am not going to get out if them that which I feel I missed. So I just keep thinking ‘what my parents think of me isn’t what makes me a good person.

      Reply
  50. Tim

    I strongly identify with everything I have been reading about CEN. In fact I scored 100% on the quiz, so weee! I grew up in a very emotionally charged environment, so the prospect of being emotionally neglected sounds odd to me, but I show all the symptoms and have always wondered if my feelings of disconnection were rooted in abuse from before I can remember.

    My family was a carbon copy of the Brady Bunch. Dad had a son and Mom had two daughters before they met. I was the product of their relationship. Mom had several miscarriages before I was born, so I was very wanted and focused on as a child. Both my parents had their share of emotional dysfunction from abusive upbringings. Dad was highly avoidant and mom was highly invested. We were never raised to observe or understand our emotions, but still inspired to see them as our most important facility. Most communication in my family is multi-layered, subtle, and nuanced. What people say is rarely what they mean and there are great consequences for failing to preempt or intuit other people’s needs.

    I was very obviously favored over my siblings, so they formed an exclusive relationship and my mother ended up being my major family connection. My parents divorced when I was 9 and in only a few months my siblings had left home, dad remained unavailable, and mom met a man who saw our relationship as a threat, so she had to ignore me to make him happy. He preyed on both of us emotionally and Mom further preyed on me emotionally to relieve stress from their relationship. By the time I was 11 I rarely saw any of my parental figures and had free range to do whatever I wanted, without checking in with anyone. I essentially raised myself from age 9.

    My experiences with relationships has been generally positive, but I entered a relationship 5 months ago and for the first time I am showing all the traits of an anxious avoidant attachment style. It has almost destroyed the relationship a few times. After doing a lot of research in a desperate attempt to build a healthy relationship, I followed the trail back to childhood. This is the first time I am realizing that for a person who grew up so familiar with emotions, I was never introduced to the skills required to articulate, express, identify, and manage my emotions. I know how to use them to protect myself, identify the motives of others, and manipulate others which is great in emotional warfare, but not the best when it comes to vulnerability, intimacy, and connection.

    Here’s to the journey of emotional discovery. Wish me luck! 😉

    Reply
  51. Cheryl

    Yes, I can definitely relate!! N o need to apologize, though I understand because I still constantly apologize for everything.
    I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I was in a state of complete ignorance myself about my own neglect in my family. I think I blocked the information (see below).in essence, I was “trained” to ignore and deny my own thoughts and feelings. You probably were too.
    Its hard to un-learn these things but it’s so good that you are learning this now. Many of us didn’t come to grips with it til much later in life, me for example.
    C
    I don’t know if this will help you but maybe it will help somebody out there, sort of academic, but it makes sense to me in my own life…
    This is called “betrayal blindness”:
    In general it is not to our survival or reproductive advantage to go back for further interaction to those who have betrayed us. However, if the person who has betrayed us is someone we need to continue interacting with despite the betrayal, then it is not to our advantage to respond to the betrayal in the normal way.
    Instead we essentially need to ignore the betrayal….If the betrayed person is a child and the betrayer is a parent, it is especially essential the child does not stop behaving in such a way that will inspire attachment. For the child to withdraw from a caregiver he is dependent on would further threaten his life, both physically and mentally.
    Thus the trauma of child abuse by the very nature of it requires that information about the abuse be blocked from mental mechanisms that control attachment and attachment behavior. One does not need to posit any particular avoidance of psychic pain per se here — instead what is of functional significance is the control of social behavior. ”

    Jennifer Freyd introduced the terms “betrayal trauma” and “betrayal trauma theory” in 1991 at a presentation at Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

    Reply
  52. Anonymous

    Hello,

    I really hope people can relate to my story and possibly help me here.

    I have recently come to terms with my childhood emotional neglect. When I was growing up my parents only hit me and my sisters as discipline, but never explained why what we did was wrong. We never talked about feelings at all whatsoever. My sisters and I always hated each other as kids, what I assumed most siblings were like, but we literally never grew out of it. For some reason, we never took a liking to each other. I was pretty depressed all throughout elementary school and middle school cause it was especially difficult for me to make friends. I was held back 4th grade, despite my teachers telling me I was very bright, simply because I hated doing homework and lacked motivation/discipline. Middle school and high school was the worst for me because my parents never let me go out with friends because I was a girl, and in their view only “loose” women socialized with friends. My sole form of socialization was through instant messaging a few of my friends the internet and social media. My lack of communication with my family grew to the point that I could barely speak Spanish anymore, which was my first language cause I never really talked to them. I feel like they don’t even know who I am. When they tell me they love me, I know they just love me for being their daughter, but not for who I am because I have always had to hide my true feelings about everything.

    With all of this, I became almost obsessed with getting into a good college and moving out to be completely independent from my family. I always resented them to the core. When some of my friends would talk about not applying to better out-of-state universities because they didn’t want to get far from their parents, it always baffled me. I just did not understand how families could make people happy. For me, it was just things that happened in movies. My family and I still rarely speak.

    I got into a pretty good school and moved out like I wanted. I thought things would get better, and they did… to a point. I had friends, but I still found myself intentionally isolating myself from them. Most of my “friends” were terrible and a product of my low standards. At times, it just felt like too much work to socialize. I noticed I resented my family less the more time I was away from them, so I still felt better being away from the prison I call home. At a point, I started dating a guy, but it turned out he was a narcissist, and it ended pretty badly. That was my turning point. He really emotionally abused me, stalked me after the break up, and threatened me into dropping the restraining order, so right after we broke up I applied to exchange in Australia, which I always wanted to do. For months, I could not figure out what was wrong with me. I know I was a victim, but why was I so easily a victim? What makes me so incredibly different? I’m currently at the end of my exchange trip, and it’s given me a completely new perspective.

    When I first went to my college, I somewhat noticed how much happier other students were because of their family. It occasionally came up that they would come over to their dorms and visit them, giving me a confusingly saddened feeling, but it was easy to write that off because most of the time parents weren’t coming to dorms. At most, I felt proud of myself for being emotionally independent and not needing them. For example, most of my friends would not go on exchange due to their attachment to their families. I saw my unattachment as a strength that wouldn’t ever hold me back. In Australia, though, most of the local students commute to the university, so their parents were still an obviously significant part of their lives. I started to finally accept that what I went through wasn’t normal or healthy. There was so many things that I noticed came naturally to almost everyone because they had relationships as a child. It was especially hard for me to make friends or even talk to adults, which made it really difficult for me to get a job through interviews.

    Because I’m really career oriented, I thought maybe I should read self-help books. I found books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and books on procrastination. One day, a friend went on my computer and saw the books I was transferring to my Kindle. He asked why I needed them, and it was difficult to explain at first, but saying it out loud for the first time really got to me. “I don’t have parents to teach me this stuff.” That’s when I had my first casual conversation on my childhood neglect with the realization that it wasn’t a strength or a challenge on my independence, but a weakness that I had to overcome. Soon after, I Googled childhood neglect and came across Running On Empty. I also read a very helpful book on why I fell for a narcissist and how to avoid it. It all seemed to come down to my childhood neglect, which never taught me boundaries with my relationships. I’m half way through Running On Empty, and it’s been really helpful. I feel like I’m going to have to read it over and over again. It’s very depressing because the more I get into the book, the more I realize how not normal my life has been and the extent of the effects personally. I would love to get a therapist, but don’t have insurance or the financial means at this point.

    However, my biggest problem with the book is that my parents were very authoritative about me having a social life, but very permissive about everything else. I cannot relate as well with the patients in the books cause of this. I did not have to do choirs or anything else. All they cared about was that I was safe in the house, so I basically grew up mindlessly in front of the TV. I’ve been trying to work on basic needs like cooking and having a structured life. Gladly, I’m athletic even though they were really against me running cross-country (I did it anyway). Half of my emotional problems here, though, seems to be my social isolation. It has made it really difficult for me to have ANY types of relationships with depth, which I really need right now. I have been trying to find a book on this as well, but it’s really difficult. Does anyone have the same problem so they can share tips with me?

    Thanks for listening. It’s really hard to talk about now that I’m over the denial. I think I’m going to tell my roommate about it once I get back to my college because the book says I need to talk about this. Sorry for the long essay.

    Reply
    • Mark

      Dear Anonymous,
      Thanks for posting you heartfelt personal musings

      You reply has convinced me to buy Running on Empty. To my total surprise, your comments and this website, describe fundanental beliefs that I thought were uniquely and uncomfortably within me.
      In relating to your feelings about family, I’m thinking that you, perhaps. described my alienated feelings towards my family due to emotional neglect from absent family bonding.
      I am now a college professor, have a warm wife, a wonderful 19 yr old currently traveling in Spain, A beautiful house, distinguished alumni from my professional alma mater,etc. Yet, I deep down don’t feel any happier than when as a teenager,visiting my sociopathic father in either jail or federal prison.
      Recently I have started noticing how much my son likes his mom and i. I’ve started thinking how I had just “assumed” everyone surely wanted to be “on their own” away from family. It is so liberating to start to discover that these bizarre,deeply hidden secrets are normal responses to abnormal family life.
      Thanks so much for sharing.

      Reply
    • Heidi Graham

      Dear anonymous,
      Firstly, thank you for sharing your struggles with getting through life. No need to apologize for writing it all out – that’s part of dealing with CEN. I think that because what we think and feel has for so long been dismissed and marginalized, we all who suffer from CEN have a hunger to be heard and acknowledged that doesn’t go away until we get that acknowledgment.

      I am 52 now, and I can promise you that if you persevere, you can get to where you want to be. It won’t be easy, and you have to push yourself daily, but if I can do it, believe me, you can too. I do not have the personality that gets jobs or gets me noticed or garners me “pals” that can get me places career wise. Instead, I have worked harder and smarter and pushed myself to do the things I’m frightened of, and even the failures have taught me things I can apply to the next time I try.

      I won’t sugarcoat it, since I promised myself two years ago that I was going to turn my life around or die trying, it has been hard, scary, and really really lonely, but it has been so worth it. I began earnestly studying toward a degree for the first time in my life, I finally realized – and accepted – that my family is never going to be different, my mother will never acknowledge let alone realize what she’s done, found the courage to walk away from them for good, took on a huge challenge at work that I was voluntold to do, decided I would FINISH it to the very end, and stopped trying to find some dude, any dude, to “take care of me” so I could hide behind a pseudo relationship instead of taking on my own life.

      Now, I have started a career at 52, I have one, maybe two or three, good friends, I can stand on my own two feet, and I have just as many good days as I have bad which is a lot more good days than I used to have. I no longer feel like a tiny, helpless ship constantly tossed upon a huge sea of emotional storms, and the more I observe, read, and learn about what CEN is, what abuse is, and the effects of these and how amazingly in denial people can be, the more I know that it was NOT me, it was not my fault, and how strong I really am. I have survived my suicide attempt at 13, survived molestation by my bio father and a stepfather, my mother’s insistence that I run emotional interference for her between her and these assholes she just has to have in her life, and my disaster of a first marriage in which I gave up the only two children I would ever have.

      What I’m trying to say is, it is possible not only to survive, but to thrive and even be happy. You can find deep, lasting emotional strength, confidence in yourself, and personal success. You’ll have to work hard for it and sacrifice for it, but you can do it. Keep reading, keep facing yourself and your past, keep working on yourself and teaching yourself. Make Reality your God and truth your Jesus, and you’ll get there, you really will.

      Reply
  53. Paige

    Dr. Webb,

    First, thank you for your dedication to this subject. The continual stream of shared stories and your attention to them is, I think, a rarity. What caught me most by the description of CEN was that it is invisible until you finally have so much informationas an adult that you see the absence. I am going to open up here. Hopefully, it will not be too much. Feel free to moderate if what I jave to say is not quite relevant, or delves into topics too controversial.

    I was adopted at about one month old. Everything I’ve read about adoption has showed that at that age, most adopted people grow up as normal as anyone else. I believed what my parents told me. If I was ever a questioning child, I don’t remember. My mother told me early about my adoption and began to ensure that my feelings about it would align to what she wanted me to feel about it — that it was irrelevant. I was completely hers. My mother was desperate for me to experience what she had missed for many reasons. Cliche, I know, but it’s what she told me, right after she told me that I walked late because she held me too much. Her control in other areas of her own life were minimal, or at least that’s what she believed. My mother believed herself to be easy to talk to, made everything easy for everyone. I believed this myself about her for many years as an adult.

    My father worked, came home, ate, slept, and made sure that my mother and I had everything we needed, in a frugal, but thoughtful way. He could be very charming in company, but I heard hm and my mother talking after any social activity and heard the often judgemental thoughts they actually had about other people.

    Both of them were hardworking. Both had lost their fathers early in their lives. In my father’s case, he began to earn and take care of his mother and brother at the age of 12. My mother, who was 4 when her father died, attached herself to her sister.

    Many of those who have shared stories have very similar things to say about their upbringings. I was certainly not abused. My mother kept a very clean house, kept me very close, did not want me to learn to care for myself because (as she has said repeatedly), she wanted to keep me a baby as long as possible. The inevitable result though was that I was recognized as ‘immature’, first by teachers, then by my peers. My parents did the best they could, but they did not see me as a person who needed to find herself or needed to learn self-regulation, cleaning up after myself, learning how I felt about anything or expressing how I felt. They did not think of parenting itself as something to be learned or researched. I don’t think that was unusual for that time, but it was unusual next to my private school peers’ upbringings. I was told how I felt, and I repeated that when asked by anyone. People who asked me questions were at best perplexd by my answers and at worst, disgusted. Few tried to be helpful, or if they did, they were either completely kind and accepting, or snide and condescending.

    My parents sent me to a private school that they could barely afford, I took dancing lessons I hated and piano lessons which were tolerable. However, practicing was forbidden as it was disruptive to the clean, quiet home.

    Needless to say, this type of living made me frustrated as a child and I felt shallow compared to my peers, while always trying to blend. On the cusp of 18, I got pregnant and my father went crazy insisting that I abort. I fought only two weeks before my mother, her sister, my DOCTOR (don’t get me started), convinced me I had no other choice, it was insignificant, and my dad would kill himself if I didn’t do it. I believed that, regardless of what you might think. The combination of being an adopted person, ensured my whole life about how special that was, put me over an edge I can’t describe even now. My mother has apologized for her part, but, like everything else, apologizing after you got your way leaves me a bit cold. I understand it, but it undermined the very hard truth I had accepted against my nature on her behalf for so long. My trust of others has never recovered and I had no reason to have good behavior myself. The pain I’ve caused others, the times my cynicism has been reinforced, it was all tolerable until I recognized that I wasn’t young anymore. The slightly screwed up good person I might have become got disrupted and I can’t tell now what I am. Of course, this is the worst of it. My life has had happy, mediocre, and sad times like everyone. Bonding, however, is consistently hard.

    So, I hope my story is relevant and adds something. Many stories that are shared in this thread ring true to my own experience. I was loved. I was not abused physically. But the lies I accepted undermined everything and I have felt lonely and betrayed, and silly for expecting anything else. As a result, my trust of everyone else has been damaged and my behavior never met my own standards to earn trust, therefore trust others, and therefore, love. Now, at 45, I am working on myself, with the support of my husband who after 20 years I think is starting to get it.

    The descriptions of CEN have been the closest of any diagnoses that I’ve read to describe and possibly help me. I’ve found therapists to suggest actions that I’ve either already done, tried, and failed, or are just completely outlandish. Also, I cannot help but think about my therapists as extremely flawed individuals who are either judgemental or completely unfeeling.

    Thank you, Dr. Webb. I appreciate your dedication. Wish I could find a CEN therapist in my area, covered by my insurance. Thanks for your time.

    Reply
    • August

      Either thank you for the teaching in enlightenment and the subject I married a lady who experienced six years of hidden sexual my station from the age of 9 and 15 yrs of age with her mom’s cousin and I learned something about victims: whoever’s close to a victim you’ll end up being a victim as well from their victimhood. It’s very strange because I believe the Lord showed me how it worked with her and you were right on the money far as helping me she experienced a very incredible feeling I guess but she had to hide it for six years she had to hide it in the man told her that she was married but she couldn’t say anything because she is 18 once you turn 15 she became wise to it and exposed it and her parents did as you said they didn’t do it right stuffed it he wants later came out of church and in the Holters knew it and they rejected her again because the embarrassment said that she was promiscuous six years later after experiencing the same thing hidden pleasure hidden sex I don’t know what to call it. I remain faithful with her for 16 years and she was so good at hiding sex that it turned into an absolute nightmare I talk to her about her drama she’s continually wanted her parents acceptance and I told her you don’t have to worry about that but you going to use your baby your stepdad to apologize for not being there more. This went on for 16 years and then one day she objected the children is in the morning or she is giving me a hug soon I love you and I’ll meet you at the park after your message meeting she’s gone 24 days devastated me and he ripped my heart out I miss my kids I missed her so badly she did only take my tools my kids she took my best friend. Well the sick thing about it all is the step father and the mother has hated me since day one because I did what they didn’t I comforted her I, but m.
      talked about it we got it out and spoke about it but they never liked me since day one. When I came time for her dad to finally apologize and four months of planning the planned out child abduction and credit destroying money embezzling and many more planned out sabotages that father and my ex-wife will you turn on the streets with $13 in my pocket do you mind if I use some this Information in a court hearin today

      Reply
    • Mary

      Thank you for sharing your story. Sounds like we both have similar parents. They were good, hard-working parents, but emotionally our mothers were controlling, confusing, needy and insecure.

      Reply
  54. Brent

    I would be wary about any or these seminars that promise miracles. I have been to all kinds of these things and spent a lot of money,and guess what,I am still the same. We want so desperately to get “fixed” and there are a slew of gurus out there making promises.

    Reply
  55. Suz

    Chuck, I do agree that acceptance of what happened to us can help us move forward. I do agree that what happened can’t be reversed. I’m not sure how one coulee reverse it.

    What I do think can happen is that we can still build lives worth living. I’ve come to realize that I’m just not someone who will feel very connected to other people. I dated someone who was very connected to his family since I craved parental connection.

    I did intense therapy for several years and have gone to a program at OnSite outside Nashville. In my work, I built skills I needed to be healthier emotionally. I also found that my attractions to potential romantic interests changed. I went through a divorce while in therapy.

    While the fellow with the close family connections was a decent guy, it didn’t fit ok other ways. I found someone else to whom I’ve developed a relationship I want to have. I also found a small group of friends from my OnSite experience. With this group of people, I can just be myself. It’s safe.

    I don’t want my mother to change and now be all huggy, kissy, warm and wonderful. My father has been dead six years. Nothing will happen there.

    In therapy I found my voice with practice. I’m ok with not being close to my family of origin. I wish it could have been different. It wasn’t. My fiancée is not a substitute for the family that I missed.

    Sometimes, life just sucks.

    Reply
    • Chuck

      Insecure attachment or childhood emotional neglect, is a belief in separation. The only way to heal from this is to become mindful of it. I’m beginning to see it in non dualistic terms. It really never happened. My life, worth, and self- esteem have always been external issues outside of myself that is has given me all my fears and insecurities. By learning to examine my beliefs, I’ve found that I have given meaning to this life illusion by misperceiving my own truth in a way that’s (false)or incorrect. By understanding the meaning to what is true, I’m finding more wholeness. I’m in my own reality and not alone at all. We are a spiritual being first, having a human experience. No one person or circumstance will ever define me again.

      Reply
  56. Chuck

    Why don’t we all just accept that the damage to our emotional selves is non negotiable. The hurt, shame, anger, despair are reactions to the intensity of living in a sick environment for years. The neural pathways of our brains have been on overload by the need to be in a constant fight or flight moment. No one really understand us or why we have difficulty loving or feeling, and lack a sense of belonging. A desire to belong just does not exist for me. No one really wants to be your friend genuinely. They only want something from you, and offer nothing in return. Believe me I’ve tried to get help for myself. I’ve tried doing it there way. Without any positive results. Certain aspects of our core selves for example the abuse, trauma, neglect will impact us all of our lives. It is not reversible.

    Reply
  57. Jean

    I am 56 and I have always known that I didn’t feel the same emotions as everyone else but I thought it was just another aspect of me not being “good enough” so I hid it and pretended that life was fine. Life really isn’t fine and I would very much like to come in from the cold now please and have what I know other people have – friends, family, love and acceptance. I come from a very dysfunctional family – 7 children mum and dad. Mum never wanted to be with Dad and she certainly never wanted 7 children. She used to tell us in a very emotionless way the methods she tried to get rid of the last 3 of us (my elder sister, my younger brother and myself)We never had enough of anything; physical or emotional. My parents were not cruel they were just grown ups who lived in the same house as us and I never blamed them for their attitude – It was just the way it was. I have tried really hard but I cannot remember a single hug or word of affection or encouragement from either of them. I remember I so desperately wanted Mum to notice me; to single me out from all the rest and I tried so hard to make her proud of me but I might as well have been invisible. Yes we had some presents at Christmas and went away for a summer holiday most years but as for day to day living, we were totally independent at a very early age. You wanted clean clothes? There was the sink; you washed them yourself. You wanted blankets for bed? Don’t be silly! You went to bed fully clothed or crawled in with one of your sisters if they would let you or found coats or something and learned to crochet so you could make your own blanket in time. You looked after yourself any way you could and you survived. Simple. And now roll forward to present day and I am the most independent person I know. I have no faith in anyone else’s ability so I just do everything myself and I survive. I am on my second marriage and if I am not careful that will go the same way as the first. Materially I have everything that I need but I don’t have any real friends and I don’t think I would be able to trust that their friendship was genuine even if I could find some. I have a morbid fear of social gatherings because I just don’t know how to act at them. I just feel empty, left out and never ever good enough. I have read the book Running on Empty so now at least I have a label. First step forward I suppose. First of many I hope.

    Reply
    • Cheryl

      My heart breaks for you Jean. I know what it’s like to be one of the younger ones in a large family- mine was even larger then yours. I also felt unwanted, and my parents just too tired to care one way or the other. As long as I was quiet and didn’t make trouble, that was all I did… the big message was “you don’t matter”, yet expectations were high to be good and successful in life because we did receive a good education. Somehow, that doesn’t work later in life. If you don’t expect good treatment, you probably won’t get it, and that’s been a long life lesson. What else did I know? You too. Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault!

      Reply
  58. Darin

    I first encountered Dr. Webb’s work listening to a podcast, on my way from my parents place to my home state, where I recently lost my job. It resonated extremely deeply with me. I always felt terrible for being depressed and somewhat disfunctional given that I came from a home where my parents loved me and provided for me. In the past year or so all of the memories have flooded back, and it’s pretty much destroyed my life. (I will rebuild it.)

    Today I sent my parents a letter letting them know what I’ve been dealing with, and what the source is, and asking for their help. It was 6 pages long and included various examples of neglect. I don’t want to blame them, I don’t want their guilt. But I need them to understand that a reason I needed their help is because I’ve learned to never ask for anything and that my needs didn’t matter. It’s crazy how I look back after processing some of this and the neglectg is so obvious…but I know theyre both going to have had no idea.

    I dunno why I wrote this hear, but it’s nice to know that you’re not alone, and that your issues come from somewhere external.

    Reply
    • Adam Coombs

      Darin – I am glad you wrote what you did. It is courageous of you to write a letter to your parents! I also was programmed that ‘my needs don’t matter’ and your experience resonated with me – especially your last line. I is nice to know we are note alone – and we are a product of our childhood, but not trapped if we can process it! All the best. Adam.

      Reply
  59. Sherry

    I was emotionally neglected by both my mother and father. My mother was more physically available but I found out at the age of 30 that she was addicted to prescription medication throughout my entire childhood. My father was living at home but was rarely home due to working and enjoying his many hobbies. I have a question: How might neglect from a mother affect a daughter compared to how neglect from a father would affect a daughter?

    Reply
  60. Bonnie

    I will be 70 in a few months and have been dealing with this all my life. Although my story is not as sad as the many I have read, I still have the symptoms of CEN. My parents provided for my needs and did love me but at an early age, I knew something was wrong. I have been in and out of therapy most of my life but could never figure out what was wrong. I had some symptoms of abuse and other childhood trauma but was never abused or traumatized. I have always thought I had to do everything by myself and never knew what I was really good at. And I have always had difficulty in relationships, especially with men. I seem to pick those who are unavailable either emotionally, those who were just nuts or someone who was married. Although I have never had a physical affair with a married man, I had some sort of flirting affair which I can’t really explain. All my life, I have had very low self esteem. I never thought I was smart or good at anything. I struggled with so much.
    I read in one of Dr. Webb’s blogs that when some people with this problem get angry, they can have a temper tantrum like a two year old. My mother dealt with anger in that way. It was just so mortifying and so irrational. She had a miserable childhood and never was responded to emotionally and just passed it on. Now I pretty much know what happened and why. I am hoping I can over come some of these issues before I die. I am so grateful to know why I have felt this way for so long. Thank you, Dr. Webb, for bringing CEN to light. It will help a lot of people.

    Reply
    • Dorothy

      Bonnie, I am 70 and dealing with my childhood issues also. Thank God we are never too old to try. Unfortunately, my siblings say they are “too old to change”. It’s sad. We didn’t bond due to our upbringing. They are like acquaintances to me. I’d like it to be different, but I’m afraid at this stage of my life it will not be. I’m learning to just accept them where they are. We all felt we had to take care of ourselves because no one else would. Sad.

      Reply
    • Ashley

      I never knew I had anger issues until my ex-husband told me i was full of rage. Twelve years later and 3 therapists later I am better. BUT this book was like a revelation! I still felt CRAZY and beat myself up about EVERYTHING. I have a 12 year old daughter and am so grateful to have the tools to not pass this on to her. THANK YOU DR WEBB

      Reply
    • Penny

      I’m 50 and your story sounds like mine. My mother said I should go to,therapy which I have over the years and it has helped. But after I told her that some of my depression and relationship issues were because of emotional neglect and how others were affected, she asked if I was taking my medication, another time she suggested perhaps I was gay and she had talked to a gay friend who would help me. I’m neither. She and my father who would much rather we all (there are 9 of us) would just go away, would much rather I was crazy than take any responsibility. I’ve been off anti depressants for two,years and haven’t talked to them much at all for two years. It has been painful but also I feel stronger than I had for,years. I finally had a serious relationship and, even though he was emotionally unavailable and I broke it off, I’m proud of my progress. know she and some of my siblings say I’m crazy or depressed, but I just want little contact since they constantly lie and I’m scapegoated, especially if I say no. I feel angry that I have missed out on so much, but I am slowly cutting out friends who,use me and am now saying no to extra tasks at work. It’s hard, it’s terribly lonely, but I’d much rather be on my own than be taken for granted and used as an option rather than a choice, and I refuse to spend the rest of my life being made to feel grateful that they even allowed me into the family. I feel for you and was so happy to read your story. Thank you.

      Reply
  61. Jim

    My mother died when I was a year old and my father sent me off to live with his sister and her husband “temporarily” while he “got back on his feet”. And no this is not a misprint, I lived with them until I was 23 except for a period of 2 years when she threw me out because I started to speak up for myself after 18 or so years of keeping my mouth shut and “not making waves” and I couldn’t take it any more. I ended up living with my father for those two years and I really got to know how much I disliked him. I resented the fact that he was uninterested in raising his own child and that despite my aunt telling him to “find that kid another place to live”, repeatedly for a period of many YEARS knowing that I was emotionally and sometimes physically abused, he did nothing to help me out. I believe he was a very depressed individual to begin with and he had no ability for responsibility. SO I had 3 “parents” but none of them were very useful. After a time my aunt resented me being there and my uncle was always a cold fish. My father through his depression always stated that he was ready to die, which I found incredibly selfish knowing full well that I was stuck between a rock and a hard place with no ability to do anything about my situation. But I continued to be passive because I was threatened with “going to the Orphans Home” and the like…. When you’re a kid you don’t know what to believe and so I didn’t make waves… I kept to myself and was lonely and miserable at home. Since that time my father has mercifully died and my aunt and uncle and I have come to an understanding, and we have long since reconciled.. We have a good relationship now but they are in their late 80’s. And both have come to realize that many things they did were wrong… They didn’t believe me when they said my father was miserable depressed and uncooperative They just saw me as an ungrateful child. I was anything but, but I also lacked the basic things I needed. But they believe that that is all in the past… While this maybe true, it still haunts and affects me in many ways to this day… I am unable to really do what I need to do for myself… My relationships have all deteriorated and I spend most of my time alone and miserable. I have never really gotten over the fact that I never knew my mother and resent the fact that my father did everything in his power to prevent me from learning anything about her. I was 19 yrs old before I saw a picture of her and I had to go through my fathers stuff and steal the only picture that exists of she and I in the same photo. I feel so defeated. I have gone to college for several degrees but I have never found a satisfying and rewarding career. My father sent me to college but the college of his choice was a business school and I am the least business oriented person whoever lived. It took me 6 1/2 years to get a 4 year degree, (with a 1.86 GPA and after that was unrewarding I went back to school 3 ore times to get a degree in something else but never fund anything great even though my GPA was above a 3.5. The bottom line is that I am lost, and alone I have virtually no friends or family… And I’ve been on some variant of an antidepressant for over 20 years and am in therapy twice a week for over 8 years now. I have tried many therapists and I wonder if there is anything at all that can be done to get me out of the rut I’ve been in since birth. I see Dr Phil sending people away for treatment and I sort of wish that I could have the same and straighten my ass out. I’m 55, and this shit has gone on far too long. And the thing that really bugs me is that when I was a kid I requested some form of therapy to straighten things out but it was refused… “Only crazy people see psychiatrists”. So what the hell do I do? There literally is no one to rely on.

    Reply
    • Suz

      Jim, that’s a rough way to grow up. It’s never too late to get help.

      There are a couple of kinds of folks who can help: psychiatrists and therapists. They’re not the same thing. Psychiatrists can prescribe prescriptions as the are medical doctors. Practicing therapists have PhD or MS and cannot prescribe meds.

      There are a variety of therapists, just like there are us people. You might try googling “therapist” + “your city” to get a list of therapists in your area. Read their bios. They’ll usually share what they specialize in. You may have a list of therapists who are in network with your health insurance. That can sometimes save you money as providers “in network” have negotiated fees with your insurance.

      Pick one, then set up an intro appointment. This is an opportunity for you to see if feel that you can work with the therapist. You can even find a check list of questions to ask the therapist in that visit. If you feel you can work with the therapist, then schedule your next visit! If not, then try the next one on your list.

      When I was looking for a therapist, I didn’t want a therapist who would use the bible or have me read religious stuff or “pray to god” to fix myself. I’m not religious. That was important for me. I asked those questions of the therapist I actually chose to work with.

      If you broke your arm, you’d go to the emergency room. If you’re having trouble with the past intruding on your life, then working with someone to manage through it is like going to the emergency room for a broken arm. I called my therapist my coach. With a lot of people working with career coaches or life coaches these days, calling your therapist your “coach” can make it easier to swallow it. Like “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Basically, it reframes it. Seeing the therapist as a coach can help you do the work, too.

      A therapist is a guide. Honestly, I don’t think “crazy people” go to therapists. I think it’s too bad that the impression still exists. I think it takes courage to ask for help.

      “A journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step.” ~Lao Tzu

      Reply
      • Penny

        Hi jim. Try looking at Ross Rosenberg and Lisa Romano’s websites on Narcissistic abuse. They also have really good tools and explain Dr Webbs another way. Many of us had/have narrcacist parents. I reasilsed there is a huge difference between having children and wanting children. I believe many parents have them because that’s what you should do. But if they were honest, they never really wanted children. Also, you can be in the same house but have a different home. Your siblings often won’t or don’t want to understand your place in the family.

        Reply
    • Karen

      I, too have had an emotional neglected childhood up until now at the age of 55, it continues….
      I found a program that helped me. It saved my life, as I was slowly killing myself by starving and dehydrating myself. I ended up with heart disease from it. My wonderful husband, picked my ass up (literally) and put me in the car and drove me to a 2 1/2 day leadership AWAKENING PROGRAM. There is absolutlely no other program out there like this one! It is amazing. CHANGED MY LIFE! I am happy now! Happy! All those feelings, of guilt, and failure, and feeling unwanted etc etc.are all gone! GONE! This was SEVEN years ago, and I am still fine. Two and a half days to change your life. It’s a touch class. You will want to leave. Desperately want to leave. BUT DO NOT LEAVE. Just give 100% of yourself in there, and TRUST THE PROCESS. Trust the process. Go check it out. It can’t hurt, just save your life and make you feel great, because your head will get pulled out of your ass and set you straight on YOUR path. Your passion, purpose, commitment, goals, will be going on the right path. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. So get on the road you want and GO FORWARD and don’t look back anymore. Good luck to you. and Go take the class, I promise you, you will not be disappointed. Now, go live your life like it matters, because it does.
      http://www.likeitmatters.net

      Reply
  62. Henry

    I took the questionnaire and I answered Yes to 20 out of 22 (and didn’t have to deliberate on any of them). YIKES!

    But it all makes sense. I only started delving into any of this since my parents passed away. I am in my 50s currently. My mom passed 2 years ago and my dad 4 years ago. When each of them passed away, I went through a somewhat deep introspection about why I didn’t feel particularly sad at their passing but relieved. I didn’t have any particular fond memories of time spent with either of them. Then I went through a phase of depression and some anger around a single question, “Why didn’t they ever want to spend time with me?” Then feelings of emptiness and worthlessness began flooding in and I remembered how those feelings had dominated my childhood. And I felt like something in me was broken, as in not working. Like a critical part of a machine was missing. I was like a zombie for a few weeks after each of them died.

    But the weird thing is, they were VERY GOOD people. Everyone who knew them liked them. Just salt of the earth “good people”, well respected and admired in our home town. No one could say a bad thing about them. In all my childhood they never had an argument. Never said an unkind word to each other. We always had our material needs taken care of. We weren’t rich, but we never had a sense of not having enough. They were Ward and June Cleaver. So how could they have not been good parents?

    I could probably write 20 pages right now about feeling disconnected since my earliest memories. Self-medicating through my teen years. Unable to find any solid direction in life (although the things I was passionate about were pushed back and considered impractical and unobtainable). I could sum up my life to date as “Unrealized Potential”. I have 3 older brothers and we never talk. I’ll get a call on my birthday from them but beyond that, there is zero communication. Like no one really cares to know what I’m doing. They communicate with each other much more than with me. It was always like that because they are all closer in age to each other. We don’t have a “bad” relationship, like someone is offended. We just don’t have a relationship, at least not one that you would typify as “family”.

    Even right now as I am processing some of this, I feel like some kind of drug is taking effect. I am not sure what to do next. I have a great wife that I can talk to about it. It was actually from her processing issues with her mother that got me thinking about any of this again.

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Wow, I just discovered this website and this concept, and your story definitely resonates with me. My parents weren’t abusive, narcisstic, substance abusers, any of that…they are very good people, with friends and careers and have been married to each other for almost 50 years. But emotion was just not something that was ever expressed in my home. They never argued or even raised their voices with one another (at least, not in front of me). But they never really showed much love and affection for one another, and their affection for me dwindled as I got older. We stopped saying “I love you” some time in my teen years, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve hugged each other in the past decade. My father is very analytical and all decisions must be made and justified according to facts. I had no idea how strange this upbringing was until many years later, when I went to therapy for the first time during my divorce from my first husband. I’m still trying to figure out how to overcome the results of this upbringing with my children and my second husband.

      Reply
    • Karen

      i know what you mean, i had 22 out of 22. Yikes!

      Reply
  63. Rebecca

    My parents have a disregard for my feelings and lack of value for me as an individual. It was this way growing up, and still is today at age 45. Growing up my mom used to tell me “I might not like you, but I’ll always love you.” I was a shy kid, which she did not like and after we moved when I was 10 years old, I had a hard time making new friends. When she would see me inside the house playing alone, she would tell me “You are a zero… all you do is sit around all day … no wonder nobody wants to be your friend.” This went on routinely until one day I told her she was making me feel bad about myself and I asked her why she felt it was OK to do that to me. She paused and looked at me stunned, then walked away. She stopped saying those things for a few weeks, but eventually the same dialog returned and I just learned to stay away from her.
    I was elated when I went away to college and physically got away. I felt like emotional chains had finally been removed. Only seeing her for small amounts of time prevented situations that would trigger destructive dialog. A few years ago I mentioned how I felt to my sister and asked her if she had ever experienced anything similar. She said she had not and said she thought I was being cruel to our mother. I asked her to keep our discussion confidential, but she eventually told our mother everything I had confided. I then felt my sister had betrayed me, and that my mother had been given a new reason to “dislike” me again. I know you cannot change people. I have distanced them all from my life.

    Reply
  64. marten

    I took the questionnaire and answered yes to 21 of 22, so i took it again to really sit with each question and again 21 of 22. And as i sat with each question memories would float through my mind, things i haven’t thought of for years, yet through all those years i have always been isolated from everyone and everything to the point of suicidal thoughts more times then i care to count. But sometimes it’s putting a label on what i have been experiencing and knowing that i’m not alone in this hell on earth. So thank you everyone for opening up in this forum and letting a hurt little boy who grew up alone know there is a better life waiting

    Reply
    • Brent

      Me to. Isolated all the time. Working construction for years tucked away on a site with not much human contact and then go home to an empty house and medicate. Last year I started a service to clean moss and debris from roofs in the north west. Jobs are erratic and I could make more money sticking with construction,but this new endeavour has brought me in contact with a whole lot more people and has challenged me as well. It feels good when a happy customer hands me a cheque and boosts my confidence a bit. It ain’t easy,but there are small rewards.
      I think a lot of us are good at things because we were always trying harder to get that pat on the back (which never came). Perhaps putting ones skills out to a broader market will bring some appreciation. Not from all,but those small crumbs sure taste good.

      Reply
      • Peter

        Dear Marten and Brent

        Neither of you know me, and I don’t know you. My name is Peter. I was deeply touched by what you both wrote. I did the questionnaire for myself and got 2 out of 22. Yes that’s right, 2. I do not have CEN. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family where they cared and they showed it. I wish I could give comfort and peace to you guys. I’m 42 and have two kids of my own (teenagers). I pour out my love, affirmation and acceptance on them both every day. I hug them and tell that I love them and nothing they can ever do will stop that. I wish you 2 could have had what I had. I did nothing to deserve it, there is nothing particularly good or bad about me. I guess my folks just had what it took and knew how to give it. What I can say is I bet you are both awesome people who are really special. The world is a much better place because you are both in it. I can’t bear the thought you are suffering ‘hell on earth’ and I want you to be OK. At least someone somewhere is thinking good thoughts about you; I am, even if you are not. And you know what? Nothing is going to stop me thinking good thoughts about you. From Peter x

        Reply
        • Christy

          Peter,
          your words and concern are very touching. I wish all parents were more like you

          Reply
          • Peter Walker

            Bless you Christy from Peter

        • Mattie

          Peter, I just wanted you to know that your reply has shown me what loving parenting is supposed to look like. It is something I never had, although I always knew it was missing. Thank you for this lovely post. It is helping me in my journey.

          Reply
          • Peter

            My pleasure Mattie. I hope you find peace. From Peter

  65. Chuck

    I just want to say… that I’m 66 years old and still dealing with the emptiness of CEN. I’m close to no one and seem to attract other people with similar issues. Therefore, making connection with others extremely difficult. Forgiveness is also difficult for me simply because my life has been very unfulfilled and unrewarding. My destructive narcissistic mother never loved me and used me to meet her narcissistic supply. She was also emotionally unavailable, self absorbed, and used emotional blackmail on me, when ever she had the chance to do so. I was the adult in the family and had learned to care take and rescue and people please others without ever questioning my own needs. Development arrests exists in me and has stunted my emotional growth. I don’t think any amount of therapy or counseling can ever reverse it. Knowing this leaves me hopeless. She, my mother has taken the wind from my sails and I still carry the anger with all the repressed emotions. They don’t serve me at all. The joke is trying to get the right kind of professional help. Medicare always pays for in most situations, people who are general in there practice, but not specific enough to deal with the real underlying issues. Can any of you relate to me?

    Reply
    • Vanessa

      Hi Chuck
      Yes i can relate to you and how you feel 100% although my situation differs that feeling of hopelessness and having relationships with the wrong kind of people is my life . I am 51 and have come to conclude that i will always be alone and i say that without looking for sympathy its the way it is

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      This is my story too! I am 62 years old, and also had a self-centered, controlling mother. She bullied my father, her mother, my husband, my friends, me, … and loved the spotlight. She told me that she was glad that she only had one child, because any more would have made her too nervous. I felt like I was the cause of all of her tension headaches and back troubles. Whenever I was brave enough to undertake a new adventure, she rushed in to form her network and take ownership and credit. I could go on and on. I have felt like damaged goods, and have contemplated “the worst” several times. Thankfully, after a considerable amount of therapy (none of which addressed the real problem), endlessly scrutinizing my beliefs/religion, desperately reading anything that looked remotely helpful, medicating, etc., it is all starting to make sense. It seems like science and ancient beliefs are finally converging, and there is scientific proof of how our childhood programming went awry and left us with a zero sum. I have just signed up for Dr. Webb’s Fuel Up for Life program, and I am beginning to feel the ice melting away. My husband and I, after nearly 40 years, are moving into what feels like a grown-up, healthy relationship. I am testing out the practice of validating others, and it is coming back to me in “truth and purity”. I would never have dreamed this possible. Every human being cries out for compassion, and I’m finding that the amazing thing is that when you try to meet someone right where they are, without judgement…if you can shed your hurt for even a moment, they meet you back. Smiles and hugs have so much more power than I have ever allowed. I don’t know you, but then again, I do. We all do. We’re in this together. I’m sending out hope to you. Take it. Own it. And when you’re ready to share, beware…the sun is really bright on the other side. 🙂

      Reply
  66. ach

    Hi All

    It’s great to actually read about people who feel the same way!
    I have two questions, that I would really appreciate your experiences with.
    Firstly-how do you say “No” when others ask for help; I’m always being asked for help, and I feel terrible saying no-but I can’t do everything, and I never seem to get round to doing things for me or really having a break-as there are other more important
    Secondly-how do you motivate yourself to really look after yourselves? I live and work overseas, and I know if I saw someone else living as I do I would feel bad-but as it’s only me, it does’nt matter and I don’t care…but I don’t know if it can go on this way as it can be so tiring…

    Reply
  67. Francis McKenna

    Hi Melanie

    I do understand exactly where you are coming from. My mom and other caregivers just saw to physical needs thinking that if I was housed fed and clothed that was all that was necessary and that the emotional needs simply did not matter. And at the end my mom became physically abusive as a result of which her dad had to send me to be raised from the age of 13 by my godmother. But unfortunately the harm was done by then in that I and left emotional numb permanently independent of whether I feel good or bad. And I can only relate to people by willed rapport.
    I think you are right explaining how you have been affected to your mom would not achieve anything. The only thing that would is following the methods in the book and perhaps good therapy for this. I really hope and pray everything will improve for you and you will eventually have good relationships. Take care. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis.

    Reply
  68. Dharma

    Hi, I recently read Running on Empty and found it really resonated with me. I have been going to therapy for a few years, and my therapist has talked to me about aspects of myself that are on the autism spectrum. After researching ASD I found I could relate to a some of the symptoms, like social anxiety, feeling different to other people, and difficulty expressing negative feelings or explaining what I was feeling. But there were also aspects of ASD that I felt didn’t match how I felt, one being that I have strong empathy, if anything I am overly sensitive to other people’s feelings. So I ended up a little confused if I was on the autism spectrum or not.
    When I read Running on Empty I felt like so much of what you described was how I felt. Since my teenage years I’ve had strong feelings of emptiness, never ask for help, much harder on myself than others, feelings that there’s something wrong with me and blame myself for that, hid my real self, have difficulty nurturing, and difficulty being aware of and expressing “negative” emotions.
    Do you think there is a cross-over between ASD and childhood emotional neglect? Because I feel with me rather than being a developmental disorder like ASD, my issues stem from childhood emotion neglect. I can pin point times from my childhood where my negative emotions were not validated, and where I never got to learn or help with important emotional difficulties.
    I feel this book has helped me find something which I have been hiding from myself for a long time, my emotions. I realise that it’s not a coincidence that my feelings of emptiness and search for meaning started in my teenage years when I began to really try to repress any strong negative emotions. I’m uneasy using the word “Soul”, but I think that is where my emotions come from, and now I am becoming more and more aware of my emotions, I am feeling less spiritually empty. For years I have had difficulty turning off, and just relaxing, as the rational side of my brain would fill the void left by my emotions with almost torturous chatter. But now that my emotional side is filling that void I am telling the rational side that it’s ok, it can relinquish control. I think it will be a long time before I am where I’d like to be, but I’m going in the right direction, and I thank you for that.

    Reply
    • rachel

      Hi, the lack of empathy in autistic people is a myth. In fact many autistic people are more empathic, they just struggle to show this in ways that non-autistic people recognise. Many autistic people also say they hide their feelings of empathy because in the past it has been met with negativity, so they hide their feelings so they don’t get hurt. I’d go back and look into ASD with this in mind.

      Reply
    • Anonymous

      Hi Dharma, as an educator, I have to tell you that all of the evidence I’ve seen coming our way is supporting the significance of early mother-child bonding, as well as the validation and wise teaching of parents. I have seen it in the classroom every day for the past 23 years. I suspect that those of us in our generation are in a unique position to bear witness to the destruction of “our souls”. It took an angry, extended rant (God bless my husband for sitting with me through that), railing against my parents (long since deceased), against the culture of broken marriages, prejudice, scientific devaluation via labeling, dogmatic religions, etc., etc., before I was able to release it all. But that wasn’t possible until I had learned what I now know to be true. Our most basic need, other than probably food and water, is to feel part of this love, compassion, validation, and belonging. It affects us down to our DNA. We are only at the tip of the iceberg of discovering how amazingly we are all connected. Dr. Webb is onto something big, and it seems to be THE BIG. It is starting to resonate all around us. Our parents have fallen as victims to some pretty erroneous thinking, so part of forgiving them is also separating from their beliefs and their own trauma. It’s a WOW moment…that separation. Have you seen the TED talk, “Stroke of Genius”? Yes! We can get better! It’s up to us–we who have the stories to tell. It is up to us to get better–and to make it better for those who come after us.

      Reply
    • Josie

      Hey Dharma,

      Have you ever read about highly sensitive people?

      Reply
      • Dharma

        Hi Josie,
        No I hadn’t heart about HSP. And I’ve now read the book and feel it fits me so well. Thank you so much for this. I feel the book was written about me. It’s now helping me to see that parts of myself that I’ve always seen as negative, have positives, and to just be easier on myself.

        Reply
        • Josie

          Hey Dharma,

          It feels so good to know that my comment helped you, thank you for letting me know! (you writing this back totally made my day!) I recognized a lot in your story but I was reluctant to comment. But I’m glad that I did. Good luck with everything 🙂

          Reply
  69. Christine

    Hi Dr. Webb,
    I was wondering if you happen to know of any resources for more complicated versions of CEN?

    I’m looking for resources for those of us who have CEN due not only to a depressed mother, but this was exacerbated by the father being in the military, often absent for long periods of time due to their work, and the family having to pick up and move every 2-3 years.

    I’m also wondering how PTSD later in life is affected by CEN, and if CEN causes a person to be more susceptible to PTSD stemming from vicarious trauma?

    I know these are quite specific situations, but any help or resources you or anybody else may know of is much appreciated.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Kent

      Wow, that resonates with me. My father was in Navy and gone most of time . Mother was emotionally abused and abandoned by her father. My mother did not know how to be loving and I grew up with no love or support. I wonder why I have problems expressing my emotions and overreacting to problems.

      Kent

      Reply
      • Christine

        Hi Kent, It’s nice to find someone else in the same sort of situation. I’m actually in the process of trying to find resources for people who grew up in the type of situation we did. I even tried contacting the DOD, but no real help except to refer me to other sources that might be able to help. You’d think that the DOD would offer services or resources for those of us who grew up with a parent in the military. When I think of it in a certain way, it’s as if we kind of served our country in our way, as well. Of course, it’s nothing like being on active duty in Iraq or anything like that, but we still sacrificed a lot ourselves.
        Anyway, I’ll try and remember to post anything I find that might help in our specific situation. And if you find anything, please share, too! 🙂

        Reply
      • Kent

        I am glad to hear sadly that others suffer from such things. I have been trying to figure why I overreact to certain things.I haven’t read the book yet as I have only just now discovered it.My mother was sent with her sister to a girls home n she was 9 because her mom died . Father remarried had daughter and that’s when new mom sent girls to the home.No wonder mom was so hard core. Had no sympathy for anyone.

        Reply
    • Suz

      Christine, are you working with a therapist? Finding one with whom you can open up to and work with can be helpful. One who specializes in PTSD can be helpful. Each situation is unique regarding the trauma and how we process it as an individual. This is why 2 kids in the same family will often have different perspectives on what happened to them.

      Emotional neglect is a real thing. It took me a long time to understand that while I didn’t sport bruises or other markers of violence, I was emotionally hurt from my “nice family”.

      I have a different view of the old children’s saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ Right. NOT.

      A therapist with PTSD experience can be helpful.

      Reply
    • Sherry Dennis

      I can’t believe I’m reading this. I have a very similar situation. My father was in the military. My mother showed no affection to me and seemed to always punish me in a form of shame. She did not hug. I remember one time when I almost drowned to death in a canoe accident when I was 12, I actually saw her cry and she hugged me. That was the first time I thought that maybe she did have feelings for me. When my dad was home from tour, she was extremely jealous of any time my father spent with me, even to the point of staying in the room so my father and I couldn’t have any private father/daughter time. I scored 19 on the CEN test.

      Reply
      • A. Y.

        Sherry, you just described my family. I have all the symptoms of CEN. An eye opener to me and I’ve been in therapy for 46 years.

        Reply
  70. Susan Harkema

    Hello Dr. Webb: I’ve found your book and site very helpful. As a 45-year-old emotionally neglected child of an 83-year old emotionally neglected child who is my father, I would love to hear about how to care for my adult father who lives with me now. I am his caregiver and find his behavior very difficult to deal with well. I left home at age 21 and now it’s like having my childhood in my face every day. I try to let the criticism roll off my back, but as an adult it’s hard to know how best to have boundaries, combat the self-talk that reinforces his negativity and preserve myself. Thank you.

    PS. I would love to cover this on my blog as well.

    Reply
    • K

      I just took your test and scored 19… explains so much…

      Reply
      • NobodySpecial

        I am in a very similar situation. Left home at 18 and now have 90 year old mother living with me. I am 59 Have no connection with her on any meaningful level at all. However it does provide a sense of duty but would love to have someone around to connect with. A lonely life but for my dogs.

        Reply
        • Justhere

          I would like to know as well.

          Reply
        • Cheryl

          I’m in a similar situation. I feel like I’m married to my mother and constantly wonder how I let this happen. CEN helps to explain it. Wish I’d heard of it earlier in my life.

          Reply
  71. Sarah

    Walls…what stronghold is that? Emotions…what torrents lied within me? My life had been a series of walls–endless locks and keys, to which only I had access to…but for some, the doors had rusted and the keys, hidden, had been lost along the way. Things were full of dichotomy. Memories something to be forgotten, love something to be given but not received. Relationships only for them and me remaining in my castle. My fears unknown, sometimes even to my self. Sometimes I would cry looking into the mirror, asking of myself what did I truly want–what were my desires, my hopes, and my dreams for life? But most things–whether actions or words had been done and said only for the comfort or pleasure of the other person. I had lost myself burying it deep–deeply and unconsciously. As a child I came from a split family. Some of my other siblings were only half siblings, though I loved them dearly. One by one, engulfed by their hopelessness of the situation–the time for arguing had passed and they left..slamming the door behind them. My mother who so many times had tried to shake off the dust, eventually succumb once again to the comfort that food supposedly offers and that strong drink that would surely heal her own deep wounds and insecurities–she was left staring wide eyed, deeply at the bottom of every bottle. My father had a heart attack when I was but fourteen, he was stabilized then the worst happened. A nightmare no child should endure. I still remember my mother calling me from the hospital at three in the morning. She told me calmly that someone should drive me and my sister over as soon as possible….I have to come to say goodbye.
    My father thankfully recovered, but was diagnosed with a disease that eats away at ones heart, we later found out he also had it in his brain. Over the next few years they both went through series of depressions and my mother went to school and work full time. Leaving my sister and I to deal with everything–emotionally and physically in taking care of the house and ourselves.
    My sister finally left the house to go to college, leaving me in the death of silence. My parents and I were like three strangers in one house. I not only had no person to go to or rely on, but I had to care for two other people.

    When I finally went away to a good caring college, I did not know the meaning of having fun, to truly laugh–I was completely numb. How else could I have dealt with seven years of words with no meaning, hugs with no feeling, and an “I” without a self. I was blinded that my parents even had issues, that children werent supposed to take care of both parents at so young and have no love and support in return.I had been so used to people not listening, people not caring that when people actually did I was surprised and did not believe it was for real.

    After two years away from home and having good,patient, and supportive friends and seeing how my parents became self destructive through no dealing with there problems I pushed myself even further and higher to work on myself and gain a stronger sense of self. I have heard of so many stories, terrible and heart wrenching. So many times I wish to be there for those people, to truly listen and hold their hand. To make them feel and know that even though their life at the moment is difficult you always have a choice. That you might feel like your life is falling apart, but you have to tap into the strength within you–its there. Everyone has a past, and it always has an effect—either you can let it define you or you can choose to it to build you. The fight is never over—either we are quarreling with others or ourselves. There is too much hatred in the world not to love at all costs–but not when the price comes to the expense of our own life. One must learn to turn resentment into understanding, and survival into truly living. Life goes on, and we must focus to do what is right no matter the personal loss or gain—it is our duty to do so—to utilize our every breathe to bettering the lives around us, whether it be our own or another’s. Moments are for living, not for passing. Time is not vent murderous intentions, killing its precious moments, but is rather to embrace life itself and to utilize it parsimoniously. Life is not for tranquility, it is for individuality. It is not for self but for others. It is not to have good, but to find the good in everything. If you truly live a moment you live a lifetime–its your life–it is your choice–live.

    Reply
    • karen

      Your words were beautiful. You should write a book. You are good at expressing yourself with words.

      Reply
  72. Jessica

    Hi Dr Webb

    Bought the audio version of your book. Im desperately trying to find the worksheet to download. Can you please or any one point me in the right direction.

    Jessica

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Jessica,
      Go to THE BOOK page of my website and there are three large purple links on it. They take you to the downloads.
      Take care!

      Reply
  73. Francis McKenna

    Hi Jill

    Like you I suffered emotional neglect growing up. I am now 72 and I am incapable of feeling positive emotion for anyone or anything. This is a direct result of emotional neglect and receiving no love. My mother was mainly responsible for this. But I have forgiven her not because she deserved forgiveness partly because I am a Christian and also because I realize that holding onto angry feelings against her would block healing and poison my system. No we do not forgive perpetrators because they deserve it but so that we can free ourselves from the toxic poison of hating them. You have done such a wonderful job loving your own kids. All credit to you for that! Take care. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis

    Reply
    • Kent

      Thanks for your story.
      The only good thing to come from my upbringing is to know that I would not repeat the things that were done to me. My former wife and I shared similar stories. We decided e would not repeat the abuse we received on our children. No physical or mental abuse upon our children. They are 35 and 37 now and the kind of people so good that others complimented me raising such amazing sons.

      Reply
  74. Jill

    Hello; In reading your book, my main emotion bubbling up, is sadness. I am fighting tears as I turn each page. I wonder if this is where I’m stuck… I feel sadness (self-pity?) for myself and anger towards my parents. Their faces just remain stuck in my head as I read the pages, and I can’t seem to get past that.

    I had my own children (they are now in their early 20’s and doing great) and as they grew up I began dealing with major anger towards my parents, as I regarded my children with so much love and importance, why didn’t my parents have those same feelings and make those choices, for me?? I became furious and I guess I haven’t gotten past that point so I can start to heal myself. I made it my mission to provide my children what I did not receive, and I think I did pretty well; at least, I feel good about what I did as a mother and the relationship I have with both kids. I consider that a significant step in healing, and in breaking a pattern, but I still have overwhelming feelings of this self-pity that I would really like to break free from.

    One solution I strongly consider is to break off completely from my parents at this late stage. Many of the same things I endured as a child still exist today and it still throws me off, touching many sensitive triggers.

    It seems like I’m doing ok, I’m pretty highly functioning, but it feels like a daily struggle.

    Thank You

    Reply
    • Nancy

      I can identify completely with your struggle. I’m struggling to heal my inner child.
      I blocked my emotions for so long, when them come up, I try to turn them off. I’m told in order to heal, I have to feel and express my anger, in order to get to forgiveness. It’s not easy but I know I have to let go. I cannot carry this pain much longer.
      I wish you everything good in your healing process.

      Reply
    • Joanna

      Hello, I got on the internet looking for advice concerning, How to cope when your daughters, 2 out of three, hate you because they say they have been hurt in the past by things I have said in the past.(arguments we had that we talked through and I thought we had moved on.)
      I suffered through CEN with my Military father and my mother whom is from another country.In her country she grew up barefooted and dirty but they maintained their dignity through helping others less fortunate and keeping up an image of social hierarchy. I am presenting these details only to get an understanding of the background. My grandmother was a saint who fed and sheltered the homeless on the island. My mother was the youngest of seven girls and 2 bothers after her. She often told stories of how jealous she was that her mom paid attention to strangers and not her. How her sisters hated taking care of her(bathing and brushing her long hair) because her mother was always helping others.She became one to look out for only herself and did not know how to be nurturing. The phrase I heard a lot as a child was, you’re a kid, You don’t need that. I was determined NOT to be that parent. I married a man just like my dad, military, strict and self absorbed. I did not attended college because I was so involved in my children and family. There was no time, in my head, I would have been selfish to take that from them. I thought. I was The Best mother. I cannot describe in words my outlandish,bursting forth, wave, of a need to be there for, provide for at all cost, make them feel loved and accepted by their mom. I protected them from the harshness of their Dad.( he has problems with kleptomania and has been arrested several times.
      Now, they hate me. My 23 year old(graduated college, living out of town) just said she never wants me in her life and when I ask why she says,That I wont admit that I said hateful things to her. I’m a talker, I always have to talk out feeling, respectfully. We had 1 argument(Before her 1st and only boyfriend at 21, I was her best friend)about me trying to convince her to buy a lesser car out right instead of making large payments. We talked through it, I thought, and we both were angry by words the other said but I moved on and have found out months later that she was pretending to be okay with it. I try, as so many people have said, wait, she will get over it, she is a child. Just wait. In the meantime my second child(19 and away in college) has also gotten angry that 2 years ago in the midst of divorcing and money woes and college tuition and buying used cars, I said out loud. Why did I ever have 3 three girls? She told her boyfriend and now he hates me too.(I never new she was mad, she was pretending to be okay, I just found this out Friday Mar 25,2016) My youngest 15 yrs is here at home listening to all this and has decided I am controlling and say mean things. Despite the fact that this home revolves around her needs and wants. It doesn’t help that my ex is in Egypt. Has not raised the girls since 2009(7 yrs)
      I’m 50 yrs old. I’m in school to learn a career,I work the remaining time in the day, struggle to get my third daughter where she wants to go and the things she wants. Just so I can support my dwindling family.
      I feel my 1st daughter Has Bi-Polar behavioral disorder. But then I feel like I’m only blaming her and I have some part in it but then I feel really strong about how I worked so hard to be a conscientious mother. Because of my husbands mental struggles(kleptomania) I feel this plays a part in it. My first and third daughter are just like their dad. Loners, don’t like to be touched, self centered. But then my middle daughter is just like me, very sensitive therefore aware of others feelings, very eager to please, outgoing, never met a stranger.
      Please, someone, give me feedback. Even if it is harsh. I will take in the critic, try to see what I have done wrong. I’m really at the end.
      Please forgive that this was so lengthy.

      Reply
  75. Lynn

    I’m a woman who grew up emotionally neglected – thankfully I found Dr. Webb’s book awhile ago and it has guided me in my own self-growth and healing. I’ve reached a point where I don’t feel that individual therapy has more to offer me (in a good way) – but feel that I would really benefit from a support group of other adults dealing with the issues surrounding CEN. I wonder if there is a way to find such groups or find a therapist willing to start one – or perhaps the whole issue is still not well enough known or understood? thoughts?

    Reply
    • Jill

      Hi Lynn; I would be interested in this as well.

      Reply
    • Francis McKenna

      Hi Lynn

      A few of us who are victims of childhood emotional neglect have set up an ongoing Yahoo support group for this. If you would like to join please email me on elfran49@hotmail.com. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis McKenna

      Reply
      • Jonice Webb

        I think the idea of a support group is great! I can’t participate regularly but would like to perhaps check in on occasion. Dr. Webb

        Reply
      • Lynn

        Appreciate the ability to share in an online group. I accepted the invite for the Yahoo group, but for some reason, I am not able to read or post in the group.

        Also for those who might be interested in group discussion using Facebook, I am willing to set up and moderate a group there – and would designate it as a secret group so that any discussion is held private and is not searchable. Feel free to send me a private email, if interested. Thank you.

        Reply
        • Carol

          I would certainly be interested in joining a group…either yahoo or FB. Please post information here is a group is established. Thanks so much!

          Reply
    • Lucinda

      I’ve been looking for a support group too!

      Reply
    • Sandra

      I come from a family who endured extreme abuse. My sanity and ability to move through life is secured in a learned skill where I choose my path. It is not founded in the blaming of others including abusive parents for whom I have become. Although I still have issues with trust I work at it every day. Sometimes I succeed and other times not. I do know that my world is mounded by what I choose. I am important and I no longer give the power to others to influence how I feel about or react to my life and those around me.

      Reply
  76. anonymous

    I appreciate Dr. Webb’s research on Childhood Emotional Neglect immensely. My journey to discovering my struggles and trying to work through them has been greatly enhanced by her information.

    Reply
    • Francis

      Hi Jonice

      There is one effect of childhood emotional neglect. You may not know about. That is emotional deprivation disorder identified by Dr. Conrad Baars in the 1980s. It basically means the impossibility of being able to feel anything for anyone or anything which is what I suffer from. Very often, as in my case, it leads to depression and anxiety. The answer that was found by Dr. Baars was affirmation therapy. Basically giving the client. The love that he did not receive growing up. All of the symptoms of this disorder are listed on Dr. Baars website. I am now 72 and still dealing with the effects of this disorder. Among other things, it is found to delay cognitive development, something I experienced an increase in my late 60s, when depression and anxiety, had eased up a bit. You are sincerely Francis McKenna

      Reply
  77. Jim

    I noticed that the extensive feeling list ends with the “S”s and wonder if part of it might be missing.

    Reply
    • KU_mom

      My daughter has been struggling with the pain of a very bad breakup for a year now. Prior to that we hot along fine..sometimes we has arguments but for the most part I thought were close. Right after the breakup she began talking about how I never really cared about her, ignored her and never made her feel loved.I was shocked and tried to tell her she was wrong. A therapist we met with twice believe a that she is suffering from Childhood Emotional Neglect. The same therapist met with her alone at the next visit and my daughter now refuses to go back to her or anyone else because it is too painful. She does not feel that it is fair that she has to go through this.. She wants me to fix it, to make her feel that she matters and loved, to help her get the life back with her old boyfriend. I cannot find àny information anywhere on what a parent can do to help their child with CEN.

      Reply
      • Jonice Webb

        Hi please watch for my next week’s blog on psychcentral.com. It will be about how to mend a relationship with an adult child in a CEN family. It’s wonderful that you’re so motivated to connect with your daughter! Don’t give up.

        Reply
        • n.g.

          I have a question I’d love you to answer or blog about Dr. Webb! How do you know when to move away from your parents to get well? I’m in my mid 40’s and moved to be near my parents as they are in their late 80’s now and it seemed like I was “supposed” to do that to be a good daughter. It was when I moved back and I was back in the CEN environment that traumatized me in the first place that I began to be able to see the CEN and it’s effects and after spiraling downward and my life getting worse before now, thankfully, getting better. Your book was instrumental in helping me make sense of so much that felt like trying to see something straight in a fun house mirror! I’m at the point where I’m realizing the full effect of the CEN and am hurt, angry and resentful and balancing that with living near them and having to make any time to care for their needs feels like I’m caught in a guilt cycle. They seem to think I was raised in a vacuum and all my problems are my fault because they are perfect and provided everything and I had so much. So, how do you know when maybe you need to get away to get some healthy distance to be able to be in a healthier relationship with your parents?

          Reply
      • Francis McKenna

        Hi Ku-mom

        I am not sure how to fix this. But perhaps having an open friendly discussion with your daughter might be a start. You could ask her to tell you in what way she felt unloved ignored and uncared for. And if there is any truth in what she says expressing regret for these things would be helpful. Also you could suggest that both of you have a new start in your relationship. With regard to the boyfriend if she could explain to you what went wrong perhaps that would be fixable. However if he did not want to continue with the relationship nothing more could be done. Take care. God bless and best wishes from your friend Francis

        Reply
  78. Shelly

    I just ordered your book after ‘thinking’ about it since last October after reading your posts at PsychCentral. This CEN has to be the answer to my craziness that has been me since my childhood. My first and only attempt at suicide happened at 11 after swallowing a bunch of my mother’s supplements or something like that. Nothing happened of course! To this day, I have no idea what they were. My father was an alcoholic who mentally abused my mother. I saw one instance of physical abuse when he threw shoes at all of us, mom and me and my sister. We ended up walking the streets of L.A. looking for a woman’s shelter to sleep for the night. I remember sitting at a bus bench for quite awhile and then sneaking back in when my dad was passed out. My mother was an instigator though. I never saw any affection between my parents, or heard them say I love you to each other or to us. They both came from broken homes with alcoholism. Both of my grandfathers died from alcoholism. Fast forward to now at 51 years of age who is contemplating suicide and spiraling down fast. My daughter who is 20, almost 21, has a boyfriend, school, and friends who have her attention. Due to a mutual ‘break’ from Me, she is spending a couple weeks at a friends house and communicating when it’s important. I don’t want to lose her. The way I’m acting though, it’s a sure bet I may. My dad was a quiet man. Us kids never knew if he was mad or what. We walked on egg shells most of the time. When I had my daughter, I was determined to raise her differently than I was. Her father whom I divorced, was a drinker who did it somewhere else because I wouldn’t allow it in the house. I was/am a control freak so he stayed away. It takes a lot to say I’m a control freak. I think this thing with my daughter is another control freak thing with me. The crazy thing is that my entire life I kept my distance from control freaks. I ended friendships over that. I’m quiet and introverted and felt people saw that and took advantage. Now I’m thinking there was something else at play. And another thing, after my divorce, my daughter and I moved back in with my dad. I noticed I was still walking on eggshells even when I was in my 30s! I have a feeling he used to yell at us as kids when we made too much noise. I think it’s because of him that I’ve grown to be extra sensitive to everything like perceived insults and threats. Needless to say, I talk to myself about what I’m really hearing and that’s helped me stay at my job for 4 years.

    So I’ve ordered your book, I am looking for a therapist and trying to make amends to my daughter. I’m trying to tell her I Love You but it’s hard to put it into words. Also trying to give her space to become the adult she wants to be. I realize at her age she needs an identity and to find her own way in life. I’m trying to let go.

    Reply
    • Karen

      You will find that the more times that you SAY “I LOVE YOU” and do it with a GOOD STRONG HUG. No back patting. BOTH arms, tightly around her, and hang on until SHE wants it to stop. DO IT.
      I am begging you to do it and do it every single time you see her AND when you leave. It will get easier for you each time, and it means SOOOOOO much. Please believe me, when I say it means so much. I had to do this with my MOTHER. She NEVER said it or hugged me. I wanted that. So I HAD TO DO IT. Now, she comes up and hugs me before I can hug her. It’s very nice, and I am crying while I read your statement and crying while I write mine.
      Your daughter needs to live her own life, and you need to let go. Damn it’s hard. I am doing it with my daughter. YOU WILL lose her if you don’t let go. Don’t critize her, just be supportive and LOVE HER. Also, if you guys text, text her everyday with just a thought about her, like I am thinking about how much I really love you, or how much you mean to me, or just I love you. thinking about you, just wanted to say Hi, I love you so much. Stuff like that GOES A LONG WAY. I am 55 and would love for my mom to do that to me. I do it to my daughter and she does it to me. I took the CEN and USED it to know what NOT TO DO with MY children. I am a good mother, and did NOT learn that from mine. I learned it from what I wanted my parents to do, stuff I never got. I got a lot of material things, but never physical or verbal love, or encouragement or we’re proud of you. Nothing. So everyday, my kids got a huge does of love and appreciation and approval and praise from me.

      Reply
  79. criss

    I am so confused and tired. I have been with my CEN partner for almost 10 years and want to end it. I am starting to get myself sorted out financially so I can take care of our 2 young children independently. He seems oblivious to this, but he seems oblivious to most things. The latest pain is from moving 3 hrs away to a community I’d never heard of so that he could accept a promotion. I also gave up a promotion I had been offered around the same time. I did this because it was supposed to be a substantial promotion and he told me I would be able to not work and stay home with our 3 year old. We’ve been here just over 6 months and there have been some positive things about moving but I would prefer not to be here. He recently decided that he’s not making enough money for me to stay home after all but instead of talking to me about it he decided to remove all the money from our joint account and tell me I had to get a job. We fought and he claimed he never told me that I wouldn’t have to work and that I was confused or misunderstood. Completely false. I got a part time job in the evenings but he says I still don’t make enough and he wants me to work full time and put our son in daycare cause that is what “everyone does” and he doesn’t think he should have to take care of our kids by himself while I work. I am also currently in graduate school to get a degree where I will finally have financial security and more options but it will take time to complete. He does not help watch the kids so I can study unless he feels like it and acts like I’m not in school at all.
    His basic attitude is that nothing in my life has anything to do with him. I just found out by text earlier today that he removed the automatic deposits to the joint account that have been put in for years so I wouldn’t have access to that money. He didn’t even mention he was making this change. Then when he got home he just came in like nothing had happened at all…” so how was your day” no mention of anything. It’s crazy and painful.
    I am confused because of my own childhood issues and so many years of this empty, twisted relationship. I am almost incapable of determining what is “normal” and trying to decipher my responsibility for our problems.
    The worst part is that I am not allowed to have any reaction, emotions, or discussion about his actions (or lack thereof) or he completely shuts down and falls apart to the point he can’t function and the whole household is thrown into chaos and the entire episode is my fault for “provoking” him. So no matter how hard I try not to I ruminate constantly about how to help myself and trying to understand what is happening. I have been depressed for years and no longer recognize myself.
    I have just recently recognized what is happening with him. He has been recommended by an eap to get emrd treatment for ptsd and he says he will but never does. I have given up hope that he has any interest in improving our relationship, lives, or himself. I keep reading about how I can’t blame him or hold him accountable but I have lost years of my life to this and he WILL NOT help himself/us.
    I usually just avoid him then he is perplexed why I am unhappy.

    Reply
    • Jolie

      Hi Criss. I can relate to how bewildered you feel in your relationship. I just want to say that his taking control of the money is a big red flag. I am the CEN/BPD in my marriage and thought that our finances were secure, but they were being eradicated by my “normal” husband, who helped himself to our savings…all of which were my inheritance and our only retirement money. We are in our early 60s and he has now been unexpectedly unemployed for 14 weeks. I have not been able to work at a job in years, due to my emotional issues. So difficult! Anyway.. Just follow the money and put a lid on it, if you can!
      If you are lost in your relationship and he is not helping you out, it sounds like it might be time to cut your losses. Part of understanding the CEN person is recognizing what they are capable of. As he falls apart when questioned, does not remember important discussions, does not support you emotionally, or reliably help with the children, then perhaps his CEN makes him incapable of being a good husband and father. If this is the case, then it does no one any good to remain in this relationship, where he can only fail.

      Reply
      • Mandy

        This sounds like an abusive relationship Criss. I would recommend reading “Why does he do that?” by Lundy Bancroft.

        Reply
    • Karen

      If you really love him, and don’t want to leave him, send him to a two and a half day program that will change his life. He will come back a changed man, for the better! It saved my CEN life! Literally saved my life. http://www.likeitmatters.net Live your life like it matters, because it does. If you don’t really love him, find your money, put a lid on it, finish school, get your degree, and then take your kids and RUN. But, if you love him, send him. Make sure he stays there. It’s a tough class in the beginning, but you MUST TRUST the PROCESS. IT WORKS. THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of people have gone to the program and every single one sends a letter of thanks to this man. Everyone. Been seven years for me, and I still get goosebumps thinking about the fire I have inside me now, burning with passion, desire, commitment, and a healthy love of life, and left there with the tools needed to make sure I can keep that fire going. When you are on fire, people come for miles just to watch you burn. I live my life with heart, body and soul, now. Left my past where it belongs, behind me, and now when I drive down the roads of life, I look straight ahead thru the windshield, and only glimpsing in the rear view mirror on occasion. Before that I drove 65 down the highway of life looking in the rear view mirror. Not anymore. Live your life like it matters, because it does. If you love him, send him. If not, run, because it WILL NOT get any better until HE WANTS it to. He has to WANT to make it better.

      Reply
  80. Suz

    I agree. A therapeutic relationship is a relationship. Try another therapist until you find a decent fit.

    One caveat is that we self-diagnose and can be very fused with the rightness of it. A therapist you can work with effectively will meet you where you are and will be helpful directing your work.

    The therapist I recently worked with guided me to places I didn’t think I needed help on. Yet, he was actually right. I still did the work practicing new skills and working to let go of old ways that weren’t effective.

    I don’t know what I don’t know.

    This helped me when I felt stuck and afraid. I started seeing the bigger picture that I didn’t know existed until we shed light on it.

    If the therapist your working with is dismissive then you may need to find someone else.

    While my therapist didn’t share CEN with me, I found it in my own at the point when that relationship was coming to a stop spot. Interestingly, we covered most of it in therapy, just not as CEN. Be aware that if the therapist you’re working with is addressing your needs, that’s tge most important thing.

    Some therapists are stuffy, know-it-alls. Just find someone who is a decent fit. Fit can change.

    Reply
  81. Walt N

    Until discovering CEN and what it is, I’ve spent nearly all my 65 years wondering “what’s wrong with this picture”. I knew there was something wrong and it somehow related to my growing up in an emotionally distant family, though I never thought of this situation as any form of abuse let along anything bad was actually done to me. It all appeared perfectly normal. I’m the oldest of two siblings. Both my parents are authoritarian (still to this day) and were raised in authoritarian households. What my parents say is final (to them) and even now (in their eyes) I have no right expressing a dissenting opinion with them.

    Showing or expressing any feeling was strongly disapproved, usually in the form of a scolding or being told my feelings are “mistaken”. No validation, no love, no approval of any kind. Can anyone imagine having a child, raising him, and being totally indifferent to their life for decades at a time? My parents don’t even know who I am. It’s hard to even talk about this as I’m tempted to feel as if I’m complaining and my complaints have no validity. You know what… what I’m saying is valid.

    The most devastating part of what happened is going out into my adult life completely unprepared – for relationships, navigating the workplace and a career, interacting socially with others. I spent my entire life on the margins as a perpetual outsider looking in. I never felt part of anything. If I had any purpose in life it was completely unknown to me. I learned what I needed to know on my own, much of it the hard way. I functioned very successfully in life and never actually lived.

    Until the last 2 years or so I got by with this and got along. Finally I retired and had time to sit back and reflect on the years I existed but never really lived. My father had a brief conversation with me when I was 46-47 years old, expressing disappointment that I had not produced any grandchildren. My sister (4 years younger than me) had two daughters and four divorces. You know what… I’m actually glad I never had kids. I spared them from what I experienced. More likely than not I would have done to those kids what my parents did with me and I would have never been aware of it. If CEN is passed from generation to generation, I put a stop to mine (thank you very much).

    I became very motivated to transform my life two years ago. What got me going was raising the questions, “How can those around me have relationships and families? How can they experience love, compassion, validation and so on and for reason(s) unknown to me I never could? “. The answer is quite simple, I possess the ability to experience all those things despite the fact my ability remained hidden for 65 years, despite all that occurred in those years. Beneath my trauma lie resources yet to be discovered and put to use.

    I actually found a purpose in life… to undo what happened to me. I can’t get back much of what I’ve missed in life but there are things I can still do and the determination to get them done. Most of all I want the relationship I never had, the emotions and feelings I’ve never experienced. I can envision myself having the time of my life being some lady’s “winning lottery ticket”. Doing this is not only about me, it’s touching others too.

    As of now, my work has included taking on a life coach (starting a year ago), developing my spirituality (Christian and Buddhist) and just rolling up my sleeves. Having a life coach proved invaluable – being held accountable, discussing ideas and perspective (feminine point of view a huge asset). I haven’t considered counseling but would do so if a need exists. My discovery of CEN filled in a lot of blanks and confirmed much of what occurred in my childhood.

    Understanding what happened in my childhood resolved a lot of questions and raised others. I’ve had to process feelings (mainly some form of anger) about what I experienced. My (Buddhist) Dharma teachings have been extremely valuable – anger creating harm (and little if any good) to others and myself. What I did with my anger is not to be confused with either forgiveness or “anger management”, I simply chose not to be angry as there are better things for me to do. Both my parents are alive (approaching 90) and living nearby. I haven’t confronted them or forgiven them. I have realized that both my parents went through the experiences I had. I’m not excusing or justifying them, I am recognizing what happened. I honestly don’t know if I will ever forgive my parents either before or after they are gone. Part of my own personal work could lead me in that direction and if so, so be it.

    Reply
    • Lynn

      Walt,

      I’m inspired by your story. Much of what you’ve written resonates deep within me and I have experienced those same feelings and used the same expressions myself, i.e. – feeling as if we should not express thoughts that could be considered as complaints, on the outside looking in.
      Several years ago, I went through a very difficult divorce that led me to working with a therapist and later, a life coach, but Buddhist thought has helped to save and heal me….but in the end it was all inner work.

      Best to you, fellow traveler on this path. Happy New Year.

      Reply
    • Tsui

      I am so glad to have found this website. The trigger for me to search online resource is that I am going for travelling and I tell my mum about it, she just refused (i am 30 and financially independent) and scold me and threaten me not to have any mother daughter relationship if I insist of going. It was a button pushed I know, I get so angry and I can feel rage coming out from my chest that has been accumulated over30 yrs. I can literally exploded when I hear this, I want to punch things, I want to throw the phone, I want to shout, I need to do things to vent that out of control anger. at the same time, I hate her so so so much. I wish she die she suffer.

      I remembered when I was young, she scold me, never appreciate me, I have never remembered a moment that I was being praised, all I remembered is that I am behind the peer, I am stupid than others, I am not lovable because I am stupid…..I have to absolutely obey her impulse thinking otherwise I got punished of ignorance for days and weeks with cold mean words. Those toxic words however all strangely entrench in my growing and unfortunately I have carried it with me still into my adulthood.

      I cannot regret my mum how she treated me and she even went away with other men and left me with a broken family, I had 5 tough yrs forcebly living with her boyfriend who mentally abused me. I still don’t understand why a woman can have so little compassion and love toward her child? A mother should be instinctively protect her child not hurt the child. What those bad parents want? Are they happy to see their child fail? Is it really hard for them to appreciate their child authentic feeling? Why?

      Now what this blog was saying confirm the feeling I have and I am one of those child with CEN. The only things I want is to accept myself and change as much as possible, not to like my mum.

      Reply
    • Laura

      Your story resonates with me. I’m 51 and both my sister and me did not have children. I have known all my life there was something seriously wrong with my family but never really put my finger on it. In my 20’s and 30’s I felt so incredibly low, depressed, disconnected from life and people. Incredibly low confidence, no belief in myself. I saw therapist after therapist. I spent a lot of money on therapists and of course had low paid work as I didn’t have confidence in myself to get a well paid job despite having a degree. I could never understand how others managed to make relationships and have children. I had the view that that was not meant for me though I wanted it I had no idea how to go about getting it. I always thought why am I like this? Always looking for answers. I was hard to understand why I felt so bad. I wasn’t physically or sexually abused although my grandfather wasn’t particularly wholesome in his attitude towards us but no one did or said anything to stop him. (Grandparents lived with us- four adults baring down on us) My mother died 3 years ago and my father is 93 with dementia and is virtually helpless. I have no feelings for him, just indifference. Just these last few years I’ve started to understand what has happened and stumbling across this website has finally put a name to it! When my mother died I thought that’s it I have to start living so I finally parted from a man I’d been with in my 40’s who had major mental health problems, anger and rage and I genuinely think borderline personality disorder. I have since met a lovely man and we live together in a beautiful little cottage. Its not perfect, nothing is but I am happy after all these years. I also work with dogs in a rescue centre and this is my passion. I came to this at the age of 47 so it’s hard but wonderful. Never give up! Life will get better, if you find a passion follow it!

      Reply
      • Alison

        I can so relate with what you have written. I am 41 years old and have felt a deep inner emptiness and an inability to enjoy life. I have had many low-paying jobs even though I have a college degree and I just earned another degree which I am not using at the moment. I have been through so many therapists who have not helped and am living in a guest house that is attached to my parents’ house. I moved to CA for 2 years and gained some independence but am still financially dependent on them now. I want this cycle to end! I am a Christian and am going to be going through something called The Exchange which I hope will help me. I have parted ways with 9 people in the past 2 years for various reasons and currently have 3 friends. I feel disconnected from the world and people in general. I went through alot of emotional neglect and a lack of structure when I was a child. I hope that things will drastically change before I turn 42 in October so that I can actually feel connected to other people, make more friends, eventually get married and have my own family and have some sort of meaningful career. I don’t think it’s too late for me at 41.

        Reply
        • Laura

          Hi Alison, it’s amazing that this site exists. It feels like there’s a community of people out there who understand. I send my best wishes to you.

          Reply
      • Vanessa

        Hi your story and age is similar to mine.
        I am 50 years old and in an eleven year relationship with what i think is a narcissist.
        I have an older sister . She was daddys girl. A brother. He was mummies boy. Then there was me. My mother used to hit me on the head and tell me she never wanted three children . That i was a mistake. She said girls were nothing but trouble so she cut my hair so short i looked like a boy.
        My father sexually abused my sister ….i dont know if he did it to me but i know that whenever he came near me or grab me my skin crawled and i tried to get away.
        Now at 50 i have a son who was brought up by his dad who did a wonderful job . My son so far doesnt want to know me. I couldnt cope being a mother and thankfully my marriage ended and my son went to live with his dad before the cycle of me inflicting CEN on him could take hold. He was just a baby.
        I live in australia . I have no family or friends. I am such an angry person no one can put up with me.
        I was a registered nurse for seventeen years but havent worked for eight years and since i left i have lost all purpose .
        My mother hasnt spoken to me for years . I dealt with the pain sort of i wrote to her and eventually sent her a letter still abusive and angry about how i felt but not as bad as the ones I had torn up.
        A therapist said i have borderline personality disorder.
        I have been suicidal for most of my life and have had two serious attempts the others were just a cry for help.
        I feel like im in a bubble that I’m just watching everyone else live their lives. I am extremely dysfunctional a social phobic angry and used to be violent. Hopelessness is with me every day.
        I dont know what to do

        Reply
        • Laura

          Hi Vanessa, your situation sounds very painful. If you’re in a difficult relationship it must be even harder to deal with the CEN. Are you still seeing a therapist? It sounds like you need an outlet to express your feelings and get support. I send my best wishes to you,
          Laura

          Reply
          • Vanessa

            Hi laura
            I want to rid myself of this emotional pain its going to be a long haul but if i want to be free of my old self then it has to be done. Does anyone knoe of a good therapist in perth australia or any groups …..i had a bad day the day i posted sort of brought back bad memories but today i feel stronger. It helps knowing there are others out there with similar feelings it helps.
            Thank you laura for recognising how i feel no one has ever done that before.

        • Laura Parker

          Hi Vanessa, I sincerely hope you find the help you need. I too went through a bad time when I started thinking of the past after discovering this website. It has triggered many memories. My sister and me used to have conversations about the family and we couldn’t get to grips with what it was that had led us both to feel so bad. Now I feel I understand what it is and what caused it. I do hope you find a good therapist who understands what’s happened in your life and helps you to heal from it. The book Running on Empty is a good place to start. Good luck Vanessa.

          Reply
  82. Sharon

    I just found this website, after attending a workshop today on trauma, getting “triggered,” and coming home to an empty house because my husband left today to travel for business. It’s been a bad evening. Dr. Webb, I will be ordering the kindle version of your book and look forward to reading it.

    I have been a clinical psychologist for over 20 years, and am embarrassed to say that despite being a well respected psychotherapist for many years to other traumatized people and attending my own therapy off and on for over a decade, it has only been in the past few years that I have truly begun to understand the effects that childhood emotional neglect has had on me. I grew up in an intact, stable, middle class family. My parents never touched me beyond what was required for taking care of my physical needs when I was young. I was never told I was loved. If I was upset, I was told by my mother that I needed “an attitude adjustment.” My father, who was more emotionally sensitive, worked three jobs and often deferred to my mother in terms of parenting. The irony is that my mother was a high school guidance counselor, and prided herself on what a great job she did with the kids she helped. My parents always said they raised me and my brothers to be independent, and because I was so competent, driven, organized, mature, etc. they “stopped parenting” when I was about six. Unfortunately, that was true. They provided food, shelter, clothing and practical support, but otherwise I was on my own. My brothers and I were latch key kids. We were involved in church, and took family vacations. Outwardly everything seemed fine, and my mother always bragged about what a perfect family we had. I bought into her delusion until I was in my twenties and began to understand not only how much nurturing I did not receive, but the enormous impact it had on me. I have emotional “flashbacks,” triggered in the context of intimate relationships, in which I am completely overwhelmed and either rage at my husband or withdraw and feel completely unable to cope. The overwhelming feeling at these times is that I am an inconsolable two year old, which I know is the reality of my childhood. My mother talks about what a “difficult child” I was because I cried all the time, and she speaks with pride about the fact that she knew she needed to “not let me win” our battles. She is still alive and thinks we have a perfectly normal relationship despite the fact that I never call her, she never calls me, and I only see her at family gatherings in which there are enough buffers present to protect me from having to talk to her for any length of time.

    I stopped providing outpatient therapy five years ago because I no longer felt I was being helpful to my clients. I have too much of my own work to do. I am not sure, though, whether I will ever feel free of the enormous damage that I believe is biological and hard wired. All I can do is keep working on healing, like everyone else who is experiencing the impact of well-intentioned parents who had no idea how much they were hurting their children.

    Reply
  83. Michael

    I read running on empty a little over two years ago and have read it twice more since. It was a revelation for me in shedding light on a childhood I accepted as normal when it clearly was not. Your book helped me to finally identify why I felt, behaved and believed as I did and for that alone I am grateful to you.

    I am still struggling with cleaning up the damage and residual pain from my childhood. I am still very much battling the pull-push monster that was created back then. It still controls my life.

    How do I find a solution to this fear of abandonment and the desire for intimacy that tears any potential relationship apart?

    Reply
    • Dorothy

      I too read the book a year or so ago. I wish I had an answer to your struggle; still dealing with it myself. The Duke study about neurological effects and at the attached
      http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/15/how-child-abuse-primes-the-brain-for-future-mental-illness/ has me asking the question as to whether these neurological effects can be reversed. I would love to be in a brain study to find this out. Until then just knowing what makes me act like I do and trying to sit silently with my emotions and asking myself the questions has helped somewhat. You’re never too old to try; just turned 70 this year and I’m congratulating myself a little for fighting this.

      Reply
      • Michael

        To be able to slow down and be with your thoughts takes strength and can be a meditative salve. Fight the good fight as they say Dorothy.

        I have article loaded and will read it shortly. My mind has been on this subject as well.

        If the brain has a short time to learn speech, why not other skills? That failure to produce enough oxytocin (due to neglectful parenting) damages the receptors for that hormone leaving a person with a life long feeling of emptiness? The other side is the person who does get the connection they need leaving them as 3/4ers full in their perspectives.

        It is interesting stuff

        Reply
  84. Brent

    I have read a small library and have gone to many retreats promising enlightenment,to no avail.
    I stumbled onto Jonice Webb on the internet and ordered her book. Bang,right on the nail. I had always felt unloved and empty. I never strived for anything for there would never be any support or encouragement.
    I went to a therapist and was excited to show her the book. She was not interested. I guess it will be a long time coming before CEN is more widely acknowledged. Kind of like going back 200 years and asking doctors to wash their hands,or trying to explain to the learned that the world was round and the earth revolved around the sun. Jonice webb could be like Martin luther going up against the pope. We have this huge psychiatric institution so firmly entrenched in its ideas and lack of humility and get their backs up with any ideas threatening the established dogma and piety . The establishment is sick and a lot of those who practice within it. Take the church for example.

    Reply
    • Gina

      If the therapist you saw was not interested in a book that is important to you, then you need a different therapist. I have seen several therapists over the last 20 years, and all of them were interested to hear of any book that I found helpful or meaningful.

      Reply
  85. I deserved better

    The worst part for me is that my parents will never know my truth, they will never understand that I was neglected emotionally, even my siblings, we were all treated differently by our parents. I believe that every sibling, depending on their birth order grows up in a different family. Because I was the oldest child in this dysfunctional family, I took on the brunt of the abuse and also acted in the role of therapist for both of my parents at a young age..

    I was provided with a typical suburban childhood, piano lessons, camping trips. but there was real emotional deprivation from both of my parents side, because they were both too wrapped up in their own issues ( my mother, for worrying that my grandiose , distant father was cheating on her) ( my father, for his own loss of his mother at the age of five, and being raised by an abusive stepmother) to raise me up and pay attention to me, they never helped us with our homework, went to any of our sports games, rarely attended church with us.

    My mother developed severe mental illness, became paranoid and mean, and overtly abusive to me. My father divorced her when I was 16 and my brother and I went to live with him, while my younger sister went to live with my mother. My dad taught me how to judge my self, and others, I learned to stuff down my feelings, he never let me develop my own view of the world, just his own views. He would take me out to dinners, just me and him, so he would have an audience, about his own life, his past, his background, his view of the world, long speeches. I had to listen attentively, and of course had to agree with all the things he said, otherwise, I felt i would be kicked out. I also felt special going out for these dinners with my dad, having his attention, not realizing that he was using me to exercise his narcissism, that he truly was not interested in me as a person, he was just using me as an audience.

    My father is a very successful businessman, it is unfortunate that in this society that if you are successful with money, or n business, you are looked up to and seen as a “good person”. His employees all love him, think he is a kind and gracious employer, he thinks that he himself is a great man, built himself up from nothing. He was the hero for “rescuing us” from our mentally ill mother.

    I travelled for much of my twenties and worked abroad as a nurse, I fell out of favor with my dad, when I was in my mid thirties, unmarried and childless, then he dropped me, no more speeches, never calling to see how i was doing., I did not meet his expectations, he seemed ashamed of me. He was with his third wife at this point. It was not until then that the house of cards fell apart, it dawned on me how bad he made me feel inside, ECN is insidious, he negated my feelings, never taught me to speak up for my self or what I thought, and that opposing views that were not his would be heard and appreciated but disregarded, negated. He has always insidiously eroded my self confidence, did not respect my emotions and prevented me from growing up properly, he would say one thing and do another, He never provided me with a template, a sound role model for what a good man is, I married in my early 40s, and had a child. Now he just LOVES his grandson, he loves babies and small children, probably because they are sources of attention, and children can’t turn away from his words, he is also living out his own childhood when he sees a young baby. He is only capable of serving his own interests and viewing the world from his own self serving perspective.

    My husband has a very similar background of emotional neglect as me, we have had a lot of problems in our marriage, as I get better and I now understand why we were initially so attracted to each other. He also shares a lot of characteristics of my father, cold aloof, hard to disagree with, but we are both survivors, I understand him, and he understands me, he does respect my space and I respect his space.

    I won’t share with my father the emotional neglect I experienced with him. He will disagree with me, say we had a much better childhood than he did, and I should be grateful. I would have to explain point by point what he did, and he would refute every word and steamroll the conversation, like he always does., I don’t have the energy for that.

    Rationally I know that it is in my best interest to forgive him, ruminating over the past and being triggered is a hard state to be in . – but my inner self does not feel this way yet. When he passes away ( he is 70 now) I don’t know if I will mourn him. I am a good person, a kind and loving person, who had to raise herself. To be disconnected from him sets me free.

    Reply
    • Trish

      You and I share very similar experiences, I’m the oldest daughter of 4 kids & played the role of scapegoat, parents to my younger siblings and mediator/confidante in my parents disfunctional marriage. My father was a CEO where he was revered & adored in a church organisation & we turned up every Sunday at church looking like the perfect family even though there was physical & psychological abuse at home.

      I am 43 & after 15 years of therapy, self development I have finally gotten to the bottom of my families dynamics this year although as I child I did realize things were very wrong.
      I would encourage you to research ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Families and especially Narcissistic Victim Disorder as well as CEN to see if it rings true for you. After years of therapists talking about depression, suppression, abuse, religious conditioning etc which was all part of the problems the Narcissist stuff absolutely nailed the situation & I was able to put the last piece of the puzzle together, see the overall picture and understand why my mind could not let go of the situation- it was like a detective that can’t let go of a cold case, now I have the truth my energy goes into healing the dynamics that I can now understand fully and I am at the end of the tunnel.

      Due to our religion, it was ‘righteous’ to forgive & forget- this was always held against me when I brought issues up, as a child I was very observant, aware and had a good memory, so for my parents I was enemy number one as I was a witness to all their behaviour which they hid from the outside world. They had to shame, diminish and abuse me in the hope that I would believe I was the problem (scapegoating) and not them (all done unconsciously of course). I just wanted accountability but they were wanting to get themselves off the hook, if I did forgive & forget I would expose myself to more of their games & be utterly disappointed & confused when it all happened again, which it always did.

      What I now realise is that I am dealing with personality disorders (Dad- Narc & Mum some BDP & codependant) which means-
      -they will likely never take responsibility for past behaviour & hence are likely to repeat bad behavior in the future so I will need to be alert
      – my parents behaviour is sociopathic, they project their own terrible actions onto other people, blame them & then they act like the victims- they say their children are the perpetrators.
      -they will continue to scapegoat and demean me when our opinions differ around these issues
      -the only way you can have a healthy relationship with a Narc is to have no or minimal contact (to get out of their games to get on with your life)
      -I have never & will never been seen by them for who I really AM- only as who they NEED me to be to suit their version of events
      -My parents are unable to love me, what they taught me was enmeshment and codependance NOT love
      -because this was normal for me I then attracted people with similar issues & was constantly wondering why I was repeating the patterns & suffering exhaustion, not having my needs met etc (Narc Victim Syndrome)- understanding CEN is important to recover from this.

      For these reasons I chose this year to have no further contact and move interstate to have the freedom to truly be me and not constantly feel on alert, to have a safe space to grow.

      Thank your memory for not giving up on you. Forgive for your own heart & what it brings to your life, not to let your parents off the hook & leave the way open for them to continue bad behaviour. Forget because you have great boundaries & you no longer need to be hyper vigilant (essential with a Narc) & you are safe to move forward with your life. I hope this helps, I wish you all the best.

      Reply
      • susan

        I too, share a very similar stories as yours. My parents were emotionally unavailable for me but my younger brother seemed to get more attention than I. I was also the scapegoat, the placater and was always being compared to my brother for not doing things quite as well. My father, a military lifer US Navy, did quit well in his career. He started as a sailor and went as high as one possibly could being an Enlisted Man. After retiring a 5 star Master Chief, he wrote a Best Seller autobiography about himself. Became a self made millionaire. Though my parents were divorced when I was 15, there was still a good portion of his career that we were around. He does not mention his family at all in the book.
        When I was just 12 years old, my father kicked me out of the house, stating I was going to be the ruin of his career. I was an out of control child, and had begun to act out with extreme by age 10. I went to school on one of the military bases on the island of Oahu, and was caught smoking in the JPO (Junior Police Officer) room in the 5th grade. That was the beginning of my reaching out for attention that my father could not deal with, so he abandoned me. Last year I forgave him abandoning me, and all things gone wrong. But I still do not live up to his standards, so out of the blue he unfriended me on FB. It’s ok, at least I finally know it was never me who couldn’t handle things.
        My mother did nothing, when he kick me out, as she was afraid of him. So I went alone into the jungle and grew up to be like all jungle animals do….wild. For three years I lived on the beaches, hippie dens and places most people would not even believe, let alone want to hear about. But I survived with very little physical trauma, that I could speak of.
        When my parents got divorced, my brother and I went back to California with my mother, where the rest of her family treated me as an outcast. I grew up feeling like never being good enough, always doing things the wrong way and second best to my younger brother. Having straight A’s in school should have been A pluses. I quit school in the 9th grade.
        One thing I thought might do some good was to get some counseling. And, while it did help me to understand alot of why I did the things I did, it did not bring the family any closer. Nobody in the family but myself sought help, and nobody wanted me (the mental one) to tell them what the problems were. No, it had always been me, and it still was. Only now they wanted even less to do with me. I was no longer of any use to them, because they couldn’t get away with blaming me for all that was wrong. I was not the scapegoat anymore and was pushed, once again, away from the family unit.
        My mother is the infectious one that keeps the family sick. She is co-dependent and helps in ways that make her feel good. She offered to put me through dog grooming school and I built a moderately successful business from that. But I got a diagnosis of Cancer and lost everything, as I had no help to keep it going. My own mother didn’t even believe it because nobody else in the family had ever had cancer…how could I. Once again, on my own. Today, I have been Cancer free for more than 20 years, but more distant from my family than ever.
        Ironically, two days ago my brother (whom I’ve not spoken to in 35 years, even though we live in the same city) was diagnosed with liver cancer. Which brings me to where I am today. I am experiencing emotions that I cannot understand. I did send a card for my brother, but I will never know if he got it. In it I briefly offer my sympathy and told him I love him, and that I am praying for him and his doctors. I do not want my brother to die. Why? Because I dread being the “other” child left.
        I have never been married but do have an adult child 37 years old. She is my only heart felt family. She lives 1000 miles away. She is well loved by all the rest of my family and she sees how unbalanced the family unit is. This all hurts me tremendously, at times I wish hard I wasn’t here anymore. I can’t fix it and I hate being around it. I am disabled now and cannot just get up and move, or I would. I can’t help my mother right now, with her grief, because she makes me feel unwanted. I am going to order this book and I hope it helps me find more meaning to my life, because the life I have now isn’t even worth living.

        Reply
      • Traci

        Wow are we siblings?
        Because it appears we have thd same parents. My name is Traci and I am 23. I would like to hear more from you. If it would not make you uncomfortable, I would love to hear more and as you for some advice via email… If not that is OK. My email is treeseagirl@gmail.com.
        Your post was very helpful.

        Reply
        • susan

          Hi Traci,
          Well I’m just now getting around to going through all the emails I’ve not had time to check. As I mentioned in my post, ‘not wanting to be the “other” child left’, should my brother succumb to his cancer…has now come to pass. My brother died on 12/30, and with that came even deeper emotional burdens for me. Some of which I will never be able to resolve…and none of it do I deserve having been loaded down with.
          I have been reaching for resolution with my brother for years, but to no avail. While in the hospital (200 miles away)I sent a card, given to my mother and then via his wife. He never got it, because she lost it. Of course, I didn’t find this out until today. He had surgery…was home for Christmas (I sent another card for Christmas and it was lost, too)…went back into ICU and died three days later. I found out nearly 12 hours after the fact, by way of Face Book…on somebody else’s page, not even a friend. Nobody thought it mattered??? I wasn’t important enough??? Didn’t want me there??? Maybe thought I might do something CRAZY??? I have no idea. But then, to add insult to injury, at the last possible moment I decided to go to the funeral (nobody expected that), my mother was more concerned about what I was going to look like…how I was going to act…and what I might say, than she was glad I’d decided to go. Well, I went to the reception, too!
          I could not accurately describe how I am feeling if my life depended on it. Only to say that my grieving ended at the time I learned he died, as I was left out of his life.
          I have never been made to feel so unworthy in my life. And by my own mother no less. I may not always know what normal is, but I do know the way I am around my mother now, would definitely be considered NOT normal. I don’t really even want to be around her and, so much so, that I am putting my property up for sale and leaving the state. I moving where I will be close to my daughter, and for the first time in my life, I don’t feel the need to ‘prove’ my worthiness or have the desire to even want to. As sad as this may sound, I don’t care that my 80 year old mother will be by herself.
          It has nothing to do with me wanting to show or make her feel like I’ve been made to feel…all my life. It has everything to do with me wanting to know life…and, hopefully, discovering the love of it.
          I don’t mind sharing with you, Traci, through email contact. So, keep an eye out for mi_kikat.

          Reply
  86. A Sensitive Daughter

    I didn’t quite realize I was emotionally neglected as a child (and even an adult) until I really started to explore my feelings deeper last year – my anger always stemmed from long-standing childhood wounds that never healed. I had set many boundaries with my mother- I first let her know I didn’t want to hear about her problems with my father, and she became enraged at me for that. Then, I slowly stopped taking her calls-I would become physically drained after listening to her endless complaining on the phone to me. I would communicate to her through email mostly. Then I moved away- about 1000 miles away. I thought that would help somewhat, and it did, but I would still get emotionally effected- triggered- by both my parents when I spoke to them. After a very difficult year in 2014, I literally had lost most of my possessions, my business, and my health, and my parents were not there for me. They didn’t call me to see if I was even alive- instead my mother emailed and told me about how she lost money gambling the week before. That pushed me over the edge- it was at that moment I realized my Mother may have a mental illness; to not even realize her daughter was suffering severely and she was more upset about losing a few bucks at a casino. Right then and there I knew I needed to protect my emotional health better from them and wrote them a letter. I told them I loved them, but I was extremely disappointed in them and said I was better off without them. I divorced my parents and haven’t spoken to them in almost 2 years. Although it was the right thing for me to do, I won’t deny that it was extremely hard to let them go from my life 100%. They never reached out to me after my letter- but then again, why would they. I realize now my parents don’t love me, and I don’t think they even love themselves. I’ve never heard them ever say “I love you” to me, or each other. I do believe we have a Soul family in our life- people (strangers) have offered me more love, kindness, support, and encouragement than my birth parents ever had in my 39 years of life. I value those people – my soul family- so much

    Reply
    • Melissa

      Hi Sensitive Daughter…I am visiting this site for the first time and I can so relate to your comment. I’m so sorry you have to live through this, and I am sending you a hug over the cyberwaves. It is so difficult, I know. Trust that you are not alone!! There are other sensitive daughters out there, and we nod our heads as we read your words. Emerging from broken dot com has been a good site for me as a sensitive daughter. Good luck to you, and Happy Thanksgiving. You are free from the chaos of that loveless relationship…That’s a source of gratitude, right there. xo

      Reply
      • A Sensitive Daughter

        Thank you so much Melissa, I appreciate your kind words. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well 🙂

        Reply
  87. Maria Cruz

    I am a mother of a teenager of 17 years old that lived only with his father for 7 years (from 8 until 15 yeas old). The reason it was that his father made my life so hard, that I left my own Country to be able to survive, financially. I got out of the divorce with nothing and I did fight for 3 years, until the my son made 8 years old. Then I took my chances in another Country, leaving my son behind. My ex-husband stayed with all our money (and it was a lot), so I believed he would be very well financially and he would take well care of our son. I requested only one thing: no problems on my monthly visits. Though, his father did place problems and last years I was only seeing my son one time a year, for only 15 days. At the same time, his father neglected “my son”, emotionally speaking, but also clothes and food (dinner, because at lunch it was on the school). Sentences like “You are no good for anything” or “You don’t have an opinion” were frequent. My son learned to shut his mouth and hide his feelings.

    Almost 3 years ago, I flight to my Country and I got my son back. He was not well psychologically and physically. He has asthma and his father never gave him anything for it, or went to follow-up medical appointments. At this point, my son is with me, but I don’t see him getting over this past situation. He is in a psychologist now, but I don’t see any improvements. What I see it is wrong is: low self-esteem, unable to express good feelings, no motivation for anything except playing games and watching movies. Since we changed Country and we are going to do it again (now to the United States), I am worried how can he follow his studies, since he is going to be out of Europe without an high-school diploma (he will have to do the GED in the US). Please advice, if you can.

    Reply
  88. David

    Our family was quiet. Country folk. Scandinavian in background. One talked little. When a tragedy occurred, talking stopped. In our family, my 11 year old brother died when I was aged 9. We were struggling anyway, but that put my parents over the edge. I had no parenting from that time onward. That was the beginning of a life in, what I choose to call, “The House of Untold Uncertainties”. I was just expected to do what I was told, and to “be seen, and not heard”. My implied question of, “What am I, chopped liver”?, was met with killing silence. I know that we missed out on each other, as survivors. I want to develop a life that is dear to me, and to at least, one other, before it is over.

    Reply
  89. Ruth

    Hello! I’m impatiently waiting for your book to arrive, but before I get it, I have some questions that don’t leave me:
    I feel this is connected with attachment theory. With a narcissistic parent, with family separation, with anxious-avoidant / disorganized relationships between caregivers and kids. I’ve been studying a lot of this, and doing inner-child work, feeling my feelings and learning to love myself more. But I’m still attracted to (and chasing) people who are unable and are unwilling to meet my needs, where I find myself wanting to give all of myself. I’m a fan of Alice Miller, Teal Swan, J. Bradshaw and other authors who tap deeply into the topic.

    What is your opinion about romantic dynamics of CEN and how can we love ourselves into change of these dynamics?

    Thank you!

    Reply
  90. andromedian_drone-based_warrior_chef

    any comment you may care to give to show links between CEN and increased risk of addiction problems in later life would be welcome Dr Webb.

    I believe the blind spots left by CEN have lead to my own long history of heavy cannabis use, started properly when I was 24, now approaching 40. My desire to not smoke has lead to a lot of learning (but not evident outward results) in recent years.

    I’ll throw this additional question into the arena here, aware that there simply isn’t the availability of background research to throw me back a clear answer, but…. it’s to do with connection between healthy emotion and the thyroid gland – my intuition has told me for some time now that my hypothyroidism (underactive) -(diagnosis at age 23, unusually, cos I’m a man, albeit a very sensitive, yet heterosexual, one) – is connected directly to CEN. Has anyone else mused upon the connection meaningfully? I suspect Chinese styled physicians might come forth with opinion on this more readily but i don’t know…

    Life has been a struggle for me most of the time since leaving home, I also see the havoc the CEN affect has wreaked on my wider family on the maternal side, isolation, obesity, addiction, suicide, all connected I believe. I’ve tried discussing this with my parents without success, the opposite actually..

    If there’s a silver lining to this little story cloud it’s at least my understanding now that emotion is like water, it’ll search a way to get out if it can. It found an outlet in music for me, which became my profession, I can play very emotionally and do, it’s what’s gets me hired and around the globe, but that’s no substitute for human connection. I must have done 30,000 miles this year, played at Carnegie Hall NY so I can officially stop practicing, fine, but I’ve got not a friend who calls for a chat…it’s the rat park experiment in slow motion ….

    Next life I’ll have this stuff down in no time! (& that’s not a goodbye note lest anyone read it so)

    Thanks for your work Dr Webb.

    Disclaimer – i genuinely know and believe my parents to be good, wounded, loving people..as are we all, to some degree

    Reply
    • Sonia

      Hi! You sound like a very lovely man. Like you I am learning about CEN and my life situation is starting to make sense. I am a woman full of life, loving, intelligent, successful and yet, very lonely. My phone doesn’t ring very often. I have very few real friends and I long for connection and intimacy. I am replying to your post because I felt compelled to uplift you and to share in this common bond of CEN. Our parents did not know any better and our lives have been diminished because of it. Now that we know better we can look for and find ways to nurture ourselves, and love a happier life going forward.

      Reply
      • andromedian_drone-based_warrior_chef

        Sonia – thank you. It took me 3 months to spot your reply, but I’m glad to. Validation is a powerful positive and you just gave some. The longing in me for personal connection left as a result of what we’re all reading about here, won’t be dissimilar to that felt by many folk here…maybe Dr Webb could make more money with a dating site for us wounded animals on the side! Unlike many posters here I suspect – this wounded child is in Europe, one of the natives. Seen Trainspotting? Yes, there! (minus the heroin thankfully)
        Thanks for the reply Sonia – I wish you, and every similar reader here, strength on their journey forward.

        Reply
        • Shelly

          Warrior Chef, I think you may have something with the hypothyroidism and CEN link. I was diagnosed in January with a slow thyroid and was going through all the usual stuff like gaining weight, tired, etc. In December, my daughter, 20 at the time, decided a mutual break was needed between us after I messaged her a ‘novel’ on how I can’t take the pain of her rejection of me and that she needs to be somewhere else. Now 21, she lives with her boyfriend in the neighboring town. Since taking thyroid meds, man, my moods have stabilized and me and her have a good relationship. We went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and spent the 6 days together. I know that in my reading, hypothyroidism wreaks all sorts of crap on our bodies. I was surprised at the amount of ‘wreaks’ and that I could identify with a bunch of them. I still have depression and some anger towards my parents who I believe should have never had kids. My two brothers and I are feeling of the repercussions more keenly as we age but I can bet that both brothers would disagree that we are the walking wounded, wounded by our parents. Our parents grew up in broken alcoholic homes and were shuttled to boarding schools, and in the case of my mother, shipped off to live with aunts because my grandmother was starting a new romance. Gosh, I could go on and on but I won’t. Good luck with your recovery!

          Reply
  91. Gail

    I’ve just been reading your book, and from the start I felt that you were talking about ME! I answered “yes” to all of the questions in your quiz. But when you started about stuffing down your emotions, I began to doubt that this book was for me. My problem has always been that I have too much emotion and for much of my life have been unable to stop myself from expressing it. I’ve always been told that I have a face like an open book… everyone knows what I’m feeling just by looking at me. I think the fact that I am 70 years old is significant in that I have been on a very long learning curve as far as my emotions are concerned. I do have discipline and am able to deny myself the things that I feel are detrimental to my health, but even though I am able to push through doing things that I really don’t want to do, I know inside that I am just a big phony.

    I also have given too much of myself over the years, and as a result have been taken advantage of. I’ve had many relationships in my life that were unhealthy (and sometimes unsafe.) My friend of 40 or so years expressed it this way: “It’s as though you feel that you don’t deserve any better.” She’s right! Every time something bad comes my way, I feel that sinking feeling that by now is very familiar and almost comforting, because what else could I expect? I certainly don’t deserve anything good.

    Of course, intellectually I know that’s a load, but deep inside that’s the way I feel. I had a childhood that was considered normal, but came away feeling that I was flawed in some way, that my feelings and interests were not approved of and I should try to conform to my mother’s ideas of what I should be interested in and feeling. As a result of her snooping and reading my diary, I learned that privacy was not allowed in our home. The feelings I had discussed in my diary she deemed inappropriate for “a good little girl.” I grew up without any boundaries and wouldn’t have recognized one if I had fallen over it. Mom didn’t recognize any boundaries where her kids were concerned, but she certainly established them with regard to herself.

    I could go on and on, but I think you can get the drift. My problem now, at 70 years of age, is that I am so afraid of falling into another hurtful relationship, I am in danger of becoming closed off altogether. I’m trying to keep my core group of family members and close friends, but they are the only people I have any contact with. As a result of a lifetime of bad relationships with men, I no longer have much regard for them at all.

    I hope to start therapy soon through our province’s mental health system, and I will discuss your book with my therapist. Thank you for recognizing CED and for providing useful information to people who suffer from it.

    Reply
  92. Lydia

    I’m so happy i found this website because i believe i was emotionaly neglected, i have bought the book, running on empty and can’t wait to read it. I feel messed up by my childhood and feel alot of resentment towards my mum but i also feel guilty for feeling like this because i know that she loves me and she is mentally ill and could not cope. My mum has severe schizophrenia and she was unmedicated until i was put in foster care at age 7. She was a single mother and would not let my dad see me as he did not want to be with her anymore, i feel like she totally disregarded my emotional needs by keeping me from seeing my dad for her own selfish reasons. I also feel like she was ignorant to my emotional needs by treating me like a baby. As i got older she did not encourage my development in any way, she talked to me like i was a baby, she pushed me about in a pram even when i was 6 years old. When i was in primary school she turned up during break and made a scene by shouting at the teachers. I’m now 20 years old and have depression and anxiety and alot of issues. I’m looking foward to reading the book, running on empty and i am also thinking about seeing a therapist to work through my issues.

    Reply
  93. Jonice Webb

    Hello all of you wonderful commenters! I love to see all of your questions and comments. Unfortunately I’m not able to give you personal advice. But I have started a new online CEN Recovery program. In it, I’ll be answering a lot of the questions that you’re asking. The first two free videos are already available and the third will be next week. The 3 videos will only be viewable until 11/5 so watch them soon. Here’s the link to the first one. Just enter your email address to watch it, OK? Take care!

    http://fuelupforlife.kajabi.com/fe/83284-why-you-are-running-on-empty

    Reply
    • David

      Hello Dr. Webb,
      I was hoping you could offer me some advice on supporting a friend, ‘L’ who I suspect has CEN. I have known her only a few months but we quickly developed a close friendship and she has been happy to confide in me. All through her childhood and adolescence her mother was bed ridden with depression and father showed minimal affection to both she and her sister, dragging them to the pub where he got slowly drunk with his friends. She dabbled in drugs after school with older peers for a few years. L is outwardly positive and very giving to residents in the care setting where we work. However, she can be emotionally detached, judgemental, mistrustful and very controlling in the way she manages her relationships. In recent weeks she has been more distant towards me, rarely even answering texts. I love her very much unconditionally but don’t really know how to deal with this behaviour. It is quite upsetting watching a potentially strong and loving, lifelong friendship going down the pan! Any ideas and advice on how to handle this would be much appreciated.
      Regards, David

      Reply
  94. Bridget

    Dr. Webb,

    Do you have any advice or reference material for assistance with an unusual situation – My mom is in her 70s (father deceased), I am in my 50s, after a lifetime of mostly dealing with CEN.

    My mother recently had a heart attack, along with what she claims was a near death experience. Suddenly now after all these years, she wants to be close to me, spend time with me, get to know me, etc. She even went so far as to say she wants to spend time with me before she dies 🙁

    I am sure this is helping her soul, but is foreign to me and I am trying to figure out how to respond. I am not so cold as to reject her gestures of reaching out, but it’s causing a bit of conflicted feelings for me.

    Reply
  95. Nancy

    Being an ACoA (from my perspective CEN to the max)I will be re-reading your book. My husband has all the characteristics (though he doesn’t “get it”). His family history supports it. His “stiff upper lip” stance is hard on my inner child. And being a man, he wants to “fix” me, and when he doesn’t know what to do to make me feel better, it upsets him.
    Since my grandson was born I’ve noticed how things have been triggering me more than ever. I guess I see my neglected child every time I look at his precious face. It was suggested I try EMDR therapy. I’ve had three sessions, and am wondering if we have a therapeutic relationship. When uncovering feelings and memories, he felt I wasn’t in a healthy enough place (I suffer from depression)to work on my unresolved trauma. I’ve been working on being more positive by listening to affirmations etc. trying to heal my inner child. I have been on SSRIs for 22 years, could they be having a negative effect after all these years?

    Reply
  96. ed

    I was subject to CEN and struggled but learned how to get by and I thought I had recovered. I was flattened by a virus,and during a 10yr battle to get well lost most of my memory for about 3yrs. As it came back I was different,much of what I had thought now seemed deluded,who was I?

    I seemed to have shed much of my early conditioning and with it the justification for who and what I thought. I am rebuilding a life but like one washed up on an alien shore from a wreck.

    This is a bizarre place to be and I don’t even know what to call it just as before finding CEN I didn’t have a name for what had happened to me.

    I am a surviver but even we need help sometimes

    Reply
  97. Andrea

    Dear Dr. Webb,
    I read a few pages of your book, Running on Empty and since I am definitely a child of CEN, (all my siblings are) I’d like to know if you had written a book specifically for adults. Since my child is now 18, I rather not read about what parents need to do. I’d like to know how I can help myself. At age 52 I am still struggling! My siblings are worse off than I am.
    I have been to therapy over the years without much success.
    Thank you for your support.
    Sincerely,
    Andrea

    Reply
  98. Ano

    I think raising awareness for emotional neglect is even more important than I realized before, now that I have worked on my own experience with it.

    In my view, there are 4 reasons why it is so important to raise awareness of emotional neglect in contrast to emotional and physical abuse.

    1. It is more widespread than abuse.
    2. It is not recognized as readily as abuse.
    3. It is not treated as efficiently as abuse.
    4. It can be healed more completely than abuse. (It is possible to “fill the tank” when that wasn’t done in childhood, but as abuse is an act, it is not completely reversible.)

    Therefore, I am very grateful for your work and hope you gain much support for it.

    Reply
  99. Anne Howell

    For the first time.. I understand what has been torturing me for the last 62 years.. I have always felt like a loner. but always wanted to be in a group and part of a group, yet I felt no wanted nor liked me.. even today as a member of a BOD with 4 people, I feel as if I am always the last to know and the outsider, only being asked to be on this BOD because they did not want someone else to ask… I still think this is true. I want to be included in the worst way and yet if they do something without me, it devastates me… this has made relationships almost non existent in my life. I throw away friends and never speak to them again…I was the unwanted girl for my mother… air kisses and no hugs still continue… my brothers are much more emotionally intact and have scores of friends as do my children.. thank goodness.. This gives me hope that I am not crazy or depressed… this will help me understand my actions..why I no longer am close to any of my friends and why I would do anything to be accepted. I am hoping these feelings can be reversed… 62 may seem old, but I still feel like the 25 year old standing outside her circle of friends.

    Reply
  100. Joe

    Your book “Running on Empty” described many aspects of my CEN very precisely. It was of great help of me in understanding the roots and consequences of my denial of emotions.

    There are two points in which my experience doesn’t quite fit into the framework of your book and other readers migth share:

    Regarding the definition of CEN, you rightfully stress the part of the parents’ failure to attend ENOUGH to the child’s emotions. However, subsequently you focus on the reasons why parents don’t do enough and do not elaborate that this ENOUGH is different for every child depending on their biological make-up. So, children in the same household who receive the same attention can be differently affected.
    As in my case, I had very strong anxiety that was never validated, discussed or addressed and therefore struggle with CEN while my sister has less problems even though we received similar attention.

    Secondly, the struggle with self-discipline is something I experience as well even though I had clear guidelines and structure when growing up. So I think there might be something else at work than the lack of exposure to structure, maybe a lack of reward because one never feels at ease even after having completed the task.

    Reply
  101. Mark B

    Thanks so much for writing the Running on Empty book. It gave me a perspective that I never had before . I’d always known I was pretty neglected, but didn’t have an idea of where I was on the spectrum. The CEN did a lot of things including delaying my mental and social development, which only added to the neglect. I used to think I must be autistic or something, but all the tests said I wasn’t…

    Even therapists I’ve worked with didn’t pick up on that (CEN) as probably a root cause. I took your questionnaire on CEN. I got 22/22 and I would change most of the “sometimes” words to “usually”.

    One thing I’ve often wondered about is the sinking feeling I get when something is going (or going to go) wrong. I’ve heard other emotionally neglected people mention it but I didn’t see it in your list.

    For me that feeling is a lot like extreme social exclusion, like being picked last for a sports team or being obviously excluded from a social event. I think my feelings probably started with those causes, but now they seem to occur for many things that seems threatening.

    I’m wondering if you’d consider this a common symptom for someone with CEN ? It’s very challenging to deal with. Problems that many people deal with reasonably well can feel unsurvivable to me. I really do mean unsurvivable like something just beyond my knowledge/experience (and be extension my ability to avoid it) is going to destroy me somehow.

    I would guess this would be extreme for most people with CEN , I’ve talked to others that have hinted at something similar, but I think most people can wall it off better than I can. Seems kind of PTSD like….

    Thanks for providing a place to share. One therapist I shared only part of this with with became so uncomfortable that I ended up counseling him for the rest of the session. I didn’t go back of course.

    Reply
  102. Robbin

    I was raised by parents who were both severely abused as children, and my mother was also abandoned by her mother as an adolescent. Dad was passive and fairly distant, mom was preoccupied with her own problems, including serious depression and anxiety. Both are good people who probably shouldn’t have had kids. I don’t remember much real emotional connection or guidance as a child, and I’ve felt lonely for as long as I can remember. I always felt that my needs or concerns were minor compared to what else was going on. I guess I knew we weren’t normal, but I knew it could be a lot worse, and I’ve always felt guilty about any criticism of my parents, knowing what they went through. I was very self destructive as a teenager, but have found a lot better perspective in the couple of decades since. I don’t think I’m emotionally stunted on the inside, but I feel like I need someone else’s permission to express my emotions or thoughts, or even talk about what’s going on in my life. Asking for help is almost out of the question. My fear of rejection and sense of isolation have gotten in the way of forming friendships, and keeps me emotionally distant from my fiance, and I’m tired of living this way. I’m pretty skeptical in general, but I’m going to order your book and see if it doesn’t have some insights that are applicable to me. Thanks.

    Reply
  103. herb

    I stumbled upon your web-site this morning and read about CEN and a light went up. By reading about CEN I realized why I have been struggling most of my life. I looked at the questionnaire and most of them I can relate to. You see I grew up in an orphanage back in the 50s and 60s. I was emotionally as well as physical abused.
    Thank you for making everyone aware that CEN is a problem and that with help one can overcome this debilitating issue.

    Reply
  104. Anius

    I had a father who I realized through your discussion of CEN that he was emotionally absent in my life, even if he was seldom a mean parent especially when I was older, and we had fun playing music and games. I’m seldom in contact with him now since my parents are divorced.

    My mother has been a continuous source of fear and anxiety for me throughout my life, since I was a teen and still up til now, as a 22 year old. I was diagnosed with Autism as a kid, and had undiagnosed ADHD symptoms, that interfered with my functioning at school in the past, and still so now. Instead of working with me, trying to support me emotionally, trying to help me learn to manage my learning disabilities and develop school skills without threatening me with punishment or holding anything over my head, I was treated like I was being lazy, like I didn’t care about school or my future and wasn’t trying hard enough. I was frequently lectured at, yelled at, and berated about this, which was often so bad that I cried, and if I felt bad about this I was accused of feeling sorry for myself. And in between the beratings she is a totally different person, she provides for my financial and physical needs generously, is a good cook, and is actually a fun parent. My therapist and I believe that being subject to this repeatedly for years caused me to develop an anxiety disorder and c-PTSD. My anxiety causes me to aggressively avoid anything school related, financial, administrative, anything my mom would have yelled at me for had I failed at it.

    I was never aware of my ADHD or my anxiety, and I struggled with identifying as autistic due to internalized ableism and bullying, and I never developed skills for dealing with my disorders, nor did I develop school skills. To this day in my fourth year at college my skills are still very much underdeveloped. I feel like I am trying to learn things that I should have learned back in middle school but never happened. All my life I felt like there was something seriously wrong with me, that I would never be a good student, I would never be able to function in the “real world”, that there was something my mom and other people had that I didn’t. But of course If I felt this way about myself it was only because I was “feeling sorry for myself” and all I needed to do was “stop”.

    Within the past few years, I learned that my mother was abusive, that I had ADHD, accepted the fact that I was Autistic, and that I had anxiety problems, and started seeing therapists and starting to heal. And meanwhile the berating had continued and only gotten worse, as the impact of my failings has risen in magnitude. She accuses me of trying to be a victim and of demonizing her, and has made it perfectly clear that she thinks that parents yelling at their kids is okay and seems deeply offended by the fact that I wholeheartedly, honestly believe that it is wrong.

    I feel like the only thing I can do at this point is attempt to separate myself financially so that at least she can’t hold that over my head. I thought she was going to change, but the “conversation” we had a few weeks ago indicates that she hasn’t changed at all, and falling for her nice words over email the following night would only be falling into the same trap I’ve been in for years.

    I’m hoping that I can continue to heal, and to separate myself fully and become totally independent from her, and that I’ll finally be able to develop the skills that are long overdue.

    Reply
  105. Anonymous

    Dear Janice,
    I simply wanted to thank you.

    Your book has invalidated that thought I had that something was “fundamentally” wrong with me.
    A thought I had all my life.
    A thought I never understood.
    It’s just starting to make sense.
    The things they never said to me.
    The things they never noticed.
    The pain I had to hide away.
    The shame and omnipresent guilt.
    And the unexplained anger… so destructive…
    I am starting to feel.
    It’s surprisingly beautiful.

    And if I feel, I can help my children too.
    And for that alone, I will never be able to thank you enough.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Those are lovely words that I really appreciate! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  106. no one special

    It is unfortunate that you cannot answer questions any longer. What is the point of writing one if it cannot get a response? I guess I will peruse other entries to see if anything fits for me. I hope you will reconsider your position. If I think of a topic for a blog post, I’ll let you know.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      I know, I’m really sorry. It’s for two reasons, actually. I was having difficulty keeping up with the questions and answering them due to my own time constraints. Also, it can become an issue of professional standards, as some of the questions are quite personal. As much as I was enjoying being able to help, any question I answer can become too similar to therapy, which I can’t do without really getting to know the person who’s asking the question. I’m sad about it too. My apologies, and I hope you can find some answers in some of the other thoughtful and interesting posts on the page. Wishing you all the best.

      Reply
  107. Anonymous

    I grew up in a normal home. Mom and dad, nothing unusual. But dad rarely spoke to me other than to occasionally yell or discipline. My dad is a big man, and I’m the opposite and being skinny to this day has always been a negative sensitive thing. In my young years, mom would sit down and try to get me to open up, she did a good job and I love her for it. But often as I tried to put in to words why I felt bad, I couldn’t. She perceived it might have something to do with my dad, but then she’d explain that ‘he grew up in a very bad environment and didn’t know how to be a dad’. So, I learned early I guess to excuse and pity his low self-esteem and just move on. I scored high on your CEN test, something like 18 of 22 ‘yes’. Lately, I opened up to a friend for the first time ever about these deep buried feelings. There’s always been a strange emptiness and need for a strong male faceless person to influence me. I’m now a forty year old man and yet inside I feel like a little boy that needs a daddy. It’s embarrassing to even put this in to words. It’s not like I had no emotional attention, mom tried, so what’s the problem? Lots of kids grow up with only a mom. Why wasn’t that good enough for me? I feel like the fraud you mention in one of your test questions.

    Reply
  108. Mary

    After reading so many books on childhood trauma to come to terms with my own experiences, I was blown away by “Running on Empty”! It seems that while the others gave insights into the neglect and abuse, this book brought it all into sharp focus. Because of that, I am beginning to be in touch with my jumbled emotions for the first time. It has brought the emotional boil to the surface yet with clarity and hope to work through this.

    Years of seeking solutions to my “hidden problem” taught me many useful tools such as meditation, yoga, exercise, and herbal remedies. Yet I kept manifesting pain through the relationships close to me. Now it seems as if I’m seeing the world in a whole new light.

    Being the youngest of four with an alcoholic, military father and a co-dependent, angry and bitter mother was it’s own battlefield. Yes, blood splattered walls, carpets, walls with head impressions, broken mirrors, windows, forks and knives flying across the room, fire pokers slammed into the chest were some of my childhood memories.

    When I could not take the abuse anymore nor the hypocrisy of the “good Catholic” facade, I would blurt out my impressions of their false front only to be met with both parents at the same time physically abusing me. As my dad was sitting on my chest choking me, my mother would say hit her again, she deserves it. That would intensify his punching my face. I’d like to say this was a one time incident…. but it wasn’t. Usually the belt would be included too. All this from those who say they love you??? I’m finally able to identify and feel the anger and anxiety that I have suppressed for 50 years.

    To make matters worse, there weren’t any extended family around. I had no one to hold me or tell me I was loved. We moved every two years. Even my siblings weren’t to be trusted as they too were a little higher up on the pecking order and would “report” anything I did out of line. Hiding in closets was my main source of comfort.

    In always putting others needs before mine, I turned to a giving profession… mainly to prevent any attacks on myself. If I made people feel good, it was my guarantee that they wouldn’t hurt me. So as a massage therapist, I had all the control of who came in my office and who I would work on.

    I never had a childhood because I became an automaton of these ostentatious, narcissistic parents who lived vicariously thru me. Yet that small voice that instructed me to “move thousands of miles away from them or you’ll never have your own life” when I was in my 20’s was my best move.

    To this day they still seek to control me with threats and intimidation even though they’re now in their 80’s. I do have more work now with the tools and the worksheets in this book but for the first time, I feel hopeful. There’s a way out of this grinding sadness and depression and I’m going for all the gusto that I can! Thank You Loving Creator/Universe for the work of Dr. Jonice Webb!

    Reply
  109. B

    I discovered the source of my issues –CEN–now that I’m 50 which has been a tremendous help. But my children are in there 20’s and one seems to be affected the most by my actions –how can I start to reverse that? Chapter 8 in the book seems best suited for younger parents and younger children.

    Reply
  110. Elaine

    I am very interested to read your material, Dr. Webb. The concept is very well stated. I think the most painful thing I’ve experienced about my parents, both being alcoholics and the children of alcoholics, is that they never realize/ accept and respond in a normal healthy way to my pain or even my need for validation when I have any success. I was living alone across the country many years ago and I was in a car accident that almost killed me. My parents never came to visit. I lived in Colorado for 18 years when they lived in California and then Nevada and they came to visit me twice. I asked my mother repeatedly, year after year to come and visit. They didn’t come to my college graduation. Then finally when she said she was going to come, the year before I was going to move out of Colorado, I told her no, forget it- I was so bitter. I am almost 50 years old and she and my father, while they love me, always act like whatever hurt I feel is somehow overexaggerated and is my “drama queen” tendency, when I wanted was a visit. Conversely, when I would tell my friends in Colorado that my family never visits, they would be shocked by it. It’s so hard to identify whether my feelings are normal or overreactions because of this kind of stuff. It’s so confusing. I know they feel love, but they behave so poorly and non-responsively. It’s made me feel so unloved and depressed. I am so sick of swinging back and forth between trying to forgive, then feeling angry and bitter all over again. They’ve created so much hardship for me and yet I know it was unintentional. I’m tired of trying to sort all this out. It’s exhausting.

    Reply
  111. Alex

    Thank you so much for this wonderful theory. It really strikes a chord with me.

    My mum had me when she was 17, has BPD, and from what she says it sounds like she suffered CEN from my nan.

    I don’t remember my mum being emotionally ‘there’ much. I’m an only child and she focused most of her attention on her boyfriends. She told my dad to leave when I was a few months old and told me when I was growing up that he didn’t want to be with us which made me feel very unloveable (he later told me this was nonsense but that she forced him to leave, was depressed and paranoid which she is). I got most of my care from my grand parents who lived across the road, and my mum was emotionally absent and obsessed with the abusive men she seemed to choose. I felt used by her when she needed me, and then ignored when she didn’t.

    When I was little she seemed to foster a clingy relationship with me and everyone said I didn’t want her out of my sight. She would forget to tell me when my dad was coming to take me out and id be terrified to leave her. She’d also say and do things to try and break the bonds i formed with other family members (my dad, nan and aunts). It felt like she wanted to be my sole emotional caregiver, but just wasn’t up to the task. I spent much of my childhood feeling very alone and helpless.

    This resulted in a fairly distant relationship between us both until I hit about 18 and she had a breakdown. She was diagnosed with BPD and suddenly switched to wanting to hug me all the time and being overly affectionate. This has continued for 12 years. It’s like she sees me as an extension of herself and wants to see or speak to me constantly. I find it very difficult because she always wants more than I can give and I’m left feeling guilty and exhausted. She mis-remembers the past and makes out like it was me and her against the world when I felt more like her prisoner of bad choices. Is this switch something than can happen in CEN parents? I find it hard to broach with my family as she’s the ‘sick’ one and we’re all used to walking on egg shells, whereas I’m the ‘strong’ one. Little do they know! Feels awful feeling a stranger in your own family.

    Thank you so much I really appreciate your thoughts and time.

    Reply
  112. H

    I’m the youngest child. After my father died, my family seemed to die too. But I was 13 – so perhaps I was just finally seeing them clearly.
    From birth to 13 – his death – I had the perfect, golden childhood. And sometimes, that hurts more than the things I had to go through in the years that followed.
    I was in therapy for a few years. Took anti-depressants for 7-8 years.
    I seem fine to everyone. I seem fine to doctors. I don’t take SSRI’s anymore and I can’t handle how I feel. I gave up (I’m not interested in suicide – which in my religion means I won’t get to see my father again) and I literally don’t do anything anymore.
    I didn’t just have emotional neglect – it was leaning toward abuse (just not physical). Lately I have no idea how to function in the most basic ways. It didn’t bother me while I was erasing my feelings through medication but now I’m aware of how much time passed in a complacent blur. 8 years of peace though – no struggle to get groceries and have a shower.

    I want to get better. I don’t have much hope though. It’s hard. I understand emotions well. I was always an affectionate kid – who wanted to talk it out with my family if I felt they were being unfair or mean. They used to think I was weird. I was always expressing how much I love/missed them, giving hugs and kisses and that general mushiness. They hurt, rejected, and ignored me. They tried to control my decisions and life even after I was married. I never got away from them. I’m tired of trying to be happy. It shouldn’t be so hard to be at peace with yourself. Worst, is when you rationalize the pain and start seeing yourself as a common denominator. Like, this is just the way He created me – I suck, I don’t deserve anything fulfilling with another.

    Thanks for the book. This is literally the first time in 30 years that I’ve seen anything about emotional neglect, and it makes me feel less isolated.

    Reply
  113. Karoline

    I haven’t heard the term CEN before, but it resonates strongly with me. I know my family is very disconnected these days, and we speak very rarely to each other. I don’t recall ever having heard or said to each other “I love you” when growing up, although I cannot deny that there was much love and joy within our family unit. I doubt my parents knew how.

    Strangely, I feel this was something quite common amongst folks growing up in New Zealand in the era of 40s through to 60s. We talk about there being a ‘bloke’ syndrome where men don’t emote, but I’m not sure if women did either much back then. Even today, i am aware that young men get hassled for emoting, and just last week I heard one youth say to his friend “You all right there, Princess” because of a niggling injury where he was expressing pain.

    Do you know if any cultures/ countries suffer more from this than others? I feel New Zealanders as a whole don’t like to talk about our feelings and what is really going on, certainly not as much as Americans do.

    Reply
  114. Christy

    I have been in intense therapy for almost 3 years now. Even though I am working through all the horrors of my past, it is obvious that I just cannot get past my Mother and how I was raised by her. She was a single mom. My parents divorced when I was an infant. My mom tried to raise me as normal as possible but she was always making sure that her needs were met. Leaving me to grow up feeling quite alone and used. I am 38 years old and my Mom makes it very clear to me that I need to do exactly what she wants…..because she has done so much for me growing up. Which hearing that makes me feel like I will never live up to her standards. I will never be able to repay her back for all she did for me while I grew up. It was just she and I growing up. I owe it to her I feel. I am now a wife, and a mother to a beautiful 12 year old daughter.
    There are no boundaries between my Mom and I now. She has a key to my house and I really don’t even know why I gave her it. My husband has trouble accepting her. I am miserable. I battle daily with depression, bipolar,anxiety,PTSD,and Borderline Personality Disorder. I have never heard of Childhood Emotional Neglect. Do you think this could be why I can’t move forward in therapy? My therapist, whom I love, is getting frustrated with me because I cann’ot resolve my issues with my mom. I am quite stuck. I am frustrated and mad at myself for not putting up boundaries to her. But I just can’t. My therapist tells me I am choosing to stay stuck. I am so STUCK. Can you please tell me more about your book running on empty? How would it benefit me? I am open to anything that would help me push forward. Thank you Dr. Jonice.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Christy, you can read more about the book on the page of this website called “The Book,” and you can take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire on the Emotional Neglect Page. If what you are reading strikes a cord, then I think it makes sense to try the book. Emotional Neglect hides underneath trauma and abuse, so it could be a door that might take you somewhere. I hope it helps! Take care.

      Reply
  115. Todd

    In “Running on Empty” you direct the listener to your website to use “change sheets” and other worksheets. Please direct me to these resources as I am eager to begin my journey. I was not able to easily locate these resources on your website. Your help is appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Todd

    Reply
  116. Sinauer

    Dear Dr. Webb,

    Greetings from Finland, where I’m eagerly waiting for your book “Running on Empty” to become available at local bookstores, where it’s currently listed as a forthcoming title. Meanwhile, I have read about childhood emotional neglect (CEN) from your webpage and your blog on Psych Central. The concept resonates very well with my childhood experiences and helps to find words where I have struggled so far.

    I’m interested in the reception of CEN by researchers in your filed. “Running on Empty” is still a fairly recent publication and it may take a long time before the idea catches on and suitable data is available to test it. Do you know if anyone besides yourself is currenlty working on the topic and maybe putting it to a scientific test?

    Despite having no professional expertice in this field or access to your book, I’ve been trying to understand the cause and effect behind CEN. As a statistically inclined person, I’m thinking of the whole population (not just the people seeking therapy) as percentage values (A, B, C and D) in each of the four combinations in the cross table of parental failure vs. no parental failure and emotional problems vs. no problems.


    "Parental failure" "No parental failure" row sums
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    "Emotional problems" A B A+B
    "No emotional problems" C D C+D
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    colum sums A+C B+D 100%

    Chances are, that the table turns out a mess in formatting, but let’s hope for the best. I interpret the table cells as follows:

    A – This seems to be the focus of CEN.
    B – Parents have have done everything reasonable to foster the emotional growth of a child, but the child hasn’t responded. Could this be autism?
    C – People who are emotionally healthy despite being neglected by their parents. Did they get their emotional training elsewhere or how did they succeed where others failed?
    D – “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

    What do you think about the magnitude of the percentage value “A” in relation to B, C and D? Is it reasonable to assume that most parents are not failure and most people do not have debilitating emotional problems, which would suggest A+C < B+D and A+B < C+D? I suppose most children that receive good parenting are in good emotional condition (i.e., BC) or if they develop healthy emotional state despite their situation (A B/(B+D). Would you take an opposite result as evidence against CEN?

    Many thanks for your inspiring work!

    Best wishes,

    Sinauer
    (pseudonym)

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Sinauer, I like your statistical way of thinking. And I’m delighted to hear that Running on Empty is a Forthcoming Title in bookstores in Finland. To answer your basic question: there have been thousands of studies on parent/child attachment, which show a direct relationship between the subtleties of how a child is treated by its mother, and who that child becomes as an adult. There is extremely little doubt in the mind of every mental health professional that this is the case. That said, there are many environmental factors which play in, such as genetics, environment, other people present in the child’s life, peers, drugs, etc. Since CEN is the flip-side of parental treatment, but addresses what the parent fails to do (a failure-to-act), it’s a specific aspect of the parent child bond that’s invisible and hard to study. And no, I ‘m not aware of anyone else studying this. I’m hoping that will change. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  117. Alison

    For the past couple of years I’ve been figuring out what exactly has been going on with my parents. It’s been such a difficult thing to articulate and nail down. Your book really not only described almost perfectly how I have experienced my parents (especially my Mother), it’s shown me that there is hope in breaking the cycle and leading a healthy life. At the moment, my biggest question is that as an adult child (35) how much do I let my mother in my life (and even the rest of my family). I love them, but also have damage after quite a lot of the encounters. They live 1000 miles away, but I still feel like I just can’t quit my mother. I’m still under the illusion that I can make her love me. She could not care less about anything I’m feeling and can’t handle even discussing it. My question is, how much do I cut them out of my life? It’s the thing I am having the hardest time with. Usually things go well when they are giving me the silent treatment or have unfriended me on Facebook for the 8th time, but I think that child in me just keeps wanting to give them another chance. It feels like it’s an all or nothing thing, but I’m unsure what to do or how to build my life with them in it or not.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Alison, if your mother is unfriending you on Facebook, that’s downright rejection, and it goes beyond benign CEN. There’s a punishment factor there. It sounds to me like your family is pretty complicated. I suggest that you talk to a therapist about this. You need someone to get to know you, understand the complexity of your family, and help you navigate this process step by step. The answer for you will lie in the area of boundaries, and they take time and help to build. I hope you will let someone help you through this. You deserve far better than you’re getting. Wishing you the best!

      Reply
  118. Jon

    Hi Dr. Webb,
    My wife stumbled across a blog post of yours on psychcentral, and after reading it herself, read it aloud to me. Your post eerily described my childhood:
    I was the “accidental” third, and final, child in my family. My father was an Evangelical pastor in the 1970’s and 80’s (the prevailing mindset of pastors in those days was “Church first, anything left over is for family.) I grew up often feeling that while my basic physical needs were met, I was an afterthought.

    Allow me to expand on that last thought a bit: I was born with cleft lip and palate, and while I had some special physical needs as a child, I largely felt emotionally abandoned. My brother is 10 years older, and was your stereotypical birth-order “golden child.” He was the athlete, academic high-achiever, and could largely do no wrong. My sister, 7 years my senior, was the agitator. She was a goody 2-shoes, but she would pacify her emotional needs with food (and I largely believe now, with drugs–prescription, or otherwise). When she had an emotional crisis, it seemed my Mom would drop everything to cater to her needs, while Dad would just be aloof.

    My father left church ministry in the early 1990s, for a post as a chaplain in a retirement community. While the social burdens of being under the spotlight of a small-town “Pastor’s Kid,” were left behind, the emotional family dynamic did not change. By this time, both of my siblings had moved on, gone to university and proceeded with their careers. That left me home, and alone.

    When we moved for my dad’s new job, the house he bought was a selfish choice–it is a small, secluded acreage in the country. My parents thought they were doing me a great thing when they told me my bedroom would be down in the basement with its own bathroom. At 13 years old, that was not a good thing for me–this place became a retreat – and I became very turtle-like, and would internalize rather than voice my needs. Outside of taking meals with my parents, I would not socialize with them much – nor would they actively engage me. Dad was starting his new career, and seeing as I was largely self-sufficient by this point, Mom decided it was time for her to get back out into the work force as a home health aide. I stopped talking to them, outside of nominal chit-chat. They didn’t listen when I did have needs, so I stopped. I have difficulty to this day voicing needs, asking for help, and accepting my shortcomings.

    Throughout my years of secondary school, I feel like the job of meeting my emotional needs was deferred to our church’s youth pastor. I was a high achiever both in academics and extracurricular activities. I was the poster child for all things wholesome. I put all my energies into school and sports–largely seeking parental approval. Always the specter of the PK Standard looming over me (Pastor’s kids, myself included, were raised with the unreasonably high demands of constant perfection, and the unacceptability of failure). When I graduated high school, and turned my sights toward university, and found myself lost. I had no definition, let alone any direction of where to go. I had an overwhelming feeling of “I have to do this on my own, because no one else has my back.”

    I put my time in, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education, cum Laude; though anyone who really knows me would say I should have gone to trade school. After university, I stumbled through a couple of teaching jobs, but it was never a fit–I felt like it wasn’t me. I felt like a failure and a fraud. I had transferred schools midway though my studies in order to earn my degree from a private Christian university–I didn’t qualify for much financial aid, as I was the singular dependent of my parents. My father made sure I knew just how much this cost him–and I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me.

    I also don’t think Dad ever forgave me for whom I married. I met my wife at junior college,and proposed before transferring to the Christian university. Dad didn’t approve of my choice, as I’m sure he had hoped I’d marry a nice girl from the university. I married my wife, and almost immediately we had trouble. Over and over again she would tell me I was emotionally distant, seemingly angry all the time. We separated for a time, and I lived on my own. I buried my pain nightly in drink; indignant that there was nothing wrong with me. I was just fine, and she needed to “just give me space.” We reconciled about six months later, mutually realizing that we had to both live on our own for a time, and come to terms with life, as we knew it. I realized that she was my best friend, and cared more for me than anyone else in my life.

    We began building a life together, am raising a family. Through the whole process, I am still learning to build confidence in myself, though I still have many emotional dark moments, especially when work challenges hit me. I tend to take work setbacks personally, and often worry, as I am the primary provider for my family. So often I feel like an emotional wreck–the right scene of tenderness or absolute joy in movies; or the right hymn in church can make me crumble into a sobbing mess.

    While I feel at times that I have made great strides in overcoming my past, other times, I feel like I’ve gone nowhere. My wife sees my inner turmoil, and asks me what’s wrong. I have great difficulty putting to words my unrest.

    I will be looking for a copy of your book, as I am desperately looking for some peace from my childhood specters.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Jon, both are true. You have made great strides, but at times you will still struggle. That’s how progress always goes. It sounds like you’re putting thought and care into growing, and overcoming a childhood which sounds extremely devoid of emotional support and attention. You can overcome this, especially with your wife’s support. Please do get a copy of Running on Empty (Amazon or this website) and go through the whole thing. I truly believe it will help you a lot as you heal. Take care!

      Reply
  119. Jennifer Allen

    Hi!
    How exciting to find this topic on a forum!
    I am a child who was neglected and I now see very clearly that it was a generational wound, however that does not mitigate my pain, it only makes it more understandable. I have the great fortune to live next to my sister-in-law who specializes in trauma therapy. Together with her, I worked through the feelings that showed up with my husband, the man I had waited for all my life. Despite him being the love of my life, I realized early on that the pain I thought would be relieved by him, was only made more apparent! So I went for sessions with Anna (next door) for about a year, essentially reliving the trauma (triggered by my relationship). In some ways it could be likened to re-breaking my heart. Once I had felt all those feelings; despair, hopelessness, anger, suicidal thoughts, heart-pounding fear, I came to the worst feeling of all. (Because these memories are implicit, they are not verbal; they are “feeling memories”. And like Dr. Webb states, it really requires a witness who can hold the sacred space for the feelings to come out.) The worst feeling I finally was able to describe as just “need”.
    Anyway, the emotional aspect is complete, but my brain is still programmed to “stay neglected”. So I came upon an idea that I tried and it really, truly worked. Anna had to admit that she had never heard of such a solution to this problem before but that it very well might have a positive effect. I found a couple photos of a mother and infant, held tightly in her arms and some of the pictures were skin to skin contact, which really spoke to me. I “imagined” myself to be that infant. Over the course of a few months, several times a day, I would remember that feeling and I believe I was able to “create” a corrective neural pathway. (Many years ago I read that the brain does not know the difference between an imagined event and a real one…so I felt I was choosing my own infancy experience.) It was so beneficial that I soon would experience an involuntary sigh as soon as I thought about “going there”. I still have this sigh even writing about it!!
    Recently, Anna has started to learn how to utilize neuro-therapy…which rewires the brain waves. Bessel van der Kolk speaks about this revolutionary process on several youtube videos…it is very exciting! In the meantime, I have been in the counseling role with three of my five siblings who also suffer from CEN. My brother in particular was severely overtaken by it two years ago, and together he and I have come through it with flying colors! I learned so much about what worked and what did not work. Mostly I just held the space for him to bring the unconscious feelings into his consciousness.
    My two favorite books for better understanding:

    Continuum Concept (to understand what you REALLY missed!)
    The Body Keeps the Score

    I look forward to reading your book as well Dr. Webb! Thank you for providing this forum for us to find connection!!

    Reply
  120. Little sister

    Hello, I stumbled onto an article referencing you and your book. I had never heard of CEN before, but I took the quiz and had way more than 6 yeses! I think I can somewhat see myself here, possibly because of my parents, but feel uncertain.

    My first question is whether a sibling can be the main source of CEN? I’m the younger of two sisters just 16 Mos apart.

    I was recently assessed for ptsd, after getting a head injury. My psychiatrist asked me to complete a questionnaire ahead of my appointment. It asked me to note traumatic events from as far back as I could remember. I was surprised at how many of these were due to my sister’s actions, including the recent past (we’re in our 50s now). I was given a ptsd diagnosis.

    In discussing this with my psychiatrist and later with a therapist, it finally became obvious to me that I’ve lived with a bully for 51 years – my older sister.

    I’m now living with a serìous, incurable, degenerative neurological disease, with extreme physical and cognitive symptoms. I also have an incurable, degenerative and disfiguring autoimmune disease.

    I had to stop working full time, stop driving and my world has shrunk. My sister is still being a bully – sometimes.

    It’s very confusing because she tells me I’m her favorite person. She always buys me clothes. She makes a lot of grand gestures. But she also makes horrid statements to me, which she later denies. Some examples: “I’m just going to put you someplace and throw away the key.” “I figured out how we can live together and get along when we’re older – one of us won’t be able to talk!”

    I had a very good career that I loved and for which I was well compensated. But now, I live on limited funds.

    I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but since I became ill my sister is showering family with expensive presents, She just took our mom to Hawaii.

    She just bought our dad a plane ticket so he can join us for Christmas, without even letting me know. He lives on opposite coast. She lives 4 hrs from me, but his ticket was to my city. Wheen he’s here he always stays with me, but now that I’m sick it’s another hardship and puts more work and stress on my I husband.

    Luckily, I’m married to the most wonderful guy who’s my best friend and who tries to make things easier for me. He said we’ll figure something out.

    So…can a sibling be the source of CEN? If so, what now? I don’t want to continue being bullied and I feel weird about accepting material things when she’s nice. I never know what to expect next from her. We’ll be spending a few days together next month and would like to have some emotional protection from her.

    Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Little Sis, I don’t know that this sounds like CEN from your sister (although I wonder if your parents were paying any attention to how she treated you as a child). It sounds more like your sister might feel competitive with you. I suggest you rely on your husband to help you protect yourself when your sister is around. When someone alternates kindness with purposefully hurting you, it’s definitely a sign to watch out, and to distance. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. Maybe you could talk to a therapist about this situation, and give him/her much more information so that you can try to make sense of this.

      Reply
  121. Marty

    Great BOOK!!! If you are going to write a new release, could you include parents with a large number of children? My parents had 5 kids in 5 1/2 years!!! I think you can see the problem. My dad was a workaholic because he had to support his family. My mom was depressed, because she had the sole responsibility of raising all the kids. Both parents were permissive, and both were from large families themselves.

    THANKS FOR THE BOOK!!!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Marty, it certainly does sound like your parents were depleted while raising you. I’m glad Running on Empty has helped you become more aware of how that affected you! You’re welcome! Take care.

      Reply
  122. Catherine

    Comment above for DaisyMae!

    Reply
  123. Catherine

    You’ve gotten me in tears identifying what you wrote–so close to mine! I’ve struggled for decades and am still engulfed by my soon-to-be 95-year old mother. I even had my therapist tell me a couple of month’s ago he couldn’t help me any more because events at home made me ask for more support that he (I guess) was willing to give–empathy, interest, understanding–nothing out of the realm of supportive therapy–yet he continued using confrontative and minimalizing of what he heard as “whining”–and I saw him for years! I am being very specific in my quest for a good trauma therapist now–I won’t put myself in the position of trying to “change” or influence a therapist again. I’ve found Running on Empty to be a valuable book too–and have to get back to it! I still put myself last, and before I die–without having lived–I will change that! Good luck and best wishes to you!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Catherine, it surely does sound like you need to start taking better care of yourself! I hope you’re truly starting a fresh phase of putting your own needs first. Definitely find a therapist who will help you take action, and not blame you for your situation. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
    • DaisyMae

      Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for the kind words and support. I hope we are both successful in this journey. I was brought up to believe that I should be putting everyone else first, that it was selfish to worry about myself or to want anything as long as I had food, shelter, and education. Sounds like you were brought up much the same. I know I have to frustrate my counselor but he is trying very hard to help me figure out just that, how to take care of myself and live the life I want.

      DaisyMae

      Reply
    • DaisyMae

      Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for your kind words and support. I am hoping to do the same. Putting everyone and everything else first is all I know. I was severely punished, verbally and physically and all in the name of Jesus, growing up as a child if I tried to express any needs or wants. I was even made to feel guilty and ashamed of achievements, wanting to win anything, beat someone. I am a process thinker and have no competitive nature at all, so guess the positive is that it has helped me to be successful in my career of continuous process improvement and cross functional team management. But, my work, unfortunately, is all that I have right now in my life. Best wishes and take care!

      Reply
  124. Rob

    Hi Dr Webb, I just found your website today and I’m really intrigued by the concept of CEN. When applying for a church ministry program recently, I was told by a psychologist screener that I may suffer from a similar condition called Emotional Deprivation Disorder, after he administered a short personal interview, a Rohrschach test, and a 175 question personality test. While I was surprised by the diagnosis after such a brief and questionable screening methodology, I’ve been reading as much as I can about EDD, although there isn’t much out there. I’ve read some of the work of Dr. Conrad Baars and Dr. Alice Terruwe who first named and defined the cluster of similar symptoms. I took the questionnaire on your website today and answered almost all questions with a “yes”, so it seems that there may definitely something going on that needs to be looked into further.

    How would you say that CEN is different from EDD and how would treatment approaches differ? I have been seeing a psychiatrist for about 80 sessions after an episode of major depressive disorder after I returned from a combat tour in the middle east, but neither he nor a more senior psychiatrist have heard of this phenomenon before, although the therapy doesn’t seem to be too different from what is recommended for EDD. From reading some of your website, and some of the Dr Baars books, it seems there’s a possibility that the ongoing dysthymia (major depression was controlled by medication) might have emotional deprivation or neglect at its core. I just ordered your book and I’m looking forward to reading it and sharing it with my psychiatrist. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Rob, EDD is really about extreme deprivation, often including physical and emotional together. There is some overlap, but with the concept of CEN, I’m trying to separate emotional from physical, and address pure emotional neglect in its more subtle forms and effects. I agree there’s not much out there about either topic, as it is overlooked greatly. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope I’ve answered your question! Take care.

      Reply
  125. AM

    What do you say to someone that answers “Yes” to probably 13 or 14 of the questions on the CEN questionnaire? Or to someone whose parents fit into at least 6-7 of the “Types” and you have no fewer than 9 of the “signs and signals” of CEN. And then you realize just how messed up you are and how extensive the neglect was. Now, at 52, single (divorced), female, no kids, and feeling more depressed than ever, having struggled off and on with depression my whole life, been in therapy more times than I can count, tried anti-depressants with little or no result, I don’t know what else to do. One thing your book didn’t address for me was, what happens when it’s not just about what you feel, but what you believe–that you ARE worthless, and your life IS meaningless. What do you do? Can a person even begin to believe any different???? Because I can’t seem to.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear AM, that is a very difficult spot to break free from. I’ll bet there is some tiny little voice in you that says, “You’re not really worthless or meaningless.” The key is to find that voice within yourself, no matter how small it is, and start to build it, while at the same time getting in touch with your emotions and working to value and listen to them. I know it’s not easy. For help, I recommend a book called Self-Esteem, by McKay & Fanning. It directly addresses self-worth in a helpful way. And I just want to tell you that you HAVE WORTH and your life HAS MEANING. I hope you’ll be able to embrace it. Wishing you all the best.

      Reply
  126. DaisyMae

    I have just read your book Running on Empty. I have been in counseling for almost 2 years. I have struggled throughout my life with feeling empty, hypervigilance (can put a term to it now), and suicidal thoughts and urges. I am suffering severe depression and constant anxiety, taking medication and in counseling in an effort to keep it all together and avoid disastrous consequences. I have a narcissistic, sociopathic, authoritarian father (not an exaggeration) and a mother that started of much the same (scared to death of her as a child) but then became codependent as a result of my father’s abuse. The rest of my family is riddled with issues due to a culmination of generations abusing the next and never understanding what they were doing or how it was impacting the next. The family has a history of mental illness, addiction, physical abuse, suicide, you name it. Not going to go into a life story, many times it all seems unbelievable myself. I have coped by not allowing myself to have any emotions at all about it and treating everything as if it was just like managing a business, staying detached in order to make decisions and provide good advice to get through life since I was about 13. I have honed my skills very well to my detriment unfortunately.

    Your book is important because it has helped me to understand that my childhood really was not the norm. I was emotionally neglected, emotionally abused, and physically abused. But, I was able to relate to everything you wrote in Chapter 3 without experiencing intense triggers like when I try to read and learn about the effects of the abuse as well. I at least was able to work through and bring myself back to what I now call “the middle”. And, I agree with your groups term “The Fatal Flaw”. I have always thought I have had not one but multiple ones and I had a narcissistic boss for many years (didn’t realize that either until recently) that at the time served as a father figure and actually told me that “I had critical Character Flaws that would keep me from ever amounting to anything” but then would not tell me what they were. I have been trying to figure out what they were for over 15 years to correct them and make him proud. It was a futile effort to say the least. I worked so hard, made the effort to change, and never “hit the nail on the head” correcting these flaws and then he retired. I also now know the difference between myself and my husband – I understand that my childhood was bad and that my parents were not good ones regardless of what they appeared to be in public. However, my husband had a sociopathic mother (still does) and does not realize he was emotionally neglected. I feel like I now have a better understanding of what he is going through and it is harder for him because he does not understand “Why” he thinks and feels the way he does because his childhood seems normal to him. I have a lot of work still to do and then “we – my husband and I”, still have a lot of hard work to do in terms of emotional intimacy. Neither one of us really understand how to be “emotionally intimate”. But, I just wanted to say “Thank you” for writing such a well developed book that I could easily interpret and understand. It helped to put some order to chaos and on the right track to understanding how to “Fill the Tank” to overcome my feelings of emptiness, guilt, shame, self-blame and how to move forward in an effort to take care of myself (which I am really bad at).

    I hope that you write more to expand on this subject and to generate more awareness of how prevalent this issue is to the current state of our society and the development of future healthy adults. Maybe more people will begin to understand that they would benefit from education on parenting in order to reverse the cycle of past generations.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear DaisyMae, you’ve been through so much! I hope your husband will turn the corner and start to deal with his own childhood and emotions. You’re an inspiration for others. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply
  127. Katelyn

    Hi, I am an almost 15 year old and I just found this. I took your test and I circled all of them but two, what now?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Katelyn, it depends on your situation. If you can ask your parents to set you up with a counselor, that would be #1. If not, maybe you could talk to a counselor at school. I suggest you read everything you can about CEN, and start to pay attention to what you are feeling. Work on accepting your own emotions as helpful and healthy, and on learning to sit with them and listen to what they are telling you. Take care!

      Reply
  128. elliott

    Ive been getting thru the book. I have had a terrible expereience in life with CEN, and I developed a serious chronic illness because of the trauma in childhood. The process by which my emotions are suppressed goes like this: 1. I have an emotion 2. I immediately get very scared of feeling it 3. I scramble to avoid it by going into my head and imagining I am not physically there 4. often timesI will flee physically, or binge eat food 5. I will spend weeks/months at home or in bed scared to leave for fear of judgement

    this describes the bulk of my life for the last 10 years (including thru college which i dropped out of). I am now unemployed, diabetic, and 24 years. This is not the way my life should be and it feels very pathetic. I feel like a part of the living dead, and taking medications to stay alive every day doesn’t help my morale.

    Is this degree of dead-ness normal for CEN? Is this life actually salvageable?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Elliott, you mention CEN but also trauma. To me, many of your struggles sound more trauma-related. I hope you’ll see a therapist because it’s vital that you work through your childhood experiences, which have set you up to be terrified of your own emotions. This is likely an example of CEN + trauma. When a child is tortured for having emotions by his parents, he learns to view them as enemies. This may be what is happening. You will need an experienced, competent, kind and caring professional to help you. Please try to find one, above all else. And take care of yourself, OK?

      Reply
  129. Jonice Webb

    If you’d like to download the Change Sheets from Running on Empty, go to THE BOOK tab on this website, and click on the links. I’ve made them available free so you can use as many as you need.

    Reply
  130. Chris

    Your book defines the problem created by emotional neglect, but is the treatment unique among all other treatment methods?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Chris, this treatment approach is unique in that it’s designed specifically for CEN, coming at it from every direction and hitting all the bases. Many therapists use pieces of it to treat different things, but this is all put together for a comprehensive, targeted approach for this specific issue. I hope this answers your question!

      Reply
  131. H.W.

    How does the healing process work in your book? I like psychoanalysis because it helps you to see feelings you’re having that your aren’t aware of.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      The healing process in Running on Empty is a step-by-step: getting in touch with your feelings and learning to accept and sit with them and express them; then identifying your other gaps, and filling them. It’s done with worksheets and self-observation and goal-setting. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  132. Simon

    Great stuff not in the sense of what people go through but to at least find out why i feel this way. My question is that my wife and i both have CEN. She is however, completely different in that she has all the emotions and I have none. Her mum is narcassitic, my mum was can we please just compartmentalise our emotions and move on. how can we heal together? She’s been talking to counsellars for years but has always said I have the issues…I’ve known that but only in the last 5-6 months and knew it was about being emotionally devoid but that was it. you’ve put it into context so thank you. now i want to heal asap so i can conenct with my 9 old son and 5 year old daughters before it is too late. my wife has been trying on her own. So my question is how can we heal together if different types?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Simon, good question! I suggest that you and your wife read Running on Empty together, discussing it as you go along. Keep your focus each on yourselves, and share your thoughts and responses as you go along. Many couples have done this and have healed. Involving a therapist in the process can help a lot too.

      Reply
  133. Rae

    Hi Dr. Webb, I am dealing with major depression that I think stems from a lot of the things you know about. When I was 13, on my first day of high school, my mother passed away from cancer. All of my life, we were very close. She was a stay at home mom and really knew everything about my life, how I was feeling, how to deal with people in school, and just helped with normal things about the confusion and hardships of being a teenage girl. My dad was always around, but he worked full time and was known as the “fun” parent, who never disciplined us or really dealt with my real issues day to day. When she died, my younger siblings were a complete mess, and my dad had his hands full with them. He always did everything for us, from giving us money to all of the superficial things we could need. He also took my younger siblings to therapy, but since I appeared fine on the surface, I never went and he written me off as being “fine” and doing “well” just because I wasn’t visibly angry or crying. At the time, I was very confused because I knew my dad was physically there, but I never felt more alone and had to go through some really hard things in high school and then college without being able to really tell anybody about it. Now, I know what I was feeling was emotional neglect. I am now 20 years old, and have completely broken down as I have tried too long to keep everything in. I finally told my dad that my therapist agrees that he emotionally would never be able to understand me, which made him very upset because to him, love is just giving me everything I want (superficially) but never really understanding my thoughts and feelings and what I need to grow as a person. While finally letting him know about my depression all of these years is a huge relief, I do not know where to go from here. Keeping everything inside has had a huge toll on me, and I have completely withdrawn into myself and now even have trouble forming relationships with friends and boyfriends, even though I used to be very social. I think i feel afraid to tell anyone how I really feel, as I have come accustomed to holding everything in, but as things started to build up inside, it became harder to put on a face in front of my friends, so I would just withdraw and be alone. I do not want to keep blaming my dad all my life for making me feel so alone, but I want to know where to go from here and how I can become better and hopefully come out of this despair and loneliness I feel everyday. Thanks for your time.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Rae, even though your dad tried his best and had his hands full, he sadly wasn’t able to give you the emotional connection that you so painfully lost when your mother passed away. It’s vital that you honor the impact of that loss, and of what you didn’t get from age 13 on. I hope you’ll read Running on Empty because I think it will help you fill the gaps. Thanks for sharing your story!

      Reply
  134. Susan

    Your website brought up a lot of memories for me. The problems caused by this are not something I was unaware of, and have worked on them in the past with counselors, but I don’t think they ever go away. I first became aware of the issue through a book, I think it was called “Toxic Parents,” in the early 90s. It was the first insight into why I am the way I am. I remember the counselor taking my position during the counseling sessions. But then later my mom would say the counselor had taken her position. She just can’t be wrong about anything.

    My mother was (and still is) emotionally distant and controlling. If she gives you advice, it is not really advice. She expects you to do what she thinks you should do, and lets you know in no uncertain terms that if you don’t do it, you are living your life wrong. I do not recall her ever telling me that she loved me or ever giving me a hug. I was on my own from a young age. “We’re not making dinner tonight. Find something to eat.” It was almost always bread and peanut butter, cheese, or sometimes tuna. We almost never had crackers or boxed cereal – nothing a kid could easily get for themselves. All that was in the cupboard was uncooked beans, rice, pasta, and oats.

    The other thing was, my brother and I were both very picky eaters. I guess studies have now shown that kids who are picky eaters really do have more sensitive taste buds, and things do taste horrible to those kids. One time my mom decided she was going to make us eat dinner, and we couldn’t have anything else to eat until we ate that dinner. For three days she tried to make us eat that dinner. We ate dried dog food in secret instead. For three days.

    She almost always ignored us. She was either at work, or when she was home on the evenings and weekends she would read. Never did anything with us or even talked to us unless it was to tell us to do something. I remember noticing at some point that she would be yelling at us for something, and then the phone would ring and she’d answer it in a completely different tone of voice, and me thinking how hypocritical she was for doing that.

    When I was in 7th grade I was bullied for the first time. When I told my mom about it, she told me “That’s life. Deal with it.” That was the first time I realized that I was truly on my own. She said the same thing twice when I had an injury – “That’s life. Deal with it.” She is incapable of compassion and empathy.

    My dad was and still is off in lala land. He told me once when I was a child and complaining about my mom to just build a golden bubble around myself so she can’t bother me. He said that’s what he did. Talk about dysfunctional.

    I know my mother had a horrible childhood, so there is an explanation for her behavior. Logically, as an adult, I understand why she is the way she is, but it doesn’t help how it made, and still makes me feel.

    My one regret about my own behavior is that I didn’t more strongly assert myself to protect my own children from her. I finally started standing up to her and my dad last year, and wish I had started doing it decades ago. I now have no contact with my mom except for VERY superficial contact at family functions in which I am forced to see her.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Susan, I can tell that you have struggled through this difficult relationship with your mom, and done your best. I hope you’ll keep moving forward, taking care of yourself and growing. You are right to make the decisions for yourself, not live for your mother. Thanks for sharing, and take care!

      Reply
  135. Brenda

    I’ve often wondered what was wrong with me as I have problems with making friends (I’m 52 now). My mother was distant and depressed and my father was angry and abusive especially to my mom at times when we were children. I married a good man, but cannot get along and/or trust his mother. I’ve read quite a bit online about emotional neglect, have been to therapy before, and I still feel like I can’t get it together. I feel like whatever I do just isn’t good enough. The last therapist I went to was sweet and easy to talk to, but I don’t think she really understood how deep the issue was or maybe I was not able to vocalize the pain as I did try not to let on and that I was able to handle it. I still wear that mask of being in control as it seemed growing up everything was out of control. My Dad is a really sweet man now. My Mom died 8 years ago from uterine cancer. My older sister died in a trailer fire 7 years ago and my younger sister died about 12 years ago from breast cancer. I need help and don’t know who to turn to.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Brenda, I hope you will take a copy of Running on Empty to a qualified therapist. It can be the tool to help your therapist understand what you’re up against. It can also help structure your work together. You’ve had plenty (way too much) hardship in your life. It’s your time to take this on and live the happiness and connection that you so deserve.

      Reply
  136. Claire

    Hi Dr. Webb,
    Thank you for your book and contribution to the field. As a scapegoat of an ignoring abusive narcissistic mother, I turned to self-sabotage to express my anger. People recommend I “take my choices” seriously, but I feel that the events of my life are rather relative and meaningless (whether I succeed or not, whether I have goals or not, or try to reach them). I understand this came from constant blaming, no validation, not having people that respected by thoughts and feelings and always putting my needs last.

    I have always tried to support my younger sister, the golden child, by filling that void by always validating her, encouraging her and trying to teach her self-worth, to the best of my limited ability. As we are now adults, she takes her life very seriously and most of the choices she makes reflect that. She lives with a certain level of respect for herself.

    How do I get that feeling? Do I fake it through behavior until I feel it? I am working on validating my feelings, and having more self-compassion. That has helped increase my assertiveness, however, inside I cannot feel that same level of respect for myself. Could you provide concrete examples of how a parent would treat a child that would lead the child to take herself seriously?

    Thank you, Claire

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Claire,
      There are many examples of emotionally validating parenting in Running on Empty. I’m so sorry you did not get that as a child! It sounds like you’re doing the right things to heal. Keep in mind that healing takes time, and doesn’t happen suddenly. It happens slowly over time, bit by bit. Chip by chip the wall breaks down. Keep working, and perseverance will get you there. Wishing you all the best!

      Reply
  137. Marie

    I keep fueling the same cycle with my husband. I brush many things off. Those I can’t, I rehearse for days the issue I’d like to talk to him about, since he’s very particular about tone of voice and the words I use. Inevitably, I end up making a mistake, he probes at my words, qualifies my statements, and I end up getting angry and silent. He speaks and speaks, and I have no interest. In the end, he ends up with hurt feelings and I apologize for having initiated the conversation at all. But I feel resentful and that my emotional needs aren’t being met. I’m running out of gas in this relationship.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Marie, please seek marriage counseling! I can’t tell what’s actually going here. I think you need an objective opinion about what you need and whether you husband can provide it. Please take care!

      Reply
  138. Tina Amaro

    Hello,
    My name is Tina, I am 41 years old. I am currently finishing my masters degree in Counseling Psychology. I have recently had some personal revelations of my own that I want to share, and want to heal! I have realized in my own life, that many times parents can’t give what they didn’t get. Also, have realized a parent with depression (clinical or otherwise) or other mental illness etc. often are not emotionally present for their children. I could go on and on with various examples of this. So, in turn, many times, emotional neglect can occur. I truly believe this is the case for me, perhaps even my younger sister and brother too.

    My mom has dealt with eating disorders, anxiety and depression her whole life. My mom and dad separated and later divorced when I was around 12 or so. My whole life with regards to my relationship with my mom was one of that what I say doesn’t matter, what I feel doesn’t matter and what I need, emotionally (understanding etc.) doesn’t matter. I love and forgive my mom a long time ago (though she knows nothing of this) however, the effects remain. I want to rid myself of them so that I can live free from this chain of CEN. I have recently realized that is what I am in fact dealing with, for a long time but didn’t know it. I read something about Robin Williams and his struggle during his own childhood. My heart goes out to him, this is truly a pain that is invisible in so many ways, that I didn’t even know what I was feeling. I know my mom and dad did the best they could. My dad, I believe suffered the same from his parents in many ways too. Even today my mom cannot talk about conflicts or anything what she calls “arguing,” when it’s just talking about something that is bothering you. I remember as a child thinking and saying things like ” I wish I could turn myself inside out so you could see how I feel and believe me.” This breaks my heart that the child I once was struggled so much with this (sometimes I still do think this.) I remember always believing/thinking that I was a “bad” daughter and that what I felt/my emotions did not matter and that I was selfish if I expressed those thoughts/feelings/emotions (again, sometimes I still feel this way.) I want to write more here, but I need to get back to my studies and all. I will be reading the book by Dr. Webb as soon as I get it! Thank you, and I will write more again later! God bless!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Tina, your story is truly heartbreaking. I’m glad you’re moving forward and healing. Take care!

      Reply
  139. Sandy

    Thank you for your comments. I have read your book and have sought the advice of a therapist. I was told by him, too, that my foster son needs counseling, which I agree with. I was amazed at your points on the emotionally neglected child living as an adult. In particular, the counter-dependency part. I feel this is my foster son’s main problem, and I felt two other sections applied also. Unfortunately, I feel he will only seek help when he will be desperate, as in a marriage situation. I offered to send him earlier on, but he didn’t accept it. I love him and although he believes he is involved with my family a lot, compared to the rest, he is not. I am seeking a therapist to learn to accept that, as is, and not expect more than he can give. He certainly does not need some more abuse in his life. I am considering giving him the book to read, but, of course, it has to be at the proper time. Sometimes he allows me in fairly deeply, so I may use that time to present your book. I want to thank you for giving me a resource to depend on when the going gets tough. It is obvious that you have spent a lot of time researching these cases and I appreciate your insight. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      You’re welcome Sandy. I’m so happy to be able to help. You are so right about the importance of timing! All you can do is try, and he’ll deal with it when he’s ready. Sending you my best.

      Reply
  140. Ruth Sharp

    Can you direct me to this blog? “What happens when two people with CEN form a relationship or marry? I can tell you that it makes for some very interesting challenges. Check back to see a future blog on this topic.”

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Ruth, I’m not sure I’ve written that exact blog yet (so sorry!). But you can find several blogs about marriage, and how CEN affects men vs. women on my weekly blog here: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-neglect/. Thanks for reminding me to write the one I promised. Take care.

      Reply
  141. Steve Walsh

    I am now retired. I worked with military veterans for many years. Military training and experience induce soldiers to supress their emotions. Unfortunately, this emotional disconnect can become a persistent, long-term condition of their being. Your book’s presentation regarding childhood emotional neglect parallels veterans’ learned emotional dissociation. Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini describe this analagous phenomenon in their book Soul Repair, Recovering from Moral Injury after War.

    Whether age four or forty the emotional component of our souls is central to our humanity. Dr. Webb–Thank you for your book which is helping people heal from the unfortunate effects of emotional deprivation.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Steve, you are so right, and it makes a lot of sense. We are creating lots of emotionally neglected men by treating our valuable soldiers this way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with us.

      Reply
  142. sandra

    Dear Dr Jonice,
    Thank you very much that I came across this web site, I have ordered your book Running on empty and am looking forward to reading it. I have come to a point in my life at fifty years old and I do not know the difference between FEELINGS and THOUGHTS and this is so frustrating. I hope this I might start to sort out the two. Thank you very much from Sandra.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Sandra, you are not alone! There are many who have difficulty telling feelings from thoughts. And the book will help you with that. Thanks for sharing with us!

      Reply
  143. ff

    Hello Dr Webb,
    Many thanks for your valuable work here. In this relatively small community who begin to appreciate the impact of CEN, I thought you (or anyone else) might be interested to watch this video which I found last night – it would almost seem to be paraphrased from your book, though I don’t think that is the case.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeOZA2xztw4
    Some will be more or less attracted by the ‘new-agey’ presentation no doubt, but when the content is heard I hope it’s relevance will be obvious. Some of my parts found it a validating experience to hear another describe CEN in a sophisticated way.

    Best wishes

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Thanks for sharing ff!

      Reply
  144. Jarvis

    Wow, I can’t remember what I googled that brought me here but it really hit home. Since then I’ve read your book and that really had me tearing up in several sections. I’m just past 40, with a toddler I love and I think that I’m already doing a better job of being a dad after reading the book. Meanwhile, I’m barely keeping my girlfriend (the mom) from leaving me. She went to work so I could quit my crappy job and be with the baby and focus on getting a career. It’s been so hard. I coasted through high school, college and even law school. Everything kinda seemed like a good idea but I knew even then that I just couldn’t think of anything better to do. Law school wasn’t the right move and even though I graduated and passed the bar I never did anything with and worked retail. I had my first depressive episode halfway through which completely snuck up on me. I spontaneously burst into tears one day and had no idea why. I literally looked in the mirror because I hadn’t cried in nearly 20 years, since I was around 10, I think, and I wondered what I looked like. My parents provided all the necessities and paid for pretty much all of my education. So I never felt I could complain about my childhood. So many other kids with so much less. But they agree that my older brother took all of their attention during his teenage years while I was about 9 through 14. They were always fighting and I remember just trying to keep the peace or at least not get yelled at. Nowadays I just try to prevent my girlfriend from yelling at me.
    I had therapy for depression and a couple years ago was also diagnosed with ADD. I just want to live up to even half of my potential. Fear, perfectionism and general inertia or just plain old lack of direction have gotten me back to square one.
    What started out as couples therapy (my girlfriend did leave me temporarily) is now me in therapy with my parents. And that’s kind of part of the problem. They always wanted to do the right thing but bc of my brother and their own childhoods they just couldn’t deliver. So as you say no one is really to blame per se, I feel like I can’t complain. It’s just the way things happened. Like, sometimes I think I should be mad at them like some commenters are but I’m unable to be mad since it’s not really their fault. I have trouble being mad at anyone except myself, by the way. I just use CBT type stuff to explain away my emotions and keep a smile on my face. I’m especially good at doing that for other people as you would no doubt expect.
    My parents ask me, “if money was not a concern at all, what would you do with your time?” I have so much trouble answering. I kinda know what I like but then I overthink it and start to think that I like everything. Or at least, I don’t dislike much. I’m confident I’m CEN and and trying to motivate myself to do the exercises. Will they really help? Well, what I really want to know is, will I ever “get my sh*t together?” I have trouble even talking to my girlfriend about it because she’s mad enough at me and resentful and I don’t want to mention that I have more problems. Plus, it’s just embarrassing. People tend to say, “you just have to do it” or “get over it” etc. I worked with a guy who kinda made fun of his wife (not really made fun of–I’m not sure how to describe it) because she was from a wealthy white suburban family, university professor father, etc. and she needed therapy. He was one of like 10 kids, black, poor, inner city — he didn’t have time to get hung up on personal emotional issues and need a therapist. I think he’s right, my problems, though real, seem so petty.
    Anyway, thanks for your book. I’ll do my best to do those exercises. I’m not great with follow through but I want to be a good role model for my daughter and be done with this stuff before she’s old enough to be affected by it.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Jarvis, even though you can see your issues, you minimize them at the same time. Your confusion and pain sounds significant to me. And it matters. It’s hard to know what you want for a career when you don’t know yourself. Please do the exercises in the book. And find a skilled therapist to coach you through the balance between healing yourself and letting your girlfriend know the real you. Keeping secrets from her will only hold you back. Please share your frustration with a therapist, and get support.

      Reply
      • Jarvis

        Well, literally 2 minutes after I read your reply, my mom called to ask me a legit question about something for tomorrow but then added that she and my dad felt they were too old to hear about my relationship and all its ups and downs. I asked directly, “so you only want to hear good news from now on?” And she said yes. I guess it’s easier to be angry now, though I don’t know how productive that is. But I’ll let myself feel it.
        I can understand their position, as you warned, some people may have trouble adjusting to the new me, but in our joint therapy session the counselor made it pretty clear that they only had to listen and tell me they love me, not fix things. I just feel a little misled. Like they understood that a lot of my problems today were because I grew up not sharing my feelings and then they just said, “yeah but as far as we’re concerned, let’s keep it that way.”
        Well, in the one in therapy, not them, I don’t really need them to change in order for me to change but this feels like a setback.
        Anyway, thank you for your encouragement.

        Reply
        • Jarvis

          Things are back on track in case anyone was wondering. I’ve finally accepted that CEN pretty much left me with low self-esteem and I could never have admitted that before. Just realizing that made me feel like improvement is doable. Now I have something to work on.
          Good luck, all!

          Reply
          • Jonice Webb

            Good work Jarvis! Thanks for letting us know. Seeing the problem and owning it is a huge step forward. I have no doubt that you can heal, as long as you do the work. Wishing you all the best.

  145. katie

    Hi, i stumbled upon your website by total accident and i am glad i have taken the time to read it. I am 36 years old mother of 2 (ages of 12 & 9). I don’t remember my childhood. The only things that i recall is hurt, abuse (physical & mental) neglect. I was also sexually abused by my mother’s brother. I have committed suicide at the age of 17. I am the oldest of 4 children my parents had. I was the black sheep of the family. My mother would hit me; beat me; force food in my mouth; use force for everything & anything in my daily life. She would also be very abusive verbally everyday. I grew up hating her, i grew up hating all mother’s thinking they are all like that. I have never been told anything nice from my mother. She always asked me to drop out of school. Lock me in my room; force me to steal. It was horrible living with her. My father is another monster. He would never stop my mother, he would force me with other chores around the house. He always ridicule me: my hight, weight, how i look. Make fun of me. Never, ever told me till today (both of them) how proud they are. My father would walk around & tell people that i am a drug addict, an alcoholic & that he saved me. I never had any friends in my life, because my parents would make sure i don’t have enough time for it. I was never invited to any birthday parties, never had play date, never had a birthday party. I tried to take my life, it really wasn’t worth the living back them. My father would constantly tell me that without him, i wasn’t able to live, that i am so useless that i will die if i try to leave. This is just the brief judgment from them. I was always an A student. My teachers & principal always loved me. They were always there for me. They knew something is not right at home, but i always pretended that they were wrong. In high school, my guidance called me in one day & she just asked me: “katie, how r u?” i never forget that day! For the first time, someone took the time to ask ME how i was doing. That’s all she wanted! Nothing about class enrollment. I always worked since i was 16 years old. I kept myself busy. I worked for my mother’s boss, where i would do the company’s data entry. I would ask my boss to give me all sort of work hours. I even babysat her kids for free an entire summer. It was actually wonderful time to be away from my parents. At the age of 19, my parents divorced & i decided to live with my father. I was the house wife/cleaner/cook/ etc, etc. My suicide attempt was unsuccessful, but i was dead inside. It was just the outer shell. I would stare out the window & just look outside for hours without seeing, feeling anything. At the age of 21, i met my husband by accident. An very nice guy, from an extremely loving family. We got married when i was 23 and had my daughter at age of 25 & my son at age of 27. I know he loves me dearly, i know he cares, i know the kids adore me and they LOVE both their parents. But i am scared of reading your book! I am scared that it will open that closet door where i have buried all my deepest, darkest feelings. I am scared it would point out all the wrong things i did with my own kids. I am sooooooo scared! PS i don’t drink or use any drugs (never did!) i always worked so hard and all my employers were so happy with me. I went to university but never got the chance to finish it. I have my own company now and been self-employed for the past 5 years. I still have no friends, i have no contact with my siblings (they think i am weird & crazy & anti-social). I don’t want to hang out with people, i don’t shower, brush my teeth or take care of myself. I am only alive for those 2 kids. They love me, i spend all my time with them, for them. I only breath for them. I am very active in their lives. Take them places, cooking/baking with them. Having their friends over & just watch them how easy it is for them to have friends. To just play! I don’t know how to play games. How they gossip behind their friends 🙂 how normal they are. How they are so comfortable with me & tell me everything. I am exploring the world with them (without their knowledge). How caring these 2 small people are towards me & the rest of the world. I get fulfilled just by seeing their enjoyment. But, there is that hole in me. I am still missing to have a mother that would just hold me & tell me it is ok. I am so thirsty for that family love, the sense of belonging. I desperate for parents support & love. I still feel like that young child that still hasn’t grown up, lost & doesn’t see where she is going. My mom doesn’t wanna have anything to do with me. I have tried to start a relationship, but she really dislike me i guess. My father, only wants my help and it gets very annoying when he still calls me idiot; moron, etc. They just started saying “I love you” in text messages & i cant reply back, because i don’t mean it. Anyhow, i love to read your book, but something is telling me that i am just worthless and what is the point? Or i feel that it will point out all the wrong doings i did with my kids & it will break my heart & kill me inside. I have bought the book, but sitting on my shelf, staring at me…

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Katie, you have been put through the wringer, so to speak, with your childhood. I assure you that you can heal, and that you deserve happiness and health. I assure you that Running on Empty has lots of empathy for parents. It will not make you feel guilty to read it. What happened to you as a child is not your fault, and you did the best you could with your own children. Now, it’s all about you and healing. Please believe in your worth. Take a chance, and read the first page. That will be a start. Wishing you happiness and health.

      Reply
  146. Sandy

    I have fostered an 18yr old who was emotionally neglected. He grew up with his only sibling who had a variety of mental illnesses, which took all of his parents’ attention and resources. His father was an alcoholic and physically abusive. His mother shouldered most responsibilities which became overwhelming for her. His parents divorced, dad being out of the picture for the last half of his life. Then mom passed away suddenly. No family members stepped in to be responsible for these children. Dad took his sister to live with him out of state, my foster son remained here, accepting my offer to stay with us.
    This was 6 years ago. Since then, dad passed away and my foster son has moved out and is self-supportive.
    My problem lies in that my foster son is detached and likes to interact as aquaintances. When we have some blows, we come back to what I call the real feelings. He is vulnerable with me, gently explains his lack of family experiences, and tells me he loves me. I vow to do better with him with my expectations. I always seem to end up expecting certain responses, as I would my own children, but he just never delivers. I realize it is me reacting to him that causes the problems. I am concerned with his future attachments with his own family. He does not know what he is supposed to say or do, so he even states. This is his normal. But I fear he will leave his wife and children as confused as I am.
    I see such differences between my kids and him, it makes me so sad. I would like this wonderful person to have all that love can bring. I must say that unconditional love for a child who is not your own is work. Well worth it without question, but so frustrating when dealing with someone who says “I love you” but does not know how to express it in words or actions. I sincerely believe he does love me, I have to learn to love him on his terms. I will never give up. But there are times…

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Sandy, how wonderful that you are so there for your foster son. It’s so important that he has you. I have a couple of suggestions: would he see a therapist? would he read Running on Empty? I think both could help him very much, as he sounds reachable. Keep in mind, though, that you can only do so much. He will need to be willing to take the steps and do the work. All you can do is be there for him, and make suggestions. Keep up the good work!

      Reply
  147. RW

    Dear Dr. Webb,
    I’m so glad I decided to make a comment tonight–I’ve been waffling, telling myself that I shouldn’t bother you with a big long email, even though you say you want to hear from people. I got your book last year, and I’ve read it twice. (I’m a fast reader.) I always wondered what was wrong with me, because (I now realize) I was emotionally neglected not only by my parents but my grandparents and two aunts, all of whom I saw frequently growing up. My grandparents looked after me every day when I was in elementary school. I reached out to all of them and felt rejected, pressured, and used by all of them. I could go on and on, but here’s my real question: How do I develop meaningful friendships with people? I moved to Taiwan recently (from the US), and I am incredibly confused and anxious, both about developing relationships with people here and trying to improve the relationships I already have with people back home. I avoid talking to people out of fear, and when I do work up the courage, I am nearly always disappointed by the results. I have general anxiety and depression, and when talking in person it always seems like most of the things I can think of to talk about are either depressing or probably not interesting to other people, or they are simply private things that I don’t want to talk about. My dad was always emphatic that I shouldn’t be like most people, who he looked down on as superficial and materialistic because of the things (he thought) they talked about. So I feel a lot of confusion and shame if I want to talk about something like clothes or making a new recipe, or anything else that isn’t “deep” or intellectual enough. I know it is good to ask other people about themselves, but I often can’t think of anything. When I talk to people on facebook or by email, to give you another example, so often they don’t respond, and I wonder, what did I do wrong? I really identified with one of the examples in your book, a woman who avoided substance and made herself uninteresting to other people. I just don’t even know what substance looks like or how to put it into practice. I am 31 and I feel like all my relationships my whole life have been superficial. I always have a petrifying fear that I am about to do something that will make the other person reject me, even if I have known them a long time. (BTW, I have been to a whole bunch of therapists, and the area I’m living in now does not have a large English-speaking community.) I feel like I understand so many things, and myself, much better now. I think this might be the missing piece. So, thanks for any suggestions you have, and thank you for writing the first book EVER that validated my feelings and experiences!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear RW, you’ve been through a lot. I’m impressed by how much work you’ve done to heal. And I’m delighted that my book was able to help you! Keep it up.

      Reply
  148. Viola

    Hi Dr. Webb,

    I’ve done many years of psychotherapy over the course of my life, but though I worked hard and tried several different therapists, I never felt sure that I was actually accomplishing anything. I’ve just read *Running on Empty*, and I feel like it’s pointing at exactly what I’ve been trying to define and heal from all these years. I’d like to try therapy again, but I want to make sure I choose a therapist who understands the dynamics you write about.How can I go about finding someone like that? Is there (for instance) a particular training or qualification that I should look for?

    Thank you from my heart.

    Reply
  149. Amanda

    How do I tend to my daughter’s emotions when she is sooooo dramatic about every little thing. I know her emotions are real to her, but it is (I hate when I say this) TOO MUCh! It is so stressful for everyone else and we resort to calling her a “drama queen” and tell her to stuff her feelings. I know this is pretty much emotional abuse, but we feel like she is abusing us with her (what feels like) manipulative tactics. How do we raise our emotional IQ and not beat her emotional compass to death? I am so desperate for tools. My daughter is such a beautiful spirit and I feel like I am failing her as a mother. She has now developed this serious fear of any kind of punishment, is obsessive about her one friend who rejects her but ignores all the other kids who are dying to be around her, and is always scared of what people think. Please help!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Amanda, you didn’t tell me the age of your daughter. But it almost doesn’t matter because I’m sorry to say that your responses to her sound like severe CEN at the very best, and emotional abuse at the worst. Please go to a therapist and work through this. Children have very powerful emotions, and they often get more powerful the more they’re squelched. But eventually they’ll go away totally, and your child will live an empty life. Please read Running on Empty and get help with this before it’s too late. I can tell that you’re a loving parent who cares, but just doesn’t know what to do. Keep trying. Wishing you all the best.

      Reply
  150. Peggy

    Dr. Webb, I was about half way through the questions and had already answered Yes to 9 of them so I didn’t even keep going. I know this is something that I suffer from and have known it for a long time. My parents didn’t show emotion. I never saw them being affection with each other, but they also never argued, at least not in front of the kids. I have a few, specific stories, such as the time my father came in to wake me for school but I was sick (I was about 13). When I said I was sick, he shut the door with what I believed to be a disgusted look on his face. Another time, when I was much younger, he came in to my room, shared with my sister, and said “if you kids don’t shut up I’ll kill you!” Now, while he typically was very calm and disciplined in his punishment (“do you want your spanking before or after dinner?), I totally believed him and was horrified.

    As a 62 year old, co-dependent, self-critical female, I always had difficulty showing emotion. To me, showing anger meant losing control and that was something to avoid. I had to “learn” to show affection as an adult because I didn’t learn it from my parents.

    What type of therapy do you think I should pursue? I had a therapist who mostly listened, then made comments, years ago who was very helpful but I moved away. More recently I saw a therapist who wanted me to read and do the book “Feeling Good.” I’ve read so many self-help books I can probably self-diagnose….what I need is someone to “fix” me! And I don’t like doing the work ;-), I want a quick fix!

    Thanks, Peggy

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Peggy, your childhood sounds like it was filled with CEN. And there is no quick fix, of course. Getting better does require persistence and work. I suggest you read Running on Empty and do all of the exercises in it. Take it to a therapist whose willing to work through it with you. That’s the fastest way to make progress on CEN that I know of.

      Reply
  151. Jan

    I always thpught that CEN was the worst, as there is verylittle topoint to. If ypu are abused physically…thatis visible. My dad was breadwinner, not veryinvolved, on occassion he got angry at mom, he would storm out and wassilent for 3 days.
    My mom was needy. I was her confidant. My depression was notrecognized. I feltlikeIreceived no guidance. I often felt ” faceless” unseen. No wonder.
    Have had failed marriagesandnowolder and prettyalone. Years of therapy did not reallyhelp.
    I had to figure it out. Read Pat Love’s Emotional Incest book.
    Became a Nurse and Therapist- big surprise huh?
    So glad you are bringing this to light!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Jan, yes no surprise you’re a nurse and therapist. Taking care of others. I hope you’re taking care of yourself now. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  152. colleen

    Dr. Webb, I am reading Running on Empty and have been seeing a new therapist for a couple of months. We both know I experienced CEN. Today was a difficult day, and I asked what I can do to help heal and fill the voids. My therapist’s response was “there’s nothing to do.” I am reading your book and you have exercises yet my therapists tells me there’s nothing to do. I am concerned I am wasting my time and money (I pay out of pocket). I think I should be doing SOMETHING to try and help myself. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Colleen, not all therapists think about CEN the same way it’s talked about in my book. There is, as I’m sure you know, no easy answer to your question. It’s a complicated process of breaking down your walls and getting in touch with your own feelings and needs. Have you shared the book with your therapist? I suggest you do so, and try to work together with him or her on that process. If your therapist isn’t interested, then yes you may want to switch. Either way, don’t give up!

      Reply
  153. Chris

    I am a 42 year old man who is very aware of how I got where I am but very confused on how to get through it. I’ve been diagnosed with dependent personality disorder and major depression disorder. I have little self esteem, very disorganized and feel in adequate just to mention a few. I am constantly beating my self up and have a mother that suffers from mental issues and a narcissist father. I’ve been told I need to go and do dialectical therapy. Is this beneficial to CEN?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Chris, it does sound like CEN to me. But only you can know. DBT is a method to intermediate between emotions and behavior, and is usually used for people who are intensely emotional or impulsive. I think DBT can be helpful for certain CEN folks but not all. If professionals are telling you to try it, I think you should listen. Take care!

      Reply
  154. Anonymous

    I only recently stumbled upon your work in this area. I haven’t read your book yet (I did order it; waiting for it to arrive), but I wanted to get some of your thoughts on my own situation.

    I’m 23. I graduated from college a year ago, and now live at home (though that may likely change soon given the situation). For many years now–as long as I can remember–the relationship between me and my mother has been what I would describe as a-emotional. Neither her nor my dad were physically neglectful; I was well cared for in terms of resources, schooling, clothes, food, etc. And I connect with my dad on an emotional level, and he’s always been the one to try and pick me up after difficulties with my mom. The problem is that while he’s well meaning, he’s also quite clueless and hasn’t really been around to see the problems (he worked full time) or he’s a little oblivious to it all (like I said, well meaning, but not the sharpest tool in the toolbox). In contrast, my mom has always been what you could call a cold fish: inflexible thinking, authoritarian parenting, “my way or the highway” attitudes regardless of how little they may make sense, an inability to listen, extremely critical, and a knack for invalidating. My older sister was affected by this also, but she escaped more easily from it because of her personality (much more of an extrovert, so she was able to form stronger networks outside our family), but because I was close with my dad and because I am an introvert, I’ve had less outside influence to draw support from. In a way, I’ve been more enmeshed in this family dynamic, and as a result, I’ve been affected by it more. My sister now is married and has a kid, and lives about 20 minutes away, so it’s just me in the house with my parents.

    We’re just now in the thick of the problems. My mother has once again chosen not to listen or believe me. The most serious case/consequences of when she didn’t listen to/believe me was last summer. I was recently diagnosed with IBS. I can’t eat a lot of foods that upset my stomach–onions, garlic, citrus, extremely sour or spicy foods, the list goes on–but for months my mom wouldn’t believe me. She kept making for dinner (we have sit-down dinners) foods that contained the things I couldn’t eat. Despite my pleadings, and my constant telling her that these specific foods made my stomach upset (they’d lead to 8-hour episodes of me in constant pain on the toilet, which both parents repeatedly witnessed several times a week), she’d keep ignoring me. She’d say things like, “Well these foods didn’t bother you last year, so I don’t get it,” despite me telling her “They made my stomach upset two weeks ago. Why do you keep fixating on last year when just two weeks ago my stomach reacted negatively to that food?” It took months and months for her to finally change her behavior.

    She keeps repeating these same problematic behavioral cycles. Though my dad and she claim that she loves me, I have a very difficult time believing that, because none of her behaviors have equated to loving care. (Other people have also remarked on her inflexible, critical behavior too, so it’s not just me and my sister.) Does this sound like CEN to you?

    I’m getting to the point that I realize I no longer have to tolerate this kind of behavior. I’m a young adult, and it’s not worth spinning in these toxic cycles for the rest of my life if I don’t have to.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Yes, you are experiencing CEN at the hands of your mother. And you’re right. You’re an adult now, and you don’t have to stay in this environment. The sooner you get some boundaries between yourself and your mother, the better. Keep in mind that boundaries don’t have to be physical. You can erect a internal boundary so that what she says or does doesn’t get to you. It takes work, but will go a long way in preparing you for other folks you’ll have to deal with in your life. I’m glad you see what’s wrong and what you need to do to take care of yourself!

      Reply
  155. Anni

    I have only just found your book and started to read it. I am having difficulty getting past the questionnaire. You say if you have said yes 6 times then you have problems, I said a very loud yes to all 22. Finally someone-somewhere understands, that it’s not all in my head, and maybe, finally, eventually there an end to all of this misery.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Anni, with a score of 22, I think you will find some answers in Running on Empty. I hope you’ll do the exercises because understanding is a good beginning but usually isn’t the full solution.

      Reply
  156. JK

    Dr. Webb,

    Is true healing possible?
    My Story: Less than a year ago my therapist(s), yes I have two (long story). Labeled me, as having an anxious attachment, to my mother. These two therapist have been treating me for many years due to a severe course of anorexia nervosa ( sick for five years/ with five hospitalizations etc) and chronic anxiety, I am basically recovered from the eating disorder (which is truly quite the mircle) & the anxiety is manageable. This last year has been very painful. I have been processing my childhood. I’ve come to realize that besides my genetic & biological suspectability to the anorexia, my biggest fuel to why I developed the eating disorder is the effects this emotional neglect/abuse I suffer from my mom. My only question to you is, is it possible to heal completely from these effects? I’ve had this chronic negativity towards myself since as long as I can remember, I think it actually influenced my development of my self concept. It’s a terribly deep pain. I just feel hopeless sometimes that these emotional memories will always follow me around like a big black cloud of pain that is never very far away. It can be triggered by scents, emotions, intimacy & sensations. Just need to know if there is hope to move beyond this pain.

    -JK

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear JK, I do believe that you can heal completely. But it does time time and work. It sounds like you’re doing it. Do not give up! Keep working and your efforts will pay off!

      Reply
  157. Tom

    Hello Dr. Webb

    Thank you for introducing CEN to me. I have read most of your excellent book (and will continue to read it). I was surprised at how closely the book describes my experience, and I felt something click for me – I understand myself better now.

    I have always felt very strongly that I am different from other people and that I am outside looking in. For me, this is obviously at least partly related to being gay. It is fairly well known that many non-heteronormative people experience a strong feeling of being different from other people, even before they can say why. I wonder, are you aware of an effect of not being heteronormative on the development of CEN?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Tom, I think that anything that makes a person feel different from others can contribute to the “on the outside” feeling. If you have to masquerade as someone other than who you really are, you are experiencing some form of Emotional Neglect. I’m glad you like Running on Empty and have found it helpful!

      Reply
  158. Jennie

    I did your survey and circled 13 points. I’ve read many of the comments above, and my situation, while it has the same result, has a different cause. My early childhood was wonderful – I can remember many details of it – but when I was five years old my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had massive surgery and radiation following it, survived and lived for another 27 years. All the time I lived at home after the cancer – until my mother threw me out at 16 – everything was about her and her illness (she had several more cancer scares after the initial diagnosis). My feelings/needs/emotions weren’t important to my parents. A childhood friend who was a little older than me and my brother, who sometimes lived at home, provided me with emotional support. I’m the youngest, my sister who is nine years older than me is an alcoholic and a chain smoker. I no longer have any contact with her because she is so nasty to me. Our brother was a young adult when everything went to pieces, he is reasonably well adjusted and has been happily married for over 40 years. I have a few close girlfriends who have stood by me for many years, and two lovely children. (I was determined to bring them up differently to how I was.) All my life I have struggled with self discipline. I’m truly hopeless with money – I’m not extravagant, it just seems to disappear. I have a long history of getting involved with emotionally unavailable men. I struggle to look after myself, I’m a good cook – for other people – but find it difficult to cook for myself. I’ve been through many years of therapy and self help courses, which have helped, but I always knew there was something they weren’t getting. When I read that CEN is what WASN’T there, I burst into tears. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. I’m 61, I’m broke, I’m on the other side of the world to all my family and friends and I just want to get off this roundabout! Help! (I will buy your book to start with.)

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Jennie, it sounds to me like you’ve already done a lot of good work on yourself. And now you have the missing piece. I think that addressing your CEN will be the final puzzle piece that will pull it all together. Keep it up! And take care.

      Reply
      • Jennie

        I bought your book, I’ve started on the exercises and have already had incredible results. You’re right, the final pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. Hadn’t realized how many times a day I told myself I was stupid. Or how often I attempted to shove my feelings back in their box. The frightened five year old was stuck in there, she’s learning to express herself and be free. Today I wrote an email to a man I’ve loved for over four years and told him how I felt. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t feel the same way, I’ve just put it out there and I’ll see what happens. Many, many, many thanks, you have changed my life.

        Reply
        • Jonice Webb

          Dear Jennie, that’s wonderful. You sound like a strong person who is willing and able to face your pain. Good job! All the best.

          Reply
          • Jennie

            I feel as though I’m making good progress, doing the exercises from your book, looking after myself a lot better. However, the more I do this the more I realize how I failed my children. Both are now adults. My daughter is married, she and her husband I suspect give each other the support they missed out on as children. My son, however, is a classic CEN case, and a cringe when I realize how I brought him up. He never answers my emails, I don’t have a phone number for him, he rarely contacts his sister, I am on the other side of the world. I want to help him, but like may of us with CEN I doubt if he believes he needs help. What do I do? Send him your book?

          • Jonice Webb

            Hi Jennie, I suggest that you work as hard as you need to in order to reach him and communicate that you love him, you care about him, and you know how you failed him and want to fix it. He may reject you and refuse to listen, but I suggest you keep trying until you can break through his wall. If at some point sending him the book feels like it might help, then yes. Good job Jennie, you are courageous and a loving parent. Wishing you all the best.

  159. ale

    is there a reason to why you would delete my message?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi ale, I didn’t delete it! Just accidentally skipped several comments. So sorry you thought that. Take care!

      Reply
  160. Phil

    Dr. Webb,

    As of about five months ago I separated from my girlfriend of 3 1/2 years. We broke up because we were not a good fit (poisonous for each other) by any means, but there was certainly something more to the dysfunctional relationship. In the last year and a half of our relationship we were in discussion of marriage an having children. I addressed the potential of both, but never with enthusiasm. It wasn’t until a few months after the breakup that I realized why I was so sour towards those two things. I wasn’t ready because I was immensely emotionally neglected by my two parents. I am the youngest of four children and when I was 5 my parents were at the breaking point of their marriage. I was 6 when they separated and my father left us with our mother who was emotionally unstable. She actually has told me recently that she “wasn’t there” for those years…which is more then evident. A majority of my childhood where discipline, love, and order are necessary were filled with the exact opposite. Instead my brothers and I had no order, discipline, or values to abide by. This was more then evident while in school as we all had our problems academically and with discipline. I can remember going to school with no lunch, or money for lunch, wearing the same clothes daily and not brushing my teeth. Also getting in trouble for being the class clown(striving for attention). My eldest brother dropped out of school and both my brothers became addicted to pain medications. My father did everything right in regards to monetary needs, but emotionally offered next nothing to all his children. He’s an extremely lovable man, but didn’t tell me he loved me until I was 19. Truly I didn’t even know my father because he left when I was so young. Being with him on our designated days was both uncomfortable and confusing. It wasn’t until I was in college when I moved in with him and got to know him on a “friend level”. I also found myself staying at my best friends houses with their families on a consistent basis…I still to this day don’t know where I’d be without those families. Through those years I used humor and striving to be the center of attention to cope for the lack of love and attention I was getting at home. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I finally started applying myself and realizing there was more to life then just graduating. By 2011 I had my masters degree in Education and was already working as a young teacher. Many consider my story one of success and logically I can understand that. However, something is missing. A lot of my accomplishments feel empty…I have a lot of people tell me I’m “amazing” or “one of a kind” and I cant see it. The relationship which occurred during and after grad school masked all of these feelings further. After the breakup however, I began the tedious and rewarding process of self-evaluation and quickly realized that I wasn’t feeling empty because of my breakup. After 5 long months I’ve finally realized that I am dealing with this issue of emotional childhood neglect. It wasn’t hard to realize that all the other self-improvement books and techniques weren’t working because I wasn’t at the root of my true pain. As the weeks have passed I’ve slowly identified many instances in my past were this emotional neglect came into play. Being in college and having a hard time making new friends…especially when people consider me “extremely” outgoing. Feeling awkward in social situations, being extremely hard on myself, feeling empty, and most importantly (and most frustrating) not being able to be present in the moment. I also feel out of place with my family and friends. My biggest dilemma is where do I go from here? I have addressed these issues with my mother (my father squashed the convo quick) and I’m going to absolutely read this book, but what else should I do? I am a proactive person but the discovery of these feelings have certainly taken its toll on my motivation and self discipline (at times I feel paralyzed). I have also met someone new, someone who I know is special. I know I can’t give her the love and emotions she would need unless I address this pain (she is the first person to know my dark past and want to know more). Its important that I see myself through this journey and find peace. All of my relationships…especially the one with myself will benefit from this.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Phil, thanks for sharing your story with us. You have done a lot of good work already. One thing I can recommend for sure is that you go to a therapist. Your story deserves to be told and shared, and understood and processed with a trained professional. Gradually you are becoming the same person on the inside that you are on the outside, and vice-versa. That is a very good and healthy thing. Your relationship with this new woman and your own life will get better if you let a therapist help. Wishing you all the best.

      Reply
  161. Grace Ann

    Dr. Webb,I am eager to read your book, but first I wanted to ask you two questions about the book:

    Ques. 1: Have you written anything in it about parents who “use” their children as their personal psychologists, or “sounding boards,” for lack of a better term? Would this be considered a form of emotional neglect – or even abuse?

    My mother and father were ill equipped to have children. They married late in life – mid to late thirties- after serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and both of them carried much unresolved baggage due to their own upbringing and the sins of their parents.

    My childhood did not include the usual earmarks of an American childhood: No Christmas gifts, no birthday parties, no attendance at my sisters’ and my school events.
    Lots of parental acrimony. My mother, after getting us off to school, would return to bed where she would stay until it turned dark. Since my sisters and I were only one year apart she left us alone to play together as a unit or, as she later said, “to amuse ourselves.”

    In my view,however, my mother’s worst contribution as a parent was her obsessive retelling of the stories that comprised her sad, tragic life. Looking back, I believe these recitations served as a disclaimer for what was to come: her negligent parenting. My sisters and I, as soon as we were old enough to sit still and demonstrate some semblance of an attention span – would sit and listen as she told her story – or stories – the same ones over and over again. We were the instruments that made her catharsis possible.

    The pathos that defined my mother’s life ultimately twisted a knot around my own, leaving me an emotional invalid, in a way, and crippling me with guilt because I was able to do and have some things that my mother never did. Or because I never experienced some of the horrible things my mother did.
    To my mother’s way of thinking, anything she did – or didn’t do – as a mother, was superior to the parenting she received as a child. My father held the typical mindset of many breadwinners of that era – that his working two jobs provided sufficient evidence that he was fulfilling his duties as husband and father.

    Ques. 2: The only way I have been able to “forgive” my mother and father for their apathetic parenting is by trying to understand how their upbringing impacted their personalities and, ultimately, their parenting. So far it’s helped me forgive them, but I’m assuming there’s much more work to be done. Would you say that your book goes beyond the “forgiveness” theme in helping to heal the wounds left behind by negligent parents?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Grace Ann, what an eloquent description of the pain you were raised with. First, I hope you will stop feeling guilty. You have done nothing wrong, and in fact, everything right. I do think your mother’s talking was a form of CEN that crosses the line into abuse. Children should not hear such stories, period. In the book I do not address this specific type of abuse, but do talk about the “Child As Parent,” which addresses the boundary issue and neglect piece. As for your second question, I wonder if you’ve skipped ahead to forgiveness. Dealing with your parents is very complicated. And yes, the book goes far beyond forgiveness. I wish you lots of health and happiness. You deserve it Grace Ann.

      Reply
  162. Kim_Fetterly

    I answered, “yes,” to most all of the questions on the CEN survey. Interestingly enough, I’ve just recently had an epiphany related to the way that I react to certain female personalities. My stepmother (and father by omission)inflicted emotional abuse throughout my childhood and adulthood. Upon being around certain women a short time I can instantly identify negative (in my mind) traits that trigger an aversion toward that person. They appear narcissistic, fake, self-aggrandizing, and attention seeking, which causes me to put up a mental wall of distrust toward them. I don’t understand it all, but I’m realizing that these personalities represent my late stepmother, and invoke within me a fear of that person’s power over me. I’ve ordered your book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, and I hope it will give me insight on how to deal with the baggage I’ve been carrying around for almost 50 years. Hopefully, I can have live few years of my life emotionally balanced and rested.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hello Kim, it makes good sense that your stepmother’s abuse would make you specially reactive to women like her when you encounter them. Have you talked with a professional therapist about this? If not, I encourage you to do so. Running on Empty will help you heal from what you didn’t get (the emotional neglect piece), but it is not about abuse. It’s important to work on both. I wish you all the best.

      Reply
  163. ale

    Dr Webb
    i am a 22 year old who is days away from grad. when i was 17 they kind of diagnosed me with bpd. reading your blog made me feel like i am on alone in dealing through chdhood trauma. ive been tlld that it is entirely my fault and inmature to blame my oarents. i guess its a combination of both? growing up wit the idea that i have bpd gave me anxiety and made me become socially anxious (more than i was) i feel im not normal and that people notice i have a personality disorder and as they say “get away from negative people” so ive been trying to Be postive and if im dealing with hard stuff like what i am dealing with currently: a breakup from a mutually abusive relationship where we both heated each other and disrepected with words, i try to hide it from orhers and act like i am fine because i dont want to show people i am toxic and filled with issues. i am embarrased to be cen i am embarassed to be bpd and i am embarrassed to be socialy anxious so i am a fake extrovert. i dnt want to keep growing in this flawed system i want to change. my past doctor prescribed me with lexapro. do you think medicine is good or bad to treat CEN ? and how should i approach being diagnosed? it feels lile ever after they told me i am validated that i am wrong . i never trust my fealings any more i am flawed

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear ale, your childhood trauma is not your fault! Neither is your CEN. And there is no shame in having issues! Everybody does. BPD is only a label; I sense that you’ve taken it on as your identity, and that worries me. At 22, it’s vital that you be talking to a therapist who understands CEN and trauma, and accepting guidance, support and help. I encourage you to stop hiding yourself from others so extremely, but be careful in what you share with whom. Choose quality people, and let them know who you are. But focus less on the “BPD” label. I hope this helps ale! Take care of yourself!

      Reply
  164. Christina

    For the past few years I have been so confused with my emotions. I never knew what it was that I was battling until I came across childhood emotional neglect on YouTube and it makes everything so clear. I always thought I was ADD or that it was my anxiety or stress levels that gave me all these negative effects. I have always had the habit of bottling up my emotions until one day I’d have a break down. Everyone views me as emotionless when all I was trying to do was protect myself. My parents never made an effort to attend to my emotional needs. We would move every 2 years for my whole life and they ripped me away from everything I knew. I became depressed and they never ever acknowledged how hard it must be for me to be the new kid every couple years, having to meet new people with my anxiety, never being able to finish what I started or having fulfilling relationships, and dealing with interruptions in my education that put me behind. We were a struggling family also with a special needs sibling and they were selfish. All they seemed to care about was money. I felt that they took their anger out on me and I was hit as a kid for what felt like the most pointless reasons. And everything is still the same now. When ever i tried to express my emotions, I would get belittled or told to shut up or grow up or stop being a baby. I am going through the toughest year of my life now that I am 18. My parebts are once again moving after being the new kid again. But I’ve decided to stay in an apartment with others. I have to pay for it, my car, and college education somehow on my minimum wage pay because they don’t want a part of my life. They have never understood my feelings and they never will. I lived my life doing everything I could to impress them and all they did was make me feel worthless. My life is falling apart and everyday being with them is a constant struggle and it’s hard to get through the day without wanting to disappear. I can’t even talk to my friends about what’s going on because I have a chronic fear of crying Infront of others. I will never be like my parents when I have kids. I am sad but I have learned from their mistakes.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Christina, you were actively emotionally neglected by your parents. That takes an extra toll on the child. I hope you’ll continue to work on your CEN because you can heal, I assure you. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve learned from your parents’ mistakes. That is really important and admirable. Please take care!

      Reply
  165. Decatur Sinclair

    I am taking the unusual step of writing you about your book Running on Empty before I’ve even read it. It arrived today from Amazon. I’ve been trying to reverse-engineer my original family for years. Nowhere could I find a book on the subject. I couldn’t find any listings for maternal abuse (psychological, not physical). My mother had nine of us kids in 13 years and carried each one of us 10 months. That’s 90 months of pregnancy.

    It wasn’t until I attended the Hoffman Institute in St. Helena, CA that my counselor said ” with that many kids, there’s no way you got enough of Mom’s time.” My mother explained in a joint therapy session that “it was when I was pregnant that I felt best about myself.” So Mom became the baby-making machine. My father was a sociopath who liked photos of the “happy family”, but was absent and unavailable on his inexorable path to insanity.

    So thanks for writing this book. I feel certain that I will gain much insight.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Decatur, I’m so glad you’re looking forward to reading it. I hope it offers you more answers! your parents sound like the CEN type, for sure. I really like your phrase “inexorable path to insanity” to describe your sociopathic father. Take care of yourself, and I wish you all the best.

      Reply
  166. Ivo

    Dear Dr. Webb
    After 53 Years I finally found out what was “wrong” in my life. I had a good childhood but emotions were never an issue, even before, during and after tragic events. So, after adding a few more aspects I scored 25 on your list of 22 symptoms. I started to get a hold on me when I began to meditate seriously about 4 years ago. Over time I added other techniques like chakra balancing and EFT. But still there was this remaining feeling of emptiness, not belonging and having a meaningless and pointless life even though I have a family and own a business. About a week ago your web-site manifested into my life and the information you gave me was a huge relieve about finally truly understanding what was happening with me. I currently do not have the book (but will buy asap) and I would like to share with you the result of an experiment I did with what I sensed was the “core-problem”. I had the idea of performing an EFT tapping routine with three different aspects I considered important to describe what was going on inside of me, and…. in just about 3 minutes all of the underlying residual feelings of self-denial, self doubt and the disturbing feeling of discomfort I usually had when being in a social environment were gone! That same day I enjoyed for the first time being in a public space with many people without feeling like a total misfit. It was – and still is amazing! I feel like reborn. I can´t thank you enough for bringing this into my awareness. I truly believe that understanding the cause is absolutely essential for any treatment to be successfull. Your work is a blessing for many people.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Wow, Ivo. I haven’t heard of anyone using EFT for CEN. It sounds like it worked amazingly well for you! That’s great. I’m glad I was able to offer you some answers. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Take care!

      Reply
  167. Sarah

    Hi Jonice. I am working with a therapist and realizing that I suffer from emotional neglect – largely attunement problems. I can relate to almost all of the items in the quiz. I am also seeing how my CEN has adversely affected my ability to parent well, and my children (especially my 22 yr-old son) suffer some of these things too. So I guess they also have CEN. I’m hoping that, during the short time I have left with them under my roof, I can repair some of this so that they can heal and we can stop the cycle. Can you comment on this? Does talking to them about it help them?
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Sarah, yes it does help to talk about it with them. If your children are all in their late teens or twenties, you can even ask them to read Running on Empty. This is a delicate balance, however because you don’t want to take too much responsibility upon yourself. You want them to own the problem and not just blame it all on you. So I suggest you let your therapist help you to make sure you do it in the right way for each individual child’s age and temperament. Good for you for taking this on! Everything you’re doing now will pay off hugely, I have no doubt. Take care!

      Reply
  168. Josie

    Hello. To give you some background, I’m an only daughter of a very emotionally distant and slightly authoritarian father (slightly because he didn’t participate much anyway), who didn’t take part in anything but providing the family money, and a permissive/passive mother. I wasn’t allowed to stay out late or play too far from my house (my mother was always worried for my safety), but other than that I never had any kind of schedule or chores, not even homework or making my own bed. My mother was decided to be “my pal”, as your book puts it. My father would rarely talk to me, and when he did so, was to go in a rage, throw my toys into the trashcan, or threaten take away my computer/cartoon watching/etc rights.
    I’ve been having issues during my whole academic life (it got worse at some point and I started failing classes relentlessly, something that never happened before). Now that I’ve finally gotten into the master’s program I wanted, in the university I wanted, I’m still lagging behind my peers and spending days doing absolutely nothing of use. What bothers me the most is that I have a very strong “internal voice”, but it isn’t a critical one at all. I see people talking about cruel, demanding “inner voices”, but I saw nothing about the kind mine is until I read your book. Mine is always saying “it’s ok, your professors will give you another chance”, “you just need a sudden rush of motivation and it’s all gonna be done in a day”, “it’s not too late, tomorrow you’ll finish everything magically”. I know rationally, and from experience, that those things are utterly delusional. But even now I keep thinking “nah, it’s ok, I’m gonna speed up tomorrow and catch up”. It’s maddening. This affects all areas of my life and I’ve lost years to it in several aspects. I was obese, became bulimic, lost all the extra weight, but suddenly here I am with double the body weight I had just a couple of years ago. I indulge myself constantly – be it overeating, bingeing, not studying, not working, not cleaning. I love my field of study and yet my dissertation is left forgotten in some corner and my notebooks haven’t been touched in weeks. I love a few sports and the thought of engaging in them “tomorrow”. I rationally know that maybe it’s even too late to catch up this semester. I feel like crying myself to sleep and self-harming like I have in the past, because I’m disgusted with this lack of initiative, but even so the little voice is telling me that “tomorrow me” will fix everything. I’ve read your book and I’m trying to find (yet another) therapist, and hoping the one I do find will be a better match than the three previous others, specially now that I’m more aware of what my “problem” is.
    Do you have any advice on how I can tame this “all is gonna work out fine tomorrow” voice? I feel like I have zero discipline and zero self-control, and it’s figuratively and literally killing me. Thank you for your patience.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Josie, you are right. That voice is literally killing you. Recognizing that is a huge step. I suggest you write down a list of new comments to start cultivating a new voice inside of you. That voice says things like, “Putting something off never works out.” “Do it now.” “Stop letting yourself off the hook,” etc. Read them over and over multiple times a day. Start replacing each “off-the-hook” statement with a responsible one. It will take lots of conscious effort and time, but you’ll gradually change and start following the new voice.

      Reply
  169. Kira

    Have you found that SSRI medications hinder the process of healing from CEN or can you be medicated and heal at the same time?

    I find that when I medicate I don’t cry or feel emotions as strongly. Have you found this to be the case with your patients? Have you taken people off meds so that they could fully feel and then learn to accept those feelings? Or can they process the effects of CEN while medicated? It’s a lot to come off meds, face normal life then also try and heal CEN at the same time. I’m trying to do it but I fear depression relapse and I question if I need to go back on medications. I know if I medicate again, my emotions become blunted and the emotional component of my therapy slows considerably.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Kira, that is a very good question. Actually, most people’s emotions are not blunted by SSRIs. I have treated many people who made better progress because they’re taking an SSRI to decrease the chemical component. But since an SSRI was blunting your emotions, it makes me wonder if you were on the wrong SSRI, as different ones have different effects. (Please note I’m a PhD, not an MD so I’m not qualified to give medical advice). You should ask your prescribing dr. if there’s another SSRI that you could try to reduce the blunting. And if that doesn’t work, you may unfortunately have to continue as you are. If you and your therapist are both watching for signs of depression, hopefully if it does start up again, you can catch it early and get back on the medication. Good for you for working so hard on yourself. Keep it up! And thanks for your question.

      Reply
  170. Sarah

    I find myself agreeing with a lot of what is said about CEN and it is almost certainly in play in my life. The only thing that I don’t feel is empty or devoid of emotions. Rather I feel very reactive and like I have a lot of extreme emotions about things. I don’t express them to people but I can feel so angry and so happy within seconds. Is this flailing at being able to feel emotions properly is part of things?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Yes, Sarah, that is one way that CEN can play out. You did not learn how to manage and sit with emotions in the CEN household. It’s not that you’re not feeling your emotions properly; it’s that you haven’t been able to develop the skills necessary to understand, express, and use them. I suggest you continue to follow this website and my blog on PsychCentral and if possible read Running on Empty, because you can heal. All the best.

      Reply
  171. Melissa

    I have read your book and many many articles, posts etc about this and other related topics, and have sought therapy, and they all seem to tell me the same thing: that I am an adult and it’s completely up to me to make the change that is needed. My entire body just screams and rebels at the unfairness of this. Something was done to me as a child and I have to fix it myself?? And how am I supposed to change the dialog in my head if I have low self-esteem and self-worth? How do I just create a strength from within out of nothing? Everyday I wish my dad would call me up and genuinely apologize for being such a tyrant, for showing me the wrong way to be a parent. Even though I’m aware of the wrong things that I do as a parent (impatience, arguing with spouse in front of her, yelling), I’m still finding myself act like him towards my own daughter–and I hate myself for it, I just feel wretched. And that feeling results in my general inability to change anything because it reinforces this feeling that I’m no good.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Melissa, you are indeed in a painful spot. It’s true, and unfair, that you are the only one who can fix you. You can’t create something out of nothing in a flash, but you can slowly, gradually, fill in what’s missing with the help of a competent professional. Please don’t give up. It is hard work but it’s the only way. You, your daughter and your husband deserve better.

      Reply
  172. Belinda

    You referred to your practice in articles and an emotional training course, but unfortunately I am in the Washington, DC metro area. There are many CEN adults who work with therapists but have trouble breaking through the “numbness” or getting to the point where we deal successfully with our feelings or lack thereof.

    Have you ever considered developing a course that would be more accessible to the masses? I think about the IMAGO training for couples and some way of certifying professionals to treat this problem would be very helpful.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Belinda, yes I have thought of all of that. It’s all on my long list of things to do. Thanks to you all for your patience! And thanks to you, Belinda, for your question.

      Reply
  173. Anonymous

    So much of this makes sense for me (I said yes to 19 of the 22 things). I am currently in college, but I feel like I will never amount to anything. I feel like I’m worthless, and because of this I am too afraid to get close to people because I don’t want them to see that I am worthless and reject me. I also have a really hard time dealing with things emotionally, and in the past I turned to self-harming behaviors to calm myself down or to help deal with my emotions. If I am upset or having a hard time with things most of the time I will hide it from people or I will lie about how I am feeling, even if I want to tell them. I’m afraid that they won’t care or will stop wanting to be friends if I tell them about my problems. I’m too afraid to go to counseling for these same reasons, and also because I feel like I’m just being pathetic and that the counselor will think the same thing.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      When you decide to take this on, I assure you that it will change your life. But you will have to take a leap of faith and go see a counselor. All colleges have them, usually free. It’s vital that you form a relationship with a professional who will prove to you that you can trust other people to notice, care about and respond to your true feelings. If you’re too afraid, you might work up to it by reading Running on Empty and going through the exercises in it. You are young and have a whole future ahead of you. Please do the work.

      Reply
  174. Maya

    My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic (undiagnosed until I was 12) and my father was emotionally distant but also a child sexual predator. I raised myself as best I can recall (most of my childhood is lost to amnesia and many of the bits of memory that have returned are scary). I have been in intense psychotherapy for almost 13 years and am still struggling with feelings of being lost and distant from others. I am well liked and have no idea why. When I took the questionnaire, I answered yes to the first 21 questions. I have thought for a number of years that I suffered from emotional neglect growing up and with the results of the questions it looks like I was correct. I am intelligent and well educated, but lacking in social skills (I never even learned to cook as a child, nor how to clean a house). Thank you for this site.

    Reply
  175. Matilda Garrido

    Hi Dr. Webb,
    Do you have any thoughts on a connection between hypochondria and CEN? I suffer from both, and often wonder if the origin of my hypochondria lies in a fantasy that I will finally be taken care of if I am ill. Please let me know what you think. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      I haven’t really thought about that connection, but it does make perfect sense. I think CEN underlies many psychological diagnoses, and for you it sounds like it may be true for your hypochondria. I hope you’ll address your CEN and see if it makes a difference for you. Thanks for your thoughtful question.

      Reply
  176. Jim

    What if, for the sake of argument, an individual circles virtually every one of the 22 questions provided on the emotional neglect questionnaire? I have no doubts that my father, in particular, was emotionally retarded. His only two emotions (as best as I can remember) were silence and rage. Was on the receiving end of countless beatings growing up, some of which were instigated by me to avoid my father directing his attentions towards my sisters. He was rarely present, and my recollections of his participation in my daily upbringing are virtually non-existant. To this day (I am now 48) he is an absolute (for lack of a better way to describe it) prick. If I even attempt to extract some kind of explanation from him regarding past behavior, it is met with the sound of crickets…….. At this point in my life, I have no expectations of ever having a “normal” relationship with my father. I have virtually no self-esteem, self respect, or self confidence as a result of my exposure to this man growing up (and into my adult life as well). My question is this: is there a point where you give up trying to seek your father’s approval? A point where one can simply throw up your hands, wash those hands of him, and finally move on with the hopes of somehow finding some kind of normalcy???? Just asking, because this old, cantankerous, contemptable ass is pushing 76 years old, and there is NO way he will ever chang!!!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      I agree. Your father will not change. Realizing that his limitations are his and not yours is key. You sound like someone with lots to offer, perceptive and intelligent. I suggest you start working on loving yourself instead of your father’s love (he’s probably incapable). You can do it.

      Reply
  177. Jennifer

    I’m not quite sure where to begin. I grew up in a small town in the middle of Iowa with two parents that loved me, gave me all of the “things” that I needed, but where never there. My mom wouldn’t bother to hide the fact that I was “an accident” and would even make comments that I “ruined her life” because she got pregnant with me before she was able to finish her college degree. My parents worked opposite shifts so that they didn’t have to have a babysitter for too long during the day before my younger brother and I were school aged, but I remember my mother locking herself in her bedroom and chain-smoking while she made long-distance calls to friends and family members to complain about her life, my brother and I , and our father. She wouldn’t leave her room to make us supper and she didn’t leave her room to tuck us in at night, but despite her lack of nuturing I loved her with my whole heart. I wanted to grow up to be a “great Mommy” to go to work and have two children and a family of my own. My father was never home, he worked two jobs to help put food on the table and to pay our bills, of which there must have been many because we lived very simply. When he was home he would tuck us in and play with us, but he wasn’t really very perseptive and he and my mother would argue often. They would yell at each other and even throw dishes at each other at times. I remember some nights tucking my little brother into bed in a toy hamper so that he could shut the lid and not hear the sounds of them yelling at eachother or I would tuck blankets under our bedroom door so that we wouldn’t have to hear it as loudly. If they got tired of yelling at eachother they would yell at me. I shielded my litte brother from so much. He didn’t have to experience their mean and angry voices telling him it was all his fault because I took all of that on myself. I knew what things I could and couldn’t do to keep them happy and we lived on eggshells for years. As I got older things seemed to get better, but I think I just learned to adapt and to tune out more and more. My parents would tease me about ridiculous things and I grew more and more socially anxious. At 18 the doctor said I had one of the worst cases of social anxiety she had even had and she tried me on numerous anti-anxiety medications. My family made fun of me and told me to suck it up. At 23 I met a boy that my parents “hated” even though they had only met him once. I snuck around and saw him without their knowledge, I would drive hours to see him so that my parents wouldn’t see us together and I thought that everything would be ok as long as they didn’t know. Things blossomed with my “secret” boyfriend and eventually things were so serious with him that I knew I had to tell my parent. I began just mentioning him briefly in conversations, nice comments he’d said about me or funny things he’d said until I finally told my mother that I was seeing him. She lost her mind, demanded that I never speak to him agian, and when I said I wouldn’t stop seeing him she told me I had to pick between my family and my boyfriend. When I picked my boyfriend and we moved in together she stopped speaking with me and started to create terrible gossip about me spreading it all over our small town. I had to move 30 minutes away to a larger city to escape her evil comments. To this day two years later, she still refuses to speak with me. She refused to attend my wedding and she refuses to acknowledge me when I run into her and my father in public. But still, after all of this, I miss her and I feel like it is my fault that I feel the way I do, it is my fault that I made her push me away, it is my fault that she is sick and that she hates me. It is a whole different kind of pain to feel like your own parents who are supposed to love and support you hate you and would rather spit on you than give you a hug. I am so angry, but I also carry so much hurt. I am hopeful that it will get better, but I’m just not sure how it could. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I did something wrong to push them away.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      You did not push your parents away. They were/are simply limited human beings who only have so much to give. You must stop blaming yourself and start building yourself up instead. Please take the focus back to yourself, what you want and feel and need. That’s the way to a healthy and happy future. And I hope you’ll look for help as well from a qualified professional. You deserve so much better!

      Reply
  178. Carolyn A. Kennedy

    I am so happy to have discovered this angle because it explains so much about my. depression, loneliness,
    and negative feelings about myself. I was very depressed recently (the fact that I’d forgotten to take my antidepressant for a week did not help). But I was inspired to Google depression and found Dr. Webb’s work by sheer luck.
    I’ve been trying to learn how to talk to myself in a caring way, but now I can see how I started to berate myself.
    I’m 71 but I’m confident that Dr Webb’s ideas can help me be kind and loving to myself. I see my therapist today and will share this with her
    Don’t know if this is relevant but I’ve had chronic back pain for about 20 plus years.
    Good wishes to all. Carolyn K.

    Reply
  179. Angel

    Dear Dr. Jonice,

    I came upon your CEN questionnaire while I was looking up reasons for why teenagers commit suicide, for at the time I was feeling quite suicidal myself, and was surprised to see that I circled every number in the questionnaire. I listened to your videos and when you described the three main categories of struggles CEN people go through, I admit I teared up a bit because I could totally relate to that.

    I’ve been wondering for years why I feel the way I do. I’ve been feeling so…so empty for so long. I can’t even remember the last time I looked at myself and could manage to tell myself “I love you”. I never thought it could have been CEN, but it makes sense. I love my family so much, and they love me in their own way. Still, I can’t help but feel so alone.

    Everyone I know is so excited about going into relationships and being loved by their personal other, but I’m terrified. I’m afraid I can’t give them the affection they deserve and, most of all, it just feels wrong when I think of anyone giving me so much love and attention. I want it, but I don’t. It makes me sick to the stomach when I think about it. I can’t handle the thought and sometimes I push people away when they get too close. I don’t mean to hurt them, but I just can’t stand it. I literally get goosebumps.

    I started feeling this odd sense of lonely emptiness when I was twelve, and it has since spiraled into what I think is Depression. I can’t bare to tell my folks. I know they’d be ashamed of me. I feel all I ever do is wrong in their eyes. I try, but I never feel that I’m doing enough. Maybe it’s just me but I feel an overwhelming pressure to make them proud. However, since I never felt the least bit satisfied, I only dove deeper into Depression. I’ve attempted suicide several times but I’ve bailed just in the nick of time.

    Now I just go in and out of deep depression. My art, the passion of my life, can’t even lessen my anxiety anymore. I feel so…worthless. Like I can’t do anything. After listening to your video, however, I feel slightly better. Maybe it’s not entirely my fault. I’m trying to get better, hard as it is, but I just wanted to take the time to thank you for posting those videos. I’m hoping to buy a copy of your book. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help me.

    Thanks from a College Student.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Angel, please do get the book, and also please go talk to someone at your college counseling center. It will be confidential and your parents don’t need to ever know. I hope you will face this and work it through now, while you are young. If you do, you will have many good things ahead of you.

      Reply
  180. Jane

    All I can say is wow… this sounds so much like my life. I think both parents had emotional deficits… I think my mother was more aware of my emotions, she just chose to ignore them. My father was an out and out oaf. Example – at around age 11 I was outside in my back yard playing with the dog while my father watered his flower garden. I opened my mouth to call the dog to me and a fly flew right down my throat. I stood there choking and gagging for several minutes while my father stood there watering the garden and watching me with no expression on his face. Later on I asked didn’t you see me choking? and his reply was yes but what could I do about it? I didn’t know enough at that time to say ‘show a little concern or at least stop watering the flowers and come over to me’ so I said nothing. My father was emotionally aware enough however to use emotions against me. When I was around 12 I saw a styrofoam surfboard that I wanted as a toy for our pool. I asked and he said no, it’s too much money (we were lower middle class or maybe upper lower class. My father was a blue collar worker). I kept asking about the toy and he kept saying no until I let it go. One day I was in my room reading (I was an only child and I spent a lot of time alone in my room reading…) and he stuck his head in the door and asked “do you still want that pool toy” and I refused to show excitement or joy and say yes, because I anticipated he’d say “yeah, well you’re STILL not going to get it.” because that is something he would have done and I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of hurting me. Turns out his question was on the level and my answer of “yeah, why?” didn’t please him so he went off ranting, annoyed, and I still didn’t get the toy.
    I began considering suicide at age 9 and have thought of it off and on all my life. I have trouble with relationships with men, was married but now divorced, and whether with men I date or just people in general, I just don’t know what to SAY. I’m an extreme introvert – have been called a hermit – test as INTP on Meyers Briggs and have been miserable most of my life. I’ve long felt that I was different from others and there’s something really, really wrong with me. I seem to have a lifelong existential depression that is only lifted in brief moments – mainly the happy bits of my life have been like dim little stars in a dark night sky. I never even as a young kid wanted kids of my own – and made sure it never happened – and am SO glad I did not have kids because even if I had wanted them, I feel totally unqualified to raise a healthy happy person.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Leslie, please do work on your Emotional Neglect. I think you could make your life and happiness much brighter if you deal with what you didn’t get.

      Reply
  181. Tilly

    Hi, I really need your help. I believe a 15 year old boy (family friend) is suffering from CEN. I have spent the last couple of years trying to get him to trust me and I do believe he finally does. He comes to me when things are hard at home, divorced family, no dad at home. However, I now believe he may be getting into troubled areas, he lies and is using people, cannot be on his own and disrespects both parents. Please tell me what is the best way I can help him, I really think of him as a son in a way, think a lot of him.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Can you talk with his mother about this? Or ask her to read Running on Empty? Or both? He and/or his mother would probably benefit from talking with a professional. If you can get any of that to happen it would be great. But if all you can do is be there for him to talk with, that’s huge and very worthwhile. Thanks for caring so much for this young man who is falling between the cracks. All the best to you.

      Reply
  182. Ridz

    Dear Dr Webb,
    Yesterday I was in a low mood as usual and I started to search my innerself for a reason.After constant reflections I realized I am emotionally hurt in childhood which has made me what i am now.I read your blogs and it touched me internally.I am thankful you wrote it and God made me see it. Having grown up in a family where I had everything except love and understanding.No one realized what I missed and later I ensured no one should realize it. Comments about how dumb a child could be, to how stupid my ideas are, to how I look, to how other children are better thn me in all aspects.Sometimes mild physical assult too. I was very small maybe 5 years but i remember the worst time if my past.I was very innocent, fragile and true. My Fathers behaviour made me fearful and at the age of 10 unknowingly I decided that I shd hide my real self to be safe from hurt. Either I would have gone in depression or hide my inner self from the world. I also became a kleptomanic for some time. I searched approval, acceptance in others outside family. For me love was just physical closeness Now as I knew there is no true love in the world which is innocent and pure. I became extrovert, smily, giggly and a social person. The more I was hurt, the more aggresive I became for myself. I have lived 26 years of my life like this. Hiding my true identity from myself. My inner self is broken into millions of pieces.I have become what I am Not, just because I do not want people to hurt me. But in this process I have hurt myself badly. Now I want a change. I want to accept myself butI am unable to find a start.I want to live my life the way I feel i internally. I had tried to ve socially involved so that people accept me. I am unable to accept anything about myself now.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Ridz, please find a therapist to help you through this! You can get better and, I think based on what you’re saying, that you will. But you’ll need help! Please reach out and talk to a professional. Wishing you all the best.

      Reply
  183. Patty

    I have been living with the effects of CEN all of my life. My mother was disabled from the time I was 8 years old. Both of my parents were alcoholics, and they both died when I was in my late teens.
    I am now in my 50’s, married, and have two great kids who were given plenty of love and attention! However, I have a husband who, over the years has also been neglectful and abusive (I’ve stood up to him, though, and didn’t let it slide). I’ve been to several therapists over the years because I knew I was dealing with the effects of my childhood, and got “advice” ranging from telling me that I should hire a cleaning lady since the disarray at home bothers me so much, to saying that what I’m feeling is very normal for a woman my age; I’ve just taken on too much. (Probably because I look like a “normal” suburban mom, and don’t have a substance abuse problem).
    My major issue is that I haven’t been able to keep a job. Not because of work performance (I get great reviews), but ever since I was a child, I always run late! WHY????
    I’ve had some decent clerical jobs, and a little over a year ago, I started seeing another therapist because I was on the verge of losing yet another job for clocking in a few minutes late. Well, I ended up losing that job, ultimately, for clocking in 1 minute late. Because of that, I couldn’t afford to continue the therapy. I’m now deep in debt, as I have to cover half of the household expenses.
    At this point, I’m TERRIFIED to even interview for another job. Almost feeling like I’d be “fooling” them into hiring me, knowing that they’ll fire me (or I’ll have to quit). My husband keeps telling me that, because I know that I have this issue, to just get over it! I’m constantly told to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, etc etc (like I don’t know this, and haven’t been hearing it for 40+ years). Things will go well for months, and then I slip back.
    I don’t know why I haven’t been able to get a grip on this, as I know I’m the only one who can control it!
    I’m humiliated and embarrassed for myself. At this point in life, should I just accept the fact that I’ll never be able to keep a job?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Patty, I think being late is actually the tip of an iceberg for you. It’s the visible expression of something inside of you holding you back. It may be some aspect of your CEN or something about your self-esteem or fears. I think the key is to work on getting in touch with your true feelings (a major part of recovering from CEN). Find a therapist who understands the version of CEN that’s on this website and the book, and work with that person to start trying to access the “underwater part of the iceberg.” Take the focus off of lateness for awhile, and just work on getting in touch with your emotions. I hope this helps, and take care of yourself.

      Reply
  184. Raj

    I stumbled across this page and said yes to everything in the questionnaire.. literally every single one. Thise experiences/thoughts/emotions occur on a daily basis for me. I always wondered what was wrong with me and I hated myself for being the way I am. I don’t know how to move past it. Now that I am married (to a very loving, affectionate, and understanding man that dotes on me I feel even worse because I feel that I don’t deserve this. I don’t understand why he feels like this towards me. Logically I know he loves me but I just can’t convince myself that it is true. Although I have a close and loving family, I had a lot of negative experiences as a child. Abuse, alcoholism, being told I wasn’t wanted. Anytime I received attention as a child it was negative attention and now the thought of being social or having any attention makes me panic and my anxiety goes through the roof. This was also he case at my wedding. For most people their wedding day is the best day ever, this sounds harsh, but I hated it.. I hated the attention as I felt there was alot of negativity and people were not actually there because they care about me. I can’t snap out of this. I think about suicide because I am not happy and no matter how hard I try I just can’t be. Recently, this is something I have not told anyone and honestly I never would ever tell anyone, I remembered aomething from my childhood that I had buried away in my mind. I was sexually abused by a family friend when I was about 6 years old. This memory snapped back into my mind one day. This post is very long so I apologize. I just can’t talk to anyone else. Lately I have been thinking about aaking my dr for a psychiatrist referral but I can’t even talk to my doctor about it because it makes me anxious knowing he will ask me questions and talk about why I am asking for the referral. Feels like I am in a catch 22 with no way out.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Raj, there is a way! You don’t have to talk to your dr if you don’t want to. And I don’t think you should see a psychiatrist first thing. Instead get a list of therapists near you and call each one. Tell them you’re looking for help to work through some childhood issues. And decide which one to see based on how they come across on the phone. You can open up slowly with a therapist at a pace that you’re comfortable. I also suggest that you read Running on Empty because there is a chapter about how suicidal thoughts are linked to Childhood Emotional Neglect, plus much of the book will be talking to you directly, I think. Please open up and talk to someone.

      Reply
  185. Anonymous

    Hi, I have read a number of comments and I can identify a lot with any number of them. I have gone thru a lot of therapy and worked with a humanistic, person centered, non directive therapist for 7 years. Good Lord, that sounds awful, but I realized that I made a lot of progress when I felt accepted and cared about. My mother just was so rejecting and I felt so much hate from her. I accept that it happened. She had 6 kids and she and my father created a lot of damage to all of us. However I just want to stop hating her when I am down. I go thru good times and periods of doing well, but then start to struggle with my anger towards my mom. I know this sounds ridiculous, but i felt loved by my dad, even though he beat and humiliated us so much. I have tried and tried to forgive my mother. I am the one who made arrangements for her to be nearby in a nursing home, but if I see her, I can’t stand her. I was always INVISIBLE..i think I don’t process all my emotions well. Some i can do just fine, but pain, anger and lack of forgiveness is rearing up in me again. I just wish I could have had a different childhood. I know its created in me a great deal of understanding and concern for others that go thru this, but I WANT to heal in a way that doesn’t come back over and over to haunt me. I realize how much acceptance and love is essential to a child’s well being. I show so much understanding towards others, but I rarely get much in return. What is left for me to do?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Why do you struggle so much with your true feelings toward your mother? What you feel is what you feel, and it’s OK. I suggest you accept your true feelings and stop struggling with them and feeling that you should get over them. That will free you up to focus on yourself instead of your mother. Sounds easier than it is, I know. But you can do it with your therapist’s help. Just keep working at it.

      Reply
  186. Ruth

    I am the 4th child of a family of 5 children. I have suffered with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, emotional and physical abuse and only recently have realized that I should also include cen and mind control. I can remember being about 5 when the first incident of molestation occured by an uncle. I told my mom and was told to never mention it again as my dad would kill my uncle. It wasnt to long after that my brother right above me started sexually abusing me. First it was convincing me to remove my clothes and slowly it leer laughter d to each step progressively. He would use the fear of our father to convince me to do what he said. I never remember laughter in our house. I only remember having this empty feeling and never being enough. If we werent grounded or beat our punishment was writing sentences. We wrote I will do what Im told not what I want. we had to write any where from 5 to 100 pages depending on our crime. A page was front and back. As we got older we would have to stand up with a clipboard to write our sentences. When I was around 7 I became very sick and my apendix had burst. My mom was mad at me because she said I didnt let her know just how sick I was. I spent about a month in the hospital and perhaps saw my mom 2 maybe 3 times. We had inspection of our rooms every Sat morming we stood at the end of our bed and dad came in checked or bed to be sure we made it up right. opened or dresser and checked to see if everything was folded right checked or closet to be sure it was hung correctly. If one thing was wrong it all was dumped on the floor and we started over. any chore we did was given the white glove test. if one dish was found dirty everything in all the cabinets came out and we did them all. Over the years the abuse with my brother escalated to where I had to play house with our cousins and later to where I had to have sex with his buddies. It stopped when I was 14 only because I met a boy and told him and he in turn told his parents who told mine. When this happened him and i were pulled from our beds in the middle of the night and dad beat my brother and we were sent back to bed and told to never speak of it again. I dont ever remember being told good job.I always forgot to do something didnt do it right or was stupid for thinking what I did. I was pregnant and married at the age of 15. For years I could tell what happened with my brother and I as if I was reading a childrens story with no feeling. After my 2nd husband passed away and both of my children were grown I found myself disabled and unable to work. Thats when my world started to crumble. I had nothing to keep me busy anymore and knew something wasnt right didnt know what. I began to abuse drugs around the age of 52. I had several surgeries and was introduced to pain pills After a few years I put myself in rehab and luckily had a very observant councilor who recognized childhood trauma and sent me to a trauma center. Which was just barely the beginning. Thank goodness I had a good friend who allowed me to stay with her for a year and I spent that in therapy. Since returning home I have had very little therapy as there are very few that will accept medicare and medicaid as payment. Being on a fixed income cannot afford to pay. I get wait help I can from other peers. or on the web. I cant afford the books although there are many I would love. so I do the best I can. There are a few places that offer free services but I live in a rural area and they are 30 mins away I have no car. When I find a site such as yours with glimpses of hope for recovery I become over joyed and grab as much as I can from it. My ultimate dream is one day be well enough to mentor others and also to become an advocate for mental health so no one has to ever fight the battles I have fought and not be able to get help. I also have a son that suffers with boderline personality disorder that could not get help here instead he got jail. He now lives up north so he can get the help he needs. His plan is to help me get a car so I can get around and eventually fulfill my dream. So please keep up your work it is so appreciated

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Ruth, thank you for sharing your story with us. You clearly had a very painful and difficult childhood. It’s wonderful that you’re sorting through it instead of avoiding it. You’re figuring it all out, and that’s very important. The work you’re doing will pay off for you and your son. Keep it up!

      Reply
  187. Rebecca

    Hi Dr Jonice Webb,
    First, thank you for your time and thank you for your book. I’m just getting started reading it.

    But the reason I’m writing is to ask, not having read your book yet, is the narcissistic personality type (post-childhood) and/or superiority-inferiority complex connected to CEM? And what about perfectionism?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Rebecca, I wrote a blog called Raised by a Narcissist on psychcentral about how a narcissistic parent can be emotionally neglectful. I think CEN itself is only likely to cause narcissistic personality in the child if it’s accompanied by some sort of severe loss, abuse or trauma in childhood. I think CEN people struggle with self-esteem simply because they do not know themselves well enough to own their strengths. I think perfectionism is more a product of anxiety and control, both of which are loosely related to CEN but not a primary result. Thanks for your thoughtful questions!

      Reply
  188. soph

    I was a victim of childhood emotional neglect. I am now 44 and only just coming to terms with my childhood and the reasons why I react like i do as an adult.I believe the pattern of CEN has continued in our family for over three generations. I see one of my sisters in denial of the whole situation, while the other sister manipulates the situation for all its worth. I am therefore the scapegoat as I do not act in the same way and say when i feel something is wrong. My vulnerability as a neglected child led to me being abused by many people from the age of 12 upwards. I was so desperate to be loved that I mistook what I thought was a genuine love and affection for me as what it really was, abuse and power over a very vulnerable little girl.
    Having been pushed out of the family about eight years ago by my sister, I have spent several years in therapy at times. I am only just starting to understand the dynamics of my family and how the patterns have evolved over time. My mother has just come back into my life after about a year non-contact. Its early days and I feel will end up having to accept that our views on the family are different and she will not be able to understand my emotions and feelings on this. But at least we have made a start on a new path in our relationship and can hopefully find a new footing.
    As for my sisters I feel I do not want to have them in my life too much at the moment. The damage they have caused to my own mental health is tremendous and I have even resorted to self-harm at times.
    I suppose my question is how do I reach that understanding I so desperately need with my mum? I know its early days but my own self doubt tells me i am making a big mistake and setting myself up for rejection all over again. My dad died 4 years ago and my mum blames most of this on him and his lack of support to her when we were little. But I can see the bigger picture and see the same pattern has carried on from my grandma on my mothers side.
    Is there a way I will find some peace from this? Having been trying to deal with it for nearly ten years, I want some time for me for a change

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Soph, your last sentence is very important: “I want some time for me for a change.” Now is the time for you to take whatever distance you need from those who have harmed you. Put up new, healthy boundaries to protect you while you do the work you need, and don’t let guilt get in your way. Mothers are very powerful so it’s understandable why it’s harder to protect yourself from her than from your sisters. But I encourage you to take care of yourself in your relationship with her. You will need to be careful about that if you are going to heal. Keep working and be strong. It will pay off!

      Reply
  189. Emily

    I’ve been in therapy and have circled around the idea that things “weren’t that bad” for me growing up, but looking at your website has reaffirmed that there were issues for me growing up that are impactful in their own way, even if I was well cared for and fed and loved, I was missing a larger piece and emotional connection.
    I am in therapy and my therapist will often highlight links between my past and present, but it is hard for me to process because I get defensive and uncomfortable dealing with those feelings. I generally am numb, and while I went through a period of being resentful of my parents, I now cordially interact with them and all is well on the surface. As an independent 25 year old living across the country from my parents, it is easy enough to continue like this, but I am unsure of how the future will unfold. I am wondering if you see young adults that are able to reconcile and transform their relationship with their parents? Growing up in a household where issues were swept under the rug, I don’t know where to begin or if it’s worth the time and energy. I need to do my own internal healing, but I am unsure of how to loop my parents into it or if it’s even appropriate. They never physically abused me, but the way that they responded to my emotional needs left me confused and desiring more connection. So I can see how I have a hard time being attuned to myself as an adult, I am just feeling stuck on what to do with it.
    I also am wondering if you see any differences in only children experiencing CEN? I spent a lot of my time in childhood alone, my parents home but unavailable for me emotionally. I don’t have siblings to share this experience with as an adult, and my whole extended family just sees the superficial part of my life. While I play along easily to superficiality as my parents taught me growing up, I always feel disconnected and tend to question and overanalyze my relationships. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Emily, you sound like a case of pure CEN. Have you asked your therapist to work with you on the exact definition you’ve found on this website and in the book? (many therapists define CEN very differently or less completely). Some parents are unable to understand or face how they’ve failed their child, whereas others are far more workable. Only you, with the help of your therapist, can judge whether and when to bring this up to your parents. Please know that even though you’re an only child, you are not alone! You are in the company of many other young people who have stilted, emotionally empty relationships with their parents. Please keep working on yourself now, and make decisions about your parents when you feel stronger and more connected to your emotions.

      Reply
  190. walt

    Hi! I answered 10 yes’s, emotional neglect at those development ages. I quit drinking in 89 for 12 yrs., raised my girl alone since 3yr old until college. I went out and drank for 2 1/2 yrs. Quit again for 8 yrs, and now about a year ago started drinking again, however not everyday. I know now I was self medicating all those years, been to counseling off and on. For me it’s not about the drinking, it’s about the thinking, my thoughts are always on the defense. I quit going to AA meetings, couldn’t really have a solid relationship with any of them. I have an extremely hard time maintaining a relationship for long period of time. I have to call others most always. Such loneliness is coming up for me now, 64yrs old, so I have been in recovery for years. I have taken the anti-depr’s and didn’t like that. Now I am seeing a hypnotist whom deals with CEN among other things. I quit smoking for three yrs but have started again, (beating myself up over that) Gotten to the point that I really don’t care about to much of anything. I did some of the Bradshaw work back in the 90’s, read the book “the homecoming”, and just now finding out about the PTSD trauma I had as a young boy. I am really at wit’s end about it all, I have read other books as well about the inner child. In fact I got books and books and books about all of recovery, spiritual teachings, and what not. At present I have gotten into mindfulness meditation as well. I feel stuck and life is running out on me, so sad and unhappy most of the time.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Walt, I hear how much you are struggling and I’m so sorry about that. it sounds like you are still drinking? I hope you won’t underestimate the power of alcohol to interfere with health and progress. It sounds like you’re doing some very positive things for yourself. I also suggest that you read Running on Empty if you haven’t already. Keep working at it, OK?

      Reply
  191. Alec

    On the one hand, this makes perfect sense to me. But on the other hand, it reminds me of what it felt like being in “eclectic” therapy (which I now think is total bullcrap) and having to talk about my childhood when I didn’t feel the need to talk about my childhood; I didn’t have an eating disorder when I was a child; I just needed to know how to deal with myself AT THAT PRESENT MOMENT.

    Like: no one has a perfect childhood. And I didn’t feel messed up about mine until I had to talk about it, and yes my childhood obsession with the movie Mathilda was probably a Red Flag (she was adopted! By her super pretty TEACHER! Who didn’t fulfill her duties as a teacher / decent human being when she neglected to report the terrible abuse at her school to the proper authorities?? but I digress)

    (And also how often I would literally, pathetically sing the “nobody loves me, everybody hates me” nursery rhyme to myself, while sobbing, after being sent to my room, which is a hilarious story if you tell it the right way at dinner parties)

    And I mean, yes: I would like everyone (who isn’t actively abusive) with a young child to know that if said child “runs away” in any capacity, they’re doing it to see if anyone loves them enough to follow; for the love of God it is not that difficult to intuit the emotional needs of a toddler; this is not an appropriate time for the “cry it out” approach; double so if they yell at you to go away when you check on them

    But like
    My QUESTION:

    Why dredge it up? Do I really need to get all upset? Obliviousness was working just fine! I just need coping mechanisms and the ability to show my horrible squishy underside to people, which I’ve been told is called “intimacy” but still sounds kind of like torture to me.

    Like, my parents were WASPs who maybe don’t deal with emotions super well. Throwing the word “neglect” around sounds a lot like blowing things out of proportion.

    Is this really that big a deal?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Hi Alec, the definition of CEN is: a parent’s failure to respond ENOUGH to the child’s emotional needs. If your well-meaning parents responded enough, then you will be OK. If they fell short, for whatever reason, you may struggle with understanding, reading, sitting with, expressing and managing your emotions. Since emotions are a vital connection to the world and other people, it surely can be a big deal for many folks. Only you can judge whether you had enough validation. I surely do not encourage you to wallow in the past! But understanding what went wrong is a good start to fixing it. And unfortunately, that does usually involve looking back at your childhood. Keep up your good humor Alec, and keep sorting it all out. I wish you happiness and health!

      Reply
  192. anonymous

    I have been seeing a councillor for 3 months for depression (but realise now has been going on for years). To cut a long story short – I listened to a podcast you did online and related to the issues, so purchased your book. I read it from cover to cover in tears as I scored 19 yes’ es on the questionnaire, identified both my parents traits from your descriptions, & in your chapter “the neglected child, all grown up” it was as though you knew the real me and were writing about who I am and how I feel. It scared me ! I don’t know
    what to do as the how to change bit sounds great, but is so hard to even think I can do it. I also have suicidal feelings which engulf me and don’t know if I can talk to my councillor as I feel so stupid & embarrassed about the whole situation. Will he even understand what emotional neglect is and what if he doesn’t believe me .

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Anonymous, Step 1 is don’t feel stupid and embarrassed! Or at least do not let it get in your way of telling your counselor what you are really going through. That is vital info that he must have. I suggest that you give your counselor a copy of Running on Empty and ask him to look at it. Ask him to pay special attention to Chapter 4 (the chapter about suicidal feelings). This will open up conversation and maybe ease your way to talk about this. Please know that all therapists hear people express suicidal feelings. It is not something we judge anyone for. We just want to know about it. He will believe you, I promise. Take care, and keep doing the good work you’re doing!

      Reply
      • anonymous

        I gave the book to my councillor as suggested (along with a letter of how low I really was) and now wait nervously for Tuesday night. I don’t know why as he has never judged, criticised or said anything to make me believe not to trust him. He has mentioned suicide a few times but I just shut down as so embarrassed that I have sunk that low but hopefully my letter will explain it a little better. I am living for Tuesday but also scared as what if he doesn’t understand ? 🙁

        Reply
        • Jonice Webb

          You have taken a giant step toward healing. It required a lot of courage. Applause from all of us here. I feel sure that your risk will pay off. Take care!

          Reply
  193. caroline

    Do you have advice about how to deal with workplace conversations which require you to share family history? Really, there is always at least one woman who must know…. it is really none of their business but, in my area they have no other life and in first meeting this is something they are old fashioned about. I don’t want to see my family as negative. I have moved on. This, they think is appalling and unimaginable. I cannot tell them they are the lacking beings dependent on their family only.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Caroline, I’m not 100% sure I understand your question. But I’ll try to answer. I think “appalling and unimaginable,” is in this case just another word for “jealous.” I think you should feel good about where you’re at, and refuse to see your progress in life as negative. It’s positive, and those women know it. Just be yourself and stop worrying about what other people think!

      Reply
  194. AGK

    Consequences & discipline were just about I got, I was abused and I crossed a line and can’t get back. Could this be from c.e.n., also, could homicidal thoughts, like suicide attempts, be from c.e.n.?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear AGK, I think that what you are suffering from is probably more a result of harsh treatment and abuse in your childhood. If you don’t have a therapist, I sincerely hope that you will find a good one and start talking about your childhood and your current feelings. CEN is involved in every form of child abuse, and could also be at play. In Running on Empty there is a chapter about suicidal feelings and CEN. If you identify with the woman featured in the chapter, it may help you answer your question. I don’t typically think of homicidal thoughts as a part of CEN. They are usually driven by anger. Please open up to a therapist and let them help. All my best wishes.

      Reply
  195. Catherine

    Dr. Webb, I have your book and have done work with it but currently my therapist is working with me on complex-ptsd and adhd issues. I am in my 60’s now and I’ve never had an independent life. I was trained to take care of my mother–her problems, conflicts with my father, etc., and by the time I might have started a life of my own, I had no social or career skills, no family support and more dysfunctional “fight/flight/freeze” reactivity than I could comprehend, despite lifelong searching. My father died in 2000; my mother will be 95-YEARS OLD this year–and I am her 24/7 caretaker. My brother speaks to her 5 minutes a month, no real support of any kind. My only emotional support my whole life has been my dogs; my last two pups died last year and it’s stressing me to the ultimate limits! I desperately want to have a service dog to help me control the constant triggering, and keep stress w/i some limits. I do the best that I can, not willing to “reject” mother (put her unnecessarily in nursing home), and try to take care of our home and property, finances, and work on my own survival, but my time is becoming so limited and psychological reactivity becoming somaticized (FM, IBS). Finding no time to even try to apply for a service dog and on my dismal soc. security benefit I’m sure never going to be able to pay for a service dog at $20-35,000. I’m barely hanging on–looking for time to have just a few years of life for me!

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Catherine, I’m so sorry that your needs and feelings have been pushed to the side your whole life. This type of treatment taught you that you are irrelevant, and you are continuing to treat yourself this way. But with help from your therapist, and if you keep working through Running on Empty, I believe you can turn that around, and start putting your needs first. Because that’s how it should be. Wishing you happiness and health!

      Reply
  196. Anonymous

    Hello there,

    I have been in a relationship with someone who was emotionally neglected as a child, for 24 year. I have only realised this in the past couple of years. I have had problems with depression, anxiety and self-worth issues for as long as I can remember and I now feel that a significant cause of this has been being with someone who is emotionally unavailable. I also experienced minor emotional neglect as a child. The good news is my partner is now aware of what is wrong, is in counselling and wants to make things work between us, and also so he can be a good Dad.

    Do you think I would benefit from reading your book as I can’t find any specific support for long-term partners of emotionally neglectful people? Any advice you can offer would be so welcome as I feel quite broken. Many thanks. x

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Anonymous, there is no doubt that being with a CEN person for 24 years will take its toll. I’m so happy that your partner is working on it! One thing I can suggest is to read Running on Empty together, discussing sections as you go along. Focus on how the CEN has played out in your relationship and affected each of you. Another thing I recommend, when your partner is ready, is to go to couples counseling. There’s a lot of history for the two of you to heal from. I hope this offers you some direction, and I wish you all the best!

      Reply
  197. Tom

    Hi Dr. Webb,

    I’m currently halfway through your book and I’m seeing a lot of myself in many of the case studies. The idea of CEN is bringing a lot of things into focus for me in a way that other ways of thinking haven’t. Here’s my question: one reason I’d never thought of myself as having been neglected is that I assumed my childhood was normal and this was how all families were. I didn’t have a model of care-ful parenting to compare to. And I still don’t: I simply don’t know what kinds of things more skilful or healthier parents than mine would have done in the same situations. Do you have any suggestions for such models? Books, stories, movies, etc. that show what healthy, well-attuned families are like, so that those of us who didn’t have them can get a sense of what normal is?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Tom, that’s such a good question! The fact that I’ve been thinking on this for a week and come up with nothing says a lot. I don’t think authors or screenwriters write about well-attuned families because there is less intensity and drama in them. I’m so sorry to have such a poor answer for you. If I do come up with something I’ll reply again, OK? Take care!

      Reply
    • lwh16

      “National Velvet” is an incredible film, showing a mother who genuinely nurtures her kids and wants them to be who they are. An oldie but goodie.

      “The Sound of Music” shows CEN — until nurture comes along — and the difference that makes.

      Reply
  198. Anonymous

    I am the third child in a family of 4 children (2 older sisters and a younger brother) and we have all endured extreme CEN for our entire lives. I remember during my childhood there was a lot of turmoil and family conflict between my father’s side and my parents. To cut a long store short- my mother and father have both been victims of abuse (father- emotional and mother-emotional/physical) which they could not escape due to family pressures.
    My siblings and were always provided for and were allowed to do what we wanted, but our emotions were not cared for or developed. The relationships between us siblings has always been hostile and disrespectful- something that started out as “childish bickering” but has developed into deep emotional and verbal abuse (its become “normal” for us to behave this way with each other because nobody has taught us otherwise).
    I believe a part of the cause for this is my older sister. She has always been incredibley hostile and malicious- even as a child. She was known as the “loud/problematic/angry” child that would create arguments and throw tantrums wherever she went. I, being her younger sister, was subjected to immense bullying and daily emotional abuse- to a point where I grew up believing that is what “older sisters” are normally like. It has gotten so bad that she regularly tells me to “kill myself” and intentionally does things to hurt my feelings and make me feel bad about myself.
    I believe that if my parents had their emotional needs met and were not just “living to provide for their kids,” my sister (and the rest of us) could have received the emotional and social training required for her to change her hostile behaviour. Because this never happened (the normal way of resolving an argument in our family was my mom saying “dont talk to each other”/”ignore it”) my sister was constantly appeased for her bad behaviour. My other siblings and I have grown up fending for ourselves emotionally. We have grown up having to defend ourselves against our hostile sister, which has lead me to develop characteristics like hers (which I truly hate about myself) in order to deal with all the arguments. I truly believe that if it were just the three of us kids (if my hostile sister was not born) our family dynamic would be much more functional than it is now.
    Now we are all young adults (my younger brother is 19 and my oldest sister is 27) and begining our own separate lives, but we do not have any functional family life together. Nobody speaks to each other, and my mother is the only neutral person in the dynamic. We have attempted on multiple occasions to have “family meetings” but they always end the same- screaming and accusing at each other in tears. If given the opportunity I would like to resolve my relationships with my siblings, in order to move on with my life, however, my older sisters have expressed their “indifference” with the situation, because they are tired of trying.
    My question is- how can one move forward in a situation of extreme emotional neglect and family dysfuntion if the other members are not willing or ready? We are all suffering immensely (especially my mother who is trying her hardest to cope) and I know that if we all cut ties it will not be the end of our emotional suffering.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      I’m sorry to say that there is only one way to move forward in this situation. And that is to build internal boundaries which will help you be less affected by your family’s behavior, and that may mean loosening, or even severing, some ties. Most people need lots of help when it comes to self-protecting from a family like yours. Please seek a therapist to walk you through it. You deserve to be happier, and it will be hard to achieve that while your family continues to treat you this way. Take care!

      Reply
  199. Anonymous

    I came across an article about Robin Williams and how he may have had CEN. I never heard of it before.As I read the article I started to realize that it was describing my own experience with childhood. I grew up with a biological mother and a step father who met my mother when I was around a year old.They were both very neglectful parents. My step father was extremely abusive physically and verbally. I was flicked in the face and head,kicked in the back, dragged by my hair, punched in the face and swore at on a normal basis. I do not remember ever hearing anyone in my life saying “I love you” to me until I was around 17. At about 7 years old I was sexually abused twice by a sitter and I didn’t tell anyone until I was about 15.I didn’t make it past 9th grade in High School and ended up moving out of my parents home when I was around 16. Over the years I have moved many times and I have pulled completely away from anyone in my family.Today I have nothing to do with my family and have no one I would consider a close friend.I am now a 42 year old single father raising 2 boys completely on my own. I raise them the exact opposite of what I grew up like. I tell them I love them and let them know they are everything to me. I took your survey and easily answered yes to 14 of the 22 questions.I have always felt there is something “wrong” and “lacking” inside of me.Reading that article is the closest I have ever come to understanding what is going on inside of me.I’ve never asked for help or for that matter even knew where to start. My question is,at my age where do I start?

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      It sounds like you grew up with a combo of physical and emotional abuse and Emotional Neglect. I think the fact that you’re raising your children differently speaks volumes. It tells me that you have loads of potential to heal. It will be a matter of learning to treat yourself the way you treat your sons. Please find a solid, trained therapist to work with and read Running on Empty. Then take the book to your therapist to help him/her understand what you feel, and why. I wish you all the best moving forward!

      Reply
  200. Patrick

    Dr Webb,

    As a child I suffered from years of physical and emotional abuse. I am also all too familiar with child emotional neglect; my parents were experts at it. I was lonely and depressed; my tears, drugs and alcohol were my companions. I recognized some of my peers feeling the same as I did. No words were spoken but their eyes told their story. To cover my gender identity I married at the age of 19. I had two children within 19 months and divorced a 21. I raised my children alone. She made the choice not to be a mother. My children were raised believing they were loved, cared for and listened to. They always knew that I could take one look at them and immediately recognize their feelings; whether happy or sad and everything in between. They were taught to always express themselves emotionally and that it was ok to be scared to do so. We had daily talks on feelings and emotions. We also had weekly talks sitting at the kitchen table. No stone was left unturned. After my children became adults I began a relationship with a man that was physical, sexually and emotional abusive. After seven years I walked away. I have received years of therapy on many levels. I have always understood why I consciously made the decisions I did. I never lived in denial. But what I failed to recognize my entire life was, I never gave myself permission to be me. I am terminally ill. I’m dying from two forms of pulmonary diseases. One I gave myself from abusing my body and the other is genetic 1/100,000. I am 51 years old. I have always been aware of child emotional neglect. I see it everywhere. I have used the term for over three decades. I want to spend my remaining life raising awareness of CEN. I have only shared awareness within my family/friends circle. What advice do you have for me and others to share our knowledge and to help as many children and adults as possible? Thank you for your time.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Patrick, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I’m happy that you now realize that you must be who you are. But I’m sad that you have such serious medical struggles. Have you thought about writing or speaking? You have a powerful set of experiences that you can share with others, and the internet is a great place to do it. But aside from that, I think that talking and sharing with the people around you is a way to make a real difference, and you’re already doing that. I hope you’ll focus on yourself, and making yourself happy. All my best.

      Reply
  201. Lisa K

    Hello Dr. Webb,
    As I write this I feel a bit guilty, like I am telling on my parents.
    I have been struggling with anxiety issues for about 15 years or so,(really all my life); never really able to get to the root of my problems. Always thinking what the heck is wrong with ME! When I decided to google anxiety disorders today, I honestly never thought about this being something to consider. Like you said in your video, we just don’t think it or feel it, or remember these things.
    When I was a young girl sitting in my room on my bed, I can remember now how I would shut everything out that was going on around me. My brother who is 3 years younger also suffers with a lot of anxiety issues, as we were growing up, he was the one who got the least of the blunts. My childhood was a hostile environment, Father was an alcoholic, and my Mother was so young and unaware of how to manage her crazy life with 2 kids in tow. Most of my abuse was mental, there was also some physical. In school I was made fun of and bullied, an outcast, so I made up pretend friends. I was sick a lot, and at age 10 my Mother’s doctor prescribed me medication for depression. I acted out in some very weird and
    un-explainable ways, that when I think of them now, I am embarrassed, ashamed, and totally confused…..
    I can’t remember my Mom telling me she loves me or holding me, hugging me, I just remember thinking that maybe if I weren’t here anymore that she might realize that she did want me. My adolescent years were much like all of your other people’s posts. With the wrong man, for the wrong reasons, abusive and chaotic. I myself turned to drugs and alcohol, and battle it to this day. I feel as if I am just existing in this crazy world. I have 2 children and 3 grandchildren, and I Love them dearly, but I do feel as though I keep disconnected to an extent. I do not enjoy my life at all, I feel like I am empty, vacant, and only occupied, and kept company by my fears. I have no social life and no close friends, and have not for so long, I have no one. Yes I have tried therapy and medication, and the whole nine yards, and still here I am in limbo.

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Lisa, I’m so sorry you went through all this as a child. It sounds like a combo of extreme CEN with abuse as well. I think you feel alone and vacant because you have a wall up which protected you as a child. But now you longer need it, and it’s keeping out the people who love you most. I urge you to work on letting down your wall, getting in touch with your emotions, and accepting your own feelings and needs. I think Running on Empty will help you through that process. Working through the book with a therapist’s help will be even more effective. I wish you all the best.

      Reply
  202. Jay Barr

    My parents divorced when I was very young. My mother was not around very much (I lived with her, not my Dad) and she often left my older brother in charge of watching me. Not surprisingly, he didn’t do a very good job…to put it mildly. I remember, very specifically, not feeling loved a lot of the time and being very unhappy for a very large portion of my childhood.
    I now suffer from deep feelings of inadequacy (more so now that I am 47 and lost most of my youthful and more appealing appearance). I am married with young children but my marriage, for the most part, is in shambles- I pretty much just stick it out for my kids at this point. I usually feel like I can handle all this but there are moments of despair that are pretty overwhelming every now and then.
    I have not yet read your book but I am hopeful that it may just be what I need- although you have stated in your videos that CEN is not generally something that is easily remembered, I have pretty vivid memories of being left all alone as a child- being that my brother would typically leave soon after my mother and, magically (seemingly), reappear just before she got home (I never did know how he always seemed to time that out just right) and feeling very lonely and frightened for most of that time.
    I do vaguely recall my mom telling me she loved me, from time to time, but she seemed to just have so little interest in my feelings, my school activities, my whereabouts, my appearance, or even my safety (when I was left all alone so often). I almost feel guilty saying anything less-than-appealing about my mother because she is so good to me now (she acknowledges that she was neglectful)I think partly due to feelings of guilt…but mostly of love. I just find it hard to understand how she can be so loving now, but so neglectful then.
    I also suffer bouts of pretty severe insomnia, although not nearly as often as I use to (I guess there are advantages to be 47 after all) and I was wondering if there is a connection between that and CEN.
    Thanks for recognizing and bringing this issue, that is way too often overlooked, to the attention of the mental health community!

    j

    Reply
    • Jonice Webb

      Dear Jay, I think it’s really hard when your mother did love you and meant well, but just didn’t do what you naturally needed as a child. It’s almost easier when you can get angry! I do think insomnia can be the result of repressed feelings, which threaten to come out at night. I think welcoming your feelings, and learning about them, may help with it. Thanks for sharing your experience!