The Impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
The relationship you have with your parents plays a significant role in your life. It sets the foundation on which your beliefs, values, self-esteem, self-image, and physical wellbeing develop.
A parent/caregiver’s role is to provide for their child’s basic needs and ensure they feel safe, supported, and loved. If the child does not feel emotionally safe or connected with the parent/caregiver, it can lead to some severe symptoms as an adult. Failing to get the appropriate love, affection, support, or understanding from our parents can undermine our happiness and authentic sense of self.
Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN occurs when a parent/caregiver fails to notice or respond sufficiently to their child’s (rens) emotional needs. As your local Ashgrove psychologist and a trained CEN therapist, I can help you on a path to healing and teach you how to live wholeheartedly.
What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?
Dr. Jonice Webb, the author of Running On Empty, says emotional neglect occurs due to a parent’s failure to pay enough attention to their child’s day-to-day requirements for emotional support. Emotionally neglectful parents are often loving and have good intentions; their physical care is usually excellent. However, they are unaware of their child’s emotional needs. CEN is not about a significant event in childhood but more about what failed to happen in childhood: a child’s emotional needs being met.
When parents treat a child’s emotions as unimportant, not valid, excessive, or dramatic, they neglect the child emotionally. When a child’s needs are chronically neglected, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it creates emotional neglect.
Some phrases that may be familiar to you if you experienced childhood emotional neglect include:
“You don’t really feel that way.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“It’s not worth getting upset about.”
“Stop being so dramatic.”
“You are too sensitive.”
When your parents don’t notice, respond to or question your emotions when you express them, it unintentionally sends a message that your feelings don’t matter. To cope, you learn to bury your feelings or to transform an “unacceptable” emotion like anger into an “acceptable” one like anxiety.
When you grow up with your emotions unacknowledged or even discouraged in your childhood home, you learn to think in ways that can hold you back and hurt you throughout your adult life. You develop potent ways of believing and thinking that are patently wrong.
How can Childhood Emotional Neglect impact adult wellbeing?
I often see clients who say they had a wonderful childhood with many happy times shared with family and friends, but they feel a deep sense of loneliness, fear rejection in relationships, and experience anxiety or low mood.
The way you were treated emotionally by your parents as a child, determines how you will treat yourself as an adult, making it hugely impactful on your adult wellbeing.
9 signs you may have suffered from Childhood Emotional Neglect
1. You’re afraid of relying on others, and you reject offers of help, support, or care. (“I will be rejected or let down if I trust someone”)
2. You have a hard time identifying your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and life goals.
3. You are harder on yourself than you would be even on a stranger, and you lack self-compassion and understanding.
4. You blame yourself almost exclusively, direct your anger inward, or feel guilt or shame about your needs or feelings. (“I don’t want to be a burden to others”)
5. You feel numb, empty, or cut off from your emotions, or you feel unable to manage or express them. (“It is better not to think about feelings and hide them)
6. You are easily overwhelmed and give up quickly.
7. You have low self-esteem.
8. You struggle with a lack of close friendships or meaningful relationships in your life.
9. You believe you are deeply flawed and that there’s something about you that is wrong even though you can’t specifically name what it is. (“internal emptiness”)
If these signs sound familiar to you, and you think you may have experienced childhood emotional neglect.
3 steps to heal from Childhood Emotional Neglect.
1. Learn to recognise your emotions
Suppose your parents treated your feelings like they weren’t valid or important. You might have trouble as an adult identifying what you feel or know how to behave when difficult emotions arise. Without feelings, decision-making is almost impossible. How we feel drives our choices. What we do, where we go, who we spend time with, and even what we eat are decisions made through emotion. They tell us how we feel about our world, others, and ourselves.
2. Identify your needs
You deserve to have your needs met just like anyone else does. Start small by asking for things that should be easy to achieve. For example, ask for a hug from your best friend or partner when you’re sad or for a few moments of quiet when you get home from work after a hard day.
3. Find an experienced therapist
A therapist can’t undo your childhood or erase your parent’s mistakes, but they can provide you with the emotional toolkit your parents didn’t. A good therapist can help you identify your emotions, ask for what you need, learn to trust others, build self-esteem, handle rejection, build self-love, and more.
To learn more about emotions and emotional needs Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Test, by Dr. Jonice Webb.
If you are ready to understand more about childhood emotional neglect and how to build the skills you need to live your best life, then let’s get started.