What is CEN?
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when parents or caregivers fail to respond adequately to a child’s emotional needs.
Emotional neglect is not necessarily childhood emotional abuse. Abuse is often intentional; it’s a purposeful choice to act in a harmful way. While emotional neglect can be a willful disregard for a child’s feelings, it can also be a failure to act or notice a child’s emotional needs. Parents who emotionally neglect their children still provide care and necessities. They just miss out on or mishandle this one crucial key area of support.
Sadly, this isn’t uncommon. A growing body of research suggests that many otherwise healthy families raise their children with emotional neglect — a failure to value or respond to emotions.
One example of emotional neglect is a child who tells their parent they’re sad about losing a friend at school. The parent brushes it off instead of listening and helping the child cope. If this is a repeated occurrence, over time, the child begins to learn that their emotions, aka feelings, are not important, and they stop seeking support.
When you grow up this way, you automatically block your feelings off. To cope as a child, you naturally push your emotions down, to keep them from becoming a “problem” in your childhood home.
This is especially apparent in highly dysfunctional homes where addiction rules the roost.
Dr. Jonice Webb says, emotionally neglected children can end up feeling deeply alone. As kids, they feel like their needs aren’t important, that their feelings don’t matter, or that they should never ask for help (because it’s perceived as a sign of weakness).
When they grow up, childhood emotional neglect can stick around as unnecessary guilt, self-anger, low self-worth, or a sense of being deeply, personally flawed.
As an adult, you surely may sense that something is not right with you, but you do not know what it is.
Affect of CEN in Adults
People who are emotionally neglected as children grow up to be adults who must deal with the consequences. Because their emotional needs weren’t validated as children, they may not know how to deal with their emotions when they occur.
The most common effects of childhood neglect in adulthood include:
failure to thrive
appearing uncaring or indifferent
post-traumatic stress disorder
the increasing likelihood for an eating disorder
feeling deeply, personally flawed
guilt and shame
anger and aggressive behaviors
difficulty trusting others or relying upon anyone else
Adults who experienced childhood emotional neglect may also become parents who neglect their children emotionally. Never having learned the importance of their own emotions, they may not know how to nurture feelings in their children.
7 Signs You Grew Up with Childhood Emotional Neglect
Feelings of emptiness. Emptiness feels different for different people. For some, it’s an empty feeling in their belly, chest, or throat that comes and goes. For others, it’s numbness.
Fear of being dependent. It’s one thing to be an independent kind of person. But feeling deeply uncomfortable about depending on anyone is another thing altogether. If you find yourself taking great care not to need help, support or care from others, you may have this fear.
Unrealistic self-appraisal. Do you know what you are capable of? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you like? What do you want? What matters to you? Struggling to answer these questions is a sign that you don’t know yourself as well as you should.
No compassion for yourself, plenty for others. Are you harder on yourself than you would ever be on a friend? Do others talk to you about their problems, but it’s hard for you to share yours?
Guilt, shame, self-directed anger, and blame. Guilt, shame, anger, and blame, all directed at yourself. Some people tend to go straight to guilt and shame whenever an adverse event happens in their lives. Do you feel ashamed of things that most people would never be ashamed of? Like having needs, making mistakes, or having feelings?
Feeling fatally flawed. You know that something is wrong in your life, but you can’t pinpoint what it is. “It’s me,” you say to yourself, and you feel that it is true. “I’m not enough,” “I’m different than other people.” “Something is wrong with me.”
Difficulty feeling, identifying, managing and expressing emotions. Do you get tongue-tied when you’re upset? Have a limited vocabulary of emotion words? Often feel confused about why people (including yourself) feel or act the way they do?
Once you understand the reason why you feel the way you do and how it came about, you can heal from your Childhood Emotional Neglect. You can establish a new way to deal with your emotions. You can learn the skills to use them healthily.
You can finally accept that your feelings are real, and they matter. You can finally see that you matter.
You can take on your Childhood Emotional Neglect, and your life will change.
If you have some or all of the 7 Signs, Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.