Updated: Feb 12
How do you cope with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?
Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up to struggle with a series of challenges as an adult.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you.
When you grow up this way you automatically block your feelings off as a child to cope with the implicit messages in your childhood home.
No Feelings Allowed.
With your emotions walled off, you go through your adolescence and adulthood lacking full access to a potent, vital ingredient from within: your emotions, which should be motivating, directing, connecting, stimulating, and empowering you.
When you are living this way, it’s hard to see the problem, or even that there is a problem. Most children in emotionally neglectful homes have no idea that anyone should be noticing their feelings, validating them, or responding to them. Then, when they grow into adults, they continue to have no idea.
Yet as an adult who grew up with Emotional Neglect, you surely may sense that something is not right with you, but you do not know what it is.
Once you understand that you missed out on a key element of childhood, you are finally freed up to fix the problem. You can give yourself what you never got — emotional attention and validation — and learn how to connect with your feelings and how to use them.
Childhood Emotional Neglect may leave you feeling somewhat empty and disconnected, lost or alone. But good news! There are powerful things you can do to cope.
10 Strategies For Coping With Your Childhood Emotional Neglect
1. Deeply acknowledge the way Emotional Neglect happened in your family and how it’s affected you.
This is not as easy as it might sound. It’s important to try to understand, for example, was it one parent or both? Did your parents fail to respond to your emotions because they were struggling themselves? Because they were selfishly focused on their own needs? Or because they simply did not know that emotions matter? Was your Emotional Neglect active or passive, mean-spirited or benign? How did it affect you as a child, and how is it affecting you now? Understanding your CEN on a deep level will free you from self-blame and shame, and validate your experience.
2. Accept that your emotions are blocked off, but they are still there, waiting for you.
Your child’s brain protected you by walling off your emotions, but it could not make them go away completely. Today you can still access them. By accepting that they exist, you’ll be able to learn how to listen to them, use them and manage them.
3. Pay attention to your feelings.
This is probably the single most powerful thing you can do to cope with your CEN. It’s a way to do the opposite of what your parents taught you, start to honor your feelings, and reach across the wall to the richness, color, and connection that lies on the other side: your emotions. Paying attention to your feelings will allow you to begin to use them as they are meant to be used.
4.Practice sitting with negative feelings to increase your tolerance.
Learning how to sit with strong or painful feelings is one of the main early building blocks to learning all of the emotion skills. Sitting with negative feelings will put you in control of yourself.
5. Keep an ongoing list of your Likes and Dislikes.
Pay attention and take special note as you go through your day. Write down everything you can find that you either do or do not like. It can be small, medium or large, but nothing is too small to make the list. Knowing these things about yourself will set you up to be able to make yourself happier.
6. Develop and practice compassion for yourself.
As a person with CEN, you are probably far kinder to others than you are to yourself. Try to accept that as a human being, you have the same rights that you allow everyone else. You will make mistakes, you will make poor decisions, and you will fail. And you should not be any harsher on yourself for those things than you would be on a friend who you love. Practicing self-compassion will build your self-love.
7. Become aware of the feeling of anger when it happens in your body.
Of all the emotions, anger is the one that, when blocked off instead of expressed and managed, will consume you. Becoming aware of your anger will immediately start to soothe and empower you.
8. Read a book on assertiveness.
Learning how to be assertive is the counterpart to becoming aware of your anger. Being assertive is a way to get other people to hear what you feel, hear and need. Learning assertiveness will make other people value you more.
9. Share your CEN story with someone close to you.
There is something about sharing your CEN story that allows you to own it and take it seriously. Telling someone about your CEN will help you feel less burdened and alone.
10 Look for the effects of CEN on your primary relationships.
Has your Childhood Emotional Neglect played out in your marriage? Affected the way you’ve parented your children? Made you feel uncomfortable with your parents? Looking for the effects of CEN in your relationships will open the door to the people you love.
These 10 strategies for coping with Childhood Emotional Neglect actually do more than just help you exist and manage your life with your CEN. They have the added advantage of helping to heal your CEN.
Practice these 10 strategies as best you can and you will not only survive, you will thrive. And in the most important way of all. Emotionally.
Courtesy of Dr. Jonice Webb.
We offer counselling, psychotherapy and life coaching to promote wellbeing and personal growth. Contact us to schedule your first session. Online session is available for anyone anywhere and we are located in CBD Singapore.