Childhood Emotional Neglect: “On Empty”

What was missing from your childhood? Do you know what you were supposed to get from your parents or caregivers but didn’t? Psychologist Jonice Webb‘s Running On EmptyOvercome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (2012) may help you figure some things out.

First, a definition of childhood emotional neglect (CEN) as provided by Webb on her site:

Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

Emotional Neglect is, in some ways, the opposite of mistreatment and abuse. Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act. It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable. Emotional Neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.

Sign up for it and Webb will give you a questionnaire to help you assess whether or not you experienced CEN. On her website, as well as in the book, you’ll learn more about how it affected you into your adult years and what to do about it.

Selected Quotes from Running On Empty

If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. 
Otherwise we will find ourselves running on empty. 

When a child receives the message, even subtly or indirectly, that his emotions don’t matter, he will grow up feeling, somewhere deep inside, that he himself doesn’t matter.

Emotions that are not acknowledged or expressed tend to jumble together and emerge as anger. Eventually, suppressed feelings refuse to stay down. When they do, they erupt as small spurts of irritability that hurt others.

It’s hard to see that what’s NOT THERE can be more important than what IS there…(B)etween her absent father and preoccupied mother, no one had taken the time and energy to actually parent her.

Children of addicted parents experience the lack of predictability as highly anxiety-provoking. As adults, they are therefore at significantly higher risk to have anxiety disorders and to become addicts themselves than are people who were raised by non-addicted parents. Being a good parent most of the time and a horrible parent once in awhile creates insecure, anxious adults who are just waiting for things to go wrong.

Because depressed parents appear put-upon, beleaguered or overwhelmed by the ordinary demands of parenting, their children don’t always learn that they are worthwhile and so are at risk to become depressed themselves in adulthood.

Emotionally neglected people tend to be good listeners. But they are not good at talking, especially about themselves.

A primary rule of assertiveness is that anyone has the right to ask you for anything; and you have the equal right to say no, without giving a reason.

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