Feb 19

“Running on Empty” Quotes

The fuel of life is feeling. If we’re not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise, we will find ourselves running on empty. Jonice Webb, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

My previous post about Jonice Webb‘s book Running on Empty, about childhood emotional neglect (CEN), has been a popular one. Thus, additional quotes follow:

It’s hard to see that what’s NOT THERE can be more important than what IS there.

There is a minimal amount of parental emotional connection, empathy and ongoing attention which is necessary to fuel a child’s growth and development so that he or she will grow into an emotionally healthy and emotionally connected adult. Less than that minimal amount and the child becomes an adult who struggles emotionally–outwardly successful, perhaps, but empty, missing something within, which the world can’t see.

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.

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.

Whatever the level of parental failure, emotionally neglected people see themselves as the problem, rather than seeing their parents as having failed them.

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.

When a child’s emotions are not acknowledged or validated by her parents, she can grow up to be unable to do so for herself. As an adult, she may have little tolerance for intense feelings or for any feelings at all. She might bury them, and tend to blame herself for being angry, sad, nervous, frustrated, or even happy. The natural human experience of simply having feelings becomes a source of secret shame. “What is wrong with me?” is a question she may often ask herself.

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.

You are not obligated to give your parents more emotional connection than they have given you. And striving to produce feelings of warmth and love that are not there, simply because others tell you that they should be, will take a huge bite out of your emotional strength and health. In this relationship, I say to you with 100% certainty that you must put yourself first.

Jan 13

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 Empty: Overcome 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.

Also, for a limited time, giving your email will enable you to view free recovery training videos offered by Webb. In addition, she’ll be announcing in the near future a repeat of her “advanced, in-depth Program, Fuel Up for Life: 4 Steps to Recovering from CEN.

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.

Dec 19

“Black Sheep”: Don’t Let Feeling Different Be Bad

If you’re the “black sheep” in your family, probably no one has had to spell this out for you. You just know it. What you know is that your family members feel “shame or embarrassment because of [your] deviation from [their] accepted standards” (Dictionary.com).

A black sheep for real, by the way, is a sheep born that way among white sheep because of a recessive gene thing. In related news, recently I saw my first black squirrel—a rare variation among Eastern gray squirrels—and I thought, how cool. Cool because it was so different, and it’s cool to be different, maybe even preferable. Said a black sheep.

In 2007 psychologist Louis Wynne published “a survival manual” for black sheep called Healing the Hurting Soul. From his website:

Not all families have a black sheep, but most do. This is the person, male or female, who refuses to live by the family rules, who insists on doing things his/her way, and who does not respect the person in his/her generation who has inherited the title of ‘rule-enforcer’–usually the oldest sibling.

Two hundred years ago these people would have left the family at an early age and gone west with the American expansion across the continent. Some men would have joined the army. In the United States of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries these black sheep are frequently labeled mentally ill, and they are forced to take medications that families believe will bring them back into line with family expectations.

Jonice Webb, PhD, author of a 2012 book on childhood emotional neglect called Running On Empty, points out, though, that black sheep are usually not mentally ill (Psych Central).

Many, many black sheep are lovable folks with much to offer their families and the world. In fact, they are often the best and brightest. They may be the most creative of the family, or the one with the most powerful emotions.

In truth, the world is full of black sheep. Think hard. Does your family have one? This question is not as easy to answer as it may seem, for many black sheep are not physically excluded from the family. For most, it’s much more subtle. The exclusion is emotional. 

Webb contends that any of the following family dynamics can contribute to black-sheep self-identification:

  1. The child who has the least in common with the parents.
  2. The best and the brightest.
  3. The child most prone to depression or anxiety.
  4. Sibling rivalry.
  5. A parent who despises himself deep down and unconsciously “projects those traits onto a chosen child, and despises him instead.”
  6. Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): “the child who is the most invisible” for whatever reasons.

Another of Webb’s blog posts is “A Message to All the Black Sheep of the World.” From this piece:

  1. Research supports you. As in, it validates your pain of feeling excluded.
  2. Self-fulfilling prophecy supports you. “You, an innocent child, respond to the way that you are being treated. You may start to act like you are strange, difficult, different or inferior.”
  3. You were chosen. “But what is important for you to know is that you didn’t ask for this, and it’s not your fault. Your family does not see the real you. They don’t understand that your weakness in their eyes is actually your strength.”

Her encouraging conclusion:

You were chosen for a reason.

You are real.

You are valid.

You matter.