With their heads held high but their spirits lower than should be, they walk among us.
“I don’t need any help,” they say with a smile.
But “what do you need?” they ask others with genuine interest.
Loved and respected by all who know them, they struggle to love and respect themselves.
These are the people of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
What is Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN? It’s a simple but powerful force in the life of a child. All it takes is growing up in a household where your feelings don’t matter enough.
Typically, I write about the special challenges of the emotionally neglected, such as self-blame, self-directed anger, and low self-compassion. That’s because I want to help the people of CEN overcome them.
But truth be told, the emotionally neglected are some of the strongest adults I have ever met.
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but there is a bright side to growing up emotionally ignored.
So now I’d like to highlight the particular strengths you likely have if you grew up this way.
The Five Uncommon Strengths of the Emotionally Neglected
Independent: Growing up you knew, even though it was perhaps never said out loud, that you were essentially on your own. Problem with a teacher? You solved it. Conflict with a friend? You figured it out yourself. Your childhood was a training ground for self-sufficiency. Now, as an adult, you prefer to do things yourself. Because you’re so very competent, the great thing is that for the most part, you can.
Compassionate: As a child your feelings were far too often ignored. But that probably didn’t stop you from feeling for others. Research has shown that even young babies feel empathy. I have noticed that many people who were emotionally neglected in childhood have decreased access to their own feelings, but extra sensitivity to other people’s feelings. Compassion is a powerful, healing, and bonding force. And you have it in spades.
Giving: Having received a dearth of emotional acknowledgment and validation in childhood, you learned not to ask for things. Part of being independent and compassionate is that you are more aware of others’ needs than you are of your own. So now as an adult, you don’t ask for a lot, but you do give a lot.
Flexible: As a child, you were probably not often consulted. Instead of being asked what you wanted or needed, you had no choice but to adjust to the situation at hand. So now, all grown up, you’re not demanding, pushy or controlling. Instead, you’re the opposite. You can go with the flow far better than most people. And you do.
Likable: The people of Childhood Emotional Neglect are some of the most likable in this world. Compassionate, giving and selfless, you are the one your friends seek out when they need help, advice or support. You are there for your family and friends, and maybe even strangers too. Others know that they can rely on you. Are you ever puzzled about why people like you? It’s because you have these five unmistakably lovable qualities.
Many CEN people are secretly aware of their great strength, and value it in themselves.
I don’t need help,
I don’t need anything,
I can handle it,
I’ll take care of it,
I’ll be fine with whatever you decide,
If this is true of you, the idea of changing yourself can be frightening. You don’t want to feel dependent on anyone, including a therapist, friend or spouse. You’re afraid of appearing needy, or weak, or helpless. You have a grave fear of becoming selfish.
But here is the beauty of CEN: Your strengths are so enduring that you can make them even better by balancing them.
So you remain independent, but you lose your fear of depending on someone when you need to.
You remain as competent as you’ve always been, but you’re OK with asking for help when you need it.
You stay flexible and can go with the flow, but you are also aware and mindful of your own needs.
You can still handle things.
You’re just as strong as ever.
More balanced and more open, you’re still loved and respected by all who know you.
And the great thing is that now you also love and respect yourself.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens, and how to balance the effects to live a happy and healthy life, see EmotionalNeglect.com and the book Running on Empty.
By Jonice Webb PhD