If I asked whether you were the victim of childhood emotional neglect (CEN), would you know how to answer? Probably not. CEN is often misunderstood and therefore, misdiagnosed.
Childhood emotional neglect means an individual was not provided the emotional support from parents and other adults that is required to grow up to be a confident person with healthy self-esteem. Often that’s because parents themselves didn’t get what they needed, and so didn’t know how to give the clarity and emotional support you needed.
Though a parent may never physically harm a child and may provide her/him with food, healthcare, clothing and shelter, they may still be emotionally neglectful.
Symptoms of CEN
In her book “Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect”, Dr. Jonice Webb outlined some of the most commonsymptoms of CEN:
- Feeling numb or cut off from your own feelings
- Feeling like something has always been missing
- Feeling hollow
- Having low self-esteem
- Feeling the need to be perfect
- Being overly-sensitive
- Lack of self-care while taking care of everyone else
That last symptom is a biggie. Have you found that for most of your life, your needs always came second (if not third or fourth?). If yes, it’s time to recognize that your feelings and needs matter.
With this in mind, here are some ways you can begin to treat yourself better:
Take Baby Steps
You’ve spent years believing your needs didn’t matter, don’t expect that putting yourself first will come easy. It won’t. It will feel awkward and downright wrong to put yourself first. The important thing is that you take baby steps each day to show yourself you matter.
Ask Yourself What You Need
You don’t have to have been neglected to be unaware of your own needs. A lot of people are taught to take care of others first. And it’s wonderful to take care of others but if you don’t attend to your own needs, you’ll be running on empty, and don’t be surprised if you then find yourself resentful, or angry without knowing why.
You may not be able to identify what you need right away. Learn to pay attention to your feelings, even your uncomfortable ones, and don’t judge them. Are you hurt, angry, sad? Difficult feelings to allow but give yourself some time to know what would be helpful. Even if you can’t totally meet your needs, you might be able to do something small as you would try to do for a friend. If you have a friend who is sad, you would probably listen. It’s not usually helpful to just tell someone to cheer up. Do you have ways of listening to yourself?
Getting to know yourself is a journey. It requires strength and energy. You can do things like eating healthily, getting enough sleep, exercising. giving yourself some time to do what you enjoy. Those are the kinds of things everyone endorses but often not for themselves!
Learn to Say No
Guess what? To take better care of yourself you may have to say “no” to other people more often. Feelings of guilt can almost be like a habit. Having boundaries is healthy. It’s not only your right to say no to others sometimes, it’s your personal responsibility.
A journey of self-discovery journey can be fraught with bumps in the road. But you’ll end up feeling more authentic and energetic. If possible lean on someone who will support your efforts without judgements or criticism.
Consider seeking guidance from a professional therapist who can help you identify and navigate your complex emotions and offer tools to manage them. A therapist can help you learn to take better care of yourself and have more authentic relationships with others.
If you’d like to explore treatment options, please be in touch with me by e mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to discuss how I may be able to help you on your journey.