There is no such thing as a perfect childhood. And there is no such thing as perfect parents. Indeed, most of us are failed in some way or another by our parents. In my work as a psychologist, I have found that there is one way in which our parents can fail us which is very subtle, very invisible and not at all memorable; yet has the power to quietly sap the joy from our adult lives. It happens when our parents fail to respond enough to our emotional needs in childhood.
This can be so subtle that it is virtually impossible to notice. For example, a parent fails to notice that a child is upset after school. So no one asks her, “Did something happen at school today?” Or, “Are you upset about something?” No parent can always notice every emotion that a child has. And, thank goodness, that’s not necessary. In order to have a true and significant negative effect upon the child, the parents must fail her often, across-the-board, or under extreme circumstances. In other words, the failure must happen enough. When it does, it becomes Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN.
Surprisingly, many parents who fail to respond enough to their child’s emotional needs are loving and caring, and want to be good parents. They fail simply because they don’t understand emotion, how important it is, or how to respond. Other parents may fail because they are self-centered or dysfunctional. But no matter what the reason, the effect upon the developing child is the same.
To find out whether you may have grown up with CEN, take the questionnaire below.
Emotional Neglect Questionnaire
1. Sometimes feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends
2. Pride yourself on not relying upon others
3. Have difficulty asking for help
4. Have friends or family who complain that you are aloof or distant
5. Feel you have not met your potential in life
6. Often just want to be left alone
7. Secretly feel that you may be a fraud
8. Tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations
9. Often feel disappointed with, or angry at, yourself
10. Judge yourself more harshly than you judge others
11. Compare yourself to others and often find yourself sadly lacking
12. Find it easier to love animals than people
13. Often feel irritable or unhappy for no apparent reason
14. Have trouble knowing what you’re feeling
15. Have trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses
16. Sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in
17. Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit
18. Have trouble calming yourself
19. Feel there’s something holding you back from being present in the moment
20. At times feel empty inside
21. Secretly feel there’s something wrong with you
22. Struggle with self-discipline
Look back over your circled (YES) answers. These answers give you
a window into the areas in which you may have experienced Emotional
Neglect as a child.
If you answered YES to six or more items, it is a sign that you experienced significant CEN.
If, while completing the questionnaire, you felt that the test eerily described you, it is a sign that you were severely emotionally neglected as a child.
In any of these cases, there is good news for you:
1. You now have an explanation for the reasons you have been suffering in silence all these years. There’s a reason for your feelings of disconnection, lack of happiness and lack of fulfillment.
2. If you have been blaming yourself for your silent struggles, you can stop. It’s not your fault.
3. It is entirely possible to heal from CEN.
4. Once you discover what’s wrong and why, you can identify the “holes” in your development and fill them yourself.
To learn more about CEN, the twelve types of emotionally neglectful parents, the struggles faced by CEN people in adulthood, and how to heal from it, see my book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Click on the link below to see it on Amazon.
Running on Empty on Amazon