Things Adults With Childhood Emotional Neglect Need to be Happy

By Jonice Webb PhD 

Funny thing about people who grow up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): they go through their entire adult lives with a set of requirements for happiness in their minds. But sadly, those requirements end up keeping them from being happy.

CEN folks don’t know it, but the things they think will make them happy have little to do with their actual happiness. In fact, their notion of happiness is mostly about protecting themselves.

Growing up with your feelings unvalidated (Childhood Emotional Neglect) sets you up to feel that there is something wrong with you for simply having normal human feelings. Then, moving through your adulthood, you then feel you must not only protect yourself from your own feelings and needs but also hide them from others.

The 6 Things CEN People Think They Need to be Happy   

  1. To be 100% self-reliant: The child of Emotional Neglect looks to his parents for emotional support and validation but, too often, no one is looking back. This is how he learns that asking for help is wrong. This is why the child, once a CEN adult, believes that his own happiness depends on his own self and no one else, and feels very vulnerable about asking or accepting help. From anyone.
  2. To never, ever, ever appear emotional or needy: Yes, the CEN adult judges her own feelings and emotional needs as a weakness. So she naturally assumes that everyone else will judge her the same way. I have seen CEN people try to hide their desire to find a spouse, conceal the warm feelings they feel toward a friend, or try hard to conceal their hurt feelings from the person who hurt them.
  3. To make no mistakes: CEN folks are highly tolerant of other people’s mistakes, but when it comes to themselves, the opposite is true. I have told many of my CEN clients that they expect themselves to be superhuman and never make mistakes.
  4. To not be asked about their feelings: The CEN man or woman lives in dread of their spouse asking them what they feel. To them, that question seems intrusive, impossible, and perhaps just plain wrong. “As long as no one asks me, I’ll be happy,” they tell themselves.
  5. To have no conflict: CEN people tend to avoid conflict. Conflict feels threatening because it requires skills they don’t have enough of, like identifying their own feelings and expressing them with an awareness of the other person’s feelings too. It’s not the fault of the emotionally neglected child that he did not learn those complex skills. His parents simply didn’t teach him.
  6. To keep most people in their lives at a distance: Deep down, the CEN person harbors a fear that something is wrong with her. She’s not sure what it is, and she can’t put it into words, but one thing she does know is that she doesn’t want anyone else to see it. So she keeps herself shut down, or walled off, to prevent anyone from getting too close. “As long as no one sees my flaws, I’ll be happy,” she tells herself.

What CEN People Actually Need To Be Truly Happy

  1. To ask for help, and accept it: To really be happy, you can learn the beauty of mutual dependence, and the empowerment of accepting support from others who care. Taking the risk to ask for help and accept it opens doors to validation, comfort, and solace that only makes you stronger, not weaker as you have always believed.
  2. To accept your own needs as valid and real: Your parents taught you that you have no right to have emotional needs. But when you try to deny or hide them, you are denying and hiding your deepest self, and this can never make you happy. Accepting your feelings and needs will allow you to honor and express yourself in a way that can lead to true happiness.
  3. To learn the voice of compassionate accountability, and use it: “It’s OK, nobody’s perfect,” you might say to a friend. And now, it’s time to turn your compassion toward yourself. You can learn to talk yourself through mistakes so that you grow from them, while also holding in your mind the reality that everyone makes errors. This is the voice of compassionate accountability, and it will set you free.
  4. To become comfortable identifying and sharing your feelings: Learning these skills gives you a new way of managing difficult feelings. That’s because naming a feeling immediately takes some of its power away. It also gives you the ability to think about that feeling, begin processing it, and finally, if needed, share it. The better you can do this, the deeper and more rewarding your relationships can be.
  5. To view conflict as a normal part of life: Conflicts are the opposite of avoidable, because when you avoid them, they only fester, making matters worse. When you view conflict as an opportunity to work out problems, you can start addressing problems directly when they occur. This gives you the ability to make your relationships stronger, and make you overall happier.
  6. To let the people in your life get closer to you: Research shows that human connection is one of the life factors that contributes the most to human happiness (and perhaps even the top one). So the harder you work on these six areas of your life, the more you will notice that instead of draining you as they always have, your relationships are now actually giving you energy.

These 6 Things Are Not as Hard as You Think

The most difficult thing about these six things boils down to three things: taking risks, tolerating making yourself vulnerable, and doing things that feel, on some level, wrong. But it’s important to recognize that you’ve been walking the path your parents set for you for years. It’s not your fault; it just is.

To make these changes, you will need to make a choice to take a new and different path. A path that feels unfamiliar, yes. Vulnerable, yes. Wrong, yes.

But it’s a path that will heal the effects of the Emotional Neglect you were raised with and offer you the true, connected happiness that you’ve always deserved.

For more information on CPTSD and other issues visit our YouTube Channel

If you need support or would like to connect with like-minded people join our Private and Closed online Facebook Group for Child Abuse Survivors and those with CPTSD. Click here to join


4 comments

  1. Hi Erin,
    I was sexually abused by my stepfather when I was ten years old in 1973/74. I told on him, and he was made to move out by social services, but they let him come back three months later. He never touched me again, but when I was 15, he divorced my mom and married her sister. He died in 1985. A few years later, I found out that he also abused my aunt’s children. They were probably 3 and 5 at the time of the abuse.

    While I’ve never hidden what happened to me, I never fully discussed it either. A few months ago, I wrote about it on my blog (https://thislittlelightofmine.blog/2018/12/07/my-story/), and my sister had a fit that I had said all those things about her dad (although she already knew about it), and hasn’t spoken to me since. I see that as her problem, not mine, but it still stung.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your courage.

    • Thanks for getting in touch. I am sorry to read that you too were abused and your cousins too. What a wretched man. How do they get away with it? The law does not deal well enough with paedophiles. I have just finished reading your blog and it’s very touching and harrowing at the same time. You are lucky you have your faith. That must be of enormous comfort. I have no faith as I was abused by the clergy and that destroyed all belief for me and I haven’t been able to find my way back. I am lucky to have a very supportive husband and wonderful kids though. You’re right it’s your sister’s loss. Sorry it hurt you. You’re a very brave and honest person who is helping a lot of people with her blog. All the best Erin

  2. I have never commented on Anything before. Wow! What a great article. You explained things in a way I could understand and definitely relate too. I saved it and am going to work on the items you listed. Thank you for sharing this. I have always thought something was wrong with me. I know this isn’t the cure all but I feel a shift of some sort. It feels good.
    Thank you very much.
    M-

    • It’s great to hear from you. I’m thrilled that the article resonated so strongly with you and that you feel it helped. That is just great. Good luck on your journey. You are very brave to be tackling this issue so I wish you all the very best of luck. Erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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