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

The Memoir You Will Bear Witness is available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback


7 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

    • I was abused by my step father from age 8 to 13. My mum asked me at 13 what shud we, do, if we go to the police they will put u all into care, and yur dad will be locked in prison, is this what u want, i obviously replied no.
      So he stayed. He never touched me again, but this is where my mum took up the roll. She physically Emotionally, and mentally abused me.
      My mother is a narsassist she has lied to me and about, I cant get my head around this at all.
      I recalled my first memory to her, she said well at least I never gave u up, i had to work to buy my cigarettes so. I had to leave u. In the 1 room I had and the prostitute dwn stairs wud listen out for u, she said I dnt believe anyone can remember that far back. Trust me. If it is connected to trauma u will remember. I remember standing up. In the cot sobbing. I cry for that baby, my next trauma was being taken from my mum she said yes u where 1 I had to have u fostered. I remember feeling I was on my own in this world, only. The way a child wud feel it,. Then I was put in a children’s home at 4, then the sexual abuse.
      I heard my mum using what happened to me to black mail my step dad. She wanted a new car and saud a word from me u cyd be in prison. That ripped my heart out, I went dwn the stairs and said no thats not true Mum, coz i will say nothing Happened.
      She told family members and her friends, that my. Step dad abused my cousin, that was for her own gain so she didn’t look bad, she told my brothers only last year I was concussed with what happened to me. Wen I told her about all this, she asked wen it started, I said mum how old was I wen u worked in that club, she replied 9, I already knew I was 8 wen it started, anyway she said 9, I said thats wen it started she then said no u where 12, another way she didn’t look bad, the other month she made a comment, “Janice I shudnt of listened to u years ago wen u said, dnt tell police, let my dad stay, I said mum wen r u gunna get it I was13and a very immature 13, I was a child. I just walked out. Her lies constantly throw me me into ptsd. I asked my dad 2yearz ago my mum has lied about something and we argued, my dad jumped in to protect her, i said and u what gave u the right to lay yyr hands on me as a child,….. R u ready for his reply lol, .. TIMES WHERE DIFFERENT THEN!!!!!
      My mum worships my brothers, she has put me dwn all my life and never supported me. I have a son 28, I was an amazing mum.

      Now its now I’m having really bad problems, I live alone but I’m poorly never had health issues, but for a year I struggle to breathe
      Min to min, honestly the doctors not sure what it is yet. I said mum I’m not trying to remove yur Queen of thenesses crown, but there is nothing wrong with u,. She never visits to see if I’m OK,
      I cant work, I’m in a rented property, and I messaged and said I can’t be around u anymore as yur lies hurt me, u deny I was fostered yet u told me all my life I was, now u say u Jyst lived with a woman and her family for 2 months, this is because her favourite son has just found out about that I said u dnt deserve a daughter like me, and u definitely deserve a better mother. If I see u I have to get on with all yur lies and the fact u blame me and u actually say yur dad said it happened only once Like that makes it ok She is lying about that also. I said i have to walk away.
      Now I want to procecute them both. One of my. Brothers said they r old u can not do this, shut up. I said
      I want to prosecute them as I feel. They need to know the impact and serverity they both had in my life.
      But also I think I need closure. I’m 54, I always thought I had time to make a better life, its to late now I Constantly suffer with guilt. I think I’ve never done it b4 becoz I didn’t want to hurt them, but They have muny and have not offered to pay for me to get therapy. They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, I feel she is worse than him. She has never put me first.
      Right now tho, I dnt have friends really becoz as a child I was told to keep my distance that wS incase I mentioned anything. Im totally selfless and put everyone b4 myself, ppl take advantage, so at the moment I’m isolating myself.
      I now I wnt have another sexually relationship. As the age the men r that I wud meet, r the same age my dad was wen it happened. The thing is my dads short term memory is going. I’m struggling to prosecute or not, I’m in such a dark place.
      The lady who wrote this blog, her story is Harendous, but any abuse is.
      I dnt understand why it’s only now that I can’t deal with this.

      • You have had a horrendous childhood and it’s been repeated through the lies your mother continues to tell. She will continue to tell this lies. I would strongly urge you to prosecute if you feel you have the strength to. Go to you GP and they will tell you the process involved. You will heal and feel no guilt if you prosecute and lay the blame where it really lies with your parents not with you. You have done nothing wrong. You have nothing to be guilty or ashamed for. Hope this helps. All the best Erin

      • Oh, Janice! I am so sorry that all that happened to you, and that you’re still dealing with it. I’m 55 so I understand. The difference for me was that my mom wasn’t abusive…just kind of indifferent, (I imagine because she was dealing with her own pain).

        I have three children, and I don’t know that I was the best mom, but I do know that my children all know that they are unique gifts of God and they are loved very much.

        I’m dealing with a lot of health issues now myself. I know that some of them have to do with poor lifestyle choices I made (I used to drink and smoke a LOT), but that doesn’t account for all of it. There has been some research about the physical repercussions of “adverse childhood experiences”, and you and I definitely experienced those!

        You do what is best for you, ok? You need to take care of yourself. I’ll be praying for you. Let’s keep in touch ok? I’d like to know how you are doing. You can find me on the blog that I mentioned in my last comment.

        You are an amazing woman!

  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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