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Childhood Emotional Neglect, An Introduction

January 23, 2019

Author

Dr. Jennifer Chain is the President and Owner of Thrive for the People.

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I have recently been immersed in the topic of childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Unlike the experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, emotional neglect is harder to identify and acknowledge because it is about what didn’t happen to you rather than what did happen to you. If you were abused, you were also emotionally neglected. If you were not abused, you could still have been emotionally neglected. Emotional neglect occurs when parents and caregivers were consistently not present, available, understanding, or supportive when you needed them.

This can occur in small and large ways throughout your childhood. For example, a parent may be physically present but mentally and emotionally absent because they are stressed and overwhelmed. Or a parent may be unable to attend to and manage their own emotions and therefore unable to acknowledge and help you understand your emotions. As a result, children who were emotionally neglected may, as adults, struggle with understanding their own emotions and emotions of others, connecting with other people on a deep and intimate level, feeling chronically lonely and empty, difficulties with self-discipline and/or over work, difficulties caring for self and/and others, and struggling with depression and anxiety as well as low self-esteem and self-worth. In general, there is a sense that life is lived in grey scale rather than full-colored, that other people seems to get something more from life and relationships that you do not, and you question whether there is something innately wrong with you.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. It wasn’t your fault. It may not have been your parents’ fault either. And yet at the same time, you hold the power to change.

The two books that are particularly helpful on this topic are by Dr. Jonice Webb: Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents and Your Children

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If this blog post resonates with you, you are not alone. You can begin to heal from childhood trauma and neglect in a supportive and controlled environment. We offer a variety of counseling services at our Ballard counseling clinic.  Each of our counselors takes a holistic approach to your mental health using techniques from various evidence-based counseling approaches to help you create lasting change and thrive with challenges. Contact us to learn more and schedule your free consultation. 

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