Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is what didn’t happen to you or for you when you were a kid. The stuff that you needed to properly prepare you for life. It’s when parents don’t meet their children’s emotional needs. And – the problems caused by this can be long-term and last way into adulthood.
If you’re new to reading this blog, a great place to start is with some articles that explain what kind of parents you may have had. Or the signs and symptoms of emotional neglect – grab a cuppa and head over here and here. Have a read and we’ll see ya back on this page later on!
The little voice in my head is screaming that I need to give you more time to digest the 1st step to healing. But – I’m going to beaver right along and give you step 2. Because I’m generous like that. Cough. 😊
But – please – promise me that you won’t give yourself information overload.
Reading all these blog posts in one go is like reading a book on Tennis and expecting to beat Rafa Nadal the next day. You gotta practice. No easy way around it. I wasted years trying to find an easier way – the path of least resistance. But – um – Nup. Doesn’t work.
Read these blogs a few times. Print them out. Highlight the bejeezus out of them. Then – take baby steps. One tiny step every day. Even if it’s just recognizing a thought or behaviour that you want to change.
Okay – I trust you – kinda – so let’s move this baby right along.
The first thing we need to talk about is making your own enjoyment a much bigger priority in your life.
I’m going to bet that when you were younger you weren’t allowed to make choices based on how much you would enjoy something.
It’s likely that you learned to put other people’s wishes way above your own. Maybe your family didn’t have a lot of stuff or money and so decisions were always made on a “need” basis. Perhaps your parents spent all the available money on themselves. You learned that you weren’t important enough to have money spent on fun stuff for you.
If you grew up with any type of emotionally neglectful parents, you probably still don’t place enough value on your own experience of fun, pleasure, or joy. Especially when it involves other people.
So we need to do something about this chop-chop.
I’m going to ask you to do something that might blow the circuits in your brain. Hold on tight and give me a sec.
Here goes – You need to start putting yourself first.
I know – shock, horror, “selfish”, “self-centered”, “arrogant”. You’re usually the Giver. You’re” honestly happy” to go along with what other people want. You don’t want to make waves. You don’t even know what you want. It’s easier to just do what other people want.
I’ve heard it all – and I do believe all those things about you. BUT – the reason you believe all those things about yourself is because of your childhood. You were groomed to look after other people.
We need to teach your brain that putting your own needs first is not selfish. It’s not unkind. It’s not self-centered. It’s not ungenerous or self-absorbed. Just because it feels wrong to you to put yourself first at the moment, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Lots of people do it and you probably don’t even notice that they do. Not in an egotistical or narcissistic way. That’s a different thing. When you’re taught to consider your own needs as a child it becomes seamless and easy to do as an adult. The heart loves someone speaking their truth to you. And other people need to hear your truth from you. There is only one person who knows it – so you’re going to have to start speaking up.
I’ve got something else I’m a bit reluctant to say – I can see you rolling your eyes at me already – but here goes.
You need to start saying “No” to things that pull you away from your enjoyment of life. You need to learn to ask for help and you need to take some time out to work out what you actually do and don’t like.
I’m still hearing your mind screaming “selfish” at me. But – the truth is, everyone needs and deserves enjoyment. You deserve it as much as anyone else does. Sometimes you’ll have to say “no” to one person so you can go and have fun with another. This isn’t about selfishness. It’s about balance. The balance between giving and receiving. The balance between self and others. Don’t be afraid of making decisions that put your fun on a higher priority.
People who’ve been emotionally neglected are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve met. So, leave that “selfish” excuse at the door. I promise that you’re at far less risk of becoming selfish than are most people. Because you were trained to put your own needs, wishes, and desires to the side, you’d have to have a brain transplant to become selfish.
Let’s write down a list of 3 things that you enjoyed as a kid. Things that made the time pass in an instant. Not necessarily things that are over the top or expensive. Just little things. For me, I cook. I walk. I love baths so hot that my skin gets as red as a tomato. I like walking around a plant nursery. I read True Crime. I watch trashy tv. Your turn – make your list. Let your brain entertain the idea that there ARE things you like to do more than other things. Let’s just slowly get it used to the idea that you might actually start doing things just because you love them.
The next 3 things we need to have a chat about are much more practical. To do the emotional work we have to be in a good place physically. And – the catch 22 is that a lot of people with emotional neglect are not particularly good at looking after themselves. They weren’t taught how, or don’t think they deserve it.
At 40ish, I finally saw how crappy I was at looking after myself. I no longer had kids around to cook for and my dinner consisted of whichever flavour box of crackers I felt like that day. No breakfast. No lunch. I slept too much. I didn’t sleep enough. I drank too much. I wore the same outfit every day unless I was washing it. My exercise was either obsessive – or not at all. I only saw a doctor if something was REALLY bad and I didn’t visit a dentist.
I had been so over and under-parented that I had no idea at all about how to look after myself. Strangely I had been taken to a lot – A LOT – of health practitioners as a child and teenager. Even when I wasn’t sick. I knew I didn’t like that obsession with my health. So – I just did the opposite. I didn’t go at all.
I’d had an obsessively healthy diet – it wasn’t healthy at all in hindsight – after about 13 – food was highly restricted by my mother in the name of health. I didn’t want that. So eating junk was my solution.
I wasn’t allowed to make my own decisions on deodorant, soap, toothpaste. Every single aspect of my life was decided by someone else. All my emotional decisions were made by my parents or by the teachings of the church. I couldn’t walk into a supermarket and chose something just for me.
Not all emotionally neglectful parents neglect their kids in the area of eating but a lot do. Parents can provide their kids with plenty of food and still manage to emotionally neglect them in eating. It’s a parent’s responsibility to help their child develop a healthy relationship with food.
Emotionally neglectful parents fail in the eating area for the same reasons they fail in other areas. They don’t provide what the child needs to learn this life skill. Remember – it’s what wasn’t done for you that you needed.
Consider childhood as the programming phase of your life. By the time we’re adults we usually follow the programs that were set up as a child.
Most people underestimate how much they are still influenced by their parents’ programming of them when they were kids. We all like to see ourselves as all super-independent thinkers. Making our own choices and having our own free will in what we do. The reality is that the programs we downloaded as kids are really powerful. And it’s not easy to override these programs. But – it can be done.
As an emotionally neglected person, there may be some aspects of eating that your parents didn’t teach you at all. In these areas, you had no choice but to try and teach yourself. I knew I didn’t want to eat the way that was being modelled to me – but had no idea what to actually chose.
If your parent wasn’t around much, maybe you got your own food. Maybe you microwaved some frozen meals. Or you might have just put together a few strange combinations using the food that was in the house. It was all about not being hungry rather than eating for health.
This would have programmed these food choices into your brain as being normal. No matter how healthy or not that they were.
A good way to check this is to ask yourself if you make childlike food choices when you are on your own now.
Um – like me with the Arnotts Shapes bikkies when I was 40.
When you realize that your strange eating habits could come from your Emotional Neglect, I really hope you stop blaming yourself. No more spending hours wondering why you can’t look after yourself as well as other people. They make it look so easy.
It’s not your fault. – But, we will need to start making some changes. We need to get that brain of yours realizing that you are worth looking after. And that includes what you eat.
By the time they’re adults, most people usually understand how important it is to get some exercise. They’ve picked a type of exercise they like and they’re fine with the self-discipline it takes to stay fit and healthy.
If you’ve been emotionally neglected, all of these will be really hard for you.
If you weren’t emotionally neglected in this area, you stand a pretty good chance of having enjoyed some sport or physical activity as a kid.
If you were neglected, you might have been forced to do activities you didn’t enjoy or been pushed to constantly win. You probably didn’t enjoy family holidays walking, swimming, hiking or just playing things like Totem Tennis in the backyard. Exercise mightn’t have been associated with fun.
The biggest thing you might actually struggle with now is just choosing and sticking with any exercise at all.
If you weren’t made to do things you didn’t like as a kid – you’ll find it even harder as an adult. If you weren’t taught that you don’t have to be the best – but that you can just have fun – you won’t want to try new things. If you weren’t taught to be moderate or how to moderate your own behaviour, you might overexercise.
We tend to be very childlike in our thinking after emotional neglect. “If no exercise if bad – then tonnes of exercise is good.” All or nothing thinking is really common.
Again – like with eating, be gentle. Realize this is because of your past not because you are a lazy slacker. Write down some sport or activity you wanted to try as a kid. Don’t judge what you write. Let’s get your brain understanding you can exercise for fun. We’ll get there.
One more thing – but it’s a biggie.
Rest and Relaxation:
Most emotionally neglected people either rest and relax too little, or they rest and relax too much. Some switch back and forth from one to the other with nothing in between. Again – all or nothing thinking.
Let’s take a moment to look at how Emotional Neglect can cause this sort of imbalance.
A parent who’s in tune with their child can tell when the kid is hungry. They tell or ask the child if they are. They ask them how hungry they are. They believe the child and make sure, as best as they can that the child eats.
This parent can also see when their child is tired. They make sure that the child gets some rest, whether the child wants to rest or not.
They don’t wait until it is convenient for them before they find some time for the child to rest. They might set up a regular rest time. This teaches the child the importance of resting. It teaches the child about the signs of tiredness. It teaches the child various types of rest.
Sometimes it is rest from people that they need. Maybe they need some alone time. A nap might be the go. The child is taught how to work out what they need by learning to read their own body cues.
A clued-up parent will also notice when their child is perhaps being a bit too lazy and needs some activity. I remember teaching my boys that going outside and doing something active was a great fix if they were looking to pick a fight. Again – teaching the child to read the messages of their own body. Not to ignore them and not to try and think them away.
The child’s need for rest and relaxation isn’t seen as an inconvenience. The parent might offer a few alternatives and lets the child choose what feels good for them. Sounds alien – right. Lol.
So – your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try and start noticing the cues from your body. What sort of rest do you need? What sort of food? How much of these? Are you mixing up the activity and the rest?
All sounds very grown-up – I know. And it involved that word that is a dirty word for a lot of people with emotional neglect. Self-discipline.
Which we will get to another time. Because it is a biggie – and I’m hungry. 🙂
No Arnotts Shapes for this bunny tonight – might even cook a proper meal.
Until then – you know the drill. Go gently. This all takes time.
PS. If you’ve been feeling the pull to have me by your side as your CEN Recovery Mentor and you’re ready for deep support while you recover and find out who you really are after all those layers peel away, click here to join my CEN waitlist and let’s talk about the best way I can support you: