All around us there are competent, smiling people with good hearts and good jobs. Stand-up men and women who do their best to provide for their family, friends, children, and co-workers. People who laugh easily at others’ jokes, generously offer advice and compassion, and put others’ needs before their own.
But if we look a little more closely, we might see a flicker of self-doubt in the eyes of these fine folks. If we listen with a little extra care, we may sense a subtle lack of self-worth lurking beneath their surface. If we watch a little more attentively, we may see some effort behind their smiles and a waver in their confidence.
These are the people who are living their lives under the influence of powerful, invisible childhood emotional neglect (CEN).
The definition of childhood emotional neglect is simply this: A parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs. When a child grows up in a household where emotions are not validated, accepted, or responded to enough, he learns how to put his own emotions aside.
A child who grows up this way becomes an adult who doesn’t value, trust, or even know his own feelings. This child may grow into a fully functional, outwardly strong adult. But he will feel a deep sense inside of himself that something is missing; that something isn’t right.
He will feel that a most deeply personal, biological part of himself (his emotions) is invalid, or unacceptable, or missing. He will question his decisions. He will be confused by his own behavior and the behavior of others. He will struggle to feel connected to the people he loves the most, to fit in, to belong.
Yet, this emotionally neglected child, in adulthood, will be perplexed as to what is wrong with her, or why. Childhood emotional neglect is so subtle and unmemorable that she may have no awareness that anything was missing in her childhood.
So she will struggle in silence, put on a good face, and hide from herself and others that deep, painful feeling that something is just not right.