Therapy for Childhood Emotional Neglect

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?

You may have all that you need. You “should” be happy, but still, you struggle with feelings of shame or guilt because you aren’t. Material things don’t fulfill you, and even the family that you love so much cannot completely fill in that void. You can’t explain it, but you know something is missing.

It’s common, when we hear the word “trauma,” to think of bigger things that don’t necessarily happen in everyday life. We tend to think about traumatic life events such as a near-death experience, an act of violence or abusive relationships. These very obvious traumatic experiences are “tangible” and we can easily identify “what happened”.

But then, there are those invisible scars that result from a caring but unaware parent. Maybe they raised you with nurturing love, or “tough love,” but ultimately were not able to meet your deeper needs. As a result, you’ve internalized feelings of invalidation or of feeling ignored, and have ultimately disconnected from your emotional self.

While growing up, you may have been told to “Get over it, you’re fine- suck it up!”This could have been in response to getting physically or emotionally hurt. Or perhaps you were told you were “way too sensitive” if you expressed sadness or emotional pain of any sort.

On the other hand, you may have had the opposite experience and were over-indulged or perhaps had the “cool parents” who set no structure or curfews for you to follow. It was a pretty sweet deal… until you started to mature and found yourself unable to make decisions on your own or struggling to find direction in life.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) Comes In Many Forms. 

The term Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) was first coined by Dr. Jonice Webb, and it describes those childhood events that leave us feeling empty, unworthy, depressed, living with low-self-esteem or becoming anxious adults, even if we were not mistreated, abused.

Dr. Webb further describes childhood emotional neglect as “a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable… Emotional Neglect…is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.”

Adults who as children grow up in a household where their emotional needs were met with avoidance, rejection, scolding or even over-indulgence are often times left to figure out how to deal with their emotional needs on their own. 

The challenge, however, is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and if as a child no one ever taught you that your feelings and emotions are important and valid, you may have grown up to become an adult who suppresses, avoids or ignores them in order to cope.

An inability to deal with emotions in healthy ways can undoubtedly lead to problems in your relationships, physical and mental health issues.

Many Of The Effects Of Childhood Emotional Neglect Aren’t So Obvious. 

If you grew up with unmet needs, you might feel compelled to do whatever it takes to have your needs met now, resulting in situations that burn you out or leave you feeling anxious or needy. On the other hand, you might be afraid to pursue love at all, always keeping others at arms’ length to avoid more heartbreak.

Addressing emotions that were not accepted, recognized, or paid attention to as a child is an important step to releasing the pain caused by childhood emotional neglect. In essence, Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) shows up in many “invisible” ways, and gaining access to emotions can be difficult if you have trouble recognizing or “feeling” what you’re feeling.

You may be living a life that is inspirational to others or you may be living a life that could use some inspiration. To others, you may look like you have it “all together,” but you often feel like an imposter or different from others, as if something is wrong with you.

Have I Experienced CEN?

  • You strive for more and more perfection but still feel empty inside no matter how much you achieve.
  • It is difficult for you to be compassionate with yourself, even if you can be compassionate with others.
  • You push others away for fear that they will ultimately let you down.
  • You may feel anger or sadness, but do not allow yourself the freedom to express it because the thought of allowing yourself that freedom is too overwhelming.
  • You’ve worked hard to keep these emotions in check, perhaps to the point that you have difficulty identifying what it is that you actually feel. Or you feel nothing.

If any of this sounds familiar to you and you are tired of living in this seemingly endless cycle, you deserve to have the closure and happiness that you want.

How Can Therapy For Childhood Emotional Neglect Help?

When you find a therapist to help you with your concerns about CEN, you are taking a big step towards understanding what it is that is no longer working for you and how to make changes. After several sessions with us, our clients may realize that childhood emotional neglect is behind many of their life-long challenges:

  • Difficulty making new friends
  • An inability to stick to plans required to meet goals
  • Trouble coping with life’s challenges
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, empty, or without purpose
  • Chronic fatigue, or being totally exhausted

When you work with our trained therapists, we will explore how to:

  • Understand and express emotions
  • Cope effectively
  • Feel relaxed in daily life and secure in life overall
  • Develop meaningful, lasting relationships with others
  • Set attainable goals and hold yourself accountable
  • Establish who you are as a person and identify viable future paths you may want to take

You deserve to live life feeling fulfilled, happy and prepared. 

If you are ready to make a change, we would love to hear you out and walk with you along your journey of healing.

Relevant Blog Posts

  • Can Emotional Neglect Cause Low Self-Esteem?

    Can Emotional Neglect Cause Low Self-Esteem?

    If your emotional needs were ignored, dismissed, or minimized as a child, it can be difficult to identify the impacts on your mental health as an adult. The beliefs about yourself that you form when you’re young can seem like facts, but they’re not.  Can…


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