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Thrive Therapy & Counseling provides high quality therapy to Highly Sensitive People and to kids, teens or adults struggling with anxiety, depression or self-esteem.

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Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

What is childhood emotional neglect?

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) occurs when a child's emotional needs are not met enough of the time. It doesn't mean that parents didn't love their kids or even that a person had a "bad" childhood. CEN can occur in all types of families, and it's about what's missing--the emotions that didn't get recognized, understood or addressed. It can be hard to point to because it's more about what didn't happen than about what did. 

CEN means that from an early age a person's emotional needs went unmet. These unmet emotional needs may have included learning about feelings and how to cope with emotions that are difficult, getting hugs or pats on the back, being praised for an accomplishment or job well done, or even having boundaries set around healthy relationships and self-care.

Other examples of CEN might be:

  • A parent who avoids conflict at all costs and doesn't set appropriate consequences when a child misbehaves--thus teaching the child, inadvertently, that cause and effect does not exist for their actions AND not modeling how to work through conflict
  • A parent NOT checking or asking about a child's homework, which can teach the child that they don't need to be accountable or that hard work doesn't matter  
  •  A child whose feelings aren't understood or acknowledged, which doesn't teach the child the language of emotions OR the tools for how to cope with the inevitable feelings that life can bring
  • A parent who lets their child eat whatever they want--cookies, donuts, Doritos--and doesn't teach the child about how to be healthy

The list can go on and on. Remember, CEN doesn't mean that emotional needs were neglected occasionally. No parent is perfect, and of course, all of a child's needs cannot be met all of the time. It's just not possible. CEN does mean that those emotional needs didn't get met consistently or enough of the time.

Again, the key factor here is what was needed and DID NOT occur on a regular basis.

if it happened in childhood, why does cen affect adults?

The short answer--because we don't live in a bubble. We don't magically grow up into adults and know how to do all-the-things. Right? We have to learn. We have to be taught. A lot of CEN is about what wasn't taught. Kids learn a tremendous amount through social modeling. When they don't see how a healthy adult works through sadness or aren't held accountable for their poor choices, they don't learn how to do these things for themselves. 

So, even though you may be all grown up now, it doesn't mean that you know what you need to live a happy, healthy life. You may be struggling with:

  • How to connect with other people on a close and personal level 
  • A lack of close friendships or meaningful relationships in your life
  • Managing difficult emotions like sadness, apathy, worry, stress
  • Not following through, like how to stick with the steps you know you need to take to reach the goals you set
  • Feeling empty inside and like life lacks meaning
  • Going through your days feeling utterly exhausted

How can therapy help?

WHEN YOU realize what you don't know or don't have, you can get what you need.

These things start to happen:

  • You learn the language of emotions and the tools you need to handle the tough ones. 
  • You feel more relaxed and enjoy life more.
  • You develop more meaningful friendships and relationships.
  • You’re able to set goals and take actionable steps, including holding yourself accountable, to meet those goals. 
  • You know who your are--your interests, beliefs, values, preferences--AND you create a meaningful, satisfying life based on these.

Work with a therapist who understands CEN

Ivy has completed continuing education trainings with Janice Webb, author of Running on Empty and psychotherapist who first identified this issue. Ivy and her team know firsthand that what is learned can be unlearned and re-learned, and that it's never too late to dive into your understanding yourself and building the skills you need to live the life you want. 

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