top of page

Healing Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Recognizing Invisible Trauma Wounds and Cultivating Self-Compassion

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is a profound issue that impacts many individuals, often without their conscious awareness. Studies range in just how prevalent CEN is, with numbers landing between 15-20% of young adults and adults reporting that they experienced emotional neglect in childhood. Let’s explore what childhood emotional neglect is, the impacts it can have in adult life and most importantly, how self-compassion can help!

Understanding Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

CEN is a form of trauma characterized by sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, emotional neglect during childhood. It differs from other forms of trauma in that it often goes unnoticed and unaddressed.

In our offices, we often find that our clients don’t see their experiences as neglectful because they just think of them as “normal”. When you don’t know anything but neglect, it’s hard to imagine what you are missing out on.

While it’s impossible to create an exhaustive list of signs of emotional neglect, some experiences include:

-Emotional unavailability: Having a caregiver who is unavailable or unresponsive to a child’s emotional needs, such as failing to comfort them when they are upset or not caring about their emotions

-Lack of emotional validation: Experiences in which the caregiver(s) dismiss, minimize or ignore a child’s emotions, which leads the child (and later adult) to believe their feelings don’t matter or aren’t important

-Failure to provide emotional guidance: Caregivers who do not teach or model healthy emotional expression or coping skills, leaving the child to learn to cope and among their big feelings on their own

-Inconsistent emotional responses: Caregivers who provide unpredictable or inconsistent responses to a child’s emotions, leading to confusion and insecurity.

A plant that is dead from lack of water, in an empty concrete room

The Impact of CEN on Adult Life

CEN can have ripple effects on various aspects of adult life, and it’s important to remember that each person will be impacted differently by CEN. There’s no “right” way to be impacted by emotional neglect, and all experiences are valid.

Some of the ways that CEN commonly impacts adult life are:

-A lack of emotional awareness: you may find yourself unable to identify and express your emotions, or it may feel like a numbness or detachment from your emotions.

-Not knowing your needs: You may find you struggle to know what your needs are and have to met them.

-Difficulty setting boundaries: you may not know what boundaries are, how to set them, or how to maintain them.

-Low self-esteem: you may find that you have a poor self-image and struggle with feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness.

-Low self-compassion: you may struggle to be compassionate with yourself, defaulting to being really harsh and critical.

Healing from Childhood Emotional Neglect

There are many varied ways to heal from CEN, both inside and out of the therapeutic office. If you want to do work on your own, cultivating self-compassion is one of the most impactful skills you can practice.

Cultivating Self-Compassion in the Face of CEN

Self-compassion can sometimes feel a little cliche, but it is a skill that is absolutely necessary when healing from childhood emotional neglect and the trauma that arises from it. When you didn’t have caregiver(s) to help you learn how to take care of yourself and prices your big feelings, you need to develop self-compassion to help you learn to do this for yourself.

Therapeutic Approaches

When working to heal CEN with therapy, you are going to want to find a therapist who has trauma training. Emotional neglect is a form of trauma and finding someone who understands and operates in a trauma-informed way is imperative.

Therapeutic approaches such as inner child work, and attachment-based therapy can help address CEN.

Building Resilience and Thriving Beyond CEN

Building resilience and fostering emotional well-being can help individuals thrive beyond CEN. Setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and cultivating supportive relationships are practical steps toward healing.

Book a session with our practice today to take concrete steps toward healing and envision a future filled with growth and possibility.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page