Interview with Jonice Webb, PhD, author of Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships with Your Partner, Your Parents and Your Children
I had an opportunity to interview Jonice Webb, a psychologist with expertise in Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), whose new book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships with Your Partner, Your Parents and Your Children (Morgan James Publishing, Nov. 7, 2017) offers tips for healing relationships affected by CEN.
How prevalent is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)?
I don’t have exact numbers on this, but from my own clinical experience, plus reports from my therapist colleagues, I believe it’s very common. It varies in severity from mild to extreme, based upon how pervasive the emotional neglect was in childhood. I think a large portion of the population has some degree of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).
What effect does CEN have on the victim’s adult relationships?
Childhood is meant to be an emotional training ground. When your parents under-respond to your emotions as they raise you, they miss the opportunity to teach you how to handle your emotions. Since emotions are the most important key to healthy relationships, CEN sets you up to be at great disadvantage in your primary relationship, in your relationship with your family, and in raising your own children. You may find yourself feeling confused about how to identify your own feelings and the feelings of others, how to put them into words to share them, how to manage conflict, and even how to respond in an attuned way to your children’s emotions if you become a parent. It’s very difficult to give what you never got.
What are the traits to look for to know if a partner suffers from CEN?
The effects of CEN can be invisible, so they’re hard to see in a relationship. Yet those effects can be very harmful to the warmth and connection in a relationship, especially over time. Here are some signs to look for:
• A feeling of distance that you can’t explain
• A tendency to sweep problems under the rug
• Misrepresenting what he/she is feeling: saying, “I’m not angry” when anger is quite obvious, for example
• Discomfort with strong emotions in the relationship
• A tendency to talk about facts, events and logistics, with little ability to focus on feelings, struggles and warmth
• Leading separate lives
How does CEN influence a person’s choice of partner?
Through many different ways, for example:
• You may be drawn to partner with someone who also has CEN. If you were raised to be uncomfortable with emotions, as an adult you may feel most comfortable with someone who treats emotions the same way. Another CEN person feels non-threatening and safe. This will likely lead to the two of you drifting apart over time.
• Being out of touch with your emotions can leave you with a deep feeling of emptiness. That emptiness may seek to be filled and may lead you to marry or commit too soon, before you fully know the person.
• If your emotional needs were ignored or denied when you were a child, you may have a powerful fear of appearing needy (I call this counter-dependence). This can make the act of dating and forming a meaningful relationship feel like a weakness. Some folks with CEN aren’t able to override this fear of needing someone, and they’re never able to commit.
• Since emotions are the spice of life (most people don’t realize this), when your emotions are walled off due to CEN, you may feel a sense of blandness in your life. You may be drawn to someone who has intense emotions. This may work out fine, but it can backfire if the other person’s intense emotions are unpredictable or can be directed at you unfairly, such as with a narcissistic person.
What needs to happen for those struggling with CEN to repair their relationships?
It’s very helpful for anyone with CEN to become aware that they have the CEN emotional style, and how it’s affecting their relationships. Sometimes the partners who don’t have CEN can reach out to their CEN partner and ask them to read this interview, or my blog, or Running on Empty — my first book that defines CEN, or take the CEN Questionnaire on my website to help them understand what CEN is and become aware that they have it. Once there’s awareness, they need to work on their relationships. Some ways to do this involve:
• Setting a goal of paying more attention to emotions in the relationship. In Running on Empty No More, there’s a worksheet to help couples do this
• Structuring time for “meaningful talk” where surface topics aren’t allowed
• Seeking the support and help of a therapist to help the couple talk through old conflicts that have been ignored instead of dealt with directly. Old feelings of anger or hurt can weigh on a relationship
Addressing CEN in yourself and in your relationship can have profound effects that go to every corner of your life. It changes your self-view, the quality of your connections with others, and perhaps most importantly, your parenting.
Learn more at emotionalneglect.com