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  • Writer's picture Heidi Ashley

How childhood emotional neglect (CEN) still affects you - and how you can break free

Do you feel lonely due to childhood emotional neglect

You move through life with a gap inside you that it feels like nothing could fill. You search endlessly for the right partner who might make you feel complete. You never really feel close to other people. In fact, you sometimes feel like you don’t really matter to them. When that feeling is triggered, it’s extremely painful for you.


Nobody out there really ‘gets’ you. Sometimes, being around other people makes you feel sad. You watch people forming immediate, warm connections with each other but for you, it’s always been a different story.


You tried therapy before but you ended up feeling the same disappointment and sadness there.


You wonder if you’re destined to always feel lonely. The feeling of aloneness seems inside you.


If I stepped in now and asked how life was when you were small, you might tell me that it was fine, really. Kind of OK. You may never have gone through trauma or abuse, so you feel there isn’t much reason to feel this way. You may not have many memories of childhood. Or maybe a few, being alone in your bedroom a lot or playing by yourself.


Does this sound anything like your life?


Feelings like these suggest you’ve been through childhood emotional neglect (CEN). Not only this, but the emotional neglect of your childhood is kept going in the here-and-now by an emotional deprivation schema (life pattern). People who carry this schema grew up in homes where there was a lot of neglect of their emotional needs. They weren’t given the feeling of being cared for and loved. There wasn’t an interested parent they could turn to for help when they didn’t know what to do.

Children growing up with emotional deprivation or childhood emotional neglect feel like they are too much for their parents. Their parents are too busy for them. Or absent a lot. Some of these parents are overwhelmed by their own problems. Some praise specific things, like a school report, but aren’t so interested in getting to know the person their child is inside. And some of these parents are cold or controlling and simply not very interested in their kids.


Childhood emotional neglect can be tricky to pin down. But ask yourself:


-         Did you feel close to your parent or caregiver?

-         Did you feel they understood you?

-         Did you feel loved by them?

-         Were they warm and affectionate with you?

-         Could you tell them your feelings?

-         Did they give you what you needed emotionally?

I’m willing to bet you felt the same pangs of loneliness when you were small as you do now. That deep hole you carry inside you is the gap where the affection, praise and guidance should have been.

Emotional deprivation from childhood emotional neglect


Emotional deprivation means that you missed out on your birthright; a warm, responsive attachment to your caregiver. At some point along the way you stopped believing that your feelings and needs matter and you probably stopped communicating them. It was something your child self could do to minimise the disappointment and hurt.

People who went through childhood emotional neglect cope in ways that usually made sense for them back then, but don’t work anymore.


Avoiding triggering your emotional deprivation schema means you avoid relationships, so you never feel disappointed. Or you have relationships but don’t share yourself. But avoidance means your need for human warmth and connection isn’t met, so your loneliness continues.


Surrendering means seeking relationships with people who don’t notice or respond to your needs, much like how your parents emotionally-neglected you. You yield to the feelings of loneliness and neglect, and your childhood repeats itself.


(…. Are you spotting the pattern?)


Finally, overcompensating for emotional deprivation means shoving your needs front and centre and pushing hard to get them met. You stand up for your needs but go waaaaayyy overboard. People feel put off by you, withdraw and (you guessed it) the emotional deprivation schema continues, engulfing you in loneliness again.

So how do you recover from childhood emotional neglect?

A schema therapist will help you undertake positive change

You do it by persistently taking small, healthy risks that over time add up to the changes you want. Practice being more vulnerable with people and share your feelings a little more. Ask for your needs to be met. Look for little opportunities every day to try out these new behaviours: do micro-experiments. Pay close attention to how people make you feel and steer clear of anyone who reinforces your emotional neglect by treating you coldly. Learn more about your emotional deprivation schema by reading about it in the brilliant self-help book “Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko.   

Happy client following scheme therapy, emotional neglect addressed

And if you’re sick and tired of feeling alone and unimportant, and want out, I have good news. Childhood emotional neglect can absolutely be addressed in therapy. A therapist who really understands the emotional deprivation schema behind CEN will get stuck in with you to change it. They will be there for you, warmly connect to you and continually push you for healthy changes so that you can overcome emotional deprivation and its traps. And they will warmly nurture the neglected child within you.


Feeling better won’t be easy and will take time. The feeling of emotional deprivation isn’t cast off overnight. But you do matter and you also deserve to feel better by working hard on yourself.  


What are you waiting for?


Contact me to discuss how I can help you stop living within emotional deprivation and start feeling better connected to others and more satisfied in your life. I look forward to hearing from you!

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