What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) [Videos] and What Difference Does It Make for Me As an Adult?

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) [Videos] and What Difference Does It Make for Me As an Adult?

Abuse of any kind is a horrible thing. It has lasting effects on victims, and as National Child Abuse Prevention Month (April) wraps up, I wanted to take a moment to focus on an area of child abuse that is hardly ever discussed, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

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While much is said and reported about physical and sexual abuse, as it should be, understanding the realities and effects of emotional abuse are equally as important. And in fact, I have heard some victims of multiple types of abuse say that they would take the physical over the emotional abuse. Now, obviously not every victim may feel this way, nor should any person ever have to be subjected to any type of abuse.

The point is that, at least for some victims, the pain and effects of emotional abuse are in some way worse than those of physical abuse. I believe some have said that it is due to the fact that the physical wounds from physical abuse heal naturally, and while there are still memories and effects from this abuse, with emotional abuse the wounds are not visible to the eye and often go untreated, which then leads to a much different, perhaps more intense impact for much longer.

If we were to look strictly at the semantics of the words, neglect and abuse, neglect, by definition, is an omission of action rather than, with the word abuse, an action taken against someone.  Where I feel like we need progress as a society is in recognizing that ignoring or failing to meet the needs of someone, especially a child under our care, is a form of abuse, or at the very least, has lasting impact on a person just as much as "outright" abuse does.

Think of the messages potentially internalized by a child whose needs are not met: Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) - Messages Internalized

It’s pretty obvious why those who have experienced CEN often seem to default to certain types of behaviors or patterns that can be destructive or lay a foundation for problems later in life, if not immediately.

Dr. Jonice Webb, a Clinical Psychologist and author of Running on Empty, addresses in a little more depth in a series of four brief videos, this topic of Childhood Emotional Neglect:

medical disclaimer img

If you believe you may have been neglected emotionally during childhood, Dr. Webb has on her website a questionnaire that I found helpful for determining the extent of the impact Childhood Emotional Neglect may have had on you.  Please take time to evaluate where you are so that you can begin a healing process if needed.

Emotional health is an important part of an overall, balanced health and wellbeing. I highly, highly recommend from personal experience connecting with a support group for victims of abuse through the Celebrate Recovery program. Wherever you may be emotionally right now, I hope that you will do whatever necessary to find the healing you need and deserve to live life to its fullest!

You are worth it!

(And if you have children, so are they … you can stop the cycle and they deserve a mama who’s healthy in every way.)

If CEN is "invisible" as Dr. Webb says, how will we as a society ever see any progress in stopping the cycle?

22 responses

  1. I can not even imagine how poor neglected kids feel. It breaks my heart that it happens at all.

  2. I couldn’t imagine how someone could do this to their child. As a parent we are there to protect our children not harm them.
    HopscotchNJellybeans recently posted…UMAMI BURGERMy Profile

  3. This is so sad. Like Robin, I which it didn’t exist. No one should feel that way.
    Heather D. (@GirlGoneMom) recently posted…BODYARMOR Sports DrinksMy Profile

  4. It absolutely boggles my mind that anyone could abuse or neglect children, emotionally or otherwise. I have a hard time not hugging random kids when they look forlorn!

  5. Neglected children are everywhere and it seems to happen more and more and sometimes to families that we would least expect it. Sadly these kids don’t realize they are being neglected until they are sometimes older.

  6. It’s heartbreaking that kids even have to deal with being neglected, I couldn’t imagine. I wish I could take them all and help them all. So sad.

  7. Neglecting children is really sad and the worst part is that it’s not uncommon nowadays.

  8. This just makes me want to cry. People shouldn’t have children if they’re not going to give them all the love and emotional support they deserve.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted…“still alice” blu-ray/dvd giveaway!My Profile

  9. It saddens me that some children grow up feeling neglected. No one should ever have to feel that way, adult or child.

  10. Pam

    I can’t imagine being neglected emotionally as a child. I can definitely see how it would cause problems through your whole life. I’m glad that you are raising awareness of it!

  11. This is a very hard topic for me to even think about or comprehend because children are a blessing and so precious in my eyes. I can’t even imagine.
    Lesley recently posted…Gluten-Free Chicken Tenders RecipeMy Profile

  12. abuse is abuse no matter how it is spoken. It can be sexual, physical, or mental abuse it doesn’t matter it’s all abuse
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  13. It breaks my heart that anyone could do this to their child, or any child! I’m one who always wants to praise or hug any child that doesn’t have a smile on their face. Kids are so precious and should never be made to feel they aren’t good enough.
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  14. This post breaks my heart. So many kids experience this.
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  15. Pam

    Life can be hard enough for kids with just the day to day issues but take away support that they need from their parents…and you have a disaster.

    This is much needed information unfortunately for many. I hope those in need, take advantage.

  16. This was a hard post to read in part because I suffered neglect as a child. It wasn’t intentional as my mother suffered with depression, but we were neglected none the less.
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    • I’m so sorry, Maureen. You are right and I think it is important to acknowledge it, even if it was not intentional, so that it can be dealt with. I love that Dr. Webb says adults can give themselves what they missed out on as a child and find healing.

  17. It’s heart breaking that a child ever feel neglected. I was surface neglected (is that a term?) by my mom, but I had an awesome gram who made up for it.

    • Rosey, the video about what type of parents emotionally neglect children addresses this type of neglect really well. She does a great job of explaining there are different reasons parents neglect children, and some we wouldn’t necessarily “place blame” on them for it, per se. There’s only one type where she says blame and “responsibility” is appropriate to place on the parent. It’s very insightful and I have to say I agree with her perspective on that. Regardless, I am so sorry to hear that was your experience and I hope you seek and find healing.

  18. I don’t think people realize that abuse is not just physical. Especially kids….they believe everything we tell them including the bad things

  19. Childhood emotional neglect is a big issue in our country. There are so many things going on in our lives that children are forgotten too easily. I am with you on this fight to help children feel important because they are!

    • Thank you, Ashley! You make a good point and that is part of why Dr. Webb addresses that fact that 2 out of 3 of the types of neglectful parents are not to “blame” necessarily …. the neglect is unintentional. Raising children is the hardest job ever and the vast majority of parents truly do love their children and do the very best they can. We must stop this cycle though!

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