Connecting emotionally with the people we care about in our lives should come easily. But for some, that connection is missing. According to clinical psychologist Jonice Webb, a child whose emotional needs aren’t met is forced to bury those needs and feelings — often well into adulthood. The result is a thwarted emotional life of conflict avoidance, detachment, and solitude: CEN sufferers often feel profoundly lonely even when they’re surrounded by loved ones. Webb has devoted both her clinical practice and her books to treating this sad condition, known as Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN. First was her bestselling Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.Now, she’s just published Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships with Your Partner, Your Parents, and Your Children. The book offers powerful tools for learning how to understand this condition, reclaim a sense of connection, and recover once and for all.
CEN is often hard for the people afflicted with it to identify, notes Webb. It’s hard to know something is missing when it’s been so unconsciously repressed. This paradox manifests itself in all relationships, including couples, who may realize they lack a strong emotional bond, but don’t know why or how to address it. To help, Webb details a whole list of the same markers she uses to identify patients suffering from CEN. She then takes readers on a healing journey through the process of dealing with the condition, from how to uncover blocked emotions to how to repair the damage CEN does to relationships.
Working to unblock emotions in CEN sufferers is akin to chipping away at a wall, according to Webb, and there’s a riskier side for couples. Once long-buried feelings start coming to the surface, and the carefully erected barrier of emotional detachment starts falling, it can bring tumult to the relationship. At times, partners are suddenly shocked to realize that CEN created a flawed core to begin with, and then the challenge is what to do next.
An attachment formed around CEN is the reverse of what motivates people to partner with a narcissist. Instead of being drawn to someone who is only concerned with their own selfish needs, the CEN mate is drawn to someone who is absolutely consumed with their partner’s desires. Each of the partners, of course, carries their own share of the blame in creating this dynamic. In either case, the balance was askew to begin with. But once CEN is being dealt with, it can throw emotions entirely off kilter. Repairing a relationship affected by the condition has to be done carefully, gingerly, and with love.
Webb’s book outlines how to do just that. It offers effective and compassionate strategies for talking openly about emotional needs, learning to face and address conflicts, and building true emotional intimacy. As the title promises, it also explores parents, children, and the children’s children: CEN can wreak a long legacy if it’s not addressed. Webb explains just how to reach out to the source of the problem — parents — and learn how to reclaim that relationship. As she points out, many of those parents are CEN sufferers themselves. But that doesn’t let them off the hook.
It’s possible to make sure past neglect won’t resurface to harm one’s own children, explains the author, but it requires developing a strong and enduring self-awareness. Making sure to not inflict the same kind of emotional damage on a child will seem like the most important step to many readers, certainly. From childhood to adulthood to parenting, from parents to loved ones to children, Webb’s book is truly a roadmap for healing, filled with insights for healing old wounds and preventing new ones. In that sense, it’s not only a savvy and wise guidebook, it’s truly a book of hope.
Learn more about Jonice Webb and Running On Empty No More at the author’s website.