Good people can be bad parents.

As an entrepreneur and lifelong learner, my curiosity often leads me to explore various aspects of human behavior and the patterns that shape our lives. In this piece, I’d like to share a personal story that touches on an often-overlooked issue of childhood emotional neglect (CEN) and the lasting impact it can have on our lives.

A few years ago, I read a book called “Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect” by Dr. Jonice Webb, and it helped me immeasurably. Not so much as a cure, but by finally putting a name to something that I had been experiencing for some time.

My parents separated when I was 13, eventually leading to their divorce. This was a painful period for my mother, who was eventually hospitalised after a terrible nervous breakdown due to their split. My father was largely absent during my teenage years, occupied by his work and his new relationship. Consequently, I grew up without any real parenting and only recently realised that I self-parented during this critical time in my life. It wasn’t until I encountered Jonice Webb’s book, “Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect,” that I began to understand the complex dynamics of my upbringing.

“Running on Empty” explores the concept of emotional neglect in childhood, its often invisible nature, and the deep, lasting impact it can have on individuals. Dr. Webb offers practical guidance on identifying CEN, understanding its origins, and taking steps to heal the emotional void left by this form of neglect.

When I think about my life prior to my parents’ separation, I always considered my upbringing to be loving and nurturing, with my parents being genuinely good people. They took care of my needs, encouraged my goals, and provided guidance when needed. However, it wasn’t until reading “Running on Empty” that I recognised the subtle, yet significant, effects of emotional neglect on my emotional well-being and relationships that occurred long before their marriage broke down.

Childhood emotional neglect is not characterised by a lack of love or care. Instead, it involves a deficiency in emotional connection, validation, and attentiveness to a child’s emotional needs. While less obvious than abuse or abandonment, the consequences can be just as damaging, leading to emotional struggles, relationship issues, and a sense of emptiness in adulthood.

Despite their good intentions, my parents were often preoccupied with their own challenges and issues, which led them to overlook the emotional turbulence I was experiencing. Although I was a high-achieving individual, I struggled internally with connection, loneliness, and difficulty expressing my emotions.

After an unrewarding period of weekly therapy, I happened upon Webb’s book, and everything sort of just clicked. I went on to research and analyze the issue of emotional neglect further, finding it to be more common than I initially thought. Many well-intentioned parents inadvertently neglect their children’s emotional needs due to factors like stress, cultural norms, and their own past childhood experiences (lack of role model parents, etc.).

To break this cycle, it is crucial for parents to be aware of the importance of emotional connection, validation, and responsiveness in their children’s lives and to actively nurture these qualities in their parenting approach. By applying the wisdom of “Running on Empty,” we can take steps toward healing and create a supportive emotional environment for ourselves and those around us.

For the victims, there is no simple fix – but awareness and understanding provide the biggest relief. I would also say that self-compassion is very important. To know that you are not “broken” and to be gentler with yourself helps too. Beyond that, I would recommend meditation to help become more self-aware and to learn to identify and label your emotions. At the end of the day, CEN is a result of trauma, and there are therapists who are experts in this area.

In summary, you should forgive your parents – they are good people despite their mistakes; these errors don’t have to define us permanently. By recognising the impact of emotional neglect on our own lives, educating ourselves with books like “Running on Empty,” and consciously striving to change, we can create an emotional environment that will provide the support that perhaps we missed when we were young.

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