In her first book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, Jonice Webb introduced what was then a groundbreaking concept for many: It’s not that your parents didn’t love you, it’s just that they didn’t respond enough to your emotional needs.
In her new book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children, Webb shows readers how to take the concepts of childhood emotional neglect (CEN) beyond self-healing into their relationships with their parents, partners, and children.
“Recovery from CEN is a process. As you recover, you start to feel and act differently,” writes Webb.
Part of that process is that we may start feeling closer to those around us and want more emotional substance back from them. The three questions Webb receives the most are:
How do I heal from the effects of CEN on my relationship?
How do I deal with my parents, now that I realize they emotionally neglected me?
How do I deal with the effect of CEN that I now see in my children?
For Webb, there is no question that CEN leaves its footprint. Not only are CEN couples distinguishable from other couples, but having CEN affects who we choose in the first place.
“You naturally seek out the kind of love you received from your parents in your childhood,” writes Webb.
Yet the intense need to not feel empty can make us commit too soon, or because we don’t want to appear needy, keep us from committing at all. We can also marry someone with vibrant emotions to color our otherwise bland world, or learn to take up very little space, allowing room for those who characteristically take up too much, such as those with narcissistic personality disorder.
But because people with CEN haven’t had their emotions responded to enough, they may have also learned to neglect them themselves, in the process becoming less emotionally aware, learning fewer communication skills, and having less self-knowledge.
“When it all goes well in childhood, you are launched into adulthood with the foundation for an emotionally connected, resilient, intimate relationship. Unfortunately for many, not enough of this training occurs in childhood,” writes Webb.
The relationship markers of CEN are avoiding conflict, feeling lonely or empty, talking only about surface topics, and lacking emotional intimacy and passion. Offering an example from her practice, Webb describes the husband pouring his heart out to his wife who listens with a half-smile and then responds, “I think he just needs to chill out. I think our marriage is fine.”
The wife, like many CEN people, has developed what Webb calls a “unique system to avoid emotion.”
“There’s nothing quite like finding yourself married to someone with CEN. It’s hard to believe your own perception that something is wrong in the relationship. You know that something is missing, but you’re not sure what it is,” writes Webb.
Yet it is not so much that love doesn’t exist in CEN relationships, but rather, that we may not see it. While the relationship may be lacking vital ingredients, the problem, Webb assures readers, is fixable.
“You can both fill in your emotional gaps and blind spots by beginning to pay attention, and value, your own feelings,” writes Webb.
Having skills, rather than love, compassion, or even chemistry, is the most important ingredient for a successful long-term committed relationship. We must have self-knowledge, emotional awareness, emotional skills, and communication skills.
And to build each of these skills, we will need practice.
“Skills can be learned. Unlike love, companionship, or chemistry, you can learn them…You didn’t grow up in a household that had enough of these skills, so you missed the Emotional Training Course that you were supposed to receive in childhood,” writes Webb.
One helpful exercise Webb offers is “Repeat Before Talking” which involves each partner repeating the other’s message until it is delivered correctly, before relaying their own message.
While CEN parents can be well-meaning but themselves neglected, struggling, or self-involved, the task for their children is to identify their feelings, use them to set appropriate boundaries, and take actions to support themselves.
A critical part of recovering from CEN is recognizing that we are not flawed, and while we may not have learned fundamental emotional skills in childhood, we can learn them now, through our relationships with ourselves, our partners, our parents, and our children.
In a world where children are more scheduled than ever before, people spend more time on their devices than in conversation, and the vast majority report feeling empty, Running On Empty No More, is a game changer. Not only will it have you rethinking all of your relationships, but it also offers practical solutions, examples, and case studies for how to live a more connected, fulfilling, and rewarding life.
Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children
Jonice Webb, PhD
Morgan James Publishing
Softcover, 244 Pages