Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents and Your Children

Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents and Your Children

by Jonice Webb PhD

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Overview

Since the publication of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, many thousands of people have learned that invisible Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN, has been weighing on them their entire lives, and are now in the process of recovery. Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships will offer even more solutions for the effects of CEN on people’s lives: how to talk about CEN, and heal it, in relationships with partners, parents, and children.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683506737
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 244
Sales rank: 74,641
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jonice Webb, PhD is a licensed psychologist, and author of the groundbreaking bestseller, Running on Empty: Overcome your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Dr. Webb has been interviewed by NPR and the Chicago Tribune, and featured in Psychology Today and Elephant Journal. She writes the Childhood Emotional Neglect blog on psychcentral.com. Dr. Webb has an outpatient psychotherapy practice in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE CEN RELATIONSHIP: A PORTRAIT

* * *

When One Partner Has CEN

Marcel and May

Driving home from work alone in his car, Marcel is lost in thought. In his mind he's replaying over and over the scenario that happened the previous night between himself and his wife, May.

In the scenario, Marcel walked through the door, dropped his briefcase on the floor, crouched down and opened his arms to his two small children, who ran into his arms yelling, "Daddyyyyyy!!" The giant hug turned into a wrestling match as he took turns tickling one after the other.

"Children, get off your dad! He's been working all day and he's too tired for silliness," he heard May declare loudly as she walked into the room. Marcel watched his children's small faces fall a bit as they extricated themselves from the Daddy Pile. His own heart sinking a little, he stood up and gave May a hug.

Distractedly, May gave him a half-hug back while glancing over her shoulder. "Can you fix that broken window this evening? And keep an eye on the kids for a second?" she asked as she ran down the steps into the basement to get something.

Watching the children play, Marcel had an uncomfortable feeling in his gut. Sad, lost, alone. Yes, definitely alone. He mustered his courage to try to talk to May when she came back up those steps.

"May, I need to talk to you for a minute," he said to her that evening after the kids were in bed. "I just keep feeling like something is wrong with us."

"What? What are you talking about? I don't understand," May responded, with tears instantly springing to her eyes. "Do you not love me anymore?"

"Of course I love you, as much as ever," he reassured her. "It's just ... I don't know what it is. I just don't really feel like everything is how it should be," Marcel began. As he finished the sentence, he looked up and saw that May's tears were gone. May had seized on the only sentence she needed to hear, "Of course I love you as much as ever ..." The rest of his words were lost on her. Already she seemed to be thinking about something else.

"Well, Marcel, honestly. We love each other, and that's what matters, right? I mean, I think you're probably being over-sensitive about something or other. Seriously, I wish you'd just relax and be happy."

Marcel looked at May, fully aware that he had already lost her concern and interest. Helplessly he searched for words to try to explain to her that this was a serious problem, and that he needed her to try to understand.

But feeling frustrated, hurt and angry, no words came.

Fast forward to Marcel driving home in his car the following evening.

"Am I crazy?" he wondered to himself. "Is it me or is it her? She's right that we love each other, but is that really enough? I know there's supposed to be more to a marriage. Why doesn't she feel what's missing the way I do? What can I say to explain this to her? How can I get her to talk to me?"

The portrait above illustrates how it feels for a person without CEN (Marcel) to be married to someone who has it. Only Marcel realizes that something is wrong. He grew up in a world colored by emotion, and now is experiencing his home life in May's CEN style: grayscale.

It's difficult for the partner of a CEN person to understand exactly what the problem is. "Is it me or is it her?" he might wonder often. "Are my expectations unrealistic? Is this simply what it's like to be married? Am I overly needy? Am I nitpicking or making mountains from molehills?" These are all questions that run through the mind of the non-CEN partner.

From May's perspective, everything is fine in the marriage, except for the brief periods when Marcel expresses dissatisfaction. "Why can't you just be happy?" is the typical response of the CEN spouse. May loves Marcel and genuinely wants him to be happy, but she is unequipped with the skills or emotional perceptiveness to understand what he needs or wants. She may view Marcel's healthy emotional requests as needy, or even as weakness on his part.

No matter how compatible May and Marcel are or how much they love each other, their relationship is at risk for growing more troubled over time. Marcel may grow tired of knocking on May's "wall," and angry at what seems like her refusal to allow him in. Feeling more and more alone in the relationship, he may eventually begin to feel hopeless.

Or, in a different possible outcome, May could grow annoyed and smothered by Marcel and his needs. Lacking the emotion skills to put any of these problems into words and work them through, dissent, hurt and pain can accrue through the years on both sides, and slowly erode the couple's positive connection. Eventually, one day they might sadly realize that they no longer like each other very much.

Fortunately there is a bright side to the single-CEN relationship. Marcel knows that there is something missing, so this couple has a huge advantage over many others. May's CEN is not her choice or fault, and Marcel senses this. He can see that May is a good person who is trying, and that she loves him. And everything that is missing in this relationship is possible to attain. All of these factors will play a tremendously important role in their future recovery.

Now let's continue on to a vignette describing a relationship in which both partners grew up with CEN, as they grapple with the invisible issue that they cannot identify or name.

When Both Partners Have CEN

Olive and Oscar

Olive and Oscar sit across the table from each other, quietly having their Sunday morning breakfast.

"Is there any more coffee?" Olive asks absentmindedly while reading the day's news on her laptop. Irritated, Oscar stands up abruptly and walks over to the coffee-maker to check.

"Why does she always ask me? She's so manipulative. She just doesn't want to have to walk over to the coffee-maker herself," he cranks inwardly. Returning to the table with the pot, Oscar fills Olive's cup. Placing the empty carafe on the table with a slight bit of excessive force, Oscar sits back in his chair with a sigh and an angry glance at Olive's still-bowed head.

Olive, sensing something amiss from the placement of the carafe and the sigh, quickly looks up. Seeing Oscar already absorbed in his newspaper, she looks back down at her laptop but has difficulty focusing on her reading.

"I wonder what's going on with Oscar," she muses. "He seems so irritable lately. I wonder if his work stress is coming back. It must be his job pressure getting to him again."

After thinking it through, Olive makes a plan to avoid Oscar for the day in hopes that giving him some alone time will help his mood improve (with the added bonus that she won't have to be around him). Olive makes a plan to ask him about work at dinnertime to see if he is indeed under stress.

Later that evening Olive returns from her errands and finds that Oscar has made dinner for the both of them. Sitting down to eat, Oscar seems to be in a better mood.

After a brief exchange about Olive's errands, she asks, "So how are things at work?"

Looking at Olive quizzically, Oscar answers, "Fine, why do you ask?"

"No reason," Olive replies, relieved to hear him say it was fine. Do you want to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones while we eat?"

The TV goes on and they eat dinner in silence, each absorbed in the show.

The double CEN couple seems much like every other couple in many ways. And yet they are very, very different. This type of relationship is riddled with incorrect assumptions and false readings. And unfortunately neither partner has the communication skills to check with the other to actually find out what he is thinking or feeling, or why she does what she does.

Since neither partner knows how to talk about the frustrations and conflicts that naturally arise (as they do in every relationship), very little gets addressed and worked out. This is a set-up for passive-aggressive retaliations that eat away at the warmth and caring in the marriage, outside of both partners' awareness. Small, indirect actions like carafe- slamming, avoidance, ignoring and forgetting can become the primary means of coping and communicating in the relationship. None of them are effective.

In the scenario above Oscar misinterprets Olive's thoughtless absorption in her reading as "manipulative," and Olive misinterprets Oscar's irritation with her as the possible result of job stress. Instead of dealing with these issues directly in the moment, Olive chooses avoidance for the day. Her question to Oscar that evening at dinner is too simple and off-target to yield any useful information. She is left with a false sense of reassurance that Oscar's mood magically improved, and that nothing was really wrong in the first place.

So forward they go, into the coming weeks, months and years, with Oscar viewing Olive as lazy and manipulative, and Olive on constant guard against a return of Oscar's job stress. Drastically out of tune with one another, they live in separate worlds, growing ever distant from each other.

Olive and Oscar sometimes feel more alone when they are together than they do when they are apart. They are divided by a chasm as wide as the ocean. They each sense that something important is wrong, but sadly, neither can consciously describe or name it.

Fortunately for Olive and Oscar, they actually have loads of potential. They each have plenty of feelings; they are simply not aware of those feelings or able to use them in a healthy, relationship-enriching way. At the heart of their marriage is companionship, history, concern and love. All that is really missing from their marriage is awareness and skills, both of which can be learned. There is a good chance that one day, one of them will "wake up" emotionally, and knock on the other's wall.

As you read on you will see that is exactly what happened.

CHAPTER 2

DID CEN AFFECT YOUR CHOICE OF PARTNER?

* * *

"It would be so much easier if your empty space would simply sit there, inert. But emptiness does not do so."

Many factors influence how we choose our spouses. For example, where we live, our career, interests, hobbies and religion all have a great impact upon who we are likely to meet, thereby determining the pool of potential candidates to choose from.

Your childhood experience plays an important role as well. Childhood Emotional Neglect leaves its footprint on you. That footprint affects every decision you will make in your life, including who you choose to spend your life with.

Five Ways CEN Can Affect Your Choice of Partner

1. You naturally seek out the kind of love you received from your parents in childhood.

A child's first and primary experience of love is in his relationship with his parents. Your parents' own personal style of love becomes internalized by you while they are raising you. Your parents' love, no matter its quality or completeness, fuses with your brain and becomes an integral part of your emotional life (Moore, Kinghorn and Bandy, 2011). The type of love you experience as a child is the type of love that will feel real, comfortable and natural to you as an adult.

Truth be told, this is a major part of the reason why so many people who grow up in dysfunctional homes recreate that same dysfunction in their adult life with their own spouses and children. They seek and find what feels real and comfortable to them, and this perpetuates the cycle of dysfunction that they experienced as children.

When you grow up in a CEN home you may experience love that has all the trimmings: a nice house, nice clothes and a good education, all provided for you. Yet the love you are experiencing lacks emotional substance. This sets you up to experience love that does have emotional substance, if or when you encounter it as an adult, as deeply uncomfortable. It may feel overwhelming, excessive or just plain "wrong." You may actually leave the person who offers you meaningful, substantial love, to seek instead a partner who offers you less, but ironically feels more "right" and more comfortable.

In this way, those with CEN are set up to feel drawn to one another. Those with CEN can offer each other a comfort that feels like love, and in many ways is love. It's connecting and enduring, yes. But it's also lacking in the quality of emotional depth that keeps it burning, and the emotion skills that keep it strong. So it's a love that can lead to decades of disappointment and bafflement for both partners, just as you saw in the two vignettes above.

Olive and Oscar both grew up in emotionally neglectful homes. When they met, they each felt a sense of safety with the other. Each was able to meet the other's subdued emotional needs, and their emotion skills were well matched. Each would have felt smothered by any partner who required true emotional connection and intimacy (like Marcel).

2. The intense need to fill that empty space inside leads you to commit too soon.

You grew up pushing away your feelings. Now, as an adult, you are living without proper access to your emotions. Your emotions should be infusing you with color and meaning and connection, but they are walled off and unable to connect with you, and that is the empty space inside you.

It would be so much easier if your empty space would simply sit there, inert. But emptiness does not do so. Instead the void inside you is like a vacuum. It pulls for something, or someone, to fill it. You may try to fill your space with food or alcohol, shopping or gambling, work, or a host of other distractions or temporary rewards. Or you may, like many, try to fill it with a relationship. The strong pull of the vacuum may then put you at risk for committing to a partner too early or too soon, or before you know him or her fully.

3. The desperate necessity to never feel or appear needy prevents you from committing at all.

As a child you were not allowed to have certain emotional needs (or perhaps any emotional needs). You internalized the message that having needs is weak, wrong or even shameful. As an adult you are desperate to make sure that you never have to appear weak. You take great care to never show emotional vulnerability.

Many wonderful people who grew up with Emotional Neglect are so afraid to feel or expose their own emotional needs to others that they cannot allow themselves to want a partner, or to seek one. Did you start dating later than usual? Do you blanch every time someone asks if there's anyone special in your life? Do you have great difficulty opening up emotionally to anyone you are dating? These can all be signs that you are protecting yourself and others from your own normal, healthy human needs. You are ashamed to have them.

You probably don't even realize it, but emotionally you are Closed For Business.

4. Living in a bland world, you marry someone with intense emotions.

It's true that when you have CEN, you may feel most comfortable partnering with someone whose love is similar to your own, as we discussed in #1. But for some, CEN can have the opposite effect.

As we know, Emotional Neglect can make life feel meaningless and drab. So you may look around and see others living a life that seems richer, brighter and more vivid. All the while your empty space is tugging at you to fill it.

These two forces can act together to draw you toward someone whose light shines bright. Someone who feels things intensely and deeply. When you partner with someone whose emotions are strong, you fill your own life with their power. You experience the emotional brightness that you need in a way that feels less threatening: vicariously through your partner.

Marrying an emotional person may work quite well for some years if your spouse is emotionally healthy, like Marcel in the vignette above. But if you partner with someone whose emotions are excessively intense or unstable for problematic reasons (for example someone who has borderline personality disorder), you may find yourself riding shotgun in a careening car. The problem with living through someone else's emotions is that you cannot be in control of them. (If this sounds like you, see the Resources section at the back of this book for information about The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder, by Randi Kreger).

Another problem arises when a person with CEN marries a person with good access to his feelings, even if he is healthy like Marcel. An emotionally connected partner will want and need emotional closeness and emotional intimacy with you. He will feel blocked out, stymied and maybe even bored. He will knock on your wall, trying to reach you, like Marcel did with May. Eventually, he may grow tired of feeling alone.

**Special Note: If you have CEN and are partnered with someone like Marcel, you may be experiencing some of that special brand of CEN guilt right about now. So I'm taking a moment to remind you of two very important facts: (1) It's not your fault that you have CEN. And (2) Now that you know what's wrong, you can heal yourself and, together with your partner, heal your relationship. Your guilt will get in the way. So battle it back, put it aside, and read on.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Running On Empty No More"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jonice Webb, PhD.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments,
Introduction,
PART 1: CEN AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP,
Chapter 1: The CEN Relationship: A Portrait,
Chapter 2: Did CEN Affect Your Choice of Partner?,
Chapter 3: The Effects of CEN on Your Relationship,
Chapter 4: How to Talk to Your Partner about CEN,
Chapter 5: How to Repair Your CEN Relationship,
PART 2: YOUR CEN PARENTS,
Chapter 6: The Emotionally Neglectful Family All Grown Up: 3 Portraits,
Chapter 7: How CEN Affects Your Relationship with Your Parents,
Chapter 8: Protect Yourself: Boundaries and Self-Care,
Chapter 9: Talking with Your Parents about CEN,
PART 3: YOUR CHILDREN,
Chapter 10: The Emotionally Neglected Child, A Portrait,
Chapter 11: The Feelings of the CEN Parent,
Chapter 12: How CEN Has Affected Your Parenting,
Chapter 13: Changing Your Parenting Style,
Chapter 14: Should You Talk with Your Child about CEN? And How to Do It,
Chapter 15: Portrait of Two Healing Families,
Epilogue,
About the Author,
References,
Resources,

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