CEN: Beginning the Healing Journey

In this post, Penni takes a look at how healing from Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can begin by reconnecting to emotions with compassionate curiosity, uncovering the cause of those feelings and deciding thoughtfully how to act upon them.

If emotions aren’t validated in childhood, the result is a walling off of our emotional world that continues into adulthood. Being disconnected from our emotions due to CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) means being unable to access a wealth of information – messages – that guide and inform us and help us to lead the life that is best for our own, unique needs. If we have become walled off from our feelings, it can be hard to know just how we feel, or what exactly to do with those feelings.

Recovery from CEN begins with – gently and compassionately – becoming curious about our inner experience. The following exercise can help to start the healing journey by reconnecting to emotions, helping us become more self-aware and able to manage more difficult emotions when they arise.

Compassionate curiosity to identify feelings

Find the Feeling

Whenever possible, take a moment to turn attention inwards and ask the question, “How am I feeling right now?” We can use the headings ‘sad, mad, glad and afraid’ as a guide; emotions will generally fall into one of these categories (although there are many, many words we can use to be more specific about our experience, i.e. deflated, unmotivated, down, spiky, irritable, cross, peaceful, elated, content, worried, anxious, fearful)


When you have managed to identify and name the feeling, the next step is to ask “Why am I feeling this?” (it’s important that this question is asked with compassionate curiosity, not judgement). It may be that the feeling can be attributed to a real-time event – relief a task is complete, for example, or it may be connected to a physical need that isn’t being met – irritability due to lack of sleep, or maybe the feeling is connected to memories of past events.

Decide Thoughtfully

Once you have been able to work out the reason for your feeling you can take time to decide what you’d like to do with it. What is your emotion telling you? Do you need more boundaries? Is something worrying you? Does something need to change? All emotions are important and need our attention, however, not all emotions require us to act. Simply accepting an emotion is present and allowing it to be is sometimes all that needs to be done.

More on CEN

If you sense that CEN may be affecting you, working things through with a trained therapist can be really helpful. Alternatively, you may wish to visit Dr Jonice Webb’s website: www.drjonicewebb.com, where you will find a CEN questionnaire, a link to her two excellent books on the subject and a wealth of supportive information.

About the author
Counsellor Penni Osborn
Penni Osborn
Penni Osborn is a counsellor working at Anglia Counselling Ltd where she meets with adults, offering kind and compassionate help with anxiety, depression, CEN and difficult or overwhelming emotions, both online and in person. Penni also offers non-judgemental support and guidance for those seeking to explore their experiences in order to achieve enhanced personal growth, positive change and greater happiness.