One of the outcomes of childhood emotional neglect is a lost sense of self. You may feel like you’re not sure who you are or what you stand for.
That makes it hard to determine what you like and don’t like. You may struggle to comprehend your strengths and weaknesses.
This makes it difficult to create a satisfying life. That’s because a fulfilled life requires self-direction and boundaries. And both of these seem elusive without a strong a sense of self.
As we grow up, our parents are tasked with helping us understand ourselves. They are supposed to hold up a proverbial mirror which reflects back to us who we are.
They show us that they notice us and we matter. And they encourage and praise us when we do well. Conversely, they comfort us when things don’t go our way.
They teach us how to deal with conflict and how to regulate our emotions. They gently move us in the direction of our interests and strengths.
The impact of CEN
If none of this sounds familiar, you may have experienced childhood emotional neglect. As a result, you have likely suffered a fractured or lost sense of self.
When parents force you to cater to their needs instead of listening to yours, you lose yourself. Instead of developing your own internal motivations, you focus on others.
You have trouble discerning what you want because you’ve been conditioned to give up wanting. That’s because expressing needs only got you punished or rejected.
As a result, your intelligent inner child decided it’s best to focus on keeping others happy. And you put yourself to the back of the line.
Setting boundaries becomes complicated when you lack a sense of self. Boundaries require saying ‘no’ to things you don’t want or don’t like.
But what if you have no idea what you want or like? Boundaries will seem tricky, impossible, and even life threatening.
Remember that childhood rejection you feared as a result of having needs? Well, that was a matter of life and death. And that feeling doesn’t change in adulthood without conscious effort.
How to regain your sense of self
So, how do you regain a sense of self after it’s been lost? First, spend some time with yourself without distractions.
You may not enjoy your own company yet. But sitting and paying attention to your feelings will help you get to know yourself better.
Using your five senses as a guide, make a list of things that bring you pleasure. Engage in those more often.
Take stock of your strengths and use them more. Focus on improving your strengths rather than your weaknesses.
Spend more time with people who appreciate you and lift you up. Spend less time with those who make you feel bad or misunderstood.
Understand your values. Use an online assessment if it helps to make a list of your core values. These will act as a filter through which you make decisions on what you allow into your life.
Constantly ask yourself if you are really acting in your own best interest. The people pleasing habit can be hard to break and we need to make sure we’re pleasing ourselves first.
As you do more of what brings you pleasure and move in the direction of your strengths, you’ll notice a shift. Your life will begin to take on an intentional quality rather than happening by default.
As you say ‘no’ to things you don’t like and act according to your internal motivations, you’ll feel empowered. You will take the driver’s seat rather than feeling like a passenger in a life created by others.