Book Review of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

I came across this book by Dr. Jonice Webb a couple of years ago.  A friend I’d made at a conference was reading it in between sessions and the title felt like a slap in the face. Instantly, I knew what it was about without ever having heard of emotional neglect before. I’d been working with clients that frequently mentioned feeling empty or like they were fatally flawed for a few years already. So it felt like a cosmic sign to find that someone else had been noticing the same symptoms and pulled them together into a framework.

The book opens with a CEN quiz.

This great because it helps the reader have some context about where they stand with CEN in their life.  It’s also available on the author’s website.  The rest of the book itself is divided into three parts.

Part I Running On Empty explains the concept of childhood emotional neglect and walks the reader through the twelve parenting styles that can lead to emotionally neglected children.  Dr. Webb provides vignettes of each style in action as well as one of healthy parenting to help readers understand the difference.

Part II Out of Fuel provides in-depth descriptions of each of the ten traits that adults with childhood emotional neglect demonstrate.  Again, Dr. Webb offers real-life examples of each trait in action and includes a helpful checklist of behaviors that are characteristic of each trait.

Part III is probably the most valuable part of this book.

Dr. Webb explains how to start refueling the emotional tank.  She offers a detailed look at how change unfolds and draws attention to possible obstacles for change.  In later chapters, she walks the reader through the steps she uses with her clients in her private practice in Lexington, MA.  There are helpful exercises and charts, and she touches on how different relationships (e.g. friendships and marriage) may be affected as the reader recovers from childhood emotional neglect.  There’s also a whole chapter devoted to self-care and compassion, which adults with childhood emotional neglect often struggle with. In the final chapters, Dr. Webb briefly touches on ways to parent without transferring CEN to children and addresses how therapists can go about working effectively with CEN clients.

Recovery from CEN is possible.

A lot of people assume that their past dictates their destiny.  Reading this book from the perspective of a layperson, I really appreciated how Dr. Webb offers hope to those experiencing CEN.  Where other authors can sound condescending with their fancy words and theories, her writing is free of psychobabble jargon, making it very accessible.  I also admire how she uses parenting examples to explain how CEN starts, but remains respectful and doesn’t blame the parents.

Who Might Benefit From This Book

  • Anyone that’s ever felt like: there’s a void inside them; they’re fatally flawed; there’s something deeply wrong with them but can’t quite explain what it is; or they’re unlovable would likely find this book helpful.  
  • People struggling with relationships, whether it’s getting in one, maintaining one, or recovering after repeated failed ones, can benefit from these insights.
  • Someone with toxic parent(s) or experienced narcissistic abuse growing up.
  • Adults with CEN that are trying to parent their own children.
  • Mental health professionals trying to understand the effects of early childhood attachment in adult clients.

If you’ve been on the fence about reading this book, I recommend you go ahead and get it.  My clients find it so helpful and the information in it accelerates their progress in therapy.  It can also help you learn to be more emotionally attuned to your children and others you find yourself in relationships with.  Dr. Webb also wrote a follow-up book called Running On Empty No More, which I’ll be reviewing soon.  

More About Childhood Emotional Neglect

  • If you’d like more information about CEN, here are some helpful links:
  • Dr. Jonice Webb’s website – packed with blogs and information
  • CEN Questionnaire – find out if you may experience CEN
  • Dr. Webb’s PsychCentral blog – many short and informative posts about CEN
  • Find a CEN Therapist directory – Find a therapist near you that understands CEN
  • Kirpalu CEN Retreat – Event led by Dr. Webb

I hope you’ve found this review of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect helpful and insightful.  Please reach out if you think that you or someone you care for may have childhood emotional neglect.  You can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult  to figure out your next step.

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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