He won’t talk to you. You know something’s wrong.
He’s not himself. He’s irritable and angry. He gets mad over nothing.
Where’s the warm, generous man you married? Where’s that cool guy who was always so much fun?
Calmness and resilience therapist Rebecca Chapman sees a number of men in her practice who just aren’t coping well with the demands of life and work. What she’s discovered is that many of these men have a secret past…
They’re struggling with the effects of childhood emotional neglect.
In this week’s YBTV interview, Rebecca explains what childhood emotional neglect is and how it interferes with a man’s ability to communicate.
Men who’ve grown up without an emotional vocabulary often don’t know how to check in with themselves and identify what they feel, let alone express those to a partner.
So before you judge your man for shutting you out, sit down and listen as Rebecca reveals how to spot the signs. You’ll learn what he most needs from you, how to get him to open up about his feelings, and why he seems so angry.
At the end of the interview, you’ll get an opportunity to take a free quiz to find out if you or someone you love may have experienced childhood emotional neglect.
What You’ll Learn
Men are struggling.
They hide it. They carry on.
But it seeps out.
Rebecca Chapman has seen a huge increase in men struggling with life and work at her therapy practice.
“These lovely men, who’ve previously been very thoughtful and looking after everybody, suddenly start showing some cracks and getting angry,” Rebecca says.
These men often come to her because their wives sent them. They know that something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is.
They’re getting angry at work. They’re getting angry at home. But the reason they’re angry isn’t because of work or their families. It’s because they’re angry at themselves.
At first glance, you could say it’s because the stresses of work weigh heavily on them. They’re in jobs they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for themselves.
But the issue goes deeper than that.
“They’ve lost contact with themselves, essentially,” Rebecca says. “They just don’t even know what they can do to to make their lives more fulfilling for themselves.”
Why Have Men Lost Themselves?
Surely a middle-aged man in a good job, with a home and a family and a life he’s built up for himself, wouldn’t be having a crisis of identity.
We tend to believe in the myth of the self-made man. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from as long as you’ve made something of your life.
But in this case it does matter where you came from.
Men who grew up with childhood emotional neglect (CEN) often have the feeling that, no matter what they do, it’s never good enough.
If there’s a man in your life who’s struggling, who’s angry, who won’t talk about it…
Then there’s a possibility that he doesn’t have the foundation he needs for healthy emotional expression and communication.
What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?
“Childhood emotional neglect is not abuse. I’ll say that for a start,” Rebecca explains.
It’s not something your parents did to you. It’s more accurately described as what they didn’t do.
“It doesn’t mean that your parents didn’t love you. It just means they perhaps didn’t understand you or were not able to give you what you needed,” she says.
Your emotions and needs weren’t accepted or acknowledged. You were told how you felt, rather than asked how you felt. Maybe you were different from your parents in a way that made it hard for them to understand you. And there wasn’t someone else in your community—a relative, a neighbor, a coach—who could help you feel seen.
Those experiences left you feeling “like there’s something inherently wrong with you.”
You walk around feeling like there’s some dreadful fatal flaw that you have—that means that you’re unlovable, essentially—and, if you let people too close, that they will discover the flaw and you will be abandoned.”
And you often don’t even realize it. You know something is off, but you don’t know how to describe it.
“Because the child doesn’t have the language of emotions, either,” Rebecca says. “They haven’t been taught the words.”
In an ideal world, you’d grow out of this feeling. You’d grow up, create your own life, and get on with it.
But that’s not how it works.
As men with CEN grow older, “the bigger this feeling of not being enough [becomes]. Because they’re providing, they’re doing all the things that they’ve been told by society that will make them enough… but they still don’t feel enough.”
The Language of Emotions
“Our emotions are a vocabulary,” Rebecca says. “It’s a second language.”
And men with CEN haven’t been taught it.
They weren’t able to go to their parents and share their feelings and experience validation.
Instead, they learned that “the only emotion that they get any sort of reaction for is anger.”
Anger isn’t a bad emotion, Rebecca explains, “but these men tend to go from 0 to 10 just to get this emotion out and feel heard. They want a reaction, and they get it when they’re angry.”
In part, men are limited in their emotional range because they don’t have the support they need.
As a man “you couldn’t go up to another man, maybe even your wife, and say, ‘You know, I’m just feeling a bit like I don’t belong. I’m feeling a bit frustrated.’”
And women don’t always like to see their partners struggling or softening. They feel safest when their man is strong, silent, and stoic.
Culturally, it’s not as acceptable for men to have depression or anxiety as it is for women. So men stuff their struggles down, but it doesn’t make those feelings go away.
The more that it’s not accepted, the louder the men get. The more it’s not accepted, the angrier the men get.”
So how do we heal?
The Healing Journey
Children growing up with childhood emotional neglect “have felt unsafe their whole life, because they thought that their reality was going to be threatened if they were who they were.”
Healing starts with safety.
“All of this gets healed in a safe environment,” Rebecca says, where a man can talk about his needs and feelings to his partner with the confidence that she’s going to listen and stay with him.
As much as you love him and want to help, “trying to fix it yourself, especially in an already established relationship, is difficult and a burden that I would not put on a relationship,” Rebecca says. “Generally it’s better to see a therapist.”
A therapist can help him learn to identify his emotions and communicate them, without the baggage of a personal relationship. Then he can test out those communication techniques with his significant other.
“He can see that, when he says these things, she’s not going to run off. She’s going to listen. Also he’s now speaking a language that she understands, not a language that’s making her frightened, like anger.”
As he’s met with a positive response, he feels encouraged to try again. And soon the floodgates open.
Men just need to see that their partner is behind them, no matter what they say. “The idea that someone has their back is huge,” Rebecca says.
Take the Quiz
Rebecca is offering a free quiz to see if you or someone you love might have experienced childhood emotional neglect.
It consists of 26 yes-no questions. If you answer most of them in the affirmative, then you can get a free phone consult with Rebecca. Rebecca takes clients from all over the world.
You are enough, no matter what your childhood’s been, what your relationships have been, no matter what lessons you’ve learnt, no matter what you’ve come to believe. You are enough, and you deserve to have the best life that you can. So get in there and speak to somebody about it sooner rather than later.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
1:47 Why are men breaking down?
3:50 Why aren’t men talking about their feelings?
8:16 What is childhood emotional neglect?
11:38 Can supportive partners help men heal?
15:33 Simple exercises to start out with
18:26 Take the CEN quiz and get a free consult with Rebecca
Rebecca is the principal consultant at A Life in Perfect Balance, a business primarily focused on helping people whose lives have been touched by childhood emotional neglect. She aims to normalize mental health and teach everyone that seeking help can be an easy and comfortable experience. Rebecca worked in natural health for 30 years and studied psychology to provide treatment for mind, body and spirit. Find out how you can work with Rebecca.