How To Tell Childhood Emotional Neglect From Borderline Personality Disorder?


Here is a question I receive often:

My therapist thinks I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), but I wonder if it might be Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) instead?

This is a question that is not surprising, and it makes great sense to me why someone would ask it. But the truth is, these two psychological problems could not be more different.

In fact it’s hard to imagine how two life struggles could possibly share so many commonalities and yet be so unalike.

To end up with either BPD or CEN, something must go wrong in your childhood. Your parents must fail you in very particular ways, regardless of their intentions. Before we talk about how these two life struggles are different, let’s first take a look at what they have in common.

The Common Struggles Shared By CEN and BPD

  • Both have difficulty understanding, expressing, managing and using emotions
  • Both lack self-knowledge
  • Both experience empty feelings
  • Both have a fear of rejection
  • Both have relationship problems
  • Both have problems with anger

Reading this list surely clarifies why these two psychological problems might get confused. On the surface this list of shared struggles is quite compelling. However, once we look closer, we will see that the surface commonalities are actually quite misleading. Not only do all of these struggles feel differently between these two groups, they are caused by different kinds of childhoods.

The Cause of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) In A Nutshell

CEN happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs as they raise you. When your parents ignore your emotions day after day, you receive the subliminal message that your feelings do not matter. So your child brain pushes your feelings down and away. In adulthood, you end up lacking full access to the most deeply personal aspect of who you are (your emotions).

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