A Surprising, Hidden Cause Of Depression (That Nobody Talks About)

Legions of people walk through their lives completely unaware of what they're missing.

Last updated on Nov 08, 2023

childhood emotional, adult depressed Lysenko Andrii | Shutterstock, Almada Studio | Canva

They look around and see others living fully or with more vitality. They have a vague sense something is not quite right.

They are intelligent, competent, and likable, so they do okay. They put one foot in front of the other and take life step by step to do what is expected and provide what is needed with no idea they’re more vulnerable to life’s challenges than other people.

Until unexpectedly, their job changes, their child has a significant problem, or someone they love moves away or passes away. Maybe it’s a problem in their marriage, a rejection, or a hurtful action directed at them, but something happens to throw them off their game.


Then they struggle mightily, and they sense that their struggle may be going too far, and they find that they are depressed. “Why is this so hard for me?” they wonder. “How did I end up here? Shouldn’t I be more resilient?”

For many of these fine people, the answer is “Perhaps.”

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Here's a surprising, hidden cause of depression (that nobody talks about).

1. Your emotions are pushed away.

Perhaps if you had received enough emotional attention in childhood, you would now have access to your emotions more vibrantly and helpfully. If your parents had noticed what you felt as a child, you see that now. If you had been filled with self-knowledge, self-care, and self-love as a child, you would have them to rely on now,

in your time of need. As a child, you walled off your emotions because they were not relevant or welcome in your childhood home. Now, you lack enough access to your feelings, which you need. Your feelings are a vital form of enriching feedback system that tells you what you want, what you need, what soothes you, and what hurts you.

Living without this system makes it more challenging to regain your footing when you are thrown off by stress or a loss. You are more vulnerable to becoming depressed.

2. You didn’t learn some vital coping skills in your childhood.

Growing up in a household where feelings are not addressed enough (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN) takes a remarkable toll on a developing child. Not the least of which is this: It sets the child up to be more prone to depression throughout her lifetime and to forever blame it on herself. It's one of the hidden causes of depression.


When your childhood home is an Emotion-Free Zone, you don’t get the natural emotion training course that other children receive. Then as an adult, not knowing how to feel, manage, or express your emotions makes coping more difficult.

When you are deeply challenged by life, you find yourself lost and wonder how to help yourself. You are more likely to become depressed.

3. Childhood emotional neglect makes you feel alone later in life, too.

If you grew up without enough emotional validation and response from your parents (CEN), you probably did what most good children do: you automatically pushed your emotions away and walled them off. This may have worked well through your childhood. But, as an adult, you need healthy access to your emotions.

When no one notices what you’re feeling enough as a child, and no one tries to meet your emotional needs, you receive a powerful unspoken message: “Nobody cares what you feel.” You become competent at taking care of yourself. But you do not learn how to reach out, ask for help, or accept it.


Living without the option of reaching out to your support system keeps you isolated. You are more vulnerable in times of great challenge. You are more likely to become depressed.

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4. You are prone to directing your anger inward.

When life deals us a blow or someone hurts us, anger swoops in as a protective mechanism. When you grow up in a household where anger is squelched or handled poorly, you don’t learn how to be comfortable with your anger or how to use it healthily.

CEN people are predisposed to turn their anger inward. “It’s my fault this happened to me,” you may say, “I never should have...” Instead of empowering you, your anger is making you weaker. And anger turned inward becomes depression.


5. You are inclined to feel shame.

Your emotions are built into your biological makeup. They are the most personal part of who you are. Growing up with CEN, the powerful message that your emotions either don’t matter or are bad can easily make you feel ashamed for having them. It’s as if the people most important to you can’t see, or even are reviled by, your left arm.

If this happens enough, you will begin to feel ashamed of that arm and try to hide it. When it shows, you will feel ashamed. The same thing happens with your emotions. Instead of sharing and working through your feelings at times of stress, you are apt to hide them. This pushes you in the direction of depression.

Now, after all the bad news, I have some good news for you. You can make yourself less depressed and less depression-prone.

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Here are 3 ways you can reduce CEN-induced depression.

1. Start attacking your CEN.

The best thing about CEN is that it can be healed. You can break through that wall you built to block off your feelings in childhood. You can begin to feel more varied emotions. You can learn how to use your anger in a healthy protective way. You can learn the emotional skills that you missed.

2. Accept that your feelings are your friend, not your enemy.

All of the feelings inside of you are a source of vitality and richness. Some might be negative and hurt, but that’s okay. Feelings don’t have to be permanent. If you listen to and feel them, they will help direct and guide you. You can start treating your emotions differently, and you will feel differently.

3. Reach out.

CEN taught you to circle your wagons, but that does not work well now. Open your boundaries, and talk more. Ask for help, and let more people know what you are feeling and need. With more people on your side of the wall, you will no longer feel so alone.


If you are feeling emotionally numb as a result of childhood emotional neglect, know that you are not alone. There is help available where you can find the support you need. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line

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Jonice Webb Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.