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Anger, Helplessness and Paralysis


Many people who suffered abuse or other childhood mistreatment have become disconnected from their emotions. It’s not that they consciously wish to avoid their feelings; more that they don’t even realize they’re disconnected from them. This is a normal reaction to a budding nervous system being overwhelmed but is a maladaptive strategy for thriving in adulthood.

Here's what happens. Let’s say your parents demand that you be the perfect little child and you are shamed or punished when you’re “bad” in their eyes. Maybe you don’t get all As, become excited and talk loudly in public places, or fail to clean your room. Or maybe you just don’t do what they want because you don’t want to. When this pattern happens often enough, it would be natural for you to become angry and resentful. This makes you respond to your parents in an oppositional manner. How well does that go over with them and where does it get you? The answer is not well and nowhere good.

So, you squelch your anger by blaming yourself for not being smart, neat, or well behaved enough and try to change. But because the problem wasn’t you to begin with—you’re only a child with an undeveloped brain—but is due to your parents being emotionally unhealthy, there’s not much you can do to meet their too high standards and make them happy. You try and you try and you try, all to no avail.

Eventually you give up. What’s the point of trying to be smarter, better behaved, etc. if you can’t ever make them happy? What’s the point of striving if you always fail? Over time, helplessness sets in. You stop trying, thinking there’s something dreadfully wrong with you and become stuck in this erroneous, detrimental mindset, often for life. 

You go on to people your life with those who find fault with you. This isn’t because there’s a lot—or anything much—wrong with you, but because you’re used to struggling for approval and it’s a familiar pattern. Interspersed with trying to please others, however, unfairness, resentment, and anger creep back in. Instead of seeing these emotions as healthy reactions to abuse, you see them as scary and try to shut them down. This is how you end up feeling paralyzed. You get tired of bouncing back and forth between rage and helplessness and eventually shut down completely.

The truth is that your rage will set you free. Be angry when people regularly shame and criticize you. Feel fury when you get blamed for their transgressions. But, mostly, get people who hurt you out of your life. There’s no other path to health. Your angry is justified and will lead you to a better life if you stop blaming yourself and let it do its job.