Taking back the power
Anxiety, depression, anger, sorrow, rage, confusion, frustration, loneliness, isolation, post-traumatic stress disorder, identity issues, relationship problems, bullying, sexuality, postnatal depression, stress, grief, shame, control issues.
These are all common experiences yet they can take over our lives and consume our whole being, preventing us from functioning properly. They are seen as ‘abnormal’, or we are made to feel different because we experience these feelings or responses to life. Our parents don’t understand what’s ‘wrong’ with us, ‘there was never anything like that in my family’, and ‘you were always a happy child’. How about accepting that humans are complicated, life is not easy; we get damaged, and cannot control what we feel? People say we are all born the same, on equal footing, but the reality is we are not. Sure, we are all given life, but what happens when the environment we are brought up in is a hostile one? What about those of us whose ‘parents’ reject us, neglect us, emotionally or physically abuse us, or even worse, are so unpredictable that we never know where we stand? Those ‘parents’ who tell us they love us, dangle the carrot, and then turn on us in the blink of an eye? They laugh at our confusion; that puzzled look a child gets when they think they are doing what they were told (being good), and then learn from the screaming, the sting of a slap, or the ringing in the ear, that it was wrong. Then the tears come, and we are sent to our room for being naughty…confusing or what? and this is from the people who are supposed to love us the most. But hey, we should be grateful! After all, they gave us life and they did their best. As a parent myself, I understand how difficult it can be, and often these are learned behaviours from our own childhoods, but the cycle cannot continue.
It is almost like this society we live in pretends to understand ‘mental health’, or the impact adverse childhood experiences have on us as humans, but the reality is, it is still stigmatised and misunderstood. Even the name ‘mental health’ makes it sound like something from the dark ages! How about calling it what it is? It is a reaction to the way we have been treated by other humans. Babies and children learn from the world around them, they are like sponges, and if somebody is repeatedly hurt and rejected, eventually they are going to feel something in return. It usually starts with sadness and hurt, but this soon turns into anger, rage and confusion. Before long, the child starts to believe that there is something wrong with them and question their own identity and self-worth. How can the person who says they love me so much keep doing this to me? I must be bad; there is something wrong with me. This becomes a belief, which turns into a way of being, producing feelings of guilt and shame; shame for being the person we have become as a result of somebody else’s behaviour. We start to hate ourselves and believe that deep down we are bad, otherwise we wouldn’t feel this way, and so we self-destruct. This can be through substance misuse, self-harm, eating disorders, addictions, risk-taking, anger, too much self-control, perfectionism, isolation from others by pushing people away; Anything to punish ourselves because we don’t deserve to be happy, we are bad.
I see so many clients come through my door suffering as a result of direct or indirect abuse (the partners of abused children). The reason I say children is because deep down inside, there is a part of these survivors that still feels like the child who was tormented and abused. As soon as they start to open up, I can almost predict what they are going to say; it is like a silent disease that consumes and destroys entire families, not just the survivor, and it needs to be acknowledged properly. So many of my clients have learned to hide and suppress what they feel, or internalise it so much that it physically hurts. Why? Because they have been told from childhood that what they feel is wrong or imagined, and so, when they feel emotion, it conflicts with how they ‘should’ feel or think. This conflict is why we feel anxious and depressed; we are living our lives governed by the dark oppressor who is always with us. That voice in the back of your head telling you, you are no good, you don’t know what you are doing, what is wrong with you? We constantly second guess ourselves because those people we loved and depended upon always did. We become stuck and don’t know how to escape or move on. All we ever wanted was some acknowledgement; to know the abuse was not in our minds, we didn’t make it up, it happened and you are sorry. But for some, that acknowledgement and apology will never come, and for others, it was not enough, or it came too late.
So, how can we move past this? Because we have learned to suppress and block our emotions for so long, it is not easy. It is emotionally and physically draining; it takes time, hard work and perseverance, but in order to take back the power, it is worth every second. You can never get back the years you have lost to suffering, but you can change your future, break free from the oppressor, and make it a happy one. Working with an experienced therapist can help you tolerate these emotions and in turn, tolerate yourself. Together, we can explore the past and how it affects the present, acknowledge and accept the feelings this evokes and trust in the relationship to elicit a powerful change for your future.
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About Sarah Fitzgerald
Sarah Fitzgerald BSc Hons
I am an experienced person centred counsellor, working from my own private practice in Manchester. I have a specialist interest in working with survivors of childhood trauma and those suffering with long term depression and or anxiety.