You just didn't get what you needed

‘In certain men and women normal human feelings such as shame, fear, pain and anger are so magnified that these people are almost always in an emotional state marked by anxiety and feelings of being irrational, dysfunctional, and/or “crazy”. Such people also think they should be able to make those around them happy, and when they can't, they feel as if they are somehow “less than” others.’
(Pia Mellody, 1989)


Do you find yourself overreacting to everyday happenings?

Do you often find yourself overreacting to everyday happenings and experiencing intense emotions for “no reason”? For example, do you have a panic or anxiety attack instead of normal fear? You may also experience deep despair and hopelessness in situations that are seemingly “not that bad”. Do you also think things like, “How did I deserve this?” , “Why does he/she treat me this way?”  or“Do they know how painful this is for me?” Those emotional reactions are very often out of control and may feel scary and confusing.

It will go away if I just “do it better”

If you recognised yourself reading the above paragraph, you may also believe that it is all your fault and that there is such thing as perfection, and you just feel less than perfect therefore you must be faulty somehow. You might believe that the way to improve yourself and your life is to give others what they need, to seek their approval and validation or try to help them change their destructive behaviours and live a better life so that they can finally be what you need them to be and see how much you have given them and how hard you have worked to make them happy.

The truth is, in striving to receive approval from others and working hard to “get it right” and to be good for everyone around you, the real issue is not getting resolved. And the real issue is that you have not been shown that you are just as important as others you are trying to take care of. You have not been taught to listen to yourself and take care of your needs. You have not been taught that you have a right to your feelings.

There is nothing wrong with you. You just didn't get what you needed

As children, we depend on our parents or caretakers for everything; our survival depends on their ability to look after us (and themselves). If the child's home environment is not nurturing or even neglectful, the child will not be able to develop the important skills of looking after their emotional wellbeing, because they would be busy trying to find ways to adjust to their environment to survive.

It is very important to note that I am not only talking about visible abuse and neglect but also about more subtle less obvious emotional neglect. If you felt alone with the difficult feelings (such as anger, sadness, loneliness, fear, etc.) and were not helped to process them - feel them, validate them, express them, make sense of them – then it is very likely that you started to believe that you were wrong for having those feelings. You may have even felt that there was a fault within you because everyone else around you didn't seem to have them. They appeared to be calm and collected, apart from getting annoyed or angry when you tried to express your unhappiness about something.

In a nutshell, this is how you learnt that your feelings were not important. In fact, you learnt that they were wrong or even dangerous sometimes because they made mum or/and dad annoyed, unhappy or even angry. They may have even withdrawn their love by not talking to you for a period of time, justifying it by saying that “you need to think about what you've just said” and expecting you to apologise and make amends.

As time went on, you started to “bottle up” those feelings and not show them, because showing how you really felt would make important adults in your life react in a way that brought more pain to you and made you feel even more alone. You may have also believed that your caretakers would stop loving you if you were to express what you were really feeling.

 As children, we didn't know that this was happening. The process unravelled under a level of conscious awareness. We were not able to understand it. We just did what we had to do to survive and to make sure that the most important people in our lives loved us and looked after us.

Then we grow up…

Then we grow up and find ourselves in a similar situation: we please important others to get their love and approval by putting their needs above our own. Only now it doesn't work as well, because we are adults ourselves and we are supposed to run our own lives and be able to look after ourselves. It involves going to work, building relationships, engaging in activities that bring us joy and fulfilment. The problem is, we have no idea how to do that. Because we didn't get a chance to learn who we are, what we feel and how to process our emotions, we very often find ourselves overwhelmed, confused and inadequate.

All of those feelings we have worked so hard to hide and not feel all of a sudden appear in the least appropriate way, in the most inappropriate times and situations. Because we never got to know them and were taught to ignore and not feel them, we get scared of them. We want them gone. We believe that getting rid of anxiety, fear and worry is the way to a happy joyful life full of love and connection.

My clients often express their desires to just get rid of their anxiety or fear, to not feel the way they feel. They believe that those feelings are the reason for their troubles. When the real reason is far from it.

The real reason

The real reason is this faulty belief that feelings are wrong or that they can hurt us in some way. Our fear of our feelings prevents us from being with them, validating them and learning to express them in a way that is healthy; the way that leads to new connections based on being authentic, accepting, and compassionate. This belief prevents us from connecting to the most important person we have – ourselves.

The truth is – there are no “bad” or “negative” feelings. As humans, we have a wide range of emotions available to us. Experiencing all those emotions is healthy. It is when we try to prevent ourselves from feeling something or deny ourselves a chance to see it for what it is by keeping positive, intellectualising, or talking ourselves out of the feeling that is showing up, we start our way down an unhealthy journey believing that we are faulty or not good enough because we cannot just get on with it and not feel a certain way.

Not trying to change it

A good way to start is to pay attention to what is happening on the inside, without trying to change it. Attempt to notice your inner process – what is your self-talk like? What kinds of things do you say to yourself? How does your body feel when you think those things? If a difficult situation comes up, try to really get to know how it makes you feel.

Your mind will try to find answers or some logic behind those feelings, but this is just a defence mechanism showing up. Thank it for being there and carry on noticing your feelings.

It may sound simple, but it is not an easy task, especially because we live the majority of our days on autopilot. So, it is important to start small. If you have a minute now, pay attention to your body. What are you noticing? Is there tension anywhere? Maybe pain? Maybe there is a tingling sensation somewhere? Perhaps your hands feel cold/warm? Just notice it, feel it, be with it. Start learning to just be with it. If it feels impossible or even intolerable, try to do it for only a few seconds at a time. It is important to be gentle with yourself here.

As you can see, your first step is to get to listen to yourself and notice what is actually happening within you. Once you are used to doing that, you can start asking yourself some questions like, “if this tension in my head could speak, what would it say?” or simply, “what do I need right now?” The answers might not come right away and that's OK. Some unexpected answers might come and surprise or even shock you. That's OK too.

Only when you start taking time to listen to yourself and ask yourself about your wants and needs, you would be able to start fulfilling them and changing what needs to be changed. It will not be easy; sometimes you would have to be just noticing things for ages before you are able to do something about them. This is OK. It is a part of the process. Be patient with yourself - you deserve the time and space, just like the other people you give it to.

And, of course, you don’t have to do it alone. If you would like to know how I can support you, message me to book your free 15-minute introductory call. Wishing you all the best in your journey back to yourself.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bedford, Bedfordshire, MK40
Written by Marina Stepanova, Psychotherapist, PgDip, BSc Psychology (with Honours), MBACP
Bedford, Bedfordshire, MK40

Marina Stepanova is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist in private practice, offering online and face-to-face one to one sessions. She helps her clients to turn their attention to themselves and realise that their feelings are valid and that they have the power to start making changes to live their life more on their own terms.

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