Part 1: Where is what you’re feeling coming from?
This series is about how I acknowledged the root causes of my reactions, unlearned some bad behaviours, and instead, learned how to deal with myself healthily. I’ve healed a lot, but the healing never stops. And neither does the journey.
First off, I truly believe therapy is for everyone. Whether or not you have a diagnosed mental illness is irrelevant – if you’re on a path of betterment, it is a necessary step. From work stress to grief, therapy can help you understand yourself and your reactions to things, therefore making you a mentally clearer and more rational, empathetic person. And we can all strive to be more of those qualities. No one is perfect.
In the process of learning about yourself, you have to know that the shedding of one layer, reveals another; understanding your personal process never ends. New triggers arise once old ones are figured out.
And it’s in those moments that you need tools to cope healthily. Therapy is like attending customised classes to learn about your brain with customised tools to help you in moments of distress, which is something we all go through – big or small.
It’s important to note, however, that although therapy gives you the tools, it’s your responsibility to implement them. And it takes a moment to pull yourself towards yourself in trigger moments.
I’m going to start at the top.
Distractions and labels
Until a few years back, I filled my spaces with people. I thought that wanting people around me made me an extrovert, the definition of which is “a person who is energised by being around others” (Oxford, 2020).
I was a very animated, outspoken child and was encouraged to be. But being outward also meant that I ended up feeling obligated to ONLY be that way. It felt like I wasn’t allowed to be sad – or show it. As such, I developed not-so-healthy ways to cope.
I would often need to offload my thoughts and emotions on others, but the burdensome feelings only left temporarily. I used to drink a lot and spend time socialising because it filled me with perceived happiness, but that, too, was temporary. And so I would continue searching for more “stuff” and more “people” to be around me – and felt that that was who I was supposed to be. A “people’s person” – an “extrovert”.
So why was I so tired, worn out, and depressed after a (somewhat) “fun” weekend. These were people who I enjoyed being around, right?
I had to realise that my childhood obligation to be “outward” resulted in an adult obligation to socialise for others. In so doing, I became more of a giver but my inner needs were not being met. My love languages were not being attended to, despite my catering to others. And when my needs weren’t met, I felt hurt but continued to disregard those feelings.
In my late 20s, I struggled with trying to understand why I was feeling the way I was. And through therapy, it was revealed to be about distancing myself from my truths; it was because they were hard to come to terms with. I was actually terrified of facing myself.
I was actually avoiding things.
I couldn’t understand why the things I felt I “did” for others (socialising, listening to people’s problems and helping, etc) were not being reciprocated and so I always felt “let down” and “unsupported” (I’ve left these in parenthesis because they were not necessarily true).
And this made me angry.
But I had not considered that maybe I had not allowed space for people to understand me? Maybe I had not checked my expectations of others? Maybe I gave too freely and without thought to who was deserving of my care?
To cope, I would go silent until it became too much that I would explode.
In therapy, it started with the realisation that it all began a really long time ago… when I was a child.
Your inner child
As an adult, you develop most, if not all, your deep-rooted coping mechanisms before the age of 10. I realised that my inner child was a sensitive, scared one who went quiet when things felt “unsafe”.
At this juncture, it’s critical to note that safety is not only about a threat in the traditional sense (abuse, crime, physical harm). It’s also psychological. And as a child, your mind perceives any break in “normality” a threat.
And my job was to teach her that she was safe.
So today I will leave you with these questions to ruminate on:
- What feelings sit deeply inside you to the point of discomfort?
- What triggers those feelings?
- What do you do when you’re in that feeling of discomfort?
- Can you link it back to a feeling from your childhood?
This thread of the inner child and safety is something I will keep coming back to in this series, so note it for future reads. If this sounds interesting to you, you might want to keep this bookmarked because the answers can’t be covered in one blog post, but I’ll be unpacking all the tools I learned that has helped me come out of negative patterns – and how I did.
Until the next,
(Disclaimer – I am not a psychologist so please do not use my work as a substitution for therapy. Please seek out the help you need with a professional, and I’m more than happy to recommend people. These are my experiences that I am hoping encourage people to take the step and be unashamed. The point is to destigmatise.)