By Rahaf Khalil
The way you are treated as a child can have lasting effects on you even in adulthood. This is why they say when you raise a child, you are raising the person that they will become. The experiences that you form in your childhood become the building blocks of your outlook on life and the perception you have of yourself.
A person who experienced emotional abuse as a child will act in ways different to someone who hadn’t experienced similar abuse. The impact may be so severe as to ruin the individuals’ ability to form meaningful relationships with people who are in their lives.
If you have experienced emotional abuse, it is likely that you will relate to some of the following symptoms or behaviors. Often we suppress painful memories so you may not realize that you are acting out due to childhood trauma until you read some of these behaviors. Here are several signs that you experienced emotional abuse as a child:
1. Bottle up anger: People who have experienced emotional abuse often don’t know how to cope with feelings of anger or sadness. They don’t know how to manage or release their emotions in a healthy way so they bottle them up until they overflow.
2. Don’t stand up for yourself: Those who have been emotionally abused as children have a difficult time standing up for themselves as adults. They are afraid to take action and often avoid conflict at all costs.
3. People pleaser: If you were raised to be terrified that you may anger someone, you may grow up doing everything in your power to please everyone even at the expense of sacrificing your own needs or desires.
4. Suffer from anxiety or depression: Because of all the bottled up emotions, people who have dealt with emotional abuse often suffer from anxiety and depression, sometimes without knowing the source.
5. Overly shy: Because people who’ve experienced this kind of abuse are used to silencing their voice so as to not displease authority, they often grow up finding it difficult to reach out to others and have trouble speaking to new people and forming new relationships.
6. Self-blame: Even when they are not at fault, those who have been through emotional abuse will constantly find themselves at fault and will always be afraid of making mistakes. This may prevent them from taking any risks or going after what they actually want.
7. Bully yourself: If you have experienced emotional abuse, you may find yourself using the same disparaging language that your abuser used against you. This means that even if they are no longer in your life, you pick up where they left off.
8. Need for validation: If you have been abused, you constantly need to be told that you’re doing a good job. You can’t provide validation for yourself because you feel as if nothing you do is ever good enough, so you look for validation externally.
I’m going to get right to the point here: I suffer from anxiety.
My heart’s racing at the thought of writing this article.
I’m imagining all the things you might think of me – ‘You’re a terrible writer,’ ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ ‘What qualifies you to write about anxiety?’
If catastrophizing were a GCSE, I’m sure I’d get an A*, right up there with heart palpitations and special achievements in insomnia.
And you might be there with me. You know you’ve got anxiety when:
1. You think those Keep Calm tee shirts are annoyingly patronising.
2. You tried deep breathing but it made you feel light headed so you felt anxious about it.
3. You practise mindfulness but keep getting up midway through to check the coffee machine/gas hob/iron isn’t on (it isn’t).
4. You still have exam nightmares despite taking them over 10 years ago. And in some of them you might be naked.
5. You check your phone every 30 seconds when you’re meant to meet your date just in case they’ve decided to ditch you.
6. At night your mind is a constantly scrawling to-do list, keeping you awake remembering that you mustn’t forget things.
7. You forget things because you didn’t sleep well, because 6.
8. You get ready for a night out two hours early (just in case) then pace the room repeatedly asking, ‘Shall we get going, then?’
9. You strategically position yourself on the train platform exactly where the doors will open and you know you’ll get on first, then are horrified when the train doors stop two feet away from you. Hor.Ror.
10. You rush to get a seat on a train while subconsciously listing best to worst people to sit next to. (Worst is next to drunken chatty person eating kebab and pasty combo, who spills crumbs on you and tries to chat you up on the last train home. And then vomits.)
11. You’ve left two hours early for an event (see 8) but the train stops between stations. Dread. Then the tannoy announcement is both inaudible and incomprehensible. Blind panic.
12. You’re so anxious on your night out, you completely forget what you’re saying mid-anecdote and start babbling incoherently while you scrabble around your frantic head trying to remember what you were saying.
13. You laugh maniacally hoping this will satisfy everyone (see 12) as the natural end to your story.
14. Before job interviews you practise your smile in the mirror, trying to replace the look of sheer terror with one of ‘competence and reliability’. Even resting bitch face would be an improvement at this point.
15. You’re two hours early for your interview (see 8 and 11) and have to keep replying ‘I’m fine, thanks,’ to offers of tea and biscuits when what you really want to do is run out of the building, all the way home.
16. You have a bath before bed when you get home as self-help 101 for anxiety, but all that happens is that you can’t sleep (see 6) but you now smell of lavender essential oil. And you’re clean. Bonus.
Usually, I write about my bipolar disorder when I’m well.
It’s much easier, then, to see the beauty in depression.
When I’m happy and vibrant and stable, I have an odd sort of respect for my depression and the compassion it’s given me.
It’s probably a bit like the way mothers remember childbirth; they forget the pain it causes and feel like they could do it all over again.
Between episodes, I forget how excruciating depression can be. That’s when I find the bravery to write about it.
I’ve never tried to write candidly about depression while I’m in the throes of it – until now.
Right now, I’m in the middle of a depressive episode.
The past three weeks have been a melancholic blur of heavy, tortured sleep, despondency and a numbness in my heart that won’t lift – no matter how many pictures of dogs I look at on the internet.
I could feel it coming before it arrived – I sensed little shifts downwards in mood and it became harder to get out of bed each morning.
I could feel the exhaustion setting in, like a thick fog around my brain.
My limbs started feeling heavier, along with my heart.
Sitting in my therapist’s office, my face leaked big, fat, salty tears, because the more I spoke about how I was feeling, the clearer it became that depression was settling in.
It’s weird, when you can feel an episode coming on, because there’s nothing you can do but brace yourself and wait.
You know you’ll need to be kind to yourself, you know you’ll need help, you know you’ll need to somehow access that courage you keep somewhere deep down for special occasions.
You have no control over it – just keep on taking your meds and hold onto the promise that this too shall pass.
This episode is a bit of a shock, to be honest.
I’d been doing so well. I’d been stable for a full year – a year! – and now this.
I was foolish or hopeful or naive enough to think that perhaps I’d tamed depression for good.
I practically kissed the packet of my medication every day, and said a quiet little atheist prayer every time I swallowed my smooth, turquoise pills.
I felt like, 11 years after my diagnosis, I’d finally found the right combination of medication and support from my mental health team.
But then antidepressants can be unpredictable, and support can be nice but insufficient to ward off the nasties.
The medication I am on apparently has a tendency to ‘konk out’ after a few years.
It’s quite common for it to simply give up and stop working. And so I find myself thrown into this depression without my usual armour, without my usual defences.
I am left begging my GP to search the NHS for the solution. I am left waiting to see a psychiatrist. I am left clinging to my boyfriend and my television and my bed, waiting for the storm to pass.
If you’ve never had any experiences of depression, let me try to explain what it’s like.
The illness can manifest in different ways in different people – our chemical constitutions and our characters are different, so of course our depression is too.
Mine, for instance, has never really made me angry. Some people get angry –with themselves, with the world, with the closest person in their lives. I don’t.
I retreat into myself. I recoil from the world. I get distressed, timid and incredibly fragile. I lose the ability to live my own life.
I alternate between bouts of severe insomnia – the kind that makes you feel as though you might never close your eyelids to sleep ever again – and rounds of extreme oversleeping.
In the months leading up to this depressive episode, I wasn’t sleeping. Barely at all.
Sleeping pills didn’t work; my body was like ‘babe, please, don’t even bother’. I was fragile and lonely, in that unique way only insomniacs will know.
But now? Now, I could sleep all day if life would let me. I go to bed early, sleep all night, wake late and then start making plans for my daytime naps.
You might think, ‘come on, Kate, just get out of bed, everyone else does it’. I can’t tell you how hard that simple task can be.
It’s like my bed is my refuge; my only safe space in a cruel and overwhelming world. My body conspires to keep me there. My head aches, my limbs feel leaden and I pass out into a deep, heavy, empty sleep for hours at a time without being able to rouse myself.
My mood is stubbornly low.
Depression is so much more than sadness. It’s more insidious than that, and more consuming.
It’s the opposite of vitality and it’s the absence of the energy or will to participate in your own life.
And often, it doesn’t correlate to anything.
My life is quite lovely at the moment: I’m in love with an extremely delightful man, I’m getting a book published, I’ve got somewhere to live, I have magnificent friends and I’ve even had family visit from Australia.
Objectively speaking, it’s a lovely life and I’m extremely, stupidly lucky.
But because the chemicals in my brain are all out of whack at the moment, I can’t feel the joy or the love or the pride I should have in my life right now.
It’s like those feelings belong to someone else, or like I’m having an out-of-body experience, watching someone who looks very like me live my life.
This depression numbs me and pains me at the same time. It hurts, my heart hurts, but I also feel utterly incapable of feeling anything at all.
Depression has visited me many times in my life; I was seeing a psychiatrist by the time I was 12.
I’ve come to know this state of aching numbness so well – and yet, here I am, taken aback that I should feel this way again.
Every time it comes to me, depression feels inevitable and familiar, and a rude shock, all at once.
After all these years, it still has this eerie ability to knock me off my feet.
It’s a powerful, merciless thing and I cannot, right now, see the beauty in it.
My only option is to wait until it passes, keep seeing medical professionals, adjust my medication, ask for extreme kindness from anyone around me and fight for my right to participate in my own life.
It’s a condition that is difficult to understand and one that can have much a more serious impact on a sufferer’s life than many realise. Social anxiety is a strain on more than just a social life and not something that goes away just by avoiding parties.
There’s so much more to it than not liking crowded social situations – simple things such as the doorbell ringing, a meeting at work or an unexpected phone call can be terrifying if it catches your social anxiety on a bad day.
Some days it bearable and others overwhelming. And some days you can skip merrily out of the house and smile at every person you walk past while others you won’t even emerge from your safe duvet cocoon.
Here are just a few of the things everyone with social anxiety can relate to:
You’d love to be able to enjoy nights out
Being scared of nights out or parties doesn’t mean that you can’t see the appeal of them. Social anxiety isn’t a choice so while it always comes as a relief to avoid a crowded situation, you will spend a long time afterwards wishing that you were able to take part more and get to know people with more ease. The fear of missing out can be just as much of a torment as the thought of going along and it’s a conflict that you find yourself in the midst of on an almost daily basis.
You will dread social events for days
If you do find yourself trapped into something you have to attend such as a gathering, a wedding, a work event or something with your partner, the dread of it will gnaw at you for days until it’s just around the corner. Then it’s just downright terrifying.
The doorbell is your enemy
Never do you find yourself sitting more still with a frozen expression of horror on your face than when the doorbell buzzes, making you jump out of your skin. And even after the intrusive stranger walks away, you will spend the remainder of your day panicking over who it was and what they wanted. It can only be bad news, right?
Well, no it was probably a charity collector or the postman but your brain won’t let you indulge in logic, that would be insane.
And so is a withheld number
If ever you were to smash your phone up with a hammer, then this would be the moment. Go away anonymous caller, you are not wanted here.
You will never make a phone call when you can email
Making a phone call is even more daunting than receiving one and if you can avoid it, you will. Thank heavens for email and messenger services which cuts out all necessity of human interaction.
If your bank tells you that you need to phone up to order a new card, you would just rather not have a card ever again. FYI, I haven’t owned one for eight years.
Being trolled online can be traumatic
For many, having fierce arguments online is all part and parcel of the ‘fun’ of social media but if you have social anxiety, even one nasty tweet or passive aggressive Facebook comment can make you want to delete everything and crawl into a dark hole never to emerge again.
You overthink everything you say
Because of your terror of conflict or of being negatively judged, you will overthink absolutely everything. Once you hit send on an email, you will re-read it several times and convince yourself you sounded bad. If you say something anyone else would consider casual chat to a friend, you will wonder if you sounded stupid or caused offence. Your brain never gives you time to breathe.
You only have a very small handful of friends – and that’s all you want
There are two or three people who you are absolutely comfortable with and when you are with them, nobody would be able to guess that you have any trouble interacting whatsoever. You don’t want the pressure or having more than that and these pals completely get you and wouldn’t change you.
They won’t put any pressure on you.
Social anxiety comes and goes
Social anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean that you can never leave the house or can never talk to anybody. Sometimes, you will have the confidence to interact with ease which are also the bold days when you will accept social invitations (spoiler: these will later be cancelled).
It’s a confusing condition, often without triggers, so you won’t be able to predict day to day which area of the social anxiety spectrum you will wake up on. Which obviously adds to the fun.
You avoid eye contact with people you recognise
‘Is that Mary from work coming towards me on the street? Shit, deploy emergency procedures IMMEDIATELY.’ Headphones in, fake phone call, avoid eye contact, cross the road if you must. So long as you don’t have to *shudder* strike up a conversation.
You will react badly on the spot
Oh good, someone has addressed me directly while I am still getting my bearings in this situation that is well out of my comfort zone, said no anxiety sufferer ever. Cue babbling, redness in the face and excessive sweating. Luckily, someone will most definitely point out that you have gone red just to put you in the focus even more.
You rely too much on dutch courage
It’s a bad vice to have but if you have to be forced out to a party, you just know you won’t be able to cope unless you have calmed your nerves with a glass of wine or ten. It’s not uncommon for anyone to need a pre-drink before that awkward first half hour of a party where everyone is sober and striking up the worst small talk but with social anxiety it feels even more necessary.
People think you’re rude
And maybe you do come across that way – but it’s not something that you can help and it’s rarely the impression that you are trying to convey. By not speaking, keeping yourself to yourself and responding to questions with blunt answers, you just know that people are judging you as a bit rude. And it doesn’t feel nice at all.
People also think you’re a terrible friend or weird
Being the quiet, slightly odd one of a group whether at a social gathering, in a group of friends, at work or at school leaves you with this label of being weird. You’re often silent, you avoid eye contact, you spend a large amount of time with your headphones in to avoid interaction and, again, some people think you’re rude.
Your existing (and less close) friends think you’re a rubbish pal because you never go to anything. And you worry that those you aren’t friends with are thinking that they will never want to get to know you.
You are known as the one who always cancels
You get a reputation of always pulling out of events and it can annoy people and make them stop asking you along. You become known as the canceler and it’s usually in a jokey or affectionate way, but you can’t shift the thought that people resent you for it.
What many don’t realise is that cancelling can be your biggest relief and your safety net that is keeping you from anxiety attacks.
You look for escape routes
Once you are at a party or on a night out, your immediate priority is finding a way or means of getting out with as little fuss as possible. You look for gaps in conversation, you assess the best route to the exit, you wait until others are at the toilet so you have less people to explain your departure to and you may also look at your phone and pretend that you need to get home for whatever reason.
You worry that people are looking at you or talking about you
They’re generally not but that feeling that everyone is judging how you look, what you’re saying or how you’re coming across is part and parcel of a night out social anxiety style. Am I too quiet? Did I just make a tit of myself? Do I seem rude? Why did I just say that? Where do I put my hands? Are those two talking about me? Am I even wanted here?
These are just some of the questions that regularly spin through your brain.
It’s impossible to explain
Telling people that you have social anxiety can almost feel a bit pathetic – you worry that people either won’t know what it is or that they won’t believe it’s serious or that it even exists. Because talking to people is one of the biggest difficulties of social anxiety, explaining why you are like you are is even harder.
How do you tell people that the thought of being trapped in social situations gives you palpitations and triggers panic attacks? How do you explain that it isn’t that you don’t like people, it’s more that you lack confidence and fear being judged and overthink everything? How do you get across that it is way more than being shy, it actually fills you with genuine fear sometimes?
You want to say that you’re not weird, unfriendly or rude and you want people to understand that it is a genuine condition that you don’t have through choice and you’d do just about anything to be able to attend and enjoy all of the things you are invited to.
For those suffering with social anxiety, be kinder to yourself and don’t be so hard on your own behaviour – way less people are judging you than you think and those who do notice probably only ask about it because they care. Your condition is legitimate even if your fears are illogical.