If you begin life in a dysfunctional family or from a dysfunctional background it is easy to develop emotional difficulties and problems along the way. It is not unusual in these situations to miss out on the skills of emotional resilience and defense and success that others learn in their childhoods. And when you don’t learn these helpful tools, your brain compensates by developing defense mechanisms of its own designed to protect you.
Worrying about things, becoming perfectionistic, overworking yourself or even developing addictions to self medicate can all be examples of things our brain does when it doesn’t have the right information or tools. Add in the development of unhealthy relationships, financial troubles from overspending, promiscuity/boundary problems and constant rumination about past issues and you feel like you have quite a headful of issues at any given moment. They may keep you up at night, make you anxious, depressed and angry. They may feel insurmountable in fact and cause you to lose hope that you can ever develop a peaceful way of life.
Obviously if you have a difficult past it can’t be corrected in one blog post. I just would like to share a starting point, a point that will allow you some peace and help to get you started in your quest for emotional success.
I call it compartmentalizing and it goes like this:
You may feel like you have 10 or 15 problems. More than likely you don’t, it just feels like that. Ten or 15 takes up a lot of headspace. We are going to lump them together to make them easier to digest.
Here is an example: Let’s say you have anger at your mother for mistreating or neglecting you, and there are numerous examples over the years of her behavior, each of which you keep in your thoughts as evidence and justification for your anger. Maybe she favored a sibling. Maybe she neglected you for one man after another or criticized you painfully. Maybe she abandoned you.
Typically in these scenarios children develop attachment problems, anxiety, low self esteem, depression and/or poor coping skills. That feels like a lot! Wrongfully, you may wonder what is wrong with you and attribute these difficulties to something faulty in yourself. Let me reassure you that at the moment in time these developed it had nothing to do with anything faulty in yourself. These are the typical things that psychologists see every day stemming from dysfunctional backgrounds and the lack of skills having to do with emotional success.
The point of compartmentalizing is to make things easier to work with and on. Think of the paperwork you deal with routinely. It is a lot easier to deal with when it is organized and filed properly than when it is all over the place. You don’t file pieces of paper with the same words on it 10 different times, you put it away once and it goes under a heading.
So lets try it with emotional matters.
First, assume you have a good brain, you have the knowledge and mental resources to be looking up mental health issues on PsychCentral’s blogs so you have awareness that you would like some help. Thats good enough. You don’t need to internalize your problems as having something wrong with your brain.
Second, sticking with the example above, your mothers transgressions all fall under one umbrella of poor parenting skills, you do not need to keep the running number of them active in your mind. Lump them under that one category. Imagine the peace of now having one icon in your brain that represents her, not a lot of examples that come with many painful memories and thoughts. When and if the day comes that you want to explore things you can pull that file out. And don’t worry about forgetting things, once reminded or prodded you will be able to relocate all those other circumstances if you want.
Now lets say you are also anxious, a worrywart and perfectionistic. Maybe you drink too much to try and get things off your mind. Those things all go together. Start another file up there called Anxiety. If you are depressed also you can put that in there as well as depression and anxiety often go hand in hand and can be related. Learning one skill base often takes care of both.
Lastly you may be in a bad relationship and this may be just the most recent of many. You may have trouble keeping friends or let people run all over you. This indicates your boundaries are not well established and that you may have self esteem issues and even some attachment issues. Those all go together as well and you can file them under relationship problems. You can take each sub category out later as needed. Of course you would have relationship problems if your very first and most important relationship was faulty. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to have good relationships, you just haven’t learned how yet.
Hopefully what you now have is a reordered sense of the difficulties you are facing. Instead of thinking “I have so many problems I will never feel good”, you can think, “I have anxiety/depression and relationship problems stemming from my dysfunctional background and my mother’s lack of knowledge regarding parenting. I need to learn the skills and tools that I missed out on in order to feel better and I will do that when I am ready, I don’t need to focus on them all at once”. You have three organized files instead of many uncontrolled swirling thoughts and ideas that keep you awake at night and unable to focus your energies elsewhere.
Please visit us at Psychskills and get the free resource How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious and Unhappy: The Top 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People
To learn more about how dysfunctional thinking patterns arise, how they affect you and how to recover from them, see Psychskills.com and the book, Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now.
Feel Good For Life!