20 thoughts on “How a Traumatic, Controlling Upbringing Makes You Unmotivated, Overwhelmed, and Empty

  • December 11, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Well that pretty much describes my ‘childhood’ Mother could sulk for days at the slightest ‘crime’. The level of control was crushing. Life was tip-toeing around mother’s whims & demands. She taught me nothing. Not even basic stuff like saying ‘please’ & thank you’.
    I became shy, anxious & socially phobic, I didn’t know how to ‘be’
    She also told me I was ugly & fat.
    I believe many people that suffer depression, low self-esteem, self-hatred & anxiety have had similar parenting. They don’t know ‘why’ they suffer. The low level, systematic, continuous belittling of a person is painful, soul destroying. It destroyed me.

    • December 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Dearest Anna — my heart goes out to you. There IS hope.

      I know the person my mother wanted me to be: mini-her, although she did recognize and affirm personality traits and talents I had she didn’t have and she tried to develop them. I know the person my father wanted, the father who told me he didn’t want children, especially a daughter: GONE. This year I’ve decided to “go back to being a naked baby”, as I told someone last week. I’ve decided to seek and find my authentic self, to discover the little girl, teen, woman God created me to be. Stripping off the layers of who others, parents, a succession of bosses, partners, my children and my spouse(s) dictated who I was to be and, now, who I am, is like taking off one heavy garment after another.

      It’s working! I’ve stopped coloring my hair and have stopped wearing makeup. (I will, again, in the future because I prefer that reflection to the current one — but not today.) I’m questioning musts, shoulds, guilts, etc. for authenticity — is this who I am or is this autopilot?

      Dearest Anna, you were born to be loved. I’ve read testimonies about how Fred Rogers’ “I like you exactly the way you are” saved people from suicide. I’m not saying we’re not to address flaws, but we all need at least one person who loves us unconditionally. Perhaps attending an open twelve step meeting can help.

      Dare to hope! Friend in deed.

    • December 12, 2018 at 10:29 pm

      I am so sorry you had to go through this and I hope you have the strength to break through the pain and find joy in your life. I think you may be loved and accepted more than you could imagine.

  • December 12, 2018 at 10:14 am

    I understand, after reading this, where some of my tendencies come from. Now how do I fix it? I definitely find myself in relationships that perpetuate and mirror this.

  • December 12, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Very right, I think that’s the case. Thanks for another nail-on-the-head article!

  • December 13, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    I think my head is stuck on bobblehead mode after nodding throughout this article. Sigh.

  • December 13, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Infantilization crossed with parent/child reversal- very confusing to the child.

    My mother is a severe depressant. We have resentment because she was not there for us at many moments, only the most serious, but then she turns around and acts as if we are incapable or know what we are doing, but then can we “help” her with something she doesn’t want to do but can do. When I say “we” I mean me as the eldest (only daughter) and the youngest son. The middle one is just in denial about it all and just tunes out when something serious (like Dad dying) happens.

    It’s why I think the emotionally…. challenged are so selfish, when they aren’t getting treatment or trying to become healthy and process their business that needs it.

    I’m tired of dealing with my mother after all this time. The last episode, I announced I was not going to talk to her and didn’t for several days. Episode over for her. But for me, it still has an impact. Letting go is problematic because we were raised to take care of her. Because she needs help, you know.

    But then, we are just kids who need their mother…

  • December 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    As I read through this article, I recognized many of these traits are those of Adult Children of Alcoholics. These traits resonate with me as the eldest child, not only was my father an alcoholic, but my mom was too busy with my six younger siblings plus a teenage foster child, working three part-time jobs and trying to take classes at the local junior college. As an adult, I know my mom did all this because she was very afraid that my father would up & die or totally stop coming home. As proud of her as I was, I also resented the fact she had no time for me. The teenage foster child was only a few years older than me, so underneath I resented her because she basically took my place in the family as the oldest. She was designated as a glorified babysitter. And, everything she did for the family was perfect because she was so happy to be out of her family of origin. When she graduated from high school, I had to take her place. She was a hard act to follow. And, I had no one teach me what she could do such cook supper, & various housework. Mom was very busy. Any attempt I tried was rec’d as not doing it right or not good enough. Guess where I learned my perfectionist that I still struggle with today. If what I am doing can’t be perfect, I don’t even try. There is very little motivation.

  • December 14, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    I’m so mentally deficient. Horrible drunken father. Physically and emotionally.. abusive Sexual abuse from . Mothers best friends husband Beaten by brother every day after school. I’m now in my 50ys and still can’t get a grip on this crap
    So much more in between child hood and adult hood My now husband is terminally ill and I’m having a horrific time trying to be supportive and loving
    When all I want to do is run away and never come back

  • December 16, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I read this article and just about all of it perfectly describes my upbringing. Just add in a mother with bulimia and strict, religious overtones. I’ve been in and out of therapy for years, and have multiple mental health diagnoses, including bipolar disorder with severe depressive episodes, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. How do I make sure not to parent my children the way I was parented? I don’t want to pass on the same issues to my children. I love them so much and don’t want them to suffer the way I do. I am on many medications to manage my mental health, but how can I learn to parent differently than my parents parented me?

    • December 30, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      I think the best to do is to talk with your kids a lot and openly about your mental health issues. Make sure they understand why you sometimes act how you act, make sure they are loved at all times even when you can’t show them you love them or even when you are angry at them. It might also be a good idea to get family therapy sessions or support groups for children with mentally ill parents.

      Wish you all the best, Mia

  • December 20, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    My father was an expert at the silent treatment, mocked me for sentimental greeting cards, would question why anyone would display intimacy ie couples holding hands. My mother did nothing due to fear of his temper. After he died my psychiatrist/therapist started with why I was numb, then when I started feeling we worked on identifying what emotions they were and why. From there I finally went from seeing my dad as my hero and best friend to a mean bully who abandoned and rejected us as needed. The newest and by far most difficult discovery is that I was a victim of emotional incest. We are just starting to talk this through which has caused anxiety to skyrocket. I am temporarily on meds for this. Ihad two episodes of depression in the past and am symptom free. As anxiety peaked my OCD compulsions have noticeably increased and I am starting CBT in January. In university OCD was dysfunctional but untreated and undiagnosed. I am now 53. I know I have made progress and changed but it is the hardest work I have done. I am incapable of crying as my therapist says I will feel the suppressed anger if I cry. But I look forward to that day because as someone who used to be robotic I can finally feel human. My therapist has been and is a lifesaver, he is 78.

    • December 21, 2018 at 4:27 pm

      Dear PJ: You are the first person who has talked about your inability to cry. I have tried to find a therapist who could help me learn to cry again. No one took me up on the challenge. Everyone round me could be crying at a sad movie or at a relative’s [including my Dad’s] funeral. Hey, a boyfriend once called me pretty cold-hearted because I didn’t cry when I had to put my 17 year old dog down. He [the boyfriend] was a blubbering crier. I didn’t put him down. I didn’t cry for my Dad because I had grieved for him well before he passed at 58 as the result of his alcoholism & what it did to his body. I know I used cry when I was a kid, esp. to the sound of a marching band in a parade or watching airplanes take off. Now it is pretty much nothing. I know I have stuffed a lot of my emotions mostly from abandonment issues. Dad was the alcoholic & Mom had 8 kids to take care of & had 3 part-times jobs so we could at least eat. Dad was self-employed, if & when he’d get paid, he’d drink it away. And, to be truthful, I am scared to cry. First, because I am scared to do it alone. I get suicidal. Another reason I am afraid to cry is because I might explode because it has been so long. I could just see my body parts all over the walls, ceilings, you get my gist. I don’t think working through it with a therapist would work either because I am scared I wouldn’t be able to shut off the tears when my 50 minutes are up & turn them on again two weeks later. I have been married 3X’s. All but my first husband used my feeling & emotions against me in court. Even the stuff I told them in confidence, about the incest taking place & my abandonment issues. With all this said girl, I understand where you are coming from. I really, really, really do.

      • February 10, 2019 at 10:14 pm

        Hi there Jo Ellen. So, from one reformed non-crier to you, the first cry is a leap of faith. I prayed God would heal me of the pain that haunted me surrounding the death of m much loved person in my life. I hadn’t cried in 20 years. I flat out REFUSED to cry as a child cause my mom made it her mission to make me cry with her mean words. My thoughts as a preteen were… “Well fuck you lady. You’re going to TRY and MAKE me cry? Then come hell or high water you won’t get a single tear out of me.” I didn’t realize at the time that I was making a vow with myself that would sabotage my ability to be emotionally vulnerable with anyone, anywhere…or even by myself. Shut me down for two decades. Problem is that when we can’t feel the big negative feelings, we are also cut off from feeling the big positive feelings. So there is a definite motivator to getting to the other side of that first cry. Once you let those negative feelings OUT (not IN, they are actually INSIDE OF YOU and NOT PROCESSED. They want to be EXPRESSED, which is another word for released.) Once you let those feelings out you open yourself up to experience JOY in equal measure. It’s amazing.

        So, I Prayed God would heal my ability to cry cause I was numb emotionally yet hurting too. I was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED to cry because I knew it would break me into a million pieces if I ever started. Glad I was wrong on that one. A couple months after I prayed I felt God leading me to think about this person….and I fought HIM. I didn’t want to cry. But God always gets his way in the end (which is good cause he knows what’s best) and within ten minutes I had pulled the car over into a parking lot bc I was crying and couldn’t stop. I cried and cried and cried.

        I was afraid the first five minutes or so no because the feelings were so intense. Then it started to feel kinda healthy. Like not good but “this is going to make me feel so much better once I pour my heart out.” (oh yeah, I finally understood what pouring your heart out means.) and I did. It was cathartic and healing, and like I had a giant swollen wound inside of me, it was infected from not “expressing” it and the pressure had built up inside of it and it was causing me pain. Now that I was emptying the wound of all that was stored up inside of it I started to feel better and better the longer I cried.

        In fact, when I was almost done and really could have stopped, I could feel inside that there was a little more “infection” in there I needed to cry out. I was SO SO SO SO SO tempted to run away from the situation, but I’d been YEARS without crying, and I knew what it felt like to carry that pain. And i had just experienced a tremendous relief through crying that I hadn’t expected. I chose to force that last little bit OUT. Then I felt so F R E E.

        I hope and pray you will go for the freedom being offered to you on the other side of that scary- feeling first cry. Now I cry at the drop of a hat bc I know I’ll feel so much better if I let it out.

        And you will too.

      • June 5, 2019 at 12:56 am

        I had a couple decades of no tears too… and then I cried every day for like three years. I feel much more connected to myself and have a full range of feelings and its awesome!!!
        I resonated with what you shared and healing- It does need to get expressed or it becomes toxic.

  • January 5, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    Can empathize with all of you. Just want to say much love to you. We are a unique bunch and most couldn’t understand our plight unless they’ve lived through it themselves.

    I’ve experienced most everything described in these articles (literally 98% of it and then some). On top of it all I’ve also experienced brain and spinal cord injuries.

    This has been a confusing journey at times to say the very least.

    Many of us are similar to that person who has been struck by lightning 3 times … you know the “what are the odds?!” type of person (that’s what many of us are).

    I suppose the best we can do is support and empathize with each other. Pray and/or think positive thoughts for each other. We are a community ,whether we like it or not, so why not support each other?

    We will not get our childhoods, adolescence and young adulthoods back in a functional manner unfortunately no. But we do have each other and that means something.

    Sincere love does heal as does empathy and true friendship. Please don’t misunderstand I have bad days (you know the kind). The pain the hurt the sadness just seems to overtake you no matter what you do but Im willing to wait it out. I still have dreams still give a damn.

    This is a tough life path no doubt about it but we’re worth something we really are and our capacity for love is deep. We can do this! We can make it to the other side. There is hope for us.

    I’m consistently inclined to think about the victims of genocide what those survivors must have felt. If they can carry on so can we! If they can find meaning in this life so can we!

    What can I learn from this? How can I become a better person because of this? are wonderful questions to ask ourselves as often as we need to ask them.

    I have intense days just like you do and have found these things can assist at times. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of waiting it out. Allowing it to transpire without too much resistance.

    Forgiveness may or may not help. Don’t beat yourself up over it just try to avoid anger or rage or self loathing being your go to.

    There are no simple answers here. I’m not implying that. This is a life long journey. God knows it is. We can do this. I know this in my heart.

    Much love to all of you mean that sincerely. Stay strong because you are much stronger than you may realize.

  • September 2, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Wow what a bunch of whoosies. Grow the hell up and stop blaming others.. yall are weak people and your problems are your own. I had inperfect parents too. Big deal. Recognize it and be a better person. Geez now wonder why our countries youth are all screwed up..

    • September 7, 2019 at 2:55 pm

      That was remarkably lacking in empathy. (In this case, being remarkable is not a good thing.) You’ve come to a forum where people are pouring their hearts out over childhood trauma, and most everyone else is being supportive.
      Then along comes JW, declaring everyone to be “whoosies.” (Were you trying to spell “wusses”?)
      Understanding what you’ve been through is the first step to taking responsibility for it and dealing with it. That may involve recognizing and saying out loud (or writing down) exactly how your parents hurt you. Recognizing cause and effect is pretty key to overcoming such issues.
      One can only wonder, what made you so lacking in empathy and emotional intelligence? Was it simply a choice, unaffected by your upbringing? Somehow, that doesn’t seem likely.
      But keep reading Psych Central! You’re bound to run across something eventually that will get through to you. Best wishes!

    • February 4, 2020 at 3:57 am

      Why on earth is someone like you even reading an article like this if that’s how you feel?? Trying to shame others for sharing their legitimate suffering is contemptible. I hope one day you can overcome the self loathing that is behind your words and share your own story and start to heal.

  • July 16, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    This is the most clear, to the point, and accurate way I’ve ever seen these ways of parenting described. I recognize many in the way my parents raised me. Thank you for this post.


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