I’m a 19-year-old female, currently in the military. I’m a very laid-back and nonchalant person, and I believe I am very much in control of my emotions. It takes a lot to make me angry, and I rarely ever worry about things, even the things that I know I should worry about. For example, my sister got into an accident recently. She was under the influence of alcohol and ran into a parked car. She was fine, but she could have been seriously hurt. When my mom told me, I didn’t feel anything. It’s like I have to act like I’m worried, and I hate it. Logically, I know I should be upset with her and relieved she’s okay, but emotionally I don’t feel that way.
See, I used to be a very emotional person when I was younger up until my junior year of high school. I think a lot of my stress came from my parents and how they argued a lot during my high school years. My parents both confided in me. I would try to comfort both of them, only later to be used as a pawn in their arguments. They would say I said this or I said that and it really hurt. I didn’t know what to do, especially when I found out my parents smoked weed and that my mom was doing another drug, meth. It eventually caught up with her, and she has been on probation ever since, but she’s better now. Though there were many times she had me pee for her, so she wouldn’t ‘turn up dirty’ on her urinalysis. I remember her begging me for money at times, crying and promising that it would be the last time she asked for money.
I remember feeling so angry at everything. I was angry at the world, was very judgmental of others, had violent thoughts of hurting people who had hurt me somehow; I was just an angry teenager. The smallest things made me cry or tear up. I hated myself and the world. I don’t know why I felt that way. My life wasn’t that bad.
And now here I am. I joined the military and have been away from all the drama for about two years now. I have become very nonchalant and it’s hard for me to become emotionally attached to others or feel any pity for them when they tell me things, but I still hear them out and talk to them about their problems and try to help. It’s like I logically feel an emotion for them, but emotionally I don’t, if that makes any sense. I don’t know how to explain it. I rarely ever cry now. I usually just tear up and that’s it, at least since I’ve left home for my first duty station. It’s like the only time I have been about to cry was when I was still homesick and heard my mom’s soothing voice on the phone or when I talked to my friend about some of the things that had happened back at home before I joined the army. It’s really annoying; I’d like to cry sometimes to get rid of some of my frustration but I can’t. It’s like I have this block that keeps me from acting too goofy or stupid around anyone. I think I still care too much about what people think of me. The only way that block totally goes away is when I’m around people I trust or when I drink.
I feel like I’m missing out on so much in life because of how I am, but I don’t know how to go about changing it. Why do I feel so uncaring and nonchalant all the time? Why don’t I care about things I should care about?
You answer your own question: you can’t experience your feelings because you are controlling them. Because you see the disadvantage of over-controlling your emotions, you now want to loosen up control as you do with friends and under the influence of alcohol. Yet, you also choose a career that encourages you to keep emotions controlled. It seems like you are conflicted about how much control you are willing to relax.
The reason you took control of emotions is not hard to see. Sharing your emotions and being the peacemaker in your family has had disastrous consequences. At first you emoted, then you withdrew. You are afraid to be a burden to your father or embarrass yourself by showing your feelings. And now, it’s even harder to express your feelings because you’ve tabled them for so long, you now fear you’ll appear immature and goofy. That is, you’re afraid you will behave like a 13-year-old, the age that your emotional development arrested. You’ve learned through years of unsuccessful strategies that emotions do not serve you. Before that lesson may have served you to control the chaos in your life, but it is now a maladaptation that holds you back.
You cannot un-learn something; that would be like denying the experience that led to this impasse. That would be disrespectful to you and your feelings, and you’ve had enough of that. One way to approach this is to focus on the critical moments that led you to this condition and let yourself have the feelings now that you could not have then. Underlying the many feelings you have towards the different incidents in your life is likely the overwhelming sadness that you were not able to rely on your parents to keep you safe when you needed them. As a child, you were called on to parent your parents, and that’s not fair. As a ‘parentified’ child, you did miss the chance to be a kid. That time is now gone, and there is little one can do but grieve the loss of that time, grieve the loss of the happy childhood you imagine you could have had, and try to find comfort in yourself.
Now you are an adult. Now, you can re-examine the unconscious choices you made to bottle up intolerable emotions. You can realign your choices to match your current needs. You can let go of the choices you needed to make when your world was chaotic and unsupportive and make new choices. It can be a painful process.
When we overcontrol emotions, it’s a pretty good guess that those emotions are pretty horrific. Why else would we need to defend ourselves from them? Therefore, be patient with yourself. Get the help of someone you trust, someone who is not personally involved with your day-to-day life (like a therapist) and talk this out. You haven’t had the chance to do this before; as a child, your parents needed you to talk about their life, not yours. Take the time now to parent yourself and respect both the psychological defenses and feelings that you do have. Slowly, you could let yourself grow in therapy and find a new balance that will serve you well.
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All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and last reviewed or updated by