Welcome to Part Three in the ‘Trouble With Trauma’ series…
We were discussion adolescence. Why is it that some kids will end up with depression? It is often because the family life has not given them the sense of security that they needed and then they have not been able to get that good peer-to-peer social connection either, so then they think “I don’t fit with the family, I don’t fit with my peers or in the community – I’m really disconnected!” So then I am more likely to become depressed.
Adolescence is a time when we develop a lot of our negative beliefs – things like ‘I’m different’, ‘I don’t belong’ and many of those thoughts and feelings. Why is that really important? I talk about life cycles, the seven year cycles we have in our life. We get the second half of our third development cycle and we decide “I’m just going to be ‘this’ thing” and when I am this ‘thing’ – insert career choice here – then everybody will think I’m awesome!
In this way, you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps coming out of that ‘mediocre’ adolescence, off the back of a reasonably disconnected family life in your primary years and you just decide that you are going to prove yourself by being good in a particular occupation.
Often your feelings of being rejected by your family and being unable to connect with your peers means that you’ll end up on one side or the other – I want to really please my family so then I’ll go on and I’ll be whatever it is the family want me to be… I need to be this perfect human being. Just be aware you may fit into different parts along this continuum of how we look at life.
Why is it important? When we get into depressed space, depression is very much shame-based. With anxiety, it is very much fear-based. Depression is looking back over the events of our life, in our past. We look back and we think “If only this didn’t happen, if only that didn’t happen!” However, anxiety is looking to the future. We contemplate the future in fear thinking “What if this happens, what if that happens!” There are very clear distinctions about what the difference between depression and anxiety actually is.
It is essential that we understand the difference because in all of our future connections that we make, from friendships to intimate relationships and our family connections, it is our ability to make secure connections with other people has a lot to do with how we experience life and how much of our time we spend feeling anxious or depressed.
The ability to connect has an awful lot to do with how we were raised. So, if you were raised in a family in which your connection to your parents was what I would call ‘enmeshed’, and this happens in a lot of cultures like European and Asian cultures, where the expectations placed on children by their parents are huge. The obligations children from these cultures feel to their parents, in terms of making sure they get a really good outcome from their education because the parents have invested all this time and energy into them and the child ‘owes’ them. This places a large emotional responsibility onto the child. Children in these situations actually feel obligated to give the parent what the parent wants. This obligation is problematic for a range of other reasons but it happens.
Alternatively, for reasons other than culture there can be lots of other emotional stuff going on in a family. Sometimes we grow up with highly critical Mother’s or Father’s and they make their child emotionally responsible for them, rather than the parent being emotionally responsible for the child – and this creates big issues for children in these situations.
On the other side we can grow up in an environment of ‘neglect’. In a really extreme family environment it could be really severe neglect, but it can just be more a case of feeling neglected in a family environment that was focussed elsewhere. Think about a situation where you might be a member of a really big family and Mum and Dad were working or busy caring for others. In this situation your presence in the household was just taken for granted – if you were around great, if you weren’t it didn’t really matter that much. In these families, it was not like your presence or involvement in your parents life was really that important. For some people, this situation can feel like a total rejection where they feel that their parents wish that they weren’t there – like they’re a hindrance.
All of us fit in that continuum somewhere – it’s a bit like a bell curve. You have the really enmeshed ones at one end and the really neglected ones down the other and then for 80% of us, we fit somewhere in between. Understanding you place in that bell curve is important, because whenever you go into any relationship (intimate partners, friends, work relationships or family connections) how you react or respond to any potential rejection within that relationship is going to be determined by your parental relationships and then this is mediated by how many times you have experienced rejection over the course of your life.
So, if you have gone through your adolescence and you have been able to have good peer connections, then your tendency to behave in more extreme ways when you feel a sense of rejection is probably going to be a bit less. However, if you’ve gone through your adolescence and not been able to get good connections (so you would usually come out of it depressed because you didn’t have good family connections either) you are going to have more experiences of rejection, a much stronger sense that you’re really not valuable or ‘worth it’.
Why is that important? Because it sets us up for how we behave whenever we perceive a rejection is going to happen between us and another human being. So, whenever we perceive a disconnection, whenever we experience a trauma because trauma creates a disconnection, we are going to react in one of two ways and then we’re going to flip.
If you grew up in a household where you were ‘enmeshed’ your first emotional reaction to any perceived withdrawal or rejection of the other person you are in ‘relationship’ with is actually going to be quite clingy and child like. It often involves pleading and begging and is grounded in fear “Please, please don’t leave me. Is there anything I can do? I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’ve done but just please let me fix it. I’ll do whatever you want to work it out!” The basis of that relationship can be anything – friends, family, partners or employers.
On the total other side is a sense of absolute protective rejection. If you grew up in a household where you were ‘neglected’ your first emotional reaction to any perceived withdrawal or rejection of the other person you are in ‘relationship’ with is actually going to be quite self-protective, disconnected and strong. In this situation your response can be more openly rejecting of the other person – get them before they get you! “If you don’t want to hang out with me fine! Back off – you’re crowding me. If you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you in the arse on your way out!” Then all is quiet. It’s crickets – right? Ghosted! All of a sudden I’ve disappeared.
Sound familiar? Why is there distinction between the two?
Some of you will be thinking… I have done both! Most of us have – because we go to our ‘primary’ approach and then we usually flip to the other when the primary approach still doesn’t produce the result that we are looking for – which is a reconnection.