Love & Life

Emotional Paralysis: How the Voices in Your Head Hold You Back

Have you ever been afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid, or held yourself back from being 'too happy'? This emotional paralysis has roots in childhood.

By Purva Rakesh

All of us suffer from emotional paralysis of varying degrees, most of it coming from the voices we hear in our heads that stop us from saying what we want truthfully, prevent us from stopping any abuse hurled at us, telling us what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or how we ‘should’ behave and feel as should others. We either don’t speak up or we get by with socially acceptable responses. When we attempt to speak what we truly feel, it often ‘comes out wrong’.

These are thoughts and actions that many of us don’t even recognise as issues or know that they can be dealt with. Nor do we recognise them as having an impact on our health: mental, physical and emotional.

Let’s look at some case studies:

  • Every time Suparna is in a meeting in her office and people offer suggestions, she finds herself unable to speak, hoping no one will turn to her with a question. She is a good, silent worker, but cannot think of an ‘intelligent’ response when asked to give inputs directly. The voice in her head tells her, “I am stupid”, “No one will take me seriously anyway”, “The moment I start to speak, I will be shot down”… so she keeps to himself and tries to be invisible at meetings or stammers out responses.
  • When Rahul approaches a woman, his heart starts to beat wildly and before he gets within talking distance, he has expectations of rejection and ridicule. He can see a group of friends laughing at him in his head. He is unable to express affection or ask for it in a relationship.
  • When Sheila makes a phone call for pitching a project, her heart beats wildly. She has learnt to maintain outer calm and show a perfectly ‘cool’ and ‘collected’ posture and a well modulated voice, but she suffers from constant stress, headaches and backaches.
  • Zoya lives under a cloud of sadness and fear. She believes something ‘bad’ is just round the corner even though the fear has no basis in reality. The happier the events around her, the more afraid she feels. “If I get too happy, I will have to pay for it by being sad,” she hears herself say.
  • Tina is obsessive about her looks and weight. She picks up magazines, articles, information on women she thinks are more beautiful. She believes she is not good enough and obsessively compares herself to other women.

These are some examples of the stresses we all learn to live with, which end up defining our lives and our roles, our day-to-day obsessions and our feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anger or frustrations with ourselves and the world around us.

Photo: Khoa Vu00f5 / Pexels.com

This ‘voice in the head’ is our internal adversary, also called the Critical Parent. It has an external source in the sum of all the put-downs we receive as children from people around us at home and outside and feelings we were never told to or allowed to express. This can include parents, relatives, friends, teachers, siblings making fun of us, trying to control or protect us or simply not being mindful of our feelings. We do the same to others as well.

These are like tape recordings of other people’s thoughts and opinions about us communicated verbally and non-verbally.

These then translate into a personal sense of inadequacy, shame and fears, which we are taught not to talk about. These are accepted as normal behaviours often leading to a steady corrosion of relationships which start to get replaced with medication, alcohol, avoidance, behavioural issues and so on.

What goes unnoticed is that many of these are ‘generational patterns’ that get passed on from parents and parental figures down to the children.

To start breaking these patterns as a parent:

  • Start to talk to your children about their feelings. This is a way of giving permission within the household for children to start expressing and sharing how they feel than react to situations. This will support their being able to have similar conversations growing up than hide in shame or cover up nervousness.
  • Don’t hide your own feelings. Allow your emotions to be visible and explain your feelings to them. No feeling is good or bad, right or wrong. It is the proportionality and appropriateness of feelings that is important.
  • It is okay to be wrong. If your child corrects you, accept it if they are right. Else, they will learn to hide their mistakes.
  • Watch the words you use in responding to them. These become the voices in their heads: “You are no good”, “Who will marry you?”’ or comparing with them with other kids including their siblings: “See how well behaved he/she is”. The implications of these are the negative voices that start to determine their world view of themselves translating to the scenarios mentioned earlier.

Purva Rakesh is an MBA with facilitator training in transactional analysis and emotional literacy. A corporate professional in media and communication, she has conducted individual sessions and groups with people dealing with life issues as a facilitator. You can reach her at purvarakesh@gmail.com.

Lead image: Cristian Newman / Unsplash

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