We all have the need to protect ourselves from emotional harm. Our natural defenses kick in to safeguard our inner psyche. When we are hurt, we reach and do whatever we can to minimize our pain. For some, that might mean feeling overwhelmed and then shutting off and retreating inwardly, closing off from ourselves and our own experience of emotions, or fleeing a situation. Protection from pain for others might be fighting, trying to prove worthiness, or we may actively do something to experience the illusion of control. We even tell ourselves stories justifying our behaviors claiming we do them to protect ourselves. At times, because of circumstances or situations, we do things that are out of character. It might result in feeling shame, frustration, and embarrassment. Regardless of our response, it is extremely important to step back from the situation and gain perspective. In that perspective, we can have a compassionate understanding of our own behaviors, and work on our underlying, core issues. Often it is not even about the other person or the situation when we dive deeper into understanding our response to the triggers.
One of my close friends recently ended a relationship, and not by her choice. Overall, she felt happy in the relationship, experienced a close connection with her partner, and found joy in being with him. One day, from her perspective, out of the blue, her partner decided that they should go their separate ways. He simply desired to end things rather than work on the relationship. She later found out there were a number of factors that channeled him to this point, few of which she was not consciously aware of prior to his severing the relationship. Perhaps he was not even totally aware of these factors at the time, so he was unable to verbalize them adequately for her to understand. Needless to say, my friend was in a lot of emotional pain and was quite confused. She felt as if one day the life that she knew was yanked away from her, and subsequently, she felt sad, alone, helpless, and vulnerable after allowing herself to be so open with him
My friend is an extremely psychologically healthy woman who is honest, self assured, and typically respects personal boundaries. But when this happened, when her heart was broken and she perceived the situation as yanking the rug from under her, she temporarily turned in to a person that she didn’t even recognize for a few moments in time. She began behaving in uncharacteristic ways, feeling a total loss of control over her actions and decisions. One day her anxiety, grief, and emotional pain got the best of her and she went to her ex partner’s house (she still had the key) and looked through his ipad. She felt so out of control and insecure, so she acted out in an attempt to seek any sense of answers or stability. She had never done anything like this before in her life and felt ashamed as she was doing it. What she discovered was even more hurtful to her. The way her partner spoke to friends and an ex partner about her specifically devastated her. She then, in her words, “freaked out” and confronted him. These were two very out of character behaviors—snooping (due to insecurity and distrust) and losing control over her emotions and reactions.
When hearing my friend’s story, it made me think a lot about rejection and hurt and how this can impact even the healthiest of individuals. The perception of being rejected impacts our psychological state and can increase anger, depression, jealousy, and sadness. It can bring up feelings unconsciously related to other tough situations we have encountered throughout our lives, in our childhoods, or even feelings about ourselves we have and don’t realize. We may respond to those more deep seeded emotions with our reactions instead of the actual situation at hand. Uncovering those latent emotions, we may react even stronger to a trigger without understanding exactly why. We may even understand that we are acting emotionally and not based on our logical norms. Some of those feelings can even lead to reduced performance on tasks, aggression and poor impulse control. My friend likely experienced many of these things during this one episode of invading her ex’s privacy and lashing out at him.
Once she realized how the hurt and rejection were affecting her, she took a step back and of course apologized. She was embarrassed and felt shame. I encouraged her to work towards forgiving herself and understanding how she arrived at the point of feeling distrust, anxious, and out of control. She is currently working on understanding those feelings fully in relation to her history and her relationship with herself. In the now, she is still experiencing a lot of hurt.
Have you ever done anything so out of character that you feel shame or don’t recognize yourself? Have you ever felt so hurt and rejected, that you experienced poor control over your behavior? Please share your experiences.