A very good friend of mine since childhood Rakesh (not his real name) had a very abusive childhood. He was being thrashed, victimized for no fault of his and a regular punching bag at home, at school and even with his so-called friends. Just to tell one unfortunate story, when we both were in the sixth standard, some of the boys in the class decided to play a prank with him. As he had gone out of the class in recess, one of the boys wrote on the front page of his note-book book in the same handwriting as his “I Love you (name of the girl)”. To write like this in a notebook in just 6th std was no less than a crime. This was immediately brought to notice of the teacher by those naughty, and cruel boys. My friend was taken straight to the Head Master who was so famous for being strict that, students would call him Hitler. Without checking the authenticity of who had written, the headmaster just started thrashing my poor friend with a long wooden cane. He would be an average student in academics just enough to be promoted to the higher std.
Years of abuse, both physical and verbal took a toll on his psyche, mind, and body. It was very natural that he would grow up as a hostile individual who would have very few or no friends, feeling of enmity, and antagonism. His hostility was blanket towards the world and a perpetual, long mental state of affair.
Why are some people singled out for bullying? Perhaps, the reasons are looking weak, thin, low in confidence (which in turn could be the result of being beaten and insulted often at home as well), coming from a poor or not so wealthy family, not giving a fitting reply at the beginning itself and the predators growing in courage, etc. There will be several examples of these unfortunate souls in our society who perhaps could have been gems if they were brought up in a more loving and caring manner.
Let’s understand some of the signs of hostility:
- Continuously hostile people get angry and irritated over trivial matters when most of us would not get upset with other people. They show some kind of a pattern/reasons for getting mad at people
- They don’t believe that they are angry and aggressive. (Lack of self-awareness)
- They suffer from poor self-confidence and are always under some kind of fear.
- They are in general frustrated with life.
Since their childhood, these people stuff their anger and frustration and as they grow up, they call it by different names e.g. my said friend would say, “when he said this, my fuse blew off” or “I am by default a short-tempered man” when actually he wanted to say that he has hostility inside of him.
Hostile people internalize or bury their anger over others many years to create a pressure -cooker like environment, waiting to explode. Hostility also could bring with it bad habits like smoking, alcohol, overeating, etc. where these people try to find solace from. They are only complicating the matters while handling these toxic emotions (of anger, aggression, and hostility).
Suppressing emotions from childhood:
How many of us can immediately connect with the repeated instructions given by our parents, people surrounding us and society at large that, “You are a boy you are not supposed to cry”. “You are a girl you are not supposed to laugh so loudly”. “You look so much cute when you smile” or “go into your room until you can calm down”. Such statements, when made by adults, again and again, have an effect on our subconscious mind that makes us feel ashamed of having “unpleasant emotions” like anger and sadness or even pleasant ones like being happy. When these rules were imposed on us in childhood, the message they sent us was, our emotions are not to be trusted. Emotional hurts in childhood may stay with us and we may carry shame and fear into our adult lives. The same is true for anger, aggression, and hostility. (We will be having a separate blog on guilt, shame, and fear. Just mentioned here to give an idea of how various emotions are suppressed)
When are we stuffing/bottling up our emotions?
Many a times we pretend due to the conditioning right from the childhood, that everything is ok when it is not, when we tell ourselves and others that nothing bad has happened when something very bad has happened to us, when we act as if we have suffered no loss or pain when we have suffered great loss and pain, it is then we are supressing those emotions that we should be expressing. Over a period of time some people become experts at not feeling what they feel. They become masters at stuffing or pushing down any feelings that are painful or that others do not accept.
Now, what happens when we suppress those emotions of anger, frustration, or rejection and refuse to cry (or even laugh for that matter when we are happy) or voice our inner pains? Our mind perceives that we are experiencing danger. The disruptive emotions which we are feeling and which cause us pain, we start to avoid them or reject them. The more we experience the disruptive emotions and fail to express them, the more pressure builds inside us. This makes mind to perceive that we are in a dangerous situation and prepares us for flight (shutting down our emotions further) or fight (erecting obstacles against the emotions). This can result in inner rage, fear, or a continuous feeling of anxiety that boils below the surface of expression (waiting to get exploded) for years or for decades.
To tell my own experience, even I had a lot of emotions stuffed inside of me for years together. I was a very fearful person until not very long ago. Being born introvert, I find it very difficult to naturally talk and introduce myself or even to set the dialogue going on and get caught in a very awkward situation if the other person is also introvert. There was a lot of internal rage inside of me for years. I learned some of the signs (and still have some traces of those in me) of stuffed emotions. As mentioned earlier stuffing of emotions is largely subconscious and a person himself/herself may not be able to recognize this trait for years unless some close friend /relative gives the feedback and the person himself/herself becomes self-aware.
Signs of bottled up Emotions:
- Perfectionist: People who stuff their emotions are always wary that somebody will take objection or criticize their work, this feeling coming from childhood experiences of being scolded or beaten for even the smallest of mistakes committed. Such people develop a fear of rejection and hence try to be as perfect as possible in their works. I remember till not so long ago, I would not tolerate a single wrinkle or fold on my well-ironed shirt or being adamant on a bedsheet to be neatly spread on the mattress, or intolerant towards smallest of litters or dirt (with valuable inputs from my better half)
- Self-doubt and self-criticism: People who have stuffed emotions very often have grown up in environments when they feel unloved or rejected as children. They perhaps did not get the security and bonding which is very natural in any parent-child relationship. As a result, they develop a feeling of low self-esteem or low self-worth. As grown-up adults, they may achieve some success in their education and careers, but deep down there may always be so the fear of failure. This deeply seated low self-esteem may result in self-doubt. E.g. these people always try to take other’s opinions in even the routine of the choices/decisions they make like buying a shirt for themselves or, whether or not to get out of the house on a rainy day etc. They avoid making decisions or setting specific goals in life. Validation from others for just about almost everything becomes a norm for them.
Then, there are some people who have low self-worth engage in criticising self, shrug off compliments and are overly critical about their smallest of failures. They are likely to be people who will instinctively respond to a new idea or situation with an “I don’t know” or “I am not sure about this” even before they have fully heard the idea or explored possibilities of a new situation. In meeting strangers or new circumstances, they may suddenly become shy and withdraw from the scene.
- Diverting attention: those who have stuffed their emotions try an divert attention from self to others with criticising and blaming others or making cynical comments.
- Pleasing everybody: Many people with low self-worth and stuffed emotions try very hard to please everyone. They are too concerned with the opinions of others and get easily upset if even a single person gives some negative remark about their work even if majority have praised.
It is found that the stronger the stuffed emotion, the more powerful it will be its explosion. Terrible childhood traumas, including sexual, physical and emotional abuse, public humiliation and severe rejection are all the experiences that can cause an inner rage and pain that can explode in sometimes violent ways later in the life-sometimes these people can resort to physical abuse to other people, sometimes in disruptive nightmares and inability to sleep, sometimes unending tears, etc.
Conclusion: emotions naturally are meant to be felt and expressed. When we refuse to let them come out, emotions just try a little harder. Emotions never die, we bury them. We are burying something which is living. Pent up emotions over a long period of time (sometimes years) can result in bursting into spurts of anger, rage and hostility. It is then as adults, as we can see our surroundings, people vent it out when say a driver on freeway cuts him/her or a person who ignores his/her presence or for any other trivial reason.
Coming up next: How do I get over my hostility/Inner rage as an Adult? Stay tuned…