Dear Therapist:

Today I am a married woman with a family and have friends...but as a child, I didn’t have any friends. When I was with classmates and when I would try to interject with a comment my comment would go unnoticed. I only made friends after I finished school and started working. When I bump into people I knew as a child, such as classmates, I become terrified and start to shake and the unbearable pain that lays deep down inside me comes out. Any advice?

 

Response:

Unfortunately, many of us have deep-seated pain that originated in our school years. Although these feelings often begin in high school, they can certainly begin earlier as well. When these feelings begin at an early age, they can be even more difficult to resolve. This is partially due to the longevity and constant reinforcement of an inaccurate self-perception. Also, the earlier that this perception is created, the less logical it typically seems from an adult perspective. This can cause two complications: further trouble identifying and acknowledging the faulty perception; and greater difficulty in emotionally connecting to it.

When we cannot—or do not—recognize the belief that originally accompanied the emotion, we are left with the emotion alone. As adults, this emotion appears to make no sense. It can hit us like a ton of bricks, but try as we might we can’t shake it using logical thought. This is because the feeling only made “logical sense” many years ago from a young child’s perspective.

If I felt worthless, stupid, and weird when I was ten years old, it may have been because I came from a different background, and had trouble keeping up with certain school subjects. This belief may have disappeared over time, but the feelings may never have been resolved. Therefore, whenever my unconscious mind is triggered, I experience the same (or worse) feelings. Since my conscious mind has no clue about my ten-year-old false beliefs, I have no way of dealing with them. Even if my conscious mind does have some inkling as to the false belief, I immediately reject it as ridiculous (as it is from my adult perspective).

Your first step may be to identify the childhood beliefs that initially caused your negative feelings. If you could do this, accurately connecting the emotions to the beliefs, you could begin resolving these feelings. Unfortunately, however, this process is usually not easy. It can be difficult to identify the thoughts and feelings. It can also be difficult to be certain of the veracity of these childhood thoughts (they may be largely based on adult assumptions). In addition, these beliefs may have changed over the years, leading to the need for multiple steps. For these reasons, it will likely be necessary for you to see a professional who can help you to navigate the process.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317