Many adults who were abused as children have no sense of what normal is. What does normal feel like? Am I normal?
Here are just a few of the normal feelings you may have, in response to your neglect, mistreatment, sexual or physical abuse, or psychological abuse.
And, yes, you are normal.
As a child, your brain did a wonderful job protecting you. There may have been times when what was happening to you was so crushing, your child brain couldn’t make sense of it. In response to thoughts like, “this person hurting me is supposed to protect me! If my protector is hurting me, I will die!” your brain pushed it aside, blocked it out, partitioned it off, helped you act as if nothing abnormal was happening. This is a common adaptation and a good survival technique. It is thanks to your wonderful brain that you survived your childhood.
When thinking back about the abuse you may have no feelings about it at all. Or you may feel that it was no big deal, nothing at all. Or that you are nothing. This is still a normal protective way of adapting to something awful. And you are normal if you feel this numbness.
Note: Severe numbness in certain cases, can be a symptom of dissociation, and that’s another topic for another time. But you are still normal.
As a child you may have been angry often. This is a normal response to someone, anyone, making your life hell. You deserved safety, love, play, and you got a raw deal. Even if you didn’t yet know that your life was different from other kids’ you knew you were being hurt or threatened, and you knew you had to keep your guard up.
If you feel angry now, or get angry in response to seemingly small slights, this is normal and common for adults abused as children. And you are normal if you feel this anger.
Note: Sometimes anger can be a symptom of depression or anxiety, and that’s another topic for another time. But you are still normal.
As a child, your miraculous little self had so much potential and possibility. You could grow up and be anything, do anything, or several anythings at once. And bit by bit this possibility was snatched away. If you were the family scapegoat you witnessed the difference between your siblings’ care and your own. Your losses are sad, and it’s normal to feel sad over loss.
Today, you may feel sad in general, or in response to any loss or missed opportunity. Your sadness may be bigger than you think it should be. A broken bird eggshell in your yard might mean a baby bird died and bring you immense grief. A story about a happy child may remind you of what could have been, or of what loss lies in store for the child in the story. You may find yourself crying for no reason at all. This is normal too.
Note: Sadness can also be a symptom of depression, and that’s another topic for another time. But you are still normal.
As a child, your caregivers had the ultimate power over your life, death, and happiness. It wasn’t safe to play, make noise, run, or be noticed, and your emotional and physical safety, and maybe your life, depended on your brain’s ability to pick up on tiny cues that might signal upcoming harm to you. Fear is the normal response. It let you prepare to flee or fight or hide inside yourself.
Now, you may be fearful of things others are not. Answering the phone or door, watching news, learning you’re sick, talking to coworkers, all can bring on heightened fear. You may describe yourself as afraid of the world. This is normal and you are normal for feeling it.
Note: Severe fear, in certain cases, can be a sign of anxiety, and that’s another topic for another time. But you are still normal.
One of the hardest things about growing up with abuse is not knowing what’s normal. There are many more feelings that are normal. And there is a huge range of what normal looks and feels like.
If you’re tired of wondering what’s normal, feeling like you're not normal, or you want help with your own numbness, anger, sadness, or fear (or dissociation, depression, or anxiety) call me for a free telephone consultation.