Addiction to negative emotions – were you raised in chaos?

As I walked into the building where I was going to see a specialist, I met a gentleman walking away while a lady ran after him. When the lady realized that she couldn’t catch-up with the man, she sat on the floor crying wondering why she had her emotions out of place.

Although I have taught myself to keep away from other people’s lives unless invited, this looked odd and I thought it is only fair to enquire if she was okay. When I moved closer and she felt a bit safe, she asked me if I thought she was crazy, or if she was in some form of addiction.

The specialist I had an appointment with and the one she had gone to see shared the same waiting area. I therefore kept her company as I waited to for my turn. When she was calmer, she asked me if I could listen as she waited for her doctor which I obliged.

She had come to see a psychiatrist because she had suicidal ideation for many months and that the night before the doctor’s visit, she had attempted suicide. Her reason for attempting suicide is because she has called the boyfriend who had left their house for a period of one month, asked him to return and he had told her that he would never return.  

She was very devastated because prior to his leaving, the boyfriend had gone out with his friends for a drink and he had refused to pick her calls. When the boyfriend arrived the following morning, she had packed his clothes and threw them outside in the presence of their neighbors something she regretted but also mentioned that the kind of anger she felt was so compulsive, like an addiction. Without her knowledge, she was repeating the chaotic environment she had previously experienced.

Trying to get him to visit or even come back home was difficult so she wrote and shared a suicide note with him digitally and out of concern, he responded by visiting her, kept her company that night before the doctor’s visit and accompanied her to the doctor.

She acknowledged that the company he gave her helped her to calm down but from time to time, would feel this uncontrollable anger- then many other mixed emotions which were anger, gratitude, loneliness, abandonment and unloved. It felt like hers was an addiction to negative emotions. Her internal environment had become chaotic.

While they were at the waiting bay, they had an argument about him going back to their house and as he maintained his position of not going back, she asked him to leave her alone and even started to shout. That’s when he left quickly and that’s the point that we met as she ran after him. As sad as it made her feel, she was projecting her inner chaotic environment to him.

Tears were freely flowing as she narrated that each time she is angry, she cuts off friends or creates some drama that ends her relationships prematurely. When good relationships ended, she hated her lonely life, felt like the world had come to an end and yet she couldn’t handle her anger. She lives in chaos and when there is none, she creates them, unconsciously.

This is the same thing she had done with her boyfriend who had made effort to offer her support in the night and also bring her to the doctor. “ Am I psycho? am I crazy ? what’s wrong with me ?what makes me so terrible?” these were the questions she constantly asked. While I could not answer the questions, I knew there must be where she interacted with chaos and she was just reenacting.

When she finished talking, I asked her if she had family so that they could keep her company when boyfriend left. She let me know that the mother had left the country many years ago and they were not in touch. What she remembered happening when she was 5 and 6 years is dad would come home drunk and beat-up the Mum and she and the brother would run into hiding.

Dad would go on and throw the mothers clothes outside and ask her to leave and never return. Anytime the mother left, she felt so rejected and lonely and all she did was cry day and night and the dad would go pick the mother and bring her back. At this point, the source of her behavior was coming to light, such a chaotic environment that she was raised in.

Then the mother left the country and never came back, shortly the brother died in the hands of a step mother. That’s the time she felt like the whole world had turned against her, same feeling she felt when boyfriend left. Same feelings she experiences when good relationships ended. These are the emotions she got addicted to. She learnt to create chaos in order to retain the negative emotions.

This is not unusual; it is very common for children who were raised in chaotic environments. They do not understand safety because safety is unfamiliar to them. Peace causes some level of unease because chaos is what seems familiar to them.

What is clear about people who were raised in chaos is addiction to negative emotions. It is either life offers them similar circumstances, or they create situations that cause them to live with negative emotions.

Say for example

A person who was raised in chaos doesn’t understand calm, when they have a calm season in marriage, they wonder what the partner is up to, they become suspicious and begin to get insecure – rocking the marriage boat.

When a friend treats them well, they feel uncomfortable and wonder what the friend intends to take away from them, they detach and continue to feel rejected, same negative emotions as seen in the narration.

Like the lady in the above narration, when someone offers them safety and support they create chaos because safety is unfamiliar territory, ending up with many more negative emotions. Emotions that become part of who they are-angry people, shamed people, rejected people.

If one was raised by a parent who criticized the child more than appreciate them, they expect a boss to always complain about their work, when the boss doesn’t, they begin to feel anxious and this anxious feeling broods more anxiety, leading to a state of anxiety.

When they make mistakes and wrong other people, instead of forgiving themselves, they beat themselves, get angry for feeling angry, hate themselves for acting in the way they did and at the end of the day, they end up with cocktail of negative emotions about themselves and a chaotic environment.

When one is due for promotion, they doubt their capacity to deliver ending up sabotaging themselves at the interview. Eventually, they end up feeling ashamed and angry for doing so bad in the interview.

When their children are doing well, they have to keep looking for negatives. Even when friends tell that their children are amazing, they still find one or two points to discredit their own children- which leads to the parent’s feelings of inadequacy.

When friends share about the injustices caused to them by mutual friends, their spouses or their relatives, a person who was raised in a chaotic environment will hate the people that wronged their friend.  The hate is intense that when the friend reconciles with their spouse, relatives and any other person who had been unjust to them, the one raised in a chaotic environment feel betrayed.

Another group of individuals who were raised in chaotic environment constantly attack people on the road, on social media, at work – they attack people who remind them of a parent or figure of authority that hurt them when they were children. The unresolved emotions that they experienced in their previous chaos are projected to totally undeserving people.

A person who lost their parent early, a person whose parent was always leaving them or one whose parent was absent is constantly unconsciously reenacting the chaos of being left that even when they enter into stable relationships or marriage, they are constantly threatening to leave, or they are constantly planning their exit should the partner leave.

A person whose parent was an alcoholic or had untreated mental illness learnt to live and fix the mess created by those parents. Most first born child who were assigned parental roles also learnt that it was their business to carry the burdens of others.

These adult children replicate their chaos by attracting friends and intimate partners who need fixing and caretaking. Eventually they get drained and end up with multiple negative emotions because they are overwhelmed with responsibilities that do not belong to them.

Each person who was raised in a chaotic environment needs to give themselves permission to heal this addiction. It’s the one gift they can offer themselves. While no one can change the environment they were raised in, everyone can take responsibility to do better going forward.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera

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