I recently read this humorous description of what I call ‘doing addiction’ by Copywriter, Kevin Rogers (The Copy Chief): “I remember a few too many evenings when I literally felt like I could not close the laptop. As if some kind of psychological octopus had wrapped its suction cup tentacles around my brain… just slow-humping my mind with its own dark, Psychopus agenda while I sat helplessly reacting to his commands”.
You know those times you observe yourself in doing mode and know that you’re tired and unproductive but just can’t stop what you’re doing or you’re stuck in your spiral of overwhelm and just can’t seem to snap out of it? In my last post I shared how the Holding Personality (my own term) results in unconscious patterns that control our behaviour despite our best intents to slow down and create space for health and well being. Today I describe why that Holding Personality develops.
These holding patterns which cause your fatigue very likely came about because at some point in your life you felt a lack of security. Chronic exhaustion is very, very, very often the result of excessive use of coping mechanisms to overcome a feeling of not feeling secure (and this includes not feeling loved or good enough).
This need for security is very much a part of the childhood experience. We all needed to have our physical needs met and also our emotional needs (to be acknowledged and supported even when feeling ‘negative’ emotions). Also, there is a general need to to be able to trust life and our caregivers and feel safe most of the time. This need for security is very much a part of the childhood experience. We all needed to have our physical needs met and also our emotional needs (to be acknowledged and supported even when feeling ‘negative’ emotions). Also, there is a general need to to be able to trust life and our caregivers and feel safe most of the time.
Now imagine how a child feels when these, or some of these needs are not met? Imagine a child who is powerless to meet these needs her/himself and those around her/him are unable or unwilling to meet them? Pretty scary and lonely right? Children will do whatever they can to stop feeling those horrible feelings.
Now this is important: Our caregivers generally did the best they could with the tools they received from their own childhood experiences. And while some of you may have experienced very obvious trauma, for most of you it may have been that your caregivers were able to meet your physical needs but could not meet your emotional needs. This could be because they were often ill; or depressed or anxious; or physically absent due to work or other commitments.
Often their own emotions were not recognised or soothed and so they do not like being triggered and feeling vulnerable in the face of their children’s emotions. This can lead to ridiculing, criticising or striking a child to control the child and make the emotional expression stop. Or caregivers may place physical distance between themselves and the child whose emotions are making them uncomfortable, distract the child or tell the child to stop, or shut down emotionally so as not to feel. This last one can be felt by a child like a physical door being shut and can be so damaging as the child cannot make sense of it.
In the face of the above the child may feel a number of things:
- What I am feeling is very scary as others cannot even deal with it
- I must be going crazy as no one else seems to notice that I feel this thing that feels so big and scary
- My needs are not important and/or I am not important
- The world is completely out of my control and unpredictable
- And a number of other beliefs about the self, the world and others that create a lot of anxiety and uncertainty.
To cope with these feelings and beliefs children can do a few things:
- Model the caregivers and disconnect from the feelings (this is also a natural and easy defence for children)
- Escape and distract themselves through play, TV, reading, food (especially if given food by parents when they are asking for emotional support)
- Control whatever they can control in their lives to feel capable e.g. eating, toilet habits (especially in young children), grades and sporting
- Try to rescue and protect caregivers
- Do really well in whatever they can so as to receive the acknowledgement they crave, to feel important and to feel in charge and capable.
Can you see how the various characteristics of the Holding Personality are formed as a result of these coping mechanisms?
Now here’s the crazy part. We all grow up and develop emotional maturity, the ability to ask for support and generally are not powerless like when we were children, yet we still hold on to these old coping mechanisms and every time there is a situation that triggers that old security-fear the child self becomes very present in us which makes us feel and behave like children.
When we are feeling and responding from that place it will be like a psychological octopus controlling our brains so that we keep doing what we’ve always done despite the fact that it is exhausting and not serving us.
The way forward is to become conscious of your patterns so they lose their hold on you.
Can you recognise the Holding Personality in your life? Can you see where it may have come about?