People who experienced childhood emotional abuse are very sensitive to the emotional states of others. Even if somebody tries very hard to conceal what they are feeling, a person with this kind of hard-won sensitivity won’t be fooled. And depending on the nature of the emotional abuse, such people might attribute the emotional states they intuit in others to something they did.

So they live to the constant accompaniment of worry, “He’s sad. What did I do to upset him? She’s irritated. What did I do to bug her?” Usually, whatever the others are experiencing isn’t about them at all but they are locked in the prison of their trauma and don’t get it.

On the positive side, such people work great in careers where you need to connect with others and understand their innermost feelings.


7 thoughts on “Prison”

  1. There’s been some writing on desensitization in the US. That videogames for example inure newer generations to violence. Or that turning from human affection to virtual reality signals an unwillingness (or reduces the ability) to engage with others on an emotional level.

    I have met a number of people who went through emotional trauma as children, subject to different forms of abuse or dysfunction in the home. Where they are now in terms of emotional intelligence varies all over the map. When I was younger, I thought that trauma would be a great motivator. That’s true for some but not for most. Nor do I expect compassion from victims. In some cases that happens, in others the victims become abusers.


  2. My problem is that I read co-workers probably too well, and I find them frustrating because they get confused by each other when to me everyone in the room is quite transparent. And I don’t handle frustration very well; I expect smart people to be smart rather than frustrating.


  3. I am definitely hypersensitive to the moods of others and always think I’m the cause of whatever is stressing them out. It’s something I can only override intellectually and it does require a lot of energy to do it every time (literally tell myself ‘It’s probably not anything you did, relax and let them be.’) How much more relaxing it would be to not have to do this step many times a day!


  4. My problem is that I have a difficult time reading facial expressions and tone. I don’t know exactly why, but I sometimes end up thinking that a person is upset at me simply because they were upset with me recently and are now in the same place as me. It’s a problem with interpreting silences, I think, but it sets off my anxiety. Usually if someone’s just upset and I don’t know what’s wrong, I just ask, because asking is better than not asking and then sitting there thinking maybe I did something wrong. And if I did do something wrong, it’s better to know so maybe we can talk about it.


  5. This rings very true for me. It’s taken years of practice to let go of the instinct to take responsibility for other people’s feelings. Part of growing as an employee was also realizing that it is not my job to make everyone happy, and I’m fact, I’m probably not doing my job correctly if everyone is happy with me all of the time.

    I’ve had multiple people/personality tests/career assessments tell me that I would be great at social work or nursing, but it’s honestly so exhausting to me to deal with people while still maintaining emotional distance. On the other hand, it’s something that I get consistently complimented on at my job now.


  6. I get this. I find situations in which I can’t closely track other people’s emotions (large groups, intoxicants, etc.) threatening at an almost physical level, and can’t feel comfortable in a group bigger than three to four people. I also apparently have a habit of memorizing the emotional and behavioural patterns of people around me to a degree that they find disturbing if I ever mention it out loud.

    It’s a bit of a pain – you feel contorted by the constant need to mirror other people’s needs, and start getting along better with people with obvious and predictable problems rather than those who function just fine without you.

    I’m not sure it’s just trauma there, though. It’s a strategy that looks to maximise control over other people’s emotional state and behaviour (and yes, that can get manipulative), so of course it’ll get a lot of false hits.

    I’m sure that there’s a disorder out there that deals with the converse of that situation in just as much of a dysfunctional way. Say, by feeling irrelevant and powerless even in situations where they do have clear ability to affect the state of other people.


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