Emotions, it’s not disregulation if you never learnt to regulate

The environment many abuse survivors lived in, and this is particularly true of those who were abused as children, was one where displays of emotions could be dangerous.

Not just physically dangerous, though that for many was true, but emotionally dangerous.

Let’s consider a child, perhaps a young teen, who is abused by a parent. Now these things don’t just happen, a parent doesn’t one day simply decide to abuse their child. There has to be a period of grooming. This is not just the grooming of the child but in a way the adult parent. He or she, will have to come to accept that what they are going to do is OK, acceptable even. One of the key prerequisites of this is to emotionally disengage from the child.

The child has to be seen simply as something to use.

This won’t happen overnight. And in the process of disengagement the child will notice, will feel the withdraw of affection or protection. In feeling that withdrawal the child will fight to keep what he can. He will assume, quite naturally, that the reason that the parent is withdrawing from him is because of something he did. He will feel he is to blame for the withdraw, that he is causing his parent to stop loving him.

In response the child begins to shut down, to suppress any show of feelings in the belief that such a display will only act to push the parent away further. This is particularly true for boys who have the additional indoctrination that ‘boys don’t cry’ to deal with.


The period of abuse may well also contain intense emotional manipulation, either to engender fear, the “behave or THEY will take you away” or submission and dependence characterised but the ‘if you love me’ narrative. In either case the emotional suppression the child had already began is both reinforced as well as a layer of confusion added. The emotions being engendered are ofcourse the exact opposite to how they are being presented. Highly negative, destructive emotions being packaged as positive loving ones all in the name of control.


After the abuse the emotional control and manipulation continues. Both by the abuser but additionally often by the family who can’t, or won’t, accept that you have been abused. They need to convince themselves that it never happened so you must be lying. And therefor they use emotions, ‘think of the family’ or threats of withdraw of affection and protection to control the child. More layers of confusion about what emotions really are, more encouragement to suppress he or her own emotions both because he is scared any display will be met with a negative reaction but also by now simply not knowing how to feel let alone express emotions. So much safer to keep them locked away along sometimes with the memories of the abuse itself.


Se eventually, often many years later, when the memories begin to surface or another life even opens the Pandora’s box of emotions the now adult, but still in reality the abused child, is faced with a torrent of emotions, both years of hidden suppressed ones as well as the normal everyday emotions everybody feels.


With know experience in managing emotions, a confused and often distorted understanding of what emotions are is it any wonder at all that survivors have difficulties in managing their emotions. It’s NOT emotional disregulation when you simply have no real instinctive understanding of emotions, their meaning and effects let alone in regulating them.



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