Shut Off From My Emotions

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I know there is something wrong with me but I don’t know what is it and how to deal with it: I’ve problems and I need help. No one around me seems to understand what I’m going through. First, my parents were divorced 3 years ago and that’s a good thing I actually encouraged it. My father wasn’t a father in any way. He was abusive, cheap, there is nothing else I can say about him other than he is a bad person with serious problems. I’m glad we don’t live with him anymore although he is still in our lives which really bothers me. The man has no idea that he ruined my childhood. I just want to tell him how horrible he is, how wrong. The few months before the divorce were really dark times for me. I cried every night. I didn’t eat well. I slept all day and was up all night like a vampire. I also prayed to God to end my life every day. We left with my mom more than once but we always came back even when I thought ‘there is no way she’d go back after what he did this time’. I actually still have nightmares about going back although I’m sure it won’t happen again. I still can’t understand why she kept coming back to him. That ended well, we live away from him. We still see him, me and my sister. And we’ve to act like we love him, because our family tells us we should so we could live in peace. He doesn’t know how I feel about him. Well, I got out of that one alive but I feel like something had died in me.

What I did to keep myself sane through this time was shutting my emotions. I told myself everyone else doesn’t matter I only live for me. I invented something I call the SWITCH which shuts down my emotions, worries and fears. One time they got into a fight and he hit her in front of me, my sister and family members. My sister was crying and my family was trying to calm them down. And me, thanks to the switch I was watching TV in the same room. I didn’t bother looking at what was happening. I know there is something wrong with that.

The other thing which I’m suffering from now is, I don’t know what to call it. Ok, from the start. I’m in engineering faculty. And I specialize in electronics and communication. It needs a lot of work. I find very hard to study. To enroll in this faculty you must get very high grades in high school. So I used to be a very good student.

Now I’m easily distracted, very easily. I can’t concentrate in class. I can’t finish anything I intend to finish. I feel very annoyed when I’m in class. I’m failing my courses. I’ve absolutely zero emption. I started to really hate it.

I think I made the wrong choice choosing this specialty. But I had no other options. I wanted to make my family happy and proud. Now I’m just a big disappointment like my mom keeps reminding me. I find myself very creative and smart in other things. I lost my faith in myself, I’ve no self-esteem. How could I trust myself when my own mother doesn’t?

The switch has turned on me because I neglect all my problems and worries. But I’ll still use it. it’s the only way I know how to deal with things.

I don’t know what to do. But my life is being destroyed piece by piece in front of as I stand helpless. I’m usually a very optimistic person and keep telling myself everything will be fine, I’ll handle it. But I’ve been telling myself this for 2 years now. This is all I can say now.
So what should I do?

A. You effectively “shut off” your emotions, so that you did not have to feel the emotional pain associated with your father and being raised in your home. The “switch” was essentially a tourniquet. It was a defense mechanism. Defense mechanisms have a purpose but they can be costly. The “switch” served its purpose but now it is hurting you. You have seemingly lost your ability to have a full range of emotions.

The most efficient solution is psychotherapy. A psychotherapist will be able to help you explore your emotions in a safe environment. Feeling safe is important. Part of why you developed the “switch” was likely because you were fearful of strong and painful emotions. It is important that you receive guidance in this process. A psychotherapist can provide this. It will be a difficult process but one that is necessary.

Your second question is related to your inability to concentrate and focus on your studies. There may be two explanations. One is that you may have depression. The second possibility is that you may have an attention deficit disorder. I would recommend having a psychiatric evaluation before you make any major decisions about your life circumstances. You are concerned that engineering was the wrong career choice but it is difficult to know that when you are experiencing possible mental health symptoms.

It is important to keep in mind that engineering may not be your “dream job” but it might be a wise career choice. You worry that it may not be the right choice because you feel drawn to more creative outlets. You can still explore your creative interests while working as an engineer. Career choices need to be practical.

I’m not familiar with the mental health services in your country. I hope that you will consider having a psychiatric evaluation and meeting with a therapist. I wish you the best. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 May 2011

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2011). Shut Off From My Emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/05/16/shut-off-from-my-emotions/