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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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I grew up with a rageaholic mother and as a way to protect

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I grew up with a rageaholic mother and as a way to protect myself, I've learned to distance myself from my feelings. I'm 34 now and realizing I'm not just cut off from my mother but from everything. It's like I'm disassociated from emotional reality in general. Just numb and going through the motions. Is this a symptom of something bigger?

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.


It sounds like you may have some symptoms of PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome can occur when someone is exposed to abuse. If you spent your childhood with a mother who was abusive, it would be natural for you to have at least some symptoms of PTSD.


Being emotionally removed from life is a natural defense mechanism you developed to protect yourself, just as you said. You had to do something to survive and since you could not leave, you protected yourself the best you could.


Now you no longer need the defense mechanism but it is hard to shut off. After all, you knew no other way. You did not have the chance to learn to express yourself normally because you were busy coping with an emotionally disturbed adult.


You could also have some depression as well. Depressed people often feel as if they are going through the motions in life. They describe feeling as if they are on automatic or are robot like. The depression can be part of the PTSD or by itself. You most likely have PTSD given your background, but I wanted to bring depression up as a possibility so you could rule it out.


Going to therapy is an excellent way to address your issue. A therapist can do an evaluation and determine what is causing your symptoms. They can also offer you therapy to help you learn to express how you feel and to address any PTSD and/or depression you have. Any Master's level or Ph.D level therapist is a good option. If you want to find a therapist, talk to your doctor about a referral. Or you can search on line at


You can also use self help to work on your issue. Here are some resources to help you:


The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms by Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula


The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth by Glenn R. Schiraldi


You can find these books on or your local library may have them for you.


There are numerous resources available for people with PTSD. With therapy and self help, you should be feeling better soon.


I hope this helps you,

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
It's true that if I allow myself to "experience" how hurtful my mother's verbal abuse can be, I find myself fighting through how I feel for weeks after the incident. I will take your advice to move forward with therapy, however do you think I should keep my distance from my mother until I have some tools for handling her abrasive/abusive nature? She's mellowed a lot in her older age but the cut of her tounge and the quick temper still have their moments. When it happens, it's as if I'm a kid all over again. I'm afraid if I pull away it will spark an attack from her but if I continue to spend time with her before I'm able to properly handle her abuse, I don't want the cloud over my head. I'm trying to be present for my marriage (newlywed) and having to remind myself that it's reality (to be present), having to work to let my guard down when he's done nothing to deserve's become too much.

Yes, keeping your distance from your mother is a very good idea. You need time to work through your feelings and learn to express yourself. You basically are in recovery and that takes time and some TLC for yourself. Being near your mother is only going to re traumatize you again and again and slow your progress. You don't need that right now.


It is common for abused children to feel obligated to have a relationship with their abusive parents. Boundaries in abuse are usually very skewed and therefore an abused child does not learn personal space or normal behavior. Plus, an abused child craves that closeness to their parent, even if the parent is abusive. A parent is that one person who is supposed to provide the love you needed. But you are under no obligation to be near your mother just because she is your mother. Separating your caring for your mother from exposing yourself to her abusive behavior is something that takes practice. Just as you wouldn't expect a soldier to want to repeatedly visit the field where he lost his friends to a bomb during war, you should not expect yourself to be happy to be with your mother or even obligated, especially if she is still abusive. You can love her but you do not have to agree to be re traumatized by her just to show that love.


I thought of another book that may help you. It is called Adult children of abusive parents by Steven Farmer. It is an excellent guide for adult children and includes information about what is normal and what is not in dealing with their abuse and current issues.


It may also help to include your husband in your treatment, for as much as you feel comfortable. The more he understands, the better it is for you and your marriage. He will be able to be there for you as you recover and offer support.



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