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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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Is it normal to shut down when you are extremely angry or upset

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Is it normal to shut down when you are extremely angry or upset with someone? Sometimes at work when someone makes me really angry, I can outburst--but they are usually very measured, controlled emotional responses (i.e, raising voice, using choiced curse words)--they are never thoughtful and logical. But when I am super angry (usually with a trusted partner, family member or friend), I just completely shut down (non-communicative, avoid eye contact, reserved). I'm afraid to speak because I am so upset, I can't think clearly or am in shock or disbelieve of what has just happpened. what every it is that makes me upset to shut down I know will take me months to recovery from. Usually when I have an outburst, I know ahead of time that what made me angry I will recovery from within a day or less. Is this a normal behavior? Could it be my fault that I am not communicative when I am super upset?
Hello, I'd like to help you with your question.

It is a normal response to shut down when you feel angry or upset with someone. It is a mechanism to help protect yourself from emotional pain. And the deeper you feel this pain, the more shut down you might be.

People who shut down when faced with emotional upset usually either have a past where they were hurt very deeply by someone through abuse, neglect or some other trauma, or they tend to be sensitive in nature. Being sensitive is not a bad thing. It actually makes you more in tune to others than many people are, but it also makes it harder to cope with strong emotions. And shutting down is not so much about blame/fault as it is how you cope with confrontations/anger and other emotions.

If you were abused in your past, it could be that feeling very strong emotions through conflict with someone else triggers your feelings from the past. If that is true for you, therapy can help a lot. Talking through your trauma can lessen the pain and help you cope better with strong emotions.

It might also help to develop other ways to cope. For example, when you experience very strong emotions that make you feel like shutting down, try to express your feelings in another way. Journaling or even just jotting down your feelings, talking to someone neutral to the situation or expressing yourself through physical exertion can all help. The idea is to get your feelings out and express them so their impact is less and you can open yourself up again.

If this does not work for you, talking to a therapist might be very helpful. You want to explore why shutting down is your first reaction and what happens when you are confronted with strong emotions. By exploring what causes you to go into yourself, you can understand it better and find new ways to cope.

I hope this has helped you,
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Kate, this makes a lot of sense. Can it also be a combination of abuse/trauma and having a sensitive nature. You said therapy could possible help you cope with your feelings but if its part of your nature there is no therapy to help solve this issue? I feel like not communicating with people gives them a license to repeat the offending behavior and I just recoil into state that I shut down and I'm afraid if I have an outburst now I will get blame for not speaking out sooner. Nonetheless, it is good to know my reactions have never been physically violent or vindictive in nature.
It can be a combination of trauma, abuse and a sensitive nature. Not all children are born with the same personality and the effects of abuse is different on everyone.

Even if this is partly due to having a sensitive nature, therapy can help you find other ways to cope. And you can explore your personality to understand it better, which will automatically help you cope better.

People tend to read whatever they want into your reaction probably based on their own experiences. But you have to take care of yourself and let them cope however they need to. As long as you address this, your ability to cope will improve. And you are already doing that by just asking questions, which is very positive.


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