Why do I always feel like I’m being verbally attacked by someone?

Zoey asked:

Why do I always feel like I’m being verbally attacked by someone?

I always feel someone is going to hurt me emotionally because when I was young I was bullied most of my life and I just turned 22 now and I still can’t shake the past off.  

Categories – Abuse and Bullying

Answered on January 27, 2021

Hi Zoey, Thank you for your question.

Believe it or not, this is actually really common for adults to experience, even decades after the actual bullying occurred. The fact that you are recognizing this at 22 is a testament to your strength and resilience.

The first step is to understand that bullying is a trauma and what makes the trauma more complex is the fact that it is repeated over time (the bullying).

What may be happening to you is when you are in a situation in which you want to be open and connect (vulnerable) with someone, you become “triggered” by those past memories and feelings. As a result, you probably either shut down or push that person away.

And why wouldn’t you? Nobody wants to re-experience those traumas and be hurt again. So, after recognizing it as a trauma, the next step is to figure out how to process the trauma so that you can mentally and physically heal and move forward in a positive way and make real connections with people again. So how do we do this?

Most of us adhere to the “I just won’t think about it” school of thought and hope that will work. It rarely does.

1) Always remember that you are in control. Think of this process like you are on a train, looking out the window as the scenery passes you by. The train is moving and all of a sudden you see the bullies and you feel all the different emotions. You can either stop the train and address those feelings and memories or you can keep the train moving. If you aren’t ready to stop the train then just “see” the memory and watch it go by.

2) You need to work on some type of grounding technique. This could be learning how to do some deep breathing exercises or envisioning a calm, relaxing and safe place (real or imaginary). Some times by bringing up these memories, we can become anxious. By having a grounding technique that you have practiced will allow you to be in control of your emotions (not being anxious).

3) Expressing the emotions associated with the trauma. This is really important. You will want to express those emotions in a very real way. For example, anger can be expressed by hitting a punching bag, high intensity workout and screaming into a pillow. The idea is to unlock those feelings and let them out.

4) Journaling can also be a great way to process your emotions and experiences. By writing them down in a journal, you can say anything you want. Nobody else is going to read what you wrote so putting into words or drawings how you feel or felt, is often very “freeing.”

5) Writing a letter. Another way to express your feelings is to write those people or that person a letter. Just don’t send it! This can allow you to speak directly to them and to say all the things you have wanted to say from way back then until now. Thank you again for this question. It isn’t easing healing from past traumas. But the weight that will come off of your shoulders will be worth working through this process. I wish you all the best! Steven R. Levey, PhD, LCSW

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