Why I Didn’t Know how I Felt about Anything


I don't know my own feelingsOn the blog post about the feelings of loneliness in recovery a commenter wrote about “going blank” when she is asked how she ‘feels’ or what she “thinks” about something.  This is something that used to happen to me as well and it is another one of those pretty common reactions that people have.  The reaction of going blank or freezing at the question of “how do you feel” has an origin; it comes from somewhere and like all reactions it was something that I learned to do in order to deal with people.  Freezing or going blank for me became a coping method and a way to survive but there is a reason that my mind learned to shut off and react like that.


I didn’t know how I ‘felt’ about anything either.  I didn’t know why I had trouble expressing my feelings, I just did.  And I had learned to ignore myself at such a young age that I didn’t know I was ignoring myself anymore. It was just how I lived and how I learned to survive or get by. Sometimes I could think in my own mind that I felt happy, or I felt blue or down, but I could not tell anyone else about my feelings.  I would freeze at the question.  The question was “unsafe” to answer.


In my post “Stop Crying or I will give you something to cry about” I talked about the message that we got as children when were told “to stop crying or else.” My feelings were invalidated. In being told that I didn’t hurt or that I didn’t have a reason to cry I was being told that I was wrong to have those feelings and I concluded that my feelings were wrong and therefore invalid and that I did not have a right to my own emotions so I shut them down and turned them off and that was how I learned to invalidate and then ignore my own feelings.


I also learned to be afraid of the consequences of my feelings; being told that they were “wrong” and having the threat of more punishment or more pain if I don’t stop “feeling” those feelings, I became afraid of my feelings too.  I was afraid to feel anger because there might be a negative consequence so I shut that feeling down.  SO I became afraid that the feelings were wrong AND that there might be consequences to having those wrong feelings. THAT resulted in being afraid to FEEL ANYTHING and it also made me doubt my own feelings when I did feel them.


SO when someone asked me “how do you feel about that” or “how are you feeling?” I didn’t realize it but my first reaction was FEAR.  Without realizing it consciously, I was afraid that my feelings were wrong, that I had no right to them and that having them might lead to a negative consequence.  All that fear was operating under the surface because of my childhood history and the fear dictated my reaction and my response.  Deep down I was thinking “what do you want me to say? Instead of knowing and acknowledging my feelings, I was wondering what the “right answer” was to the question and I was considering what the safest response would be.  I didn’t wonder how I actually felt about very many things anymore because years earlier my feelings had been defined as wrong and I had been defined as unworthy of having them.


This is what happens to children who have been invalidated or who have had their feelings invalidated. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know what I was feeling; I was also afraid to acknowledge my feelings in case they were wrong.  Survival for me had become about making sure that I didn’t do or say the wrong thing.


Looking back at my life through that grid of understanding, it is no wonder that I struggled with such deep depression and dissociative identity issues.  It wasn’t safe to be alive! It wasn’t safe to be me.  It wasn’t safe to feel OR to acknowledge my feelings.


Getting my feelings back had a lot to do with realizing why I had shut them down and how they were controlled by others in the first place.


In my next post I will talk about the way I processed the question “what do you think?”


The Emerging from Broken bookThe Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing” is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing

Darlene Ouimet

Related Posts: Taught to think or taught not to think?

Loneliness in Recovery and Emotional Healing

Stop that crying or I will give you something to cry about

Learning to feel feelings isn’t always easy ~ by Lynn Tolson


78 response to "Why I Didn’t Know how I Felt about Anything"

  1. By: M Posted: 21st February 2015

    Hi there. I wanted to tell you that I came across this website and it was quite the relief to know that there was a name for that blank mind thing. I started therapy for an eating disorder last year and in the process my whole personality fell apart; I think I was so cut off from my thoughts and feelings that I could constantly reinvent any way I wanted to be. So when my therapist asked me who I was, what I thought and felt about things, I had no answer. I heard/hear words come out of my mouth and I have no idea where they come from; same with writing. A bit like I am processing things in my mouth and in my hand but not in my mind. Once I did start to try and understand my inner life, it was all conflict. It’s been terrible to try and explain this to my doctors, therapists, etc, who seem to want to diagnose me with borderline personality disorder and then leave it be, when I think the reality is that it is more complicated than that (I think). Of course, I have no idea what I think! Anyway, it was great to come across this. Wanted you to know that it made me feel briefly, less alone.


  2. By: DXS Posted: 19th July 2013

    From our fearless blog writer:

    Deep down I was thinking “what do you want me to say? Instead of knowing and acknowledging my feelings, I was wondering what the “right answer” was to the question and I was considering what the safest response would be.

    OH MY GAWD! How did I miss this blog post? This is my entire childhood!!!!! “what answer am I supposed to give?”

    I started a “coping” technique of asking, “What is motivating the question?” Of course, that got people mad, when they were being asked to “justify” the intrusive question they were asking me!

    I’m trying hard to “feel” what I feel. It takes me 48 hours to realize I “feel” something, that is how SHUT DOWN I am.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 19th July 2013

      Hi DXS
      It took me awhile between realizing that I didn’t know how I felt about anything to knowing how I actually felt. There was a lot of self talk and thinking that happened along the way. It was survival as a child; necessary to think through the survival grid. (“what will keep me safest” is of the utmost importance to our well being, and that way of thinking is not an easy habit to break.) I was that shut down too; but today I am fully alive!
      hugs, Darlene

  3. By: Lea Posted: 18th July 2013

    How do we relearn the feelings??? I NEED DIRECTION!!!

    I have been in therapy for over a year now but am still not sure what it all means. Can I even feel to begin with?? I really do only know fear (most times) and sadness and excitement, I kind of understand happiness but that’s a tough one to put my finger on most days.

    Your story sounds A LOT like my own. Ive never been validated by anyone in my family, 2 older half brothers and virtually no one but my addict mother and father “involved” in my life. Whats worse is I am stuck working with them in a job I dont think I enjoy too much because theres no progress, change, or validation here either! Then there are other days I think I do because its family but I really just dont know. Friendships and relationships have suffered majorly and I just am too scared to get out there and forge new bonds now, even tho I am trying, I cant handle any more rejection tho. I had my heart crushed with the last guy once again. Im getting older but Im still young and have a chance, the 30 transition has taken a HUGE toll on me. I really always thought Id be a mommy and a wife and here I am single and living alone, thanks to mom and dad who foot half my rent because I am too hard to deal with and am scared I am going to have issues with anyone I live with…as my past suggests what my future will hold.

    I suffered chronic illness most of my life and finally got myself dxed with MS in 2009 (miraculously am healthy now, whole other story tho) and I am finally springing back (THANK GOD!!!) but I fear that its this work environment that is perpetuating my dissatisfaction and pain. Im back in school but am not sure if I like where im heading??? I dont want to get sick again! I CANT EVER GET SICK LIKE THAT AGAIN! How can I tell what direction to go in my life? I have tried soo many things looking for that answer!

    Please someone help.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 19th July 2013

      Hi Lea
      Keep reading! I have written a lot about how I overcame the damage and took my life back! I recovered all aspects of myself including my health. There is hope,
      hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Becca Posted: 28th November 2012

    for so long I worked out feelings by trying to guess what I should be feeling because I just didn’t really “get” feelings. It’s been really hard and really scary to learn how to answer the question how are you feeling – it feels like a test each time and the empty washes over my head – sometimes I struggle to even recall the topic of conversation that the how are you feeling question links to. I think the hardest part has been accepting that that happens – I’ve always got away with answering “correctly” and no one ever cared to dig deeper.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th November 2012

      Hi Becca
      I totally ‘get’ what you are saying! I had to re-learn all my feelings and what they were. This problem comes from the lack of being validated as a whole person or individual with feelings. keep going forward and this will get easier!
      Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Jane Posted: 20th September 2012

    I had no words from the time I was born up to and even now. I can’t begin to describe what’s in my heart,mind and soul.In my mind I am the greatest person in the world…but on top of my mind is layers and layers of dirt and filth from my mother and brothers they smothered me and covered me with more hatred than any one child could ever handle on their own.My thoughts were not my thoughts,my words were not my words, my feelings were not my feelings and my actions were not my actions.Where do I go from here.I feel like I have been in a semi-coma state, I have been aware of this life but not partaking in this life. How do you relearn your entire life.I can’t ask how do you get your entire life back to live over again the right way because that will never happen.I have missed out on so many things,not just the big things but all the little vibrant things, all the things that shape and mold a person into a strong,take charge, I know what I want out of life,seize the day,never have a moment of indecisiveness,know my worth kind of woman. Where are my words?How do I feel?When is it my turn to shine?Why am I always sitting?I have no answers only questions. Thank you Darlene. Hugs Jane.

  6. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 22nd April 2012

    Hi Marina
    I know what you are talking about here! I wanted to say that I could not even set boundaries until I validated myself and realized that I had constantly been devauled. I had to know I was right before I could move forward. That is why I alsways talk about getting to the roots of the belief system. The freezing was about believing that I was always wrong and about being powerless. I had to realize that I was NOT wrong and that as an adult I was not powerless.
    Hope that makes sense
    Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Marina P Posted: 22nd April 2012

    Hi Darlene,

    This is a great topic. I can relate a lot to not even knowing that I was disconnected from how I felt. I din’t even have that much self awareness. I realised that every scrap of my energy and being had always been focused on not being and rather focusing on the outside world. In therapy I would auto-correct things and not even realise it. No answer or emotion was “safe” so I “chose” to just stop speaking or feeling whenever possible. And am still doing it now! lol.

    I am now capable of being in touch with my feelings and although it takes work that has changed my life. Emotions are like the road signs of life and they tell us how we need to protect ourselves and what type of boundaries are required. Instead of avoiding them embracing them (scary) helps protect us.

    Where I am terribly terribly stuck is admitting to how I feel to others and in therapy I can spend 45 out of 50 minutes blanked out and unable to think at all just because I have been asked “how have you been”. And freezing is a common response to me too!

    I think you are saying (and this is what it is for me) that you have a mini emotional flashback and it therefore feels dangerous and wrong to say anything.

    Every time I say anything about the past I have this internal invalidating me that practically screams that I am a liar and terrible person. It is relentless and deafening. I try to treat it like the ED voice but it is hard. Most of the time I think I factitious disorder and that is my only problem! lol.

    I am unable to get myself into therapy at the moment as every single time I try to do something to get a t my mind empties and I am blocked.

    I would highly recommend DBT to anyone who feels they want to learn to tolerate emotions, identify them and learn to connect to them. It has helped me so much.

    I have this book and it is great:
    The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical Dbt Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Dist) By McKay, Matthew (Author) Paperback on 01-Jul-2007

    Darlene, it is safe to have your feelings now and those people who hurt you can’t hurt you now if you put up good strong boundaries.

  8. By: kelly Posted: 21st April 2012

    I came from a family of “Children were seen and not heard” Was the theme in our house of 5 children.I remember at a young age,standing at the top of the stairs. Contemplating throwing myself down to see if anybody would notice,care, or even cry.Hiding my emotions came easy for me..I look back now.Wow how sad was that.Needless to say getting into a physically abusive marriage was right around the corner. Hiding emotions was my mantra. It changed when my daughter was born. She and my sister were the only people I felt anything for. Every day still I get up and look in the mirror to “feel” for the day,I actually have to tell myself how to feel.I am assuming that when I was diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder,it was because I feel the need to make everything seem so important so I can feel it. I never hit my daughter because I was afraid if I started I would “feel” something and wouldn’t want to stop. It scares me now,thinking back. But knowing I’m not the only”crazy”one.Makes me FEEL SAD AND RELIEVED.Thank you for having this forum to let me have a voice

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 21st April 2012

      Hi Kelly
      About children being seen and not heard… (as with all child abuse systems) when DO the children have any rights? This is the thing that people forget; controlling or dysfunctional parents don’t suddenly decide that “you are old enough now to have a voice” ~ from what I have seen just the tactic changes. When you have been raised to believe that “you are the crazy one” it doesn’t just change over night. We have to go back and kind of “re do” it. Grown up again in the parts that were missed. Give ourselves that voice we never had at the ages we never had it.
      Glad you are here Kelly!
      Hugs, Darlene

  9. By: Molly Posted: 6th February 2012

    Hi Joan,
    I here you about not wanting to go there it ..I am so afraid of loosing it completlyScared of not knowing how to deal with it all.My hubby is no help.Narcissistic personality disorderer he has & I tell you it is horrable.I have to zone him out & cocentrate on me.When can.I am so glad I found this blog,however I can only do baby steps.Sounds weird .Its just to much for me to handle alot.

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