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When Stress Has You Shutting Out and Shutting Down

May 4, 2014
Courtesy of Morguefile, pippalou

Courtesy of Morguefile, pippalou

Shutting Out and Shutting Down

How many times have you been down in the dumps and told those closest to you that you wanted to be alone? Are you protecting those around you from your pain? Are you afraid they won’t understand and choose to write you off? Sure, everyone needs a little time and space to grieve over a loss of whatever sort, but probably not as much as what you think you need.

Why do we push people away when we need them most? This is another symptom of stress. Those with PTSD or related disorders seem to feel a need to hold loved ones at arm’s length when they actually need a bit of judicious interaction.

Distressing memories or thoughts can be triggered by the smallest of things, especially scents. What is remembered can overwhelm a person and sharing that remembrance is perceived as a great deal of emotional risk to themselves and others. Anger, fear, frustration – all those strong emotions come into play. A distressed person may appear unduly or uncharacteristically angry over “nothing.” They may lash out verbally and radiate negativity, all of which is directed at protecting themselves and those they care about from their distress.

This distress is quite tangible to the person experiencing it. The source of the distress becomes resurrected, fresh, powerful, and painful. Handling its resurgence can be a chore of monumental proportions. Dealing with someone else in the throes of it can be every bit as daunting.

There may be times when the stressed-out person needs to be physically close to a loved one and craves the comfort that proximity allows. At other times, the same person may throw up angry barricades, trying to deliberately force that loved one to retreat. Realizing that this behavior is temporary and misdirecting can be perplexing to the extreme, especially if the behavior happens often.

So, what is right way to approach this scenario? The answer depends on a lot of situational variables and on the people involved. One thing remains constant, however, and that is love. Love enables people to hang onto their hope and faith in each other, gives that crucial little boost to their waning courage. Love won’t give up. It may take a beating now and again – perhaps even to the point of instinctive self-preservation, but it won’t give up.

In my first book, “Speeding Tickets,” Doug (the hero) doesn’t give up on Christine (the heroine) when she’s drawing away from him, sinking inside herself with apprehension. He makes her promise not to shut him out of her life when she’s filled with uncertainty: As long as they can talk to each other and turn to each other, they can figure out how to make it through anything life throws at them. Doug knows this because he’s been through hell and back. He’s aware that Christine, too, has suffered greatly along life’s path. They are both among the walking wounded, and while Doug sees that Chris is not handling life much better than he is, if they don’t give up on each other, if they work together, maybe they’ll both do more than merely survive — and they’ll keep each other from shutting down.

  1. I wonder about this sometimes and if there’s such a thing as a “mild case”. A friend and I who are both married to Vietnam vets shake our heads at the similarities between our husbands’ behaviors.

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