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Why someone can always feel ill at ease

Why someone can always feel ill at ease

There are many people who despite outward appearance are always struggling inside with feeling ill at ease. It could be that they thought if they achieved a level of success as defined by society that they would feel the contentment they – and everyone – needs.

But even when they get excellent status and first-rate material wealth, there remains a familiar but progressively uncomfortable feeling of being ill at ease. Or it could be that someone figures the uneasy feeling they always seem to have carried will ease as they get older.

But in fact it only keeps growing inside them – and can be behind sleep problems,  depression, stress and anxiety. It can reach the point where it is so excruciatingly painful that they turn to drink, drugs or develop a behavioral addiction in an attempt to stop the bad feeling. 

This can sometimes seem to give short-term relief. But it is never the real solution – and it often becomes the first and most obvious problem to deal with for someone seeking recovery.

Not why the addiction but why the pain

Not why the addiction but why the pain

Frequently, addiction to alcohol, drugs or an unhealthy behavior is the reason someone seeks help in the first place. But to fully recover from an addiction, the reason for the pain needs to be explored and resolved.

Indeed, this is one of the key reasons for someone feeling always ill at ease. It is to do with an unresolved history.

It can be from a trauma in adult life. But most often it is from a childhood trauma.

The reason is that we are forming so quickly when we are children. All children need to have their needs met – we all need to feel loved and valued – and yet sometimes due to many different reasons this doesn’t happen.

As we are all different, everyone will experience trauma in a different manner. Someone may see problems start immediately after the trauma, yet others may not be aware of being affected until years later.

If there’s a trauma that’s not been resolved, it can put the person that it remains inside at risk for nearly every sort of physical, mental or emotional health problem.

Toxic trauma

Toxic trauma

Unresolved trauma is toxic. It will in nearly every case haunt someone for the rest of their lives – yet often in a manner that doesn’t seem connected.

For years after a trauma and deep into adulthood somebody might try to mask over or forget their past. Many people go through their entire life believing it cannot adversely affect them in any way.

Actually it is most often behind most of the way they live and many of what they and others believe are their character traits. These are in fact coping mechanisms.

Somebody might think: “My childhood wasn’t great, but many people had it much worse” or “It wasn’t really that bad when I think about my childhood.” This is known as idealization – when a person persuades themselves that someone or something that happened was okay.

To mask the real pain they might go completely the other way and convince themselves that it was actually totally fine or even good. So such as: “My father was a great man” when the reality that they do not feel they can face is that he regularly abused them.

So idealization is a survival technique to avoid overwhelming pain if the truth is admitted. It seems the better – and perhaps easier – option than looking at the severe wound that’s been left inside them.

But trauma derives from a Greek word meaning “wound” – and as with a severe physical wound, if left untreated it will fester. So it will get increasingly more painful as time goes on.

Hysterical historical  

Most people do not make the connection that old untreated wounds will have all manner of adverse mental and physical consequences. But something that happened years before can subconsciously trigger a response in us such as shame, fear, self-pity, anger or guilt.

There’s a phrase used in therapy: if it’s hysterical it’s historical. This is when sometimes a reaction seems to be entirely inappropriate to what is actually happening.

For instance, a 50-year-old man gets extremely angry and clearly upset as well because he is waiting to pay a restaurant bill and it seems the waiter has served someone else ahead of him. The reaction of extreme anger that this man shows might be due to the man getting a similar feeling that he got as a child when he was regularly ignored by his mother who was an alcoholic.

In some ways it is the child in this man who is reacting, and he’s reacting to his mother rather than the waiter. He wants to deal with the waiter in the manner he wished he had dealt with his mother.

It is why everyone in the restaurant is looking over wondering just what’s going on. When the man leaves the restaurant he is similarly shocked as to why he reacted in the manner that he just did. The truth is he hasn’t made the connection, so he has no idea and he is now distraught at that.

Ill at ease to disease

It is not just what happens to us that affects us. We are also affected by how sensitive we are and to what extent we have been unable to feel the pain caused by something traumatic.

As well, that means to what extent we have been able to make any sense of what happened. This means because we have not made any sense of it that we will still be carrying it deep inside and it will be negatively impacting on us in myriad ways.

Until traumas are looked at they will strongly influence what relationships we have, how we are as parents, how we think and feel, our belief systems – and basically how we are in this world.

For the vast majority it will leave an almost continual feeling of being ill at ease, whatever they do or achieve in life. It is no wonder so many mental and physical health problems are called a disease. 

Break down that word: “dis-” is a prefix denoting reversal or absence of an action or state. So disease is because we are not at ease.

Facing our traumas is certainly not easy, but it is the key to healing. When we heal and understand ourselves, then we can start to become our true selves. This means we will feel at ease.

An abnormal culture

There is another aspect to why some people feel ill at ease. That is cultural and family expectations.

For instance, far too many people become someone they are not comfortable with due to family pressure – such as: “Our family has always worked in law.”

It might be that someone climbs this ladder of success and everyone around them is saying how well they’ve done. Indeed by Western society’s values, this person is a success – with all the material evidence such as brand-new cars and a big house not to mention the status of being a high career achiever.

But deep inside the person knows it is not really them… There is another calling, and not answering it leaves them feeling constantly ill at ease.

They may well have climbed the ladder of success. But it is planted firmly against the wrong building.

Because of this feeling of being continually ill at ease, this person might turn to drink, drugs or succumb to a behavioral addiction in an attempt to ease it. They might develop depression, stress or anxiety.

“So much of what we call abnormality in this culture is actually normal responses to an abnormal culture,” says addiction expert Dr Gabor Maté, author of some of the world’s bestselling recovery books, including In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts. “The abnormality does not reside in the pathology of individuals, but in the very culture that drives people into suffering and dysfunction.”

So his belief is that the way in which our society is set up doesn’t work for many if not most people. In fact, our culture is made to keep people away from discovering and being their true self.

There are also a great many people who are ill at ease because of both an unresolved trauma combined with society’s and/or family expectations. Indeed, somebody who has a trauma that’s not been resolved is quite possibly more likely to follow what they are told because they are seeking love and approval so desperately, because they are urgently searching for a way to stop their pain.

In both instances, help from a person with expertise in these matters is undoubtedly needed. Our friendly experienced team has treated people for decades with all emotional and mental health problems.

Get in touch with us today to hear how we can help you or someone you care about to move into recovery.

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David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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