Internalized Oppression: Living Safe Means Living Stuck

Girl hiding beneath the tableTrauma often leaves us living in a seemingly hostile world, feeling ineffective, believing that help cannot be expected.

To some degree, the concept of limited internal power and limitless external power remains an essential component of complex trauma. Fatalism (or “learned helplessness”) is a debilitating side effect of experienced oppression. In many, the freeze response includes disengagement from life—an intentional separation from anger, power, and movement.

Internalized Oppression and the Freeze Response

The human body has a few options when threat is detected. If we look around and find physical signals of safety from another, our anxiety recedes. If support is not available, we move into fight-or-flight mode, mobilizing for self-protection. Especially for children—when physical size renders fight useless and dependence precedes flight—freeze is the next step.

Like fight or flight, freeze is a biological resource. It serves a purpose. It effectively preserves within our core what we deem most fragile and valuable, as if moving into hibernation or hiding in a safe until safety once again presents itself. We lie dormant.

While the mechanism is an effective one, the experience of life in a freeze state is not always pleasant. We still access fight and flight, often more readily than others, as if we are living on the border of that biological response. In fact, we are. As freeze is a drop after fight or flight, the experience of fight/flight becomes the wall between us and the world. Life itself becomes a protected bubble, with little action—sometimes indiscernible movement. Just breathing. Waiting. Sometimes minutes. Sometimes decades.

We live on as a sliver of our whole: eating food, maintaining, avoiding any risks that might bring us closer to whatever dreams we hold. We may carry some fantasy of being recognized or saved one day, or eventually finding courage and overcoming our self-imposed prisons. One major challenge lies in the fact the only route to freedom includes a journey through the impenetrable panic of fight/flight, and we still carry the template of our last experience there. So we end up living—or at least maintaining—in cages of our own making, feeling frustrated, depressed, powerless to escape or change.

This is a form of internalized oppression. On a macro scale, internalized oppression (also known as self-directed oppression) is when a marginalized or oppressed population begins to accept and act on stereotypes and other inaccurate beliefs related to it. On a personal level, internalized oppression happens when we impose limits on ourselves in pursuit of safety.

This is a form of internalized oppression. On a macro scale, internalized oppression (also known as self-directed oppression) is when a marginalized or oppressed population begins to accept and act on stereotypes and other inaccurate beliefs related to it. On a personal level, internalized oppression happens when we impose limits on ourselves in pursuit of safety.

Noticing Our Power

Many of us have seen the violence of power and want no part of it. We divorce from power within ourselves. We feel weak and, at the same time, fear our strength.

When we look from a distance, we see violence and oppression at a global scale. Zooming in, it becomes apparent between cultures and classes. Then, in the family unit, violence presents as abuse (physical, sexual, verbal, etc.) or neglect. Using therapeutic models such as Hakomi therapy or Internal Family Systems, we zoom in still further, witnessing the pain and “stuckness” of internal conflict and oppression.

In simple moments—maybe sitting in a garden or a counseling office—we recognize the power in ourselves. We recognize a conflict as we feel the physical sensation of shifting our awareness between the part that judges/contains and the part being contained. We notice the part contained using anger as a resource to build power, to break our own walls. We realize how dependable and valuable our own containment system has been, and may even feel gratitude noticing that part of ourselves valued us so completely. Maybe we feel the contained part in our throat, moving upward, while the other part—the tension in our shoulders—acts as the dam that holds back forbidden parts of ourselves: the precious and preserved parts.

Leaving the Island

Much like Tom Hanks in the film Cast Away, the island serves as a metaphor for our own self-containment. It is isolating, endlessly frustrating, lonely, and safe. It is a place one could live out a lifetime in the experience of nothingness. The only escape represents potential death … and simple change: the unknown. This is the experience of the freeze state. A giant ocean lies between you and the world, with no direction or guarantee of reaching that life of which you dream.

Reminders, Tips, and Tricks for Overcoming Internalized Oppression

  • Anger is a resource.
  • Get to know, feel, understand, and trust your body.
  • If your head needs information in order to let down its guard, explore some of the leading research in trauma and complex trauma. Peter Levine. Bessel van der Kolk. Pat Ogden.
  • Start living in your body—moving away from the judging, analyzing, and planning of your head.
  • Take in the feeling of movement. Google “walking meditation.” Explore yoga.
  • Take in the good. When things are going well, when you reach a goal, sit and feel your body.

You may notice a sense of overwhelm in considering reaching out for help for internalized oppression. I often recommend simple self-compassion and permission to take things slow. This is gradual exposure to life, building tolerance for change. Even two minutes at a time can help. Consider support groups or one-on-one counseling with a specialist in complex trauma, childhood abuse, or learned helplessness.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jeremy McAllister, MA, LPCI, GoodTherapy Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • cheri

    December 11th, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    We don’t even know our own strength at times until push comes to shove and we have to stand up for ourselves and do what is right.
    That strength is there… it may have been stifled for a very long time due to something traumatic that has happened in this person’s life, but it can be salvaged and recovered with some work

  • Chadd

    December 11th, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    I know people who have never had a traumatic day in their lives and yet they still with that frozen response, they would rather crawl into a corner and hide over having to make a decision about anything. I would love to know some theories behind why some people have this trait while for others there is like there is nothing too dangerous for them to do or to try.

  • Colin

    February 24th, 2018 at 6:23 PM

    There is no way of knowing what trauma another has had as for many, trauma happens when an infant or child between the ages of 0 – 5 years old, and can even occur when in the womb (think alcohol or drug abused or even a malnourished or depressed pregnant mother etc). It was not until after decades of self and professional help that I truly understood this, and was able to get the pieces of information from my parents, and put those pieces together and understand just how much trauma I had experienced in my early years, including my birth. This is when early trauma sets in, early, when we are reliant on our care givers and primary care giver for attunement to our needs, emotional, physical etc. to co-regulate our nervous system. If the primary caregiver is out of attunement, for whatever reason, or not present as needed, then the flight fight freeze response is the only options available to us and is stored in our body and nervous system – it is not cognizant, and that is why we see the advent of body based (somatic) therapies are showing to be much more effective in treating and helping those with these types of traumas, which are more prevalent than once thought. There is a poignant study called the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study, which has been replicated many times, and tell quite a truth to this current expanding field of modern psychiatry/therapy. They are worth a look at, and understanding.

  • Gabe

    December 12th, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    most of us are so busy looking for the quick fix that we fail to comprehend that the best way is always going to be to go slow

  • Ren

    December 12th, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    I feel that you never know what trauma someone has or has not gone through. No one ever knows what goes on within a family behind closed doors unless you are in that family. I know that is true for my family of origin. From the outside looking in my family looks very proper and close but I grew with an emotionally abandoning and rage-filled bully of a father who never showed that side to anyone but his wife and daughters. And a perfectionist, anxiety-ridden mother who smothered you and abandoned you simultaneously. I’m sure there are many people from my hometown who think I have probably never had a traumatic day in my life. Perhaps the people you know grew up with hovering parents who expected perfection always and belittled them if they did anything less. Or perhaps they are extremely introverted on the introvert/extrovert continuum and you are just perceiving them as hiding/freezing. I dunno. You just never know the stories someone is carrying around from their past.

    In regards to people where there is nothing too dangerous for them to do or try, let’s just say I will ride a roller-coaster or a flying fox but I’m not interested in sky diving/bungee jumping/base jumping, etc. My survival instinct takes over from my pleasure-seeking instinct and tells me I should probably not be jumping off cliffs or out of planes. I once watched my husband sky dive and it was terrifying to see him free-falling out of a plane.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    December 12th, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Thank you for the comments.

    Chadd, I’m curious myself about all the various ingredients that compile into this behavioral pattern. We can look at biological predispositions. We know the pattern can present with our without noticed depression. We know the attribution theory that went along with ‘learned helplessness’ research, and we know that distortions like catastrophizing become part of the pattern.

    My present take on the subject includes a view of the brain as an incredible survival machine – one that adapts and protects by identifying threats and then creating new associations each time fight/flight is triggered in response to perceived threats.

    From a general CBT view, fears spread and generalize (become associated with more and more triggers) over time.

    From the complex trauma side, there is still a lot we don’t know. I know it is easy to assume someone has not faced trauma if it was not a big, easily-identifiable event on which everyone agrees. There are smaller events — even more debilitating when connected one-after-another over a prolonged period of time. There are preverbal traumas of benign neglect, failed communication, or outright abuse. And there are generational traumas inherited from parents. Many times, those living in this ‘stuck’ pattern have lived in a home where someone else either displays this pattern or displays unpredictable behaviors, as in the case of addictions and/or personality ‘disorders’. In either case, we cannot predict or control an outcome, so we live in a world with a limited sense of agency.

    Again, thank you for the feedback. I too am putting pieces together and would love to hear perspectives from other therapists or those that know someone living this type of pattern.

  • Elise M.

    October 22nd, 2016 at 2:34 PM

    Hi Jeremy, what an excellent and succinct way you have described this phenomenon. I am an, educated, intuitive, creative artist type, explorer of self realization and person. I have a history of ongoing early childhood sexual trauma from 8-11 with an unpredictable father then a mother who acted out after divorce and have been dealing with this pattern you describe all my life. I guess I made it look fabulous, but it was killing me. I have been through years of several different therapy and self realization programs…living and growing and healing through life, and have just read and studied a lot. I have spent the past 8 years in healing from a life threatening injury that caused severe chronic pain. ( This propensity for illness/injury/chronic pain can also be found in medical studies from survivors of childhood trauma) And during this physical challenge, I slowed down in life enough to truly find the keystone to what I could see as a twofold block in my life of holding what is of value in myself deep inside and showing the world a shiny version, less than real (as the real me was on ice) and falling prey to a lifetime shadow of health issues that studies are correlating to the inflammatory process that starts in the body because of stress. And through this challenge, I’ve come to find the hidden self in deep freeze so to speak. For me it took having to let all extraneous things fall away in order to recognize my authentic self. Then, just as you described, my anger rose up- something I had separated myself from. And I understood that anger is a good and proper emotion which has a valuable role to us- to let us know when our boundaries are being disrespected or there is an injustice which we must right. There is this internal measured of Justice within us upon which we can depend. It has a place and can teach us about ourselves and what we value. So, I’ve been learning and growing…and just came to understand how these peices are connected up to create blocks in my life. And through these explorations and meditation AND YES, YOGA! I am finding my way to healing…not just my emotional self, becoming a more fully integrated person, but I’m healing my physical self as well through a Vegan diet (needed related to the injury to my kidneys) and decreasing the inflammatory process (in mind, then body- because they cannot really be separate) through developing new coping mechanisms as well as finding new ways to get my need for love and comfort met in healthy ways. So, for me, coming across this article today was absolute kismet! Well done, thank you for writing it down and showing people a way to transcend blocks. I have done some writings about my childhood trauma and the experience I’ve gone through if I might share any further information with you, I’d be glad to do that.

  • Jim

    December 12th, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    I like your suggestions Jeremy. I would add, try body therapies like acupuncture and massage.

  • Sharon G.

    December 13th, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Your tips for escaping our own containment systems are really important! Thank you for writing in such a clear, accessible way. This is powerful.

  • Catherine

    December 13th, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    I am a 4th yr psyc student and through my studies in psyc disorders (not meaning just those of severe debilitation such as schizophrenia etc) but also those that present as anxiety and depression there are 3 major vulnerabilities: biological, psychological and environment. When we have vulnerabilities in all 3 we become susceptible in developing a disorder. I know it’s not a life sentence in many cases but it’s important to know and be aware that this can be oneo of the many reasons why it’s so hard to overcome.

  • davis

    December 14th, 2014 at 5:09 AM

    What is so wrong with living a life that is safe?
    I try to live this way, not because i am hiding form something but because I don’t want there to be something that I have to hide from.
    It might not be right for everyone but it is what feels the most right to me.

  • Orphan Izzy

    August 3rd, 2015 at 12:36 AM

    I guess I didn’t notice anywhere anyone saying that living a safe life was either right or wrong but I did feel that it was suggested that if it made the person unhappy or prevented a person from living a full life then indeed it was not good for that person. Even when I’m not stuck in this kind of a state of mind, I tend to play it very safe in that without even trying to i picture all the possible consequences of whatever I’m doing and then decide what to do which is why I’ll probably live to be 110. Like one year at summer camp there was a haunted house and at the end of it there is some dude with a chainsaw and I was the only kid that wouldn’t go in because I was afraid he would drop it or something for example.Then on the other side hand there is a very very bold side of my character that is risk-taking and 100% brave but in a way that it wouldn’t compromise my safety just my emotional peace perhaps. That is the side of me that will speak up when I feel it is right to do even when it means coming up against somebody who may not react well to her when everybody else is ignoring whatever’s happening despite the fact that it’s not OK and ignoring it is almost as bad as being the one doing it like this time I saw a mother hit her child on the morning bus so hard that the entire bus went dead silent and I was the only person that said something feeling I had a responsibility to do so because we are all responsible for the world’s children. I found that most people didn’t feel I had done the wisest thing and that most people wouldn’t of done the same thing themselves. I just don’t care though because during what’s right is more important to me than what people think. Anyway I think living a safe life is very wise and can mean living a very long life allbeit not that exciting unless you can find ways to make it that way like I just described. It sounds like the right choice for you.

  • Jeremy

    December 14th, 2014 at 11:38 PM

    Thank you, everyone, for the continued feedback. Davis, thank you for another view. I would not suggest that any choice is inherently ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. You know what is right for you. These are generalities at best and will fit only a particular demographic.

    What I have often seen in a pattern of freeze is an ambivalence — an internal ongoing, repeating conflict: some internal part that seeks safety while another part quietly yearns for some sense of freedom and passion, some purpose beyond simply maintaining. Or, sometimes, a desperation rises…and anger with it…only to dissipate the following day.

    For some, relationship with ‘change’ is one of fear. Once the fear is noticed, intimately non-judgmentally explored, and physically regulated — when one carries everywhere a sense of being one’s own home base with nothing, really, to lose — then safety becomes part of being: an embodied safety, no longer an effort or concern. And change comes with less struggle.

  • Abby

    February 21st, 2015 at 12:19 PM

    Great article. I have just now started to see this in myself and I’m slowly opening myself up, un-freezing. I never realized how horrible my baseline anxiety was.
    Yoga has been a great experience for me, although it can be quite hard emotionally. I’m keeping with it and I’m seeing improvement in my life, finally.

  • Jeremy

    February 24th, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    Thank you, Abby. I’m glad to hear that you are noticing your own movement. :)

  • Orphan Izzy

    July 20th, 2015 at 12:14 AM

    Holy sh*t! this is exactly my life and has been for years -the problem is Ive reached out for help through every Avenue and in every way I can possibly think of and I get rejection or betrayal every single time and I literally don’t know how to save myself. I don’t have any problem asking for help and I’ve done it so many times and I know it sounds like an exaggeration but when I say I have literally been betrayed or turned away from every single person and every time I mean literally every single time and I literally don’t know what to do except die.

  • The Team

    July 20th, 2015 at 12:54 PM

    Thank you for posting! We have replied to you personally by email. Please know there is help available!
    Best wishes,
    The Team

  • lotus girl

    August 2nd, 2015 at 2:53 PM

    I agree with everything posted here except the “learned” helplessness part. I’ve busted my ass to escape the lifetime of oppression but I’m outnumbered, I’ve been surrounded by corruption my entire life. Sick of being the shoe in the road. It’s more oppressing to live than die, I need to be free but need to know I’m headed to a better place.

  • Orphan Izzy

    August 3rd, 2015 at 12:17 AM

    Lotus girl, thank you for saying that because I’m so tired of living worse than my worst nightmare and people for the most part treating me like I’m just not doing enough to help myself or like I somehow deserve it as if they could overcome it like nothing more upsetting than spilled milk or something. I need first of all if you have all this advice and you’ve obviously overcome obstacles in your life and rather than being patient with people who are struggling you should be empathetic and supportive and so I’m just sick of this bullsh*t from people who have a choice to be kind or not and seem to often and or always choose not. Don’t be choosing that when it’s affecting my life. For eight years or more I have never stopped doing everything I can possibly think of to help myself and improve the situation and I’ve literally failed no matter what and I never ever dreamed I would find myself in the role of victim at the mercy of other people’s abuse, that a lifetime of friends and family whose relationships I nurtured and built through trust and love in all of that stuff could alternate gets to me and turn your backs on me at my darkest hour and after doing that gossip about me and spread lies or tell on me to my family every to every single thing I ever said when I dared reach out for any support at all but whatever I won’t even get into that because nobody ever seems to be able to acknowledge what I’m saying anyway. Nor did I ever dream that I would face anything that I couldnt just kick it’s ass and move on to better things if I wanted to until now when I found myself living everything I never thought would ever happen because I honestly thought I had almost total control over my own destiny. I would do anything to just move on from this and never let it hurt me again but nobody has a clue just what truly is the magnitude of what’s happening or that the classic cookie-cutter advice that I used to believe was so true simply just does not apply to my situation and because it’s so horrific that like you I’ve considered that death might be my only option because this life is so painful and I can’t see a way out, I finally gotten to a point where I’m just not tolerating any more negative advice even if it’s well-meaning because honestly when you tell me say, “you know you can’t change people” or “you have no control over anything that’s happening”, or worse when people say they won’t help because if my family doesn’t want help you’re not going to get it is if the possibility of failing to get them to see the error of their ways is a reason to allow me to continue to be abused? Eff that!! When I was a teenager I was a wreck and I didn’t want help but I was forced to get it and eventually I came around and head so nobody can tell me that I should suffer is an inhumane way simply because trying to help my family see what’s going on but fail. You may as well just say Izzy you deserve abuse and I’m going to stand here and watch it happen like I’m watching Wimbleton can’t maybe even enjoy it like a spectator sport and if you complain or ask for any help or support I’m going to tell you to F off and that’s if I even say anything at all! It was almost 8 years of dealing with this completely alone before I was forced to reach out the only way I could which was through Facebook on my page with the people who I’m friends with and just hope that somehow it would make a difference because doing nothing but dying and I’m not going to die that fight and Facebook and talking about what I can’t help myself overcome is the last thing I would ever want to do, and I’ve simply ends for the most part vaguely spoken the truth and very briefly now and then when I feel I really need to reach out and don’t even care if it just gets a lot of ugliness in return I will make a comment trying to explain very briefly and vaguely what I’m feeling and why. It doesn’t matter if someone’s known me my whole life and knows that nothing ever gets in my way and I overcome every obstacle I come across and I don’t ever do anything just to be mean and in fact I try to take the highroad at all times, everybody seems to believe that I am just a whining attention seeker and the comments are short and critical and dismissive and impatient and of course there’s those people who love to make drama where there is no drama and make a stink about the fact that I’m talking about the bad things in my life where other people can see them which is like ludicrous because it’s no secret that life is a lot more than unicorns and rainbows motherfuckers, and not only should everyone be so grateful that they don’t have anything like this talk about on their page for people talk about their lives what are you want them to or not, but people seem to think that it’s OK to be ugly to people who are suffering simply because they are doing well and what they should be doing is thinking me for making their lives looks so awesome and show their gratitude for the blessings they have by not being assholes but by being kind and supportive and thoughtful to their fellow man but that’s not what I experience ever and I don’t really know why because when say everyone I mean like everyone… I mean everyone I’m not exaggerating which is why am wondering if this is like some nightmare I’ll wake up from as an eight-year-old in my bed at home or if maybe you had a mental patient locked up somewhere in a straitjacket just thinking that this is my life but really I’m just crazy because literally everything I ever thought it couldn’t happen in life is happening to me but that’s like a whole Nother thing sorry I digress. The point is what’s wrong with people that when encountering somebody who is so desperate for support they actually talk about the pathetic sh*t in their lives on Facebook where everyone can see, instead of feelings for that person and at least don’t say anything but don’t be an ass you know, why is it that a person suffering the worst day ever thought they could ever suffer is viewed as a target for the release of everyone’s frustrations with life or an opportunity to make others feel better and more in control of their lives by putting down someone’s coping of their own problems rather than paying forward what they have learned and giving back by offering support and kindness? Maybe I do seem to be a pathetic attention seeker but no one really knows that for sure and you really risk compromising the quality of someone else’s life when you make assumptions that inspire you to choose unkindness in a situation where they could truly be at the bottom with no support whatsoever. I wouldn’t reach out through Facebook or any other way unless I was facing the choice of death or unending suffering and so when people have responded to my desperation with ugliness where I not such a mentally sound person they could have pushed me over the edge and while they can’t take responsibility for what I choose to do which applies to anyone anywhere, there is a degree to which people are responsible for other people’s lives in that it’s irresponsible and unrealistic to ignore the fact that when you’re bullied it is extremely damaging and can put people into a hole that compromises your future happiness significantly and so that’s another thing I get irritated about witches friend since my parents to keep claiming that they have no responsibility for my life and you know they can’t save me which no they can’t save me but they could certainly help me a whole lot when the reality is The things they’ve done to me and the way they treat me has brought me such misery and has blown my mind so completely even after eight years because for the first 30 they were the most amazing parents I ever could’ve hoped for, it’s left me without the Wiltseys live for the most part and I do believe that when someone does something like she was suicide the people in their lives shouldn’t feel responsible except in the case where it has been made very clear what is going on in that person’s life and how they are feeling and what other people are doing to make them feel that way and in fact that they are feeling like death maybe they’re only choice which is what’s been happening in my life, though I’m starting to feel a little better. There is a very long list of people who know in no uncertain terms that I am so unhappy that if I can’t find any hope at all I may feel forced to choose death even know all I want to do is live and not one person has helped me I did fat knowingness my parents have done quite a few things that they knew very well could’ve pushed me right over the edge. No one would ever be able to stand around my grave and say I wish we knew or we didn’t see the signs are we wish we done more because everybody knows exactly what’s going on and exactly why exactly what they could do to help and exactly what it is they do that makes it worse head where I too struggle so terribly that I did feel that was my only choice I do feel they would have to shoulder some of the responsibility, well actually most of the responsibility. It’s taken me many many years to finally admit that I just can’t get out of this alone and this I have told to my psychiatrist and my parents and friends none of which live nearby at all and none of which I talk to you very often, and none of that seems to matter to anyone and When I go on Facebook which is rarely, and I read all these quotes about the importance of family and you know helping people who are bullied and being supportive to your fellow man all this bullsh*t all these quotes and everything and then when I’ve lost all of that and I need that from other people and I’m not even asking for a buds clearly needed all I get is sh*t and I’ve been really terrible sh*t from people I I just I don’t know. Several weeks ago I texted my psychiatrist and I said to him when you’re told that if your trouble you need to reach out and ask for help and you do that through every Avenue in every way you can possibly think of it more but get told no every time what the hell you supposed to do? He still hasn’t done a thing to help me and in fact really messed things up by betraying me and telling private things to my parents thereby breaking patient client confidentiality her doctor, which they were then able to use against me setting things in my life back quite a ways and just the other day he failed to get my prescriptions in and I called him at the very last minute in a panic, as did the pharmacist you kind a let them know how inconvenient it was not just for them but for me to and the next day I got a message by text letting me know I needed to apologize to them for verbally missed treating them because they did nothing wrong and I was out of line when in fact he was the one they were upset with and rather than face the music he decided to upset me and accuse me of things I didn’t do without ever asking me first and I take very seriously what people think of me and I knew I had not been rude and that he should’ve never assume that I had so I called the pharmacy today and recorded our conversation and forward it to him so that he could hear just how ridiculous he had been yet still he has not responded or apologized at all. Again I digress I will move onto my point again. Back to like what you’re talking about and my response to people treating me like I’m not doing enough for that I’m settling happily into role of being a victim but it’s not going to happen anymore without it being very clear that I don’t except that. The reality is Facebook has so many setting options for each person to access that nobody has to follow my posts or you can be my friend and so when you have the choice to choose any number of ways to not encounter my unpleasant reality’s or be an asshole and kick me while I’m down there’s no reason on earth to be ugly to me at all and I will not take it lying down anymore, and when I think about what I’m living through compared to their complaint of having to Passover what they can identify is something they don’t want to read with only a few words and move on with her happy lives it’s just gross! I mean, I’m so sorry that you had to skip over my little post on the way down to better news and I hope you can get on with your day without letting this totally ruined it for you. I mean I’m here by myself wondering how I will ever get the strength to overcome this existence which is less than what The definition of life even is, and your complaining because you came a cop cross a couple of sentences that you didn’t have to read but chose to anyway and that describe the suffering of another human being and give her the choice to walk away and carry-on with your happy life and not leave a negative footprint behind you you instead choose to inflict more pain on my life I mean I’m sorry you are a bad bad person and I making it very known that that has not escaped my attention and rather than not be bothered with the confrontation I am going to let you know exactly what you’re doing and what I think of that and that I will not except that and you will not be able to be ugly and walk away without having to deal with the reality that you are bad at everybody saw it. I would never do more than just try to set healthy boundaries and relay my experience so there is some consequence for ugliness but I feel that that’s warranted and in fact can only help the person he will never be happy as long as they get away with it being a bad person, and I feel like the chance that I could make a positive difference by doing difficult things in sharing things with people that may not even listen is worth it to me to take the time especially when it means standing up for myself. For eight years I maintains control of myself and my temper under the worst circumstances because I believe that if it’s within my power I don’t have the right to add anymore and happiness to the lives of my niece and nephew and so I let my sister missed treat me terribly and I didn’t react other than to set boundaries and walkway and I’m just tired of that. Now I’m going to say what I feel calmly and rationally but very straightforwardly to because standing up for myself after all this sucking it up and take you up to your house by a drugged out nightmare and it feels so good. I apologize for rambling on but as I said I’ve been in solitary for like eight years and sometimes when I get going I can’t stop until I make myself.

    Anyway, the lame advice people throw at me impatiently like “people won’t change they don’t want to and you should just cut these people out of your life with her so mean (even though it means like cutting everybody I ever loved in my life and not just like one person which is too much to ask)” I mean it’s a lot of that kind of thing and I finally was like why do I feel so bad when people give me advice and I realize it’s because the advice is terrible and there’s nothing good offered in place of the negativity so when you’re like people never change unless they want to or listing all the reasons why my parents are so sh*tty and my sister so crazy and abusive like there’s an excuse especially at my expense, what you’re saying is there’s no hope for me and you’re not giving me anything to put his place so you’re just bringing me down? All of this advice I already know ahead I appreciate the thought but people don’t realize that constantly telling me what I’m doing wrong or what I can’t do to help myself in place of getting outraged over what’s happening to me because I don’t deserve it and feeling inspired to do something to help me if they can just like I would without question which is why I’m in this place in the first place trying to protect my niece and nephew no matter what the cost to me, I think is just messed up. What’s happening to me is beyond anything in the scope of our moral and ethical boundaries it defies logic and nature and anybody else who decides to tell me that “that’s just life” or “I just need to get away from the mean people” is going to find out just how much I don’t appreciate that and be told in no uncertain terms that I will absolutely no longer tolerate any more excuses made for the abusers who are destroying my life or the impatient or critical comments that are given in place of empathy and kindness and that’s just how it is. I am so grateful though for my sense of self worth because I just spent over eight years with literally everybody I’ve encountered and I can say almost it’s 99% everybody literally treating me as if my life has no worth and in fact I am worth nothing more than abuse which blows my mind completely (because I always thought if you were a good person and you did the right thing all that stuff would come back to you but it simply doesn’t work like that in my life anymore), I had a point I just forgot what it was a hold on… Oh yeah, after finding myself in almost total isolation (seeing no other human for days and sometimes weeks on end and never feeling the touch of another person or experiencing a kind word even but if I was lucky enough to encounter anyone it always came with terrible emotional abuse, and from everybody I ever loved it and put my total trust in all across-the-board and having no one to call talk to -literally no one! and having to talk to my dog to manage all the trauma and this coming from a place where I used to have to talk to somebody about every little thing happened to me and get someone’s opinion about every decision I made. Now I don’t need to ask anyone anything in order to make choices for myself and I always feel absolutely confident in those choices and rarely if ever have I regret afterwards, and I never second-guess myself and when I have a problem I never really feel inclined to talk to someone about it much but my point is never have I lost faith in myself, and while my belief that I was worthy of the same as everybody else faltered a little in the beginning I’ve come out of it with a very strong recognition of my own value, with the ability to have pride for the things that are good about me and also the ability to face the things that I need to work on and do just that and so I feel like no matter how mind blowing Lee abusive and evil the people around me are and even if there’s not even a tiny bit of kindness in my life for months on end, I know I have value and that I am worth a happy life, and that way I win because all these people who are behaving in such base and awful and disgraceful ways are doing it because they don’t have that kind of confidence or peace in themselves that I do and in fact the truth is they are so weak in character and miss guided in their priorities and all that that they become this kind of person that I can never allow myself to be because what I value most is the quality of my character and that I know I have integrity and that I am doing good things whenever it’s in my power and I don’t know how anyone could possibly be so terrible or not put those same things at the top of their list of priorities like me but we are all different which is why it’s sometimes hard to understand where others are coming from like I don’t understand how anyone could live such a selfish and destructive life when there’s really no genuine benefit to it at all, and if they don’t get their sh*t together before they die their going to die was so much regret I can’t even fathom it, and because I am a purposefully good person who cares about the quality of my character and who can go to sleep every single night without regret, I know even if it takes me another 20 years I will pull myself out of this if I can find a way and I will not go down without a fight,and I will go on to live a life so wonderful it’ll be amazing unlike anything these people who are abusing me Will ever know or experience and the idea that they will be looking at me from (heaven I doubt), he’ll maybe, or hopefully there’s some middle ground were assholes that lived a half good life can go, and will spend eternity watching me live in peace and harmony and happiness while they have nothing but regret that they can never ever alleviate is just A gift and a form of payback that is so much better than lashing out in anger or getting revenge (which really only puts you on the same level as them and therefore you have no position to be angry or offended by them when you’re just same way). Anyway this is something that just recently I’ve been thinking about and wanted to share because I think that’s amazing. I also wanted to respond to your post immediately and let you know that I feel exactly the same way and it’s really good to hear from someone else who has tried so hard to do better for themselves and has just not found away though I hate to know that anyone is in that position at the same time of course, because sometimes I feel like I’m the only one and I wonder if I’m living in some alternate reality well everybody around me lives in the world I used to know. If you knew what my life was like you wouldn’t actually think that was as crazy as it sounds. Thanks for your comments and I hope things get better for you. If you’re anything like me they will eventually because you’re just not going to settle for less.

  • Bryan G

    August 2nd, 2015 at 12:55 PM

    Excellent article. Gained a lot of insight as to my own process of ‘internalized oppression’. My ‘freeze response’ kept me safe and helped me to survive very difficult experiences but in doing so I foreclosed on my anger, power and ability to move forward to actualize my potential. It is very difficult to move out of this state as to do so triggers intense alarm and sympathetic nervous system over-activation and subsequent dysregulation. The medical model labels this ‘anxiety’ and prescribes addictive, harmful drugs to sedate the over-activation which doesn’t heal the root of the problems and creates new, potentially more serious problems. What is needed is trauma-informed, body and self-regulation oriented therapies but these tend to be too expensive especially for people whose employment has been compromised due to the unmanageability of sympathetic arousal states triggered by experiences encountered in employment experiences. People like me then just try to endure or end up on disability as their functioning becomes too compromised and is met by unsympathetic, uncompassionate and ill-informed employers. If people were supported in doing effective healing work by having access to appropriate therapies instead of having dangerous, ineffective drugs given as their only option the gains that would in short order be made by the person and the restoring of their personal power would more than make up for any costs involved in getting the person the appropriate therapy in the first place.

  • sandi

    August 2nd, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    It’s so hard to overcome!! Understanding is a beginning.So thankful for your site and your teaching.I almost threw up when i first read your article….i couldn’t breathe or finish reading the whole thing.After I calmed down i finished reading it. I will have to re-read it a few times more to digest the keys to my being free.Powerful insights that 10 years of cognitive therapy never touched upon.I’m going to keep reminding myself that I am safe…I am good…it’s ok to be happy and feel my feelings….no need to keep myself in a self-imposed prison.I am worthy of kindness and compassion….I keep giving to others but not myself. Deep down I believed there was no hope or happiness to be found in this life. Death seemed the only way out of my dungeon….my suicide attempt compounded my pain and hurt my children and husband.It’s hard for me to hold my head up right now….so many people judge and gossip.I know how strong I’ve been and I know what i have survived so I know what other’s think isn’t so important. Forward and upwards….no more backwards or downwards :)

  • The Team

    August 3rd, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    Orphan Izzy and lotus girl,

    Thank you both for sharing your experiences here. If you’re in crisis, feel like you may be in danger of hurting yourself or others, or need immediate help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY), contact your local law enforcement agency (dial 911), or go to your nearest medical emergency room. More crisis resources are available here:

    Thank you to everyone reading and commenting on this article. Oppression is a complex, difficult topic and having conversations about it can be the first step in dismantling it. If you’re struggling with the effects of oppression or perpetrating oppression there may be benefit from meeting with a mental health professional. You can search online for a therapist or counselor near you, here:

    Best regards,
    The Team

  • Beth

    January 12th, 2016 at 6:02 PM

    I’ve recently been diagnosed with complex PTSD after decades of struggle and bouts of depression. As an ADOA, I always felt from within that I had been traumatized by my childhood, though this didn’t meet the traditional definition of PTSD. Putting a label on my life has been validating and with introspection and counseling, I am finally starting to emerge from that frozen state and find me, hidden inside.

  • Dimi

    October 21st, 2016 at 12:25 PM

    Thank you for this article. It describes well how I feel. I’ve oppressed so much that the wall I’ve build around myself is so thick that I don’t have many feelings at all. They are just gone. I react to things, because I’ve rationally learnt the appropriate reactions, but I don’t actually feel it. For example if someone dies I know that I have to appear sad, but I only feel numb. Sometimes I wonder how it must be to really feel something. For me it only comes down to fear and sometimes hurt.
    I’ve only recently started to work with a trauma specialist and she says this is quite typical for people who’ve experienced a lot of trauma. And rationally I understand that the fact that I was able to disconnect myself from my emotions most likely saved my life. If your therapist asks you in all seriousness “how did you survive all this?” it makes you think. And it made me realize that I still can’t acknowledge to myself how bad things really were, because it’ll destroy me. I still use the oppression to keep myself safe. So I guess I have to be grateful for this mechanism my brain used to save me.
    But it also means I’m stuck. I’ve been diagnosed with major depression, dysthymia, PTSD, dissociative amnesia and dependent personality disorder. And I understand that the only way to get out of the prison I made for myself is through the wall and actually feel something. But I’m totally scared of what will happen, if the emotions come through. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can survive it. My therapist reassures me that we’ll be very very careful and only go as far I as can manage at a time. I trust her, I feel safe with her, but it still fills me with dread.

  • Dianna J.

    February 3rd, 2017 at 1:32 PM

    Very insightful article. I’m a mental professional who lately has been struggling with these frozen feeling and anxiety myself. I really enjoyed your article. Thank you!

  • Joy W

    October 7th, 2019 at 1:26 AM

    Wow. I’m a 50-something woman who has struggled with depression for 28 years… I did fine until I had children, then all mental, emotional and physical hell broke loose… and am recently both grieved and liberated by the death of my Mother. (I’ll just use Ren’s wonderful description: a perfectionist, anxiety-ridden mother who smothered you and abandoned you simultaneously.) In casual convos, discussions, and certainly arguments, I would freeze… “oh, there she goes, not talking anymore” because all the ideas, comments, opinions, etc weren’t safe to say. The shame, ridicule or anger at my sudden silence was more appealing than the potential reaction to my authentic answers.
    A housemate/friend was just prodding me about being ‘stuck’ and doing the same things, while I countered that repeating ‘good’ experiences was a positive thing. Having been in therapy for years (Thanks, Susan!), I know a nugget of truth when I hear it… so I went poking around and ended up here. In tears. Startled by the recognition of my behaviors.Even more startled to realize, as my friend kinda poked on, that I’m adding my own road blocks to what I say are my own desires. Ugh. But, there’s now a sliver, a wedge of light to See, Acknowledge and Combat those ‘knee-jerk, doesn’t serve me’ behaviors, so I venture forth with one more tool, one more bit of knowledge in the fight. Unfortunately, I’m also going to have to tell this friend he was right, lol.
    Here’s a question, should you poke in here, Jeremy McAllister – Depression (clinical) and Internalized Oppression, is it a co-morbidity? A root cause of the other? And does it matter which came first? Are they two separate fights? Or could, as I counter the No You Cant’s in my life (the ways I dampen/freeze on my own wants/needs) could the Depression (that sometimes appears without triggers, physically interrupting my ability to reliably DO said wants/needs) ease and disappear? I’d be interested in your perspective.
    I am sure that Susan and I will have some very valuable discussions. Thank you for sharing this article!

  • Roberta S

    February 8th, 2020 at 1:37 AM

    This is shaming, victim blaming, and instigates further oppression of self; it doesn’t help.
    It does not allow validation, processing or true healing; rather, further burying and cover up. :-(

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