There is a lot of talk about the impacts of childhood trauma, the triggers, impact on emotional regulation and hyper and hypo arousal. I have recently talked about the impact on your ability to set boundaries.
Today I am going to talk about ten ways childhood trauma impacts you that you may not realise is caused by this.
A lot of what I am talking about is described as a loss and I use this term with a qualification. If you experience trauma in adulthood you will lose many of these things, however as a traumatized child you never get to develop these things. Much of therapy is about getting to know who you are and learning these things. So the loss you experience is often a loss of potential rather than losing something you already have.
- Loss of safety.
When you are a child and bad things happen to you regularly you come to think that is normal. You learn that the world is a place where anything can happen to you. The world is not a safe place and you are not safe. How do you know that is not the way things should be?
- Loss of danger cues.
When you are a child the person who trusts you hurts you physically and emotionally, even sexually. When that happens, how can you know that those things are not okay to be done to you? How do you know that it is not okay for another person to abuse you, or hit you, or take what belongs to you? Think of the adult who was treated like that all the time. There is an incident in her life where someone physically attacks her. She thinks she has done something wrong and is ashamed to tell people about it, expecting them to chastise her for doing something wrong. But when she tentatively tells another person she is surprised that the other person is horrified she was treated that way and considers the attacker to be in the wrong. This is the loss of danger cues.
- Loss of trust.
If you are abused by a parent, relative, sibling, a trusted adult, how do you learn to trust? How can you know it is possible to trust when those that you should be able to trust are not trustworthy?
When you are abused as a child it is normal for you to think you are the bad person for being abused. Think of the child who thinks she is a terrible person because she is always getting into trouble and bad people get into trouble. She decides to work really hard to be good. Her measure of being good is that she will not get yelled at. She tries really hard all day, then her father gets home and he yells abuse at her, telling her how defective she is. She is crushed. She thought she was being so good, instead she was all wrong. Then she goes to school and gets a wrong answer in her homework and she is filled with shame for being so defective. And she grows up and continues to be crushed by everything she does wrong, all proof of how defective and shameful she is.
- Loss of intimacy.
When a child’s sexual boundaries are violated by another person, particularly if it remains hidden, sexual relationships can either become something to avoid as being shameful or something done to get approval. When a child is groomed by a perpetrator, they can learn that sexual abuse is a way to get the attention they crave. Then the child’s trauma is exacerbated by being labelled “promiscuous”. Note this is most likely to happen to a girl, not a boy. Our society allows only boys to have multiple sexual partners.
When a child is overwhelmed by the horror of their situation and the emotions they are feeling but unable to control, they often cope by disconnecting their consciousness from what is happening to them. Once this becomes an effective strategy for coping with overwhelming emotions, especially fear, then the child/adult will dissociate when feeling overwhelmed. Dissociation comes in many forms, from just “not being there” to the other end of the scale where a person develops different “identities” of dissociation.
- Loss of physical connection to your body.
It is really confusing being a child and being aware of your own feelings. Then an adult tells you that you are not to feel that way. You are being silly to feel frightened, or being weak, or you shouldn’t be angry at this person and so on. Small wonder that the majority of people in our society are not aware of their own feelings. Most children are taught not to listen to their feelings.
Add on to that the unpleasant sensations associated with physical or sexual abuse and you have many reasons not to feel what your body is physically or emotionally feeling.
Losing that physical connection makes it very hard for you to identify unsafe situations, or understand what you are feeling. Your body will develop aches and pains that have come about because of normal sensations in your body associated with your feelings. But these feelings are denied so the aches and pains can build up. It is considered a lot of chronic pain is caused by unresolved feelings.
Reconnecting to your body can be very scary and difficult and therapies that are known to aid trauma recovery, such a yoga and meditation, can be very difficult because of the unregulated feelings that are released. Any activities to reconnect to the body must be carefully handled by experienced trauma therapists.
- Loss of sense of self.
Your sense of self is the core of your spirituality. Spirituality is first and foremost your connection to your self, to “Who am I”. Trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood causes deep spiritual wounding.
As a child your parents are the ones who teach you about your emotions, how to regulate them and help you discover who you are. A lot of that is done by reflecting back to you who you are. What if your parent feeds back to you that you are useless, or unloved, or unwanted? That is not who you really are. That can leave you with a sense that you are a fake or somehow unacceptable.
- Loss of self worth.
You have survived a traumatic childhood. If we judge your learning by modern standards you have earned a PhD in survival. So congratulate yourself on the amazing job you did surviving childhood.
Your parents were there to teach you your value and you can see it in their eyes when they look at you with love, in the positive interest they show in what you are talking about and doing, in their words of support and encouragement and in the many ways they physically support you.
But what if the looks they gave your were of hatred and contempt, and the interest they showed in what you were doing was to put down, punish or ridicule, and there were only words of dismissal and put downs, and you were ridiculed rather than being supported and encouraged?
You may swing between feeling special or dirty and bad. Part of your PhD has been learning to build yourself up as a defense against the overwhelming feeling of being the outsider who is unworthy of love In your imaginary world you are special and loved, whereas in the real world that you have to keep returning to, you are dirty and bad and worth nothing.
The final effect of trauma is the efforts you make to repair the fractured and dysfunctional relationships of your family of origin. You unconsciously recreate the same dynamics in your adult relationships with the hoped for result of everything turning out better this time. You may unconsciously choose a partner who is abusive in the hope that you can somehow fix the relationship of your childhood. Sadly all that happens is that you are abused again and your trauma just gets worse.
You may also find yourself in a relationship that seems good but you unconsciously sabotage it because you are expecting abuse in every relationship. You may find yourself hyper alert for “evidence” of the other person’s betrayal of you and see abuse where there is none.
The truth is you cannot heal the past in the present. You need to work on your past to heal it, not try to fix it with current relationships.
These ten impacts of trauma are often overlooked in therapy. But attending to them is vital if you are to recover from your trauma and discover “Who Am I?”
The trauma of childhood is complex and you need to see someone who is qualified to treat trauma. I have extensively trained in trauma recovery and treatment and follow the Blue Knot Foundation Guidelines in working with trauma clients.
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your childhood trauma, please contact me on 0409396608 or email@example.com
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