Childhood trauma may affect all aspects of an individuals life – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. It may result in dissociation (cutting off from reality, either intentionally or unintentionally), constant hypervigilance (ie being perpetually on ‘red alert’ and expecting danger or calamity to strike at any moment), impaired cognitive (ie thinking) abilities (for example, decision making skills may adversely affected), a total inability to experience joy or pleasure of any kind (a symptom I myself had for many years and has not yet been fully remedied – the phenomenon is also termed ‘ANHEDONIA’), constant suspicion of others, an inability to trust (which can spill over into paranoia), and a chronic, unremitting feeling of profound emptiness.
Many problem behaviours can also develop in later life as a result of childhood trauma. These include:
– excessive need for control
– having weak boundaries
– making unhealthy partner choices
– eating disorders
– addictions to sex/relationships
– bipolar depression
Let’s look at each of these:
1) EXCESSIVE NEED FOR CONTROL : this is a constant feeling that we need to dominate and control those we come into contact with and tell them how to live their lives. This might include frequently criticizing other people’s behaviour and life-styles, often imposing our own views on others and getting angry when other people’s behaviour does not conform to our wishes.
Sometimes, constantly highlighting the faults of others can be a defence mechanism which we unconsciously employ to protect us from having to focus too intently upon our own particular shortcomings.
2) NEEDINESS : needy people tend to find it difficult to be alone with their own company. It may involve a constant need to phone friends to talk to and/or have people around in order to distract ourselves from our own unhappiness and lack of personal fulfilment. Under stress we may frequently feel we cannot cope with our particular difficulties by ourselves, but need to rely and depend upon others to give us advice and support.
3) INSOMNIA : insomnia, related closely to stress, anxiety and depression, can manifest itself in various forms which include frequent waking throughout the night (something I still suffer badly from), difficulty in getting to sleep initially, early morning waking (eg at 4am) and not being able to get back to sleep again, not feeling refreshed by the sleep we do get, and having nightmares (which may wake us up – I still get that, too).
4) HAVING WEAK BOUNDARIES : this might involve always feeling compelled to say ‘yes’ to people when we really want to say ‘no’, or spending a lot of time with people we do not really want to be with or in situations we don’t really want to be in. We may also find that we often lack the courage of our convictions. We find it very hard to set boundaries and limits, or to see the choice to do this as our right; at the root of the problem it is frequently the case that we lack the necessary confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness to do these things. This can sometimes stem from having had our own boundaries ignored when we were children.
5) MAKING UNHEALTHY PARTNER CHOICES : we may find we choose partners with myriad problems of their own such as alcoholism, drug addiction, violent tendencies, general instability, low integrity etc. This can mean often finding ourselves feeling trapped in relationships which are neither fair nor equal and in which we are not treated with respect, consideration or understanding.
Indeed, it is a sad fact that people with low self-esteem (which itself frequently results from having had a traumatic childhood) often unconsciously select partners who will not treat them well. This can be due to the unconscious belief that we do not deserve any better.
I will complete looking at our list (above) in Part 2 of this post, which I will publish very soon.
Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery