‘WE NEED TO SEE THE SYMPTOMS WE HAVE AS A RESULT OF OUR CHILDHOOD TRAUMA LESS AS THE RESULT OF SOME CHARACTER FLAW, AND MORE AS THE RESULT OF HAVING SUFFERED EXTREME AND PAINFUL EXPERIENCES WHEN WE WERE LEAST ABLE TO COPE WITH THEM. BY CONSIDERING THE IDEA THAT OUR SYMPTOMS COULD BE SEEN AS NORMAL REACTIONS TO ABNORMAL AND TRAUMATIC EVENTS IN CHILDHOOD, IT IS POSSIBLE TO USHER IN THE IDEA OF CHANGE.’
– CHARTERED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND EXPERT ON EFFECTS OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
People who have suffered childhood trauma frequently go on to develop multiple problems in adult life which tend to build up over the long-term. A range of difficulties like the ones given in the fictional scenario below would not be untypical:
Losing interest in school and unable to concentrate resulting in leaving at age 15; becoming disruptive and difficult leading to home-life problems, so leaving home at 16; this could then lead to homelessness or insecure housing (eg sleeping on friends’ sofas); depression and unsettled lifestyle and lack of direction could then lead to abuse of drugs and alcohol; unable to hold down a job for long (eg due to having problems getting on with authority figures (stemming from problems with a relationship in childhood with parent/s) and inability to accept criticism (eg becoming angry and aggressive when criticized, this, again, stemming from an earlier relationship with parent/s, perhaps because they were physically abusive leading to an intense need to ‘stand up for self’ and protect self).
The above example of how life can unravel as a result of childhood trauma, a whole string of problems feeding into one another and compounding one another, are likely, too, to be underpinned by feelings of LOW SELF-ESTEEM, EMOTIONAL INSTABILITY and EMOTIONAL SCARS, A POOR SENSE OF OWN IDENTITY, AN INABILITY TO TRUST AND ‘PUT DOWN ROOTS’ – all these factors, also, stemming from the problematic childhood.
STOPPING THE VICIOUS CIRCLE: The key to BREAKING OUT OF THE VICIOUS CYCLE IS TO BECOME AWARE AND RECOGNIZE THAT OUR PROBLEMS IN ADULT LIFE HAVE THEIR ROOTS IN OUR DISTURBED CHILDHOOD. By doing this, we can begin to understand that our unhelpful behaviours are rooted in our disturbed childhood and start to discard them. By understanding the enormous, destructive impact the past has – up until now – had upon our life, we can begin to loosen the past’s insidious grip on us.
We need to understand that our traumatic childhood experiences have affected how we THINK, FEEL and BEHAVE as adults. Apart from all the potential effects I have already described, our disturbed childhood is likely, too, to have had a VERY ADVERSE IMPACT UPON THE RELATIONSHIPS WE HAVE HAD, SO FAR, IN ADULTHOOD, perhaps due to feelings of FEAR, SHAME, FRUSTRATION, MOOD DISORDERS, ANXIETY and DEPRESSION. Again, these symptoms will almost certainly have their roots in our adverse childhood experiences.
LEARNING NEW WAYS OF COPING: Because our childhood experiences, the effects of which then become compounded by the adult experiences we have which stem from these childhood experiences, we are likely to have suffered EXTREME EMOTIONAL DISTRESS in our adult life, at worst leading to such horrors as compulsive self-harm and suicide attempts. Due to such intolerable distress, we are likely to have turned, in desperation, to any WAYS OF COPING possible. Often, these will have been unhelpful in the long-term and will have made matters yet worse. The coping mechanisms may have included alcohol abuse, drug abuse, withdrawal from society etc. These coping mechanisms may have become habits which we find difficult to change. We may, too, have become so enmeshed in the damaging lifestyle we now find ourselves in, it is difficult to step back and reassess why we are suffering our futile, negative, repeating pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Often, the only viable option will be to seek therapy and start the process of stepping back, understanding how our lives have become as they have, stop blaming ourselves and feeling bad about ourselves, and, gradually, seek new and more positive ways of approaching life.
We may have come to see the personal characteristics we have displayed up until now (our anxiety, our depression, our bleak outlook, our problematic relationships etc, etc) as just ‘who we are.’ This, though, is a mistake which will only perpetuate matters. We need to detach these SYMPTOMS of our traumatic childhood from our TRUE IDENTITY. We may need to realize we are not ‘bad’ even though are childhood experiences and the symptoms they have caused may have made us (FALSELY) believe that we were ‘bad’.
CONCLUSION: AN IMPORTANT NOTE OF CAUTION:
Those who played a part in causing the childhood trauma (parents, step-parents, siblings etc) will often ENTER A STATE OF DENIAL to PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM THEIR OWN GUILT. It will often suit them to regard you as ‘innately bad’, and to regard this ‘badness’ as having nothing whatsoever to do with their treatment of you. Freud, of course, would regard this as a flagrant example of the psychological defence mechanism known as PROJECTION. I am inclined to concur.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).