3 Critical Ways Trauma in Childhood Can Harm Us as Adults
Trauma can take on many forms during childhood. Some children may witness or experience violence, while others may experience emotional or physical neglect. Trauma in childhood can also come from other forms of abuse, all of which are tragic. Needless to say, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment, signs of that trauma will frequently follow you into adulthood. When we are young our minds are trying to assign meaning to everything, to help us understand the world. It is how we learn to cope.
Therefore, the traumatic events we witness or experience tend to take hold somewhere in our internal translation of the world and what it means. If we don’t develop a new understanding of the world as we grow, then the old meanings we have attached to the world can hinder our ability to live fully and effectively in adulthood.
Out of all the ways that trauma can impact our lives, these are 3 big ways that trauma in childhood can harm us as adults.
Sadly, the identity of a victim is an easy one to adopt. It is easy to internalize the injustices of life and turn it into a coping mechanism. Of course, trauma in childhood is a tragic thing, and no one should ever have to endure it. We are not trying to victim-blame, but we also need to recognize the disservice we do to ourselves by making that who we are. Just because we have been victims as children it doesn’t mean we have to be victims our whole lives. We do deserve to be strong and confident.
The things we say about ourselves can shift the way we think and feel about ourselves. This habit can build us up or tear us down from the inside. So telling yourself that you have no choice and no control is a limiting identity that will not help you.
Too often people who experience trauma in childhood convince themselves they are helpless. While it may be true that as a child we have very little power to control our environment, we gain more control as we become independent adults. Sometimes the world can make anyone feel a little helpless, but we often learn that we have far more power to change our lives than we believe. However, if we let ourselves stay the victim, we are keeping ourselves from being confident and taking charge in our own lives. We may restrict ourselves to mediocrity instead of seeking to fulfill our goals, or even accept toxic and abusive relationships as adults.
Instead of being a victim be a victor. Be someone who survived the hardship and was victorious over your own pain. Know that the damage done in your childhood is not your fault. Build a better life through the recognition that you do deserve better, and you have the power to achieve much more.
Some may see this and argue that we all wear masks. It is a fair enough point considering as social creatures we often try to adapt to those around us or to make ourselves fit the appropriate setting. We play on our more professional side at a job interview and have a little more fun when we are at home with friends. But for those who experience trauma in childhood, this mask making process can go a lot deeper.
Children naturally want to be loved by our parents or caretakers. We want those closest to us to nurture us. So when this doesn’t happen, children will often try to become the kind of child they think will get love. We identify traits or actions that we’ve attached value to, then make a mask to fit it, even if that means covering up our true selves to get our needs met.
After a child gets used to masking their emotions, they start to actually lose touch with the person they are underneath. Disconnecting from our own emotions only takes us away from who we are. If we live in fear of not being loved, we probably won’t let our guard down long enough to let self-love in.
If we want to let go of the masks we hide behind as adults, we have to learn to reconnect with our feelings and expressing emotions in a healthy way. One of the best ways to learn this is through comprehensive therapy. Trauma resolution therapy can be an incredible opportunity to address how you have attached meaning to the traumatic experiences of your childhood and learning new ways to cope with the emotions you have been hiding from yourself. The point of trauma resolution is to overcome these crippling obstacles while feeling safe and complete.
One of the worst things that can happen to us as adults as a result of trauma in childhood is that we eventually abandon ourselves. This is touched on during the conversation about making masks, but this can take it a step further. By abandoning ourselves, we are giving up on our feelings and all their worth.
Sometimes we will try to shape ourselves to be what others want so that we can still experience the emotions we want. However, other times we will try to abandon all of our emotions. We may passively neglect ourselves in an attempt to protect ourselves. If we are so afraid of being abandoned or neglected, we may try to be numb to all our feelings in order to avoid the painful ones. We may convince ourselves that it is better to feel nothing than to feel hurt all the time, and if we give up on our true self and our feelings as children, we can become very dysfunctional adults.
Here is where a great many of us find ourselves clinging to drugs and alcohol as adults. We start pushing our own emotions deeper down, and we numb ourselves to our own needs using substances or other addictions. Some may resort to heavy drinking, while others escape through risk behaviors like sex. Whatever the strategy, we abandon our true feelings for quick-fixes or distractions. You may try to bury your trauma with chemicals and other behaviors, but often times it only feeds into a more destructive cycle of abusing yourself for trauma in childhood you never learned how to properly reconcile. We don’t just abandon our physical health; we also abandon our emotional health. Sometimes we give up on letting ourselves be who we really want to be.
Do not give up on yourself just because someone else didn’t know how worthy of love you are.