We often forget it, but childhood is a very tumultuous time because we’re learning to make sense of the world, we’re setting the basis of what it means to be ourselves, of what’s good and bad, what has value for us, and we are learning how to deal with people, with changes, with feelings and with the fact that many things are out of our control. Does childhood emotional trauma impacts us in adulthood? In a stable environment where you are safe and loved, this process is not at all traumatic; it’s enjoyable and we carry it with us throughout our lives as the valuable experience that it should be.
But that’s not always the case, growing up in an unstable and even violent, traumatizing environment, our process becomes a lot more difficult than it should’ve been and at that point in our lives we don’t have all of the tools necessary to deal with situations and issues in a healthy way. That’s when it becomes a rough experience and it can be difficult to give meaning to issues and feelings we can’t comprehend; this emotional trauma solidifies in time if it goes untouched, and it manifests itself in various ways by the time we reach adulthood.
According to childhood emotional trauma therapist Dr. Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., these five ways are some of the ways childhood emotional trauma translates into adult behavior:
- False Self: As Dr. Brandt explains, “emotional wounds reveal themselves through the creation of a false self”. When all you want as a child is to feel loved and taken care of by your parents but they fail to do it, you might think you’re the problem and the go-to response is to change; to create someone else that might achieve what you couldn’t. In creating this false self, you bury your true emotions and desires; you start losing yourself. It results in “living our lives terrified that if we let the mask drop, we’ll no longer be cared for, loved, or accepted.”
- Thinking as Victims: How we think about ourselves is essential, it’s what we feed to ourselves; it can make us strong or it can weaken us. In childhood we might have been victimized, but it’s in our power of choice to stop making victims of ourselves as adults. You are now capable of controlling your choices and thoughts, so instead of thinking of yourself as a victim, think of yourself as a survivor and power through your negative past.
- Passive-Aggressive Attitude: In growing up around unhealthy, uncontrolled expressions of anger, you believe anger is unacceptable so it must be suppressed. Or on the other hand, if your parents taught you that you shouldn’t feel such an emotion, the result is the same: you learn not to express your feelings in a healthy, direct way; instead, you turn to passive-aggressiveness because, after all, you do feel angry sometimes (it’s perfectly healthy) and it has to have an outlet even if it’s a disguised and quiet one.
- Passiveness: The same principle explained above applies here. Being neglected, ignored, and maybe even abandoned as a child, you learn to bury your feelings so no one else has a reason ever to do that to you again. But as soon as we bottle up our feelings, as soon as we deny them, disown them, and let them go unrecognized, we do the exact same to ourselves. A passive person doesn’t exercise their potential to the fullest because they constantly hold themselves back by holding their feelings and desires back.
- Self-esteem: One of our most vital values can get severely damaged during the course of a traumatic and painful childhood, making it very difficult to achieve a lot of other vital qualities in the path of growing up; such as self-acceptance, self-worth, pride, confidence, and self-responsibility. These qualities drive our lives, they are what allow us to make sound decisions for ourselves because we know we deserve them; take healthy self-esteem off the table and we are left with no standards for ourselves, leaving our life’s decisions to the whim of destiny instead of to our own control.
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