We are never more vulnerable in life than during our formative childhood years. During this period between birth and adulthood, we try to make sense of the things happening around us and create an internal map of how the world functions and our place in it. Sometimes, we witness or experience profound negative events during childhood that sticks with us for the rest of our lives; resulting in what is known as childhood trauma.

Unseen childhood trauma
Childhood trauma isn’t just caused by physical abuse, neglect, or violence, it can also be caused by traumatic experiences: being bullied or neglected by a parent. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is: “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.” [1].

Most of the trauma we experience during childhood stays with us and influences our behavior subconsciously as adults. Emmy Brunner, a psychotherapist with over 15 experience working with women with eating disorders, believes that most mental illness people suffer today, from feeling ugly to drinking too much, is as a result of unprocessed trauma [2].

Here are 5 ways your childhood trauma may be affecting your behavior today and how to overcome them:

1. You have a hard time being vulnerable in your relationships
Childhood trauma leaves us unable to trust or leave ourselves vulnerable to others. We left ourselves open to someone and got hurt at some point in the past, making it nearly impossible to do the same in our current relationships. This leaves us struggling to create meaningful romantic (and platonic) connections with others.

The first step to overcoming your fear of intimacy is accepting that you have the problem in the first place. By accepting the problem, you’ll begin to catch yourself shying away from others and challenge yourself to engage and connect.

2. You lack confidence
Feelings of inferiority, doubt, and uncertainty about oneself only lead to even more severe feelings of hopeless and useless in life. When you find yourself feeling like you don’t measure up to standard, the next step is to ask yourself ‘why’. Why do I feel inferior to that person? What event happened in my past that makes me feel this way?

It is easy to accept self-inflicted limits without even noticing what is happening. However, by asking questions and investigating the root of the problem, we may begin to challenge them.

3. You are addicted to food/sex/drugs/alcohol
Most people who battle with feelings of low self-esteem and self-loathing often develop a dependence on food, sex, drugs, or alcohol as a way to cope and forget. These feelings of not being good, thin, rich, etc. enough are caused by unresolved childhood trauma. We have grown to accept these feelings as ‘normal’ and so we find even more destructive ways to cope.

The best way to overcome this is by realizing that you deserve more from life. You deserve a better relationship with yourself and shouldn’t settle for less.

4. You feel there is something wrong with you
According to Emmy Brunner, “Whenever we fail to talk about our trauma or share how we feel, we internalize that pain and it festers.” This pain builds up within us and soon begins to manifest itself physically through bouts of anger, fear, anxiety, physical illnesses, and a sense there is something inherently wrong with us.

By seeking support from people and institutions around you, it is possible to share some of the pain you feel and eventually get rid of it altogether.

5. You are unwilling to cope
No matter how old we are, we all retain an inner-child who embodies all the experiences and beliefs of our youth. Childhood trauma can leave this inner child in a frozen state, holding firm to our childhood beliefs and unwilling to adapt to new ones. This often creates feelings as weakness and helplessness about everything that is happening around us as we are unwilling to adapt to change.

Acknowledging the inner child will allow the adult within us to gain confidence and assert itself in our life.

Most of the answers you seek are already with you. It just requires you acknowledging and accepting the problems in your life and embracing your true self.

Reference:

  1. Definition of childhood trauma, which includes abuse“, Blue Knot.
  2. From feeling ugly to drinking too much…7 ways childhood trauma is affecting you today“, Healthista. June, 2019.
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