Unresolved childhood trauma can haunt us in ways that often don’t seem direct. It impacts us emotionally, physically and mentally, causing us to think, feel and act in a certain way.
It’s important to break any misconceptions that childhood trauma only involves physical danger or harm.
Anything that leaves a child feeling alone, vulnerable, overwhelmed or terrified is traumatic.
Like most internal programs, we can’t see it. We are unaware of the inner conflict that is going on, and we only get to see a behaviour or a reaction as a result of dealing with this trauma.
If someone lacks trust in people, we call them defensive, awkward, unapproachable.
If someone is fearful, we label them as unsuccessful, weak, unfocused.
If someone is depressed, we call them moody, uninterested, distracted and unmotivated.
We make assumptions and judge people without taking the time to understand why they feel this way.
Be aware that undesirable on-the-job behaviours can stem from childhood neglect or abuse and aren’t always laziness or a poor work ethic.
We need to approach the problem at its root cause, not at the symptom level. Until we discover the root cause of these behaviours and symptoms, we can’t move forward in the way we desperately want to.
We can paper over the cracks by tackling the behaviour and making small changes. But this symptom management is only a temporary solution; the driving force of these actions is still working off the same limited program.
For example, a mother’s unresolved trauma may interfere with her ability to respond to her infant sensitively. That can affect the development of attachment in her child and potentially contribute to the intergenerational transmission of the trauma.
When you actively work on getting to the root cause you can release it at its deepest levels and re-program the stories, feeling and actions that are associated with these beliefs. Profound healing can take place as you free your mind from the control as you dissociate yourself with the events that took place.
To Change Behaviour, we Need to Understand Behaviour.
Trauma denial is a big part of why we are still stuck both on a personal and a professional level.
If you want to grow personally, professionally, and financially, you need to get to the root cause of what is holding you back.
Healing your trauma heals your life.
Obvious vs. Hidden forms of Childhood Trauma
Experiences are traumatic because they are unexpected, unwanted, and you are powerless to stop them.
Obvious trauma that tends to affect all involved include:
- the loss of a loved one to illness or death
- a natural disaster
- an accident
- suffering physical abuse
- being displaced and moving country
Less obvious experiences can be just as traumatic for a child and have severe consequences for the long-term.
- living in poverty
- abruptly changing schools
- a sick sibling
- going through an operation
- living with parents who are always fighting
- living in a violent or dangerous community
- watching a parent getting hurt
Emotional traumas such as:
- a humiliating experience at school
- being bullied
- being always put down and shamed by a parent figure
- not getting proper attention from a caregiver
- having to take care of a parent
- being neglected
- being abandoned by someone you love
Sadly, an all too common form of childhood trauma is sexual abuse. And many types of sexual abuse go overlooked.
Any form of inappropriate sexual behaviour can have long-lasting effects on a child. Being stripped down as a punishment for being ‘bad’, for example, or having a parent who makes constant inappropriate comments about your body, can both result in the long-term symptoms of trauma.
But aren’t children resilient?
The idea that a child will not be affected by what they do not understand is incorrect.
Even if they don’t comprehend the logistics of what is happening, they understand danger, discord, and this is what causes trauma.
A child can be more affected by trauma than adults as they can sense danger but not ‘explain’ it to themselves like an adult, meaning they are terrified and vulnerable.
Traumatic experiences also have a stronger impact on children when you take into account that children’s brains are still developing and thus more vulnerable than those of adults.
What has unresolved childhood trauma to do with you as an entrepreneur or in your workplace?
1 – Skews Our Self-Esteem
If our childhood environment provided a skewed perception of us, we would develop skewed self-esteem. It impacts our lives as the issues that stem from it follow us into our adulthoods and sometimes last a lifetime.
There are two main categories of Self-esteem issues.
1 – self-underestimation – low self-worth, a lack of self-confidence, self-doubt, etc.
2 – self-overestimation – person tends to see themselves as better than they are. Examples would be shallowness, false self-confidence, fakeness, fixation on social status, and so on).
These issues manifest themselves on many levels: intellectual (false beliefs, magical thinking, unrealistic standards)
Emotional (depression, chronic shame and guilt), or Behavioural (addiction, self-loathing or destructive behaviour).
2 – Perfectionism – A way of dealing with childhood trauma
Dr.Brené Brown says perfectionism is one of the three main ways people protect themselves from getting hurt. She says it is just a form of armour and connected to your sense of shame and fear of not being good enough.
We use perfectionism in areas of our lives that we feel most vulnerable. What drives it is the belief that ‘if I look perfect, work perfect, live perfect I will avoid or minimise criticism, blame or ridicule’.
How do I stop being a perfectionist?
The more you find out about how and why you developed the need to be perfect, the more you recognise how unachievable and unnecessary it is. Through reading ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse‘ I had to explore the various conditions and disorders that I developed as a result of my childhood trauma. This information has armed me with the knowledge I needed to make the necessary changes. I could see the energy I was devoting to overthinking and overdoing any task I took on.
It sounds like a contradiction, but, I minimise my need for perfectionism by not trying. I accept that this is something I do. I don’t use it as another way to tell myself that I have failed or something else to hate myself.
When I start a new project, I ask myself what I am trying to achieve and who am I trying to please.
I needed to be right and believed that others couldn’t do the work as well as me; It drove my desire for perfectionism.
It prevented me from asking for help when I felt overwhelmed, and that behaviour only fed my perfectionism. Recognising this pattern allowed me to challenge it.
Lingering Childhood Trauma Can Manifest As Conflict In The Workplace
Trauma can take many forms, including mistreatment, exploitation, abuse, or a lack of approval or love — and it can adversely affect how individuals interact with other people at work.
If you’re someone who continually finds yourself in conflict with your supervisors, employees, or colleagues, you might want to consider the possibility that you have childhood trauma.
Lack of love or approval
People-pleasers, constantly care-taking and doing too much for others in the hopes of finally obtaining the love and validation they lacked in their childhood. Interestingly, the more they try to please, the more they are disrespected and held in contempt by people at their workplace. These are the individuals in the workplace who are taken for granted, taken advantage of and sometimes even bullied.
People who grew up mistreated assume that this is all that they “deserve” or all that they can expect of their colleagues and managers.
If people at work mistreat you, you need to examine your past for signs of mistreatment, and for obvious or subtle messaging that you “should” tolerate it.
The only way to fit in at work is to do too much.
You take on the projects that no one else wants to tackle. You do other people’s work, and you overwork until you’re burned out, misbelieving that this is what you’re “meant” to do.
Some individuals with childhood trauma end up behaving like the people who abused them in the past. They’re deeply wounded and end up like their “role models” — the abusive adults who hurt them as children. They become nasty, disruptive, even toxic adults in their workplaces.
If you recognise a boss or a colleague who’s behaving in an abusive or disruptive manner in the workplace, it’s they might have experienced abuse. Note that they’re unlikely to be open to your help or advice on this matter.
Abusive People have the potential for being tremendously destructive to your personal life or your career. Be cautious around. If possible, they should avoid them or change jobs.
Did I suffer childhood trauma? Symptoms to look for
Not everyone reacts to “trauma” in the same way. Some people remember all the details of what happened, some blank everything and lose all memory of the experience.
Some people develop many symptoms from childhood onwards, and others have no signs of trauma, but then suddenly, as an adult, something triggers them. It could be a stressful new job, a new relationship, or another life trauma like a bereavement or breakup.
In general, signs to look for as an adult that you suffered trauma as a child include but are not limited to:
Here are a few symptoms of unresolved emotional trauma:
- Inability to achieve goals
- Lack of empathy
- Not feeling worthy
- Imposter Syndrome
- Lack of trust in people
- Addiction & Substance Abuse, Eating disorder
- Hypervigilance, easily startled and often edgy
- Suicidal thought or actions
- Difficulties managing stress
- Unexplained aches and pains or chronic fatigue
- Mood swings or a tendency to overreact
- A core belief that the world is a dangerous place
- An inexplicable sense of loneliness and isolation
- Unable to maintain lasting and satisfying relationships
- Always feel numb, or like you are ‘watching’ yourself
- Difficulty with concentrating
- A sense of loss and mourning
We are learning more and more about the adverse effects of trauma on many aspects of our mental and physical health and wellbeing. Science seems to be linking early trauma to everything from back pain to depression. In 2018 Oprah spoke to Dr Bruce Perry, a world-renowned expert on childhood trauma.
He said “a child’s brain gets wired “differently” when raised in a chaotic or violent environment. He talked about the effect adverse childhood events have on us as adults. “If you have developmental trauma, you’re at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health, a social health problem that you can think of.”
Unresolved trauma can haunt us throughout our lives in ways that often don’t seem direct. As adults, we may attempt to forget or gloss over the past. We may think, “My childhood wasn’t that bad” or “Many people had it worse than I did.” We don’t realise that these old wounds can have all kinds of physical and psychological effects.
Certain events may involuntarily trigger reactions in us that we haven’t thought about in years: guilt, shame, fear, or anger sourcing from early in our lives.
What also affects is not having been able to feel the full pain and make sense of our experiences.
When we don’t deal with our trauma, we carry it with us. We haven’t made sense of our story, and therefore, our past is still impacting our present in countless invisible ways. It influences how we parent, how we relate to our partner, how we feel, how we think, and operate in the world.
Therefore, perhaps the most important thing we can do to resolve unresolved trauma is to create a coherent narrative. Some things that don’t look traumatic to us as adults felt traumatic to us as kids.
Creating a coherent narrative is a process that involves writing down any “big trauma” we endured, be it a loss, abuse, or life-threatening event, as well as the “little traumas” we experienced.
These events may not seem as dramatic, but they impacted us by causing us distress, fear, or pain and, therefore, changed the way we saw ourselves, other people, and the world around us.
In many cases, we’ll discover that we haven’t fully resolved these traumas.
An example of this occurred in a course I attended. A woman shared a story with the class. She started by shamefully stating that as a kid, she killed a horse, a trauma she identified as an indication of her “badness.” However, further details told a very different story. It turns out that when she was only 11-years-old, her parents put her on an untamed horse.
Despite being scared, she took the horse for a trail ride, as she had in the past with other well-trained horses. The horse got spooked by something, failed to clear a jump, and died. Her parents blamed her for the animal’s death and threatened to send her away to boarding school unless she wrote letters of apology to everyone in the family.
As she told the story, people pointed she was not responsible, and that it was neglect on the part of her parents to make her ride a wild horse. The woman kept insisting that she was still to blame.
Only until she was asked to imagine the same event happening to a child, she knew in her current life, that it clicked.
She’d been traumatised and frightened by the event, and blamed for it, leaving her with a feeling of shame, she thought she deserved and carried her entire life.
She went on believing she deserved anything terrible that happened.
Telling her story, helped her understand how different the reality was from the one she’d accepted. Her parents were neglectful and had endangered her as well as the horse. A truth that had been too scary for her to face as a child.
Changing narrative allowed her to feel for herself, experience some relief, and resolve some of her trauma around the incident. She was finally able to let go of the feeling of being “bad,” which had hindered her since the event.
Our instinct is often to bury the past, minimise, or avoid our pain, but feeling the feeling of what happened to us can lead to healing. We separate our past experiences from the present day and identify the negative overlays these experiences have on our current lives, including our physical health and relationships.
Creating a coherent narrative is a powerful tool for resolving early childhood trauma. Making sense of our history can free us of many of its burdens in all their manifestations.
It helps us break destructive intergenerational cycles to become stronger parents and partners. It can lead us to feel more secure within ourselves and provide more security to others.
Facing trauma is challenging, but it is a fundamental aspect of healing, mentally and physically. It’s a tool for building better relationships and a key to unlocking our most authentic selves.
What do I do if experienced childhood trauma?
So first of all, my beautiful angels (women and men) who are out there listening and have experienced sexual trauma.
It is not a life sentence. You’re not destined to be hurt. You’re not born to spend every day dealing with the past and in pain. And the first thing that we can do is make a decision.
We have to make a choice that we want something to change. And from that place of choice, we can then take action. And to my mind, the best first action is to understand precisely where you are in this healing process.
From my website, you can go cynspiration.com/checklist. And you can get my guide that will talk more about the stages of recovery. Victimhood, Survivorhood, and THRIVING AND TRANSCENDENCE, that guide is going to give you a checklist to help you figure out where you are.
Each stage of recovery should have adapted goals and a type of support that align with that stage.
Too many survivors of abuse and trauma end up getting re-traumatised because they’re trying to reach goals that they’re not ready for yet. They’re trying to reach and achieve things that they’re not.
They haven’t got the foundations in place yet, and are using healing modalities that don’t address the correct stage of where they are.
So that guide will help break all of that down. And from that place, you’ll then be able to make better decisions and focus your energy on what you need to focus on to get to the next level and then to the next level.
What occurred was out of your control, and it is unfortunate.
What is within your control now is your ability to take steps to help yourself. The effects of childhood trauma are not known to resolve by themselves with time or age, but they do respond positively to focussed attention and support.
Information about recognising and resolving childhood trauma is now readily available on the internet, with forums you can connect with others. There are many books on the topic that can act as a starting point for exploring your experience, or bring a sense of relief to you.
Be wary of playing the blame game when it comes to childhood trauma. Recognising you experienced trauma can cause many emotions to rise, including rage and anger.
It can be tempting to immediately contact family members or others who were involved and lash out. I recommend you process your feelings first, and are in a stable place to deal with the outcome of such conversations.
I highly advise seeking professional support and help.
Therapists can help you go back and discover just what occurred, how you contended with the trauma then, and how it is affecting you today.
They create a safe space for you to process your feelings. And teach you techniques for processing and letting go of old patterns and emotions so you can finally move forward with your life.
Have you successfully overcome childhood trauma? Share your story below and inspire others.
P.S. Head over to my Cynspiration Hive Facebook Group and join like-minded people and find a safe community. Here you can be yourself and gain love and support.