I know most people would describe life lately like a hamster wheel. Continuous bad news one day after the next. We all know it has been a really tough year.
What about those of you who have felt this way since coming out of the womb? Exaggeration? Maybe, but hear me out. Tucked away in our own corner of this planet is a group of us who are very familiar with this way of life. Some of us may describe it as “always waiting for the bottom to fall out.” Other’s have said it feels like “bad news is always lurking around the corner.”
I am a writer, so I, while working on a recent book described it like this.
I am tired of swimming. I love the water, it calms me, but I am so tired of swimming. I am not talking about those soul soothing trips to the beach when you can just float. I love to float. Gaze up at the clouds as they streak across the blue sky. Feel the warmth of the sun against my face. That is calm. No, I am tired of swimming up stream. Those crashing waves that repeatedly slam me back against the shore. Getting my head above water, just to see the next one coming. I want to float. I miss the calm.
I wrote this a year after losing my sister, when I felt the world had spun out and turned against me yet again.
Why do some of us live in a perpetual state and other’s do not?
Studies have proven this can be linked to childhood trauma. Children make meaning out of the events they witness and the things that happen to them, and they create an internal map of how the world is. This is what helps them cope. However, if these children are not shown how to create a new internal map as they grow, these problems will follow them into their adult life.
These are the four main ways that childhood trauma can affect us as adults:
The False Self
As children, we want our parents to love us and take care of us. When our parents don’t do this, or are unable, we try to become the kind of child we think they’ll love. Burying feelings that might get in the way of us getting our needs met, we create a false self—the person we present to the world.
When we bury our emotions, we lose touch with who we really are, because our feelings are an integral part of us. We live our lives terrified that if we let the mask drop, we’ll no longer be cared for, loved, or accepted.
The best way to uncover the authentic you underneath the false self is by reconnecting with your feelings and expressing your emotions. It is important to do this in a way that makes you feel safe and whole. This is a process and takes time. You are so worth it.
What we think and believe about ourselves drives our self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves can empower or deflate us. Negative self-talk deflates us and makes us feel like we have no control over our lives—like victims. We may have been victimized as children, but we don’t have to remain victims as adults.
Even in circumstances where we think we don’t have a choice, we always have a choice, even if it’s just the power to choose how we think about our life. We have little to no control over our environments and our lives when we’re children, but we are adults now. It’s likely we are more capable of changing our situation than we believe.
Instead of thinking of ourselves as victims, we can think of ourselves as survivors. The next time you feel trapped and choice-less, remind yourself that you’re more capable and in control than you think.
When children grow up in households where there are only unhealthy expressions of anger, they grow up believing that anger is unacceptable. If you witnessed anger expressed violently, then as an adult, you might think that anger is a violent emotion and therefore must be suppressed. Or, if you grew up in a family that suppressed anger and your parents taught you that anger is on a list of emotions you aren’t supposed to feel, you suppress it, even as an adult who could really benefit from getting all that aggression out.
What happens if you can’t express your anger? If you’re someone who suppresses your upset feelings, you likely already know the answer: Nothing. You still feel angry—after all, anger is a natural, healthy emotion we all experience—but instead of the resolution that comes with acknowledging your anger and resolving what triggered it, you just stay angry. You don’t express your feelings straightforwardly, but since you can’t truly suppress anger, you express your feelings through passive-aggressiveness.
All emotions are valid and have a place. Remember that.
If you were neglected as a child, or abandoned by your caretakers, you may have buried your anger and fear in the hope that it would mean no one will ever abandon or neglect you again. What happens when children do this, though, is that we end up abandoning ourselves. We hold ourselves back when we don’t feel our feelings. We end up passive, and we don’t live up to our potential. The passive person says to him or herself, “I know what I need to do but I don’t do it.”
When we bury our feelings, we bury who we are. Read that again.
Because of childhood emotional trauma, we may have learned to hide parts of ourselves. At the time, that may have helped us. However, as adults, we need our feelings to tell us who we are and what we want, and to guide us toward becoming the people we want to be.
During the first forty years of my life, I was guilty on all counts. Hid my emotions, adapted my personality to fit the lives of others. You name it; all of my coping skills were in full swing. These changes do not happen overnight, and the battle back is exhausting. What I always try to tell others though is this. It is far more exhausting hiding your true self. You deserve authenticity. You deserve love. Keep fighting for it.
Much love ❤