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Impact of Childhood Trauma on Adults, part 4

Author: Angela Powell, MA, LPC For the last blog post on the impact of childhood traumas on adults we are going to look more in depth at the daily behaviors that you might not recognize are occurring. When raised in an environment where instability, threats, coercion, abuse, trauma, addiction of care givers and a lack of safety and stability are present, the ability to cope with these adverse life situations leaves an imprint on how were interact throughout our lives. Some of the ways include emotional walls and defensive behaviors, engagement in some of the same behaviors that were shown in childhood as an adult, having difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships and a desire to self-medicate. Let’s take a close look at each.

  1. Development of rigid psychological defenses occurs as a natural means of self-protection against physical, emotional or psychological harm. In childhood, you may have created different patterns of behaviors such as not showing emotion, denial, splitting, dissociation, repression, minimization, intellectualization and projection to form an armor to protect yourselves. Emotions are often incorrectly seen as a weakness when raised in homes where traumas and addiction are prevalent. We can set up defenses to help us not have the feel the emotional pain of the situations we are exposed to by trying to shut out all emotion. We can try to deny and/ or minimize that the traumas are occurring or that a caregiver is abusing substances because it helps us to cope and survive in an uncertain environment. As an adult these defensive behaviors can present as denying that the events in childhood occurred, minimize the impact of the events, think that since we lived through it we should not be impacted by it emotionally, have flashbacks, disassociate from reality, and even project our beliefs of lack of safety and security onto others. This can lead to problems in relationships and being able to build a sense of trust and intimacy. In some extreme cases of trauma, splitting occurs in which our mind splits away and creates an alternative reality of self to help cope when the traumas occurred.
  2. Cycles of re-enactment are unconscious continual recreations of past traumas and dysfunctional dynamics. These are often pain filled and unwanted. An example of this would be if you were raised in a home where a parent was verbally and physically abused by a partner and in turn found yourself in physically and verbally abusive relationships. Or, if you have a father who is an alcoholic, and a grandfather who is an alcoholic and you find yourself struggling with alcoholism as well. In some situations, this can become a familial pattern because the cycle of re-enactment can be difficult to change.
  3. Relationship issues can occur as a result of lack of trust, poor emotion regulation, sexual dysfunction and poor communication just to give a few examples. As a child your parents and caregivers are the representations and models of how a relationship is supposed to function. When the model you are shown is unhealthy, it can be hard to understand how to have a healthy relationship in which all persons are treated equally and with respect.

Desire to self-medicate can also show up as a symptom of growing up in trauma or addiction filled homes. If you were not shown how to cope with your emotions, had a lack of structure and sense of safety and security you may develop as desire to self-medicate. Self-medication is an attempt to quiet and control your inner world and emotions through the use of addictive behaviors like sex, drugs, alcohol and food.

If you look back at all 18 of the ways that trauma and addiction in childhood can impact you as an adult, it can feel daunting and insightful. Sometimes were don’t really understand why we act in the ways that we do until we have a chance to really look at how everything connects throughout our lives. This information is not meant as a tool to blame your past on your current life, but rather as a tool to help you understand why you may be behaving in the ways that you do now. If you relate to these and feel at a loss as to how to change these patterns or behaviors, reach out and get help. Growing up in a life of trauma and instability is not a life sentence, but rather a way for you to learn and chose how you want your life to be.