4 ways childhood emotional trauma impacts us as adults

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For those people who endured some sort of emotional trauma as a child, even if the trauma is long in the past, those emotional scars can still show themselves in adulthood.

During the time of the trauma, regardless of whether it was experienced directly or witnessed by the child, the world often ceases to make sense to them.

In order to cope, the child tries to find meaning in their experience. They draw a ‘mental map’ of the world and the way things work. i.e. ‘when men drink they become abusive’ or ‘my parents fight because I’m naughty.’

Though these things aren’t true, at the time, they were true to the child and their experience.

The problem occurs when the child begins to grow up and doesn’t update their ‘mental map’ to reflect the reality of the world, and projects their distorted childhood view onto their current situation.

So, what’s the bottom line? What does childhood trauma look like in an adult?

1) Projecting a false self

As a child we have primary needs, such as being fed and clothed – but we also have deeper, psychological needs in order for us to feel secure and loved.

When children don’t feel loved, they often try to become the type of child that they think an adult will love. i.e. they portray a false self.

For example, a child who’s mother loses her temper when her children argue, may become excessively quiet and reserved in an attempt to be loved by the mother.

This quiet, reserved child is a false self – an image they portray to their parents and the world, regardless of how they really feel and their real personality traits. Over time, these feelings become buried and being quiet and reserved becomes the new normal.

But here’s the kicker:

How do you know if you are who you are, or if you are projecting a false self?

The next step is to speak to a psychologist that specialises in childhood traumas. They can help you explore your feelings and uncover any hidden emotions.

2) Thinking like a victim

Self-talk is the inner monologue that every person has. It’s the voice that tells you that you’ll never get a promotion so there’s no point applying. It’s also the part of your brain that talks you through every step so you can run that extra mile.

The biggest indicator for how we self-talk is how we feel about ourselves. This means that for those who experienced a childhood trauma and felt like a victim can often, even long after they have been removed from the situation, still perceive themselves as a victim and therefore think like one.

What can you do to change the way you self-talk?

The key is to remember that what defined you as a child does not need to define you as an adult. Next time you catch yourself having these thoughts, stop and rephrase your thoughts to:

“I am not a victim, I am a survivor.”

3) Being passive-aggressive

Children who grew up in a violent environment can understandably view anger as something that is to be avoided.

This can manifest itself in adulthood with a severe aversion to showing anger, resulting in extreme passive aggressiveness.

But here’s the thing most people don’t realize:
Suppressing anger doesn’t make you less angry. It removes the outlet to allow the reason for your anger to become resolved.

Remember, displaying anger is not unnatural and studies have shown that you can even benefit from occasionally showing that you are angry.

Anger is a healthy, normal part of human nature that in small doses, can help you move past the emotional trauma you experienced as a child.

4) Being overly passive

For those who were emotionally neglected as a child, they often disguise and bury any fear or anger in an attempt to stop the situation reoccurring. However, when we don’t acknowledge our fear of abandonment, we can often end up abandoning ourselves.

If we deny how we feel enough times, we end up becoming passive and hide huge parts of ourselves. As a child experiencing emotional trauma that was an understandable coping mechanism, however as an adult we need to be able to express our feelings, needs and desires in order to lead a fulfilled life.