Maybe you’re suffering from unresolved trauma too (part 2)

What we’ve experienced when we were younger, doesn’t just disappear in a lot of cases. Even when you think you’ve moved past it and it doesn’t bother you anymore, it might still be affecting you below the surface. A lot of the time we realize that the way we grew up wasn’t exactly normal. Or we know that something happened that wasn’t okay. At the same time we compare what we’ve been through with others and we downplay our own experience. “Look at what that person survived! I shouldn’t complain.”

When we’re all grown up, we struggle with everyday stuff that goes so easily for everyone around us (or so it seems). Somehow we don’t manage to put two and two together. We don’t see the link between our childhood and the difficulties we have in later life.

In my last blogpost I explained how childhood trauma might show up as a variety of symptoms, for example: physical discomforts, a need for control, engaging in risky or selfdestructive behaviours, addictions of all sorts and nightmares or dreams with a reoccurring theme. In the next couple of paragraphs I’ll be adding some others signs of unresolved trauma, once again linking it to my own experience.

 

  • A bad relationship with your body

When we experience trauma, our body is screaming on the inside, telling us to run away or defend ourselves. Unfortunately in the majority of cases, we’re in a vulnerable position (as a child but a lot of the time also as an adult) that makes us unable to act. We can’t listen to our body and react accordingly. When time goes by, we get really good at ignoring the signs inside our body. We can’t trust it anymore. It failed us when we needed it the most. And it keeps telling us we’re unsafe, even though sometimes the danger went away a long time ago.

Personal story time

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, me and my body don’t get along. It’s tired when I need to get shit done. I used to starve it, then overload it with food. For a while I couldn’t distinguish when I was hungry. Now I feel like I have to eat all the time. The physical symptoms I experience don’t make it any easier. I felt like my body was weighing me down and holding me back for a very long time. In the last year through practising mindfulness and meditation – being kind really to myself – , I’ve managed to get back to a better place. It’s still a work in progress though.

 

  • Lack of memories of a specific period, compartmentalisation

In my first blogpost on this theme, I touched upon the concept that trauma is stored mostly in the old parts of our brain, that are predominantly unconscious. That’s why sometimes we don’t seem to have a lot of active memories of what happened. It’s also believed that this is a way of our mind/body protecting ourselves. What happened might have been so terrible, it’s better not to remember. I believe that it’s not necessary for recovery to go back to the actual situation and remember every detail. Our body stores everything and it always remembers. By listening to it and being kind, we can undo a lot of the harm.

Personal story time:

Since I was a teenager I noticed that my brother had way more memories than I did. I hardly remember any names of the teachers I had or the children I shared a class with. It was hard to recall any happy times together with my mom and ex-boyfriend. Even looking back on the last 10 years, it feels like I lived different lives. I find it hard to remember things and it feels like the memories I do have, aren’t mine. It’s hard to make a consistent timeline of my life. I think this is probably also partly the result of numbing out and not being present a lot of the time when I was depressed.

 

  • Low self-worth, the constant feeling you don’t fit in

When you experience you’re not safe in the company of your parents, there are two things you can do. You can assume what you’re mom or dad is doing is not okay and they’re not okay people. Or you can assume there is something wrong with you. The first option implies your outside world and everyone in it is bad. The second option implies it’s just you. The latter is so much easier to cope with. We can take the blame ourselves if it allows us to still be able to love our parents. It’s also very common that our ‘abusers’ explicitly or implicitly tell us we’re the cause of all the bad that has been inflicted upon us.

Personal story time

As a kid I ended up in a vicious circle: people would treat me like I was a bad kid and I would act out, so proving their point. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy really. I felt ashamed all the time. Even when I went to university, I still had the feeling I didn’t fit in. Sometimes it felt like I was speaking a different language than everyone around me. I felt like I couldn’t act like a normal person or have a normal conversation. I always assumed people thought I’m weird. Even though I’ve grown to see my self-worth, I still feel left out all the time. I’m scared to miss anything and not be part of the group. I don’t respect my own boundaries as a result of this fear.

 

  • Trust issues

As a child, our primary caregivers are supposed to be our safe haven. We need them to be able to explore and fall back to when we need it. When they aren’t reliable or predictable, we don’t experience this safety. This can result in a lot of different situations. The most common ones are: we learn there is something wrong with us and we need someone else to give us confirmation that we can be loved. We seek approval and lose ourselves along the way. We become dependent on other people and can’t feel happy on our own. The other end of the spectrum is also possible. We believe no one can be trusted, if even our parents weren’t there for us. We need to prove we can do it on our own and don’t need anyone. We’re afraid of commitment or opening up and letting someone in. Being vulnerable equals getting hurt.

Personal story time

As a kid and teenager I went from one best friend to the other. I wouldn’t let anyone get close. We would always fall apart after some stupid argument. I would have boyfriends but keep them at arms-length. Any sign of danger in a relationship and I would be out. Danger for me was: they were too nice, too sweet, not exciting enough. I now believe I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and would rather end it myself first. Everything to protect myself from being hurt. I would never date the bad guy, too focused on not making the same mistake my mom did.

I blamed my mom for such a long time for my trust issues and the difficulties it created in my relationships. A year ago I learned that a guy I almost had a thing with, ended up in prison for abusing a lot of different girls. Back then my gut feeling was telling me something was off about him. In the beginning he was really sweet but over time he turned manipulative. Since I promised myself I would never let a guy treat me badly, I turned distant and the whole thing blew up before it even started. Learning this kind of shook my perspective on my childhood. Should I be thankful of my mom, because her behaviour might have prevented something horrible from happening?

Today I can proudly say that I’ve been in a relationship for 5 years now (with its ups and downs of course) and I’m still best friends with the most amazing person ever (even though we don’t always see completely eye to eye). I still have some work to do but being able to upon up like this to a range of people, is definitely a sign of progress.

Now what?

The list of signs of unresolved trauma I’ve described in this and my last blogpost aren’t exact science. I’ve based myself on research and theories around the topics and I’ve added my own experience to the mix. I want to stress that experiencing one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have some trauma you never knew about. I believe it is a personal mix of different signs, telling you something is off. It might deliver some clarity and function as a starting point for recovery. The story definitely doesn’t end here.

 

 

 

 

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