The Traumas We Inflict On Ourselves

When we talk about trauma, we are usually referring to the things done TO us — childhood abuse and neglect, growing up poor, violence by a partner, exposure to war…

But the more we were exposed to these traumas from an outside source, the more likely we are to adopt what I call “inside traumas” — the things we believe and do today that can actually make the effects of old traumas worse. They start as an innocent flight away from pain, but if they persist, they actually create more trauma and more life problems.

Inside traumas can be as harmful as or worse than anything that happened to us in the past, and yet they don’t get talked about much. It’s hard to admit these things ourselves, and hard to help others who don’t yet recognize that to some degree, they are making their problems worse.

Becoming aware of the way we traumatize ourselves is a giant and powerful step toward healing. When we can see we are doing, it, there is hope we can stop doing it.

I’ve developed a rough and partial list of inside traumas — behaviors and attitudes that maybe started because of outside traumas, but have now become a reflex or habit, and are making our problems worse.

Please note that almost all of these behaviors/attitudes fall on a spectrum, from minor to major. And almost all of them could happen to anyone if circumstances were bad enough (like homelessness, for example).

None of us is above the problems of life. But there are times when we have a choice about these behaviors and attitudes (and I would know. Believe me).  And when there is a choice, there is a great deal of hope! It takes determination and it takes time, but dammit, no matter what happened in the past, we are not stuck forever, doomed to repeat old patterns. We heal! We grow!

So here’s the partial and rough list of the “Inside Traumas.” I invite you to consider whether any of these are happening for you, and if you think there is room for healing:

Neglect of body – Inappropriate or shabby clothes, poor hygiene, neglect of physical exercise. Avoidance of medical and dental care, self-harm
Blame — Difficulty seeing one’s own role in problems, victim thinking, bitterness, slandering others, belief that all problems the result of a country, a race, racism itself, sexism, foreigners, a political party, religion, lack of religion, certain foods, your parents, etc.
Black & white thinking — drawn to extreme views, groups, authority figures, belief systems, often outraged at the news. Loss of freedom to disagree or step back from conflict. Dominating others, slandering others, cutting off contact friends, family or people outside your group
Numbing with substances, relieving stress with alcohol, drugs. Taking more/different medication than prescribed. See also food, media.
Addictive use of food — carb binging, unhealthy weight, eating disorders, obsession with “correct” eating
Addictive use of media/entertainment, TV, social media, internet and games enough to interfere with sleep, meals, daily routine, family responsibilities, work, school, finances
Dishonesty — exaggerating, hiding important personal truths or preferences, lying, stealing, infidelity, tax evasion, illegal activity
Work problems — chronic adversarial relationships with employers & coworkers, unfulfilling work, under-earning, neglect of learning/skill development, periods of unemployment, suing or getting sued
Irritability – frequent arguments, falling out with friends, neighbors, partners, family, ranting, rage, mistreating others, revenge, violence
Attraction to troubled partners/friends – repeatedly drawn into relationships that turn out to be abusive, controlling, damaging to other relationships, family and finances. Claiming others are abusive, narcissistic, etc. but staying in the relationship. Rationalizing why staying is necessary.
Unfulfilling romantic life — no dating relationships, staying in bad relationships, creating/staying in sexless or loveless partnership
Abuse of Sexuality — overly sexualized appearance and conduct. Loss of dignity, emotional security or the ability to be “real” around sex and relationship dynamics, doing things one doesn’t want to do, or that make one feel ashamed. Unwanted pregnancy, compulsive behavior around sex
Fantasy (romantic, financial) — a flight from reality when things are tough, not really “here,” not in touch with reality. Failure to take reasonable action, huge, unrealistic expectations and promises, inflating the importance of relationships, events, personal attributes, prospects. Obsession, stalking, neglect of health, work, family
Avoidance of people, responsibility, participation — isolating, “social anorectic,” can sometimes do this as a couple or group, avoiding all others.
Debting — living beyond means to pay for home, car, therapy, etc. Growth of debt, gambling, foreclosure, bankruptcy, homelessness, vague sense of the path toward solvency
Repeating traumatic patterns — seeming inability to detect trouble or step back when trouble appears — relapse into traumatized state, triggering deepening of depression, rage, collapse, reversion to old behaviors.

OK, that’s all I got for now. Would love to hear your additions and suggested modifications. If you want to stay in the conversation, be sure to sign up. Click “Follow” on the upper right-hand side of the blog page, or click “like” or “follow” on Facebook and Twitter.

Until next week!



Does Growing Up With Trauma in the House Make You Overweight?

Last year was the best year of my life. For one thing, I finally lost the extra weight I’d been carrying — about 40 pounds.

I was (and am) thrilled to be back in a right-sized body. I’m happy about how I look when I try on clothes, and about how I feel when I get out of bed in the morning. I even got a super-congratulations letter from my doctor when she saw my recent blood work.

But secretly, one of the best things about my weight loss is the feeling that one major, tell-tale sign of my dark past has just become invisible. Because like so many women with extra weight, I grew up with trauma in the house.

Early trauma, it turns out, appears to influence the way our bodies handle sugar, or more specifically, the insulin released when we consume sugar in any of its forms, whether from alcohol, starchy foods, or sweet substances like sugar. Normally, the hormone leptin is secreted in response to a burst of insulin, and this tells our brains we’re full, and it’s time to get moving a little. But when insulin levels are chronically elevated, some people’s receptors will begin to block the leptin; it is secreted but never causes the “full” feeling, resulting in food cravings and insatiable hunger.

The question is, why do some people have a very stable balance of insulin and leptin, and others don’t?

In the book that guided me through my weight loss, Bright Line Eating, author Susan Peirce Thompson tells about a study in which a population of rats was exposed to an endless supply of food.

Some of the rats weren’t very interested in the extra food. They’d eat a normal amount and walk away from the dish of pellets.

But a few of the rats were extremely interested in the extra food, eating continuously and moving only when the dish was moved, so they could eat still more. These rats became obese.

The researchers then separated the normal eaters and the overeaters, and bred two separate strains. They learned that two “normal-eater” rats will almost always produce normal-eater offspring. And two “overeater” rats will almost always produce overeater offspring. In other words, the difference was genetic.


But parental genes are only part of the story. When scientists isolated young normal-eater rats (which is the rat version of developmental trauma for a human child), many of these rats developed the overeating behavior and became obese.

So sometimes overeating is inherited, and sometimes it’s triggered by early trauma. We have ample evidence that this is also the case in humans — that abuse, neglect and (in particular) sexual abuse cause endocrinological and neurological changes that interact with the genetic, social and behavioral stuff — the stuff that was always assumed to be the whole cause of weight problems.


Which just explains so much. Like why weight loss regimens based on moderation  are difficult or even impossible for most people to stick with. Or why conventional wisdom-reasons for why we get fat (e.g. we want to avoid sex, we want to self-sabotage, it’s all emotional, we just haven’t been educated about a healthy diet, and so on) have never quite made sense. These are the reasons it looks like from the outside, from the perspective of people with different genes and different childhoods. But as with a lot of standard treatment approaches, we folks with childhood PTSD sometimes need a custom workaround.

It turns out the insulin/leptin imbalance can be treated and healed. The food plan I follow is pretty simple — no sugar or flour, three meals a day (no snacking) and measured portions. Unlike the many diets I’ve tried that include insulin-spiking foods like low calorie candy bars or thin sliced bread, this one helped me lose the inordinate cravings and hunger after a couple weeks, and actually feel full after a healthy and moderate meal. So I’ve been able to stick with it pretty well for about eight months so far.

Weight loss is nice. I feel less stigma coming at me, real and imagined. And here’s an even better thing: When I eat this way, it brings me a lovely mental brightness and emotional evenness that I didn’t even know was possible. I was doing well before. Now I’m galloping toward my life dreams with very few internal impediments, with a body that stays energized throughout the day and a brain that stays regulated despite life’s ups and downs.

When I tried eating “normal” food over the holidays, it tasted good but led to a sense of simultaneous dullness and agitation that I guess I used to feel all the time. According to the research, I could easily slide back into the eating pattern, and the leptin blocking problems  I’m trying to make the better way of eating the main way I eat. We’ll see what happens!

I’m a huge believer in the power and potential of the millions of people worldwide who struggle with PTSD from their childhoods. We live in a wondrous time, when discoveries are turning old ideas upside down, and healing is possible, at last!


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How to Have a Great Day (11 Tips For People with Childhood PTSD)

A lot of people who write about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) focus on the damage — the impact on mental health, the medical problems, the permanent changes to DNA, the behavioral challenges… But in my experience? There’s a whole lot of wiggle room in this wonderful life, driven not by our childhood experiences, but by how we approach today. I’m not just being philosophical here. These are my very practical, time tested actions you can take right now to start changing your state of mind, one little step at a time. They’re easy, they’re free, and they work. I am living proof!

In the video, I reference my personal inventory technique to get rid of fear and resentment. I show you how to do it here.

If you have tips or experiences to share, or if you have a question, please comment below, or write to me at

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Divorced Parents Who Fight: How to Break The Cycle (a New Course)

I remember perfectly the warm wave of hope and relief I felt when my parents told me they were getting a divorce. I was seven.

My dad kneeled down in the hallway with me as he was leaving, his suitcase on the floor next to him, and promised it wasn’t my fault. I pretended I needed to hear this, but I knew perfectly well it was the two of them who had caused all the trouble. They had screamed and and threatened and abandoned each other off and on for as long as I had memories. There were many nights I could barely sleep through it. I’d beg them to stop, getting so upset I could hardly breathe. It got so bad sometimes I had to gather up my baby sister from her crib and hide us in a cupboard.

Unfortunately, the fighting continued after their split every time they had contact with each other; we all dreaded the phone calls that escalated to rage, and the curbside encounters during kid hand-offs that scared the neighbors into calling the cops. Talk about adverse childhood experiences; to this day I fall apart at the sound of breaking glass.

It didn’t stop until, one day when I was 13, my dad was diagnosed with ALS. During those last couple years of his life he was kind and supportive of my mother and her husband, and they quickly matched his good will. My sister and I got to experience that — the family together, just hanging out. My dad came to visit us for a week in Arizona; my stepdad took portraits of us with my dad. As you can see in the photo I shared above, his gaunt eyes shine with love.

I was imprinted with this example of emotional healing, but it got mixed in like a quart of bright paint into a big bucket of greyish-green. A lot of damage had already been done.

When I got married the first time, I too was in a “fighting” relationship — never physical violence, but almost daily discord, upsets and yelling. It made us both miserable and ashamed. There was no doubt it affected our two kids, who were just four and one when we finally called it quits. And as with my parents, the fighting continued while we tried to negotiate all the contact involved in co-parenting. There were days I wished one of us would get a terminal illness, just so it would stop.

And then something really new happened.

We learned to stop fighting.

Only people who have been through this particular hell will understand the scale of miracle involved in this transformation, but it’s been growing more and more peaceful and friendly between us every year. Today we are each remarried. We talk almost daily on the phone about what’s going on with the kids (they are 18 and 14 now). We each genuinely like (even love) each other’s spouses. We all spend holidays together and though there is a respectful distance between the two couples, we are all friends. We all  know that all four adults can be counted on for help, if any of us should need anything.

We got an idea a few months ago that we should make a course to show other people, step-by-step, how we transformed our parenting dynamic. Tim (that’s his name) is a family law attorney, and, well, I’m the Crappy Childhood Fairy! So we actually did it! We made an hour-long video-based course called Positive Shared Custody: Five Commitments to Stop the Drama and Bring Long-Term Harmony to Your Family.


Tim and Anna taping
Tim Fricker (my ex) and me, taping our course Positive Shared Custody.
  • It’s not meant to be legal or psychological advice. It’s just a practical guide to move as quickly as possible from a stressful, adversarial dynamic to one that’s peaceful and constructive and happier for the whole family.
  • It’s appropriate for viewers who are thinking of splitting, going through the process now or are just trying to improve an arrangement that’s already in place.
  • It’s helpful if both partners view the course, but even if you’re the only one viewing, you’ll get tips for changes that make a difference you can feel, right away.
  • It’s good for moms and dads, and is not specific to the US (where we live) so viewers worldwide can apply the principles we teach.

Making this course has been a wonderful experience, actually, and I JUST got it launched on Teachable. It’s my first “costs money” content. I realize not all my readers need such a course (which only kinda relates to the Fairy topic area), but for those of you in a challenging shared custody situation, I issued a 70% discount coupon that lets you take the course for just $29. 

I created a limited number so if you’re interested and want the discount, please jump in and register!

Here’s a link to the course with the discount applied. (Same link is above).  

Oh, and I’m new to this business of setting up courses online. If you have any technical difficulties that Teachable site can’t solve (they actually have great support), please e-mail me at

Tim (my ex) and I really hope this course helps other families heal from the fighting. We were both kids who grew up with fighting parents, and we are both forever grateful to have found a better way to live and raise children.

Happy New Year everyone! May it be full of more peace, more love, and more miracles, especially around recovery from childhood PTSD.


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The Never-Ending Wreckage of Growing Up Poor

Today you’d probably lump me in with the middle class, but I carry some residue of having grown up poor. I work with people who work hard to help the poor, but have not themselves ever been poor. There are things they don’t understand.

People who grew up with money tend to think that poverty is something they can fix with things like education, “empowerment” or initiatives that almost always have the words “community,” “youth,” “program,” and “center” in them.

The willingness of of these folks to try to help the poor is mostly noble and mostly kind. But as a poor kid I never felt these people and their programs could actually see me. It seemed like they were projecting — imagining what would help them if they were to suddenly find themselves in my shoes. They seemed to me a different kind of people, whose inner selves were clean, unbroken and consistent as butter. Me, I felt more like margarine — a stick of margarine that fell in pine needles — not as good on the inside, dirty on the outside, not the real thing.

The butter people believe poor people are also butter, and they just need the pine needles wiped off. But this never really helps, because of the margarine.

I know that being poor doesn’t literally mean “less than” others. Poverty is a big tent. Some families have very little money but are cohesive, loving and “buttery.” Some families have a lot of money but are chaotic and broken. Some families live in places where external conditions pretty much destroy everything, inside and out. And others live amid ample opportunity, but are beaten down from the inside, from deep or generational poverty and all the crappy behaviors that can rise out of being poor, and that cause one to be poor.

My family lived in two worlds. We succumbed to those poverty behaviors, not because of money but because of alcoholism (which often sets the poverty ball rolling). So even though we lived in a decent neighborhood and my parents were well educated, we were sporadically dependent on food stamps, welfare and free lunch. I hung out with a variety of kids, but identified eventually with the poor kids. I had excellent grades in high school but didn’t go to college right away because I didn’t know how — how to apply, or about the SAT, or the application deadlines. I moved in with a bunch of friends who also didn’t go to college.

People probably did try to encourage me to go far in the world — I can’t remember anymore. This was not the age of helicopter parenting, and my parents had their plates over-full at the time with their own money struggles and the constant upheaval of family alcoholism.  At any rate, when adults tried to talk to me, I pushed them away. It was mortifying especially to have butter people pay attention to me at all, with their assumptions and expectations, blind to how fragile I really was at the time. Even making eye contact with them would make my heart pound and my hands go clumsy, and though I’d want to receive help, everything I said would come out ANGRY.

And this is the electric fence around poverty that makes it so hard to help.

I’ve been on both sides now. Poor people have trouble around money people because money people don’t get it.  Poor people can’t easily explain because when we try, our hearts and mouths fill up with pine needles.

When we’re talking about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)– the kind that (we now know) strongly affect our ability to function, thrive and survive in the world, it’s hard to tell what’s the chicken and what’s the egg — poverty or behavior. There’s a great article about this here.

Most people I know who have escaped poverty made progress on two fronts — they worked to heal the trauma that happened to them, and they worked on their own behavior. Of course they also had support. Nobody does this alone.

I worked on both fronts, and here are some of the old problems that are pretty much healed:

  • Resentment at authority figures
  • Body self-hatred (some progress, amazing!)
  • Overachieving while under-earning
  • Attraction to dramatic, self-centered, dysfunctional and unavailable people
  • Poor boundaries both ways — inability to stay out of harmful situations, and difficulty recognizing (or following through on) my own responsibilities
  • Chronic feeling that people are against me
  • Smoking

And here are a few things that still strangle me with vague awfulness:

  • School functions, teacher meetings, kids’ sporting events, mom gatherings
  • Responding to any sort of complain or criticism about my kids
  • Doctor visits
  • Trying on clothes. Putting my old clothes on after trying on new clothes.
  • Disappointing customer service experiences
  • Hearing from others “You’re really strong” or “Thank you for being so honest”
  • Trying to describe how I want my hair cut
  • Asking for anything that will trouble people
  • Pudgy stomach
  • People I don’t know well asking me personal questions
  • People nude in public
  • Realizing, too late, that I’ve been talking too much
  • Being in a group that all has one opinion, and I don’t share it


The researchers look at health outcomes and co-morbidities, but it’s these little things that are the day-to-day harms of a crappy childhood. As I will keep saying like a broken record, there are easy techniques to calm the inner storm and go forward, one foot in front of the other, into a happy, buttery life. This is the one that works for me.

Here’s a favorite post from last year. Enjoy!

Did Childhood PTSD Leave You With “The Underdog Effect?” Here’s How To Undo It.

This week, my video talks about the seeming cloud that can hang over folks who who went through a lot of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).  It’s a cloud made of negative outside stigma and our injured self-esteem. It limits us through tiny little changes in our habits, our judgment and our thinking. The good news is, there’s a systematic way to undo these effects and stop playing the underdog.

Apologies for the terrible lighting and glare in the glasses! Still figuring out how to be my own cameraperson.

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Childhood PTSD Hero: Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on ACEs

Why can’t everyone just adopt healthy behaviors and quit making the same mistakes over and over and over again? In this beloved TED Talk, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris breaks  it down for us: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) turn out to be directly correlated with just about every bad health outcome. She is a pioneer, shining a light on understanding what’s really going on with us, and how it can be prevented and treated. Thank you Dr. Harris!