OK, so before you get all mad and think I don’t understand, I completely understand that some problems are really not self-created, but caused by other people and circumstances.
A young person who is abused is not responsible for that. An infant who is neglected is not responsible for that. A child who grows up in a neighborhood torn by gang violence is not responsible for that. Such people, like everyone who suffers, may be affected for life in physical and psychological ways. But then what? Can adults who experienced childhood trauma just march forward and never look back? Probably not. But is it possible, no matter what has happened, to be a good person, and live a good and happy life? Yes it is, if we can clean up what I call the “Inside Trauma,” which I first wrote about last year.
“Inside Trauma” is the term I use for trauma-generated behaviors. They start as an innocent flight away from pain, may reflexive, not always conscious. But if they persist, they will create more trauma and more life problems. They show up in all kinds of people, but are significantly more common in folks who had a crappy childhood.
It sucks. It’s not fair. You are a beautiful, sweet person who has been through SO much and you’ve worked SO hard. But you got a bad hand of cards, and though you never asked for them, you now you have a heap of problems! It happens very easily with folks like us. No one knows exactly why. It’s partly psychological and partly physiological, even neurological.
But here’s the thing:
No matter how badly you were affected by the past, you have the power to change — at least some things. You may not be able to change other people or every circumstance, but there are hundreds of things you can change — things that would make a tremendous difference in your life — and that could, in turn change your circumstances. This is the best possible news. You can change!
It doesn’t tend to happen out of the blue. Usually you have to take stock of how your own attitudes and behaviors may be, yes, causing problems for you. And then there’s work today. We’ll get to that soon.
But just to get started, here is a list of “Inside Traumas” that sometimes show up in folks who had a crappy childhood. They are trauma-driven behaviors that tend to cause more trauma. Outside forces caused the first trauma, but these are things you are (perhaps unconsciously) doing to yourself. See if you think any apply to you:
- Neglect of body: Shabby clothes, poor hygiene, neglect of physical exercise, avoidance of medical and dental care, self harm.
- Black & white thinking: Drawn to extreme views, groups, authority figures, often outraged at the news. Dominating, slandering, or cutting off contact with outsiders. See people as all good or all bad. Think you can’t leave a relationship, or think you can’t get in one.
- Addictive use of food: Carb binging, obesity, eating disorders, obsessing about food, weight, nutrition.
- Addictive use of media/entertainment: Using TV, internet and games enough to interfere with sleep, meals, daily routine — causes problem for family responsibilities, work, school, finances.
- Dishonesty: Exaggerating, hiding important personal truths or preferences, lying, stealing, infidelity, tax evasion, iillegal activity.
- Work problems: Unfulfilling work, under-earning, too-frequent periods of unemployment, chronic adversarial relationships with employers and coworkers, suing or getting sued.
- Blame: Difficulty seeing own role in problems, victim thinking, bitterness, obsessing on the wrongs of others, belief that all problems the result of race, gender, foreigners, political party, certain foods, etc. Conspiracy theories.
- Numbing with substances: Relieving stress with alcohol, drugs.
- Irritability: Angry without much reason, arguing or often finding self in a conflict. Ranting, rage, mistreating others, violence.
- Attraction to troubled partners/friends: Being/staying in abusive relationship, belief one is another’s “only hope” or savior, being controlled, drawn into legal, social, financial trouble. Loss of discernment re; the relative seriousness of another’s behavior.
- Unfulfilling romantic life. No dating relationships, staying in bad relationship, or sexless or loveless marriage.
- Abuse of Sexuality. Overly sexualized appearance, conduct or having sex that leads to problems for self and others, unwanted pregnancy, use of pornography/fantasy for numbing, prostitution, exploiting others.
- Fantasy (romantic, financial) not present, not in touch with reality, failure to take reasonable action. Obsession, stalking,
- Avoidance of people, responsibility, participation. Shut-in, “social anorectic,” loner, hermit.
- Debting, no savings, living beyond means to pay for home, car, therapy. Growth of debt, gambling, foreclosure, bankruptcy, homelessness.
- 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.
ARGH! What a horrible list, right? But think about it… all these Inside Traumas are things you have the potential to change. I could write a book about each one, but a post will have to suffice. That’ll come after I get through all the Tough Love Truths.
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