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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