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.|
By the way, if this material speaks to you, you may want to check out my new course, “Healing Childhood PTSD”. It’s a self-paced course with 32 videos about how PTSD happens, what it does to us, and how ordinary people can begin healing and connecting again, whether or not they have access to professional help. There is lots of material specifically about changing self-defeating behaviors. You can learn more and register here.