When you experience adverse childhood experiences or hardship, your life and your soul are altered forever. Those who suffer loss, abuse or neglect early on in life can often suffer from serious psychological and emotional disorders for decades to come, changing who they are and destroying their ability to foster caring and nurturing relationships even decades after the traumatic event.
How childhood trauma affects our adult lives.
When you grow up as the victim of adversity or trauma, it takes a toll on who you are, and it seriously impacts your ability to function in the long-term. Whether it’s forming your own substance abuse issues, or coming to battle your own mental health demons — the way we are raised plays a pivotal role in who we allow ourselves to become later on.
Growing up in a household with an addicted parent can lead to our own struggles with addiction. Whether it’s food, alcohol, cigarettes, or intravenous drugs — addicts are commonly begot by addicts. It’s also possible, however, to turn to these things as coping mechanism if you were brought up in an abusive or neglectful (if not addicted) home.
When you live with the pain and the shame of a dark or abusive childhood, it lowers our self-esteem and also lowers our sense of self. Outside of that, it can lead to a number of different eating disorders, which can manifest as either a coping mechanism or as a means of finding power in what appears to be an increasingly powerless life. For this reason, many victims of childhood abuse and neglect find themselves struggling with weight issues; whether this is obesity or dramatic levels of being underweight.
Mental health difficulties
When children are regularly abused or neglected, they often develop cognitive problems. This can include memory problems, poor verbal skills and problems focusing or concentrating on tasks. Likewise, they can also experience a number of mental health issues, which can include ongoing anxiety, panic attacks, and even major clinical depression. Altered states can also come into play when you’re the victim of childhood trauma, which causes you to lose touch and lose sight of who you are authentically at your core.
Those who are traumatized between 6 months and three years of age are more prone to have trouble forming healthy attachments with the people that they care for. Usually, this condition is referred to as RAD or reactive attachment disorder, which affects your ability to form adequate social relationships. RAD can impact everything from your mood to your behavior. It also makes it hard for those suffering from it to trust others.
The best ways to transition from pain to peace.
If you’re struggling with the darkness of an adverse childhood, the good news is that there are steps you can take to improve the quality of your life here and now. Don’t let the sins and struggles of your parents become your own. Take action and transform your life by learning how to find the help you need and create the life you’ve always wanted.
1. Invest in some professional help
Facing and resolving the pain of the past is not something that we can always do alone, and it’s not something that can be managed simply with the help of a few good friends. Sometimes, it’s necessary to find a specialist when dealing with childhood trauma; but it’s important to make sure you’re finding the right person to help you resolve past issues.
Trauma symptoms vary from case to case and as such need to be assessed by qualified and experienced trauma professionals. Finding a therapist who has experience treating trauma like yours can take time, but cognitive-behavioral therapists and EMDR professionals are a good place to start. Take your time and don’t rush into anything that doesn’t feel right.
A professional can help you get to the root of your problems, but you need to be ready to open up and need to know what direction you want to head in. Healing is hard, but living eternally in pain is harder. If you think you need more serious help, reach out for it. When you feel better physically, you have more strength to engage in the mental and emotional war of healing and resolution. This puts our overall wellness in clearer focus and makes our efforts to heal more effective and less costly in the long run.
2. Lean into meaningful connections
Trauma forces us into survival mode, a suspended state of animation that monopolizes and uses up all our energy. When you’re in survival-mode, it’s hard — if not impossible — to get close to people. Experiencing trauma before the age of 10 makes you prone to isolating yourself and cutting off the relationships that give you the love you so desperately need.
Nothing melts shame faster than allowing the full weight of your heart to be seen by another person.You can counteract this behavioral coping mechanism by allowing yourself to be vulnerable and loving with others. Find a small handful of friends (or a lover) and double down on your connection with them.
When you allow yourself to be loved and you give love in return, you send the message to your inner child that your pain is in the past and you are worthwhile as you are. Give the love you need in your life to the right people and you’ll see it returned tenfold to you. Connecting with others doesn’t mean you have to talk about the things that happened in your past (though that is often one of the most healing things we can do). It simply means staying engaged in the normal day-to-day activities that keep us plugged in and feeling like we’re an active and engaged part of this world.
3. Write a new narrative
As children, we have an almost god-like sense of awe, love and respect for our parents. We see them as omnipotent beings, the sole reason for our survival and existence — but when those feelings extend past childhood, we often forget to extend that same love and respect to ourselves. In order to find true happiness, we have to learn to write a new narrative for ourselves.
No matter what happened in your past, or what is happening in this current moment, it’s all moot if you can’t love yourself for who and what you are. In order to find happiness, you have to find a way to love yourself — the good and the bad — and you have to find a way to forgive yourself for the missteps and mistakes that led you to where you are today.
Do this by writing a new narrative for yourself. Lean into your boundaries and stop looking toward the guidance of those that would hurt you for their own personal fulfillment or gain. We are the masters of our own destinies, but that can be hard to see when you have a mountain of childhood pain resting behind you. Let go of the darker influences in your past and lean into embracing the destiny you want for yourself and the chosen family you’re building.
4. Stop the patterns
When we grow up with domineering or abusive parents, we can often be attracted to those people later on in our romantic lives, and there’s some pretty compelling reasons for this. All of us are driven to get an ending when things get left hanging unresolved. When we’re hurt by our parents, those hurts linger for a long time and it leaves us searching for the warmth and nurturing we didn’t receive at critical points in our childhood development.
When we don’t feel loved or good enough, we are driven to find a resolution for that need and it ends with us falling into familiar relationships and familiar patterns with people that are just as toxic for us as our controlling, judgmental parents. We look to receive what we didn’t get from our parents with other people, when we should be looking to get it from within. You have to learn to recognize these patterns and break them before they become inescapable.
Living with feelings of hurt and rejection causes us to live in a gray state, where we allow ourselves to be taken over by autopilot and the familiar reactions that are so fundamental to the change we need to thrive. Automatic thoughts and feelings drive us into poor choices and cause us to gravitate toward people that feel comfortable to us — even when they’re toxic. Start with embracing the hurts you don’t want to face. These decisions aren’t conscious ones, but they’re harmful ones, and stopping them starts with identifying your emotional triggers and the injuries that make you numb yourself to the reality of the world around you.
5. Uncover the “shoulds”
“Shoulds” are messages we take in which form our “Base Line” on everything from school to relationships and society. These “shoulds” guide our behavior in an almost reactive way, and should be analyzed often for their value in our lives. When you take a closer look at your shoulds (especially the ones formed in childhood) you’ll often find that you’ve swallowed a spoonful of poison along with all that idealized sugar and fluff.
These beliefs come from years of cultivating and reinforcement. They can help us move forward or they can keep us stuck; they’re all the little quiet messages we receive in the in-between. Believing these messages when we’re young might steer us in the right direction, but they can also be diabolical in our adulthood; so it’s important to correct where correction is needed.
Parents can raise us to feel indebted to them, and while this might work as a child, it doesn’t serve an adult who knows their own mind and life. You might feel like you owe the people that gave you your life, but you can cope now — with or without them. Remember that you’re older now and the circumstances are different. If you’re dealing with a toxic or abusive parent that makes you feel bad about yourself — stop it. You’re an adult, and adults don’t owe anything to other adults; no matter what we pretend otherwise.
Putting it all together…
Adverse childhood experiences aren’t just hard, they have long-term consequences on our adult lives. When we grow up being abused, or suffering under the stress of a neglectful or mentally unwell parental figure — it can lead to our own abuse of substances, cognitive dysfunction, and even prolonged mental health struggles. In order to overcome, we have to learn how to embrace ourselves as the worthy beings that we are. That’s a journey in itself, however, and one we have to chip away at every day.
If you’re struggling with a particularly dark childhood saga, enlist the help of mental health professional who can help get your mind and your body back on track. Our friends and chosen family too can do a lot to help us resolve the pain that’s tied into our childhoods. Lean into meaningful connections and write a new narrative for yourself each and every day. You are worthy of the love and respect you were denied, but you’re going to have to stop all the negative patterns of behavior and start accepting your journey for the totality of what it could be. Though the pain of our past can keep us chained to things that don’t suit us, we can free ourselves when we uncover the “shoulds” that shouldn’t be and start taking charge of our own happiness. Make the choice today to free yourself from the shackles of a hard childhood.
- Anderson, S., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. (2000). Long-Term Sequelae of Prefrontal Cortex Damage Acquired in Early Childhood. Developmental Neuropsychology, 18(3), 281–296. doi: 10.1207/s1532694202anderson