Childhood trauma leaves traces. Perhaps it feels like a lifetime ago but trauma lays buried deep within not only our subconscious but also our physical body. Over time, it becomes stored in our DNA and passed down to future generations. Yes- you can inherit trauma! Who would have thought right?
The recent discovery of epigenetics has scientifically proven that we carry the trauma of our ancestors deep within our DNA. So, perhaps that irrational fear of heights or deep water that you have is not so irrational after all.
The body always remembers, even when the conscious mind doesn’t. Whether it was a single traumatic event or continual abuse every memory is stored deep within our cells.
#1. Low self-opinion
Childhood trauma leaves us with a feeling of deep unworthiness that can be hard to comprehend by those who don’t suffer from it. It’s that nagging little voice that says:
· I’m no good.
· I can’t do that.
· I don’t matter.
· I’m a bad person.
You feel bad for simply existing. Childhood programming runs deep and can often play out subliminally and much to our detriment. No matter how much evidence there might be to the contrary the negative tape wins every time.
We expect to fail, we accept less than we deserve and we talk ourselves down at every opportunity. There’s an underlying fear of success — after all, who am I to think I can be successful? Isn’t that for other people?
#2. Poor mental health
Hidden trauma expresses itself as chronic depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, flashbacks, and personality disorders. The above were developed as coping mechanisms to survive a traumatic childhood. These issues are not born out of thin air. They are the remnants of a once very toxic past.
Strong emotions can only be held down for so long before they bubble to the surface. What’s not dealt with in the moment will eventually manifest in other forms. Everything catches up with us eventually.
Finding someone experienced to guide you through these conditions is essential if you seek resolution. Mental health does not just get magically better. You need to put in the work.
#3. Chronic Illness
A lesser-known result of childhood trauma manifests itself in the shape of chronic illness. Childhood trauma not only physically damages the brain (which can be verified via brain scans), but also creates the necessary conditions for physical illness to also occur. Trauma lingers physically in the body long after the event has passed.
Survivors of childhood trauma are at more risk of chronic health issues such as autoimmune conditions, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, GI issues, and IBS to name a few.
The reason is simple: high levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline curse through the veins wreaking havoc with internal balance. The stress of trauma upsets hormonal balance which in turn negatively affects all other bodily systems.
If the trauma is endured over a long period of time a systematic wearing down of the body and organs begins to occur. A weakened defense system leaves the door open for illness to march right in.
One of the most revealing signs of childhood trauma lies in the addictions we battle. Particularly that of alcohol, drugs, food, and over-the-counter medications.
Traumatic memories stored in the body often manifest in the form of intense feelings such as social anxiety and emotional flashbacks. Victims of childhood trauma often use substances to regulate overpowering emotions and to keep their demons from resurfacing.
Addictions can manifest in many forms, however, survivors of childhood trauma gravitate towards substances that numb out the pain of the past. Whether your drug of choice is a velvety glass of rioja or a tub of ice cream every night — you are seeking escape.
#5. Living in survival mode
Feel like you’re always harried, on edge, or ready to fight? You could be living in a state of perpetual flight or fight mode. Childhood trauma has that pesky little habit of leaving us feeling ready for attack or impending doom at any given moment.
It's a throwback to the days when you really did have to be alert and ready to rapidly protect yourself. If you had a difficult childhood you were trained to anticipate potential danger. The nervous system remembers this and continues to plays out the same old model.
Regularly experiencing a state of heightened anxiety is indicative of living in the sympathetic nervous system. Your nervous system remains on edge and unable to settle down as it should. It is stuck in the past.
The lesser-known states of Freeze and Fawn could also be keeping you in survival mode. If you find yourself unwittingly freezing up or appeasing certain individuals it may be a throwback to times when this behavior actually saved you. Learning to placate the bully was often more fruitful than trying to fight or flee.
Why we must do the work to overcome it
Trauma has a funny way of resurfacing just when you think you’ve finally left it behind. It rears its ugly head in the form of unintended outbursts, intense bouts of panic and anxiety, and extreme flashbacks to name a few.
If left untreated it will follow you through life like a dark cloud ready to downpour at any moment. The simple truth is that trauma doesn’t just go away by itself. You can try to bury it, run from it, or pretend it doesn’t exist but eventually, it catches up with you. You can't outrun trauma. Unfortunately, when it does catch up with you it has usually grown into a far bigger monster than it was initially.
This is why dealing with unhealed childhood wounds is so important. It stunts our personal growth and holds us back in every aspect of life. Childhood trauma is at the root of almost all dysfunction and unfortunately, there’s no easy way around it other than doing the work to heal yourself.
In the words of Socrates — the unexamined life is not worth living!