THE MOM’S SPACE: Childhood Trauma
Exploring what’s inside the box
Many of us would agree that our childhood affects how we think, feel, and behave as adults. The trauma experienced as a child, no matter where that trauma may lie on the spectrum, unequivocally affects our environments, relationships, and how we parent. It leaves us feeling trapped in an empty and unfulfilling adulthood. For us to create and maintain a life that feels fulfilled and free, exploring and healing this trauma is vital.
As children, we are little geniuses. This is especially true for those of us who’ve experienced trauma. Our brilliant brains think of ways to control and protect ourselves from getting hurt (mentally, physically, and emotionally). In doing so, we try to rationalize our trauma by believing it’s our fault and that we deserve it. This creates our biggest controller and protector, shame (hearing “shoulds”). Our shame becomes the curator of our coping mechanisms.
Common coping mechanisms:
- Relentless striving for external validation
- People pleasing
- Withdrawing, avoiding, or hiding
- Decision making from guilt and shame
- Self-sabotaging behaviors
These may help keep us safe in childhood, but when we use them in adulthood, they leave us feeling empty, alone, and out of control. We also feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and don’t know how to change. Instead, we minimize our trauma by putting it in a box. We hide that box in a dark corner inside our internal closet, yet we constantly feel its debilitating heaviness. This box, with our child-self at the wheel, determines how our adulthood looks and feels.
What childhood trauma can look like in adulthood:
- Discomfort with boundaries
- Frequent dysregulation
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges
- Insecurity and self-esteem disturbances
- Consistent patterns of abuse toward self or from others
- Unhealthy attachment in relationships
Naturally, we don’t want to share what’s in our box. The resurgence of these feelings gives our child-self the green light to hide the box and start driving. In doing so, she convinces us that if we talk about it, we’ll no longer be protected. She reverts to her familiar coping behaviors. This familiarity is what makes us feel safe. Inevitably, the cycle continues, our child-self continues to drive, never allowing the box to open so we can fully heal.
What to know if you’ve experienced childhood trauma:
- Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors make sense
- You are not alone
- It is not your fault
- You do not have to fully re-live your trauma to heal
- It is possible to find safe, accepting, and empowering support
Our childhood trauma does not define us; it informs our truth. Exploring and processing our childhood trauma, no matter where it falls on the spectrum, allows us to heal and find our true self. Talking about what’s in our box is not easy; in fact, it’s really hard. But it‘s worth it. When we gently look inside our box with acceptance and objective support (licensed mental health professional), we allow our child-self to trust and relinquish the wheel. Our child-self feels safe and can finally rest. Our true self is free to drive. When she does, our box no longer makes us feel dark and heavy. Instead, we feel whole, connected, and fulfilled.
MOLLIE GEE is a licensed clinical mental health counselor, married mother of two, and owner of The Nest Counseling.