Slaying the Dragon of Trauma:Kid Trauma & Adult Thinking
As a child as young as an infant to hormonal teens, many youths have witnessed or experienced traumatic events. Depending on our circumstances growing up there may or may not be the resources needed or available to adequately treat childhood trauma when it happens. Therefore, many people have entered into adulthood and all it has to offer without slaying the dragon of childhood trauma.
The effects from trauma as a child that are not treated can lead to impacts in adult lives in places like our relationships with others, what we view as safe vs. dangerous, and how we truly think of ourselves. As a survivor of childhood trauma, you often learn what you experienced or thought was “normal” was in fact not normal, not healthy, and traumatic.
Trauma can change the way you think and what you learn to expect from the world and others. Some of these changes are true and accurate understanding of the world, based on these experiences, and some are not quite so accurate and true. In the therapy world, we refer to these not-so-healthy thinking patterns as “cognitive distortions.”
However, if you start recognizing those cognitive distortions, healing can take place. Those who witness or experience trauma are not “doomed” by their past but can be affected in ways that might not be apparent to the naked eye.
So let’s explore a few common cognitive distortions.
Seeking Approval – Sometimes a trauma survivor may seek approval from others and in doing so might lose part of their identity in the process.
Let’s say that little Claire grew up in a household where domestic violence took place, but to others, she seemed perfect because she was getting straight A’s on her report card, always stayed late after school to help others and seemed outgoing. When Claire becomes an adult, it can translate in her life as being a hard worker in her office and volunteering to help out to gain approval from others like she did so in school and avoiding her home life. Claire may have traits that show that her identity is lost in the fact that she wants to gain approval from others because that brought joy into her life when her home was scary and unhealthy.
Easily Reactive to the Feedback of Others- If you grew up taking any criticism and feared others rejecting you as a child, then that may overlap into your adult relationships as well.
For example, if Johnny always got critiqued by his parents for not scoring the most points in a game or not doing the drills correctly to get him into a good school on a scholarship, then that may translate to him reacting negatively to an employer who has a new method of correcting an employee to help produce better results. But a trauma survivor sees that my boss doesn’t value me and my job could be on the line when that isn’t what they are thinking at all.
Pity vs. Love – Without being aware, sometimes we can see those who may need to be “rescued” by pitying them and wanting to love them as we would have wanted. Some may seek out those who feel they are in similar situations they were once in and want to “fix” what could have been an outcome. For example, if Morgan witnessed her mother being an alcoholic and the constant push and pull of the marriage between her father, then she may gravitate towards being in a similar atmosphere she grew up in. She may try to replay elements of her childhood stories trying to be the hero or gain pity for those early hurts.
The victim mindset – Many children who have witnessed or experienced circumstances amongst their parents or loved ones that portrayed them in the light of being “a victim” can overlap with how a child interacts with others as an adult.
If Michael was in a home where his mother was always “the victim” in any situation and had anger outbursts which led to mistreating her children. Children can learn these patterns from their parents. If Michael is not careful, he may have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility when it comes to taking account of his actions and playing the “victim card” in relationships in any capacity.
The dragon of childhood trauma may start out as a little creature from Dragon Tales we saw as children on the screen, but can become a monster that is hard to tame. As a therapist, I have seen clients carry these themes in their relationships and life without knowing where they really came from. Just know that despite what you endured as a child, someone is here to help you. Whether you are still a teen, a young adult, or in your forties, we are here for you.
By: Alexia Eller, LMSW
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