“Childhood Trauma doesn’t come in a single package.” ~ Dr. Asa Don Brown
Would you ever let a five-year-old drive your car all by themselves?
The answer is an obvious no. You can’t let a kid drive such a huge vehicle, can you?
Yet, there are times when a five- or six-year-old ends up sitting behind the wheel of our adult life and takes us to places we never even knew existed.
Those places, events, and situations from our past that our subconscious has been hiding from our awareness start finding their way into our present life when the wounded inner child decides to sit behind the wheel and refuses to get off.
“A whole life can be shaped by an old trauma remembered or not.” ~ Lenore Terr
Thus, serving as a potent reminder that the past is never left behind.
Whatever remains unresolved, unanswered, unacknowledged, and is deeply connected to our sense of self will show up in one way or another. This especially holds true for our childhood wounds.
When we grow up in an environment where our childhood needs have not been met due to any reason—parental neglect, abandonment, abuse, or significant life events such as death, illness, and so on—it impacts our identity in crucial ways.
Often, as kids, we don’t have the knowledge nor space and opportunity to feel and express our emotions. So we suppress, deny, or hide away those emotions because that’s all that we can do.
I mean, what else can a tiny, dependent, helpless child do?
But do those emotions really go away?
“I think the thumbprint on the throat of many people is the childhood trauma that goes unprocessed and unrecognized.” ~ Tom Hooper
They stay in our mind and body and often come up unexpected—unannounced—in so many ways.
If you start noticing certain things in your behavior and thought process, you need to consider that it may be time to tend to some old childhood wounds:
1. You have trouble regulating your emotions.
You don’t understand your inner experience and struggle to make sense of it. At times, you don’t know what you’re feeling or how to express your emotions. You shut down, disconnect yourself from everyone, or feel numb. At other times you may find yourself lashing out, throwing tantrums, or acting out.
2. You get triggered easily.
Anything can set off a high emotional response within you. You may end up feeling anxious, withdrawn, numb, or agitated at the smallest of things.
3. You are flooded by events from your past.
At times, you may find yourself grappling with the memories of your past without any particular trigger in the present.
4. You struggle with guilt and shame.
You often feel guilty when you think about doing things for yourself, asking for what you want, and setting boundaries. Sometimes you may also struggle with a deep sense of shame if you’ve done something wrong or are struggling to get something right.
5. You have insecure attachment patterns.
You often feel insecure in your relationships and wonder if you’re living up to others’ expectations. You often worry about not being good enough, not doing enough, and think that you’re not important or loved. You may end up feeling possessive and jealous as well.
6. You struggle with a fear of abandonment.
You are often consumed by the fear that people will abandon you even when you have no reason to believe so and may find it extremely hard to be by yourself.
7. You have commitment issues.
You either don’t want to commit or commit too soon in relationships.
8. Conflict avoidance.
If you grew up in a chaotic environment where you felt that your voice didn’t matter, then you may steer away from conflicts and confrontations. You don’t want to take the risk of upsetting or disappointing someone or feel that your opinions aren’t important. At times, the emotional volatility that comes with conflicts feels way too much for you to handle, so you do everything you can to avoid them.
9. You have low self-worth.
If you were criticized a lot or not appreciated, then it’s likely that you never learnt to trust yourself. You feel like you’re constantly trying to meet standards that feel out of your reach. You end up feeling useless and worthless about yourself and fail to consider your accomplishments.
10. You seek external validation.
You’re constantly looking for validation and appreciation from people around you. You want to be the good person and don’t want to appear as the bad, selfish one.
We all display some of these tendencies every now and then. However, when one or more of these and perhaps many other patterns begin to take over our lives, it’s time to step back and see where they’re coming from.
And then the only thing you can do is heal.
Your past will continue to shape you only if you allow it to.
“The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.” ~ Peter A. Levine
Healing doesn’t mean that you can undo the damage and rewrite your past; it means that you no longer allow what’s ended to control your life. You can stop the car right here.
It means that you acknowledge the presence of the angry, hurt, lonely, wounded inner child (or children) within you and embrace it completely and tend to its wounds—not because you have to but because you can.
Remember, you are now the adult.
All you need to do is tell the child within you to scoot over to the passenger seat and let you drive so that you can be each other’s companions on this journey called life.
In the words of Edmond Mbiaka, “The only love you should desperately search for is the one that comes from you to you.”