OUR TRAUMAS AND HOW THEY AFFECT OUR SELF-ESTEEM
What is trauma, how can it change someone’s life, and what needs to happen for it to heal?
Trauma is any experience which has altered the psyche of a Being. Tied with A shock to the individual’s system (consciously acknowledged or not), it throws one’s inner equilibrium off. For some it is a loss of their beloved pet, for another a car accident, and for certain sensitive individuals it is seeing a snippet of a horror movie. From a younger sibling who had been left at school with parents nowhere to be seen to an older sibling being pushed by their parent into a dark room as a punishment, what is shocking to one may not shock the other to the same extent depending on their age and maturity. Which is why it pays to protect our vulnerable minors against any form of violence and abuse. Some heavy experiences, like loss of life or livelihood due to violence, can cause extreme changes in one's psyche. Manifesting as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder this type of extreme inner turmoil requires a team of very experienced professionals to holistically support one's healing journey.
So how does unresolved trauma snowball?
The traumas we’ve experienced alter the way we perceive things as it changes (to a greater or lesser extent) how we think and feel. They also tend to expand with the amount of time that has lapsed since the incident although they may seem to heal. It only takes the right trigger to expose our pain and for our old wounds to feel raw again. The deeper and older our wound the easier we get rattled by seemingly insignificant circumstances, which is why our actions seem disproportionate to others. With every new, or newly triggered, experience we tread a new territory mentally and emotionally. Feeling a flood of emotions, we don't quite understand, leads to our mind spiralling out of control in fear. Wanting to feel in control again we stop acting on what is presenting itself (what is real), and start viewing the situation through a lens distorted by our feelings of dread which grow with every subsequent triggering. This is how fear develops into anxiety, phobia, panic attacks. Instead of seeking a professional to untangle our ball of nerves our typical to-go-to is get busy with something else...
As we get better at shutting things out, our unconscious choice to ignore our inner state alters our future 'mental shape' - our inner landscape.
Due to an altered inner setting, due to our inner world [the output] changing, our experiences of the outer world [the input] are also changing. Because our feelings are no longer what they used to be when met with certain realities and people, we react differently to them. Our altered inner and outer experiences then further shape our other perceptions that are somewhat relating, or connected with this change. Like a virus which first infects a single cell, ending up infecting a whole organ, similarly a single core belief is able to alter a whole belief system if left unattended to.
At the bottom of any persistent trauma sits a negative core belief about one’s lack of worth. It keeps one's inner ordeal going. Essentially we cannot get better unless we start to believe that we deserve to heal. Traumatic events alter the way we see ourselves with negativity having a much greater propensity for spread. We carry traumas since a very young age, some from infancy due to the lack of nurturing received by carers who we unaware of their destructive behaviour. By how others behaved towards us right from the start of our life, and how we felt about it, we have began to form our core beliefs about ourselves.
‘Am I good?’ and ‘Do I deserve this?’ were our first doubts...
If we were shown (or directly told) that we don’t, our doubts about the goodness of our nature increased, leading to a formation of negative core beliefs. What are our most destructive core beliefs? That we don’t deserve any better, that we simply aren’t good enough to receive a different treatment from others, that we aren’t important and that it is all our fault. Agreeing with that voice inside our mind was a game changer as how we started to relate to the world was believing that we are inherently unimportant and unloveable. Feeling powerless as though we failed at being a good human, we felt ashamed of ourselves. The lack of acceptance from our tribe cemented in our undeserving character...
A new identity starts to exhibit a new set of behaviours in line with their new role.
To further craft our new role and to fully inhabit our character, we have started to act in one of the two ways, depending on how others reacted to us:
A/ Starting to please others as a way of proving to them that we are ‘good’, we became overly accommodating. Every time we pushed aside our own needs, going against ourselves, we acted on our belief that what others want is 'more important'. In the process of acting on our destructive core beliefs we allowed our boundaries to disappear which further shattered our self-esteem. Our life began to revolve around keeping others happy. We have learned to neglect our feelings, inadvertently suffering anxiety and depression. At times, instead of receiving love we have experienced abuse but our low self-worth didn't allow us to leave.
B/ Or we have fully embraced that we are ‘bad’, underserving of experiencing anything nice and we have acted in ways which further confirmed to us that we are 'right'. Our life began to fill with avoidance and rebellion. The trauma wheel kept spinning out of control and so was our behaviour. Abusing our carers, bullying other children, we got comfortable in our new role of a perpetrator, or we flipped between luring others into liking us, only to manipulate and abuse them in order to maintain in control.
You can clearly see how and why two siblings from one family become chalk and cheese, why does the phenomenon of a black sheep exists, and why certain supporting external conditions (social and media influences) intensify the snowball effect of negativity with people ending up in all sorts of trouble. Low self-worth easily becomes the ticket to mastering wealth accumulation or suffering homelessness. Both unhealthy, with the former appealing to many, powerlessness and the lack of choice in childhood feeds power-hungry. Trauma from the lack of acceptance can get you an Msc. or a PhD., trauma from not ever feeling important can push you high in the global trade or politics.
Feeling like a failure on the inside, however, keeps us at a constant war with ourselves. Inhabiting a space in-conducive with healing, feeling content becomes an unattainable goal. No matter how much acceptance we get from others it can never repair the damage of our ever critical Inner Voice. For our traumas to actually heal, we ought to hear our Inner Critic, distinguishing it clearly from the truth. How do we do that? By acknowledging our feelings about it.
How can we teach others to be authentic when we are unable to be authentic with ourselves about what hurt us deeply? How can a parent traumatised by his or her own childhood bring up a child with intact self-esteem? How can we help to shine some light onto the traumas of our children when our own remain buried?
Start a conversation! First with yourself about how hurt you feel, then share your thoughts with those you trust (even your pet counts!). Take steps to putting your long buried emotions (your truth!) into motion. Because you cannot start moving unless you let go of the heavy stuff that keeps you stuck! The letting go is daunting for sure when you have mastered keeping it down all this time. Plus once it is moving you must resist to shutting it back into the closet.
We must free our inherently awesome of the damaging assumptions we created about ourselves. I call it 'the unfortunate pact’ that I made with myself long time ago. Undeniably, it takes time and effort to re-wire our circuits and create new, positive habits we truly choose and deserve. We either invest our energy into creating new circuits or pour it into maintaining our old ones. We may get slowed down by falling into what we once knew so well, but once we decide that we are deserving and loveable nothing (and no one!) can stop us from moving towards a better future. Becoming responsible for what we create, we ought to educate ourselves (with or without a help of a professional) on how our mind creates thoughts and how our emotions carry the ability to decipher our truth. Teaching our sons to lead with their heart, without hiding their emotions, encouraging our daughters to trust themselves to pursue what brings them joy, is fundamental for everyone’s well-being! Repeatedly labelling our children 'good' or 'bad' stunts their mental growth and emotional maturation by preventing them from exploring the world and expanding their character.
Unlike my parents and fortunately for my son, I have understood the above. I say 'well done' when praising him. He is taught to do his best which is never static, rather it fluctuates in time and depends on circumstances like the amount of sleep he had. He is taught that mistakes hide many invaluable lessons he is yet to learn from. I emphasise to him that people aren’t good nor bad, but that they make destructive and constructive choices many times a day. That they act in their interests or against themselves depending on their awareness and wisdom. Being smart is not enough to stay strong the unkind world. To teach him resilience in the face of adversity he is encouraged to listen to his truth and cry when he feels like it. Above all, I teach him to talk about absolutely anything that may bother him, no matter how bad it makes him feel about himself, so that he develops his expressive and communication muscles. He understands that there really is no problem that cannot be dealt with, just that which remains unsettled...
Thank you for reading. If my article contributed to understanding yourself, please be generous and share it with others.
Copyright © 2021 Michaela Patel