Abstract.....Childhood trauma has an invisible impact on adult relationships. Children who have been exposed to neglect, domestic violence, traumatic loss, bereavement, sexual abuse go through unseen pain and the shock of it has its major carry over effects, transferred into adult relationships. The conception of fear symbolized and gradually it begins to actualize into their adulthood. Those cataclysmic events had a major collision with the emotional health of a child as he/she was growing up and their minds were shattered with the concussion of the traumatic blast and nothing ever was the same for them anymore. Their vitality was killed at the premature age and it became struggling for those sufferers to navigate through the shock of that childhood and grow in all capacity. They floundered mentally as their minds were clouded in great confusion. That traumatic childhood came down to them in the most alarming way possible and every possible relationship that dawns in their lives begins to startle from reeling shock.
As those children walk into adulthood, they go through a Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and have major difficulties in creating their own personal identity, developing a healthy self-perception, memory and consciousness, and emotional adjustment, a pessimistic view of life, challenging relationships with other people. The development of one’s own identity seems to be a complete blur to those children as they are looking into the future in an utter stupefaction and the society can sense it. Their befuddlement manifests in their encounter with others. But identity development is an integral part of a healthy, normal development and it transpires across the entire lifespan. Their distinctiveness, singularity, the sense of selfhood, the proper integration of emotions and intellect, everything suffers a breakdown. Their basic awareness of feelings shakes inside, hence they could not develop any solidity. Somewhere as they walked into adulthood, they carried with themselves the feelings of insecurity and incoherence as too many fears invaded their minds. They are consumed by the thoughts of basic survival and instead of normally developing their uniqueness, the character behind their name, they are chased by the worries of how to survive. They see a cruelty behind every friendly face, as the family that put them through fear and neglect ultimately brings an alteration in the trajectory of their brain development. They have developed different adjustments to their brain wiring whereas it could have been a connection of love and compassion, safety and security. The earlier the traumatic shock has been inflicted, the profound is the impact.
Struggling with the aftermath of the developmental trauma, the development of selfhood becomes majorly challenging as they are dazed with the terrifying revelations of how a trauma that happened years back, still can impact them. Their sense of confidence is extinguished, and they begin to grapple with life. Therefore, the adult consequences of that age- old shock are manifested through depression, eating disorders, behavioral issues, difficulty in personal relationships, professional development, identity development, obsessive compulsive shopping, substance abuse. It becomes a life- long wrestle, an invisible tussle with one’s own heart and mind, that the world knows nothing about.
The developmental trauma that lies unresolved creates a chain of complications that lead to a spiral of problems. Their identity mainly then revolves around being a survivor in the journey of life. Their minds are centered upon maintaining a safe distance with others so as to create a safe niche in every relationship and in doing so they stay away from opening up, giving themselves completely, wholly in any relationship. Before even the relationship unfolds, they do not give themselves a chance and they do not give others a chance. As it becomes a matter of safety to them looking through the eyes of fear and mistrust. Every relationship that ever comes in their life becomes re-traumatizing and disheartening. This in turn hinders growth centered experiences. So they cannot grow from any encounter that ever comes along their way. They become rigid and develop such a stern rigidity that they identify themselves as a traumatic self throughout their adulthood and they can hardly break out of their shell and learn to be flexible and inclusive of others, fearlessly. People who grew up with a traumatizing childhood dissociate themselves from their heart and soul, their external environment and in the process, they disconnect themselves from anything and everything that can be contributory to their emotional growth. Fear takes the place of love and faith and their minds become unsettled and wandering around in anticipation of what betrayal is lurking around the corner. They only recognize what has happened to them in the remote past, and they become incapacitated to recognize what can happen in the future if only they can let go of the fear and let courage come in. In the process, the possibilities stay folded as they clutch tight to the doubts and insecurities. Life becomes a smoky haze to them and still they prefer it that way. Throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood, it stays as a residual fear which haunts them, sometimes for their whole lives.
Those adults have a feeling that they had a loss of childhood. They try not to remember that distressing childhood. To them, it is like a swathe of those early days that stays best as a blank chapter in their lives. They become selective in choosing what to remember and what to block out. Somewhere along the way, to create the character behind the name, a person needs to go back in time and remember in details the story which began from their childhood, to their adolescence all the way up until adulthood. But they fail to remember the painful early years and they would rather prefer it stays blur. It could have been a beautiful autobiographical narrative, but this blurriness creates the missing chapters in their story. As a result, the character is never fully formed with a meaningful coherence and the identity is undeveloped.
The distress as it becomes chronic, children choose to disconnect significant parts of themselves that could have made an integral whole in the wholesome manner. They may grip onto another trait, like becoming successful academically or professionally, financially into order to receive a sense of comfort. The other aspects of life may be missing from them and years later, they may realize this void and its impact left on them. If they introspect and choose to seek therapeutic counseling, they may rediscover and recreate anew those missing pieces, so they create a wholesome self. The missing pieces were probably linked to a dissociation due to painful memories and as they are put together, they reattach leading to a complete sense of identity. What stayed as incomplete for so long now finds its healthy completion.
The adults who carry their traumatized childhood into adulthood are prone to destructive relationships who fit with their identity of the traumatized self. They may eventually end up being around people who are emotionally unsupportive for them, or controllers, narcissists, or they may see themselves as the ones destined to rescue people whom they have a romantic relationship with. Though they do it unconsciously, yet it takes them down the unwanted, unfamiliar path which ultimately pushes them towards self-destruction. When one leaves, another comes, and they find a powerful chemistry with the spiral of new relationships. In the process, they become disoriented, and confusion fogs their heads. Ultimately, it compels them to question their understanding of selfhood, the clarity of their senses, and traps them again into their old identity of ‘traumatized self’, while barring healthy, new identities from creating the roots.
Often, those adults display an avoidance towards having a meaningful relationship with someone. They attempt to stay away as fear clogs their minds. They live under the impression that staying in isolation and escaping from closeness with people is the best way to live. They have a sidestepping tendency whenever it comes to any prospective relationship. They live as cautious beings with careful eyes. As a result, they cannot be the authentic pathfinders in their lives, they are fearful to become the floaters, rather choose to stay as the vigilant ones. They grasp it as a self- protective measure which ultimately impairs their personal development and their adult identity is compromised. They develop a distorted perception of unworthiness and self- condemnation, thinking that others deserve better whereas they deserve less. But behind all this, lies a story of abuse and neglect that ultimately led them to the clutches of fear. They fail to appreciate themselves and hope, faith becomes faraway notions to them. Trust becomes a complicated concept to them.
They try not to have moments alone with themselves, as any time spent connecting with their souls leads them to the walk down lanes of the distressing past. The trauma that once defined their childhood stays as a defining component even in their adulthood. They skip the reflections of their childhood with parents, siblings, and others as it pushes them towards the management of painful memories which they are not capable of handling. In the process, they escape being with themselves. As the deeper introspection would take them to the trauma dated years back and those activating memories would once again hold their power and make them deranged. To escape derangement, they avoid connecting with their deepest self and thus self- care is impaired. Ultimately, they become restless runners from themselves and the sense of self is never really developed. They hold steadfast again to their rigid traumatic identity, the sense of victimized self, unwilling to emerge from that as a pathfinder in this journey of life.
When emotions were never prioritized in the family of the traumatized person, they struggle in blending emotions with their identity. They do not leave any accommodations for their feelings. They create a willful distinction between emotions and identity. This creates an instability as they cannot read strong emotions, or predict them when they are going to appear, let alone manage them. As they are always on the runaway from the very concept of emotions and they become fearful of being emotional. So, they are never fully themselves. There develops an emotional dysregulation which propels impulsive decisions and blocks any chances of developing healthy relationships with others. Being like this, they may experience emotional numbing or maybe capable of feeling a selective spectrum of feelings while excluding the rest. They become unavailable to the entire range of emotions as they choose to skip them fearfully. They may be able to feel vaguely but not firmly until the emotions pile up and explode in the extreme case. Being habituated towards self-loathing, they may recoil from positivity or any compliment extended towards them. They may be confused as to how to accept a compliment, how to read and appreciate them. The adults who have carried their traumatized childhood all the way into their adulthood, may act stilted in a social situation and may seem to be awkward in the eyes of society, as the ease and grace, the spontaneity and comfort may have probably disappeared from their selves. In the process, they may develop a false sense of identity to conceal their awkwardness, like a highly intellectualized one. This leads to a hurdle in forming personal relationships with others as emotions are an integral part of building closeness with someone. With the fears clouding their minds and eyes, reintegrating emotions into the identity though essential for growth can be very challenging for them.
Beginning again…It may very well be a daunting task to walk beyond the identity of a traumatized self and to rebuild a sense of new self, but it can be promising and the chances have not died out, once the person decides to be on the road to recovery. From there begins the process of identity formation anew. Flexibility comes in as one acknowledges the past elements of darkness and this acknowledgement fills their eyes with a light that kindles adult development. The sense of self, albeit slowly, emerges this time with a glint of courage and confidence, trust and hope, leaving the recollections of a traumatic childhood behind. To grieve over what happened all those years ago, is to make space, to begin again, to say ’yes’ to what can come and to give oneself a chance for reconnection.
Author.....Jayita Bhattacharjee....born in Calcutta, India and later on education from University of Houston in Economics, she had chosen her career as a trustee and teacher. Her Indian residence is in the vicinity of the famous Belurmath. Currently, she is settled in Tampa, Florida.
Her books " The Ecstatic Dance of Life",
" Sacred Sanctuary", " Light of Consciousness", " Dewdrops of Compassion" " are among the many that she has authored.