How unresolved childhood trauma shapes the experiences of our adult lives;
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
A story of growing up as a people pleaser with unsafe boundaries.
I was gang raped when I was 18 years old. My second day of college. I had met these boys in line registering for classes on campus. They invited me to their fraternity house that evening for a party. They told me where it was and I walked there. I was by myself. This was before safety rules had been established on campuses for students.The daylight grew into night and I realized I didn't know the route in the dark to walk back to my dorm. It was a really big campus and I was afraid I could not find my way back to my dorm. So I took this problem to the four boys I had met in line. They said, "No problem, we'll walk you home."I was grateful for their supportive assistance as I wanted to get back to my dorm.
We started walking across campus and they said, “Oh, you know what? We're going to need to stop at our dorm first on the way to yours”. Being a trained people pleaser. I didn't want to say no to anyone. For me in my belief system, in my reality at that time, “No”, led to anger and anger led to pain. And so not to make them angry, I talked myself out of the fear I was noticing and said, “Okay, I guess that's okay”.
We got to their dorm and we walked inside. This was in 1980. Rape was not spoken of or addressed then. No rules of campus safety for girls had been addressed. They didn't have any kind of campus security back then. You just walked into a dorm and went wherever you wanted. So we walked into the dorm and we went up to their floor. I'm standing in the hall. Every single door was open down the hall and all the guys were partying. Loud music was playing .
These four fellows said after entering the room ,” It's ok, you can come in, there is something we want to show you”. At this moment I felt a voice inside me say, “It's not safe”. I can still feel it the same way I felt it when it happened, that it was not safe to take a step in that room to look at what they wanted to show me. But I had been conditioned to ignore my internal signs of safety as a result of growing up in a violent home. I was afraid to say,”No” because my saying “no” often resulted in being overpowered and injured. I so wanted to trust ... I walked in.
Once I was in the room, it was all over. They held me down. It felt like almost every boy on that floor visited that room. I disconnected from myself and became powerless. I remember it as if I was standing against the wall watching it, watching that happening to the 18 year old me as my much younger self in pigtails became the witness.
That's where the memory is stored for me. Because that little girl in pigtails saw and experienced many things that terrorized her, made her feel unsafe and helpless with no chance of escape or rescue. This is what the traumatized, victimized mind does. A piece of us splits off and stops growing as a result of trauma. Then when other traumas occur, we find ourselves reverting back to that first traumatized version of our younger self where we felt helpless and invisible and unable to provide our own rescue or escape.
That little girl or boy in all of us creates a truth about ourselves from our environment. For me, my truth was I am bad, it must be my fault, I am worthless, the people who care for me have a right to hurt me, and I don't deserve to be honored for my goodness and treated with respect .
At first, experiencing an environment that is alarming and terrorizing sets off internal alarms of its wrongness. But after experiencing it many times where there is no rescue or escape, it becomes accepted as common place where we begin to blur the lines of its wrongness. This acceptance of it which we do to support our own survival, creates truths and beliefs about ourselves, our boundaries, the roles we play and the coping skills we choose to survive that negatively affect our adulthood. These misguided truths, beliefs and survival skills left unchecked, lead us to recreate traumatic experience we have learned to survive within, instead of learning the skills to evolve out of having traumatic experiences. This is what childhood trauma can do to us if we do not resolve it.
Some of those beliefs and truths we agree to accept about ourselves may look like:
The people who love and help us are allowed to hurt us. (Coupling beliefs together that cause more suffering).
In order to stay safe I must comply with what I am being overpowered to do. (Unsafe boundaries, inability to use your voice and speak your truth).
The way to safety is by not allowing others to get angry and it is my responsibility to keep them happy. I'm going to make sure I make everybody happy because when mad happens, that's really too much for me to deal with. (People Pleasing).
So my job is to keep the peace. My job is to say, yes. My job is to not speak my mind. That's my job. As long as I do that, I don't have to deal with being hurt by others. Now, this becomes our reality. This becomes our perception of life, the only one we have, the only one we really understand is real.
Yet there's a lot of good in our lives here. There's a lot of belonging, fun and love in here.. There's a lot of everything in here.These things are fabulous, wonderful, and enriching. But then there's always this “getting hurt piece”, that keeps coming up, like pouring salt into an open wound and suddenly that small wound becomes a huge sore, which becomes an infection. The infection then causes gangrene which means something has to be cut off. Now you've lost a piece of yourself. And it's a really painful place to be.
There's no words to describe it, except if you've been there and you're hearing me, you get me. Well, I'm here to tell you, you don't have to stay this way.
Here is a way to strengthen the mind in order to create safety in this chaos. To do it we have to be willing to adopt a new style of thinking to evolve out of feeling shame, blame, unworthiness, resentment or guilt. We have to be willing to learn how to put our needs first and speak our truth before pleasing anyone else.
Once we adopt new styles of thinking there is compassionate self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. There is compassion, empathy, understanding and the ability to see a broader view. There's responsibility and accountability. There is a deep look inside of our own beliefs that can realign us with the person we are meant to be. That person is inside of us waiting for us to crack the shell open.
When we don't know better, we cannot do better. It's up to us as adults to learn how we can do better than the generations before us. To remain in feelings of anger, fear, shame, unworthiness and invisibility will only perpetuate the same experiences that injured us in the first place.
As children we may be abused by others. This often teaches us how to abuse ourselves. This is called self sabotage . In order to put an end to our sabotaging thoughts which lead to sabotaging self action or further abuse by others, we need to examine our inner dialogue. What is helpful there and what is hurtful? There will be both. The constant chatter we say to ourselves that steals our motivation, self worth and passion for living can be quieted and eventually silenced while the helpful, useful inner dialogue can be expanded and strengthened.
The first step is to write down the thoughts that make you feel bad, then read them and ask yourself if they are true one by one.
Have you ever thought to write some of it down, in the moment that it is happening? What truths and beliefs are you holding yourself to that you have never questioned?
I encourage you to listen to your negative self talk and write down what you are saying to yourself. This is where we find the never questioned and often false beliefs we hold about ourselves. When you have motivating thoughts write them down too.
Write these down in the moments they come to mind and ask yourself...Is that true? It is by seeing them on paper that we can determine what is real for us and what is not. With that answer comes the strength and motivation to create positive change .
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