Living with the Effects of Childhood Trauma
Where do I start? A chaotic mess, with no structure, no stability and a lost identity.
At 15, my mother said that my step father was going to rape me as his revenge on her for leaving him. She told me to watch myself, wherever I was, which terrified me and caused me to become more alert.
At 16, I left home with no identity, no clue of who I was or my role within the big bad world. I was vulnerable and lost, still looking for validation and love and had no real understanding of what really went on. I knew it wasn’t right as I was hurting and lost; I had no direction or understanding of how I was ever going to make sense of it all. It felt unreal. How could I ever make sense of it?
Really, I was still a child, void of understanding, love, reasoning, and of a voice. I was alone with no family. There are many people with no one in their lives who love them and I was one of those people - AND it’s a scary and lonely place to be.
Vigilance was a must in my life. I was aware of tuning in to who was around me; their body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and breathing. I learned to be cautious, to be very cautious, because my belief was that people hated me and they could attack at any time. I believed I was sneaky, ugly, stupid and that no one liked me - and if I challenged that, there would be consequences; this was my reality. There was also the constant fear of verbal and/or physical harm and that all the people around me, would see my ‘real’ identity. It terrified me because I was horrible and unworthy of being liked.
Then, I had to learn to fit in to another system. My antenna was on alert 24/7, to keep myself safe. Questions were always running around in my head, like ‘What were they saying about me?’, ‘Do they like me?’ and then there were those thoughts like ‘They will throw me out!’, ‘They think I’m a slut!’, ‘Even though they say they like me, I know they don’t because no one really does.’
My childhood abuse was a secret - what goes on in the home stays in the home. Once, I did disclose and I was beaten for it. Beaten so bad that I thought she was going to kill me… for being a sneaky, ungrateful, lying bitch. I wasn’t allowed showers or baths and was forced to give up my much loved hobby for a whole year. My favourite hobby was my only opportunity to escape the abuse and the fear; it was a place where I felt safe and where I knew the people that took me... liked me. I was in agony, again and again, and my emotions just sank into my tummy every time.
Now, even writing this, I want to hug the child as the pain, the chaos, the trauma and the fear was alive every minute of the day. Being disliked and hated was isolating; it was a lonely place to be. Just thinking back to being beaten and the constant threat of harm, I can feel the knot in my tummy now as I write. It’s hard to put into words. How could you ever put that terrifying journey into context?
So, with a mind full of all that... how on earth was I, as a 16-year-old, going to function and fit into a society that I believed people hated me in? I was constantly seeking approval and in fact still do. Constantly fearing rejection.
Looking back at dinner times which were terrifying... We sat tentatively waiting for him to kick off, our heads down with a mission to eat as quickly as possible in fear of attack. As children, the food we were given wasn’t always to our liking and if we didn’t like it, our head was forced back, and the food was rammed into our mouth, forced closed and we had to eat it. She knew what food we didn’t like but that didn’t matter, we had to eat it. No eye contact with our parents for fear of them misconstruing our look. Minimal eye contact to avoid… “What the f**k are you staring at you c**ts? … Black b*****rds!”
Once dinner was eaten, we would quickly clear the table and take turns cleaning the kitchen. Because we were all in such proximity to each other, it was a very scary place to be in fear of something kicking off.
As an adult, I still seek approval. I’m still attuned to the environment and the people around me. I’m highly sensitive and highly self-critical. I seek constant reassurance, not because I don’t know what I’m doing but as it’s a pattern of learned behaviour to protect myself that has been constructed over many years. AND, if I do happen to do anything wrong my response is fear; waiting for a repercussion, punishment, and my adrenaline kicks in.
Childhood trauma and childhood emotional neglect (aka CEN) has a lifelong impact. Don't judge a sensitive colleague or criticize their overzealous behaviours. Something you see as trivial, may not be to the person who has experienced childhood trauma. Their learned response is fear and even though you may not understand it, try to empathise.
Remember we are all uniquely constructed beings with varying responses, due to differing journeys into adulthood.
Due to its sensitive nature, this heartfelt submission was shared anonymously and follows on from Stolen.
If you would like to contact us about this personal experience or anything related to social services and children's care, please feel to get in touch. We have members available who would be willing to support or answer your questions.
See also: Childhood Emotional Neglect and How the Adult Feels Today