by Nancy D. on 09/03/19
I've been learning a lot about Complex Trauma lately and how it affects a person as they grow, and its' affects as a child's personality develops. Having grandchildren now of my own, I want the cycle to change in how we pass down unhealthy parenting styles. If we were abused or neglected in childhood, we may pass down those same behaviors unknowingly to our children, and they to theirs.
I found that Complex Trauma only occurs in a relationship in the childhood years, normally by a caregiver, parent or sibling. Trauma can occur anytime, anywhere, like a car accident, rape, or an environmental trauma.
Complex Trauma occurs when a child is abused or their needs are neglected on an ongoing basis; and they do not feel safe or protected by those who are supposed to protect them and keep them safe and healthy. This abuse or neglect will have profound impacts on a developing child. It creates within them core beliefs about themselves and those core beliefs stay with them as they grow, go to school, get in relationships and have jobs. It's an underlying belief of self that was planted in them by someone, (parent, guardian, grandparent, sibling or peer), someone the child should have been able to trust.
A child can suffer complex trauma at school. When a child faces a daily threat of being bullied, they can become consumed mentally and emotionally about when the bully will show up around the corner or dreading a certain class, before or after school; the physical, emotional and mental toll that takes is exhausting for the child. The child is more worried about surviving the day without incident, than enjoying the relationships and experiences. There is shame. There is embarrassment. This creates so much anxiety in a child, the child stays in fight or flight mode, on an extended, continual basis.
As parents, we expect our children to be learning and growing from school. The act of bullying, robs that child from being able to focus on their day to day classes and schedules. Then, adding further anxiety, the child then must face the parents reactions when they start struggling or falling behind in school because of the effects of bullying. Depending on who the parents are and how healthy or unhealthy the household is, this could be a double whammy for a child who is terrified all day, then terrified to talk about it for fear they may not be believed, criticized, blamed, ridiculed or abandoned to deal with it on their own.
The same holds true if they come home to a toxic family situation, where they are fearful or neglected or some of their basic needs do not get met. They may have a parent who is not emotionally available, checked out, too busy with friends, social medica or a substance use disorder. Some could have a parent in jail, or one with a mental illness. All of these things can cause emotional neglect within a child.
There is no way, a child who marinates in that stress can focus, because their brain stays in a constant state of fight or flight. Survival mode becomes the way of life, as they try to shut off their emotions or change who they are to accommodate their surroundings to be accepted and loved. The thinking mind isn't working as hard as the emotional mind, which, is always trying to wrap itself around how not to get hurt, neglected or abandoned emotionally. The focus goes to people pleasing.....how to be good, or how to anticipate someone else's wants or needs so they might earn the parents love and acceptance at the end of the day. Perceptions become skewed, because they are now based on feelings and not facts.
When trying to cope and survive the day without being hurt, becomes the main focus and where all of the effort lies, it's hard for a child's mind to multi-task and be focused and invested on their school work or normal, fun activities children should be doing which helps them grow, learn and build healthy relationships. A child who lives in Complex Trauma stays in a constant state of stress and never feels safe, emotionally and/or physically. Their bodies are putting off more adrenaline and cortisol than other children who do not live in constant stress.
To survive all of this stress, they begin picking up patterns of behavior that help them maneuver and relate in childhood. These behaviors become maladaptive for them later. They learn how to manipulate their way in relationships as to not get hurt or abandoned. The problem is, the skill set that kept them safe as children, are now the reason behind why they struggle so much maintaining any simblinc of a healthy relationship as adults.
At the very core, they trust no one. They were taught all their lives they had to be or do certain things others wanted of them, in order to be accepted.
They are only "conditionally" loved; and only that if they be and do what someone else wants. The perception, is that everyone will either hurt them or leave them.... so now, the behaviors almost force that to happen, which further validates that core belief system.
For instance, a child who has learned to shut off their emotions, makes it so in adult life, where they can only invest in "pseudo" type, intimacy. When we can't attach to someone, we attach to something... such as sex, bars, addictions, porn, gambling, eating disorders, social media, dating sites, gaming or overspending to name a few. If you look closely, those relationships have no real intimacy. They are pseudo intimate. They give only the impression of connection, with no real intimacy. It's hard to have true intimacy in any relationship in which, you cannot freely attach.
People who suffer complex trauma want relationships; they simply don't know how to have healthy ones. They tend to have superficial/psuedo types of relating, only getting out of someone else what they need and not trusting people enough to reciprocate that love.
It's hard to completely meet the needs of someone who has suffered complex trauma, because a lot of times, they are too fearful to state them. Being genuine in childhood, did not equal getting their needs met. So, after a while, they stop telling anyone what their needs are. They lose hope that anyone will want to try. There is a tendency for a person to have high expectations of what someone who is with them should be or do, if they want to prove they love them. One behavior is fault finding with others. If nothing else, they are going to find the flaw and use it, to make you push them away and abandon the relationship. Which then, proves them right again about their core beliefs.
Many use behaviors that aren't trustworthy, such as lying, lack of accountability for what they do or where they go. They keep testing the waters of the relationship, creating further and further rifts, until the partner is worn out and doesn't want to have anything to do with them.
People who grow up in complex trauma can also fail to attach in healthy ways to their own children. Some cannot bond in an appropriate way. They don't know how, they were never bonded with as children, so many don't bond with their own. As their child grows up, they too, feel that void and once again the cycle repeats. The child won't bond to them, further proving they are unlovable, even to their own child. People who continue these patterns of behavior without getting help, can also develop personality disorders, such as: narcissism, op-positional defiant disorder and bi-polar disorder. If the neglect or abuse is severe enough, they can shut off all emotion/empathy forever and develop psychopathy.
The way to heal from complex trauma, is to get help. To get a coach or counselor who you will build trust over time. Then once healthier coping and resiliance skills are built, that will lead to healthier perceptions. One can expand that base of friends that you can finally trust to have loving, reciprical realtionships with. Support groups are another place with people you can build a fellowship of people who want the same goals for themselves as you do. But like any other disease, it has to start with you to find treatment and to enact change. We owe it to our children to not raise them in a pseudo intimate relationship and show them how to build healthy skills, how to trust the right people and grow to be confident, independent adults, who can form healthy relationships of their own. We deserve that too, for ourselves.