We have talked a lot about how childhood trauma impacts emotional regulation and can leave us oscillating between anger and numbness (hyper- and hypo-arousal). But what are the other symptoms of trauma?
In our newest infographic, we look at some of the other ways childhood trauma can leave its mark. This is by no means an exhaustive list. As ever, at Echo we don’t like to leave you with only the bad news. Check back next month for some of the characteristics and strengths of post-traumatic growth.
Loss of safety: The world becomes a place where anything can happen.
Loss of danger cues: How do you know what is dangerous when someone you trust hurts you and this is then your ‘normal?’
Loss of trust: This is especially true if the abuser is a family member or a close family friend.
Shame: Huge, overwhelming, debilitating shame. As a child, even getting an exercise wrong at school can trigger the shame. The child may grow into an adult who cannot bear to be in the wrong because it is such a trigger.
Loss of intimacy: For survivors of sexual abuse, sexual relationships can either become something to avoid or are entered into for approval (since the child learns that sex is a way to get the attention they crave) and the person may be labeled ‘promiscuous.’
Dissociation: Often, to cope with what is happening to the body during the abuse, the child will dissociate (disconnect the consciousness from what is happening). Later, this becomes a coping strategy that is used whenever the survivor feels overwhelmed.
Loss of physical connection to body: Survivors of sexual and physical abuse often have a hard time being in their body. As Bessel van der Kolk says in The Body Keeps the Score, at some level they consider that their body let them down and so turn the volume down on physical sensations. For example, survivors may go for a long time before they realize they need to use the bathroom. This disconnection from the body makes some therapies known to aid trauma recovery, such as yoga, harder for these survivors. Trauma-informed yoga avoids some of the potential triggers and helps participants get back in touch with their bodies. Echo’s Trauma-Informed Yoga training is coming up soon. Click here for more information.
Loss of sense of self: One of the roles of the primary caregiver is to help us discover our identity by reflecting who we are back at us. If the abuser was a parent or caregiver, then that sense of self is not well developed and can leave us feeling phony or fake.
Loss of self-worth: Trauma survivors, especially survivors of sexual abuse, can swing between feeling special, with grandiose beliefs about themselves, and feeling dirty and ‘bad.’ Trauma survivors are special – they have a PhD in survival – but this self-aggrandizement is an elaborate defense against the unbearable feeling of being an outcast and unworthy of love.
Re-enactment: Recreating the childhood dynamic expecting the same result but hoping for a different one, such as anticipating and even provoking your partner’s ‘betrayal’ but wanting badly for it to be different this time, and thus resolve your childhood dilemma. This strategy is doomed to failure because the need is in the past and cannot be resolved. Also, you are setting up the other person because you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and will interpret anything as confirmation that you have been betrayed once more.