Addressing past trauma can be the most significant contributor to healthier relationships, better self-esteem, prospects of success, and physical and emotional health. Many of us have had imperfect childhoods, being subjected to varying degrees of trauma early into our lives at an age where we deserved to feel safe and loved. Childhood trauma could include something as subtle as neglect, isolation and emotional abuse to more tangible forms such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, bullying, social rejection, parental separation or divorce, domestic violence, parental substance dependence, dark family secrets, and parental mental illness.
Often, it may not even be the parent’s fault because the parent could be dealing with their own set of problems and challenges while trying to give the best to the child. Also, some children might be more sensitive and need a gentler and more sensitive upbringing rather than the relatively harsher albeit culturally acceptable way of upbringing. Such children may easily absorb the messages they receive in childhood and hence, be more prone to experiencing trauma.
The manifestations of such childhood trauma often continue well into adulthood–impacting our relationship with ourselves and other areas of our life, such as interpersonal relationships and professional responsibilities. This includes one or more of these seemingly unrelated symptoms such as neglecting self-care, addictive use of food, numbing ourselves with social media and entertainment, attraction to troubled and unavailable partners, external craving validation, difficulty in emotional expression, hypervigilance, constantly second-guessing oneself, pathological people pleasing, pathological loneliness, substance abuse, victim thinking, poor self-esteem, bitterness, irritability, emotional flashbacks, chronic fatigue, poor boundaries, dissociation, recurring cycles of idealization and devaluation, black and white thinking, maladaptive daydreaming as a way of escaping from reality, avoidance of people and responsibilities, executive dysfunction, insecure attachment styles and most significantly, the habit of reenacting trauma in an attempt to resolve it.
There is a growing consensus about the significant role of early childhood trauma in the development of mental illnesses and disorders such as Depression, Anxiety, Borderline Personality disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, Substance Abuse, etc. Over time, the stress response generated from exposure to chronic trauma and its re-enactment into adulthood also starts affecting physical health. It can lead to increased heart rate, erratic breathing, poor posture (reinforcing poor breathing), and a lack of strength and vitality in the body. Furthermore, Chronic and toxic stress from Adverse Childhood Experiences affect Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis, the brain’s stress response system that controls our fight or flight response.
The system is activated even in situations that aren’t life-threatening because stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are released, which go on to interact with neurotransmitters and other hormones in the body. This affects the brain structure, the immune system, hormonal system, putting people at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, like heart disease or cancer, and mental illnesses like depression, ultimately lowering life expectancy. Furthermore, unresolved trauma may cause a person to engage in high-risk behaviours such as substance abuse that may worsen health outcomes.
Addressing repressed emotions and unresolved trauma is key to leading a fulfilling life and good mental and physical health. Feeling one’s emotions instead of running away from them may be hard at first, but it can be gratifying in helping us resolve our repressed emotions and trauma.