Thursday, September 28, 2017

Six Ways Developmental Trauma Shapes Adult Identity

Developmental trauma is more common than many of us realize. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 78 percent of children reported more than one traumatic experience before the age of 5. Twenty percent of children up to the age of 6 were receiving treatment for traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, and traumatic loss or bereavement. 

Adults who suffer from developmental trauma may go on to develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or "cPTSD," which is characterized by difficulties in emotional regulation, consciousness and memory, self-perception, distorted perceptions of perpetrators of abuse, difficulties in relationships with other people, and negative effects on the meaningfulness of life.

Understanding these basic themes, which are often a result of dissociative effects on the traumatized personality, can help people recognize areas of difficulty so they can begin doing the work of recovery, repair, and personal growth.

1. Loss of childhood: "I never really had a childhood" or "I can't remember much from growing up."

2. Missing parts of oneself: "I've always felt like something was missing, but I don't know what it is."

3. Attraction to destructive relationships: "I'm the kind of person that always dates people who are bad for me." 

4. Avoidance of relationships: "I'm someone who is better off alone."

 5. ​Avoidance of oneself: "I don't like to think about myself; it only makes me feel bad."

6. Difficulty integrating emotions into one's identity: "I'm not the kind of person who has strong feelings about things."

Moving Forward
While it can be disheartening to read about the effects of developmental trauma in adulthood, and daunting to contemplate doing the work of recovery and identity formation beyond that of the traumatized self, therapeutic efforts are effective.
Recovery, grieving, and growth often take place over a longer time period than one would want, and re-connecting with oneself has many layers. Developing a sense that long-term goals are attainable and worth working toward is important, even if it doesn't feel possible or true. Working toward getting basic self-care in place is a vital first step, as is working toward feeling comfortable seeking help when trust in caregivers has been broken. Developing compassion for and patience with oneself can be difficult, but useful.

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