Because the repeated emotional abuse or neglect was so painful, we had no choice but to dissociate. Our numbing may involve disconnection from the body, our emotions, and other people. We can continue to function in the outside world but don’t feel connected. We hide from our passion, spontaneous aliveness, and the ability to be vulnerable. We observe everything with intellectual curiosity but remain distanced. The result is an emptiness that derails our sense of being. Deep down, we feel guilty for having forsaken our truths.
2. We feel defective
Children naturally blame themselves for what happens to them.
When they are bullied, they believe it is because they are not good enough.
If they seek attention from their parents but are neglected, they believe they are too needy.
If they are burdened with demands that they cannot fulfill, they believe it is their failure— Failing to be a perfect child, failing to take good care of their siblings, failing to soothe their parents’ anger.
If, as an intense child, we are scapegoated as the ‘problematic one’- the one who is ’too much’, ’too sensitive’, the origin of all woes in the household- we would believe we are at fault and internalize a sense defectiveness. We then believe that we are disgusting, ugly, stupid, or flawed. Our toxic shame binds us with beliefs such as ‘nothing I do is good enough’, ‘there is something wrong with me’, ‘I am bad and toxic’.
Toxic shame makes us think we deserve little and need to settle for less. It stops us from fulfilling our potential as we hold ourselves back.
Want to know more about the effects of toxic family dynamics? Read The Childhood Wounds We Carry In Adulthood When We Were Deprived of Love
3. We become highly anxious
If our parents are emotionally unstable, or if due to their vulnerabilities we felt the need to take care of them, we become the ‘little adult’ at home. We are hyper-vigilant, always watching out for the earliest smallest clues of our parents’ emotional fluctuations so that we could protect ourselves and our siblings. This hyper empathic tendency doesn’t go away, and we carry it into our adulthood.
Our nervous system remains in a continual state of high arousal. We may feel we cannot relax and have to always look out for danger. We may be irritable and jumpy, suffer from insomnia, and other anxiety-related disorders and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Our bodies store traumatic memories more than our mind does. As a result of childhood trauma, we feel ungrounded and uncentered. We are like frightened children living in adult bodies; when the unexpected things happen, we are overwhelmed and feel close to breaking down.
4. We resort to addiction and compulsions to cope
Our brain is designed to protect us; when we come across a particularly difficult or traumatic situation, it will be stored in a way that is ‘frozen in time’. We may not even remember it. We are not sure what triggers us, but our suppressed memories come out in the ways of uncontrollable mood swings, persistent sadness and depression, and explosive anger.
Through addictive behaviors of any form, from drinking, spending, eating to compulsive sex, we try to either A) Numb away the pain that we try so hard not to feel, or B) Fill the inner void. However, this can escalate into a compulsive cycle, for the numbing/filling effect from these external agents never last long, and the moment their effect ceases, we reach for more. It is a dead-end escape route that never leads anywhere.
5. We are fearful of closeness
Trust, interdependence, acceptance all require a degree of vulnerability our wounded skin finds too hard to bear.
If we had not felt welcomed into the world, we would always feel like an outcast, someone with no hope of finding belongingness in the world. All our life, we are caught between the intense need for kinship and extreme fear of contact.
After having been betrayed by those who were supposed to love and support us, we decide that we would no longer take any pain and disappointment. We thought if we stop hoping or believing in anything or anyone, we could avoid the potential let down. instilled in our subconscious is the belief that it is risky to have hope and expectations, so we don’t attach to anyone or anything to avoid disappointment.
Suppressing painful memories consume a tremendous amount of energy. if we bury our betrayal trauma without processing it, we relate to the world through the lens of grudge and suspicions and push people away.