Something every adult needs to look at and understand.

Photo by cottonbro studio/

Understanding how childhood trauma works is one of the essentials in life. Even if you had a really wonderful childhood, or have come to terms with a not so wonderful one.

You don’t have to be non-functional or severely traumatized to experience some of the difficult feelings described here, or manifest patterns of behavior that are destructive or do not serve you. You don’t have to blame or hate your parents.

We all start in childhood. And it’s important to understand how things can get confused or go very wrong for a child. It’s like a history lesson we should all be exposed to, so as to better understand ourselves and each other.

It’s also important to understand that dysfunction exists on a continuum. Not everyone qualifies for a diagnosis, and not every family with issues is pathologically dysfunctional.

Here is an excerpt from the article available at:

I chose to feature these consequences of toxic family dynamics because it make sense to work backwards from symptoms. And, if any of these ring familiar, we can go back and look at circumstances, as well as move forward and engage in a guided process of healing.


What Happens When We Bury The Truth About Toxic Family Dynamics?

You Become Dissociated and Feel Dead Inside.

Cumulative complex trauma caused by toxic family dynamics has the power to force our childhood into foreclosure. Our true self is the part of us that is free, spontaneous, and fully alive. But having been emotionally abandoned by our caretakers, we have also learned to bury our true selves. Such disconnection comes not from one single traumatic experience, but from an accumulation of painful emotional memories— when our enthusiasm was met with coldness, our passion misunderstood, our feelings silenced or our actions punished. The innocent, most alive part of us – our Soul, our True Self, or our Inner Child – is forced into hiding.

Because the repeated emotional abuse or neglect from toxic family dynamics was so painful, you had no choice but to dissociate. Your numbing may involve disconnection from the body, your emotions, and other people. You can continue to function in the outside world but don’t feel connected. You hide from your passion, spontaneous aliveness, and the ability to be vulnerable. You observe everything with intellectual curiosity but remain distanced. The result is an emptiness that derails your sense of being. Deep down, you may feel guilty for having forsaken your truths.

You May Feel Defective

Children naturally blame themselves for what happens to them. If they seek attention from their parents but are neglected, they believe they are too needy. When they are bullied, they believe it is because they are not good enough.

If they are burdened with demands that they cannot fulfil, they believe it is their failure—to be a perfect child, to take good care of their siblings, to soothe their parents’ anger. This plants a seed for the complex trauma that follows.

If, as an intense child, you were scapegoated as the ‘problematic one’- the one who was ’too much, ’too sensitive’, the origin of all woes in the household- you would believe you are at fault and internalize a sense defectiveness. You then believe that you are disgusting, ugly, stupid, or flawed. The toxic shame binds you with beliefs such as ‘nothing I do is good enough’, ‘there is something wrong with me’, ‘I am bad and toxic’.

Toxic shame makes you think you deserve little and need to settle for less. It stops you from fulfilling your potential as you hold yourself back from opportunities.

You May Become Highly Anxious

If our parents are emotionally unstable, or if due to their vulnerabilities we feel the need to take care of them, we become the ‘little adult’ at home. We are hyper-vigilant, always watching out for the smallest clues about our parents’ emotional fluctuations so that we can protect ourselves and our siblings. Hyper empathic tendency that is a result of Complex Trauma doesn’t go away, and we carry it into 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, other anxiety-related disorders, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. In this case, the OC tendency is not an innate trait, but a result of having suffered toxic family dynamics.

Our bodies store traumatic memories more than our mind does. As a result of childhood complex trauma, we feel ungrounded and uncentered. We are like frightened children living in adult bodies; when unexpected things happen, we are overwhelmed and feel close to breaking down.

You May Resort To Compulsion And Addiction 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’ as complex trauma. We may not even remember it. We are not sure what triggers us, but our suppressed memories come out in the form of uncontrollable mood swings, persistent sadness, 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 lasts long, and the moment their effect ceases, we reach for more. It is a dead-end escape route that never leads anywhere.

You Are Fearful Of Intimacy And Love

If you have been trapped by toxic family dynamics for a long time, potentially, trust, interdependence, and acceptance all require a degree of vulnerability that your wounded skin finds too hard to bear.

If you did not feel welcomed into the world, you may always feel like an outcast, someone with no hope of finding belongingness in the world. All our life, you are caught between the intense need for kinship and the extreme fear of contact.

After having been betrayed by those who were supposed to love and support you, you may unconsciously decide that you can no longer take any pain and disappointment. You think if you stop hoping or believing in anything or anyone, you can avoid the inevitable letdown. Instilled in your subconscious is the belief that it is risky to have hope and expectations, so to avoid disappointment you don’t attach to anyone or anything. Suppressing painful memories consumes a tremendous amount of energy. If you bury your betrayal complex trauma without processing it, you may relate to the world through the lens of grudge and suspicion and push people away.

On the other hand, if you grew up in a chaotic household, or if your parents were overprotective or overbearing, you may now fear being smothered, losing control, or losing a sense of individuality. We fear being asked for too much, and thus distance ourselves and withhold.

Retreating from closeness does not necessarily mean isolating ourselves entirely, but we may feel the need to conceal parts of our authentic selves. On the surface, we are social, but we don’t get close to anyone. Or maybe we settle for false-closeness in sex but never commit to knowing anyone in depth. We hide our passionate, loving self, and become cold, cynical, and sarcastic. Withdrawing into our shells whenever we feel vulnerable also means not being able to take in support and love from others.

Eventually, we lose hope in finding anyone who can understand us.

You Damage The Love You Have

Neuroscientists have found that parents’ responses to our attachment-seeking behaviors, especially during the first two years of our lives, encode our view of the world. If as infants, we have consistent attachment interactions with an attuned, available, and nurturing caregiver, we will be able to develop a sense of safety and trust. In contrast, when our parents are emotionally unavailable to us, we internalize the message that the world is a frightening place; when we are in need, no one will be there. This forms a complex trauma that is too hard to bear.

This results in deep fear of abandonment. As adults, any kind of distance, even a brief and benign one, may trigger you to re-experience the original pain of being left alone, dismissed, or disdained. Your fear could trigger coping survival modes such as denial, clinging, avoidance, dismissing others, lashing out in relationships, or the pattern of sabotaging relationships to avoid potential rejection.

Fear of rejection or abandonment may also cause you to put up with a damaging relationship or stay in an abusive one. The message that you received from your toxic family dynamics unhealed wounds tells you that being mistreated or degraded is still better than being on your own.

You Sabotage Your Success

The toxic family dynamic might have led you to believe your success and happiness would threaten your siblings, attract envy, and somehow brand you as ‘arrogant’ if you were high-achieving. Perhaps your parents were too limited in their worldview to comprehend your gifts, and deep down you carry a ‘survivor guilt’ that says if you achieve more than others or outgrow your family, you are betraying them. Subconsciously, you become frightened of your power.

Expecting little of ourselves and others may have made sense when we were little people who lived at the mercy of unpredictable and explosive caregivers, but that expectation no longer serves us if we wish to step into a more prominent place and live fully. You do not need to be trapped by what has happened in a toxic family dynamic that was not your making.”

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