While most of us were sheltered and protected by parents while growing up, for some, childhood was nothing short of a horror film. Many children faced abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents. These horrific memories can sometimes leave lasting effects on one’s mind, predisposing an individual to a host of mental illnesses.
Here are some subtle signs that point to troubled memories deep-rooted in your childhood:
You are always second guessing yourself
You cannot simply decide what to eat at the new restaurant you visited with friends, or which dress will suit you for a formal event. You are never confident about the choices you make on a day to day basis. You are never sure of the decisions you make for yourself unless validated by a friend or a fellow collogue, since you were never provided validation as a child, you cannot make fundamental decisions for yourself and are often seen seeking second opinions, on anything as small as what should be cooked today to what you should wear on your wedding day.
Your smile isn’t beautiful enough
As long as you can remember you have not been thin enough, tall enough or pretty enough. Chronically low self esteem seems to be following you like a shadow. You will always end up looking in the mirror consciously to see how you look at a university or at a workplace; fearing people will judge you by your looks which are never good enough. The features of your face are just not that pretty as your friend’s or the popular girl in your class and you will never be perfect enough to gauge anyone’s attention or love.
Forgot to turn the iron off today?
Always suffering from short term memory loss or absent-mindedness? You always forget something or the other before leaving for work, whether it’s your stove or locking your door, this maybe a sign of nervousness from an excessively strict parent you had while growing up. Authoritarian parents may use strictness or inculcate fear to make a child behave but it damages their personality in the long term. You are always doubting yourself, and forget to set little reminders in your nervous brain such as to lock the main door before leaving.
No achievement is meaningful enough
Whether it is coming first in class, or being promoted to a senior rank, no achievement matters anymore. Life is meaningless as it can be, and your self worth is almost nil. You never feel important enough or good enough as everybody else. If growing up your parents compared you to your siblings or to your cousins, constant comparison has lead to your self worth being destroyed.
Finding meeting a deadline too stressful?
The thing is you encounter stress at every little step of your life, whether it’s a regular chore such as taking garbage out to the bin or meeting a deadline for an assignment, you’re always too stressed out. Everything wrecks your nerve, this maybe a subtle reminder of troubled memories of being scolded or emotionally abused by your care taker when you are young, which predisposes you to vulnerability trying to achieve daily tasks.
You do not like hanging around a lot of friends at college?
Social anxiety is always around the corner. Whether it’s a simple party with co-workers or a friend’s birthday party, interacting with large crowds is just not your thing. A simple discussion or a presentation to give, raises your heart beat. You get unusually awkward or left out at gatherings, running out of casual things to talk about. You constantly fear others will judge you, you measure all your words carefully before speaking. Parents who subject their children to abuse leave them frightened of future interactions with people, scarring them for life.
Always out of breath?
Emotional and physical abuse endured in childhood can leave one vulnerable to develop generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, both of which are characterized by vegetative symptoms such as palpitations, feeling unreal, being short of breath, difficulty concentrating and excessive sweating. Your brain is wired to constantly perceive any stimulus as a threat, immediately switching to fight and flight response causing your autonomic nervous system to trip, causing a variety of symptoms. Anything can trigger a panic attack, and simple tasks such as going to school each day maybe difficult to achieve.
You tend to feel a little blue every now and then
Depression may catch up to you due to internalized and repressed emotions that were experienced during childhood. Depression is a clinical disease; it is characterized by low levels of serotonin and dopamine, which play a role of reward chemicals in the brain, allowing one to feel happy. Childhood trauma can leave you predisposed to developing depression in later life. The symptoms may range from loss of interest in daily activities previously found pleasurable or a chronically low mood and suicidal or self harm thoughts.
Having trouble sleeping?
Insomnia may also develop in children who were neglected during their childhood in later stages of their life. Decreased duration of REM (random Eye movement) may always make you feel tired when you get up or decrease your sleep timings. It is difficult to get out of bed in the morning and you always feel tired no matter how long you slept. The shortage of sleep may manifest as difficulty to fall asleep or maintain sleep. Makes an individual irritable and cranky predisposing them to develop a mood disorder.
You always put other’s needs before you
Whether it’s a favor for a friend or getting your coworker a cake for their birthday, you always put others before yourself. Your needs are always secondary and you always feel guilty doing anything for yourself, whether it’s a day out at the spa or a quick getaway, these will only be possible if those around you are happy and satisfied.
You cannot say no
Yes that word does not exist in your vocabulary, which often leads to misuse of your abilities. You never refuse a friend who never seems to have their own money to spend for lunch or the neighbor who will relentlessly ask you to mow their lawn for free. Refusal is simply not an option, since you were conditioned to believe that since childhood due to extremely strict parents you grew up with.
You cherish each and every moment
No one knows the price of blissful moments more than you do, you have overcome a difficult childhood and have learnt to savor each and every simple moment of joy whether its having a nice meal or enjoying a great view from the balcony of your apartment.
Prefer to spend most of your time alone?
Perhaps you are introverted by nature, being indoors with your pet, curled up by the fire with your book gives you much more pleasure than a night out with friends. You have aged before time. You are the wisest amongst your group of friends. Others seek your opinion over others. Time and pain are great teachers.
You always tend to over think
Every situation and encounter is overanalyzed by your brain over and over again. Every conversation can go a thousand different ways, which your brain is simulating for you. You tend to think for long hours at night what exactly did that friend mean when she said you are likely to get promoted, is she jealous or simply cheering you on?
You have difficulty finding love
Friendships and intimate relationships do not come easy to you, you can not seem to trust anyone. You always tend to fear you will lose your support and come crumbling down. You desperately fail at seeking love, having your heart broken a million times, trust does not come easily for you and new relationships are difficult to initiate and maintain. Childhood trauma has left you suspicious of the human beings and you struggle with your loved ones.
You always see everything as black and white but never grey
Everything for you is an all or none phenomenon, you are not aware of moderation. Whether it’s a relationship or helping someone out, you either give it your best or leave the task unfinished. You will go to extreme lengths for anyone without putting much thought into your actions, only to have your heart broken later.
A little trigger and it comes all flooding back
A memento from your childhood, or an old gift from your parents, anything is enough to trigger those locked up memories from the deep dark corners of your brain. Due to trauma you have suffered in your childhood, makes you more likely to develop a complex post traumatic stress disorder, where the disturbing memories of your childhood maybe replayed in your head over and over again by something as simple as the sight of an old van similar to the one you travelled by in your childhood. This may lead to development of intrusive and disturbing thoughts that may hamper your everyday functioning. The symptoms maybe similar to depression such as low mood or thoughts of self harm.
What do professionals have to say about it?
According to Bruce Perry, a pioneer in this field of research involving childhood trauma and brain development says that the human brain develops in sequences, such that it tends to be moldable when we are young. That is usually when an individual starts to learn about the world around them, form an opinion about different stimuli which affects our decisions and interactions in the later life. Experiencing childhood abuse can alter the basic framework of one’s mind, affecting the functioning in adult life. However as the late Swiss psychologist Alice Miller said, “We don’t yet know, above all, what the world might be like if children were to grow up without being subjected to humiliation if parents would respect them and take them seriously as people.” It is difficult to find an ideal world a child can grow up, most of us had parents that were dysfunctional in one way or the other.
So is all hope lost for those who suffered?
There may be a way to get out of this eternal way after all. Therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy may help in dealing with those repressed emotions that were never adequately dealt with in childhood. It may also explore the way our brain functions and processes the information around us, helping us come to terms with the damage already done. Medicines such as antidepressants and anxiolytics may be used temporarily or long term in those who suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression.
As Alice miller said, “I have never known a patient to portray his parents more negatively than he actually experienced them in childhood but always more positively — because idealization of his parents was essential for his survival.” She added to her statement by saying,” Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one’s parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child.”
For those who had empathetic parents that cherished them in their childhood providing them relentless love and care, sheltering them from the harsh world outside, are truly blessed individuals.
Childhood abuse and trauma does not only affect one’s childhood, but all the experiences of the adult life later. Although these events scar you for life, help maybe provided through therapy and medicines. A creative outlet such as drawing, writing or poetry may provide a gateway for repressed emotions. Individuals should be encouraged to speak about their traumatic childhood experiences openly, provided with necessary support and care so that they may climb out of the dark cave they live in and experience the world in a new way, taking the good and bad aspects of this life and enjoy it to its fullest.