What Is Developmental Trauma (C-PTSD)?
How Childhood Trauma plays out in our Adult Life
Safety & Social Engagement
When we are feeling totally safe, we are relaxed, naturally connected, open, interested. There’s lots of peace and joy within and around us. We’re grounded in ourselves and in nature. Being in the body is pleasurable. Life is flowing beautifully and without effort.
Fight or Flight Reflex
The moment we are not feeling safe any more, our nervous system goes into higher arousal modes. It gets flooded with stress hormones. We’re tense. Worries, concerns, anxiety, fears are creeping in. Or panic attacks. Frustration, irritation, anger or rage go along with increased muscular tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Digestion gets disrupted.
If the sense of threat doesn’t vanish or these unpleasant feelings of tension and contraction go on for too long, our body naturally responds with a collapse of vitality. It goes into immobility mode, paired with feelings of shame, hope- and helplessness. Depression becomes the new normal. Numbness helps easing the pain. We get disconnected from our body and emotions. And we’re withdrawing from otherwise nourishing social engagement.
As babies, toddlers or children we are 100% dependent on safe attachment bonds to our caregivers. This dependency made us vulnerable to feelings of unsafety or threat. Very often, our basic needs for a safe environment, secure and reliable connection, for attunement to our needs, for being able to fully trust our primary caregivers, for autonomy (while remaining connected) and for unconditional love are not met. These traumatizing events or circumstances made us feel unsafe. We’ve developed individual survival strategies to deal with the pain or fears that have so often overwhelmed us as children.
Trauma & the Body
Woundings from childhood or early age and the way we reacted to them, often remain stored in the body. They are trapped in the muscular and nervous system.
Our Sense of Identity
The earlier in life these woundings occur, the stronger they influence our identity, the way we are “wired”, the sense of who we are. Little children don’t know that it’s their environment that is traumatizing. They are not aware that it is environmental failure that impacts our child development and threatens our developing Self. Little children conclude that it’s them who’s “not ok”.
They fully believe the messages they receive from their parents or caregivers. According to these often implicit messages they are “bad”, “not worth to be loved”, “too much”, “wrong”, “a burden”, “too demanding”, “only there to please their parents” etc. This creates a sense of identity that’s based on shame and guilt.
To counterbalance these painful basic feelings of shame and guilt, we usually develop a pride-based identity that helps us survive these self-humiliating internal experiences, for example: “I’m the intelligent one”, “the special child”, “daddy’s girl”, “the one that doesn’t need anything from anyone”, “the one that takes care of others”, “the strong and powerful one in relation to (weaker) others”, “the independent one”, “the one that fits in so well”, “the successful”, “the beautiful” or “the attractive one”.
Our deepest Desire and greatest Fear
Connection is our deepest longing and often our greatest fear. This covers the connection to ourselves, our body, emotions, life purpose, or the connection to mother nature, to others, loved ones, family, friends or colleagues at work.
When our today’s ability for safe and healthy connection is disrupted, this is often rooted in traumatizing (adverse) childhood experiences. Most of us are suffering from some form of childhood trauma, whether consciously or not. We often don’t even have an idea of how secure connections feel like or how to create them in our life.