How Childhood Trauma and Dissociation Result in Horrible Adulthood Problems

By Darius Cikanavicius

Dissociation and Self-Connection

Since a child is still developing and is dependent on their caregivers, they are unable to resolve their trauma as it’s a complex and complicated task that even most adults struggle with. Dissociation, then, becomes a common psychological defense mechanism that a child develops to create a less painful and terrifying world in their mind and where they are more able to manage their painful emotions.

Dissociation that stems from childhood trauma damages or even destroys a person’s ability to be in touch with their true feelings, needs, thoughts, and preferences. In other words, dissociation creates a lack of self-connection.

As I write in the book Human Development and Trauma:

“Such a child learns that it is unsafe and forbidden to show genuine emotions and share true thoughts. And so these are repressed, to the degree that the child automatically attempts to discard whatever their psyche registers as forbidden.”

Over time, the person learns to detach from their feelings or may feel what they actually don’t or shouldn’t feel (guilt, shame). They learn to forget their interests and to do what they actually wouldn’t do (what others want them to do). They learn to hide their true thoughts or think what others around them think. They learn to be who their caregivers, and later other people, want them to be.

They become what is sometimes referred to as false self or persona. This is an adaptation mechanism that is necessary to survive in a lacking and otherwise dangerous environment.

Many other problems stem from a lack of severe self-connection: skewed of self-esteem, self-blame and unjust responsibility, chronic shame, emptiness and lack of motivation, social anxiety, anger issues, and many others. We will briefly address a few more common ones here.

Low, skewed self-esteem

Lacking a healthy connection with one’s true emotions and not seeing yourself realistically warps a person’s self-esteem.

Eventually, you’ll develop the tendency to see yourself as lower than others, or to please everyone, or to never feel good enough, or to chronically seek validation, or to overcompensate and toxically compete and compulsively compare yourself to others.

In short, people with a skewed self-esteem either underestimate themselves (“I’m not good enough,” “I’m bad”), or overestimate themselves (“I know everything,” “Everyone’s stupid”). Whether it’s the former, the latter, or a combination of both, the person never feels at peace with themselves, which ends up creating many personal and interpersonal problems.

Chronic guilt and shame

Many children internalize their traumatizers’ words and actions and learn to blame themselves for their pain, rationalizing it as them being bad and therefore deserving to be hurt. These now internalized feelings are one of the most common problems adults struggle with.

Some always blame themselves for being mistreated and accept toxic and dysfunctional treatment in their adult relationships. Others have unrealistic standards for themselves and even sabotage themselves.

Many have a very harsh inner dialogue where they order themselves around (“I should do this”) or call themselves names (“I’m so dumb,” “I’m worthless,” “I can’t do anything right”).

Such people carry the guilt, responsibility, and shame that, in actuality, belongs to the people who traumatized them.

Repressed and projected anger

Anger is a natural and healthy response to being hurt by someone. Since children are usually forbidden from feeling anger towards their primary caregivers and other authority figures who mistreat them, they have to repress it.

However, this anger has to go somewhere, and it can be directed in only two ways: inward and outward.

When a person is disconnected from their anger towards their initial traumatizers, they tend to direct it inward and feel all kinds of unpleasant feelings related to it (self-loathing, shame, guilt, self-blame, self-attack, and many others). They have difficulties feeling and expressing anger even when it’s appropriate.

Or, this repressed anger can be expressed outwardly in a psychologically safer environment against other people: towards one’s spouse, children, coworkers, strangers, whole groups of people that is perceived as “enemies,” and so on. It’s called projected anger because, even though there may be some reason to feel angry, the anger the person feels as an adult in most of these situations is exaggerated and can be constituted as acting out one’s early, unresolved anger for their primary traumatizers.

Outwardly directed, projected anger results in harming others and continues the cycle of abuse. In contrast, inwardly directed anger results in self-destructive thinking and behavior.

Self-harm and poor self-care

Internalized anger that ends up becoming self-loathing manifests itself in poor self-care or even active self-harm. Some examples of it are the following:

  • Addiction
  • Eating problems
  • Poor sleep and lack of rest
  • Self-attacking thoughts and destructive behaviors
  • Poor medical care
  • Self-mutilation

For people who don’t understand the root of their self-loathing, it is incredibly difficult to overcome it because they always end up finding reasons why they should hate themselves or why there’s no point in taking better care of themselves. They still believe that they deserve the treatment they received as children.

You can read more about it in a previous article titled A Brief Guide to Self-Harm and Unhealed Childhood Trauma.

Summary and Final Words

Childhood trauma is a complex and complicated thing that most people don’t really understand yet. However, the ignorance of or indifference to it doesn’t change the tragic effects of it. It doesn’t make it less real or serious.

When a child experiences trauma, they are unable to resolve it so, as a survival tactic, they dissociate and eventually learn to repress and hide their unwanted thoughts, feelings, and needs—self-erasure.

This lack of self-connection creates a myriad of emotional, psychological, social, and even physical problems that can haunt people long into their adulthood. Low, skewed self-esteem, toxic shame and guilt, anger issues, self-harm and poor self-care are only a few of them.

Some people are able to rebuild their connection with themselves, at least for the most part. Many aren’t even aware of the true cause of it, or live in denial that they even have these problems.

And while these issues can take years of consistent and systematic work to overcome, there is hope and it is possible to become a healthier, happier, and more resolved individual.

For more information on CPTSD and other issues visit our YouTube Channel

If you need support or would like to connect with like-minded people join our Private and Closed online Facebook Group for Child Abuse Survivors and those with CPTSD. Click here to join

The Memoir You Will Bear Witness is available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback

5 comments

  1. This made me cry, how long is this healing going to take. It’s like a torment that won’t end. The idea that ill never be free of these things i never asked for that keeps me from an abundant life

    • Hi Allison, thanks for commenting. Sorry the article upset you so much. It must have really struck a never for you. Time is a great healer and with the right therapy you will heal I promise you. It can seem like such a long road at times and it feels like it is never going to end. I know that feeling but let me promise you again it does change and you will once again live a normal life. Stick with the therapy and you will get through this. I’ll be thinking of you. Get in touch again if you ever want to talk. erinfado@gmail.com. All the best Erin.

  2. This really resonates with me. I just wrote a post on my experience of dissociation. I really hope it hasn’t completely destroyed my ability to connect with my feelings. I feel for very brief moments in the save environment of my therapists office and then it’s too much and the numb washes over me again. The journey is long and hard but worth it.

    • HI Lucy I read your article on Dissociation and your experience and it’s very good and accessible. I understand it completely. Thank you for commenting on my blog. I appreciate it. I wonder would you consider being a Guest Blooger on my blog with your article on Dissociation as I think a lot of my readers would relate to it. All credit would go to you and a live link would go back to your block. Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best Erin

      • Hi Erin, thank you for that comment it means such a lot to me. I would be honoured for you to share my piece on dissociation. I’m very flattered! Best wishes, Lucy.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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