The following is an excerpt from a book called The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss. It’s got nothing to do with e-commerce, but everything to do with handling challenges in life, relationships, and knowing yourself.
The core concept is that growing up as children, we are often exposed to positive and negative trauma that can determine how we act as adults. Even a small thing such as dad coming home from work angry, over many months and years can leave a scar that you don’t realize until you do the long journey of introspective work.
But diagnosing yourself is like trying to touch your right elbow with your right hand.
This part of the book lays out an overview on how to get started. Enjoy!
In the beginning…
You were born. And like all infants, you were completely vulnerable and dependent, with a new developing brain and no understanding of the world.
In a perfect world…
Your parents would be perfect. They would be dedicated full-time to taking care of your physical and psychological needs, always making the right decisions, setting the healthiest boundaries, and protecting you from all harm, while preparing you to eventually take care of your needs without them.
But in the real world…
No one is perfect. Neither are your parents, nor the people who play a role in your upbringing. Therefore, along the way, some of your developmental needs don’t get met.
And the problem is…
When one of your needs doesn’t get met, however big or small, it can leave a wound. These wounds are known as childhood trauma. Each instance or pattern of trauma can create specific core personal issues and relationship challenges – and if these are left untreated, you’re likely to pass your wounds on to the next generation.
Since this trauma occurs early in life, it can affect social, emotional, behavioral, and moral development.
It’s not always overt or intentional…
Most commonly, people think of trauma as coming from hateful perpetrators who are knowingly and willingly abusive. But even parents who think of themselves as loving or well-meaning make mistakes, cross boundaries, or simply do their best with the limited internal resources they have.
And this covert, often unrecognized form of abuse can, through its constant repetition, leave wounds just as deep as those created by a single malicious act.
It can be an emotional scar…
In your earliest years, you’re the center of the universe. Everything revolves around you. so wounds can come from caregivers who are either out of control or completely detachted from their emotions around you.
When mom is always full of anxiety as she’s breastfeeding, dad comes home in a rage every time he has a rough day at work, or step dad is depressed by his money problems during the rare moments he spends with you, you soak up these emotions like a sponge, often erroneously taking the blame or responsibility for them.
Even if a parent falls ill and passes away, it can seem like abandonment or something you made happen if you’re too young to understand death.
It can be physical…
Most people understand that it’s not okay to physically harm or even spank a child. But here’s an example that’s not as obvious: any invasive medical procedure such as circumcision or getting stitches – may register the exact same as physical abuse if you experience it in your first few years of life.
You may even start to distrust your caregivers for bringing you to an unfamiliar place and not keeping you safe.
Often it’s intellectual…
After the first few years of life, you start to separate from your parents. In this period, it’s their job to help you become your own person and confidently stand on your own two feet in the world.
Here, a whole new set of problems can arise – especially when parents try to over-control you, habitually criticize you, or unreasonably expect you to be perfect. Other families adhere to such rigid rules that any manifestation of a child’s individuality is immediately attacked as a threat.
All these can lead to esteem problems in life.
Or it can take over your entire identity…
Within a dysfunctional family system, each child tends to play a different role that helps the family survive and detracts from its real issues. These can include the revered hero, the trouble-making scapegoat, the neglected lost child, the people-pleasing placater, and the mood-lifting mascot.
Later in life, these roles (as well as birth order) can lead to corresponding personality issues, whether it’s the hero’s judgemental perfection, the scapegoat’s explosive anger, the lost child’s low self-esteem, the placater’s denial of personal needs, or the mascot’s impulsive irresponsibility.
But it’s not easy to see your own core issues…
Your oldest beliefs, behaviors, and adaptations have not just been reinforced by decades of habit, but are built deep into the architecture of your brain, which is busy building neural connections at an astounding rate in early life.
As the saying goes – “Cells that fire together, wire together.”
So trying to see yourself with any objectivity can be like trying to touch your right elbow with your right hand. But if you can detach yourself from yourself a little bit, you’ll notice that the things you do and think don’t just come out of nowhere.
Here are a few techniques and tools you can use to better understand the way your past can interfere with your happiness, your relationships, and your life today.
You can work backward…
Are you relentlessly driving yourself to succeed and beating yourself up when you fail? Maybe that’s because when you were a teenager, your parents made you feel as if your worth as a human being was dependent upon your grades, touchdowns, or accomplishments.
Are you out of touch with your emotions because stepdad always told you to toughen up when you cried? Do you feel deep down like you don’t matter because you were often ignored growing up? Are you always trying to save or care for others because you were never able to save mom from her depression or addiction?
Are you in complete denial that anything was wrong with your family because dad acted as if he were infallible and must be unquestioningly obeyed, so criticizing him would be like blaspheming God?
You can excuse my language…
Some of you have a big bag of shit you’re carrying around. And every time you encounter a situation in which you can possibly get more shit to put in the bag, you grab it and stuff it inside. You’ll even ignore all the diamonds glittering nearby, because all you can see is the shit.
This shit is known as “the stories you tell yourself.”
Examples include generalizations like “I make bad decisions,” “If people saw the real me, they wouldn’t like me,” or conversely, “No one is good enough for me.” Each of these beliefs can be formed in childhood by, respectively, fault-finding parents, abandoning parents, and parents who put you on a pedestal.
As a result, you can spend much of your life misinterpreting situations and thinking you’ve found more evidence to support these false conclusions formed in childhood.
One way to recognize when you’re stuck in your own story is whenever you feel less than or better than others. You can examine this chart…
Feed Bad / Naughty
Out of Control
Disillusioned By Caretakers
Disillusioned By Partners
Esteemed From Within
Honest And Self-Aware
Flexible And Moderate
Lives In Integrity And Harmony
In Reality About Caretakers
In Reality About Parents
Then you ask yourself...
In a given week, do you exhibit any of the wounded child or adolescent behaviors here? If so, you may have either gotten stuck somewhere along the way in your emotional or behavioral development, or certain situations are causing you to revert to those ages.
Any time you overreact to something – by shutting down, losing your temper, sulking, feeling hopeless, freaking out, disassociating, or any of numerous other dysfunctional behaviors – it’s typically because an old wound has been triggered.
And you’re regressing to the childhood or adolescent state that corresponds to that feeling. Note that the wounded child tends to directly internalize the messages that caretakers give; the adopted adolescent tends to react against them.
However, not everyone reacts the same way…
And children are born with different predispositions and resiliency.
So if you remain loyal to people who abuse and mistreat you, that’s called trauma bonding. If you only feel normal if you’re doing something extreme or high-risk, that’s trauma arousal. If you’ve developed intense self-loathing, you’ve got trauma shame.
If you find chemical mental, or technological ways to numb yourself and your feelings, that’s trauma blocking. And it goes on and on. One pattern of trauma; many different possible responses to it.
We’ve only scratched the surface.
But at least you know the model we’re working with here.
It’s not about blaming but understanding…
In summary, we each spend our adult lives running on a unique operating system that took some eighteen years to program and is full of distinct bugs and viruses.
And when we put together all these different theories of attachment, developmental immaturity, post-traumatic stress, and internal family systems, they make up a body of language that allows us to run a virus scan on ourselves and, at any point, to look at our behaviors, our thoughts, and our feelings, and figure out where they come from.
That’s the easy part.
The tough part is to quarantine the virus, and to recognize the false self and restore the true self. Because it isn’t until we start developing an honest, compassionate, and functional relationship with ourselves that we can begin to experience a healthy, loving relationship with others.
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