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13 Common Responses to Childhood Trauma

girl sitting

When I complete intake assessments, I collect a wealth of information from clients about many different areas of their lives. I ask about substance use, mental health issues, medical concerns, trauma history, and level of functioning in various roles. I also ask about a person’s upbringing and family life. I’ve found that, for some people, this can be an especially challenging area to discuss, due to unspoken family rules like what happens behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors. A simple question like "How would you describe your childhood?"can bring up unwanted thoughts, feelings, and memories associated with chaos or dysfunction that the client endured.

We may like to fool ourselves into thinking that the things that happened to us as children don’t matter anymore. But, the truth is, we develop beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world around us when we’re children and we carry these belief systems into adulthood. They impact the way we interact with others and function in our daily lives.

Take a look at the list of common experiences below and note which, if any, of these experiences you can relate to.

  1. I guess at what normal behavior is.

  2. I have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.

  3. I lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.

  4. I judge myself without mercy.

  5. I have difficulty having fun.

  6. I take myself very seriously.

  7. I have difficulty with intimate relationships.

  8. I over-react to changes over which I have no control.

  9. I constantly seek approval and affirmation.

  10. I usually feel that I am different from other people.

  11. I am either super responsible or super irresponsible.

  12. I am extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.

  13. I am impulsive. I tend to lock myself into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsivity leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over my environment. In addition, I spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

This list was compiled by Janet Geringer Woititz, Ed.D., and published in her book Adult Children of Alcoholics. She states, “It appears that much of what is true for the children of alcoholics is also true for others and that this understanding can help reduce the isolation of countless persons who also thought they were “different” because of their life experience.”

Many of my clients find comfort when I talk about the impact of growing up in a culture of secret-keeping. Regardless of what created the difference (i.e. having an addict/alcoholic family member, experiencing chronic illness, extreme religious beliefs, being adopted, living in foster care, identifying as LGBTQIA, etc.), many adults who have experienced significant childhood trauma or dis-ease can relate to the common behaviors adult children of alcoholics struggle with.

Seeing a list like this can normalize some of the symptoms clients may be experiencing and help them to take a look at their behaviors and feel more empowered in their recovery journey. Feeling less isolated and helpless, people start to believe that recovery is possible. Are you curious what that recovery journey may look like for you? Contact me to see how I can help!

#addiction #family #familysystem #trauma #secrets

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