For instance, in childhood, there might have been feelings of shame and anger, but if it was not safe to express those feelings, they might have stayed with that individual long into adulthood. In this way, many adults, addicts or not, are children. They are grown up and physically they appear as though they are in their 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s, but their inner child holds the strings to life. In fact, many individuals might even see the world around them through the lens of a child, without knowing it.
Adults who are living their lives as children have frequently experienced trauma. The effects of trauma can result from many small events in which a child’s needs were not met or one large event that significantly impacted development. Adults who live their lives as children tend to have the following six characteristics:
- React to life with a mindset of “survival”. Perhaps an early trauma or a series of traumas in childhood, which were never resolved, keeps an adult possessing this worldview. Survival was the main goal of childhood, and it remains to be so in adulthood as well.
- Possess feelings that they are not “normal” and they are forever convincing the rest of the world that they are.
- Tend to have an all or nothing, black or white kind of filter.
- Can be incredibly judgmental of themselves and of others.
- Tend to be always searching for validation from external sources rather than believing in themselves or having a strong sense of self worth.
- Have great difficulty maintaining intimate relationships.
The above list describes the tools and defenses that the inner child has had to develop in order to survive. Survival becomes front and center for those who have experienced trauma. In fact, one primary reason for this is that traumatized children often had to become adults even before they were at the right developmental age. Many felt the need to do this out of a lack of safety or a lack of having healthy models while growing up.
Effects of Trauma
Frequently, when there is trauma, there is dissociation. It is as though the overwhelming moments of trauma are imprisoned within one’s consciousness and at any possible moment, particularly when a situation mimics or triggers a traumatic memory, the part of the self that experienced trauma begins to scream for help through flashbacks, tremors, nightmares, and frightening thoughts. Meanwhile, another part of the self is trying to keep that terrible memory and associated feelings far at bay.
The part of the self that is reaching for safety might reach for drugs and alcohol as a way to soothe oneself and feel okay in the world. Yet, addiction is a continued pushing part of the self away, and you might say that it is even an attempt to destroy the traumatized self. Ultimately, in order to heal, there needs to be an expression of those challenging feelings. Of course, doing this with a sponsor, a trained therapist, or a psychologist is the best environment in which to have this cathartic experience. You would need to feel safe and trust the adult that is facilitating this type of therapeutic conversation.
Making the choice to create a sober life means, in part, healing that inner child. Allowing him or her to let go of the reins, which your inner child will only do if he or she feels safe enough to do so. But safety comes when you’re no longer making self-destructive choices, and instead you are showing yourself love and taking good care of your body.
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