“You are in a room full of people. You look around and see everyone talking and laughing and all of a sudden, there’s a physical aching in your chest. A suffocation. As you realise that they all belong to someone and all have someone, you don’t. You’re just kind of there.

Many days you wake up angry that you did. Nights you go to sleep thinking you would be so happy if you didn’t wake up. You’re at war with your own existence. You don’t want to be here.
And you can’t talk about stuff like this …..”

For perhaps as venerable as the culture of discovering science, diseases, life, literature and poetry, the importance of discussing, discovering childhood trauma and it’s effects remain.

Upon typing the first word you did on google today, and being met with ephemeral information from your rectangular screen, your eyes have now landed on a strange page beginning with poignant words and perhaps because of interest, you are still here.
Regardless, these words carry a great deal of importance if you are looking for an insight into the effects of childhood trauma on later life. The initial words you were greeted with, is from an extract..my novel, a taste of my mind as a 16-year-old, and retrospectively, I am sensing morbid undertones here. To be honest, I’ve never considered myself suicidal (because of religious beliefs) but definitely battled with intrusive negative thoughts (which religion also cured).

Why ‘Tough love’ is not acceptable

Tokens of love, appreciation and respect are sentiments, basic ingredients every single family should have.
Growing up on the atypical family side, I’ve undoubtedly had bizarre experiences and with hindsight, apparently come from a place of ‘Tough love’.
Tough love is the idea of expressing love through stern means in an unsentimental way…except there is no expressing love.
‘Tough love’ can do more damage than good. From personal experiences, I’ve learnt the subject of ‘tough love’ may feel discouraged and subdued after the ‘tough love’ interaction more than inspired.

In my humble opinion, words are possibly one of, if not, the most powerful force in life.
Words have such a substantial influence, and this allows me to segue into the psychological theory of ‘Stereotyping threat’. In short, Sutton & Douglas define this as ‘Fear of being judged in terms of a stereotype and negatively fulfilling the stereotype’.
This is was in relation to a study of US black students who were stereotyped about their academic potential [through words] and feeling threatened, the pressure of disproving the stereotype led them to significantly underperform against their white counterparts.

Yes, we could sit here and analyse the study methods/limitations and no, the study did not intend to investigate the effects of ‘words’ specifically.
My intentions for the inclusion of this study, however, is to highlight the heaviness of words and affirmations; what you tell your children, they internalise.
Regardless of wanting to prove it wrong or disagreeing, the effect still remains, in fact, anxiety follows this ‘proving wrong’ mission which ultimately leads to nothing beneficial.

Additionally, ‘tough love’ can sometimes derive from a place of impatience and annoyance
instead of genuine care.
How can a child even distinguish this? A child does not have the ability to interpret negative behaviours towards them as ‘love’ and therefore grow up believing they’re not loved. Piaget’s theory of children development describes the stages where children are able to engage in symbolism and it is not from a young age.
In addition, the majority of the time, the criticism given is not constructive instead it can be insulting. Furthermore, after the ‘tough love’ interaction, the parent also fails to reassure or provide encouragement. This is deplorable as this has massive effects on self-esteem.

Childhod trauma from a young age manifests in many ways; a few of the ones I’ve noticed are broken down into 4 categories below

1. Extreme, unhealthy levels of ‘self-sufficiency’ and independence

  • Being forced to self-relieve alone during challenging times and to find an escape from your painful reality
  •  Anxiety of ever being dependent on anyone
  •  Excessive feelings of responsibility for other’s emotions
  • Developing extreme levels of ‘self-sufficiency’
  •  Taking on ‘carer’ position for your siblings from a young age
  • Being left to cope by yourself when you needed safety and security as a vulnerable child

2. Mental health and feelings

  • Always feeling like you’re bothering others leading to constant apologising
  • Struggling to express emotions of love and communicating in general
  • Feeling a deep sense of hollowness; a craving for a connection that was never satisfied
  • Drowning in intrusive thoughts and over analysing everything you do
  • Avoiding confrontation / having some sort of social anxiety
  • Constantly feeling like everyone is judging, looking at you [the spotlight effect]
  • Having low self-esteem so you settle for less because that’s what you think you deserve
  • always second-guessing your abilities feeling like you have to prove yourself- because as a child you had your feelings invalidated and negated when you sought emotional support
  • Having breakdowns during disagreements or completely siding with the other person because you think your opinion does not matter
  • Needing a lot of reassurance
  • Being hypersensitive to criticism – trying to be perfect
  • Numbness and apathy
  • Wariness and a loss of security in the world
  • Feeling like you have to prove yourself to deserve the attention you want

 

3. The Effect on your authentic self; Dissociation and depersonalisation

  •  hiding your ‘true self’ because you weren’t accepted by those you craved to be understood by
  • Weren’t praised much as a child
  • Grew up with a disproportion of ‘’give and take’’
  • Feeling like who you are is inherently flawed…not enough
  • never having a safe space to be your real ‘self’
  • Holding back your true self in social scenes because you don’t want to be judged or embarrassed
  • dismissing compliments because they do not align with your self-perceptions
  • Didn’t acquire compassion for yourself or ‘self-love’
  • Believing your opinion doesn’t matter so staying quiet
  • Not pursuing your goals because fear of rejection
  • Going along with others saying because its comfortable even if you internally disagree
  • Criticising yourself for the smallest mistakes but overlooking other people’s mistakes
  • difficult ‘letting go’ and being your true self because when you did as a child, you were put down for this and learnt to hide this
  • Because of years of hiding your true self, you experience dissociation and depersonalisation; you don’t really know who you are anymore

4. Effects on romantic and platonic relationships; interaction with others

  • Needing extra reassurance your friend/partner actually likes you
  • Going along with things you may not be comfortable with or things that don’t align with your true self
  • Overreading into things you’ve said and worrying you’ve said something to offend them; thinking things are ‘off’ as a sign they’re discontented or they hate you
  • Worrying you’re being too needy
  • Imagining very negative scenarios about your partner with no basis
  • You spend an excessive amount of considering their needs and very little on your own
  • Surrounding yourself with toxic people both romantically and platonically because it is familiar
  • You dismiss/reject kindness and compliments because it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar
  • Feeling insecure in attachments/ fear they will leave you and that you must continually prove yourself to be worthy
  • Doubting whether this person really loves you or pities you
  • Shutting down completely when criticised because you get flashbacks
  • Filtering your ‘true self’; only showing parts you believe they’ll accept
  • Struggling to communicate properly because you’re scared to be vulnerable
  • Desiring to be shown love both affirmation- wise and physically but never being able to ask for it

Kierkegaard said, ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards’.
With this in mind, I want to remind you, you are loved. You can bounce back and you shouldn’t categorise yourself or trap yourself in a psychological box. Or even align yourself with clinical terms such as ‘I have anxiety’ or ‘I have depression. In my opinion, you should change your words to ‘I am currently experiencing anxiety’, this subconsciously tells your dark mind there is hope, and what you’re experiencing is not a permanent trait of yours, it’s a state.
Not everyone was blessed with a healthy childhood and no, you are not to blame for any of it. ‘You have power over your mind- not outside events’; Marcus Aurelius said this, and to find ‘strength’ you should realise just that.

There’s a saying I cannot pinpoint who exactly, but apparently, the people with the worst childhood become the best parents. Contrastingly, there’s plenty of evidence showing people who later become substance abusers, criminals, people who develop callous-unemotional traits or even adolescent Conduct Disorder, are individuals who’ve had a rough upbringing.
However akin to many sayings, to what extent do we really take these sayings as true? We all know the saying ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder…but doesn’t ‘out of sight’ mean ‘Out of mind’?

The point I’m trying to make here, is in life we choose how we see things, absence can either make the heart fonder or make you forget the person. Like nature, you have to embrace the different states of life; the amber glow of the sun, the darkness of the ungodly hours at night when the stars stow away. The ascending of the rain can either be purifying for us or deleterious for some animal/ plant’s habitat.
There are times experiences will have your heart thawing, dripping all over your organs with flashbacks, but in order to suitably cultivate, we must nurture our minds. This life wasn’t created to be perfect but there is light and happiness – not at the end of the tunnel-like they say.. there is light that you can progress toward at any time in life and that was Islam for me.

“In uncertain times, attach yourself to the one who is certain”- Allah is always here for you, don’t underestimate just talking to Allah, dua but talking and complaining your grief. Whatever happens, Allah had decreed it to happen and he would never let you down.

Umar ibn Khattab said ‘the people with the worst pasts create the best futures’
I think this firstly comes with understanding and discussing, not suppressing and overlooking these things.