Emotional trauma is a state which a person can enter into when under extreme adverse conditions. It can be the result of a deep shock or sustained abuse over a period of time. When we fear for our very existence, we react in one of three ways : fight, flight or freeze.
Animals suffer trauma but are able to resolve it by a natural process which involves a kind of quivering of the body. If they survive a life threatening experience, they will typically go through this within a few hours, and after that will be able to function as normal. Some healers and carers for injured wild animals know this, and will not release their charges into the wild until they have seen them go through the healing process. They know that their chance of survival is low unless they have done so.
We humans are less smart at the self-healing business. Perhaps it's the fact that our brains get in the way. Emotional trauma suffered during childhood is particularly difficult, especially when it occurs at an age which is before conscious memory. The effects may well be experienced as anger, fear and cause dysfunctional behaviour, but the victim will not know the source of these emotions or be aware of their negative effects on those around them.
Abandoned children are one such group. They often suffer intense feelings of low self worth and shame, coupled with a deep rooted fear of loss. This can cause great difficulties in interpersonal relationships. This is often worsened by difficulties with sleep, eating and so on.
The reason I am writing this is because I was an abandoned child. I choose to write here because I like the anonymity. Frankly, this soul-baring is just too personal to go public with at the moment.
I was abandoned by my mother at an age of a few months. My father tried to care for me and then I was "taken into care" as they called it then - I went to live with a foster family for the next 5 or 6 years, who were (thankfully) very loving. My father then remarried and, with my sister who had been at a different family (we had contact together with Dad every week), we were "reunited". Unfortunately, it was not a happy marriage or a happy family. I missed my foster-mother dreadfully, and in adolescent years became more and more isolated as our "family" slowly disintegrated.
I am now 48. I have had several relationships and was married for 10 years. I have two beautiful daughters, who I co-parent. All things considered I have not done badly. However, relationships remain very difficult, and I do suffer a deep sense of isolation at times. When I feel like this I can suffer intense depression and sleep problems. (Luckily the only form of substance abuse I suffer from is cigarettes.)
The strange thing is that, even after so many years, it is only very recently that I clearly recognise the effects of the childhood trauma (compounded by the emotional abuse and neglect I suffered later.) I made peace, as much as possible, with both my parents, and I understand why things went the way they did. For sure, they both carried their own heavy crosses. My relation with my sister is up and down. I have learned to enjoy social situations, and I can be charming and fun to be with. The problem is with closeness and real intimacy.
Fear of rejection is a terrible thing when you don't know you have it. It tends to cause rejection, which compounds the fear. Until you (eventually) see the pattern, it is absolute emotional agony. Somehow, it can also cause you to be attracted to the very people you should avoid. Particularly if you fall in love (even mutually) with someone who suffers a similar disorder, a great deal of suffering can ensue. In the beginning, perhaps, everything seems rosy. But once you start triggering each other's fear, and withdrawing in self-protection, it gets messy.
If you recognise any of this in yourself, here is some advice.
1. Get therapy. Find a good therapist, someone you are comfortable with and trust. There is no instant cure, but it helps. A good therapist helps you learn to cope with the patterns, and may help you to recognise and handle them. Talking is a part of it, you may need to release the pent-up anger and fear you carry to really become conscious of what is going on though. (Remember how animals do it?) It may feel like the most terrifying thing in the world, but it is worth it if it helps clear the clouds. Long roads, first steps, all that.
2. Be aware that we tend to "fall in love" with people that remind us of our first carers. If they were good parents, that is maybe not so bad. If they were abusive, this can be very painful. It can take a number of broken relationships for this to become apparent to you. But be aware of it. If you can learn to recognise the pattern, it can save a lot of heartache, or maybe even save your relationship.
3. Don't take drugs to escape. It will compound the problem. Exercise helps relieve stress. Learn to eat well and care for yourself.
4. Learn to cope with intimacy in friendship, where the stakes are lower. Plus, a good friend (especially of the sex you are sexually attracted to) who you don't fuck can be a wonderful thing. A hug-buddy! Hugs and other demonstrations of affection are the things you missed out on, so fill up if you can.
That's it. If you suffer from this kind of emotional problem, good luck. Don't give up. If you know someone like this - give them some love. You may get a lot back!