Children are highly absorbent during their pre-school years. They speak as their parents speak mimicking their accent often with the same tonality or dialect. They want to walk like their dad, become the policeman, consultant, or the musician their mom or dad is. They parent their stuffed toys and dolls in the way they themselves are parented and playact the role of parent to their friends in ways they are used to being parented. Our young children are sponges, absorbing the speech, behaviours, stories, and idiosyncrasies they pick up from their parents, teachers, neighbours, television personalities, and story-book characters. Everything a child is exposed to has the potential to be absorbed.
Children absorb trauma in the same way they absorb the behaviour traits occurring around them. Not having the psychological capacity to objectify traumatic events occurring in the family environment, or the learning in place to rationalize or make sense of what may be beneath the traumatizing event, children have no option but to involve themselves in trauma, creatively seeing themselves as a causative factor or the actual reason the trauma is taking place. (Read: What is trauma?)
Children who lose a parent at an early age often cannot make the connection between the illness or accident the parent died from, with the reality that the father or mother is no longer present. In a simple attempt to explain her pain the child may flash back to an event which for her, “makes sense” of this loss. She might recall the times dad scolded her for not eating her breakfast. Then she amplifies these occurrences and proceeds to connect the dots, concluding that her daddy is not around anymore because she never ate her breakfast.
Psychology and counseling has become wise about children’s attempts to “make sense” in this way, and will often challenge such attempts to rationalize by countering the child’s version. In this case, giving the child the assurance that this is not why daddy left and providing the real reason why he is no longer here. However, if such intervention does not occur, given such a trauma, the same child could grow up into her adult years carrying the belief that her ‘misbehaviour’ influenced or even caused her loss. How will the connection the child creates between not eating breakfast and the loss of the parent translate into adulthood? There are a myriad of possibilities. Maybe the older child or adult will overeat in an unconscious attempt to avoid the potential of a future loss occurring. She may grow up to be a pleaser and cater to everybody else’s needs but her own in an attempt to avoid all potential “scoldings,” because secretly she possesses the belief that if someone is dissatisfied with her she will be left with the pain of being alone – and so she avoids conflict at all costs. These are just two of many possible outcomes.
When the child involves herself in this way she believes herself to be a causative factor in the trauma she is exposed to, maybe even the very cause of the trauma itself, believing she did something wrong, or in some way contributed to the changes in her life or the devastating consequences she or her family are experiencing. From her limited perspective, the little girl may even feel guilty that her father left her and her family because she didn’t eat her breakfast, convincing herself that “Daddy left because I did something bad – I didn’t eat my breakfast.”
However, there is a fine line between her believing she did something wrong and forming a conclusion that she is wrong. If her limited perception is not challenged, this little girl may eventually reach a deeper conclusion: “Daddy left because I am bad,” Once planted, this idea will flourish like a weed and grow as she grows into an adult. An eventual outcome as an adult could well emerge as: “I will eventually push whoever I get close to away because they will find out there is something wrong with me and leave anyway. Best that I do it first.”
When trauma is part of a child’s environment they will absorb it. They absorb it by involving themselves in it, forming limited conclusions about what they see and feel is their own part in the trauma. (Read: Is Trauma Guiding Your Life Without You Knowing It?)
A threshold is crossed however when the child begins to form conclusions about himself from the trauma he experienced. When he believes and accepts that he is wrong, bad, unworthy, a failure, or in some way lacking or deficient, he has personalized the trauma and entered a path of low-esteem.
When the child internalizes an external event or trauma and draws self-realized conclusions he or she is Personalizing. Personalizing brings the external event – the trauma – into the child who is observing or being affected by the event. Personalizing involves the child in the perceived event or trauma in a simplistic but creative attempt to understand or make sense of the traumatic situation. When Personalizing, the child blames himself. He draws conclusions about himself. From his young and unsophisticated perspective, if he, the child, can make some sense of what is taking place there is more chance of him being able to figure out how to cope with it – and even survive the situation.
Does low self-esteem limit you? In what ways does your low self-esteem limit you?
Did you a bsorb elements of your environment when you were a child? If so, what elements did you absorb?
Did you draw conclusions about yourself based upon your environment? If so, what are those conclusions?
Are those self-conclusions still active in your life now?
Were those self-conclusions correct? If they weren’t what were the correct conclusions?
What if you were to remind yourself of those correct conclusions whenever low esteem limits you? Would this change anything for you?
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