01 Mar Childhood versus adult trauma
So far you’ve met a few characters and different scenarios:
Oprah and Olivia share the same genes, but grew up in very different environments. As such, their personalities are very different. In general, because they were raised in very different homes, how they
will be different from each other.
Simon and Frank do not share the same genes and both were raised in loving and supportive homes. But they had a different response to the train wreck. In general, because they were raised in similar ways, how they
are fairly similar, until trauma came along. When trauma happened, their individual personalities responded differently.
The point – childhood trauma has more of an ongoing effect on us, whereas adult trauma affects us at the time of the event and for a period after depending on our personalities.
Oprah will suffer from her traumatic childhood until she is given, or finds, help. The trauma that she repeatedly experienced as a child has changed her. Oprah’s brain learned to be in constant fight, flight or freeze mode. Her body was releasing chemicals needed to survive – all the time. This chemical change had a tremendous effect on the way she
thinks – danger is everywhere, at any time, academics are not a priority, survival is
feels – unworthy, useless, unloved, horrible, scared 24/7
acts – defensively by not letting anyone get close to her
thinks – life is great and academics are challenging but manageable
feels – loved, happy, useful, worthy,
acts – open, able to connect with others
You can see how the way we are treated as children has a tremendous effect on who we are. This is not to say that the only reason you have a horrific response to an event is because of the way you were raised. Take Simon as an example. He was raised much like Frank, but had a different experience to the train crash. That’s simply because of the way Simon was wired – he was just a lot more sensitive to things like that. That’s totally normal!
The big difference here is that Oprah doesn’t know how to help herself. Her patterns of behavior are so much a part of who she is, that she feels safer just pushing people away and thus would be less likely to get help.
Simon, because he’s an adult and can see that he had problems after the train crash, knew he needed help. He understood that his reactions over time were bad enough to warrant professional involvement.
Sadly, Oprah is unlikely to make that connection. She would be unlikely to get help until perhaps, as an adult, someone took the time to really help her see that she is worthy and wonderful and that with help, she could restore that happy, loving person she was born to be.
Simon = aware of how his responses are affecting him and others – will likely seek help.
Oprah = unaware of how her reactions are affecting herself and others – will likely not seek help, or push away anyone who tries to help.
Unfortunately, we are far too quick to punish people like Oprah, who act out at summer camp out of fear of getting too close to people who she thinks will just abuse her like her caregivers did. Kids like Oprah are trying to survive, the best they can.