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Past Traumas Present Problems

As an abuse survivor and foster care alumni I don't take physical, body or home security as a given. I'm fraught with fear. There is a deeply held feeling that if I allow myself to feel safe or at ease, a shoe is about to drop. The older I get the more I recognize how much my past informs my present. Here are a few patterns I've been working on changing.  

1. I am always in survival mode, constantly hyper vigilant. This anxiety is partially due to sixteen years of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse but the feelings were strengthened while in foster care. While I was eventually placed with a wonderful and loving family, I always felt I was being judged on everything. Case workers, counselors, lawyers, and judges periodically examined my actions and made life decisions for me. Eventually it's easy to not be sure of just what you're afraid of and the generalized anxiety never completely goes away.

2. I am scared of 'messing up.' In the past, stepping out of line meant life as I knew it was ripped away again. When I turned in my step father, although he eventually went to jail for a short time, in too many ways I felt like I was the one being punished. Logically, I know I was removed from my home to keep me safe. Emotionally, I felt like I lost everything. I lost my school, my belongings, my family, and the only home I knew. Even worse, many of my 'friends' were angry with me for not sharing what I was enduring and I lost them too. I also felt that if I didn't adhere completely to the expectations of my caretakers I could be moved again.

3. I have a hard time asking for help. For me, asking for help means trusting people, exposing my weaknesses, admitting my imperfections, and inviting judgement. All of these things are difficult for me. When the help you once needed results in an entire change of life as you knew it, that experience alters what asking for help means to you. I learned to suffer in silence because help can come with heavy costs.

4. I have to be extra mindful about managing my perceptions. A simple criticism can rebound in my mind for years while I forget or even fight complements very quickly. I built an image of myself as someone who is intrinsically broken, sad, worthless, never quite good enough. It is only after more than a decade has passed that I am learning to listen more critically. To change my own narratives.

5. I have learned to constantly question everything. This can be a negative, see everything above. This is also a positive because I am a student of life for life. I know how little I know in this vast existence. That keeps me both humble and hungry. The more I learn the more I improve my perceptions of the world and can develop better and better plans for myself.

So, that's a short list of battle scars I wear from my past trauma. Another of my long running feedback loops is that I can't open up to people and be my true self for fear of loosing them or being judged. What I've found in actual practice is that I've deepened my relationships and understandings every time I've allowed myself to be vulnerable and have honest conversations with others.

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear about your story. Post in the comments if you're comfortable or join our forum for a more private conversation.

PS: A side curiosity I have is how did you read the title of is blog, "Past Traumas Present Problems"? Did you read present as: 1. The trauma is presenting problems. Or 2. The trauma is past the problems are now in the present.

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