Six Ways Developmental Trauma Shapes Adult Identity

Posted on July 7, 2017

Developmental trauma is common, and these traumatic experiences in childhood can include sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence, and traumatic loss or bereavement. Developmental trauma can develop into Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD), which is characterized by difficulties in emotional regulation, consciousness and memory, self-perception, distorted perceptions of perpetrators of abuse, difficulties in relationships with others, and negative effects on the perceptions of life. While thankfully not all children who experience maltreatment go on to develop cPTSD, many will, and recovery is challenging even for those who do seek treatment.

Developmental trauma can impact identity formation greatly. Identity formation is an important part of normal development that take place across the lifespan from birth. through childhood and adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Early trauma can cause developmental delays and consequences which often include substance abuse, difficulty in personal relationships, and professional development, and identity development gets stuck.

Grand H. Brenner M.D. highlights the key ways that identity tends to be shaped by earlier traumatic experiences:

1. Loss of childhood
People who had gone through a very distressing childhood have a tendency of not remembering big parts of their childhood. They may remember vivid moment, but often do not have a clear story of themselves as a child. The autobiographical sense of themselves can be absent, under-developed, false, or oversimplified. Many feel that their childhood were stolen, and without a foundation, their adult identity can be compromised.

2. Missing parts of oneself
With a prolonged period of distress during their childhood, children may often disconnect from some parts of themselves in order to have stability and a sense of reality that appears to be OK.

3. Attraction to destructive relationships
People who were traumatized by their key caregivers may end up being emotionally unavailable people, abusive or narcissistic people, or end up trying to rescue and fix people they date. Repeatedly getting into destructive relationships can be disorienting and may lock them into the old identity while preventing new identities from taking root.

4. Avoidance of relationships
Alternatively, people with negative developmental experiences may choose to avoid intimacy and prefer isolation.

5. Avoidance of oneself
They may not be able to reflect upon on themselves at all, and have a tendency to flee from any encouragement to do so. Their sense of self is often characterized by disgust and essential badness, reflecting a rigid traumatic identity.

6. Difficulty integrating emotions into one's identity.
People may experience a sense of emotional numbing, or feel they don't have any emotions at all. They may experience a limited range of emotions or feel muted emotions. This may lead to difficulty in personal relationships, as emotions are required for intimacy and shapes choices in life.

Understanding these basic themes can help people recognize areas of difficulty so they can take steps toward doing the work or recovery, repair, and personal growth. Recovery, grieving and growth can, but often take place over a long period as one often has to reconnect with many layers of oneself.

Category(s):Adult psychological development, Child Development, Identity Problems, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Psychology Today

Mental Health News