Do you wonder if you have trauma, but “nothing really bad happened?” If so, this episode is for you. We discuss the difference between abuse and neglect and how it might be showing up in your life.
Today we are going to talk about abuse versus neglect, dive a little deeper into what’s really happening when we say nothing really bad happened.
What I want you to take from this episode is that in my head, I divide trauma into kind of two buckets. There’s too much too fast, which I would make sort of analogous to abuse, or there’s not enough for too long, which I would associate with neglect and something that I hear a lot of my clients or prospective clients say is nothing really bad happened, but what always comes up in my mind when I hear that is, “But did everything that you need happen?”
Sometimes it sounds like my childhood was really good. My parents were super loving and I have the gospel, right? All of those things that we say, I don’t have trauma because my parents were super loving. My childhood was amazing. Nothing really bad happened, but. There’s a big “but” here, because it’s not just about bad things happening.
Did you grow up in a large family?
It’s also about good things happening or not happening. So if you grew up in a large family, if you had lots of siblings, it could mean that the resources that your amazing parents had might not have been able to give you exactly what you needed when you needed it. I mean, this is probably true of those of us who don’t have lots of siblings anyway, right? But I don’t want to take away the fact that your parents were amazing and loving and kind and supportive and all of that. We’re trying to provide for our families and get dinner on the table and this is one of the reasons why I say everyone has trauma.
Now, not everyone has trauma to the extent that they need to hire a trauma coach or they need to change their lives or set boundaries or any of that kind of stuff, but we all have little traumas that have happened. Let’s talk about a few more reasons why. You might have some remnants of trauma, even though nothing bad happened.
Were you made to feel less than by anyone for any reason?
This could be bullying at school, even from a teacher. It could be maybe not your parents, maybe siblings or aunts, uncles, grandparents. We all have people in our lives that we come in contact with that we pick up messages from. I always think of the fact that when I was young, very young, my sister, who’s two years younger than me, my grandparents called her a chatterbox, especially my grandpa.
He would say, “Hey, she’s such a chatterbox.” Now, I don’t know what that effect had on my sister, but I could imagine if it was me, that I heard him saying something like that, that it would make me stop talking and feel like I needed to be more quiet or I needed to talk less. So really it’s like anything that makes us not be ourselves.
And there’s a fine line here with cultural expectations and appropriateness of things. We can be ourselves in a certain experience. I’m thinking of like, if you go and watch a movie in the theater, but your true self is like really loud and obnoxious and like moving all over the place are, can you be yourself in a movie theater?
Now, I gotta imagine that some people say, no, I can’t. I can’t sit still and be quiet and watch the movie for that long, so I don’t ever go. And other people might say, yeah, I sit still and watch the movie because that’s what I want. And so we can still be ourselves in these situations.
Were your parents distant?
I think the difference is there’s sort of an outside force, particularly a person who is giving us the message that it’s not okay to be ourselves? Not all of us actually listen to that message, which I think is fabulous. But most of us, in my experience, were your parents emotionally immature or distant? I’m raising my big fat hand on this one, right?
Because my parents were very young when they had me. My mom was 17, barely. She turned 17 a month before I was born. My dad was not much older than her, 20. And they both started drinking and smoking and taking drugs as teenagers. Usually in my mind, at whatever age you develop an addiction is the age that you stop maturing emotionally.
In order to mature emotionally, you have to be feeling the negative feelings and creating healthy coping mechanisms for those negative feelings and addiction, drugs, alcohol, food, sugar, whatever the addiction is, pornography, those are unhealthy coping mechanisms. They’re crutches that we rely on that when they’re taken away, we feel like we’re going to die, right? And so in order to mature emotionally, you can’t really have a crutch like an addiction because it stunts your ability to learn how to be with the emotions.
If your parents were emotionally immature or distant, maybe it’s because their parents were, or they had some kind of trauma, it could have a trickle down effect in you and in how you view the world or how you feel inside of yourself. It could be as simple as, did your parents work a lot? Did they have to really work hard to provide for the family?
I think that there’s value in that. And that is heroic in a lot of ways. But if, as a child, they had to work so much that you were left home alone or with caregivers that didn’t pay attention or give you the emotional support that you need or needed, that that could leave you with some stuff to work through, right?
Was it safe to be honest?
So again, it’s not about what happened. Sometimes it’s about what didn’t happen. And sometimes there’s these paradoxes, like my parents worked so hard because they loved me. It doesn’t mean that you got everything that you needed. Was it safe to be honest or to make mistakes? A lot of people view their parents as amazing and loving and kind and they provided and all of that.
But if it wasn’t safe for you to say, “Hey. I don’t think that that’s the right thing here”, or “I need a timeout. I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to just go to my room and have a timeout.” If there were consequences, negative consequences for saying things like that, if you would prefer to lie to your parents than to tell them the truth, then it’s not safe to be honest or to make mistakes. And here’s the thing is I’m thinking now, about my kids, and I really hope that they feel safe to be honest, to bring things to me, even if their fear is that there might be a negative consequence. I hope they feel like it’s safe to do that. I know I did not always feel safe to tell my parents the things that I kind of wished I could tell them.
So if it wasn’t safe, to be honest, or to make mistakes, you might not have gotten what you needed for your own healthy emotional development. If you had a sibling, particularly, but it could be another extended family member with lots of health conditions or some kind of problem, You might have felt like you were in their shadow. Your parents had to pay so much attention to a sibling that they couldn’t pay attention to you. And here’s the thing, we don’t always want to go back and change that. But the fact of like, what happened is different than what you needed. So some people have siblings that had health issues that in and out of the hospital or something like that, just needed a lot of attention from the parents and then the other siblings often don’t get what they need.
Did you have someone close to you that needed more attention?
They don’t get the attention and the emotional feeling that they need the love the care the attunement that they need from their parents in order to grow really healthy. Sometimes this is just like a problem child, right? A sibling who got into trouble a lot or just took a lot out of your parents. And then you started thinking, “Gosh, I don’t want to do that to my parents. I’m going to be the good child, right? I’m going to be the good girl or the good boy, I’m going to get good grades, I’m not going to argue, I’m not going to do what my sibling did because I can see how upsetting or angry or energetically draining this sibling is on my parents and I don’t want to do that.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, but what happens is that we create these patterns where we can’t be our true, full, honest selves. And that’s the part, that’s the part that I think actually causes trauma is, can you not be your full self? If the answer is no, I cannot be my full self, then there’s probably some trauma around that, even if nothing bad happened, right?
What happens when we have micro traumas?
So it doesn’t have to be trauma. Doesn’t have to be what happened. It could be what didn’t happen and should have. And from the things that I’ve read, the books and articles that I’ve read in many, many, many cases, this, what I would call neglect. The things that didn’t happen, that should have, have much more sort of insidious sort of behind the scenes, long lasting effect than the things that did.
And I will just tell you myself, like I was sexually abused by a family member. That’s a thing that did happen. I would put that in the category of abuse, but I don’t struggle with that. It’s just like I could put it behind me easily.
The things that I struggle with are, why has my dad never called me my whole adult life? What’s wrong with me that he wouldn’t want a relationship with me as an adult? So it’s not anything that did happen. It’s what didn’t happen. He didn’t call, he hasn’t called. That has a more lasting impact on me than the family member who sexually abused me. I can just give that over to God and be like, okay, he’ll he’ll answer to that But it’s harder for me to think about the fact that my dad has never called me as an adult and that his actions don’t show me that he wants a relationship with me.
That’s much harder for me to be like, “Oh, he’ll answer for that, you know, in front of God and angels” or whatever. To me, that feels like there’s something wrong with me. That’s a lot harder. It’s a lot stickier for me. And I think some common results of this neglect, this what didn’t happen, is that it erodes trust in ourselves because it really causes us to have that dance in our minds of “what did I do? What did I not do? Could I do something different?”
We don’t trust ourselves. I see this in a lot of my clients. This is something that I have worked really hard to overcome in myself is this lack of self trust. I see another result of these types of traumas, these kind of micro, little “T” traumas is poor decision making, even poor executive functioning sometimes, like the inability to plan. And that, I think, is related to the lack of trust in yourself. So if that’s something that you struggle with, just think about that. I see this coming out as avoidance of our own internal or emotional experience. Like we just do not want to feel disappointed or lonely or abandoned or sad. This is what it looks like to me in my clients and in myself is just like, I’ll do anything, except feel.
I’ll work really hard and get good grades and like be the perfect student. That was my story. And it kept me from truly feeling the negative emotions that were there for me. I mentioned this already a lot in like staying quiet and staying small, wanting more, wanting to be bigger or having a bigger impact in the world, really struggling with being able to “put yourself out there.”
This is something a lot of my clients want. They want to be able to voice how they feel, what they think, what their opinions are, but there’s something that comes up inside of them that says, Ooh, I can’t say that. That’s dangerous. I think that’s trauma in most cases. And nothing that I say here on the podcast is completely black and white.
It always depends on the person and always depends on the circumstance. By and large, if you have this, this feeling, this like almost visceral feeling inside of you that you want, like from your head, from your logical mind, you want to speak up. You want to be more, you want to reach big goals. But there’s something that’s like, Oh, it almost feels like it’s strangling you.
I would classify that as trauma. And then the last thing that I’ll mention here is this sense of, “I don’t even know who I am. I don’t even know what I want.” When we don’t get what we need, the love and care, attunement, support, like emotionally speaking, we distance ourselves from ourselves, and don’t want to look at ourselves.
We think it’s wrong in some way because our caregivers can’t, so why should we, right? Our actions are almost patterned after those of our original caregivers. Like, my mom doesn’t actually see me or hear me, so I shouldn’t either. And so this creates over time, this not knowing of oneself, not knowing your patterns, not knowing what you like and dislike.
This is a big one, especially for kind of middle aged women where we’ve buffered our life away almost in caring for our children, some of us in careers, things like that. And then we get to this point where we’re like, wait, what, what’s the point? Why am I here? What do I want? We sort of go through the motions and doing what culture tells us we should do.
Go to school, get married. Get a job, have babies, right? And we don’t stop to think, what do I really want? What lights me up? And this is just something that I hear so often. There are tons of coaches that coach in this area, but I kind of think that the root root root cause of this is those micro traumas.
When you don’t have a caregiver that says, “Oh, I see you’re coloring that picture there. Why did you pick yellow?” And kind of reflects back to us the things that we like and, and encourages it. Right?
That’s just one little example of instead of being like, “I love your painting. It’s so pretty. Good job. You got an A on it.” We go, “Oh, tell me why you chose to paint a picture of that. And why did you choose these colors?” Because it causes us to kind of reflect on ourselves and what we like and what we’re drawn to. Right? So that’s just a little snippet. It’s something I hear a lot, like nothing bad really happened. Surely I don’t have trauma.
And I just want to open your mind a little bit about, first of all, what trauma is or what it can look like. And I think we’re gaining a lot of new knowledge and insight around this every day, according to research and lived experiences. It doesn’t have to be something that is something that happened to you.
It could be something that didn’t happen to you, something that should have happened to you. That’s just as valid. And sometimes it’s even trickier to kind of put your finger on and understand.
So I want to talk about my small group coaching membership, and you might be thinking, wait, she just said a couple of weeks ago that the doors were closing, and I’ve changed it! This is what you can do when you work for yourself. I really hated the feeling of having an open and closed door period. And I thought about it because the marketing experts would say, no, you know, people won’t buy if they don’t have a deadline. And that’s probably true. I mean, I think that’s probably true of me too.
But then I started thinking about Christ and about how he operates in the world and how he didn’t tell people, “come unto me by Friday or the doors close.” He didn’t give deadlines or, you know, incentives. He just was so powerful that people wanted to be around him. The right people wanted to be around him and they wanted what he had and what he was promising sooner rather than later.
So I am working on that. I’m working on being a more powerful communicator, communicating to you what the work that I feel called to in the world, how it can help you. And I really hope that for some of you, you just listen to this podcast and that’s all you need. It’s like… Great. I am set. I don’t need to hire anyone.
That would just thrill me to no end. But I know from my own experience that sometimes we need a little bit more support, right? We need somebody who will give us what we didn’t get from our parents or our caregivers. Somebody who will model to us what it’s like to feel supported. Somebody who has some knowledge who can like make it a shortcut, right?
Like this has been an eight year journey so far for me. I mean, honestly, it’s been a lifetime journey, but it’s been about eight years since I’ve been consciously trying to change. And I hope that I can take my eight years and distill it down to six months or a year or two years for you, something less than eight years.
That is what I want for you. I want you to feel love, passion, hope, connection, sooner rather than later. And that’s why I invite you to come into Presence. It’s an amazing space, really. The people in there are so awesome. And then I also have a PDF. It’s called It Might Be Trauma If. And I identified the top five things that I see in my clients that are sort of everyday things that could stem from trauma.
It doesn’t mean they for sure do, but these are just really common things that, if we trace them back, oftentimes it’s, it’s like a micro trauma that causes these things. And I give you some starter steps. If you resonate with any of them, kind of a starting place to learn how to regulate your nervous system and feel into just a different way of being with, with these actions that are sort of everyday actions. So I’m going to drop the link to that in the podcast notes.
Remember that I’m a life coach, not a doctor or a psychologist. Any suggestions or advice mentioned in this podcast should not be a substitute for medical or mental health care. Until next time, go be yourself and follow the spirit.