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childhood trauma

Decoding Childhood Programming – Trauma, Neglect & Abuse

When a situation of abuse or extreme neglect has taken place, some learned information needs to be edited or deleted altogether.

We all are “programmed” to one degree or another in that all of us are given guidelines for behavior and thinking at an early age. It’s usually termed, raising children. In most homes we’re taught the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, along with a whole laundry list of other traits and values that are typically necessary to raise productive and societally beneficent children. While the term “programming” may seem a little detached, clinical and without sensitivity, it’s just another way of saying we’re all taught certain traits and values by our parents, guardians or caregivers at an early age. And we should be, kids are kids and they should be directed according to the values of their parents or others significant in their lives.

However, the unfortunate truth is that some parents or caregivers don’t care or are willfully abusive toward a child. It’s unfortunate but it’s the reality of the world. While it’s obvious that the child is not at fault, explaining that to someone who has lived their younger years with such traumas is no simple task.

From an early age we hear words like, Don’t, Stop, That’s Fine, Watch Out, and the like, all which are usually associated with assisting a child to navigate through their small world. It’s hoped that good characteristics, values, boundaries and habits are taught, or programmed so to speak, into the child so he or she will one day start making good choices as they journey toward adulthood. Training is of obvious importance in teaching guidelines, boundaries and acceptable ways of thinking and behaving. Every child is learning something from either someone or some situation continually, and every adult who is regularly seen and heard is exhibiting some type of habit, trait or value whether they realize it or not. People watch and learn and children do so even more.

Normal and typical parents want their kids to have a good life, one that is structured upon sound principals of morals and proper behavior. Again, that’s normal and typical parents. However, not all parents are typical of societal mores’ and not all quite frankly are normal, in that the child’s welfare is not a major concern of theirs.

inferiorityFor those parents who have basically torn up their “parenting license” the child will eventually have to navigate a world that does not share his or her learned behaviors, improper psychological imprinting, and aberrant value system. That child wades through childhood and into their teen and young adult worlds with “orders” that may not be typical nor healthy, either for them or the world of others in which they now find themselves.

I’ve used the term Childhood Programming because when a child is taught atypical values or when he or she has been traumatized, abused or neglected, it’s like being coded to operate in another realm, in another world for which they are not emotionally equipped. They have learned a system of behaviors along with a self image that isn’t typical of the world they slowly move into and neither will such training be conducive to leading a fulfilled and beneficial lifestyle. And at childhood, what else can they do except absorb these inputs of opposing behaviors and values, and react as best they can?

And like bad coding in a computer program, what is input will result in similar output.

The purpose of this article is to assist the now adult person in understanding that the process was flawed, the code itself was flawed and not the child. The other part is to provide some clarity as to how to start the process of altering the “code,” i.e. the improper childhood signals that were sent their way and assimilated into their thinking processes. How we think, most of the time controls how we see ourselves and whether and at what level we proceed to interact with those around us.

When a child has been the victim of self defeating training, it takes a while before he or she senses that something is not right. This usually starts to happen at the time the child ventures outside of the home and into the world to some degree. The outside world is still a small one to them. It may be comprised of church, Sunday school, pre-kindergarten or kindergarten as their first gateways to the adult world.

For those of us who watch the news, it has become apparent that not all parents are saints, some are enormously selfish, and the unfortunate truth is that for some, the childhood years may be spent in a variety of negative or abusive situations.

Childhood abuse and neglect is unfortunate but it is a fact. During those times of early development, though the cognitive functions of the child are still forming and the ability for detail analysis is still years away, still the child slowly starts to inculcate into their stored mental processes the sensing that there are certain differences between their lives and the more typical lives and behaviors of others.

kidsNow all children notice the typical differences; boy or girl, big or small, loud or quiet, etc. but there are also subliminal messages and understandings that are below the threshold of conscious perception. A neglected or abused child, may start to sense these differences at an early age. Quiet messages are sent to the child that he or she shouldn’t be, act, think or look the way they do, and the child is totally incapable of organizing and making sense of what they’re slowly coming to realize, much less changing these messages. Confusion starts to reign.

These messages are slowly built upon and reinforced as the child gets older until eventually the now young person comes to feel that there are major differences between them and how others behave, think, react, talk and feel in general. They may start to notice that others are cleaner, not fearful or reclusive and seem to be in general, happier. For many, going to school where things are orderly, safe and encouraging is a welcome change from their home life even though it makes them more aware of their situation because of the extreme contrasts. Confusion continues to reign.

The parent(s) who have abdicated their parental responsibilities and have been barely more than someone who has housed a child or worse, sets up the child early. The parent who not only has willfully decimated the typical parenting role but has aggressively behaved in a manner that either physically, mentally or emotionally harms the child, has set some gears into motion that may force the child to not only think different about themselves and their relationship to others, but to the world as a whole. Something is just wrong, but they just don’t know what it is but an unspoken concern about their ability to cope may arise.

Treating and counseling children and young adults who have been negatively trained is not a simple task. The child first is confronted with having to split their intellectual and emotional loyalty between the first and foremost authority figure they know about, the flawed parent or caregiver, with the rules that they see in the outer world.  The signals are quite differing and confusing. And the unfortunate truth is that many times there are no adequate rescuers to come along and be able to have the altering effect that is necessary.

Neglect can be more obvious, abuse however is a closely guarded secret, even by the child. Too many times the child is left to figure it all out until puberty comes along and in the now young persons’ world, all hell breaks loose. mask

During this time of their lives and growth, they are confronted with the need to fit in with their peers; they’re bombarded by the inevitable hormone barrage; they’re split between what they’ve been taught, what has happened to them and how they see others behaving, and they may be quickly coming to the conclusion that their world is different than that of others, quite different. This is a lot, an awful lot to throw at a kid who may by now be only be 12 or 13 years old. To see others living life carefree and with impunity can cause some very inhospitable emotions to rise from within.

If the process of the early abusive imprinting is not intercepted at some point in the growth process, the child may carry very negative feelings, grudges and festering angers, and many times self loathing, into early adulthood and being unfettered, these emotions will at some point in time let themselves be known with glaring clarity.

So, what to do?

Whether you be a parent, relative, care provider, teacher, counselor or the former child him/herself, one thing at the outset must be clearly understood and rectified.

  • No child is born with moral, ethical, character or self image flaws.

A child may be born with physical, emotional or other problems, but absolutely no child is born with the flaws mentioned above. It is not possible because these are all learned traits. If they exist in an older child, teen, young adult or adult they most likely infiltrated the child’s being at some point earlier in life and a child being a child, believed them and reacted accordingly. They could have came from a variety of circumstances, but they were not there when the child was born. And this point is vital to restoring a persons’ sense of proper self worth. It is of prime to fully convince a person that it is not they but something else that was or is flawed.

No child born is inherently of less value, quality and worth than another. Those traits of thought are thrust upon them.

Now apart form the typical angst of the teen years when all of us wonder about ourselves in some manner, when abuse, neglect or rejection is a part of a young persons’ early life, a self image is set up that is not accurate, however since children are in the learning stage, they simply learn, and what they learn may be severely flawed. Self image comes from a variety of sources, but a major portion will certainly come from someone who was significant in their formative years.

girl youngThe quality of that input, assistance, training, raising or if you will, programming, varies widely, enormously in fact, but the inherent value of the child never changes, though a young person may come to doubt that. Now, once a child grows and reaches an age of personal accountability in their early adult years, what they choose to do with the input, either good, bad or mediocre, is up to the young adult him or herself. But do they now, at that point have the skills to properly assess themselves?

Doubtful. For some, the childhood years are anything but healthy and reinforcing to their inherent value as a person and they may very well start to retreat from areas of life lest they be found out.

What may happen when someone stronger or in authority thrusts the weaker into a world of abuse or neglect? A child simply tends to believe their authority figures and most likely will think and behave accordingly. And the confusion continues to reign because they just don’t see others behaving or feeling the way they do.

The child that was given continual negative input about themselves and their worth, or who were physically taken advantage of or otherwise abused or neglected will act out in some manner as they grow. Not all young people are the same however, and there are those that for some reason, something inside of them tells them there’s another path they can walk and another way they can think and they take it. But for far too many, since the unknown is a road previously untraveled before, it hasn’t been a part of their world, so they stay with the thinking they grew up with.

For those who at a minimum have merely and on the most cursory of levels survived such an upbringing, and for whom the past is still a major part of their present world, there is another fact that is true…

  • There is always an opportunity to change your path and your destiny.

learnEven in the most closed of societies, a person is usually at some point given the opportunity to challenge what they incorrectly learned as a child.  No one’s thinking is set in stone, learning, clarity and perspective is always within someone’s ability to challenge and change. Now for some past “programming” may be more set than in another, but with the resources around, the opportunity for clarity and successful change is always present.

It may come from someone who is an example of a lifestyle that they themselves could emulate. It may come from someone who can have more direct input such as a counselor, a support group, clergy or just a person who is willing to give time and experience to the person who has been wrapped up in a defeated self image.

For some, this walk is easier because they may more clearly understand that their present manner of thinking and reacting isn’t acceptable. For others that are less aware that they are continuing to propagate the old thinking by a series of self victimizing choices, it may be more difficult. But until one passes from this earth, there is always an opportunity to begin the process of beginning to live freely.

Those who will respond by saying things similar to, “Well, you just don’t know what I’ve been through,” well, that’s true. But all of those who were held captive by their past could also say that, it’s just that some have decided that enough is enough and became engaged in their own deliverance. That’s the difference.

Circumstances are different of course. Some childhood experiences are horrifying, but that never changes the one constant which is that there’s always someone who is able, capable and willing to walk the journey into freedom with you. That never changes, they just have to be found.

The last point to make is this,

  • Memories fade, but they never go away.

The fact that some things happened that were totally unfair never leaves. The behaviors of others that the child experienced and endured is fact, not a belief, and unlike beliefs, facts simply don’t change. It may be a fact that one experienced sexual molestation, it may be a fact that one was completely ignored and left on their own, it may be a fact that they were told they were worthless, it may be a fact that one who was supposed to have been a protector allowed the victimization, and it may be a fact that they were told they were never wanted.

But it isn’t a fact that it was the child’s fault, and it isn’t a fact that the now older person can’t live a fulfilled and free life. That truth may not be a present fact, but it can become a belief. And belief, when acted upon can become fact.woman thinking

Time itself does not necessarily heal all wounds, but it does allow the person to separate themselves from the past behaviors of others. Separation from the abuser or neglector provides a time for perspective. Healing however is a process and it’s one that the individual him or herself must be actively engaged in, and it’s never too late to start. The behaviors of others that were endured, that set up the process of an incorrect belief, self image and behavior system, can be dealt with but only if the person makes the conscious decision to do so.

Many never make the sometimes extreme efforts necessary to effect healing in their lives. It’s over in their minds and they’re going to go on. For some, that is enough. They’ve seen the lifestyles of others and they simply are not going to be dissuaded from being as whole as possible.

For many though, it’s too painful in their minds to have to go through the process and they may settle for something far less than what they could have. That group many times will still carry with them the side effects of their abuse or neglect and it very well may “adjust” their behaviors and thinking accordingly, some a little, some a lot. Unfortunately this may also extend to others for whom they themselves have now become caregivers, protectors or parents.

Do you want closure or endurance and resilience?

Life is about endurance, and some things will always have to be there to some degree. Removing the past completely is like trying to undo a kiss, it can’t be done. But the past can be put into perspective, and an accurate perspective never involves the child having fault for the unseemly behavior of someone else. Eventually if an effort is made to escape your past, you must come to realize that complete closure may never come. Why? Because a fact is a fact, something did happen. But the ability to endure past a situation or time period and the resolve to become resilient despite what life has thrown your way, is always a possibility and if aggressively taken can become a probability.

The reality of past experiences can fade however, especially when one is aggressive in their desire to become whole. For some who have taken this mindset, the past has become only a faint memory, sometimes feeling as if it must surely have belonged to someone else because their present is something they’ve relentlessly forged into what they’ve wanted since childhood.

Resilience means taking the steps necessary to become whole in as much as it’s possible. Endurance means you’ll pay a cost to do so, and that you’re willing. Escaping your past is possible but it doesn’t mean removing the fact that it was there, once upon a time, it does mean you’re willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure your wholeness and the freedom of those that life will put in your path. Abuse and neglect are facts, but holding on to the belief that you’re worth a good life, has much more power to it.

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