If the long-drawn pandemic has brought out the anxiety, depression, and other mental health battles in you, know this – you’re not alone. The psychological impacts of COVID-19 has been well documented, especially in the mental health department. In fact, the pandemic is set to have long-lasting detrimental effect on our global collective mental health.
Whether you have, or you know of someone who has been through meltdowns, mental breakdowns, social anxiety and withdrawal, depression, suicide, and other mental health emergencies in the past two years, it’s time to act and get some psychological first aid in place.
Where to start? From your childhood – because that’s where most of your learned behaviour stems from. Whether good or bad, how you respond to stressful situations, feel, act, and think primarily comes from your earliest childhood years – and your parents.
Our parents, really? Yes. According to Dr Nicole LePera, it is possible for parents to project their own emotional traumas that they’ve been carrying throughout their lives upon their children.
“Many of us were raised by parent-figures who had difficulty navigating their emotions as a result of their own unresolved childhood pain,” wrote Dr LePera in her book, ‘How To Do The Work’. “They may have projected this pain onto us directly, when they urged us not to cry, or indirectly, when they withdrew in response to our displays of emotion.”
And for the most part, we all have some sort of childhood trauma that’s been affecting and following us for the past few decades. However, we can learn to unlearn and resolve these childhood traumas and behaviours if we’re aware of their presence and impact on our daily lives.
According to Dr LePera, there are six common types of childhood trauma she’s observed in her career:
“It’s no big deal. Oh, you’re thinking too much.” You may have heard of these seemingly innocent dismisses that your parents have said to you while you were young (or maybe, as a parent you’ve said it to your child).
Words like these deny a child of his or her reality, feelings, and intuition.
According to Dr LePera, “Denying a child’s reality can take on subtle forms. A child might confide in their parent-figure that their friends didn’t want to sit with them at the school lunch table. For the child in that moment, it was an extremely distressing situation, resulting in them feeling rejected at a time when the need for peer validation is an important part of development.”
Children are meant to be seen and not heard. You must have heard this common saying that’s prevalent in Asian cultures. If children are allowed around social settings such as dinners and gatherings, they’re not allowed to voice their opinions.
Unfortunately, if you’ve been brought up with such a belief, that childhood experience would leave you emotionally distant afterwards. “Not being seen or heard in childhood is an experience of feeling emotionally disconnected from a parent-figure,” wrote Dr LePera in her book. “Sometimes this involves severe neglect, though often it comes in the form of more subtle experiences.”
Ever had your parent push you for piano, violin, ballet classes alongside lots of ‘medical’ toys in hopes that you will grow up to become the famous musician or doctor that they didn’t get to be? According to Dr LePera, that’s called a ‘stage parent’ driven primarily by pride and unresolved trauma within themselves.
“Let’s say a father wanted to be a basketball player and broke his leg before he was able to make his college team, or maybe a mother who wanted to be a doctor and that path wasn’t open to her, so she became a nurse,” Dr LePera illustrates. “The result is that the child may feel an oppressive amount of pressure to succeed – and abandons parts of their authentic Self in order to please the parent-figure.”
If you’ve ever had a parent flip through your diaries while you were young, you will resonate with this one. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to most parents, children do require healthy boundaries and privacy. In cases like the above mentioned example of a parent reading a child’s diary, the parent outrightly violates the child’s privacy, resulting in shaming and punishment.
A child who has been through violations of boundaries may develop unhealthy concepts of boundaries (allowing others to violate them in the future) or withdraw and become secretive of their personal details, says Dr LePera.
Other boundaries that parents often cross with their children include instances of TMI – ‘too much information’ – where parents share their own marriage conflicts, affairs, or other struggles. “In such instances, a child may feel overwhelmed by these person details and have their own conflicted feelings about hearing the negative comments about another loved parent-figure,” notes Dr LePera.
Is a parent who is overly fussed about his or her child’s appearance a good or bad thing? Think of certain hairstyles, the way they dress, the child’s weight, and physical looks. Not necessarily. In fact, this could cause “a lifelong practise of believing the receiving love is conditional on one’s outward appearance”.
If you’ve had a parent figure who didn’t know how to cope with his or her emotions, you may have been affected by these episodes emotionally too. How? Whether flying into an agitated outburst or withdrawing inwardly and giving others the ‘cold treatment’, your parent figure may have modelled a lack of emotional regulation to you. As a result, you may have grown up without the adequate skills to build emotional resilience too.
So, if you’ve identified with one of the above childhood traumas that may be affecting your present life, what can you do about it? According to Dr Lepera, awareness of the trauma is the first step to healing. There are steps that you can take to resolve these traumas and grow out of them. Methods for resolving trauma differ from psychologist to psychologist. You’ll want to try, experiment, research, and find a method that resonates with you.
Text: Bauer Syndication