What is my worth? This is a HARD question. And for a childhood trauma survivor it can shut you down, completely, just contemplating it. Why?
Because we don’t see nor feel that we have any worth. We learned through experiences – a look, a hit, words, sighs, eye rolling, tattling, assaults, etc., that we are NOT accepted for who we are.
By the time I was 3 years old, my nervous system already had a felt sense that I wasn’t wanted nor appreciated. I had already felt terrorized on a couple occasions. My nervous system was on high alert because I didn’t feel safe.
So how does a wee one cope?
What I did was work hard at being useful. I learned how to help mommy cook and clean. When I did these well, I received a smile, a thank you and a little praise. Only then did I feel loved. This taught me that I had to “do” to “earn” love, acceptance and appreciation.
The next 5 decades I gave too much power to what others thought of me. I could NOT see nor accept that others liked me simply for being me for I had learned a different truth – that I was unlikable/unlovable. I had built a wall around my heart for self-protection and self-preservation, and nothing could penetrate it. I disconnected from my emotions, and this caused me to disconnect from myself. I didn’t know who I was for the longest time.
Over time I had become skilled at wearing a *mask* and the pretending, the keeping of a secret [that I was sexually abused] was exhausting. I felt challenged socially, always nervous around people, uncomfortable with small talk. I believed there was something wrong with me.
Not until after I started my trauma recovery did I learned how to let love in….. s l o w l y.
It took a LOT of mental reprogramming, to let the armor down. I started with letting God’s love in. THAT alone took a LOT of work. I didn’t know at that time how much the denial of my experiences and pain, the gaslighting, the criticism, the emotional abandonment and weaponizing of scripture impacted my view of self and the world. I had to deal with the loss and the grief that came with that realization first before I could understand why my heart ached and pined for certain relationships that were toxic, just to have a sense of *belonging and acceptance*.
I was looking for love, acceptance and understanding externally but what I needed was to support my nervous system and learn to love and accept myself.
As I said at the outset, this week I finally made the connection to what was obscurely behind it all — the deep-rooted yearning to be liked. Ooooooo, putting this out there is scary!
Now I understand that unbeknownst to me, all along, deep, deep inside I was compelled for decades to focus on being helpful, useful, supportive of others – to be the Go-To person in time of crisis and despair. I took pride in being called at all hours to help a friend in crisis. I needed to be needed. All which came at a cost to my physical and emotional health. This is called Fawning, a trauma response, also known as co-dependency.
[Can you relate to this? Are you one of those people that jump in quickly to help others? Who sacrifice so much to be there and end up depleting yourself or getting hurt in the long run? …… I’ve been there way too often.]
To finally make this connection – Oh how SWEET! To realize that behind it was a lie – the belief I was not appreciated/liked and how this created a desperation for wanting to be valued – how vulnerable to admit this!
I developed a tough, capable, and competent veneer. I was smart in school [A- average] and loved learning. I was curious, wanted to know how to do things and take care of myself. I learned to not rely on anyone for life’s basic challenges – was fiercely independent. Admitting this here is hard to do. Seeing it in print is difficult yet healing and validating.
So, learning to love me and appreciate me is what eventually opened the lock to this vault. I’m smiling because this makes me happy to see another door opened for me in my own trauma recovery. I can see AND feel my own worth now!!!! It doesn’t matter if people like/accept me or not. My worth is not defined by others, at all.
As an adult childhood trauma survivor do you see similar patterns or mindsets in yourself? If so, you are not alone.
Lisa B Hilton is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, supporting adult survivors of childhood and developmental trauma Transform Travesty into Triumph.