While driving home from work the other day I heard on NPR about a study that tied childhood trauma to health problems. I found this study fascinating so I researched the source. The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, (May, 1998) led by researcher Felitti, looked at health risk behavior and disease in adulthood as it relates to childhood abuse and dysfunction. The researchers surveyed over 13,000 adults and assessed their adverse childhood experiences. The researchers concluded that the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood directly correlated with health risk factors later in life. The study is a reminder of how trauma can impact lives in a significant way.
Many of my clients have experienced trauma in their past and learned coping mechanisms to adapt to their life circumstances. Understanding the coping style they’ve used from childhood can provide valuable insight into their current situation. For some, achievement, performance and productivity through work and/or athletics provided a positive way to channel their pain and distract them from their negative emotions. However, success can become an obsession when it negatively impacts other aspects of living including self-care, relationships, and hobbies. Often success-driven people have a difficult time achieving balance in life and often value things over people.
The experience of childhood trauma drives some to seek control since they were powerless and helpless as a child. In some instances the trauma has contributed to their mistrust of others and their devaluing of relationships. This causes them to instead focus on ways to be self-reliant and independent. Success can also be a way to feel worthy, valued, and significant since those who grew up in dysfunctional households felt none of that. Workaholics can easily justify their behaviors and focus on the ways in which their achievements allow for a richer lifestyle, but not necessarily a happier life. Many are running, hiding, and/or denying their emotional pain under the guise of success. Acknowledge and confront your emotional pain today before you lose more people, time, and peace.