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What It Feels Like to Be ‘Hardwired’ by Childhood Trauma

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It wasn’t a particularly difficult conversation.

But I was finding it challenging.

My throat constricted and my voice got tighter. It was a bit like talking through a sandbag.

But it wasn’t just my voice.

I felt my whole body tighten and tense, my back, shoulders and neck seizing painfully.

I was afraid of the anger I expected to follow on from an attempt to set some boundaries.

Instinctively, my body readied itself to protect me.

I was responding as if I was still at the mercy of my perpetually angry “narcissistic” mother.

Of course, my client had no idea what was going on for me. Thankfully.

She agreed to my requirement and we moved on, the relationship withstanding the small test of this.

Looking back, I realize that there have been many moments just like this in my life.

I don’t know how many, but did I sail through the majority to set clear and comfortable boundaries?


Despite the hard-won self-awareness gained in 10 years of tough therapeutic work.

Despite my studies and my work, I am still at the mercy of my trauma-primed body when the shit hits the fan.

I stumble along doing my best, trying to maintain my relationships and my sanity.

I just wonder how many times those feelings of dread have prevented me from having the relationships I really wanted or enjoying the ones I already had.

For children of “narcissists,” setting boundaries can be one of the most important skills for surviving the trenches of daily living. (Unless you’re on a desert island.)

But how do you have boundaries when you don’t know who you are or what you want?

Most of those who have grown up with “narcissists” don’t have a strong sense of self.

For myself as a trauma survivor and as a therapist, self-awareness is the key.

Participating in the reflective space of therapy, slowly coming to an understanding of ourselves and our trauma histories. There are no shortcuts for this, no magic wands, no life-changing affirmations. Change comes through slow awareness-building that brings our thinking brain to the party where once the amygdala and somatic trauma responses dominated.

As children we were hardwired by trauma.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

This story originally appeared on the author’s blog.

Originally published: January 16, 2020
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