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#52 - Why Do Some People Hang On To Behaviors Formed By Their Traumatic Experiences

By KC Johnson


Some of us, myself included, and probably most of us, seem incapable of letting go of behaviors and emotions that are dysfunctional and self-destructive.  We are confused about why these vexations are so damned persistent.  No matter how much we try to let go of these behaviors they seem to persist invading our thoughts and controlling our actions.  Often, we are aware they are self-defeating, yet we continue with the patterns that cause us a great deal of distress.  I have been thinking a lot about how we learn our behaviors, but this quote by Lupytha Hermin really encapsulates my reason for this article. . . .

 “You know why it's hard to be happy?  It's because we refuse to let go of the things that make us sad.”    

 So true, yet her statement leads me to the next question . . . why is it so hard to let go of something that makes us feel crazy and so unhappy?

The tenacity of these behaviors and emotions we don’t want to let go of play an important role in our lives and may have an easy explanation for us to understand, but to do so, we need to have a clearer understanding of our earliest childhood learning dynamics. 

Imagine how our early child had to deal with the world around it.  When we entered this world of new experiences we had few tools, other than what we learn while in the womb, to cope with learning how to navigate this new environment.  Our little child created alter-personas to helped it explore, make sense of the interactions with people, and learn to judge what felt good and what caused discomfort.  I call these alter-personas, micro-voices.  They are the voices speaking to us throughout our life.

A fully nurtured and loved infant will not develop these micro-voices with fear.  They will be used as our tools for exploring our world.  They are our safe inner private friends and I believe they are the collective voice of our soul.  They are like a buffer we use to interact with our experiences, and we will use them our entire life.  The information they gather from our interactions with people, pets, our physical world become our sense of self.  If the interactions are loving, supportive, safe, and happy, then our sense of self becomes trusting, confident, and optimistic that the world is a good place to be a part of.

However, when our child has uncomfortable interactions with our caregivers, these interactions can cause our child’s mind to feel unsafe.  That unsafe feeling causes our child to create methods for coping with those uncomfortable experiences.  A child will defend itself using various methods that provide some semblance of control over its situation.  When a parent doesn’t provide food to alleviate hunger, or doesn’t change soiled diapers, or doesn’t hold and nurtured us, our child begins to feel unsafe.

Our child is forced to ‘advocate for itself’ as best as it knows how to do.  Crying is a tool for developing and accessing a sense of personal power, to get attention about its discomfort.  As discomforts persist, the child will alter the micro-voices’ tasks from exploration of the environment to becoming defenders.  These voices are tasked with providing a degree of safety that the caregivers are not providing.  If demanding attention does not bring the desired result, our child may become more combative crying even louder and longer.  The child is building its sense of personal power to affect its need to feel safer, nurtured, and loved.

Consistently not receiving the vital emotional nourishment needed for feeling safe and the attention by our care-givers allowing us to air our concerns causes our child to develop many sophisticated responses that become our behaviors and personality, our sense of self.  Developing a sense of personal power to defend our fragile child-self diminishes after repeated disappointments.  Often, the micro-voices evolve into turning the sense of self inward to find security.  Feeling unloved and unimportant by the lack of attention for our discomforts, and our futile efforts to get the responses for feeling safer, shapes our sense of self into believing that it will have to give up on its desire to feel safe.  The micro-voices may be tasked by our child to reduce expectations by creating emotional barriers that shields the child from feeling rejected or unworthy of attention.

These efforts become part of the building blocks of the personality and sense of self and the child’s sense of personal power.  Every interaction with people becomes a learning experience adding to the child’s self-identity.  Fully nurtured children develop balanced, loving, self-assured personalities and have a strong sense of personal power.  Poorly nurtured children develop a weak sense of personal power and usually develop behaviors that become dysfunctional and self-defeating around happiness and being able to love.    The book, The Biology of Belief:  Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles by Bruce H. Lipton, PhD supports this concept:

(pgs. 173-74) “The astonished researchers were left to conclude that infants can pick up complex skills solely by observation and don’t have to be actively coached by parents....the fundamental behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes we observe in our parents become ‘hardwired’ as synaptic pathways in our subconscious mind...Given the precision of this behavior-recording system, imaging the consequences of hearing your parents say you are a ‘stupid child,’ you ‘do not deserve things,’ will ‘never amount to anything,’ ‘never should have been born,’ or are a ‘sickly, weak’ person.  When unthinking or uncaring parents pass on those messages to their young children, they are no doubt oblivious to the fact that such comments are downloaded into the subconscious memory as absolute ‘facts’ just as surely as bits and bytes are downloaded to the hard drive of your desk top computer. 

During early development, the child’s consciousness has not evolved enough to critically assess that those parental announcements were only verbal barbs and not necessarily true characterizations of ‘self.’  Once programmed into the subconscious mind, however, these verbal abuses become defined as ‘truths’ that unconsciously shape the behavior and potential of the child through life...By the time children reach adolescence, their subconscious minds are chock-full of information that ranges from the knowledge of how to walk to the ‘knowledge’ that they will never amount to anything or the knowledge, fostered by loving parents, that they can do anything they set out to do.”

The child just wants to feel loved and powerful enough to engage in its new world.  When the child is loved and nurtured it does not need to create micro-voices tasked with helping it feel safe and accepted.  Its sense of self grows stronger, more independent, more resilient, and its sense of personal power grows into the ability to interact with its world.  The micro-voices are still present, but they are tasked with exploring and growing in healthy ways to interact with others using acceptable behaviors.


So What Does This Have To Do With Not Being Able To Let Go Of Dysfunctional Behaviors?

Our first reactions to the experiences in life become our building blocks for all other experiences.  We are a veritable sponge early on absorbing and reacting to these experiences.  What we learned during our earliest childhood are the building blocks we will always hold on to.  New experiences encountered will be influenced by what was previously learned, what worked, what didn’t, and what brought a sense of safety.  Plus, the more traumatic the early experiences were, the stronger our child will hold on to the methods it devised to feel safer.  Even when, in years later, we try reprogramming our unwanted behaviors, we will fall back on those earliest learned behaviors for protection.

My theory for why this happens is quite logical.  Keep in mind that our earliest child stays with us our entire life.  Its experiences were the building blocks for who we are now.  It will always desire finding safety in its environment of new experiences and our inner child will revert back to the safety measure it used back then because those measures gave a sense of safety it already knows worked for them.  New experiences bring uncertainty, especially for a traumatized inner child.  Even when our adult-self can make a logical case for pursuing a less dysfunctional path.

We tend to forget about our inner child in adulthood, but it will always be a vital part of our life.  We can’t just pave over our past and forget about how our inner child had to navigate the traumatic experiences.  All of our attempts to reprogram our adult behaviors will be influenced by the micro-voices our early child created for protection.  Depending on the type and intensity of the traumas in childhood, the unwinding of experiences will take time before an inner child to let go of past beliefs and emotions.

My own experiences with discovering my inner little boy reflects how difficult it can be to learn how to embrace our inner child.  Forty years ago I had a Voice Dialogue session in a New Age bookstore that allowed me to hear my little boy for the first time plead for me to hold him during a guided meditation.  The floodgates opened when I realized just how lonely he had been all of these years as I worked long hours and played little.  Through him I discover the root of my own adult loneliness, but in the following years I was unable to fully process the emotional impact my little boy’s distress affected my adulthood.

While in prison I had time to finally face his emotional burden by furiously writing about my micro-voices and beginning to my little boy’s deep loneliness.  As I pealed back the traumas I experienced when I was young I became able to speak with my boy openly about the sources of the traumas.  Even through all of this I did not fully make the connection with my little boy until a shamanic therapist guided me to finally make the connection and realization I needed to embrace and include my little boy into of my daily life.  He just wanted to feel safe and loved as he reached through the fog at my favorite Willamette River safe place.

As a wonderful by-product of this reunion with my little boy I discovered how to love every moment without judgment, without fear, and without conditions.  This was my avenue to finding deep personal happiness as my confusion dissipated.  My path has been a challenging process with many twists and turns that I did not understand at the time.  Now I see how important every emotional turmoil became my most valued teaching moment. 

Until our inner child can feel safer with our adult efforts to reprogram behaviors and emotions, our child will feel a need to sabotage those new adult behaviors.  The inner child can’t be coerced into letting go of its protective responses to the challenges it encountered.  Even when those early behaviors turned dysfunctional, they were what our early child created to feel safer at that time.  This is part of our child’s fundamental building blocks that is our foundation.  Adult coercion, abandoning early childhood needs, bargaining, and becoming an adversary of our childhood experiences will not bring a release of these dysfunctional emotions and behaviors.  We have to make our early child feel safer before it will allow us to move beyond those challenging times in our life.

If we think about how many hundreds and thousands of times our child had to employ the protective behaviors over the years, it’s no wonder some of the micro-voice responses to our adult world are so ineffectual.  It is much more than simply ‘showing’ our inner child that our adult mind has a better way to live a life.  We have to help our little child believe that those earliest protective measures can be released without losing that learned feeling of safety.  It’s not easy to do, but it is quite possible to significantly ease your inner child’s fears and help release a dependence on those early learned responses to perceived threats.  Our inner child just needs to feel safe, exactly like our adult-self wants to feel safe and loved.


What Are Some Ways To Help Your Inner Child Feel Safer?

My fundamental guiding premise is that we have to help our inner child feel unconditionally loved.  Not just intellectually, but deeply emotionally loved.  The thirst for feeling loved may be the most fundamentally important principle we have driving every thought and action we hold.  We thirst for love as strongly as we thirst for food and water.  Understanding this helps us decide how to proceed in helping our little child feel safer and be willing to let go of long-held traumatic thoughts.  After all, traumas are rooted in not being loved and nurtured in the first place.

Even though my little boy tenaciously held onto his protective efforts to feel safer, he seemed relieved to have my adult ‘me’ attempt to love him.  He wanted me to love him so much that he forgave me for taking decades to finally be able to do so.  As long as you approach this healing process with discovering self-love and building a connection with your little child you will be on the right path.

There are a multitude of ways you can start down this path to release your traumas and discover love.  There is no blueprint to follow, no right or wrong methods, and no wrong turns.  Every effort you make becomes an important learning opportunity.  As long as you work to love your child, you will eventually succeed.  Just allow the process to unfold as it needs to do.  It may come quickly, but likely it will take many years of effort. 

Remember how many unloving messages you have experienced over the years.  Allow the unwinding process to happen as it will and deep confusions about our mental health concerns will ease.

Some ideas for making these self-discoveries for personal growth and emotional relief from respected, professional  sources, and then some of my ideas not generally listed as methods for self-healing:

1. Ground it.

For this process to work... find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, and take several deep breaths, bringing your awareness into your body. Squeeze and release your muscle...feel the heaviness in your arms...feel connected to the ground under you...imagine a stream of energy going from your tailbone all the way down into the center of the earth...feel that you are centered in your body.

2. Recall it.

Think of a situation that you’ve been upset about...find something that provoked a mild to strong emotional reaction (that made you...feel emotionally what happened in as much detail as possible...imagine yourself back in that time and place...experience it all again with your senses...(experience your emotions)...

3. Sense it.

Continue breathing deeply, and spend a moment in quiet relaxation... mentally scan your body for any sensations...observe any physical response you experience — tingling, tightness, burning, etc...each of these sensations is a bit of information you need to understand(linked to) your past experience...explore these sensations...silently describe them to yourself in as much detail as you can...explore and describe all of your physical reactions.

4. Name it.

Associate an emotion with each of the sensations you feel, i.e... tightness in your chest, anxiety? Is the heat you feel traveling up your arms anger? Before starting this exercise, you may want to print out this list of emotions...recognize subtle distinctions between...similar emotions. [if this page doesn’t open, go to her website for a discussion of these emotions-KC]

5. Love it.

As part of a mindful approach to healing from trauma...fully accept everything that we feel,..whether it’s true to your conscious mind at this moment or not, say, “I love myself for feeling (angry, sad, anxious, etc.).” this with every emotion you feel, especially the harder ones...embrace your humanness, and love yourself for it... accept and love yourself for each of your emotions.

6. Feel and experience it.

Sit with your emotions and their sensations, letting the feelings percolate and flow...don’t try to change or hide them; observe them...acknowledge and welcome any discomfort you feel, knowing it will be gone soon and will help you to heal...let your body respond the way it wants or needs...if you feel the urge to cry...or yell...punch something(safe to punch)...expressing your emotions — in a productive way — is key to getting them move inside you and to fully process them..

7. Receive its message and wisdom.

Do the sensations or emotions you’re experiencing right now connect with one or more experiences in your past? Do they give you any insight into the root of the trauma or a negative, limiting belief about yourself...if you still have trouble, do some free writing...journal(ing) about what the feeling means...without stopping, (write about all)...all the messages your emotions are sending you.

8. Share it.

If you feel comfortable sharing your reflections with someone else, do that. Otherwise, write about them on your own. Describe what happened when the wounding incident first occurred, how you reacted at the time, and what you’ve come to see about it now. Talking or writing about your experiences and emotions is an important step in healing. Writing letters (but not sending them) to those who hurt you can be a very effective method for moving an emotion out of your system. Once you’ve shared your reflections ...

9. Let it go.

Visualize the energy your trauma took up inside you leaving your body, or perform a ritual of physical release, like (safely) burning a letter you’ve written to the person who hurt you, or casting off the trauma in the form of an object into the sea..

The process of healing emotional wounds can feel uncomfortable at first, will be a very rewarding journey. The energy we currently spend on trauma will be released, and the space inside ourselves that trauma took up can instead be filled with new, more positive energy that can help us build a life that we will love.


Here are some other valuable techniques that can bring real results.  The challenge is to keep pursuing these steps, even if it takes month, years to see tangible results.  This perspective on personal healing comes from the blog post Casa Palmera Staff:

1. Acknowledge and recognize the trauma for what it is. Victims of childhood trauma often spend years minimizing the event or dismissing it by pretending it didn’t happen or by succumbing to feelings of guilt or self-blame. The only way you can begin healing is to acknowledge that a traumatic event did occur and that you were not responsible for it.

2. Reclaim control. Feelings of helplessness can carry well over into adulthood and can make you feel and act like a perpetual victim, causing you to make choices based on your past pain. When you’re a victim, the past is in control of your present. But when you’ve conquered your pain, the present is controlled by you. There may always be a battle between past and present, but as long as you’re willing to let go of the old defenses and crutches you used as a child to navigate your trauma, you will be able to reclaim control of your life now and heal your pain.

3. Seek support and don’t isolate yourself. A natural instinct that many trauma survivors have is to withdraw from others, but this will only make things worse. A big part of the healing process is connecting to other people, so make the effort to maintain your relationships and seek support. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or counselor and consider joining a support group for survivors of childhood trauma.

4. Take care of your health. Your ability to cope with stress will increase if you are healthy. Establish a daily routine that allows you to get plenty of rest, eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly. Most importantly, stay away from alcohol and drugs. These might provide temporary relief but will inevitably increase your feelings of depression, anxiety and isolation and can worsen your trauma symptoms.

5. Learn the true meaning of acceptance and letting go. Just because you accept something doesn’t mean you’re embracing your trauma or that you like it or agree with it. Acceptance means you’ve decided what you’re going to do with it. You can decide to let it rule your life or you can decide to let it go. Letting go doesn’t mean “poof!”  it’s magically gone. Letting go means no longer allowing your bad memories and feelings of a bad childhood to rob yourself of living a good life now.

6. Replace bad habits with good ones. Bad habits can take many forms, like negativity and always mistrusting others, or turning to alcohol or drugs when feelings become too hard to bear. Bad habits can be hard to break, especially when they’re used as crutches to help you avoid reliving the pain and trauma of your childhood. A support group or a therapist can help you learn the tools necessary to break your bad habits and replace them with good ones.

7. Be patient with yourself. When you’ve been seriously hurt as a child you develop out-of-control emotions, hopelessness, defense mechanisms and warped perceptions that are difficult to let go of. It will take a lot of time and hard work to let go of these feelings. Be patient with yourself and honor your progress, no matter how small it may seem. It’s the little victories in your recovery that will eventually help you win the battle of healing your childhood trauma.

There are many other valuable recommendations for self-healing techniques, way too many for inclusion here.  My chosen techniques included walking and talking to myself as I let my micro-voices speak; writing about my traumas and looking back on what was written to see how I have changed; did a history of my life events in extreme detail that uncovered my pattern for living; and most important, learning to appreciate all of those events as vital building blocks that brought me to this point in my life . . . in other words, loving every moment.  

If you do a Google search, you will uncover many other techniques that may be of value to you, and any of them will provide valuable clues for you to follow and learn from.  As I said before, there is no one way, no blueprint, and definitely no right or wrong path to follow.  My process was mine alone, but you will start your self-healing journey in your own way.

One last difficult concept to consider.  Judgment is the opposite of love.  When we judge, we create an energy field within us that blocks our ability to love our own self.  It is possible to see the world without judging right and wrong, good and bad, saintliness and evil.  We are capable of living within the field of universal, loving energy all of the time.  Our micro-voices don’t have to be charged with defending us using judgment. 

We are capable of enjoying the unexpected experiences we encounter and understanding that the people who vex us are just reflections of the areas within us that we are struggling with.  Loving every moment means appreciating the often unknown 'in the moment' lessons our experiences are providing us.  By seeing yourself in partnership with your soul, you will have an unbiased ally that will never lead you astray.  You are a unique being following your own unique path that needs no one else judging you for where you have been, nor where you are heading.  We need every one of you to shine your uniqueness on us all because your loving presence is how we will survive.  Learn to love yourself. - kc

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About US

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This blog has been a work of love developed over the past ten years and finally brought to life through the dedicated tech help by Soren, who was originally my physical therapist and now is a time-limited partner who managers two other martial arts training centers. Being an old gay guy I struggle to function well in the blog-a-sphere so this presentation will be a bit rough at first. Feel free to lend your ideas.


Since my teen years I have believed that through appropriate touch we can heal ourselves. But the journey to better understand my own dynamics and gain enough awareness to be able to write about our complex humanness only coalesced after I had an opportunity to be in prison. There I had time to do deep self-examinations about why I was who I am and how I could translate that into helping others make discoveries for themselves. I do not claim to be a professional therapist or counselor.


But I do believe there are others in this world who might benefit from these ideas presented in this blog platform. Having grown to the point of releasing nearly all of my fears and can now truly say that I love every moment and feel in partnership with my soul, I feel that others may benefit from my travels. Being non-judgmental I welcome your insights, whatever they may be, and I will strive to help everyone find greater peace in their lives. and Hoshow, LLC.


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