People who have experienced developmental trauma (meaning abuse and neglect during childhood) frequently do not feel good enough. They believe they are not as good as everyone else. They believe they are damaged. Flawed.
The feeling they are not good enough can push these individuals to work extremely hard, in an attempt to finally prove they have value. I suspect developmental trauma when I meet a new client who is an over-achiever. I ask myself what might have caused this person to work so hard to achieve the goals they have achieved.
Someone who has had good enough parents, which is the bar that must be met by parents to raise healthy children, wouldn’t ordinarily push themselves to sacrifice so much simply to achieve a goal. What motivates someone to become an executive vice president? The head of a university? A physician? Often, it is having experienced developmental trauma.
These individuals frequently become society’s caregivers, too. Maybe they become exceptional police officers who care for the public. Or excellent managers who look out for their staff. They become watch-dogs. If they have clients, they give their clients the best care possible at the expense of their own needs.
People that experienced developmental trauma often push themselves to be the very best at what they do. Once they have reached the career goal they have been striving for, I ask myself what could be motivating them to remain in the demanding position they have achieved over time?
Often I am correct, and the answer is that the person was traumatized as a child. They were told they were not good enough, and so they strive to prove that they have value. But they can never meet the need to feel good enough this way.
The problem with trying to prove they are good enough using this approach is that they are looking for validation outside of themselves. No one else, be it the boss, a client, or a shareholder, will ever say the words these people need to hear to counter the messages they heard as children that cause them to believe, “I am not good enough.” It can’t be done.
So how does the void get filled? If others can’t tell people that experienced developmental trauma that they are good enough, where will they ever find someone that can fill that void?
Simply put, the answer has to come from within themselves. People that experienced developmental trauma have to supply the words, “I am good enough, right now, as I am” for themselves. Getting to this place isn’t easy, and being able to hear the words is no minor task.
When my clients discover this fact, we have reached an important point in our work together. When they discover this fact, they begin to look inward to learn the skills they need to master. Basically, they need to begin soothing the internal child that says “I’m not good enough… I am bad.”
With work, they can begin to say, “Hush, child. I am here now. I am the adult you have been searching for that will comfort you… I am the adult you have been waiting for for so long… I wasn’t there when you were small, but I am here now… Hush, child. You are good enough.” When this happens, they begin to meet their missing needs. And they begin to heal.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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