Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lack of predictability and loss of control

We all structure our lives based on certain assumptions. When children enter foster care, this creates a sense of loss of safety, where "nothing makes sense anymore."

Consciously or unconsciously, a child might cling to ideas like, "If I do A, then B will happen." For me, it was, "If I am smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, then maybe my father will come back for me."

This makes sense, because our self esteem is bound up in our belief that we can impact the world. Watch an 18-month old child knock over a tower of blocks; he will be compelled to do it again and again, because he's discovering that he is prime mover; he can make things happen.

Because it is built into our hard wiring to love ourselves for being able to make things happen, the converse is also true; we lose self-regard when things happen that are out of our control.

Rational or not, we can't help but feel it's a reflection on our worthiness when a terrifying event comes, and we are unable to prevent it, escape it or fix it. If the trauma is somehow our fault, then the world still makes sense. As a result, we feel guilty and ashamed.

Trauma creates a sense of helplessness, powerlessness and inadequacy.

Left unchecked, that sense of inadequacy can haunt a person (off and on, at intervals) for the rest of their lives.

Sources
Naparstek, Belleruth. Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal. NY: Bantam Bell, 2004.

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