It’s really funny the reactions I get when I tell people that I’m working on releasing a core narrative of unworthiness. They’re shocked. “You, Arden, of all people?” And often their immediate reaction is to try to convince me of how great and worthy I am. This happens in everyone from strangers on Twitter to colleagues in nightlife to friends in the spiritual community.
I think the sentiment is really sweet, and it’s always nice to hear from my friends and associates that they value me – even if it’s a little risible that they seem to think a few compliments will be able to change my mind on a lifetime’s worth of ingrained beliefs. But it’s also made me notice how few people understand the deep ramifications of trauma, and considering how many people in the world are affected by similar circumstances, I think this is a good opportunity to unpack that.
Let’s go back yet again to Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. Here’s two related passages that are relevant:
“As children, we start off at the center of our own universe, where we interpret everything that happens from an egocentric vantage point. If our parents or grandparents keep telling us we are the cutest, most delicious thing in the world, we don’t question their judgment – we must be exactly that. And deep down, no matter what else we learn about ourselves, we will carry that sense with us: that we are basically adorable. As a result, if we later hook up with somebody who treats us badly, we will be outraged. It won’t feel right: it’s not familiar; it’s not like home. But if we are abused or ignored in childhood, or grow up in a family where sexuality is treated with disgust, our inner map contains a different message. Our sense of self is marked by contempt and humiliation, and we are more likely to think ‘he (or she) has my number’ and fail to protest if we are mistreated.”
“Having been frequently ignored or abandoned leaves [children] clinging and needy, even with the people who have abused them. Having been chronically beaten, molested, and otherwise mistreated, they cannot help but define themselves as defective and worthless. They come by their self-loathing, sense of defectiveness, and worthlessness honestly. Was it any surprise that they didn’t trust anyone?”
It ultimately doesn’t matter very much how much superficial value you achieve as an adult if you haven’t addressed the core beliefs you were raised with as a child. In fact, overachievement is often one of the greatest signs that something is amiss – the young boy who was beaten grows up to become an MMA fighter, the kid who was bullied finds a way to brand himself as cool, the girl no one thought worthy of rescuing turns herself into the most desirable woman in the world.
You guys. It’s so obvious. Even in my studies and teachings of seduction I’ve always said that you never look at who a person is on the surface; you always look at what motivated them to become that way.
If you really want to help your friends with trauma, compliments are nice but they won’t do much – they’re running against years of repeated abuse during the brain’s most developmentally sensitive age. What’s helpful instead is to behave toward them with kindness and consistency, and that requires more than lip service: it requires a commitment to making the world feel like a safer place for them, and that takes time.