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  • Writer's pictureSanja Rozman

Why can't I escape my past?

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

How can childhood trauma change your entire life?

How can anything that happened twenty or more years ago still influence your life? Whatever happened, it's long gone and you should forgive, forget and move on. But you can’t. Why not?

The aftermath of developmental trauma

In situations that they perceive as dangerous, people react with a fight-flight-freeze reaction known as stress. It is unpleasant but helps us get out of harm's way. In a couple of hours or days, this reaction calms down and we're back in the normal mode of functioning. But trauma is something else, much more severe, especially when it happens to a child. When such situations happen to a child, and are repeated and possibly caused by the child's closest family, these events add up to a deep change in the way the child understands the world around her. The traumatic reaction is triggered in situations that are perceived as fatal. There's no way out, she reckons, this is it. That recognition triggers a traumatic mode of functioning, and when this is triggered, it does not go away, even though there is no more danger. She stays stuck in trauma reaction for a long time, sometimes for life.


In traumatic mode of functioning, she is hyper-alert to anything that may mean that trauma is happening again. She perceives the world as a dangerous place and constantly scans for possible attacks. She feels constantly in danger and desperately seeks something to numb her feelings. In most cases, her closest family are also the perpetrators of trauma, and they teach her dysfunctional rules, adding to the feeling that she is flawed and incapable of being loved. After all, if your mother does not love you, who will?


She may have found some ways to help her calm down her feelings, but only temporarily, since her nervous system is still on hyper-alert. Sooner or later, she needs to do more of the soothing behavior, leading to the possible development of addiction. For a child, the soothing behaviors are fantasy, immersing oneself in TV, video games, overeating with sweets, overachieving, and masturbation. When she grows up, alcohol, drugs, sex, codependency, and chemical addictions take over. But all those ways of escape only compound her basic conviction that she's not good enough, making it a vicious circle that grows deeper with every new attempt to self-soothe and fail.

"I’m at my core a bad and unworthy person. No one will love me as I am. If anybody could see me in my heart, they would see a disgusting and rotten person, unworthy of love and life."

Why can't I escape my past?

Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash

This is at the heart of every addict or trauma victim I have treated in my thirty years of practice. And the consequences are seen in all areas of their functioning. They think:

  1. If I ever really love someone, they will abandon me.

  2. I should hide who I am and give people what they need or want instead.

  3. I’m not worthy of love, so I’d better find someone who needs me to stay with me (like an addict, cheater, gambler).

  4. I deserve to be punished so it’s okay if my partner vents his anger on me.

  5. I’ don’t deserve to be well off, so it’s better if I underachieve or gamble it all away.

  6. I’ll never amount to anything.

  7. I am a mistake of nature and don’t deserve to live.

  8. My body is disgusting and I’m too weak to stick to a diet or fitness regimen.

The consequences

It's easy to see that a person with such low self-esteem could get into nothing but trouble every step of the way, and the problems that they encounter only add to their basic feelings of helpfulness and unworthiness.

Indeed, trauma happened long ago and you may be in a different situation now, but the lens through which you see the world and the belief system with which you interpret the situations are permanently changed, so you're trapped in a hostile universe of your own.

There is a way out, though. The aftermath of trauma can be corrected in a safe and trusting relationship, preferably with a therapist, who will help you find your way out of the labyrinth and form a better, healthier relationship with the world around you.

Sanja Rozman - Nice to meet you!

Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.

that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.

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