by Curt Hammer
I’m not sure where to start with this...it’s so close to my heart for many reasons. I grew up in a crazy level of privilege in terms of the race, gender, and socio-economic status of my town and school...and my family was one of the poorest in our town. So I supposed “rich-poor” would describe it.
Watching my classmates have every possible opportunity while I wondered why I couldn’t seem to function, even with a great education and many things paid for just by being a part of the town I grew up in...yet I couldn’t seem to understand why I was so...different. ADHD? Anxiety? Depression? Was I just lazy? After 30 years of bad choices and a few good ones, and MANY mixed feelings, I discovered that I had C-PTSD.
How could I have missed something so big? Was I making it up? Was I just being too sensitive? Too ungrateful for my privilege? Just blaming life for my choices? No...I had come to understand that there are varying degrees of this epidemic, but as Dr. Gabor Mate says, “It’s not ‘why the behavior?’ It’s ‘why the pain’ behind the behavior?” that we need to be inquiring about.
No child...rich, poor, privileged, multi-generationally traumatized, or whatever...can function well with childhood neglect, abuse, or any type of unsafe conditions...whether it be physical, emotional, or both.
My point is that we now have cheat science to show how children can develop properly, and ALL children deserve this opportunity. This means that we need to create support systems for parents to raise their children with physical and emotional safety for the first 3-7 years of life. Will people take advantage of this support? Absolutely. But who doesn’t claw for life when they’re drowning? Even if they claw at the lifeguard trying to save them...this is important to understand.
There is so much hurt in the world. We blame so many people for their lack of behaving in a particular way, yet the effect of trauma in all forms literally CHANGES THE BRAIN AND NERVOUS SYSTEM DURING DEVELOPMENT. Thus means that in order to be a part of the solution, we need to start talking about this as a human issue, and support ALL PEOPLE EQUALLY. And yes, that means those with multigenerational trains need MORE SUPPORT.
There’s no big mystery around why people behave in ways that hurts themselves and others. It’s the effects of trauma, and it’s on a neurological level that both mental and physical health issues that we see play out in so many ways in this society. This hurtful behavior is simply people in survival neurologically, and this survival mode blinds them to the effects of their behavior. Hurt people hurt other people.
Is it really such a stretch of the imagination that people in privilege who aren’t sensitive to those who aren’t privileged are ALSO traumatized?
I don’t see a world full of bad people. I see a world full of people in a survival state, fighting to stay safe...and ironically hurting themselves and others as they do so. They don’t know it’s counterproductive...that’s what trauma does to the human nervous system.
When trauma is unresolved (especially when it happens in early childhood during critical developmental periods), all that person can see is danger everywhere they look. Why? Because their nervous system is adapting to the needs perceived.
But that’s the problem...if a traumatized person cannot see they are repeating damaging behaviors, they are in survival. That includes a kid raises in the ghetto who ended up in crime, or a CEO who steals from his company and justifies it.
Our prison system punishes traumatized people instead of helping them resolve their trauma, and our justice system does its best to provide incentive to avoid the most harmful behaviors. But this is like bail out the Titanic with a paper cup. It’s just not sustainable.
Comparing who is more traumatized in our society isn’t helpful. But taking steps to resolve our own traumas and support those around us is helpful. “Think global, act local,” right?
Based on my upbringing, I probably should have done better in life...but wait! No one knew my mother was on food stamps, paying minimal payments on all her bills with 6 kids and putting herself through school while recovering from an abusive marriage. What happened when she was gone at school or working? It’s a miracle child services didn’t take us all away from her, but I’m grateful we made it.
As an adult, I married and had two children with a woman who was severely abused as a child...we were 18 and 19 when our first child was born. I worked and went to college while on and off welfare to get by...her mental health waned, and I eventually left the marriage to try and pick up the pieces. I didn’t believe in divorce, but dissociate identity disorder without proper treatment leaves someone to cope in their own ways...she had so many fantastic stories that I can’t keep track anymore. I left to try and make my life better and give our kids a shot at a better life than I had...then I remarried someone who had an even worse childhood.
My second wife was left homeless at 13 (an ethnic minority), and joined a gang to survive...the horrors she survived I’ll probably never know about, but needless to say, she didn’t function well emotionally, although she had managed to rise up in terms of career to take care of her kids...4 kids, all from different fathers, two of who have mental and physical handicaps.
What was I thinking taking this on? I knew how to overcome adversity, and I saw greatness in her...yet something in my gut said it was off...I tried to leave 6 times. By the time it was finally over, my own kids had more trauma from being in that environment of 4 kids and a mother from gang culture. I won’t go into details, but essentially I learned the hard way that compassion includes yourself, or it’s not complete.
I still ache thinking about what my kids went through because of my choice to be with and help someone who was suffering that I loved. My point is that this is complicated when you’re in a body and mind with unresolved trauma. I was capable of functioning just well enough to appear “unfortunate” and unlucky...but part of me knew better.
The truth is that trauma can look many different ways, and I’ve experienced myself, and those I love with so many types of trauma from so many different backgrounds that it’s safe to say I’ve learned a great deal about trauma.
I happen to be in a wonderful relationship right now, and my kids are adjusting. My first wife is mildly successful, but still struggling emotionally. The same could be said of my second wife, and many of my siblings appear quite successful in the ways that matter. Yet they all suffer with no one who will take their pain seriously...including themselves.
I offer support wherever it is received, and I actually support nervous system regulation fir a living now. But I am only one man, often trying not to drown himself. I do my best to educate myself, my clients, my friend and family, my community...we must recognize we are all human beings doing the best we can, and appearances of behavior are often the coping mechanisms for the pain underneath.
Want to learn more? It’s lifetime journey, but I can recommend books. We’re all in this together, and perceived privilege or not, no one is above childhood trauma.
A neglected child can come from a wealthy family through surviving infancy in daycare, resulting in a human being devoid of the developmental circuitry to feel empathy. We often call them sociopaths, but when they become a CEO, we often “pedestal” them, assuming they know better because if their position. Addiction to power and money is the result of inner pain trying to be masked in “success” financially. These people are some of the most miserable in the world, and there’s never enough money or power for someone trying to fill an emotional hole with empty money and accomplishments. A person who grew up in a ghetto with a depressed single mother who becomes a lifelong criminal doesn’t choose this from a mindset of clarity...they are desperately trying to fill a void that was developmentally missing in infancy from a mother overwhelmed with adversity and responsibility.
I could go on and on...we can do better than blaming others who are different than we are. We need to all do our best to be gentle with ourselves and others, and to make sure we’re not drinking before we step into helping others.
Those who can give back from a place of abundance love nothing more than that feeling of giving. Although I’m far from abundant financially, I’m abundant emotionally much of the time, and I can share that through trauma education, self-regulation techniques, and whatever I can...AND, I just remember to take care of myself when past trauma arises. There are always others levels that can emerge it seems. If I can feel good, that’s a start. If I can give back, even better.
I hope my life story and perspective can shed some light around this topic. Thanks, Philippe, for tagging me here. I wasn’t expecting to write on this topic tonight, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back where I can. May all who suffer be free of it as much as can be in this moment. All we can do is start within to be the best versions of ourselves we can be, and whoever we can support to be better after that is a happy bonus.
by Curt Hammer