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Authentic Self-Expression, Creativity and The Traumatic Adaptations

Updated: Jun 23

The process of abuse depletes the energy children must half to do the work of growing up. When a child is not allowed to be his or her authentic self, the healthy ability to adapt, and change is misdirected, and the child is forced to begin the enormous adaptation process into codependence.~Pia Mellody, Facing Codependence

In this article, I'd like to explore the connection between early attachment trauma and one's authentic expression and creativity. In the wise words of Suleika Jaouad, survival is indeed a creative act and the adpative child is nothing if not creative. After all, it takes immense resourcefulness and a lot of creativity to preserve life in the face of continuous endangerment.

What we’ve come to see as disorders are actually the externalized (visible) manifestations of inner (invisible) injuries. An injury is anything that comes from the outside and disrupts the flow and the natural development of the internal life.

Protected and nurtured, the internal life develops steadily and beautifully, eventually maturing into an experience of inner wholeness, which allows us to stay connected to the internal sense of self. Supported and guided, we're able to esteem (honor) the self internally and in doing so, are able to behave from the place of that healthy self-esteem in the world. 

The developmental requirement in childhood is that safe love should be adundant and easy to access. Attunement, curiosity, warmth, loving touch, regular reflections of the child's goodness and genuine nature, comfort and soothing are all essential for a child to develop as a whole human being-physical, intellectual. social and emotional.

When love or protection are hard to come by, a child is both malnourished and overwhelmed (internally threatened) by his growing starvation. Starved, we become the outcome-driven, reward-seeking machines. Our default setting is the single-minded pursuit of love or the pursuit of safety.

The attachment injury denies the child the pleasure and the enjoyment of his own growth. Instead, the child learns to give their creative energy to matters the survival.

When individuals engage in the pursuit of rewards, pleasure, love, and affirmation, they often find themselves entangled in a complex web of expectations and external validations. This relentless quest for external validation can lead to a disconnection from one's authentic self. In this process, a person may gradually adopt behaviors and personas that are not inherently their own, solely to increase their chances of receiving love and approval.

As this pattern persists, the individual may unknowingly sacrifice their true identity in exchange for societal acceptance. The constant need to conform to external standards and expectations can result in a profound sense of alienation from one's core essence. In this state, the individual becomes estranged from their own life-affirming nature, relegating their true self to the periphery of their existence.

Ultimately, this cycle of seeking external validation at the expense of one's authenticity can lead to a state of emotional disconnection and inner emptiness. The individual may find themselves living a life that is disconnected from their own desires, passions, and values, as they prioritize the needs and expectations of others over their own well-being.

The early childhood injury teaches a child that their inner world is not important. There is nothing there of value or worth. The child learns that they're a need-gratifying machine, there to take care of and give to others. She is valuable as long as she gives. That is her value in life.


The role of the adaptive child.

The adaptive structure (the term "the adaptive child" was coined by Pia Mellody) is the personality we built as children to protect from the incoming threats. While the main task of the child who is not traumatized is to become themselves and to engage with life fully, the primary task of the adaptive child is to survive.

Childhood trauma trains the child to give all of their creative energy to matters of survival. If that means continuing to prop up an unstable parental system, then that is what the child does. If that means fending for themselves for basic survival needs, like shelter, food or transportation, then that is what the child ends up giving their energy to. When the very system that is supposed to protect you, starts to endanger you, survival is an endless effort.

Trauma activates primitive defenses and as humans, we cope by either internalizing the injury or externalizing it. The internalizers take eveything in. The externalizers act what happens to them out. Either way, regardless of whether one's inner world is locked up inside or bursts out in ways that are reflexive, early attachment trauma causes damage to one's ability to safely express their internal life in the external world.

The person who has walled off in order to protect the life inside of them, suffers in a particular kind of way. This person’s suffering has everything to do with the immature/under developed connection to the external world. For this person, the world continues to be unsafe. The beautiful and vibrant life inside of this person is trapped inside. What is likely to happen to such a person is the kind of permanent paralysis that prevents them from bringing or expressing the life inside of them in the outside world.


Traumatic adaptations and authentic self-expression.

The adaptive child protects and in the process, builds intricate structures aimed at safeguarding the inner life. Despite the worthy cause, this intense focus on defending the life within can inadvertently create barriers that hinder the natural flow between one's inner world and the external environment. Consequently, the inner life becomes secluded and inaccessible, leading to a sense of being locked within oneself.

For adults who have endured complex childhood trauma and have developed these protective mechanisms, transitioning from a state of mere survival to one of thriving can be a monumental undertaking. It involves a profound shift in mindset and energy, moving from a place of constant defense to one of growth and flourishing. This transformation is not only challenging but can also evoke deep-rooted fears that stem from early experiences of abandonment or punishment.

The journey from survival to thriving necessitates confronting these primitive fears and dismantling the protective barriers that once served as a shield. It involves embracing vulnerability, cultivating self-awareness, and fostering a sense of trust in oneself and others. Through this process, individuals can begin to unlock their inner world, allowing for a more harmonious integration of their past experiences with their present reality.

Trauma makes authentic self-expression particularly difficult and there are reasons for that:

  • Very little interest, if any, was paid to the child's inner world, so the survivor learns not to pay attention to their internal self.

  • The process of maturation, or becoming, was difficult for the parent to tolerate. In the words of Pia Mellody, it takes a mature person to tolerate another person's immaturity. A child's normal state of immaturity was seen as problematic or bad.

  • A very natural state of openness and spontaneity was trained out of the child, who has learned to either become overly self-contained (controlled) or ended up being chronically uncontained (out of control, very little boundary between self and others).

  • The child experienced negative consequences, whenever they expressed themselves in a spontaneous manner.

  • Being endangered by their environment meant that the child had to learn to be outer-oriented, which is an entirely unnatural for the child developmentally. Young children are supposed to be able to be self-oriented, which is a natural developmental stage. Becoming self-reflective and orienting inward can bring up significant activation in the childhood trauma survivor.

  • An adult survivor of childhood attachment injury learns not to connect with their inner world as it was shown to have no value. Healthy creativity and playfulness were not rewarded or facilitated.


As human beings, we are designed to be energized by the authentic engagement with our inner world, other people's inner worlds and the world at large. We're here to literally light each other up.

When denied this very opportunity, we experience life as a burden, a lackluster chore. Life becomes something to endure, to face head on. The task of relating to others or getting others to love us becomes an exhausting, all consuming task, which brings very few satisfying rewards in the end. Fueled by our starvation and the simultaneous need to find ways to have control over that which we had no control over as children (love), we become oriented predominantly and sometimes solely on the task of surviving life.

Our creative impulse is a powerful resource. When our relationship to this resource is injured, we adapt by continuing to give our creative energy to survival, but not to our continuous flourishing. We may feel afraid to free our creative impulse form matters of survival because that has been the default setting.

Early attachment injury hijacks one's ability to see themselves as a creator. Trauma disrupts or completely overpowers one's faith in the power of the creative universe within. The worse kind of impact of trauma is that it convinces the survivor to see themselves as inherently bad. It injures her connection to life. Moreover, it demands that the individual gives all of their energy to matters of preserving life, leaving little, if anything at all, to matters of enhancing or expanding their aliveness.

Part of the healing process from trauma on a spiritual level involves reconnecting with life by embracing each experience, no matter how small or difficult, gradually increasing one's ability to engage with life as equals.

Emotional maturation plays a crucial role in the process of recovery as it serves as the cornerstone for personal growth and healing. This journey towards emotional maturity involves a profound transformation that allows us to broaden our ability to embrace and accept ourselves in all our idiosyncrasies and nuances. Gradual maturation involves the cultivation of a strong and resilient capacity to engage with life-within ourselves and outside of ourselves- instead of reflexively escaping it.

Psychologically, it allow the inner child within us – the resilient and adaptive young self – to be released from the constant burden of safeguarding from perceived threats and dangers, allowing him to finally direct his energy towards cultivating a fulfilling relationship with life.

By embarking on this path of emotional maturation, individuals can foster a deeper understanding of their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. This process empowers them to navigate life's challenges with greater clarity, compassion, and self-awareness. As we evolve emotionally, we become better equipped to cope with adversity, manage stress, and cultivate healthier relationships with ourselves and others.

Furthermore, emotional maturation opens the door to profound self-discovery and self-acceptance. It allows us to embrace our vulnerabilities, acknowledge our strengths, and make peace with our past experiences. Through this transformative journey, we learn to embrace our authentic selves, honoring our unique journey and embracing the full spectrum of our emotions and experiences.

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