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Understanding The Trauma Tree

Identifying the root and branches of shame, attachment pain and powerlessness 

by Audrey
Assistant Executive Director

Christmas is for everyone! For a child, Christmas is full of wonder and joy! Unfortunately, there are many of you that have known something different in Christmas’ past. Holidays even now as an adult can be painful. Meeting with family and friends can sometimes feel unsurvivable...and you don’t even know why. 


As children, we develop our sense of who we are through our relationships. When relationships are confusing, children who have been raised in unsafe environments unconsciously develop a defense strategy in order to get his or her needs met. 

This ego defense strategy helps a child to survive what is overwhelming, intolerable, or too painful. The child’s unconscious strategy separates emotion and pain from present day “knowing.” This separation or splitting off process is known as dissociation and is a protective measure of the mind. This protective measure ultimately protects the heart of the child.  

The child’s mind develops around this process, and it serves us in surviving our early life. However, when we grow into adulthood, we realize what originally was the child’s solution has now become the adult’s problem. A healing journey begins when we realize it no longer works to live a life from the same defense mechanisms that a child built just to survive.

Feeling unworthy of love is extremely common, it causes the heart to be hidden, longing to be seen, known, and loved but too afraid to step out of the familiar protective defense mechanisms. 

Beliefs that stem from living life out of a dissociated defense mechanism include feeling:

* I am not being worthy of love…

* It is dangerous to even FEEL! 

* I do not belong in this family!

* I am numb so I must not be human.

* I do not deserve to be loved.

* I just don’t matter

The belief that we are not worthy of love is not healed through repeating the the opposite to affirm our worthiness, “I Am Worthy.” That will only create more inner conflict when the belief comes to our mind again.

When a child has separated their pain of not feeling loved due to abuse or neglect in her home and her heart’s desire is to just be seen, known, loved and not hurt, then the internal conflict holds the pain intact.  “I guess I am not lovable when I long to just be loved.”

An adult survivor of this type of childhood abuse will often be emotionally triggered walking into a family gathering during the holidays. The internal conflict held by the child within, “I LONG TO BE SEEN AND LOVED!” will crash against the belief “I AM NOT LOVABLE.”


The “I am not lovable” belief is held by a teenager or young adult part inside that has long since walked out to the altruistic thoughts of the child. “I long to be loved….so the belief “I am not lovable” is a protective stance to protect the heart of the person.  

Remember, with dissociation, there is ONE heart, with many parts inside who protect the heart. All parts of a person protect the heart. It is normal to have God-given desires most humans have… a desire to be loved and have safe loving relationships with others (attachment). When that child long ago is being abused or neglected, the heart feels unsafe and under siege …and the mind begins to protect…the internal defense is set up with conflicts against itself….  “I desire to be loved…but I am unlovable.”

The process of healing is to begin to feel the truth and identify where the pain originated and then ask what the belief is about ourselves held by the child inside. It is difficult to feel the place where we were not loved for, cared about or cherished in some way that we needed to be. But ultimately, this is a trauma that has risen from a lack of being cherished and loved. 

At Discovering MErcy, we help walk trauma survivors through this process of understanding one’s own heart and the defense mechanisms that no longer work as an adult because of their childhood. Together, it is possible to get to the root of what can bring on the shame, attachment pain and powerlessness during the holidays that once represented survival as a child. 

Learn more about what we do to help survivors. For more information, contact us.

If you have friends of loved one struggling this holiday season, please share this article!

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