By Mike O'Cull

I think a lot of people are unconsciously driven to do the things they do as attempts to make up for traumatic stuff that happened to them in their coming-up years. Trauma here not meaning ambulances and hospitals but rather any supremely negative experience that left a mark and had to be overcome, experiences that had to be pushed to the back of the mind if we were to survive. We’ve all had them and we’ve all been changed by them. Some were so bad that we restructured our entire lives in order to never repeat them again.

We push a lot of this stuff way down deep after it happens and our conscious selves no longer focus on it, directly. Our inner, unconscious selves, however, grab this stuff and use it like fuel. What’s remembered is the strong negative emotions and a desperate need develops to not feel them again, so we learn to compensate for that which caused the bad event, in the first place. As we get older, this becomes more unconscious. If we took shit for being poor as a kid and it hurt, maybe we learn to overly prize money and possessions. If we were geeks beaten on the dating/social gridiron of high school, maybe we learn to use intimate partners as disposables, in an effort to show those who rejected us they were wrong and many people want us.

Personal trauma gives us things to prove, axes to grind, chips on our shoulders. We carry those chips around for so long that we forget they’re there, until something in a moment reminds us and we run screaming into some type of (probably) negative coping behavior until we forget again. These days, they call it being “triggered.”

The problem is that what caused us the trauma cannot be fixed. None of us get to go back to high school and fix what hurt us. What happened happened and all we can do is deal. We don’t grow out of our formative experiences. We can only process them, for good or bad. Sometimes, that processing leaves us hard bent. It leaves us a different person, whether we admit it or not.

The only real solution is to unpack the mind, brick by brick, and figure out what happened and what is driving your behavior. You have to find the root cause of all your shit and make peace with it. You have to learn to sit with it as the unchanging reality that it is.

The goal is to become more of a self-aware thinking person and less of a gun-shy dog that just reacts to everything. Blind, unthinking reaction is what causes spin out behavior and is everything we need to avoid to evolve. Fight-or-flight is perfect for basic survival but can be a big cross to bear in an office or a marriage. We grow by moving in the direction of our better selves and making peace with our primordial wounds. It is how we become more human. It’s how we heal.