Jun 04, 2024

5 Personality Types That Emerge from Childhood Trauma

by Lisa A. Romano

#codependency #codependency#narcissistic abuse recovery anxioustrauma caretakertrauma childhoodtrauma healtrauma perfectionisttrauma traumarecovery

Let's talk about five ways that our personality is shaped by childhood trauma.

#1 - The Achiever

If you have childhood trauma, you may develop an achiever personality type. This is somebody who feels like to feel safe they have to keep doing. They have to keep active. They have to keep achieving. They have to keep busy.

This is part of us running away from that anxious feeling – it's almost like an illusion – catch me if you can. As long as I keep it moving I'm not going to feel this trauma response. 

When we were children, we weren't in our bodies. We were fantasizing. We were dissociating. I used to have these bizarre coping skills that I developed and they were all ways in which I was escaping this trauma that I felt in my body. It was something that I could feel but couldn't name because part of the trauma in my childhood was being told that my perception of reality was wrong.

This is so common when you come from a narcissistic or an alcoholic home – it's not your parents, it's you. It's your perception. And when parents gaslight you, then they are invalidating your perception so your inner reality never matches your outer reality and that is traumatic. So we can become this doer, this achiever, this person who has to run run run run run.

So if you're somebody who is always moving, who cannot sit still, who is always trying to set a goal and who has to reach it, it would be good for you to become curious, at least… 

–– Do I have trauma in my background?
–– Is the trauma that's now in my body the reason why I behave this way?


#2 - Caretaker

Another personality type that can emerge is the caretaker or helper. This is somebody whose sense of self and sense of safety comes from how well they are able to take care of someone else. Now, if you are a helper, then you have codependency traits as well. You are someone whose sense of identity is tied to, “I have to help people.”

If I help them, then I can avoid the trauma of being afraid or feeling like everything's going to explode. Oftentimes, that trauma personality is tied to being raised by parents who made you feel like it was your responsibility to keep the family safe. This is very common in alcoholic homes where the older children are forced to take on responsibilities that they never should’ve had to take on. As a result, they're taking care of the younger siblings and sometimes even the parents so they develop this sense of safety by taking care of other people.

They think: If I can take care of everybody, everybody will be fine.

To be honest, I'm still struggling with that trauma response. I am such a Mama Bear. I have to work consciously towards separating myself from other people, including my own children. There's just so much I can do to take care of them. I will do the best that I can, but I do have to still work on feeling safe in my body even though I can't control my children. 

#3 - Anxious Personality

Another personality that emerges is this anxious personality. When you have developed this type of personality, what you learned in childhood was that you have to think your way through things… that you can't ever let go. You have always to keep your eye on the ball. You have to stay hyper-vigilant. You have to stay in your head and anticipate when mom's going to lose her crap or when dad's going to lose her his crap or when your brother's going to fly off the handle or when your uncle is going to walk in the door drunk. So you're always trying to think your way through things. 

The problem with that type of personality is that you're staying in your head, and you're not in your body, and you're not feeling your feelings. If you can't feel your feelings, you can't process them. You can't eliminate them. This is what is so phenomenal about recovery work because you can teach people who are interested in how to recover. You can teach them these tools because they are teachable – systems and practices. So when you develop from or emerge from childhood all stuck in your head, people might say to you like:

“I feel like you're aloof.”
“I feel like you're far off.”

So you're the person in the group that people are trying to connect to, but you're constantly in your head, trying to anticipate when the next shoe is going to drop. You're someone who is using your mental juice to try to feel safe and to avoid feeling trapped… to avoid criticism… to avoid being put in a situation that you cannot escape. You're very much in your head.

#4 - Perfectionist 

Another personality type that evolves from childhood trauma is the perfectionist – the super super super super overachiever – the person who is focused on doing the best job that they possibly can. 

Unfortunately, this is someone who thinks in black and white, who is afraid of making a mistake. 

You have learned that the slightest thing you don't do right, the slightest thing that has the potential to bring you criticism, will net you a very negative result. So you've also been conditioned to think that, well, if I'm perfect, I could avoid criticism and abandonment. 

And so it is time to survive. Remember that rejection is the supreme trauma. Being rejected by your tribe, your family, or your peers is so primitive because the human brain is designed for socialization. At least that's what we're supposed to achieve because being part of a pack and a tribe secures our survival and allows the species to move forward. So it's very primitive, and it makes a whole lot of sense.

So, when you come from a dysfunctional home, you've experienced trauma. You can emerge from that situation relying completely on yourself, thinking that I have to do it all by myself. And the only way for me to feel safe is to make sure that I am perfect. 

#5 Controlling

The fifth personality that can emerge is highly, highly controlling. This is not the most trusting person. This is somebody who cannot feel safe unless they are in charge. This is somebody who wants to control you, who wants to control where you go, and who wants to control what you think.

This is somebody who will do things to feel in control of the situation. This is somebody who felt out of control as a child. Maybe there was incarceration in the family, or maybe there was alcoholism or addiction, or maybe there was a tremendous amount of financial struggle in the family system. So this is someone who has learned that if they remain in control, if they control the money, if they control the attitudes, if they control the moods, if they can control their families, then they can feel safe. And this is a trauma response. 

Where healing begins…

Those who feel called to this work obviously do; otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this. 

Those of us who feel like we're on a quest to get to the other side of this trauma, those of us who are willing to put in the work to heal from childhood trauma, when we recognize that becoming curious is sort of like the first stage, begin to ask ourselves questions like,  why am I this way?

Hopefully, you will discover that, dear one, it's not your fault. It could have been no other way.

Childhood trauma shapes the way we turn out. It shapes our personality, and it is neurological. It is physiological, and it is psychological. It literally could be no other way.

Remember that these emerging personalities are symptoms of childhood trauma. Childhood trauma shapes the personality that you become. The thing to remember is that the real you is below these personalities. Your personality traits, these characteristics, your authentic self is there, waiting for you to clear away what no longer serves you. 

Our goal in trauma recovery is to regain our authentic selves. One way we do that is to acknowledge that our experiences have shaped our personalities
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All my love,
Lisa