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Childhood Trauma Adaptations: Superpowers & Kryptonite (Part 2)

How can childhood trauma adaptations be superpowers? Image of child in a cape and mask.

Childhood trauma adaptations often stem from survival mechanisms but can evolve into unique “superpowers” in adulthood.

In this essay, you’ll learn:

  • Why these adaptations are not good or bad; they are both/and.
  • How to reframe childhood trauma adaptations as superpowers with cognitive and behavioral examples.


How can childhood trauma adaptations be superpowers? Image of child in a cape and mask.

Childhood Trauma Adaptations: Superpowers & Kryptonite (Part 2)

In our last essay – part one of this three-part series – we explored how children form adaptations as survival mechanisms to what they endure in traumatic situations. We also explored what eight common childhood trauma adaptations can look like and provided cognitive and behavioral examples of how these can play out.

Today, in this second of the three-part series, we’re going to explore how all of these adaptations can become someone’s proverbial superpower.

Do you come from a childhood trauma background?

Take this 5-minute quiz to find out (and more importantly, what to do about it if you do.)

Adaptations are not good or bad; they are both/and.

Very likely, reading the previous list of common childhood trauma adaptations in essay one of this series, you may have viewed them negatively or with some sense of heaviness, maybe thinking “Ugh, I see myself in this list. This sucks.”

But before you get too self-critical, I want to emphasize something important:

Despite the fact that these childhood trauma adaptations may have sprung from very painful experiences and may feel challenging to reflect on, it’s important to bear in mind that these adaptations, like with most everything in life, are not simply good or bad; they are both/and.

Meaning that each of these adaptations, no matter how “bad” they may seem on the surface, probably equipped you with unique skills and gifts in your adulthood, long after they helped you survive overwhelming childhood experiences.

They became your “proverbial superpowers” as much as they may feel like your “proverbial Kryptonite.”

Let’s unpack this more.

How childhood trauma adaptations can become adult superpowers.

Childhood trauma adaptations, once purely survival mechanisms, can evolve into adult “superpowers” – qualities and characteristics that enhance resilience, creativity, empathy and, quite frankly, even success in navigating life’s challenges and opportunities.

What do I mean by this?

Hypervigilance, for example, can develop into exceptional situational awareness and analytical skills. Individuals accustomed to constantly scanning their environments for danger can become adept at noticing subtleties and details others may overlook. In professional settings, this can translate into super strong strategic planning abilities and an uncanny aptitude for risk assessment, valuable in roles requiring quick decision-making or identifying potential risk issues before they arise.

Another example?

People-pleasing behaviors, perhaps rooted in an attempt to keep volatile people calm, may have resulted in a deep understanding of human emotions and needs. Honestly, it can foster extraordinary empathy and communication skills. Those of us with strong people-pleasing skills often excel in careers that require nurturing relationships, such as counseling, customer service, or healthcare, where their intuitive ability to meet and anticipate others’ needs can be a significant asset.

Now, another example of a quality that often gets a lot of negative perception, dissociation. Dissociation, while absolutely a complex response to trauma, can lead to a remarkable capacity for creative problem-solving and innovation. The ability to mentally “step back” from immediate emotional responses can allow for a unique perspective on challenging situations, contributing to inventive solutions that might not be immediately apparent to others.

Another reframe on an adaptation I personally strongly resonate with? 

The drive for perfectionism, when balanced, can result in high achievement and exceptional performance in academic and professional endeavors. The key is in leveraging this trait to set high but achievable standards and learning to see mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than failures.

I also strongly resonate with control-seeking behaviors. Here’s a reframe on it: control-seeking behaviors can translate into strong organizational and leadership skills. The desire to create order and predictability can be a boon in roles that require meticulous attention to detail and the ability to manage complex projects or teams.

Another example is impulsivity. Impulsivity when channeled constructively, can lead to bold and innovative actions. In fast-paced industries where seizing the moment is key, the ability to act decisively and without hesitation can be a valuable trait.

Finally, avoidance strategies can evolve into a skill for focusing on what truly matters, enabling individuals to steer clear of unnecessary conflicts and prioritize their mental and emotional well-being. This can lead to better work-life balance and the ability to concentrate efforts on the most impactful areas.

Each of these adaptations, when recognized and harnessed effectively, can contribute to a person’s success in various spheres of life, turning past challenges into sources of strength.

They become proverbial “superpowers” – skills and strengths that can serve us well as adults and even lend themselves to our academic, professional, and financial success.

But, alongside these positive reframes on how our childhood trauma adaptations may have served us, it’s also important to understand that they also have the potential to serve as kryptonite in adulthood. 

We’ll unpack this more in our next essay in our three-part series.

But for now though, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Can you see how your childhood trauma adaptation has become a “superpower” for you as an adult today? How has this “superpower” played out for you and even brought you success?

If you feel so inclined, please leave a message so our community of 30,000 blog readers can benefit from your share and wisdom.

And if you’re still not sure if this content applies to you, if you’re still not sure if you come from a childhood trauma history and may have developed any adaptations as a result, I would invite you to take my signature quiz – “Do I come from a childhood trauma background?” 

It’s a 5-minute, 25-question quiz I created that can be incredibly illuminating and will point you in the direction of a wide variety of resources that can be of further help to you.

Plus, when you take the quiz, you’ll be added to my mailing list where you’ll receive twice-a-month letters from me sharing original, high-quality essays (with accompanying YouTube videos and audios you can stream) devoted to the topic of childhood trauma recovery and where I share more about me as a person, my life, and how I’m deep along on my own childhood trauma recovery journey.

My newsletters are the only place where I share intimate glimpses into my life (including photos), the resources that are supporting me, the things I’ve discovered that delight me, words that are uplifting me, the practices that nourish me, etc. 

So please be sure to sign up for my mailing list whether or not you want to take the quiz as it’s the best way to be in touch with me and hear all the things I only share with my newsletter subscribers.

So thank you. 

And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

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  1. Noemi Barabas says

    Well yeah. I definitely see how my adaptations as superpowers made very important contributions to my life. But their cost has become too high and I cannot separate the two voluntarily. They require tremendous inner resources to deploy and are very draining. They get unlocked by the perception of danger but that level of alertness is damaging to my health. The other big issue is that I do not have voluntary control over when they surface. I cannot be a perfectionist who can do the impossible when there is no time left unless everybody has thrown in the towel and there really is no time left. The rest of the time I collapse in exhaustion. So the question for me is is it possible to have agency in this???

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