Are you struggling to understand how your childhood trauma may be impacting your current relationships and personality? Here are five tips to start healing from childhood trauma to get you started, from my journey to yours.
How do I Know if I have Childhood Trauma?
I hear this often both from clients and friends, “I know my childhood wasn’t perfect, but my parents are good people and I know they did the best they could.” While totally well meaning (and true! I believe all parents do the best they can), this mindset can possibly be your mind’s way of helping you avoid some tough truths about your upbringing. While this process is painful to look at, it can bring a lot of clarity to your current relationships.
I also hear people wanting to know “for sure” if they’ve experienced abuse or trauma. But here’s the thing. Trauma is anything that is overwhelming for the mind. Therefore, you are the expert on your experiences. At the end of the day our parents are human and it’s inevitable that we all come out with some trauma-drama to finish in adulthood. I firmly believe that everyone has a trauma history and that by examining it compassionately we can live a more fulfilled life.
While you are thinking back and pondering your life experiences I encourage you to look at it through the lens of a child (however old you were). Remember, while adult you may know that Mom and Dad were doing their best, little you didn’t have the same capacity. Here are a few quick signs that your younger self is trying to tell you that they have some unresolved business that they need your help in finishing:
- You continue to make the same relationship mistakes over and over (aka are dating socially unavailable partners).
- You struggle with feeling less than other people and engage in people-pleasing to try and keep friends.
- You using coping methods such as drinking, working, and/or exercise to try and avoid stressors or feelings of unhappiness.
Also, do some research! Check out articles like this to see if the signs and symptoms resonate with you and to learn more about what childhood trauma is and how it shows up in adulthood.
How to Start Sifting Through your Trauma
So let’s say you’re this far into this article and you’re like ok cool, so where do I start? It would be so easy to be like “first you get a therapist!” but let’s face it, not everyone is in that place and/or has that privilege and I totally respect that. There are some ways that you can start connecting the dots.
- Acknowledge your trauma for what it is. One of the most important steps on this journey is admitting how and why you are here. If we can’t admit that we are on this journey then how can we make progress or get anywhere new? What happened and how do you really feel about it?
2. Ask your Inner Child! Your inner child is the little you that you still carry within you as an adult. Have you ever noticed that you still enjoy the same activities or like the same foods that you loved as a child? Maybe you light up extra when you ride a bike or hear a song from when you were younger? This is your inner child talking to you.
A beautiful way to begin healing from your childhood trauma is to check in with this piece of you and ask what they think. If you’re having trouble accessing this part of you, here’s an article on getting to know and begin reparenting your inner child. Becoming relational with yourself fin this way is invaluable and will lead you toward deep healing. They are your map home to yourself.
3. Seek support from your community and speak your truth. This is a biggie. When we start getting curious about the things we are struggling with we tend to isolate. Not only does this foster anxiety and self-doubt but it can cause us to feel like we are all alone in our grief and struggle. Find one or two people who you trust and practice opening up to them. If it feels awkward try this sentence stem (but reword it to make it feel authentic!) “I’ve been reflecting on my life lately and I’m really struggling because…. and I’m feeling ….”
When we open up to our loved ones we surrender to the reality of that relationship. There’s a chance you may end up getting minimized (“oh it’s not that bad!”) or that someone may totally change the subject on you. If that happens, that’s important data on the safeness of that relationship.
4. Get to know your defense mechanisms. This can go a long way in getting started on your healing journey. We all have defense mechanisms (ways to help us cope with stressors in day to day life) that seek to help us avoid uncomfortable things in life.
We pick them up in childhood in order to survive/regulate (aka “my mom spanked me because I was bad”) because sometimes the truth is too overwhelming for a child’s mind to comprehend (aka “my mom spanked me because she does not have capacity to parent me in a different and loving way that honors my body autonomy and need for physical safety”).
While I believe it’s important to honor that these defenses played an important role in our life before, they can keep us sick longer if we continue to rely on them. Getting to know exactly which mechanisms are your go to and why you are using them is critical.
5. Look for patterns in your dysfunctional behavior. Let’s face it. Everyone is dysfunctional from time to time. Really the most we can ask for (I believe) is to be functional and grounded 60% of the time. If we’ve got that, we’re doing solid recovery work.
However, before we get into recovery and start doing our work, there are typically patterns of unhealthy and dysfunctional behavior that we see over and over in our life. You might find yourself:
- Constantly putting others before you
- Chasing partners and friendships who are emotionally unavailable
- Making excuses for abusive behaviors
- Neglecting your physical and emotional health
- Feeling like you owe others an explanation for your decisions
- Feeling like you “don’t have a choice” when you commit to things you don’t want to do
Now look for similar patterns in your childhood. Perhaps these behaviors were modeled for you and/or you were forced to engage in these behaviors from a young age. Remember, behavior is learned. Adults don’t become dysfunctional unless someone taught them how to be dysfunctional.
What are the next steps toward healing?
So you may be asking yourself, cool, now what? The beauty of this journey is that once you have started it, you can’t really “stop”. Once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s out. Therefore, whatever next steps you take are the ones that you are meant to be taking. If you are looking for some assistance in understanding your behaviors, therapy is a great place to seek support. If you’re looking for more information first, reading is an excellent next step. Whatever you decide, I hope you practice actively speaking love and compassion on this journey. Not everyone decides to take it and it takes immense courage to examine your truth and ask for more out of life.