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Trauma & Recovery
So much of our success, happiness and health in adult life goes back to how good or bad our childhood was. When we’re growing up, we need the presence of positive experiences, such as love, nurturing, affirmation, validation and protection in order that we have the best chance at a good adult life.
We also need not to have had negative experiences, such as neglect, exploitation, abuse or loss. When a child encounters any of these things, she’s more likely to grow up troubled, insecure, confused, hurt, angry, afraid, and full of shame and self-blame.
Those who’ve had mainly positive childhood experiences and a minimum of the negative ones will have a much better chance at a happy life, as the negative experiences of childhood have a profound effect on both the physical and psychological development of the growing person.
The child who grows up with too little of the positive things she needed and too many of the negative, for example, contempt, oppression or exploitation, will internalize the mistreatment, believing that she’s to blame for it or that she deserves it.
In such cases, the child grows up with low self-esteem, identity confusion, a lack of entitlement to good things, poor self-care, and the expectation of failure in their endeavors and rejection in their relationships.
Some people develop compensatory defense mechanisms, such as defiance, cynicism, grandiosity, selfishness, antisocial tendencies or rage. They get into trouble because of these attitudes, and this further reinforces the fact that they’re “bad” and not deserving of good things in life.
Trauma comes from any experiences that cause severe emotional reactions of shock, horror and fear. Trauma creates a sense of deep loss, even pessimism, and a distorted way of reacting to and interacting with the world at large.
Childhood trauma can include the experience of abuse, the witnessing of abuse, the death of a close family member, or anything which left the child feeling terrified, helpless, overwhelmed or enraged.
People who’ve experienced such trauma often grow up with mood disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse disorders or other addictions, relationship difficulties or problems with work.
Sadly, many of those who’ve experienced childhood trauma have little or no recollection of the traumatic events. Some have learned to minimize or normalize the things that happened to them. These are normal psychological defenses against the pain and grief associated with facing such traumas.
People who have a history of childhood trauma may be in denial of their past, either because they’re afraid to face the enormity of what happened to them, or because they’ve been told by the same adults who traumatized them that what happened wasn’t so bad.
Some survivors of childhood trauma are so loyal to the people who were supposed to care for them that they refuse to acknowledge the possibility that these people in fact, betrayed them.
The denial of the trauma serves to perpetuate it. The way to begin recovering from the trauma is to face what happened, even though this may be a very difficult thing to do.
Facing the trauma allows the person who’s been traumatized to see that what happened to them wasn’t their fault, they didn’t deserve it and they’re not “bad.” When they can see that they’re guiltless in this, they can begin to heal their wounded self-worth.
Facing the trauma enables the wounded person to begin the necessary process of grieving their hurts and losses, and letting go of their anger and shame. The letting go process is essential in putting the past behind them and moving on to a better life.
The past can’t be let go of as an intellectual exercise in which a person simply decides to do so. It must be released emotionally, through the grieving process, which also encompasses the release of held-in anger and shame.
Once the person has started to grieve, they’re less encumbered by the trauma they lived through. This will allow them to proceed with the next step in recovery from trauma: identifying the negative self-talk they’ve been living with for years, and learning to reject it.
Those who’ve been subject to contempt, abuse, exploitation or neglect will naturally internalize the obvious or subtle messages they’ve received from their care-givers. These messages turn into the negative self-talk that chatters constantly in their head.
These messages can include such statements as “you’re no good,” “you can’t do it,” “why bother?” “who do you think you are?” “you’re too big for your britches,” “you should put others ahead of yourself,” “you’re useless,” “you’re stupid,” and “you’re worthless.”
All of these negative messages cause the person to go through life burdened and impaired. Facing and grieving the trauma of the past will allow the person to see that these messages are lies that no longer have to be believed.
The next step in recovery from trauma is to develop a sense of empowerment; to let go of the victim role and to see that today, they’re no longer the helpless child to whom bad things happened.
They can instead, identify as an adult who has agency and choice; someone who can stand up for themselves or walk away from a bad situation – things they couldn’t do when they were little.
Not having been protected from traumatic experiences in childhood will reinforce that the person who experienced these traumas was helpless and undeserving of care or support.
The recognition of one’s adult power, however, and the knowledge that what happened wasn’t their fault, will supercede the sense of helplessness they’ve been carrying for so long, and will demonstrate that the lack of protection had nothing to do with their value as a human being.
The person who lived through trauma can see that the world isn’t a bad place, where they’re doomed to be attacked, rejected, excluded or humiliated. They’ll realize that although there are hurtful people in the world, there are also many kind, loving people around who’ll be more than happy to love and support them. Most importantly, they can see that they have a choice about who they interact with and that they never have to be in hurtful situations again.
The final step in recovery from trauma is the development of genuine self-acceptance. The person must let go of any sense of blame for the bad things that happened to them in childhood; they must recognize that they’re innocent, good and deserving of happiness. They must give themselves the love and care that was missing in their childhood and in a sense, be the “good parent” to themselves, today.
Recovery from trauma is a process of facing the truth about what happened, letting go of the past through grieving one’s losses and releasing held-in anger and shame; it’s rejecting the negative self-talk that perpetuates unhappiness and failure, and developing a sense of personal empowerment, in order to see that they never have to be a victim again.
Above all, recovery from trauma is learning to love oneself and to see the world not as a dangerous place but as a vast expanse of possibilities, in which they can create a better life for themselves.