Most survivors of childhood trauma struggle to heal from their abusive past. Growing up, we try to show we are strong and unfazed by what is happening, we numb and blank out the abuse. Then as we reach adulthood we realize that we have no f**king idea how to manage our lives. We struggle, stumble, and zombie through life. We are like the walking dead, unable to feel, think and act rationally. Further, our unresolved childhood trauma negatively impacts all aspects of our existence.
It affects our present social-work-romantic relationships which can be further exacerbated when abusive family interactions continue into adulthood. Like parents continuing to dictate and control their adult children. For me, my family’s dysfunctional behavioral patterns continued until I left home.
Even though I desperately wanted to get over my past, I struggled for years to find healing. And it was only in my late forties was I able to get started on my healing journey. It has taken nearly 3 years to reach a place of relative calm and emotional wholeness.
Healing takes time. It means healing the brain damage that occurred during our developmental stages. Abuse impairs and programs the brain in a faulty way. To truly heal we have to change and rewire our brain’s faulty circuitry.
Healing childhood trauma is difficult. It is not easy to overcome the past and get better due to the following reasons:
1) Wanting To Forget And Get On
Initially, once you get out of your abusive situation you just want to forget about what happened. You just want to push it out of your consciousness and pretend it did not matter. Remembering the abuse is too painful. And you are confused whether you actually suffered trauma, you’d rather forget and get on with living, glad you escaped and survived.
You just don’t want to think of it. You believe that it will vanish with time and you can become whoever you dreamt you would be. But the past has a sneaky way of destroying our present, it affects our work, our relationships, and our parenting and gradually it all boils over to a mental breakdown. This happens usually in one’s forties when you have no option but to introspect and do something to get better.
2) Accepting That Your Parents/Family Did Not Love/Care
As a child dealing with abuse, you tend to pretend that it was all okay. That there was something wrong with me that made my father behave violently or that maybe I was not ‘good enough‘ for my grandmother to ignore me and give me the silent treatment.
To accept that our parents/families did not really love and care about us is just so painful, we’d rather blame ourselves for their abusive behaviors. Nevertheless, accepting that your family was toxic. And, that their behavior and actions were a betrayal in the deepest sense is vital to us uncovering the truth of our past.
Accepting this fact is a crucial step to our recovery and healing. However, most survivors find it hard to acknowledge that their families willfully abused, neglected, invalidated and even hated them.
3) Having A Safe Place
You cannot heal in the same environment that caused you damage. Neither can you get better if you have to deal with even ordinary daily stress of work, raising kids, and other social commitments. Your brain needs to rewire the faulty program and re-calibrate. This can be achieved more quickly in a zero stress environment.
Your earlier trauma makes you more susceptible to even minor stresses your brain needs calm, silence, safety and consistency. Your already hyper-alert fear-filled amygdala goes into overdrive and triggers you back to the past.
Trauma survivors can easily startle from loud sounds or overly excited energy around them. Even a positive, but a chaotic environment, such as a sports game or being around children who are playing, can cause extreme distress for many.
Noise feels like static in the brain, and can quickly overwhelm someone dealing with trauma. A calm environment is crucial to feel safe. Some studies show that trauma survivors need up to two hours a day of total silence to decompress and recover.
Our family of origin is definitely not our safe place. While moving out and living alone is full of uncertainties which definitely does not feel safe. Living with a partner or friend or other family has its own set of interpersonal issues. And most of us cannot afford highly specialized recovery centers.
4) Money or Financial Support
Most of us who have been abused aren’t in our peak form either emotionally or physically. This translates into our inability to hold on to our jobs or become financially stable. If you are stressed about how you will make two ends meet or about keeping a roof over your head your brain gets further hijacked. Fear about survival is a big block to healing.
Further, how can one afford therapy if one cannot pay for it? There is no free therapist. You may be able to avail of short-term counseling or free helplines to talk to but the ongoing therapy needed to integrate our shattered selves costs money.
Neither will our families support us, they already hate us, we are a bloody nuisance.
Of course, some countries do have disability payouts but that too is limited. Sadly, the country where I live has no such assistance for any illness, physical or mental. This limits one from accessing timely and much-needed treatment.
5) Emotional Support “Enlightened Witness’
This is the most difficult part of our recovery. Our past negatively impacts our adult relationships. Either we are too needy or just don’t know the correct social cues of reciprocity. This makes us not the perfect partners, friends, or colleagues to be around.
Moreover, most people want to avoid a depressed person or are simply dismissive of their suffering.
Alice Miller has coined the term “enlightened witness.“ Having an understanding person who helps a victim of abuse “recognize the injustices they suffered” and “give vent to their feelings” about what happened to them. Recent studies have proved that having an enlightened witness is essential to helping you recover from abuse.
However, for us survivors, our past can deeply compromise our ability to form and maintain the healthy bonds that nurture us. We have trouble forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Finding a person who truly cares, understands and validates our pain and experiences is not easy for us. We either end up with more abusive partners or lonely.
Very few lucky ones find a loving, caring friend, colleague, partner, boss, child. I am fortunate one to have a loving son whose love has healed my pain.
Hope & Healing
Recent new research has shown that the brain is able, under certain conditions, to ‘rewire’ itself, correcting its own faulty circuitry. We can heal and overcome our traumatic childhoods with the right kind of therapeutic interventions.
Never give up hope, tough times don’t last but tough people do. Believe that you will get better and take steps in that direction.
You may not have money for therapy, but writing about the abuse, sharing on the many closed Facebook groups really helps. Listen to sound healing meditation and guided meditations which are available free. Sound healing has really worked for me.
Explore and join some volunteer groups which are into helping others you could meet your ‘enlightened witness’ there. Keeping an open mind and heart despite your past is the only way to heal your past and change your life.
Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through The Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh