Healing from childhood trauma is a trip into the unknown. We don’t know what we may encounter or the demons we may have to face. Nonetheless, if we are to heal and find our authentic selves we must undertake this painful journey.
It was with trepidation and numerous doubts, I decided to make that leap of faith. I made the choice to get better. Or else I could end in a very bleak place, both mentally and physically. Moreover, I was in constant pain, my back hurt, I had stomach issues, my stress levels were high, and was in deep depression. I knew I had to do something to rectify matters.
Thank goodness there was the internet where information was easily available. Wish it was there earlier. Besides the copious amounts of knowledge I garnered from the world wide web, I no longer felt so alone.
Never Too Late To Heal Childhood Trauma
It is never too late to begin to change your life, I began at age 49. I can honestly attest that after nearly 4 years on the healing path, I am glad I made the tough decision of doing the work to heal from the past. It’s been a worthwhile struggle to wholeness and healing. I feel much better both physically and emotionally. The last I did was sometime before my mother fell seriously ill nearly 40 years ago. My longstanding depression has more or less abated. Every morning I awake feeling more alive, calmer, and joyful. I look forward to the future.
I have no doubt that my history will always be part of who I am. I may not be able to totally erase the damage that was done to me. I know I will never be who I thought I would be, a small part of me may always grieve for that phantom life.
Nonetheless, I have garnered some wisdom that I may never have been able to access had I not gone through what I did. And now looking back I wish someone had shared with me what I learned on my healing journey.
1) Believing Does Lead To Healing
You have to believe that you can get better. According to Bruce Lipton, one of the pioneers in the field of epigenetics, and author of the book, The Biology of Belief,
If the brain expects that a treatment will work, it sends healing chemicals into the bloodstream, which facilitates that. That’s why the placebo effect is so powerful for every type of healing. And the opposite is equally true and equally powerful: When the brain expects that a therapy will not work, it doesn’t. It’s called the “nocebo” effect.
It may not be easy to believe particularly when the experts give a dire verdict. Or when people close to you look at you with derision. Nonetheless, ‘having the faith of a mustard seed’ – just a little bit of believing can take you a long way than having total skepticism. Believe in the possibilities.
2) Find Your Safe Place
You cannot heal when your brain is feeling threatened. For those of us who were traumatized, our nervous system is in a hypervigilant, fight-flight state of arousal. To heal we have to be able to feel safe. Find ways to taper down the amygdala’s stuck fear circuitry in the brain.
Either one may have to move out of a stressful home or job, end toxic relationships, and keep our social engagements to the minimum. I left my job which was extremely toxic to my mental well-being.
Sometimes, even though we may be out of a threatening situation, our brain continues to remain in the state of hyperarousal. Having regular body-work treatments with trusted practitioners can be very helpful in calming the mind and body.
3) Become Emotionally Literate – Tune Into Your Emotions/Body
After so long of repressing our emotions it becomes second nature to ignore what we are feeling. But healing can happen only when we learn to release and express all those blocked hurts and strong emotions. Being able to go back to that place of that hurt child and bring her back to a state of feeling safe is the only out of the past.
Furthermore, as we heal we must become emotionally literate in order to manage our emotions and effectively deal with situations. Our traumatic childhoods left us clueless about how to interact with people particularly in tough situations. Of course, most of us did not have a choice and acted reflexively. Now, instead of repressing or over-reacting, we must learn how to stand up assertively and express ourselves.
Learn about emotions and develop the ability to identify, understand and respond in a healthy manner in social situations, particularly when we are triggered.
4) Take Off The Rose Tinted Glasses – Stop Expectation-Denial Cycle
As children, we have no option but to put on rose-tinted glasses with regards to our caregivers, particularly when they were toxic. Most of us find it very hard to actually see the truth – that our parents were uncaring, did not love us, were selfish, or even hated us.
Moreover, most often than not the abuse was covert, like neglect or ignoring us, silent treatment, hiding or selectively not being given things to eat. This was a regular feature for me growing up. I developed a different kind of food trauma. Always, expecting to be excluded led me to stuff myself whenever I got the opportunity.
Covert abuse can be more damaging psychologically and physically, something does not feel right but you can’t quite put your finger on it. The abuser does it with such guile that leaves you confused. Furthermore, their bad behavior may be peppered with pseudo loving displays. This intermittent reinforcement keeps us locked in a cycle of expectation and denial.
Always remember, real love is consistent. There is no confusion and contradiction. If someone behaves inconsistently – hot-cold, Jekyll-Hyde. Don’t damage your health by living in this state of internal turmoil. Cut them out and move on, don’t wait for them to change.
And most importantly, you don’t need to forgive to heal. That is simply baloney. However, you have to be able to let go of the negative attachment of resentment and hate. It needs to be put in the dumpster of your life.
5) Putting Yourself First – Be Selfish and Stop Giving A F**k
The most important step in healing is letting go of our childhood program of ignoring our own needs. Behaving like a codependent duck became our reflexive pattern of relating. It was our survival strategy that needs to be broken.
Become more internally focused rather than being overly concerned about other people. You need to stop giving a f**k what people want, what they think, or what they expect. Don’t let anyone guilt-trip you or shame you. You don’t need these people in your life.
Learn the art of self-care. Start by tuning in to your needs and your feelings. What makes me feel good? Or what do I really need? What exactly do I want to do? Caring for ourselves first is not selfish, it is self-preservation. Taking care of ourselves must be our priority.
Treating ourselves like we are important and valuable is a daily exercise in self-care and the only way to feeling nurtured and happy. When we feel good about ourselves and the world our heart rhythm becomes calm and relaxed and we slowly begin to heal.
6) Small Daily Changes
Don’t try to try to make big plans or implement drastic lifestyle changes. Keep the changes doable every day. The brain is shaped by what we do and what we don’t do.
Everyone can redesign their own brain through small changes in their daily habits. However, do keep in mind, that neuroplastic change can be positive or negative. So you have to stop doing the things that are detrimental and start doing things that will help you.
Eliminate the bad habits and instill good habits. Start small but be consistent. The primary driver for neuroplastic change in the brain is repeated action.
Make a list of what you want to overcome and what you can do. Need to improve your fitness, start with just one exercise movement, then after add another or increase the repetitions. Every small change in habit can lead to incremental changes in our health.
7) Don’t Push Too Hard – Take It Easy
Don’t expect overnight miracles, it does not happen unless of course, you meet Jesus. The damage that happened to our brain and body occurred repeatedly over a period of time. Moreso, it happened during our growing years when our brain and body were at their most neuroplastic. Unnecessary stressing over whether or not we are getting better or whether something is working is useless. It only puts your nervous system back into a hyperaroused state.
Additionally, according to neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, our brain changes not during the actual effort but during sleep and relaxed state. Neuroplasticity occurs during the liminal state of not doing, just being. Check out his in-depth episode on the brain and neuroplasticity.
To heal one has to unwire the faulty connectivity and rewire the brain in the correct way. And that takes time. Moreover, as we age our brain’s neuroplastic abilities diminish. It takes more concerted and deliberate effort to affect the desired changes. Take it easy, don’t stress, breathe and believe.
8) Communicate/Share Your Story / Find Support
It is so very important to stop feeling the shame of what happened to us. We were not responsible. For those of us who experienced childhood sexual abuse, particularly incest, shame can be so ingrained into our psyches. Particularly, if like me you were blamed for inciting the abuse. According to the renowned counselor, John Bradshaw, it is the shame that binds us to our past.
Toxically shamed people tend to become more and more stagnant as life goes on. They live in a guarded, secretive and defensive way. They try to be more than human (perfect and controlling) or less than human (losing interest in life or stagnated in some addictive behavior).
When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming.
You have to open up about what happened to you, communicate with other survivors, share your story, find support. There are so many ways, therapy, coaching, an enlightened witness in your personal relationship, online support groups, or writing/journaling. Get it out, don’t feel ashamed you were not responsible for the horrible things that happened. The blame totally lies with the abusers.
9) Eat Healthy, Exercise, and Sleep
It is common knowledge now that our diet impacts not just our physical health but also our mental health. For those of us who lived through trauma, our body is in a state of allostatic overload. This depletes numerous macro and micronutrients crucial for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, serotonin, and dopamine that play a big role in regulating our moods and feelings.
Furthermore, the gut, also known as our ‘second brain’, is where nearly 90% of the body’s supply of serotonin and 50% of dopamine, chemicals are produced.
If you keep ingesting unhealthy foods it will invariably make you feel worse and stall your healing process.
Besides eating fresh and unprocessed food, try and include fermented foods into your daily diet.
Exercise reduces the stress hormones and releases endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter which have a profoundly positive impact on depression. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Any type of physical activity which ups your heart rate is good enough to get these neurotransmitters squirting. For me it is crawling, simple easy, and effective.
Sleep plays an important role in your physical and mental health. It is essential for muscle repair, memory consolidation, and for regulating hormones responsible for healing and growth. When one sleeps, the brain reorganizes and recharges itself, and removes toxic waste byproducts which have accumulated throughout the day.
Though my sleep cycle is erratic, I try and ensure at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
10) Find A Hobby – Invest In Your Future Self
Doing new and novel things activates the novelty circuit and resets the hippocampal–prefrontal circuitry in our brain which helps override old memories. We can overwrite old patterns of being by doing things that interest and excite us. Additionally, new activities directly activate the dopamine system which plays a key role in brain plasticity.
I have picked up the hobby of baking, it has helped shift my mind from ruminating about what was to what I can do – bake a loaf of bread, or experiment making some brownies.
All the law of attraction experts, say you need to invest in the New You. It need not be big investments – buy that smart business outfit or start saving for that dream home. Your vision and belief influence outcomes. How we feel, that we become and that’s how we relate. Make it a daily practice to listen to confidence-boosting talks instead of depressing news or gossip.
Living With Awareness
The truth about healing from childhood trauma is that you’re never done processing through everything. But if you keep working at it, someday you may get up and feel, I am so glad to be alive.
Nonetheless, no matter how much better you feel, life can throw you some curveballs. In seconds you could go back to being that traumatized little child.
The only option is living with awareness. Be mindful, and have some quick ways to reduce your distress and get back into your window of tolerance when triggered. Keep in mind that life can get difficult – always have a contingency plan.
Image Source: Pixabay
The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity – Catherine A. Sanderson
Triggers: How We Can Stop Reacting and Start Healing – David Richo