Not too sure what has gotten into my head today yet I just wrote a blog on its all about the bacon…really it’s about the childhood smells of food that comforted me when things got tough. Then I got to thinking about my childhood and how we often repeat what we don’t repair especially if we experienced childhood trauma.
Tian Dayton PHD reminded me today of the 12 step slogan “If it’s Hysterical, it’s Historical” (sit with my overreactions, aka “don’t just do something, sit there!”) – “meaning when I overreact to someone or something in my day, I have to do two things: The first is to simply discipline myself, to tell myself this will only make an argument last longer and a misunderstanding worse. Then I need to trace it back and to understand if I am making unresolved anger, pain, or shame from relationships in my past about relationships in my present. If I am,…. then I need to use my triggered reaction as a path to shed more light on the hidden parts of my inner world.”
Or as the Playwright Eugene O’Neil wrote, “There is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again..” And as you all know repeating what we do not repair is tedious, full of turmoil , exacerbating and ultimately not healthy.
In my case I had a mixed up family filled with mental health (depression and suicide) on my father’s side and alcoholism and narcissism on my mother’s side. It was hard for me to believe that I was good enough. I was always walking on eggshells and I learned how to navigate and carry on in that way. In doing so I was always looking for approval or felt that it was my responsibility to make other’s shine.
Perhaps that’s why I could so readily understand Susie’s behavior. While she loved college she prefers zoning out drinking alcohol and engaging in harmful behaviors. Susie’s low self esteem is a learned behavior. She grew up with a narcissistic grandmother who told her she would not about to much, just another pretty thing and she internalized that. Today, she still has difficulties with relationships.
Jeremy on the other hand was raised by an unpredictable mother and father and now has had a string of unfulfilled relationships. He is 37. His mood swings and big blow ups meant that Jeremy had less than a secure childhood. Now Jeremy slithers through life having trouble trusting anyone, completing tasks and at the least provocation bolts.
Perhaps you recognize yourself. Perhaps you had a parent that experienced a mental health or substance use disorder. You might have been verbally or physically neglected even abused. A person who experiences these things may have complex trauma . They can become aggressive or be adverse to confrontation, that they cut off relationships before building them . They can turn into a work alcoholic or be immobilized by their own self-doubt. They may always struggle with relationships.
Susie, Jeremy and I experienced a version of complex childhood trauma. The good thing is there are strategies that can help us heal.
I have written a lot on trauma. People sometimes also distinguish between Acute Trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We see a lot of this displayed on television. A solider who sees his friend before his eyes experiences trauma, when the same memories come back months later to haunt him through nightmares and flashbacks, they transform into PTSD.
Complex trauma is difference in the respect that it is seen as the culmination of what happened to us as a child that carries forward unresolved into adulthood. This is what happens when a young child experiences when they are abuse verbally, physically or psychologically by care givers. Ridicule instead of adoration, violence instead of love, rejection instead of hugs. It’s a form of trauma and unlike adults, a child cannot escape. Years later childhood trauma that is still unresolved can rear its head.
However, there is always hope and there is always a solution. If you are repeating a childhood pattern that has its roots in trauma here are some strategies to help you heal.
1. Acknowledge what Happened and how you were hurt.
2. Counseling; Talking with a licensed clinician about your past , grieving what has happened and learning new strategies helps one see the experiences from a distance and put them in the perspective of today.
3. Grieving – Acknowledging the good, bad and the ugly about what you had and what you did not have as a child can help you let go of resentments and propel you towards wellness. Grieving those lost parts is important and one can also lern to forgive
4. Learning and Identifying what sets you off and makes you anxious is important.
5. Breaking The Pattern; Learning to respond and not react to stimuli which would set you off is important
6. Other Evidenced Based Strategies include EDMR, Somatic Experiencing, DBT, ACT etc. These strategies work to alter the triggers that are neurologically embedded in your brain. Remember the flight/fight/freeze response evolved to protect you from dangerous situations. These strategies have been known to help. For me personally I found EDMR liberating
7. Medication. An evaluation of whether or not alone with trauma one might experience depression and/or anxiety ab d whether or not medication might be helpful maybe explored
8. Spirituality – Believing that there is something greater than oneself often helps one affirm their own self-worth
9. Being of Service – to Others. One way that I have always found to be healing and helpful, is to be of service to others. Being of service takes you away from your own staff and allows you to help another. What have you done to be of service?
10. Setting the Stage for the Next Generation. If you are like me a woman of a certain age, then you know what you do today impacts tomorrow. You have the opportunity to heal and create a legacy. I don’t think there is anything better than that.