“After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world.”Bring Back the Joys of Childhood
~ Mary Oliver
The last one year or so, as my children are growing, I have been revisiting my past. My interactions with my children are unbottling past interactions that I had with my parents as I grew up.
It wasn’t until recently that I started talking to my parents about how I felt about their relationship with each other and with us. They couldn’t believe that I would want to bring up things that happened over two decades ago. They also had no words of comfort for the situation then, except that they did not know better.
I may be highly sensitive, I have been hurt, but to expect them to mend ways when they’re hitting their seventies is something rather far-fetched. But opening up and telling them what I had felt itself was part of the release but their response to it left me without closure, as a matter of fact it triggered me even more where I started playing back a lot of my negative memories.
Instances of physical abuse, instances where I was not believed when I was telling the truth, and so on. The next few days I was anxious and felt really uneasy, with the unbottling, that I was trying to process.
Our parents grew up in the time there was no internet and being devout Christians, I remember hearing the adage, “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child.” Well, that was how it was and to say the least, the rod was not spared.
Some of us may have gone through far worse experiences as children, and each one of us have perhaps found and used coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma we experienced when we grew up with.
Here are 6 ways to grow beyond your childhood trauma.
1. Forgiving to let go of the trauma
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.” ~ Danielle Bernock
My realization of all the repeated playback of the negative scenarios is that I was too focused on what I felt, the situation that I was in, what was done to me, the pain that I had to experience.
Now when I’m bringing up my children, I can see how easy it is to fall into generational patterns and to actually break a cycle like this isn’t easy. My parents were just bringing me up the way they were brought up, and they did not know better.
I can forgive them for not trying to know better, for whatever reason it may be, their struggles, they did their best in their own way, it may have not been the best way for me, but I have come to terms with that.
By forgiving them I have managed to stop the repetitive playback of negative experience and this itself has been a huge step in accepting these experiences for what they are and letting go of them.
Can you grow beyond your childhood trauma without forgiveness?
The short answer is yes, as long as you can release the pain. This emotional talk by Tara Walker Lyons of her own experience of childhood sexual abuse, reflects on her own ability to forgive, and shares action steps she has taken to heal.
2. Revisit your positive childhood experiences
It’s a human tendency to dwell on the negatives, Negative Bias as it’s called is an evolutionary trait. To dwell on the negative more than the positive is how our brain tries to keep us safe.
It’s not that I have only negative memories, but it’s only when my mother actually asked me, “don’t you remember so many good times” that I started trying to recollect them.
Earlier on in the post I wrote about how unbottling all these memories were making me anxious and uneasy. There’s actual research on how childhood trauma and negative memory bias are related with the onset and the severity level of psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.
So when someone says stop focussing on the negative, it’s a tad bit difficult with the knowledge that our brain has evolved that way. So let’s shift our focus for a while, revisit our past but with trying to focus on the positive.
A birthday party, your first car or train ride, your favourite ice cream, your uncle or aunty who put a smile on your face, the favourite game, your friends, there’s going to be some positivity hidden in the crevasses of your mind, spend some time trying to recollect as many as you can.
Journaling these experiences puts a whole new dimension to this experience. You’re actually making an effort to recollect them and recondition yourself to have a more positive outlook of your childhood.
3. Making a connection with your inner child while adulting
“I realized that I was living my life backwards. I had to be a grown-up when I’d been a little boy, and now I was tending to the little boy who’d never had the chance to properly play… Had I not had the childhood I did, would these traits not be so at the forefront of my personality? Who knows? All I know is that I am the product of all the experiences I have had, good and bad.”
~ Alan Cumming
Sometimes as children, we lacked certain experiences that we wanted. Sometimes are parents were strict disciplinarians or for whatever reason our childhood lacked positive experiences.
Sometimes the lack could have been simple things like a toy, or going for a movie in the theatre, or watching some shows your friends did. For me, I never had a remote control car through my entire childhood. It was one of the first toys I got for my kid, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience of unboxing and playing with it.
It felt I bought it more for me to have the experience, my inner child was finally satisfied.
My father had an office job where he drove to work over an hour each way, although the distance wasn’t great, living in a city like Bombay, there’s always traffic during peak hours.
When he got back, he used to be tired, he would just relax and catch 40 winks as he called it. Then it was dinner and bedtime for us. So I would hardly have my father around, and this was perhaps a major reason why I choose this career path where I can have time for my kids.
It’s not possible for everyone to choose a career like that, but everyone can make an effort to spend some quality time with their kids each day, read a book, play a game, tell them a story, things that you missed as a child to fill the void and stop it from carrying forward.
4. Rewrite your story!
During our childhood, we have to put up with stuff our family doesn’t consider to be trauma. You’re useless, you won’t amount to much, you’re adopted, you were the unwanted child etc. This is verbal trauma, especially when it’s repeated on a daily basis, this is what the child feels and ends up growing with this verbal trauma embedded in them.
Children are loving beings, and they don’t end up hating their parents, they end up hating themselves. They feel they lack either certain qualities or they aren’t good enough, and this has adverse effects on the way children behave even in their adult life.
When we are capable enough to stand on our feet, we also get the power to exit from this trauma. Sometimes this verbal trauma also stops as you grow up, and you don’t realize there’s all this toxicity within you. Then sometimes it’s either triggered or brought to the surface and these bottled up feelings come to the surface, making you feel like why did I have to go through this?
We may never know the reason why, sometimes a family joke isn’t funny when the joke is on you and repeated multiple times. I recently opened up to my mother about how I felt about my childhood. She told me that, “No parent would ever want to do that to their children, how could you even think something like that.”
This kind of agitated me, as my feelings haven’t been a figment of my imagination, but I also understand that you cannot expect people to acknowledge what they did to you was wrong. The only change that you can make is within, so if you were told that you were useless and lousy, you have to accept that it came from your parents as a generational hand down, and you have to release it.
If you’re old enough to stand on your feet and have to get out of an environment like this, pack your bags and leave. If you’re an adult who grew up with verbal trauma, you have to start wiping out the slate to rewrite the story you were told.
“Slowly but surely, you will learn to behave as you would have wished to behave but were too wounded to know how.” ~ Marianne Williamson
In the first point I wrote about forgiveness, and towards the end of Tara’s video we came across the part that if you cannot forgive you need to release these things. Spend some time recollecting all the negative memories you have, there are letting go rituals that I have written about in an article about self-forgiveness that can aid with releasing what we cannot forgive. The whole article perhaps is something you may want to read as it’s based on similar lines.
Remember that you’re the one who’s in control of your story, you need to realise that your past does not define you. Who you are going to be is in your hands once you start taking charge of your story. Let go of the labels that were used to define you, you are powerful, and you are worthy of a beautiful life, filled with people who care and love you.
There’s always someone who is willing to hear you out, a trusted friend, a partner, a support group and therapy as well. The most important part for me on my journey through my trauma is to break the chain when it comes to how I parent my children.
The next video is a discussion by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on how one can grow beyond your childhood trauma and how addressing past childhood trauma can result in a better adulthood.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ~ Frederick Douglass