When trauma was imprinted in childhood, repetitive and interpersonal, the damage is profound and far reaching.
Sadly it’s often not until we are truly broken, deep into our adult years that we come to recognise or understand the true extent of damage owing to what happened in our infancy.
Victim-hood is an inevitability of trauma but feeling like a victim does not have to be a lifelong label, nor life-sentence. In actual fact, it mustn’t stay this way. As adults we are no longer victims of our childhood trauma, but survivors of it.
The ownership of our past tragedies gives us a springboard to first, resolve what was once intolerable, second and most importantly, to heal. No other human-being can do this for us. Ownership does not mean not holding our abusers to account — for that they must be; it does not mean either to minimize the extent of our suffering. No, ownership means to confront our history — acknowledge that we are now safe, and realise that we now have the psychological space to open and heal our deepest wounds.
We can re-purpose our pain and channel it into a meaningful bent in how we live and how we connect with others. Or we can shrink further from life and betray our innate right to a life of fulfillment and pleasure.
If we stay locked in the trauma of our pasts, we obviate ourselves from the opportunity of empowerment and agency.
Childhood interpersonal trauma, leaves us bereft of control. Our innate capacities to defend ourselves were rail-roaded over by abusive others, thus the total loss of our identity is an inevitable fate. We eventually surrender to life under the weight and oppression of abuse, resulting in chronic learned helplessness.
As adults, we become by dint, complicit in our own repetitive downfalls because we lack the power, clarity and agency that is required to protect our being from psychological and physical harm. Our childhoods disabled our ability to define, draw, and uphold boundaries. We are therefore, incapable of rejecting the very sorts of people that wreaked havoc over our childhoods and will continue to do so in our adulthood. This is what drives the infuriating but unconscious act of repetition-compulsion.
An element of masochism comes into play in this repetitive dance that we keep engaging with ourselves and the wider universe. We were victims no doubt, but in the end, we become victims of our own self — we start to believe we deserved the abuse.
Over time, this compounds en-aggregate and has a kindling effect. Meaning, that the more trauma we endure, the more sensitised we become to further trauma, and thus the more deeply we suffer giving further weight to the defenses we developed in childhood. The upshot? Dis-empowerment and helplessness reign; we are hostages of a psychic paralysis that renders us incapable of giving life to our destiny and purpose. The cumulative effect is that our personal worlds recede to a small space that we exist within — a place that has been paired back to a shell where safety and predictability dominate in controlling the minutia of our everyday.
Unresolved trauma constricts us socially, philosophically, physically.
One of the damaged fruits of childhood abuse is that we shrink over time. We are not cognisant of this; it is not a conscious shriveling of our self. It just happens with inevitable repetition, and re-opening of pain, time and again. We retreat from life — from people, we isolate, we become small. Life becomes small. This is an almost certain trajectory if we do not open up ourselves to face our inner child that was failed. That child deserves compassion, unconditional love and understanding — but not from our abusers, from ourselves.
In failing to confront our deepest wounds, we will repeat the past through repetition-compulsion.
When we have not taken the time to understand our most feared wounds, what happened and how we responded to it, we will keep re-inviting the same or similar scenarios through the psychological phenomenon repetition-compulsion.
We are preconditioned to repeat the same event or events over and over, or unconsciously put ourselves in situations where the event is likely to recur.
The psyche’s subliminal objective is to triumph over the original trauma; to achieve mastery over what we were unable to when a once young child.
If we are parents with a history of trauma, then we are standing on dangerous terra-firma; the risk of passing down the dysfunction to the next generation is a given when there is no conscious intervention.
There is another party that deserves our healing even more so, and that is our precious children. They do not need to be burdened with that we could not fix. It would be hell on earth to watch our children repeating our very own mistakes.
There are many dysfunctional manifestations resulting from childhood trauma as we grow older. When we finally feel ready to, how can we start to take steps to tackle it, now that we want to look old demons squarely in the eyes and send them off into the cosmos?
Silencing the Inner Critic.
Child abusers lay the foundations of some insidious inner critic thinking; we take on the harsh comments, venomous stares, threats of repercussion. We feel the harrowing sense of not being loved, and we carry this burden of shame around in secret. It undermines our quality of life and threatens the relationships we cherish and need.
We ingest all abuse; physical, emotional, sexual from the abuser — all of the words, and all of the subliminal messages that are encoded in the complete failure of love and protection of a child. By and large, we unconsciously identify with the words, looks, motives of the abuser — we take them on as our own psychological skin. This is toxic pollution for the soul.
As for the actual abuse itself. There is the spiritual examination and questioning of what occurred. How could it have? And what does it say about me? Why didn’t I do anything about it? I must be a bad person: I deserved it.
All of this thinking feeds into a megacosm geared by umpteen cogs that deliver negative thoughts to our psyche all day long, at rapid pace. This harmful way of thinking strips us of our true selves, betraying our natural inclinations; we are naked and unprotected in a world rife with harmful others.
It is inevitable that we get caught up in a completely fragmented, disorganised system of thoughts, ping-ponging from one self-chastisement to the next. This way of being and thinking is almost as deleterious as the abuse itself — it keeps the it alive, but this time, through self-harm.
In dealing with a negative mental dialogue, Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul tells us that:
“ True personal growth is about transcending the part of you that is not okay and needs protection. This is done by constantly remembering that you are the one inside that notices the voice talking. That is the way out.”
We have the capacity to observe our thoughts without judgment. To notice where our mind takes us. And we have the power to say no, I don’t believe this, I do not agree.
Therapy, Therapy and more Therapy.
The backdrop of a traumatic past gives rise to fragmented minds, polluted with blind spots, and conditioned with maladaptive defenses that we have built up over a life of responding to inhumane scenarios and people. These blind spots are unavailable to our conscious awareness and our defenses against them are artful ways of our brains protecting ourselves from further harm. Whilst once helpful in the milieu of abuse, these defenses often become the source of much dysfunction in our adult lives, when we are actually, finally safe.
It is for these very psychological defenses that we need the help of a trained specialist professional — psychotherapist, or psychoanalyst to help us unpack the past, decode it, and decode our weird and wonderful selves. These are individuals that stand side by side with us, without judgment. And they create a space of safety where we can unearth our deepest darkest secrets to be aired in the refuge and security of that closed space between you and your therapist. No shame, no fear of recrimination. There is no safer place.
No doubt, it is terrifying to turn on our well-worn heals and walk open-eyed back into the war-zone. But needs must — it is imperative in order to re-frame and extinguish the original havoc and emotional vandalism exerted by wicked others.
Patience and Good Old Time.
Healing will not just magically occur simply because we want it to.
This is a journey, a process if you will, and it’s going to take time. Our vigor to heal will be met with endless setbacks — with each ascent into a happier place, we often fall back down — the healing incomplete and frustration impeding our growth. This natural elastic reflex is our body and mind telling us to slow, take our time with this critical process.
Surround yourself with good, pure people.
We know who these people are; they don’t gaslight us, or invalidate, abuse our minds or our bodies. But the reverse; they support and nourish, validate and empathize. They revel in our joy and want to be in our company not to use us, but because they truly love us and all that we are.
When we are victims of childhood trauma we likely withdraw from the crucial and healing quality that is inherent in attachment to nurturing others.
If we can objectively, rationally accept that life is full of some bad — we can learn to focus only on the good eggs among us. This in and of itself is healing.
The Ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius used to chant a mantra to himself at the start of his every day:
“Today I’ll meet people who are meddlers, integrates, bullies, cheats, envious and antisocial people. All of this happens because they don’t know the difference between good and bad.”
Auerelius’ philosophy is a leaf from the Ancient Classic Stoicism textbook; he prepared himself for whatever the world would send his way on any and every day; he was well practised in the art of managing life. Put quite simply, when we can apply this detached, stoic perspective on life, we protect ourselves from negative emotions and people.
The inability to move away from bad people is declivitous — we will most certainly end up at the bottom of the heap, lacking all will to press ahead in life.
A Lifelong commitment to self-analysis and awareness (or Mindfulness if you will).
A book that has been life-changing for me is The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. (Cited above). The teachings and philosophies are a razor-focus on our internal monologues and the self-awareness thereof. This passage so clearly articulates how we have the power within to be aware of our true self, and to choose how we respond to life:
You can’t deal well with a situation if you’re getting anxious, scared, or angry about it. The first problem you have to deal with is your own reaction. You will not be able to solve anything outside until you own how the situation affects you inside. Problems are generally not what they appear to be. When you get clear enough, you will realize that the real problem is that there is something inside of you that can have a problem with almost anything. The first step is to deal with that part of you.This involves a change from “outer solution consciousness” to “inner solution consciousness.” You have to break the habit of thinking that the solution to your problems is to rearrange things outside. —
When we seek panacea from external sources, they become ‘quick fixes’, lacking the true, lifelong healing qualities that only our internal resources can truly foster.
Removing Toxic People from Our Life
It is not just simply about surrounding ourselves with good people. It is also committing to a life without toxic people in it, and honouring our values and belief-systems by removing harmful others from our life.
I realise this is easier said than done. For two reasons;
- We may not have the psychological strength as yet to distinguish between toxic and non-toxic
- We may be reluctant to let go of some people we love — especially family, despite the evidence that they continue ad-nauseum to wreak havoc in our hearts and minds.
We can never heal from trauma if we keep re-inviting the same kind of abuser from our childhood into our present. As they say, history has a way of repeating itself.
Finally, We Must Keep our Hearts Open.
Why wouldn’t our hearts shrivel when we have been quarry to reprehensible cruelty? It is only too understandable. But it is perilous to the spirit. We all wish to live lives that are full; marked by personal achievement and rewarding relationships. This is not possible with a closed heart.
When we close our hearts and minds we hide in the darkness within. There is no light. There is nothing flowing. Our innate energy is still there but it can’t get in. This is the embodiment of being ‘blocked’. And existing in this system will stymie our ability to self-actualise, obstructing our inbuilt predisposition for perpetual growth.
We possess an inborn energy within us that pushes us to self-actualise — to be who we truly are. This energy gets discoloured from trauma, in losing this energy we lose ourselves. But we have an intrinsic ability to reclaim it, nourish it and enjoy a life full of love and enthusiasm. We can call on this energy any time we want but it is a choice. We can choose to exercise control, to stay open — it’s just a question of how much we want to be open, or whether we choose to close.
This is what it means to rise from the ashes of victim-hood. To choose the path of openness, to choose to reinvigorate our intrinsic energy source and to live a life full of colour. This is our life’s privilege, our birth-right. It would be a travesty to choose any other path.