Healing from childhood trauma can be lonely yet a very liberating experience of your life. When we go through something traumatic, it is human nature to suppress our emotions and not deal with the pain. However, trauma does not just disappear. It gets stored in our bodies.
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When I started my healing journey, I did not know where to begin. My childhood trauma was like a puzzle that I wanted to solve. There were many missing pieces, unresolved emotions, and I was surviving, not thriving.
If you are anything like me, I am positive you will find this post helpful. I am sharing with you 10 things I learned along the way that you can reflect on as you may be starting your own inner work.
This post is all about healing childhood trauma
Healing From Childhood Trauma: 10 Lessons I Learned in 2022
1. Feeling guilty and a sense of betrayal is normal when healing from childhood trauma.
Think back to the time when you first started having thoughts that something needed to change in your life. What were some of the thoughts that came up? Personally, I could hear my inner critic saying, 'you are fine,' 'your parents need you,' 'what will people think,' 'you are bringing shame to your family,' 'you are crazy,' etc.
As a South Asian woman, this is something I struggled with the most. We are raised in a collectivistic culture where putting the needs of others before our own is valued and celebrated. So then, you can imagine the guilt I felt wanting to dissect my childhood trauma and talk about something extremely uncomfortable.
I wish I knew that feeling this guilt was completely normal, and the voices get quieter with time. Figuring out the source of where the guilt was stemming from is extremely crucial. When you hear your inner critic, who does the voice belong to? For me, it was my family.
I learned that when I speak about my traumatic experiences, I am not betraying my family. Instead, I was betraying the dysfunction.
2. Your sibling's journey will look different than your own.
Many of you may have questioned why you and your siblings cope with your trauma differently, despite going through similar situations. Some of you may have expressed anger that your sibling was doing okay and you were not, despite going through the same trauma. On the other hand, some expressed fear for their siblings' safety and mental health, and some of you were healing together.
Many variables can be in play- age, gender, resiliency levels, coping skills, support system, the level of trauma they endured, etc. I learned that while healing from childhood trauma is an individual responsibility, it does not have to be a lonely experience all the time. You can have completely different childhoods despite growing up in the same house, and recovery is about connection.
When I first worked on myself, I was distant from my family. I needed to create the distance to get closer. As we all individually work on ourselves, we are now closer than ever, and I don't think that would have been possible if we didn't have the initial distance. Of course, that is not true for everyone; it might look different for your journey.
Another important lesson I learned during this process was that I could only be responsible for my healing journey. You can't force someone to take on their healing journey because you feel it's necessary.
Instead, do the inner work, validate your experiences in a safe space, and move forward to creating a more fulfilling life for yourself. That's where it starts. The journey is not about competing about who 'heals' first or holding resentment towards the other sibling, but instead fostering self-compassion that their experiences do not lessen the severity of your own.
3. Don't just read the material, apply it to your life.
Man-O-Man, am I guilty of this. Growing up, books and writing were my escape. I loved getting lost in stories and reading about how other people overcame their struggles. When I first started my healing journey, I went through so many self-help books and materials focusing on how to treat childhood trauma in adults. I was obsessed with finding ‘the answer.’
What I needed to do was apply what I was learning. You could read about the benefits of breathing to calm your nervous system all day, but if you are not actively practicing it, it will not work. You have to practice what you are learning.
4. Journaling is an underutilized tool.
For someone who loves writing, journaling did not come easy to me. I always thought journaling was highly restrictive and forced me to write about things I did not want to face. This is something I learned was not true at all. Journaling is what you make of it. It is not meant to be restrictive; if it is, you are not doing it correctly.
Write about whatever comes to your mind that day. If you are happy, write about what makes you happy. If you are angry, write about that. Journaling is what you make of it. When you regularly practice journaling, you will discover patterns about yourself that you didn’t even realize you were engaging in. My sister used to journal every day. When she reads through them four years later, she can see firsthand how much progress she has made.
5. Forgiveness is not a prerequisite to healing.
I thought about forgiveness quiet a lot and what value it brought to my life. When I started my healing journey, I believed that to heal, I needed to forgive. I no longer believe that. I also used to think I needed to receive an apology from those who wronged me, and honestly, I would be waiting a long time if my healing depended on that. Something had to shift.
Everyone views forgiveness differently, so while some may agree with this, it may not be your reality. I learned that forgiveness was never as simple as ‘I forgive you.’ Just like there are stages of healing from childhood trauma, there are stages of forgiveness. I had to do some grief work, process a small part of it, accept it, and then let go of that piece. Then I bump up to the more significant part of the traumatic experience. This made things less overwhelming for me, and I developed self-compassion in the process.
At some point in your healing journey, you may choose to forgive. That is okay.
At some point in your healing journey, you may choose not to forgive. That is okay.
At some point in your healing journey, you may choose to forgive but keep your distance. That is okay.
At some point in your healing journey, you may choose not to forgive right now but to work on your relationship to find space for forgiveness. That’s okay too.
What works for one person isn’t always the reality for the next person. Sometimes there’s no going back, and sometimes there is room for improvement. You decide what’s best for your mental health and choose to heal accordingly.
6. Your family may never engage in your recovery process.
uYour recovery process is about YOU. It is about giving a voice to your experiences, sharing your story, and releasing your past to move forward. Unfortunately, unless your family is engaged in their healing journey, it might be challenging for them to understand your process.
When I started therapy, I rushed through, wanting to speak to my family about the past. Unfortunately, they did not comprehend my choices and continued repeating their old behavior patterns. I had to learn to let go of this expectation that they might apologize or choose to engage in the process. With time, I did share my perspective, but I did not take on the burden of sharing their pain. The issues didn't resolve directly, but I was able to be at a place of self-acceptance. It was enough to move forward.
I learned to release this idea that I needed to fix everyone or make them see how I was changing to get what I needed. I was capable of continuing on this journey.
7. Celebrate the small steps.
This was something I really struggled with when I started my healing journey. I would watch my sister celebrate her little wins by taking herself out for chai or taking the night off. I would always ask myself, what is the point of celebrating small successes? It is the big wins that matter. That could not be further from the truth.
Every small step you make is a step towards healing yourself. For example, if you journal every day for a week, it is okay to reward yourself with something that will continue to motivate you. Even if it feels like that was just expected of you or you feel like you are stuck in childhood trauma, try to list out all of your small wins. I promise they add up and are provide signs you're healing from childhood trauma.
8. Healing from childhood trauma is a lonely process (but it doesn’t have to be).
Loneliness is a side effect of healing from childhood trauma that we do not talk about enough. I wanted to talk about what I was going through but feared that no one would understand or that I would be burdening them with my pain.
Over the years of healing myself from childhood trauma, I have come to learn that it is okay to reach out for help, and there are people who want to support you. You do not need to carry the weight on your own. It can be your close friends, therapist, teacher, family member, or anyone with whom you feel safe. Healing from childhood trauma can be a very lonely process because people may not understand it in your life. However, it does not always have to be that way.
The first time I read about this 7 Ways to Heal From Childhood Trauma, I realized I was withdrawing due to my trauma, and connecting with other people was not bad.
9. Outsourcing my healing.
You may have done this yourself. Waiting for your therapist to tell you a magical cure for your traumatic experiences, relying on your spouse or friends to ‘fix you,’ putting it out in the universe, etc. Trust me, I have been there.
Your healing is your responsibility. The expectation that someone else can do the work for us and feel better is inaccurate. You have to sit with those uncomfortable moments and be an active participant in your recovery.
You are the expert in your healing and need to use that to your advantage. For me, I had to start spending time with myself. What do I like? What are my current patterns when I am emotionally flooded? Can I try something different?
No one else can do the work for you; I promise you don’t want them to.
10. It is okay to take a break
I wish someone would have told me this earlier in the process. I wish someone would have just told me, ‘It is okay if all you did today was breathe. You made it through the day, and that is what matters.’ This misconception that we are focusing on healing 24/7 is untrue and, quite frankly, harmful.
I was experiencing symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood and I learned that years of conditioning takes time to undo. When I would get overwhelmed by question like is healing from childhood trauma possible or what does healing from childhood trauma look like, I learned that it was okay to slow down and take a breather.
It is okay to take a break. It is okay if all you did today was breathe. You made it through the day, and that is what matters. You are okay.
Healing from childhood trauma is not a destination, it is a journey. A journey that requires self-compassion, courage, hope, and most importantly patience.
You are a cycle breaker- changing the narrative of your story. That awareness alone is a lesson in itself.
This post was all about healing from childhood trauma.
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