I was eight years old when trauma stripped me of my childhood. I couldn't understand how or why something like that could happen when life was going so well the day before. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't have the abstract reasoning to comprehend what occurred entirely, nor did I understand what healthy coping skills were either. So, instead, I created a whirlwind filled with addiction, destruction, and emptiness well into my adulthood.
It is sad to witness how all it takes is one traumatic experience to affect a child's long-term mental well-being. I've seen it as a former in-home mental health therapist working with youth and families in crises. Children have such malleable minds, and sadly, if that solid foundation breaks, then so can a child's psyche. However, it also doesn't mean that any damage caused has to be permanent either. Therefore, I'd like to give some helpful tips on working through childhood trauma.
When we experience childhood trauma, it often leaves us stunted at that exact moment in time and can affect our way of thinking, coping, and adapting to life. Especially with children who didn't receive the appropriate help, support, and resources, you often see lasting effects of PTSD, leading to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders well into adulthood. Therefore, seeking counseling would be an ideal choice.
If possible, find a therapist specializing in trauma or one who understands the effects long-lasting trauma can have on an individual. The point is to find a therapist who can help you get to the root core of the trauma to gain more effective coping skills.
I'm certainly not saying therapy will be easy, as there will be a bit to unravel, but it might give you a whole new perspective in life if you stick with it.
We often don't reach out for help to avoid imposing on others, but living with unresolved issues can fester inside one's head. Therefore, try talking with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor instead of going it alone.
If you prefer not to disclose with someone familiar to you, attending a support group with other individuals who can empathize and listen without judgment might be what you need. You can choose from an online or in-person peer or therapist-led group. Or, if you prefer privacy, you can search forums specific to your needs.
Alternating between time spent alone and with others is a healthy balance, but isolating from the world is not conducive to your mental well-being. So, try getting out into the community and find something you might enjoy. For instance, join a gym, book club, sewing class, etc. However, it doesn't have to cost you anything either, so try meeting up with a friend for a visit or a nice walk.
Years ago, my therapist mentioned how volunteering would benefit my mental health. It took me a long while due to severe depression, but when I finally began presenting at inpatient facilities, it honestly changed my life for the better.
Volunteering has a way of distracting yourself from your mind, and not to mention that helping others has a way of building your self-esteem. So, give it a try, whether you decide to volunteer at your children's school, an animal shelter, a food pantry, or something else.
My mother suffered from severe mental health issues when I was a child. So, I became that little kid who sat by her bed day and night. I didn't want her to suffer alone. Plus, I thought I could "fix" her, but that wasn't the case. From there, I began to carry all this self-blame that lingered for over 40 years.
When we are children, we rely on our parents or caregivers to protect us and offer stability, but sadly, it doesn't always turn out that way. Therefore, the first step is to realize that you are not responsible nor accountable for their behavior, and carrying this heavy torch of self-blame serves you no purpose. It is essential to understand that we can't control what happens to us as children, but we can take charge of ourselves as we get older.
My feelings of emptiness manifested when my mother could not care for me. So, by elementary school, I sought purpose in relationships or masked my pain with substances. Several years later, when I had my children, I overcompensated by giving them the childhood I never had. Essentially, I had no identity or inner purpose my entire life.
When children experience trauma, they often struggle with who they are existentially and seek purpose through others. However, it is only a temporary fix because nothing or no one can fully compensate for what you feel is lacking inside of you. Therefore, please dig deep and find your purpose and identity, whether it entails finding something that piques your interest or doing something nice for yourself. If you struggle to find the answers, seek support and consider counseling.
Do I wish I could erase my childhood trauma? Quite often, yes. However, on the flip side, I realize that my trauma molded me into the person I am today, which is someone who loves helping others.
When a child experiences trauma, even as adults, they often question if they could have done or said something differently or wonder if life could have been better had the trauma not occurred. However, you are replaying a tape in your head that you can't rewind. Nor do you deserve to be stuck there. Therefore, try and create a new life for yourself and a way to enjoy the present moment while it's there.