Healing from childhood trauma is a complex, personal process that often requires professional therapy. Please always seek professional advice. For my full disclaimer and some awesome mental health resources, click here.
When you’ve experienced trauma as a child, it often feels like a wound that won’t heal despite how many times it scabs over.
It is vulnerable to the slightest touch – a face, a smell, a song on the radio. All it takes is a nick for the wound to burst open, as fresh as it was all those years ago.
Our natural instincts tell us that if we leave it alone it will heal autonomously. Life dictates that time and patience is the best healer, that the less we think about it, the less it will hurt.
The truth is, healing from childhood trauma is a complex, painful process. It involves purposefully opening that wound once again and withstanding the agony as you inspect and dissect it. Luckily though, it isn’t an impossible process.
As someone whose childhood traumas led to multiple mental health conditions and self-destructive behaviours, I think it’s safe to say that healing from childhood trauma can be a mentally debilitating ordeal. It isn’t something you can suppress, shrug off or ‘think positively’ about – and this is coming from someone who says ‘positive vibes’ to an eye-rolling extent!
Unresolved childhood trauma can be severely detrimental to our mental health as adults, something that I learnt through my BPD diagnosis. For a long time, I was adamant that I was completely over my childhood trauma – I ‘didn’t even think about it’, let alone allow it to affect me in any way.
However, after a string of mental illnesses, toxic relationships and the occasional drug dependency, I was forced to admit that maybe – just maybe – I had some unresolved issues going on.
Symptoms of Unresolved Childhood Trauma
Even when we are distanced from the traumatic event through space and time, the effects of unresolved trauma are often deeply woven into our psyche and can manifest at any point in our lives.
Some symptoms of unresolved childhood trauma include:
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
- Anger issues
- Anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks and phobias
- Attachment or intimacy issues – from being overly dependent on toxic people to avoiding intimacy at all costs
- PTSD, recurring nightmares and body memories
- Drug/alcohol dependencies
- Poor emotional regulation, or avoiding ‘intense’ feelings at all costs
There are many, many other symptoms of unresolved trauma. It is one of the most common risk factors for various mental illnesses and can trigger a host of negative psychological, emotional and physiological behaviours.
It might seem impossible to heal from something that has caused you so much pain, but I’m here to tell you that with patience, courage and self-awareness, you CAN heal those old wounds and find peace within yourself.
Here is everything I’ve learnt about healing from childhood trauma.
Healing From Childhood Trauma
I am not a mental health professional. If you suffer from a mental health condition like PTSD or depression, or you feel completely overwhelmed by your trauma, please seek professional help. You can read my full disclaimer and check out some awesome mental health resources here.
Validate Your Emotions
“Other people have been through so much worse.”
“It isn’t even that big of a deal.”
“I’m pathetic for even feeling this way.”
These are the words that I, and undoubtedly many other trauma survivors, tell ourselves as we suppress and invalidate our childhood traumas. We do this for years and years, refusing to believe ourselves worthy of such emotional pain.
Research shows that when we suppress emotions, we only give them more power over us. For trauma survivors, our invalidation pushes our mind deeper into a toxic web of shame, guilt and self-hatred, making recovery extremely difficult.
Your feelings of anger, sadness and fear are 100% valid. They crave attention, respect and understanding. Take the time to validate each of your troubling emotions as a vital first step in the healing process.
Accept That You May Never Get The Closure You Deserve
The feeling of having someone hurt me and ‘get away with it’ caused me to harbour intense feelings of anger. Similarly, losing a parent to suicide left me with guilt and a bunch of unanswered questions. I struggled to let go of these things because of the resentment that bubbled under the surface, coupled with – well – the ‘sheer unfairness of it all’.
I know now that my inability to accept the injustices of my trauma was stopping me from healing. Once I accepted that my need for closure would never be fulfilled, I was able to release all of my harboured anger (which was a huge weight off my shoulders!)
Learn To Forgive
Healing from childhood trauma will eventually lead you down the path of forgiveness. I’m not talking about forgiving the people who hurt you – that is something else entirely. I am talking about learning to forgive yourself.
Shame and guilt are common reactions to childhood trauma. They grow more intense with every subsequent mistake we make or self-destructive behaviour we adopt. We can’t move on from our childhood trauma or the chaos it causes because we are stuck with the horrible feeling that somehow, someway, it was all our fault.
Why are we so unjustly critical of our younger selves?
Your trauma was not your fault and you shouldn’t hate yourself for the lengths you went to in order to survive. So, forgive yourself for whatever has you riddled with self-loathing. Try to approach your situation from an unbiased perspective and – most importantly – be kind and compassionate to yourself. You deserve it.
Self-awareness is one of the most essential tools for healing. It is fundamental for emotional regulation, which is something trauma survivors commonly struggle with.
Often, trauma survivors subconsciously adopt mentally-damaging cognitive processes and behavioural patterns. This is because going through trauma initiates a whirlwind of scary, confusing and overwhelming emotions, many of which facilitate unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Suppressing emotions or ruminating bad memories are two self-destructive behaviours that seriously prevent healing.
Learn to identify your personal triggers. Gently acknowledge your sadness instead of running away from it. Question your anger instead of diving headfirst into it. Practising self-awareness focuses on becoming more in-tune with yourself, making your troubling emotions less terrifying and easier to process.
Find Purpose In Your Pain
Pain teaches us so much more than peace does, which is why we tend to linger on painful memories. Our minds are always searching for the whys and hows and what ifs, trying to find meaning and clarity in the darkness. This is especially true for childhood trauma and the intense emotions that come with mourning the loss of our childhood innocence.
Finding purpose doesn’t mean finding something happy in your pain. I don’t believe that there is anything beautiful to be learnt from trauma. However, take some time to reflect on things that your pain has taught you. For me, my trauma has made me deeply empathetic, resourceful and fiercely intent on raising awareness!
Practise Daily Self-Care
The reason I am such a huge self-care advocate is because I’ve learnt first-hand just how important daily self-care, love and reflection is for your mental health.
Trauma survivors often adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms and bad habits, behaviours learnt in childhood that can grow steadily more destructive as we mature. Drug dependencies, self-isolation, co-dependency and rumination are just a few of the dangerous behaviours that trauma survivors engage in.
Self-care activities like mindfulness, journaling and yoga not only provide you with a healthy form of escapism, but they encourage self-love and offer a positive outlet for your troubling emotions.
Use Mindfulness As A Healing Technique
We often think of mindful meditation as the art of becoming ‘thoughtless’, but this is not at all the case. On the contrary, mindfulness encourages us to identify and accept the thoughts that subconsciously drift into our heads. It also opens our eyes to the fact that our thoughts – even the most truly painful of them – are still just thoughts.
Mindfulness gives us the gift of objective freedom. Rather than the desperate urge to flee at the appearance of painful memories, or the habit of falling into the dark abyss of rumination, we can adopt a state of introspective peace at the appearance of such thoughts.
And of course, it has incredible healing powers because it encourages us to focus on the present moment rather than dwell on the past.
Cleanse Your Environment From Toxicity
If there are certain people or places that trigger your issues surrounding unresolved trauma, consider removing them from your life. Toxic people and environments can severely affect our mental health, worsening symptoms of illnesses like PTSD and depression.
And Lastly – Talk To Someone About What You Went Through
This one is so important!
The saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” is actually scientifically proven to have merit. Our negative thoughts often become so scary because we allow them to multiply in our minds, spreading their darkness like a disease. However, talking through traumatic events can help to lift the weight of them from your shoulders and provide you with a more objective way of looking at things.
Look into getting therapy – you can check out my resources page here – or confide in a close friend, family member or doctor.
Do you have a personal story about healing from childhood trauma that you’d like to share? Please feel free to share your story in the comment section down below!