I grew up with emotionally neglectful and unstable caretakers throughout every stage of my life, from birth through my twenties. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing that I’m sitting here with enough mental clarity and awareness to share my story. I experienced ongoing emotional and physical abandonment from both of my parents through the most important developmental years of my life.
It was not abnormal for me to miss out on weeks, months or even years of their lives. They often passed me back and forth after they separated when I was born. My mom is an alcoholic/addict. My dad struggled with addiction (on and off) as well as mental health challenges from serving in Vietnam. Both were survivors of childhood trauma, too. When neither could care for me, other family members and friends would take me in. Those experiences were often just as, if not more, traumatic than life with either of my parents.
As a young child, I felt terrified, confused, unwanted, and alone. The adults in my life lacked important parenting and caretaker skills to support me through these feelings. Instead of validating and comforting my big emotions and feelings, they would scold me for crying, and then label me dramatic or too sensitive.
“Being abandoned or given up is the most devastating emotion we can cause in another human being.”~ Gary David Currie
Abandonment from my mom was always the biggest trigger for me. This is common for a child who grows up with an alcoholic or addict since we often switch roles and become the caretaker. Anytime she was out of my sight, I deeply feared the worst. When my grandparents couldn’t calm me down in her absence, they’d send me to a room to cry alone. Sometimes this lasted hours. These were some of the loneliest experiences of my childhood.
Because nobody helped me address and heal these wounds, they remained buried inside me. To soften the pain, as I got older, I began seeking approval, validation, and attention from the outside world. I prided myself on being the “good” kid, getting good grades, and being a caretaker to everyone around me, especially my mom. The validation I received made me feel good – even if it was short-lived. For brief moments, I would feel less alone and seen.
When you grow up with a lack of approval, acceptance, love, and nurturing from your closest people, it’s natural to spend your life trying to make up for it. As an adult, I felt ashamed of this constant need for validation, approval, and attention. I did everything I could to hide it and pretend that I had my shit together. In reality, every decision I made was based on what I thought other people would think of me. This is an exhausting way to live AND a common cycle for a trauma survivor to get stuck in.
“Stop looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love – you have a treasure within that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”~ Eckhart Tolle
We seek external validation because we are unsure of ourselves, lack confidence to know who we are, and/or how we feel. In a healthy family environment, as children, we would have had caretakers who allowed us to explore and get to know ourselves while holding a safe space to retreat to as we were growing. They would have encouraged us to get to know ourselves. Those of us who grew up with dysfunction, toxicity, and addiction often missed out on this exploratory developmental stage. We instead experienced a lack of attention, support, and guidance to grow into our true selves. We often had no choice but to fast forward through childhood.
While this can be a heavy realization, especially if this is new information for you, it’s not a life sentence. Trauma recovery is our second chance to explore and get to know ourselves the way we should have been able to as children. The very first step in this process is AWARENESS (the fact that you’re here reading this means you’re already working on this one. Yay, I’m so proud of you!) We can’t change something until we bring awareness to its presence. The next step is creating space in your experiences for self-compassion. It’s easy to get down on yourself and feel shameful about how you showed up in this world because of the adversity that you experienced. Self-compassion helps to soften that judgement and shame, and replace it with love and understanding (this is what we should have experienced as children).
“You did the best you could with the knowledge you had in that moment. It’s easier to look back at an event and see a better choice or pathway because we already learned from our experience. Hindsight happens after the lesson, so we can’t condemn ourselves for not knowing the lesson before we learned it.”~Emily Maroutian
From here, we can incorporate acts of self-validation. To heal our wounds, we have to take our power back. As long as we rely on external validation for love, approval, and acceptance, then we will forever need others to feel good. Everything that you need to feel good is inside of YOU right now. Here are a few things that you can start doing to support this mindset shift and regain your own inner power:
~ Acknowledge & celebrate your strengths, progress, and successes.
~ Make your needs and wants a priority.
~ Say & do nice things to/for yourself.
~ Leave room for forgiveness when you don’t get it right.
~ Say “I love you” to yourself every day – even if it feels hard at first.
~ Notice your feelings and give them space to be heard.
Trauma recovery is a practice that takes time and commitment. Recovering from childhood trauma is not a linear, it’s a fluid process. Some days, it will feel easier to implement these shifts than others. If you can practice offering yourself acceptance, love and self-compassion equally on the good and not so good days, that ball of trauma that you have been carrying around your whole life will slowly unravel.
Are you ready to shift out of the pattern of seeking external validation, approval, and attention? Do you want to gain the tools to harness the power you already have inside of you? Feeling stuck and alone on the journey? I would love to support you. My 1:1 coaching container creates a compassionate, non-judgmental, and safe space that meets you right where you are today. From there we move at a pace that supports your life, goals, and visions for your unique and beautiful future, a future that can look anyway you CHOOSE.
Click here to book your free 1-hour discovery call.
You never know how one conversation could shift the direction of your life.
Lots of love ~ Morgan