6 Reasons Why It’s Difficult to Acknowledge and Talk About You Traumatic Childhood Experiences.
Hi Love! I'm Morgan and I'm a childhood trauma survivor, certified trauma-informed coach, and the creator of Rising Warrior Collective, a safe community for survivors of childhood trauma to begin healing. If you're ready to take your healing to the next level, let's connect and talk about what it looks like to work 1:1.
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After navigating decades of emotional and physical abuse, addiction, mental unwellness, abandonment, dysfunction, and narcissistic abuse in my family, I stepped into my adult life with no idea that I experienced trauma (and was still experiencing it). This continues to blow my mind from where I stand today while, I also know this is extremely common. If I, and so many others, went through that much without being able to connect the dots, can you imaging how many humans walking around today do not know how their adverse childhood experiences are impacting them? I think about this a lot, like a lot a lot!
Childhood trauma is far more reaching than you may expect. CDC research shows over 60% of American adults have, as children, experienced at least one ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) and almost a quarter of adults have experienced 3 or more. This is likely an underestimate. That’s not surprising to me just looking at my own family’s experience with trauma and the lack of awareness and understanding of it. Still, to this day, I’m the only person in my family who can see it for what it is, even after the curtain was pulled back. It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences a trauma during childhood is or will be deeply impacted by it. Many factors go into our unique experiences and how they effect us.
I often see the same pattern show up for my clients that I saw for myself. While they come to me to work on healing childhood trauma, many of my clients still feel skeptical and unsure about the connection between their childhood experiences and their adult challenges. Sometimes it can take months or even longer before the reality of their experiences really sets in and they can truly connect the dots between what happened and how those experiences have impacted all areas of their lives. The aftermath of childhood trauma can be tricky to navigate.
“To heal from child abuse you must believe that you were a victim, that the abuse really did take place. This is often difficult for survivors. When you’ve spent your life denying the reality of your abuse, when you don’t want it to be true, or when your family repeatedly calls you crazy or a liar, it can be hard to remain firm in the knowledge that you were abused.”~ Ellen Bass
So why is that? Why is it so difficult for many developmental trauma survivors to identify, acknowledge, and/or accept their childhood experiences as trauma?
1. LACK OF AWARENESS AND SOCIETAL STIGMA – This is especially true when it comes to emotional abuse and neglect. Many childhood trauma survivors struggle to see themselves as so because they were not physically abused by their caretakers. Their abuse came as emotional abuse, such as denied reality, parentification, defending abusers, belittling, shaming, outcasting, and gaslighting. Because emotional abuse is not as obvious as physical abuse, victims are often stigmatized and shamed for talking about what many see as “normal” trials and tribulations of childhood. Because of this, instead of being offered support for healing, we are expected to pick ourselves up and simply move on and allow time to clean up what is left. We know now that it doesn’t work like that.
2. WE UNKNOWINGLY BUILT UP A TOLERANCE – As kids living through developmental trauma and family dysfunction, it’s extremely difficult to know what’s normal and what’s not. Experiencing abuse and neglect at the hands of your caretakers goes against everything that is right. Our young brains had to navigate the betrayal while also knowing we needed them to keep us alive. We were often groomed from an early age to keep family secrets and protect our abusers while being denied our reality. Over time, the dysfunctional reality of our lives became “normal.” We learned how to isolate inward, be resilient, and survive in abnormal environments. We then carry this “resilient” mindset into our adult lives, unaware of just how impacted we really are.
3. PERCEIVED INTERNAL SHAME AND STIGMA OF BEING A VICTIM – Coming face to face with the reality of family trauma and dysfunction means we have to find acceptance that we were the victim of abuse and neglect. This is difficult for anyone whose childhood survival was because of their strength and resilience. For most of us, there wasn’t room or support to feel what we were going through, so we learned to shut it off. Feeling could be perceived as weakness and that could have jeopardized our survival. Over time, we began to wear our resilience like a badge of honor, proud of our ability to overcome. Finally, letting down that protective armor and facing the reality of what happened to us comes with risk. For many, that’s the shame and stigma of being labeled a “victim.”
4. FEAR OF BEING BLAMED, DENIED REALITY, OR TOLD IT WAS OUR FAULT – There’s a fascinating thing that happens after a lifetime of childhood trauma and family dysfunction. While you know you lived out each day of the wild ride, you’re left with huge gaps in your memory and details are often difficult to piece together. For many of us, our reality was constantly denied as children. The same continues in adulthood when we look to our family to help fill in the gaps, but they instead blame, deny, and deflect fault back to us. This experience is extremely painful and re-traumatizes us over again. Anyone who has experienced this knows that we quickly learn to avoid that pain by leaving the past in the past. Ultimately, however, this choice keeps us in our trauma patterns unable to heal.
“If I, as a child, claim that something awful has happened—that someone has done something terrible to me—and everyone around me acts as if nothing is the matter, then either I must be crazy, or all of them are. And when you’re a kid and your life depends on all these people, there is no choice: of course, I must be crazy.”~ E. Sue Blume
5. DENIAL AND GUILT – Being abused and neglected by your own family can really mess with your mind. On one hand, you know they let you down, failed you, and abandoned you when you needed them most. However, because of the emotional trauma bonding that happened throughout childhood, you feel an obligation to tend to their needs above your own. To make things more challenging, society tells us that, as children, we are expected to love, accept, and respect our parents unconditionally. Failing to acknowledge that abusive and neglectful parents exist leaves us navigating painful feelings of denial and guilt. It’s very common to survive childhood trauma and then feel bad for our abusers.
6. COMPARISON – “My experience wasn’t “that bad.” I always had a roof over my head, food on the table, and got to play sports. My mom’s life was way harder than mine was.” Trauma survivors are great at finding the logic in something. We learned early in life that feeling in our bodies was not safe, so we learned how to live from our thinking minds. What we don’t realize is that our bodies can’t compare the way our brains can. To the body, trauma is trauma…period. Just because we think or have been shaped to believe that what we went through was not “that bad” does not mean that it wasn’t actually that bad. Trauma impacts the body often in ways that are harder to see, so when we downplay our experiences, we jeopardize the opportunity for healing and recovery.
It’s said that childhood trauma is one of the major public health issues of our time. Childhood trauma is real, and it has lasting impacts on our lives, whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it. Pulling back the curtain and getting curious about your childhood experiences does not mean that you are choosing to play the victim or intentionally trying to hurt the people who hurt you. Pulling back that curtain, getting curious, and connecting the dots are all steps that you must take in order to start the healing process. You are worthy of healing from your past!
You might be wondering, “ok well now what?”
Well first, I would take a take a nice long, deep breath because that was a lot to take in and process. It was especially a lot if you are someone who hasn’t had a safe space or support to acknowledge the reality of your childhood experiences.
Then I would grab a pen and a notebook and do a little free writing. Free writing has no rules and nobody will see it except you. Grab the pen and just start writing – whatever comes up is exactly what is meant to. You might be feeling sad, angry, triggered, resentful, or frustrated. Whatever the feelings and thoughts, just let them flow. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Write as long as you need to and don’t hold back.
When you’re done, do something that makes you feel good. You could take a walk, take a bath, make a nice meal, put your favorite music on – whatever feels nurturing.
And finally, keep your heart open, listen, and stay curious. This info and writing exercise is likely to shake things up a bit. Over the next couple of days, you may have memories pop up, feelings awaken, or questions arise. I challenge you to let it all have space to be here with you. If at any point what’s coming up feels overwhelming to your body, then I suggest reaching out for support. This could be a friend or family member who feels safe, a professional such as a therapist or coach, or a 12-step meeting like ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families).
We can’t heal from our past until we understand that we have a past to heal from. I know that awareness can be a painful first step, but please know that you are not alone. I deeply love connecting with my community and hearing your thoughts and feedback. I’m here holding love for you and your healing journey.
If you are you ready to connect the dots between what happened to you and how it’s impacting your adult life so that you can finally begin to heal those wounds, 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.
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Lots of love ~ Morgan
October 12, 2022