I don’t want my bad childhood to define me anymore. Yes, I did experience trauma. Yes, it was painful. But I’m ready to move forward with my life.
These are sentiments shared by many trauma survivors at a certain point in their healing journey. Often times people will come into therapy discouraged or disappointed because nothing seems to be helping them move through their trauma.
Can I move through the pain?
There is hope for healing childhood trauma. As you know, it won’t be an easy road. Whether you were physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected, you’ve experienced something real and painful. However, there is hope and it can be easy to miss that.
Healing childhood trauma
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted by Kaiser and the CDC correlated traumatic childhood experiences and health outcomes later in life. In the study, 67% of adults reported that they had experienced at least one event that would qualify as an adverse childhood experience. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a doctor from Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco has given an informative TedTalk about the lasting effects of childhood trauma. For the first time, the medical community is documenting the physical and emotional connection between abuse and health outcomes. This will hopefully pave the way for more trauma informed care and treatment options for people who have been through abuse.
There are a number of shocking statistics about childhood trauma and health outcomes. Childhood adversity can lower your life expectancy by 20 years. There are long-term health risks like heart disease and cancer that go up with exposure to childhood trauma. Depression, anxiety, substance misuse and addiction rates are higher for those who have lived through adverse childhood experiences. Knowing this information can begin to help you make the distinction that your symptoms are not your fault, but the result of having experienced trauma.
Being kinder to yourself
Here’s an example of how trauma can trick you. If you’ve lived through trauma, you may be statistically more likely to use substances to deal with the pain. However, you may feel guilty about your substance use and punish yourself for using. By understanding why you use, you stop blaming yourself and blame the trauma. You’re not a bad person, you’ve been through a lot and you’re probably doing the best you can.
Where’s the hope?
If you’ve lived through trauma of any kind you’re probably aware of the powerful effects the past can have on the present. Nightmares, freezing up, intense anxiety or crippling depression are all ways that trauma can show up in the present.
By getting support from a therapist, psychiatrist, friend or family, you can begin to rebuild your life. However, one of the difficulties with trauma is that is can get in the way of trusting other people. In order to begin healing, you must find a support team that you trust and can start to be vulnerable with. This is by no means an easy task, but it will lay the foundation for a new life ahead.
What kind of trauma did I experience?
Trauma looks different for each person. While physical or sexual abuse can seem more clear cut, emotional abuse and neglect can be harder to identfy and label. Talk with your doctor or a mental health provider to explore the symptoms you’re having and whether or not they could be the result of trauma.
What are some signs trauma may be affecting me today?
There are a number of signs or symptoms that may indicate trauma is still affecting you today. Substance misuse, sexually acting out, addiction, trouble sleeping, weight gain, difficulties with relationships and unpredictable mood swings may all be ways that trauma is showing up in the present. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor or mental health professional to begin making a game plan to move forward.
Depending on the type of trauma that you experienced, there are a number of different therapies that you can explore to begin healing. The most important thing is that it may take some trial and error to find the right therapist or type of therapy that will work for you. While it can be extremely emotionally challenging, keep searching until you find the right support for you.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This is a therapeutic technique that uses bilateral eye movements (like in REM sleep) to process and transform traumatic memories. This is a therapeutic tool that has been used effectively with people who have experienced long-term and single incident traumatic events, like first responders and veterans. While nothing can make the traumatic event go away, you can work to transform how it affects you in the present.
I use EMDR in my practice and have seen powerful results in helping people process their trauma. However, EMDR is not the only way to work with trauma.
Other types of trauma treatments
Exposure therapy is another popular trauma treatment. By slowly exposing yourself to the traumatic memories, the theory is that you can begin to process and work through the pain. There are also new medical treatments like Ketamine and MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy that are currently being researched to help with the treatment of trauma. There are new things being discovered all the time, which is another reason to keep the hope alive.
Don’t give up hope
If you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, it can be hard to hold out hope that the pain can get better. Especially if you’ve tried therapy or treatment in the past and not found success, it can be hard to motivate yourself to try again. However, you owe it to yourself to keep fighting for relief. You can’t change the past, but you can give yourself the gift of a better future. It won’t be easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Find support, keep trying and don’t give up. You’re worth it.