Healing the Past

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Sometimes, our past, and especially our childhood, can leave us hurting in ways that we do not understand or even realize. The hurt may come from a parent who left us through separation, death, or incarceration; it may be from a parent who we feel did not love us the way a parent should love a child; a parent who was very harsh; or it may be come from one violent incident such as a rape or physical assault or even a terrorist attack, or a longer-period of childhood abuse. Adults who hold onto hurt from their childhoods can be negatively affected in many ways. Some adults cope with negative childhood experiences through depression, difficulty sleeping, anger and mood swings, eating disorders, use of alcohol and other drugs, avoidance and failure to follow through, failure to trust others, and relationship problems with romantic partners, authority figures, and one’s own children. In some cases, adults may even experience vivid memories of the hurtful events (flashbacks) and will continue to relive the hurt over and over. These types of reactions to hurtful childhood experiences are sometimes called trauma symptoms.

Parents who are affected by negative childhood experiences may find themselves emotionally unavailable or unable to respond emotionally to their children; they may be overprotective and controlling of their child, or they may unknowingly frighten their child in an effort to protect him or her.  These different patterns of trauma symptoms experienced by parents can set parents and children up for relationship problems, and can get in the way of children’s healthy development.

The good news is that adults can heal from traumatic childhood experiences and can become better parents. How long the healing will take and they way one heals will vary from person to person. It is not unusual to feel better at one time, only to have trauma symptoms return at a later time. The following is a list of steps that adults can take to begin the healing process:

  • Recognize the hurt or loss that was experienced in childhood
  • Respect that you have a right to feel the way you do
  • Talk about your feelings with those you trust, or find someone to talk with – you might consider your medical doctor
  • Know you are not alone in your feelings and reach out to other adults survivors who experienced similar events (consider a local or online trauma support group)
  • Seek professional help such as trauma counseling
  • Recognize events that trigger your trauma symptoms (e.g., your birthday, teacher conferences)
  • Try avoid making quick decisions on important items (relationships, employment, education)
  • Make time to care for yourself (exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep)
  • Do something positive such as volunteer your time to help others
  • Remain hopeful that healing will happen – it is never too late!
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