Healing Childhood Trauma: A Piece of Us is Still There
When awful events happen to us as children, a part of ourselves can become stuck in that experience. When bad experiences happen, and we can’t deal with them, we shove them down and push them away. But the memory of those experiences doesn’t just disappear. A piece of us gets stuck holding onto it. Just like the rest of ourselves, that part of us doesn’t want to deal with it either.
Because we aren’t dealing with the experience, our relationship to it doesn’t change. We continue to remember and experience the event exactly as we had when it happened. So, if we were a young child when it happened the part stuck holding onto it get stuck as that same young child. This is why we can feel young and small when we do think back to those events. This is also why the event continues to feel as scary and overwhelming as it did when it happened (we are remembering it through that still young part of ourselves).
So, what does that mean about how we heal from those past traumatic experiences?
- We still need what we needed: Often, what we needed as a child experiencing awful events – was an adult who could protect us and help us feel safe again. Part of us still needs that.
- We can do it: We can learn to provide that compassionate, supportive, protective and loving adult to ourselves.
- We need to grow up: Not in the judgmental and angry way of “GROW UP ALREADY”, but in the helpful and caring way of “Let me remove this burden so you are no longer stuck here”.
- We need to shift our understanding: When we experience awful things, we attempt to make sense of them. Since we are children, our understanding is childish and self-centered (such as: It happened because I’m bad). Bringing adult understanding to the experience is an essential part of healing.
- We may need help: If we are still experiencing the events as if we are that same age as when it happened, then that part of ourselves is still unable to handle the experience alone. Often, it is a good idea to work with a therapist who specializes in childhood trauma when we decide to heal this part of ourselves.
Often when I’m helping someone heal their trauma, they will tell me that it feels like a part of themselves is still stuck there, where and when the bad experience happened. I find that it is often very effective to work with these parts as the experience themselves to be. If that part experiences itself as a small scared child hiding under a bed, then I teach the client to help that scared part of themselves by being the protective, respectful, comforting and loving adult that the small scared child part needs. Together, we will work to help that part choose to leave that place and time and come into a more pleasant present time existence. We will work to sooth and heal that part’s pain. We will help it understand that it’s a part of a whole person who is grown up and capable of taking care of them.