Healing Childhood Trauma: Who will I be without my trauma?
Those of us who have been dealing with our childhood trauma for most of our lives can find the idea of who we might become once it’s healed rather scary. What will healing do to me? How will I change? Will I like the person I become? Will I still remember what happened? These concerns are perfectly reasonable. People who experienced childhood trauma have lived most of our lives with it, some don’t remember who they were before it happened. These bad experiences have been impacting and influencing our lives forever. It may be all we know. Even though struggling with our painful past is hard, we know it. We know what to expect and how to do it, there is a kind of safety in the familiar, even if it does suck royally!
"If I let go of this pain, then they will really be gone"
Sometimes it’s because we know people who have never suffered the trauma that we have experienced, and we think that those people are shallow or spoiled or weak, and we don’t want to become like that. Other times it’s because the idea of not still feeling this pain is just too strange to even imagine. Or maybe it’s that the idea of healing feels like letting the person (or people) who hurt us off the hook; that if we let go of this pain it’s like saying it was okay that it happened. There are a million fears that can hold us back. So, let’s talk about them.
Will I still remember what happened?
When we heal from trauma, we do not forget what happened. What changes is how we feel in the present about it and the amount of influence it has on our lives. Before healing, many people expend a lot of energy trying to push away the memories and the pain of those experiences. It’s not just a remembering that it hurt back then, it’s a still feeling the pain in the here and now. As we heal, those events truly shift into the past. We come to remember them and remember how much it used to hurt us without having to experience the pain and upset of it again. It comes to be just a part of our history. Unhealed history can have a huge impact on our lives. It can tell us not to trust, not to try to reach for our dreams, that we don’t deserve a loving partner, and much more. Unhealed trauma has to much power in our lives. As we heal from our difficult histories, they stop being THE driving force in our lives and become just another experience that can help us make well informed choices in the future. Often-times healed trauma provides very different guidance than unhealed trauma does. Unhealed trauma can tell us to be afraid and that we are unsafe, while healed trauma can show us that we are strong and capable of overcoming great difficulties.
Who will I become?
When we have lived with our upsetting past since we were a child we may have no personal reference point for who we were before it. Or we remember ourselves as a child but that doesn’t help us know who we’ll be as an adult once we heal. People who have healed from their trauma often say that it has made a profound impact, that the difference is like night and day, that it has changed their lives. These kinds of statements can actually make the idea of healing scarier. These statements suggest that these people have changed so much that they are not the same people. And in some ways, they are not but in other ways, they still are the same person. What has really changed is how they feel about themselves: They may have let go of shame. Their critical voices may have become far less mean and perfectionistic. Their fear and feelings of being unsafe may have shrunk and become situation dependent rather than historically driven. They may have less doubt in themselves and be more willing to reach for their dreams. They may feel more worthy and know that they deserve to be treated with respect. These types of things change, and these types of change can have a profound impact on who we are. But other things about ourselves do not change: We do not suddenly stop loving to draw (although what we draw may change). All the grit and strength that has gotten us through will remain (but it will be available for use in new ways). The things we were passionate about won’t just randomly change (we won’t suddenly stop liking to hike and start loving opera). We will still recognize the person we are once we heal. It can feel a lot like taking heavy weights off our ankles (after wearing them for years) – we’ll pick our feet up too high and we will have to adjust how we walk, and it will also feel good and we’ll laugh while we adjust to the change.
Will healing mean it was alright that it happened?
NO! Healing does not mean that what happened to us as a child is somehow less bad or more acceptable. It does not give those who hurt us a free pass, it does not relieve them of responsibility for what they did. In fact, healing has nothing to do with them! It is for us. We are taking back our lives. We are not letting them continue to hurt us. We are reclaiming our power from them. Healing means that we are alright, despite what happened.
Will I like the person I become?
Most people who heal their traumas like who they become much more than they liked who they were before they healed. They sometimes find that before they healed they had caused harm to others and may now feel the need to repair what they can. That too can be part of the healing process: owning what we did and fixing what we can. Using those mistakes, not as whips to beat ourselves up but as guides to help us grow towards that better self we want to become.
"I didn't think about it once ALL WEEK"
It is really natural to be unsure about the changes that can come from healing from difficult and traumatic events that still hurt. It is okay to feel some fear, just don’t let it keep you stuck living a life that is painful and unpleasant. A life with healed trauma still has it’s ups and downs, the difference is that those ups and downs are not made worse by the unhealed pain from our past.