As a trauma therapist and someone from a relational trauma background, here are 16 things I wish I had known 16 years ago when I was beginning my relational trauma recovery journey.
- You’re not broken. All that’s going on for you is a constellation of symptoms related to what happened to you in the past. Your symptoms tell the story of hard things that happened to you. You’re responding appropriately to the circumstances you lived through, even if you can’t consciously remember them all.
- You did experience childhood trauma. It doesn’t look like what the media or society (at that time) said “counts” as childhood trauma. But it is trauma. It is relational trauma. Trauma is a subjective experience, and being raised by mood- and personality-disordered parents can contribute to this. Your pain is legitimate, and the impacts of your past are profound. Don’t let yourself or others dismiss or diminish your reality.
- It is entirely possible to be high-functioning and still have unresolved relational trauma symptoms at play. The two things are not mutually exclusive. And sometimes, being “high-functioning” cloaks and disguises the very real need to seek out high-quality mental healthcare.
- Sooner than later, get yourself into trauma therapy: actual trauma therapy with clinical intake paperwork and confidentiality agreements with a licensed mental health clinician who is overseen by a regulatory board and who is additionally trained in evidence-based trauma treatment modalities, like EMDR. You will save thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars and reduce the risk of re-traumatizing yourself.
- It’s going to take time to heal. It took a long time for all these thoughts, behaviors, and ways of being in the world to develop. It will take time to undo them. Have patience as much as you can while you continue to feel sad about your childhood, and move forward as best you can.
- You don’t have to be fully healed to start living your life. Indeed, the things you want from life are some of the very things that can accelerate your healing and teach you your biggest lessons. Please understand: you don’t have to defer living your life until you’re “fully healed” to pursue them.
- Also, there is no “fully healed.” That is a myth. On a relational trauma recovery journey, there are progress markers like skills developed, capacities strengthened, and other biopsychosocial achievements, but there is no “fully healed.” There’s just constant progression from where you started based on what you think progress is.
- Life is easier as a hermit. But it’s way less fulfilling. Strengthening your capacity to tolerate relationships – the real, closely connected kind with conflict, vulnerability, rupture and repair, and deep intimacy – makes life worthwhile. Practice being in a relationship with safe, trusted others to begin developing this capacity (and it counts to start practicing with a therapist if there’s no one in your “real life” who feels safe.)
- Your financial healing and empowerment will, in tandem with your psychological healing and empowerment, be just as crucial for your relational trauma recovery journey. Make learning about, stewarding, and improving your financial life as much a priority as anything else.
- There is no “forgetting or getting over” your past. There is only grieving and integrating reality. This journey isn’t an “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind” scenario. You can’t change what happened, and you can’t forget it. But you can construct a new narrative and make meaning of your past as you move along in your relational trauma recovery work.
- Few things are more powerful than feeling less alone in your childhood trauma and recovery. Seek out circles and places where it feels safe to share. Your share may invite others to do the same, and the relief that comes from feeling less alone in your story can be another powerful healing accelerant.
- It is possible to come from an egregious childhood trauma history and still have a big, beautiful life as an adult. One filled with love, fulfilling relationships, meaningful work, financial success, and joy from hobbies, adventures, and more. You are not doomed to a lesser life because of where you started.
- Your relational trauma healing may include elective or forced temporary or permanent estrangement from your mentally ill or dysfunctional family members. Sometimes, it’s hard to heal the wound when your hand is still on the hot stove.
- You need to understand that you’re starting five miles behind the starting line of your peers who don’t come from childhood trauma backgrounds. The playing field is not level. Please stop comparing yourself to others with functional backgrounds to lessen the pain you’re heaping onto yourself in an already painful situation.
- Learning and re-learning the skills of good, functional, “mundane” adulting, and doing those actions day in, day out, year after year, will have a cumulative impact on your relational trauma journey in tandem with the deep psychological work you do.
- Even though you have spent your whole life feeling “other” and unwanted, you will not always feel this way. You will find your people and create a second chance family-of-choice. And telling your story will attract amazing relationships into your life. Look around you for models to take inspiration from until your life becomes the model you dearly wished to see.
These are 16 things I would have told my 25-year-old self 16 years ago. They are insights gleaned from being 16 years ahead on the relational trauma recovery journey with a clinical license and expertise in relational trauma recovery and a lot more lived life experience.
If you resonated with this post and you’re looking to begin therapy with a trauma therapist, the directory on Psychology Today is a wonderful place to look.