How I’m Learning to Accept My Childhood Trauma Instead of Deny It
If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
About two years ago, I noticed an increase in discussions concerning the topic of “trauma.” Trauma therapy has been around for years, but it felt like suddenly, this word was appearing everywhere. I checked Google trends, and it was no surprise the word “trauma,” in regards to people and society doubled from 2016 and continues to increase. If the media was saying everyone had endured some sort of trauma from their childhood, then why is it significant to the field of mental health?
I was skeptical of the rising popularity of discussing trauma because I thought I never experienced trauma. I grew up in a two-parent Christian household, and attended a private school. My family struggled financially at times, requiring government assistance and my parents had what I thought were normal spousal disputes. I later realized the disputes were violent and harmful to me as I witnessed them regularly. My father was an alcoholic and abused narcotics, which I am sure intensified them.
Despite this, I did not think my childhood was “that bad” since I was never intentionally hurt physically, my parents made sure we had something to eat, and I was never sexually assaulted as a child. It was not until college, that I was exposed to the concept of mental health during my required psychology classes. I decided to see a therapist and received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. After seeing two therapists, my depression was not improving and I stopped going.
After a year, I decided to give therapy one more chance. After a few months, my therapist recommended we work on my childhood trauma. I was in denial of my trauma even after she explained to me trauma could be anything that overstimulates the nervous system. I was extremely doubtful this approach would improve my mental health. I hesitantly agreed to try and slowly began to realize I did experience trauma in the form of psychological abuse.
I was not allowed to express my emotions, and when I did, I was ignored, or told I was overreacting. I adapted to this by becoming invisible and ignoring my emotions, resulting in difficulty with communication and emotional regulation skills. It was overwhelming as I started to see how trauma was directly affecting my life. I realized my father had narcissistic tendencies and controlled my mother’s actions. He would discipline my brother and I with no explanation.
I had never seen anything wrong with this, since Christianity taught that the husband and father was in charge of household decisions and the leader. I know now, he was not a leader, but a dictator. I recognized mental health was not a value in my house because the priority was to meet my father’s expectations.
Any denial of my trauma that remained disappeared the last time I sought emotional support from my parents. My depression, including suicidal thoughts, were increasing and I knew I needed help. When I disclosed this to my therapist, she suggested having my parents attend a session to explain how they could support me and ultimately ensure my safety since I lived with them. At the session, they expressed a genuine concern and desire to be involved. As the session progressed, my father’s narcissism dominated the conversation as he talked about himself and his own life story. He expressed how my suicidal feelings affected him. After multiple redirection attempts by my therapist, the plan we created was explained.
My parents’ role was to act as my social supports, as well as helping me adhere to the plan. Specifically, they were advised to directly ask what I needed from them as a way to check in with me.
After the session, they never asked me what I needed, or how they could help. My parents could not accept how crucial it is to support mental health. Their theatrical performance during the session paralleled to how all through my childhood, we appeared to be a perfect family on the outside, but on the inside, we were broken and far from perfect.
Occasionally, I catch myself dismissing my trauma, but am working toward confidently accepting my experience. The purpose of accepting trauma is not simply to blame other people for your struggles with mental health. Acceptance does not cure mental illness, but serves as a guide for treatment. Once you accept your trauma and begin to notice its impact, your healing can begin. The behaviors and habits you formed to cope with the trauma can be reversed. Acceptance can lead to a better quality of life, including stronger mental health.
As I continue to work through my trauma, I hope to maintain a relationship with my parents in some capacity as I begin to forgive them for not meeting my emotional needs.
Getty image by Olga Litvinova