How to heal from the painful experiences you had as a child

When we were born into this world, we came here with no knowledge of how human relationships worked, no concept of reality and no idea who we were. We looked outwards to the environment and people we had in our lives to teach us about ourselves, how to create and sustain human connection, and what it meant to be alive. We created an internal map by absorbing whatever was given to us to help us understand this earth. If people said that we were ugly or worthless, then there had to be something ugly and worthless about us and if they listened to us and treated us with respect then we saw ourselves as people worthy of respect and attention. We internalized how people treated us and used that to define who we were because as children, we could not see beyond ourselves.

Unfortunately for some of us, we were raised in an environment where our needs were neglected, where we were surrounded with physically and emotionally abusive people and exposed to life threatening situations. Our human bodies wired mentally to either fly or fight in response to threatening situations released neuro-chemicals to assist us with escaping or defending ourselves at that time. Continuous exposure to that environment or person put our physical and mental bodies constantly on alert (battle mode) as a response to that situation. As time went on, this battle mode became our automatic reaction to actual or imagined threats and we will, even when separated from that environment, find it difficult to cope with life’s daily struggles in adulthood.

For example: If you grew up around insensitive people, some of us as a response to that situation learn to develop a tough skin and become insensitive while another group of us as a response withdraw into ourselves and become loners. Practice makes perfect. The more time you spend navigating through life being insensitive or a loner, the better you get at it. Both guaranteed to do what they were assigned to do: to keep people away. Now as adults we begin to describe ourselves as these defense mechanisms supporting it with claims of it being who we naturally are saying “I do not like people” “You have to be tough to be my friend/student/lover” “I prefer being alone” or “I protect my space aggressively”

We grew up hardly at peace. It is no wonder many of us suffer from anxiety.

Abuse: emotional — growing up with controlling and selfish parents, teachers or guardians, being bullied by a sibling or strangers, having your emotions ignored or dismissed like emotionally unavailable fathers and emotionally manipulative mothers.

physical — being flogged, hit, slapped by any human being this includes parents, siblings, classmates, guardians or any adult as a form of correction or control

sexual — being forced into non-consensual sex by any human being

spiritual — being exposed to spiritual gatherings where faith or religious beliefs were used to manipulate, extort and control people, and used as a justification for harmful decisions and actions.

verbal — being called names, made fun of, spoken harshly to, insulted, by any human being this includes parents, siblings, classmates, guardians or any adult as a form of correction or control;

Trauma in childhood environment:

community violence: tribal wars, deadly cult gangs like Badoo

natural disasters: flood, erosion, drought

domestic violence: mother-father violence, father-mother violence, sibling rivalry

refugee trauma: experiencing the boko-haram and fulani herdsmen attacks, surviving bombings or kidnappings

traumatic grief: loss of a loved one at a young age where grief was not properly dealt with

medical trauma: mental and physical response to single or multiple medical events, living with or caring for a physically ill loved one

substance abuse: having a parent, family member, loved one who abused drugs and alcohol or living in a community where drug abuse is common.

parental separation and/or divorce: experiencing parents separate, custody battles

mentally ill or suicidal loved one: living with a family member or loved one who suffers from any mentall illness, attempted suicide or died by suicide, having a friend or classmate or neighbor who is mentally ill or committed suicide

imprisoned household member: having a household member who is imprisoned or going to prison

Neglect of child:

abandonment: experiencing a parent leave the family, being disowned by both parents during childhood, having parents or guardians ignore the child’s basic physical or emotional needs

Healing from childhood trauma

Distance: For you to have any clarity when dealing with your childhood trauma, it is important that you successfully remove yourself from that and every toxic environment. Doing this will allow you to breathe and reflect deeply on your own self which is a difficult thing to do when surrounded by toxic people.

Healing from childhood trauma is possible, but survivors need the right environment. Often, it is not until a child is fully grown and far removed from their toxic past that they have an opportunity to deal with the fallout. Some people never get to escape their abuse, and some people never get to a place where they feel safe enough to do the hard work of healing. — Vicki Peterson

Emotional healing: When traumatic events occur, they generate negative emotions like fear, shame or guilt within us. These emotions left unprocessed remain in our unconscious and begin to affect our daily life: bullying experienced in high school makes it hard for us to make friends in adult life, parent’s divorce makes it difficult for us to commit to long-term relationships. For healing to occur, these emotions that have arisen as a result of traumatic experiences must be identified, acknowledged and processed

We must do our selves the kind service of understanding that the traumatic event was an injury to self, i.e. we should not have been treated that way and allow ourselves to feel the natural feelings of being hurt and suffering. As we process these feelings, we should separate the traumatic event from our self-identity and not blame ourselves for the actions and decisions of other people.

Once we have been able to separate our selves from the hurtful voices of others, we shoukd now begin to work towards forgiving them and ourselves.

To forgive we must first understand why our abusers might have done what they did and why we responded the way we did back then. Understanding does not mean finding out the exact reason alone. It includes and most times this thought is the only understanding you will ever come to, accepting that hurt people hurt people. If you can emotionally understand that if a person does a fucked up thing it is because they are or have been fucked up, you are on your way to forgiving.

We must then look to ourselves and forgive our helplessness as children. We did not know any better and we had no control of our actions. We could not protect ourselves and the people we loved. It is not our fault and that is okay.

Forgiveness is being able to feel the pain, understand why the pain exists, empathise with the pain, learn from the pain and let the pain go. All you need to take with you from forgiveness are your healing heart and better life lessons.

Engage in health promoting behaviors: Health promoting behaviors are behaviors that one can adopt to help them maintain a mentally and physically healthy life. Some of which are exercising regularly, avoid smoking, moderate drinking, eating well, and access to emotional support. These behaviors have been known to help reduce the chances of people who have experienced childhood trauma falling into depression or having any mental illness.

Go to therapy:

These activities sound nice in words but few of us have the level of self-awareness and have cultivated the mental strength necessary for this healing to take place. We need help to find peace.

It is okay.

Go on and ask for help.

You can book a session with me here or speak to counselor at mentallyaware.org

musings of a psychotherapist living and working in Lagos, Nigeria.