So far in my private practice of six years, I have yet to find a person who has never experienced hurt. I’ve found no people who have escaped the effects of trauma. But for some reason, I still meet people who deny the pain of their childhoods. If I had a dime for every time a client has sat on my couch and said their childhood was great and their parents were awesome, I would have retired to the beach by now. So let’s clear the air here and now, say it with me, “I experienced trauma when I was a kid, and it really hurt.”
Trauma is an event, series of events or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and well-being.
There is a wide spectrum for trauma that I like to denote with big T’s and little t’s. Not everyone has experienced big ‘T’ traumas (find examples from my own story), but we’ve all experienced little ‘t’ traumas. The danger is if we don’t know our story, if we don’t learn about our traumas, and if we don’t seek the truth about them, we carry the toxic hurt from them into our adult relationships.
Little ‘t’ traumas
Little ‘t’ traumas happen everyday in “good, Christian homes” and are often hard to uncover. A daughter experiences harm by becoming ‘best friends’ with her mother so the mother won’t feel lonely in her dysfunctional marriage. A son experiences rejection when his passive, withdrawn father who works all the time doesn’t engage with him or his mother. A highly-emotional child suffers because their parents and siblings don’t know what to do with them, so the child believes they are “too much to handle”.
The biggest obstacle for my “happy childhood” clients is admitting the truth to themselves. They sadly believe that admitting trauma would be disloyal to their family, dishonor their parents, or ruin their image in the community. They sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of what other people might think. Unacknowledged, these little ‘t’ traumas can cause just as severe dysfunction and impairment later in life as the big ‘T’ traumas.
Big ‘T’ traumas
Big ‘T’ traumas are much easier to see but have great cost in our lives and relationships. If you experienced any form of sexual abuse, watched the physical and emotional abuse of a family member, were adopted as a child, had addiction in your home, went through a divorce or a death, had an unfaithful parent, or experienced emotional incest–my heart grieves for you. These tragic wounds leave lasting scars on our souls and if left internally bleeding without care, can lead us to live impaired lives. But there is hope in healing. If you have experienced a big ‘T’ trauma, I encourage you to seek the help of a trained mental professional (see my list of recommendations).
I promise that I’m not on a mission to convince everyone that their childhood sucked. I am simply passionate that my clients have truth. Even if the truth is hard, it is better than the lies we believe about ourselves. Lies like, “Why can’t I stay in a stable relationship? Something is wrong with me,” or “I am a bad parent because I rage at my kids,” or “I must be crazy because of my struggle with the guy at work”. The truth is, we do all of this and more because of unknown or unprocessed trauma. Knowing your truth does not excuse bad decisions, but it gives you the choice to act out of our woundedness, or not to. The truth sets us free.