Discover how childhood trauma causes emotional and physical problems today, and what you can do to heal.
Celine, an only child, was seven years old when her mother died tragically in a car accident. She and her father were devastated. However, unlike so many of my clients who lost parents and no one was there for them, Celine’s father was completely there for her, even while dealing with his own grief and heartbreak. Celine could call him anytime at work and he would talk to her or come home to lovingly hold her. Because he was so completely there for her, her feelings of grief, heartbreak, sadness and sorrow did not get stuck in her body. Each time they came up, they were released due to the caring, compassion, tenderness, gentleness, consistency and understanding of her loving father.As a result of her father’s love, Celine did not develop the fear of intimacy and loss that so many people experience as a result of the loss of the parent. She did not close her heart to protect herself from future loss.
However, most of us did not have loving parents to help us move through the heartbreaks of childhood. In fact, many of us had parents that caused much of the heartbreak with various forms of abuse. We needed to numb out and find protections/addictions to manage the heartbreak and loneliness of rejection, abuse and loss. As a result, the pain got stuck in our bodies, causing both physical and emotional damage.
Without a loving parent such as Celine’s father, we had no choice but to learn to buffer the pain. You might have learned to use food, drugs or alcohol at a young age. Perhaps you became addicted to TV, computer games, tantrums, fantasy or caretaking. You might have learned to stay focused in your mind rather than in your body, and to live in the past or future rather than in the present moment. In one way or another, you learned to disconnect from your deeper feelings of heartache, heartbreak, loneliness, helplessness over others, sorrow and grief, because you did not have the ability to manage these very painful feelings any other way.
But addictions and inner disconnection cause other problems – loss of a sense of self, low self-worth, fears of rejection and engulfment. The more you disconnect from your feelings, the more you are dependent upon others for approval and acceptance. This leads to relationship problems and to more addictive behaviors. The result is living with anxiety, depression, fear, anger, guilt and/or shame.
Childhood heartbreak has hugely devastating effects that need to be healed as adults. Now, we can go back and learn to give ourselves what we didn’t receive as children – compassion, caring, tenderness, gentleness and understanding – and heal much of the emotional damage. We can learn to manage the deeply painful feelings that we could not manage as children.
When children are physically and/or sexually abused, the energy it takes to survive causes a huge amount of stress in the physical body. When stressed, the body goes into flight or fight, which means that the blood leaves the organs, brain, and immune system and goes into the arms and legs for fighting or fleeing. However, when we cannot fight or flee, we freeze, causing the blood to stay stuck in our arms and legs. This gradually erodes the immune system, preparing the way for illness. Much current illness is the result of childhood abuse.
While we can currently eat well, get enough exercise, and heal the emotional stress, sometimes the physical damage is deeply challenging. It is not easy to heal the years of damage caused by the stress of abuse. It is vitally important for you to not judge yourself for the illnesses you might be suffering that started as a child from being abused or from suffering unbearable loss.
Today, you need to be gentle with yourself. Judging yourself for the emotional and physical damage of heartbreak only causes more heartbreak. Instead, you need to be deeply caring, tender and gentle with yourself, consistently giving the love and acceptance to yourself that you did not receive as a child. This is what heals.
[Margaret Paul Relationship Toolbox]