First let me tell you how sorry I am that in your early life, you had to experience and endure really hard things that happened to you.
It’s not ok what happened.
And it’s never been your fault.
I’m a fellow survivor of childhood trauma.
I remember when I first realized that someone had a name for something I’d been dealing with my whole life:
I was attending a professional training called Somatic Resilience and Regulation to learn a new skill set and deepen my understanding of trauma. On the first day, my teachers, Kathy Kain and Stephen Terrell, shared information about ACEs, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.
I was holding my breath, my eyes were starting to bulge a little and something like sadness seemed to wrap my whole body in a tight, heavy feeling.
Then they started talking about the impacts of having a high ACES score, meaning four or more out of ten, and how developmental delays socially, emotionally, physically and mentally resulted from early trauma defined as a single traumatic event that didn’t get treated or receive meaningful attention and/or an on-going experience of abuse or neglect.
As they spoke, it felt like they were speaking directly to me about myself, in ways that I had never heard before but resonated with all the same.
Later on in the privacy of my hotel room, when the day’s events and information started to really land and integrate, I wept.
I wept for myself and my struggles.
I wept for my young, small and vulnerable self.
I wept for my self-loathing and angry teenaged self.
I wept for all the suffering, shame and fear I had experienced living parents who often treated me with contempt, emotional neglect and physical abuse.
I wept for my adult self, who for so long, just thought she was defective and un-loveable.
And I mostly wept for all of us, maybe a lot of you reading, who don’t know that your struggles in life may stem from the impacts of early trauma.
The problem with early trauma is that it sets what I call a “template” for how your nervous system functions in the future, which means that it sets the template for how you view the world and your behaviors. A template is defined as something that serves as a master or pattern from which other similar things can be made.
My template in terms of survival patterns (fight, flight, freeze, fawn, submit) is fight.
My patterned ways of being in the world: anger, self-criticism and defensiveness.
Some of my early and unconscious beliefs included that people were going to abandon me, judge me and because I was so un-loveable, that I had to prove myself in order to belong and feel safe.
Imagine what these kinds of beliefs do to a body.
These kinds of beliefs create an over-active, hyper-analytical mind that replays events over and over again looking for the negatives in my behaviors.
These kinds of beliefs create a body that is quick to anger, quick to feel emotionally triggered and slow to return to baseline.
These kinds of beliefs create a body that feels braced, tight, constricted and exhausted.
These kinds of beliefs create a suppressed immune system and chronic inflammation in the body.
These kinds of beliefs, create a body that has a hard time relaxing and sitting still replaced instead by over-doing, over-riding my needs and pushing too hard in everything.
Worst of all, these kinds of beliefs made connecting with others feel like walking through a field of land mines, just never sure when things are going to blow up.
Frankly, living in survival patterns and survival physiology no matter what the template, narrows the mind of possibility, drains the body of health and energy and dampens authentic self-expression.
So, you think you have early trauma, now what?
Know first of all, that if you have experienced unresolved early trauma, that it’s not a life sentence for suffering and on-going struggle.
Know that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.
Know that you aren’t alone. “ACEs are common and pervasive in our society. In the original ACE study of adults, 64% of adults reported at least one ACE. More than one in five reported three or more ACEs and 12.4% reported four or more ACEs. To learn more about ACEs, check out this ACEs resource packet.
Most importantly, know that you can overcome the negative impacts of childhood trauma. Here are some ways:
Start talking about what happened
What happened to you when you were young? Do you ever feel safe in the world; if so, when? What are your unconscious beliefs about yourself and your view of the world? What are the patterned ways that you behave when you feel threatened? What are the ways you learned to cope, even if those coping mechanisms aren’t healthy?
Acknowledge the truth about what you had to survive. And that you did survive.
When we can claim ourselves as survivors, we start the process of leaving the past in the past so that we can heal and move forward in our lives.
Practice of self-compassion as the antidote to shame
Shame is a natural consequence of trauma in general and especially with early trauma. Surviving abuse, neglect, abandonment and/or traumatic events not related to maltreatment is literally HEROIC, even though we likely don’t feel that way as we look back on our lives. Having compassion for what we had to endure, tolerate and survive when we were children is vital to the healing process.
Connect with your body.
Because trauma lives in the body, it is important to learn how to sense and feel your body as part of the healing path. So often with trauma, folks don’t want to tune into their bodily or somatic experience because it feels like entering a war zone. It’s scary. And yet, learning how to come home to oneself in the body serves to resolve trauma by healing the nervous system that is stuck in survival physiology. Ways to do this include:
- Getting regular body work like massage, rolfing, chiropractics or shiatsu
- Non-goal oriented movement practices like yoga, dancing, Nia, Journey Dance and ecstatic dance
- Seeing someone who is therapeutically touch trained in modalities such as coregulating touch link here and craniosacral therapy link here
Get educated on early trauma/ complex trauma
Listen to podcasts and read books. Here are seven books to get you started:
My Grandmother’s Hands by Resma Menakem
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker
Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation by Janina Fisher
The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook: Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential by Arielle Schwartz
Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jonice Webb
It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn
Healing Developmental Trauma, How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline Lapierre, PsyD.
Get connected to others.
Join an on-line group for folks who have also survived. Join a therapy group. See a therapist who specializes in early trauma and attachment trauma. It’s vitally important to do trauma work in relationship with a safe enough other.
There is so much love for you here!
Here at Somatic Therapy Partners, we are a group of clinicians who are both somatically trained and therapeutically touch trained. We specialize in treating early trauma, complex trauma and anxiety. Reach out and see how we may serve you on your healing path.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for wanting to heal. And whatever your next step is on the path of healing, thank you for that too!