“When I first started therapy, I hated myself. My body and my relationships paid the price. My weight dropped to an alarming level as, for the first time, I tackled my eating disorder.
Once I started it was clear to me that I needed more than 10 sessions. So I continued. For the next 6 months, I hated my ex-husband, my family, and my past circumstances.
Finally, when there was nobody left to hate, I realized that hate was the wrong strategy. Hate was destroying my life.
Since I obviously couldn’t change the people around me, I decided I would concentrate on changing myself. I was angry that I hadn’t been the person I’d aspired to be, that I had violated my own values and not lived up to my potential. But it was time to move forward. I recalled something I’d heard in church, a place I hadn’t been for a long time: “It’s arrogance when you choose to hold on to what God has chosen to forgive.” Lord knows I had been arrogant. But maybe now, at last, I was ready to let go.
I’m not sure if it was the EMDR [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, a highly effective, non-invasive therapy for healing trauma], the amazing therapist, or the timing, but I could tell that something was beginning to change. I quickly realized getting well was a process … I’d finally gotten over my aversion to talking about the painful memories and decided it was time to heal the past trauma in my life.”
Acknowledge the Invisible Wounds from Trauma
I was in my late 30s when I became aware of how the traumatic experiences of my past were directing some of my decisions and behavior as an adult. The passage above, from my new book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, describes my initial foray into psychotherapy as I began the work to heal my emotional scars that, up until then, I had tried hard to conceal.
The concept of hiding—or minimizing—a traumatic past is a common survival strategy for many people. It’s as though we’d like to take all those frightening, chaotic, humiliating, or abusive memories and put them in a box that others can’t access. This way no one can see the secret pain hidden inside—or so we think.
While childhood trauma manifests in many ways, some of the more common causes of it are:
- Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Physical or emotional neglect
- Death of a parent (or caregiver), divorce or other abandonment
- Witnessing domestic or community violence
- Environmental chaos, including parental mental illness and/or substance abuse
Growing up with experiences like these can leave invisible wounds that lead to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, unresolved grief and addiction. There are some people who cope with their past by overcompensating through achievement (that was me!) or striving for perfection in one way or another. Some try to protect themselves from further pain by lashing out and pushing people away. Still others wear their pain on their sleeves and adopt a victim mentality as adults. They may have great dreams for their future but feel powerless and struggle to believe they deserve anything good.
If any of this rings true for you, I want you to know that your past does not have to dictate your future.
In fact, you can start to change that right now.
Healing from Trauma is the Greatest Gift
To make 2021 even better, give yourself the gift of healing. Because of the way trauma is stored in the brain and body, seeking professional help can be a game-changer. A skilled psychotherapist will help you process the events of your past and move forward in a healthier way as you learn to love and accept yourself.
From personal experience, I can tell you that even though the healing journey isn’t always easy, it is worth every single minute of the work you do to go through it. It has been the most liberating experience of my life. And I want the same for you.
After everything that happened in 2020, let this new year be the time for you to make your own healing a priority, so you can see how very worthy you are of love and possibilities for a happier, more fulfilling life.
The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child is written by New York Times bestselling author, neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and vice president of Amen Clinics, Tana Amen. In this compelling and candid memoir, Tana shares how she was able to find healing after experiencing a terrifying childhood of abandonment and abuse and how she became a champion for others who have experienced trauma. It offers an inspirational look at what’s possible for anyone in need of healing and hope. Order your copy here.