Negative childhood experiences stay in our memory bank in our brain. They can affect our brain function, emotions, sleep function, relationships, immune system, and even physiologically in general. We must heal these negative childhood experiences in order to have healthy relationships and to lead a fulfilling life as an adult.
What We Will Not Be Discussing:
I want to be clear that I am not addressing sexual, physical or any kind of abuse resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or serious trauma. PTSD and trauma are specialties that require the professional training of a skilled therapist and or program with that specialty.
Examples of Negative Childhood Experiences:
The negative childhood experiences I am talking about are common in families who are fairly high-functioning. It is about a child feeling neglected even though they were “technically” cared for by their parents or caregivers. Not feeling “seen” by the parents and feeling invisible or that one’s needs were not important. It’s about a child feeling they needed to please the parent in order to be loved and valued. This is called “conditional love”. It means that someone must do certain things in order to be “loved” by another person. But that is not real love. As a child we wouldn’t understand that. Because we are 100% dependent upon our parents we need to see them as infallible. That they know and practice those parenting techniques that are best for us. That our parents love us and want us to be happy. And that they will always be there for us when we need them.
Parenting is a Generational Process
Unfortunately most often schools don’t teach these concepts and skills. So as parents we “don’t know what we don’t know”. We most often will do those things in parenting that repeat our own parenting we had as a child. It is a generational process of handing down what we were taught and at times had to “endure”. Important: it is not about blaming our parents. They functioned in the way that they knew to do and most often, were taught by their parents. Sometimes a parent will be conscious enough to understand they must find a healthier way to parent their children and to stop the generational pattern of unhealthy parenting. Those are the more fortunate children. But that is not often the usual case.
Why It is Important to Heal as an Adult:
- Early negative experiences determine how we function in various types of relationships.
- Do we trust easily? Or are we always having to look for signs of the person cheating on us?
- Do we value ourselves? Do we need to please the person in our life in order to feel secure in the relationship? Or do we feel we deserve love just because we are who we are?
- Do we matter? Or do we feel invisible and that we must do things for people to truly “see us” and who we are?
- How we parent will greatly affect these same things in our children. Do you want them to experience childhood as you did?
- Early negative childhood memories still affect our mind and body. Often the physical ills we experience can come from emotional pain of these memories and their effects on us. Depression, loneliness, avoidance of relationships, serial dating, anxiety, poor sleep, headaches, weight gain are all possible symptoms of a lack of emotional healing.
- A fear of repeating the same childhood patterns. It is not uncommon for people who have had difficult childhoods, and especially abusive ones, to decide to not have their own children. I have heard it said many times, “What if I repeat the same things my parents did and do damage to my future children?”
How Do We Actually Heal From Negative Childhood Experiences?
- You can re-experience it as a memory, only you would be using your adult mind. You are now capable of challenging some of those experiences from early childhood as an adult. This is using the pre-frontal cortex of your brain that allows you to use logical and rational thinking and re-evaluate those early experiences with your adult mind. Example: I was 5 yrs old and sitting at a table with my parents, cousins and aunt and uncle. When I spoke up to say something, my uncle (who I knew loved me) suddenly bellowed over the table “shut up and eat your dinner!” I was mortified and filled with shame. I didn’t understand what I had done that was wrong, but the fact that no one stood up for me, or said “that’s OK, finish your dinner and then you can say something.” Or that no one came to me later and explained that I had done nothing wrong. That they understood I just felt left out. I felt that there was something wrong inside me, though I didn’t know what it was. And I remember thinking “I need to make sure this ‘thing’ doesn’t come out because I am bad then”. In looking back at this memory I realized within a few seconds from an adult brain, that I had done nothing wrong. My uncle whom I loved dearly was part “grump” sometimes. It wasn’t about me at all. When I realized as an adult what actually happened and that I never had this “thing” inside me that wasn’t OK, that “damaged” or “broken” feeling was gone.
- Louise Hay has a great book called Mirror Work. She takes you through a process of giving yourself new, loving messages while you look at your self in the mirror. Basically, you are re-programming your subconscious mind to love and value yourself as you are. It is a 21 day process of using affirmations about you. It may sound kind of silly, but reprogramming through positive affirmations really works. You may want to visit her website and take a more thorough look at what she does: https://www.healyourlife.com/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall.
- Take an online course with Brene Brown, PhD on The Gifts of Imperfection: Brenebrown.com. I personally did the course through Oprah’s website. But you can get it directly on Brene Brown’s website. It is art journaling that is going through various exercises about being “imperfect” and the humanness in that. I will never forget one of her exercises: Get a photo of you as a small child and write in your journal what you know now and wish someone had told that “little person” in the picture. That exercise will always remain with me. Dr. Brown has also given Ted Talks. Brene Brown has some wonderful books on her website as well, especially those concerning Shame. Check them out.
- Another great book is an “oldie but goodie”: Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield, M.D. Also I recommend A Gift to Myself: A Personal Workbook and Guide to “Healing the Child Within” by the same author.
- Cathryn L. Taylor has gotten good reviews on Amazon with The Inner Child Workbook: What to do with your past when it just won’t go away”.
- Seek out a psychotherapist who can help support you while you redo some of the negative childhood memories. Make sure the therapist is experienced in this work and ask them specifically how they do this work.
- If you are fortunate to have people around you who see the “good, the bad and the ugly” or the humanness in us that we all have, you are lucky. Ask them to make a list of positive attributes about you, and you do one on yourself as well. It can be in any category: what your talents are, such as being good at soccer. Or it can be your values as a person and or friend. It can be about physical attributes such as your eyes. Or it can be various values, such as integrity or kindness to strangers, etc. Your friends who really know you and value you for who you are likely have a more accurate view of you than you do yourself. We are more critical of ourselves than our friends who know and love us, faults and all.
- Are you aware of being too hard on yourself?
- Do you feel that some early childhood negative experiences have colored how you see the real you?
- Do you feel that your friends have a more positive view of you than you do yourself?
- Are you open to healing from the past? Don’t be shy about seeking professional help to support you in this process. It is a “big deal” and can be challenging to revisit. Don’t overlook or avoid seeking support for this process.
- Important: Remember that this blog is not about TRAUMA. In dealing with trauma I seriously recommend individual professional assistance.
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