Over the years, through friendships and listening to others in various fellowships, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of people who had crappy childhood crap that affected them. Of those who try to get better, I’ve noticed two distinct groups — one that focuses on what happened in the past, and one that focuses on their actions and attitudes right now.
The first group (the “past” people) sees the exploration of the past as therapeutic. The more they talk about it, the more they remember, and a lot of sadness and anger often fills them at that this point. With faith that excavation will lead eventually to freedom, they seek to grieve, feel their feelings, and take measures to maintain a sense of safety (a few may also seek to confront those who harmed them).
The second group (the “now” people) also explores the past, feels strong emotions, and learns to set some boundaries that weren’t there before. But this group more quickly accepts that the childhood harms have ended. They are aware that their problems today lie within themselves — the choices they make, the way they react to things, and how they treat people.
The “past” people often find a lot of love and support from others dealing with their own childhood crap, and form tight friendships. They are courageous and honest about facing whatever darkness may lie within fuzzy old memories. But in years of observing them, I’ve noticed that they tend to recover slowly, if at all. Many appear to be stuck, with lingering sadness and anger driving them to an excessive self-focus, resulting in spoiled relationships and limited fulfillment in work.
The “now” people, on the other hand, face their own risks. They sometimes seal their hearts in a shell of denial or busy-ness or “look-good-itis.” Their unacknowledged anger can be expressed as health problems or passive aggressive behavior. And God knows, it can be hard to change even when you try your hardest. But in most ways, the “now” people reach a far higher level of recovery, far more quickly, than anyone else.
Everyone wants to feel better, but what sets the “now” people apart is that they accomplish this by doing better. They recognize that feeling one’s feelings is good and part of being alive, but is not an end in itself. They seek to admit their own role in present day troubles, and to change that. Because their present day attitudes and actions — and not the past — is the only thing they can change.
It’s impossible to do anything constructive at all when you’re throttled by childhood PTSD, specifically, a disregulated brain that alters your focus, your emotional balance and ability to perceive reality accurately.
But when you learn to re-regulate your brain (and re-regulate again every time you slip), you can then move on to tackling your “Inside Traumas.” That’s what I call those flaws and habits so common in those of us who had a crappy childhood, that tend to re-traumatize us and bring our lives down. Call it “a broken picker,” an “addictive personality,” a “slow metabolism,” an “Irish temper” or whatever you want: Inside traumas are things like problems with drugs, alcohol, overeating, romance, money, health, parenting, boundaries, authority, responsibility, and connecting with people or acting in our own best interest.
These problems do affect all kinds of people, but they are WAY more prevalent in folks who had a crappy childhood. This sucks, because the path to a happy, meaningful and love-filled life is utterly dependent on healing from these problems. We start at such a disadvantage!
But there’s a way forward. It demands that we are extra-vigilant, extra-committed, and extra-brave in facing what is still holding us back, and making changes. It’s the path of becoming a better person.
It was very early in my recovery that I became deeply, zealously interested in cleaning up my life. I knew the general direction to go but I had no idea about the actual actions to take — the specific, step-by-step means to get from where I was, to where I wanted to be.
I set about on a mission to find out. And it worked! If you want to learn more, please check out my new online course, “Healing Childhood PTSD” . It’s a self-paced course with 32 videos about how PTSD happens, what it does to us, and how ordinary people can begin healing and connecting again, whether or not they have access to professional help. You can learn more and register here.