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New Ways for Dealing with Old Traumas

Updated on April 27, 2018
Inter Jonny Wills profile image

Jonny has been a well-being enthusiast for more than thirty years, using self-therapy, creative projects and mentors to heal and grow.

The First Thing A Professional Should Say

Let's kick off by saying: You'll of course need to consult with a mental health professional before reading any of the following. But that obviously covers me, and you could construed it as a cop out of sorts.

And there are problems with this, as you probably know coming to this article with problems already. The main one is: No one can guarantee what they say or prescribe will help. If analysis works for you I'm not here to disrespect your work with another. But letting you know therapy can make things worse as well as better, should be the first thing the mental health professional should say, but they seldom do.

I'm sorry if this makes you poop yourself but actually this is the best thing I could tell you, using the word poop in my gentle attempt to raise a smile.

But I'm of the opinion that you are the best person to know about you. And as dedicated as most therapy professionals are (I'm not anti-therapy by the way), do you really want anyone else stirring up your mental sediment if you're not actually blocking bad memories?

Do you really want to become diverted by or dependent on prescription drugs? I would imagine at the very least you lack confidence in yourself if past traumas continue to haunt you, and can't imagine healing or getting on all by yourself. Well, you do need others, but we'll get to that.

There is No Guarantee Your Outlook Will Change

Do you need a therapist if you're already aware of your bad memories?
Do you need a therapist if you're already aware of your bad memories?

The Definition of Your Story is Yours

You'll be relieved to here I'm not going to play the game 'My Childhood Was Worse Than Yours' because comparison are insufferably tasteless. I've saved more detailed 'analysis' using my stuff for other writing you can find here, the point is, our journeys are different and offer up lessons relevant to the process of our understanding.

So I could say my heart goes out to you, but I know nothing about your experiences. I can only convey mine (to an extent) and show you a few alternative methods I used to help me get over them and get my brain back.

There are two caveats to this before we begin though, the obvious of which is to remind you that traumas are likely to happen in the future. Again, possibly more poop, again it may be possible you can smile at the absurdity of life.

The second is understanding we are often entangled because we know when family is involved it means they are partly the cause. Arguably they are solely responsible if the idea of guardianship or parenting is to be believed. Most parents would believe they were parenting. But the idea of having a support network back then when the very perpetrators are culpable is, well, complicated, if not counter-productive. Thus confusions and conflicts begin to seed.

At the end of this though: Regardless of medical definitions, or when something happened, the way you define your trauma or 'story' is yours, and yours to live with or overcome.

Don't be afraid to put your story above being put on the backfoot and told you're selfish or a complainer and going against anybody. Family is a team with different players with different skills to bring to the mix. It should be a loving, supportive and harnessing unit, not obligating you to love, not making you feel alone and not driving a wedge between relationships.

You Can Break the Cycle of Despair

Family upheaval in itself is usually the result of past traumas that haven't been addressed
Family upheaval in itself is usually the result of past traumas that haven't been addressed

We Already Know What Happened

The obvious reality of past pain is: None of the traumas are present now.

For the sake of transparency and example mine were: divorce, bullying, psychological, emotional and physical abuse, abandonment and neglect, mishandling of education, disfigurement, school bullying and abuse – a pretty full menu with a side order of relocating, arguements and emotional turbulence throughout. Some traumas I knew happened there and then, others took as long as to my mid-twenties before it occurred to me to be upset or angry.

Trauma occurs to each of us differently. Mine were each a medically-recognised trauma that I've discussed with people who'd been to a therapist. I'm not being smug, or competing here, because the reason I never went was because there was too much to work out, and I wasn't convinced detailing it over so much again would help more than the chats I'd had with friends and the creative works I was making.

For me, because of the amount of what happened, my mind was forced to deal with each one and therefore all from the point of accumulating absurdity. This evolved, eventually, into wisdom. The timings, timescales and overlapping became irrelevant as my mindset was one of an overview of the traumas, not focusing on one.

The Overview of Confusion Shows Confusion

It's enough to know you're conflicted: Messed up times were what they were.
It's enough to know you're conflicted: Messed up times were what they were.

Low Self-Esteem is the Only Trap

You may also feel trapped in 'your way' of living 'because of' others. Put in a straight talking way, this is to underestimate yourself. The only trap is low self-esteem bestowed by learned helplessness from looking up to elders who weren't equipped to deliver. The fuzzy or bad logic of directly linking others to you in this moment is not reliable enough: so bin it. You can't rely on such thinking to predict a negative outcome in your life.

To recap: The traumas were absurd, you can get wise to the humanity of the circumstances, forgive, move on and then remove yourself from situations of further abuse. We have to trust ourselves in order to get happier. Did they want for your happiness or not? Accepting what happened is one thing; but continuing to accept mixed messages and thus living with a form of negative reinforcement is another personal choice.

I chose to remove myself from the equation because these people were both aware and unaware of the damage they did and continued to play it (and me) down. When people don't respect your heart it's untenable for the stability of one's mental well-being. Something had to change.

Medication Can Only Help So Far

Pills are still only a diversion from the effects of pain and not ideal for permanent balance
Pills are still only a diversion from the effects of pain and not ideal for permanent balance

Thinking Free of Superfluous Feeling

Standing back then allowed to me to become objective, analytical, philosophical and aware of when my thinking was hostage to excess feeling.

During the time of enduring the traumas – from the age of 5 to the age of eighteen – I realised, ultimately, that being sad, depressed and even suicidal was all part of the pointlessness of so much personal calamity. There was simply no need to add to it with another pile of sadness over bad things happening. I had this right, I already know what happened.

People, especially family, can get very human. I saw them as stuck chimps rooted in primal fears and basic needs, unable to rise above themselves, and suddenly it all made sense, regardless of any capacity to forgive.

As a child I kept out of the way, I spent a lot of time observing my family, just standing there, waiting for them to become civil, biding the time for when I could make my own choices for when I was legally responsible. I know for a fact this stillness got their subconscious respect, even though they publicly dissed me at the time, for they all sought my counsel individually during moments of personal crisis. It's not that I loved better, it's just that they knew I stood by the principle that it needed an environment to flourish.

Of course I can't offer any support for how you coped then, but only how you're coping now. You may have just enter adulthood, you may be older than me and still trying to sort this out in your head. It's not the main advice of this article, but as I have intimated, talking to friends, making art, plus writing, really helped. But added to this was accepting the truism that there was nothing to be done once you accepted you knew what happened, so part of me was resolved.

If we're thinking free of excess sorrow then here is quick footnote on friends: You'll need ones who listen, comfort and are silently there for you, and others who hold you to account. Be cautious of those envious of your ability to talk or those who are overly anxious themselves, especially those who seem to live for therapy, being on pills or being a kind of 'affected' mad. Bad mental health can be contagious (think of a panicking crowd) and if you're feeling vulnerable you're likely to attract fellow sufferers and their negative phrases. If you're uncomfortable, excuse yourself and be somewhere else.

Can We Get Past the Apes?

Many abusers are happy to accept they act in a primal way in order to escape responsibility
Many abusers are happy to accept they act in a primal way in order to escape responsibility

Strategies for Dealing with a Difficult Past

So to deal with childhood traumas, perhaps you can give yourself some space and try the following:

  1. accept you know what happened
  2. accept that one trauma is as good as ten, and embrace the absurdity
  3. accept you may not really know why things happened fundamentally
  4. accept you don't really want to know why things happened because you already like/love yourself
  5. accept you've been confused or conflicted and that's enough (and forgivable)
  6. know that exploring more why is no guarantee of peace of mind
  7. accept it's not your business to assume aggressors need saving unless they ask
  8. forgive people as best you can but if behaviour doesn't change consider backing off
  9. find peace of mind through 'whatever works' like conversation, art, writing, yoga, sport etc, including counselling, group work and therapy

Art Can Be a Creative Form of Meditation

The inversion of bad to good memories with the creation of art is a miracle for all involved
The inversion of bad to good memories with the creation of art is a miracle for all involved

Let Dark Thoughts Pass

In the end, know that our passing comes soon enough, that life is relatively short and we are incredibly lucky to be floating in space on this ball that fluked an exo-planet life-giving environment in an infinite universe, having ourselves been born from one of 20-100 million sperm in a relative period of prosperity and peace in our civilization's history.

You'll have dark thoughts, we all do. But they are just thoughts. Recognise this and see if you can have another thought. Let clouds of thought pass like clouds do.

Was I Iucky to achieve so much wisdom with further self-analysis, Buddhism and some self-help mentor heroes, being my support network together with reciprocating friendships? The commitment to further self-learning is not really luck, and this assumes this wisdom works for everyone. I just recommend a journey of finding practices for you, including any this article may offer.

I'm just confident my approach works for me, so it or some of it may work for you. I'm confident because the main thrust of this wisdom is a focus on respecting the way we think, and that's something we can all better manage. At the very least you'll know that being confused is a natural response, and a sufficient grounding or starting point for dealing with childhood trauma.

Wonderful Experiences Await

There are too many positive things to enjoy in life to waste time chipping away at yourself
There are too many positive things to enjoy in life to waste time chipping away at yourself

© 2018 Jonny Wills

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