Those who grew up in an abusive environment are prone to low self-esteem, constant guilt, and negative self-talk. Here are 8 effective ways to repair yourself from childhood trauma and reclaim the innate joy and self-worth we deserve.
If you grew up in an abusive environment as a child, or if one of your parents was alcohol dependent, narcissistic, or aggressive / violent, your past likely still influences your self-esteem and how you live your life. All messages received from parents through words, gestures, emotions, physical or mental abuse are stored in our memory, whether we consciously remember them or not.
Our brain stores the first messages from parents unless we consciously release and replace them
These messages influence how we view ourselves and those around us. If they told you how good you are, with a fair amount of appreciation and objective feedback, your self-esteem will match your potential. However, if you grew up with people who constantly teased you, focused only on your negatives, or despised / humiliated you and / or made fun of you, your self-esteem is likely much lower than your true worth.
“As children of abusive parents, we often treat each other the same way we were raised.”
Steps to repair your childhood traumas
Repair is the method of discarding the old negative and false messages and replacing them with new messages, which are encouraging self-affirmations in your head. It also involves taking care of your emotional, mental, and physical needs that were ignored or neglected by the bullies you grew up with. Here are some simple but very effective steps to repair and heal childhood wounds .
1. Identify negative self-talk
Negative self-talk is often a reflection of the first parental messages. Have you ever wondered where all those self-taught conversations come from inside your head? They are more likely to be old tapes that have been played from your childhood. Adult therapy patients are often surprised at how they use the exact same words their parents used to admonish themselves.
- You are a stupid. Don’t build castles in the air.
- You embarrass me. Shut up, I don’t want to know what you think.
- You are a shame for this family.
- Get lost. You are the reason for all the problems.
- Look what you have done.
- I hate you.
The shame, guilt, and pain that a child feels when their mom or dad says these things often remains hidden under all those layers of “I’ve grown up and no one can harm me” attitude. This shame and guilt are often reflected as negative self-esteem and bad personal relationships.
It is also the reason why you constantly find fault with yourself instead of finding ways to build your confidence. The first step is to write down all the messages that you have ever received. Remember what you can and write it all down. You can do it in one sitting or take a few days to reflect and write down every negative message you received, not just from your parents, but from other caregivers, teachers, school bullies, etc.
2. Consciously denying them with facts
To help heal childhood traumas , putting repetitive thoughts and negative messages on paper allows you to be objective about them.
Now that you have a whole list, you can see for yourself how many unhealthy self-destructive thoughts you carry inside. Now the fun part begins. While some people recommend burning this entire list and watching it turn to ashes, a more deadly attack would be to write an “opponent” for each message. Be objective about this. You have heard countless negative messages, therefore it may seem difficult to challenge them. But do it the way you would for your best friend, your child, or someone you love. Cross out the negative message and write your own self-affirming message against each one.
- Mom: You are so stupid.
- I am intelligent; I managed _____ on my own.
- Dad: You embarrass me.
- Me: I’m proud of myself for _____.
3. Build a new set of self-approving beliefs
Self-honesty includes being appreciative of your strengths, positive traits, and talents.
The previous exercise will have provided you with a bank full of positive messages. However, you are much more than the limited ways that people perceived you. Now is the time to move on and be honest with yourself. Self-honesty has become synonymous with finding out what you are wrong or failing to do or see. But to be really honest, you should also see yourself as you are with all your gifts, talents, positive traits, personality, etc. Here’s a list that comes from a workshop held for single parents.
- My son tells me that I am the funniest person he has ever met. I agree with him.
- I love how I can make the best food out of absolutely nothing.
- I have always liked my curls. They remind me of the happy girl I was before …
- I’m a survivor. I managed to have the worst moments alone.
- I’m kind.
- I can laugh easily. I find the weirdest things funny. My kids love that about me.
- I am proud of my work. I earned it.
- I love it when I dance with my daughter, she puts on the biggest smile.
- I am a great mother. I just know.
4. Discard guilt if you want to repair childhood traumas
The biggest baggage we carry from an abusive past is the constant guilt that accompanies us throughout the day, sometimes even in our dreams. If you are a person who constantly apologizes, you feel guilty many times a day, you worry that your actions may make others feel bad or uncomfortable, judging decisions and choices, you are likely to be driven by the monster of guilt. Realize that even when you dismiss negative verbal messages, the energy of guilt and shame will not go away immediately. For that internal shift to happen, you must be aware of guilt as it arises and be objective.
Someone calls at the last minute to ask you to do their job when you were about to leave. Instead of feeling guilty for saying NO, be reasonable. You planned your day well enough to finish your work on time. Whoever that person is will have to find a way to cope.
5. Own your feelings and put yourself first
Own your feelings and make decisions that honor them.
A child is often unaware of his own feelings to survive in an abusive environment. Acquiring and acknowledging those feelings in that moment would mean that you would have to go against the bully. This could put their survival at risk because, as children, we all depend on others. To cut out this pattern, start journaling your feelings throughout the day. Or just take short breaks during the day to keep up with how you feel. When you have to make a decision, do not rush to choose. Take a moment and think. If you’re not sure, take the time to decide before committing. You deserve it. Ask yourself, “What is the best thing I can do for myself right now? Make decisions that honor your needs and emotions and will help you greatlyheal those childhood traumas .
6. Let yourself be pampered
Enjoy small moments of pleasure and relaxed fun. Children who grew up in unhealthy environments often lose their innate joy and spontaneity. To get this back, give yourself the time and luxury to do the things you enjoy. This may seem trivial if you don’t have time or have too many responsibilities. But repairing yourself means giving yourself the gentle care you missed growing up and the opportunity to explore life with enthusiasm.
At least once a week, do something purely for the joy of doing it. Have your little moments. Find ways to claim your joy. Take a class, play in the pool, dance when no one is looking.
A woman who grew up with an alcoholic father dreaded Fridays because it was when she was at her worst. By Wednesday she was anxious and by Thursday, she was dumbfounded fearing during the day that he would become volatile and aggressive. As a 37-year-old working woman and mother, she found that she always felt stressed every Wednesday night and had real triggers or panic attacks on Thursdays.
She worked very late on Fridays to get home to her husband and children after dinner. Once she noticed this pattern, she made Wednesday her spa day. Along with affirmations, he changed the negative belief that every Friday would end his hurt feelings. On Fridays, she would go out early, meet some friends for coffee, and then go for a long drive and have ice cream with her family. She repaired herself in such a way that Fridays became fun.
7. Set goals that involve only you
Do something for yourself that will make you a happier and more content person. Even if you are a parent with a lot of responsibilities or an entrepreneur with too many things to handle, set some personal goals that give you a sense of purpose. Like a child who grew up too early, we are trained to put others first. A good way to reconnect our brains is to give ourselves permission to look for something that makes us more satisfied people. Not better mothers, spouses, partners, bosses, or neighbors. Only a better, happier, and more satisfied YOU.
8. Evaluate your relationships
Do your current relationships reflect old patterns?
Consider how your current relationships could be reiterating old thought patterns, messages from your parents, and guilt. We often invite into our lives relationships that reflect our beliefs about ourselves. If you find yourself in situations that make you doubt your self-esteem, increase your guilt, or make you feel compelled to do things you really don’t want to do, you could be in one of these repeating patterns. Take an inventory of the people who make you feel the most like yourself and those who ask you to be something you are not. Evaluate the latter and do what you would tell a child or friend to do. Put yourself first. Anyone who makes you question your self-esteem is not worth your time.