What is inner child trauma?
When something doesn’t go right, when we’re in pain or feel threatened, our internal alarm system is activated, and all of our resources are mobilized. This results in a cascade of events that get us to safety as quickly as possible. When the alarm system is repeatedly triggered, the systems and structures that trigger it too often become over-connected and over-activated. This way, every time we experience something “over-activated,” it’s because of our trauma history. Trauma symptoms are a result of the body’s hyper-arousal response to a perceived threat.
As children, we have no tools or ways to process trauma endured, so our nervous systems become flooded with unresolved trauma. This ends up having a direct impact on how our bodies function, our hormone systems and can create imbalances in the body and a wide array of psychological symptoms.
Therefore, trauma is a beast that lives in our bodies. But, the beauty is that if you understand what it feels like in your body, you can begin to shift it. Trauma hijacks many bodies for so long that we have forgotten that all they want is to be heard and healed. The symptoms of trauma can feel almost impossible to live with because we live in a culture where people don’t have the skillsets or understanding to heal trauma by listening to how their bodies feel.
What does trauma look like?
- Eating disorders
- Fractured relationships
- Behavioral Compulsions
Anything that negatively disrupts our everyday lives and makes it difficult for us to cope is considered traumatic. Whether it happened once or more than once, regardless of the duration, could be regarded as traumatic. When you’re ready to explore these experiences, you’ll begin to understand the language and what it looks and feels like. Once it’s identifiable, you’ll be able to articulate it. I recommend reading these 7 books to help you begin the process to heal from inner child trauma in conjunction with doing deep therapeutic work with someone that can safely hold the space for you.
Van Der Kolk writes about how trauma crosses borders of time and memory. It doesn’t matter if the pain and memories from a traumatic event happened days, months, or decades ago. For the mind to heal after a traumatic event, this physical response has to be addressed.
“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become experts at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” — Bessel Van Der Kolk
Abandonment represents a cumulative wound representing all of the losses and disconnections stemming back to childhood. Every time we experience being left behind (i.e., “abandoned”), it represents a trauma – an event that was overwhelming or threatening enough for us to believe we couldn’t handle it on our own–that we couldn’t survive without the person who left us behind. Whether you’ve lost someone or you’ve experienced a breakup, this book has plenty of prompts to work through your grief.
“The energy involved in shattering is the life force, the inborn need for attachment. Thwarted energy intensifies in a way that Buddhists call clinging; suffering and grief are the results. Its pain is our psychobiological reaction to being suddenly cut off, held back from the relationship we so desire. This powerful impetus to attach is ever-present. It can be the source of pain, but when redirected, it becomes the first step toward healing.” ― Susan Anderson
Peter Levine pioneered Somatic Experiencing Therapy. This is a healing process that locates and moves trauma out of the body. By doing so, it repatterns the nervous system.
“Although we rarely die, humans suffer when we are unable to discharge the energy that is locked in by the freezing response. The traumatized veteran, the rape survivor, the abused child, the impala, and the bird all have been confronted by overwhelming situations. If they are unable to orient and choose between fight or flight, they will freeze or collapse. Those who are able to discharge that energy will be restored. Rather than moving through the freezing response, as animals do routinely, humans often begin a downward spiral characterized by an increasingly debilitating constellation of symptoms.” ― Peter A. Levine
This book covers the long-term effects of having parents who are emotionally distant. Gibson looks at identifying these parents, types of emotionally distant parents, how kids respond, how to heal, and how to avoid getting hooked back into old dynamics with your parents. Also helpful is a chapter on identifying emotionally mature people.
“Everyone internalizes their parents’ voices; it’s how we’re socialized. And while some people end up with a supportive, friendly, problem-solving inner commentary, many hear only angry, critical, or contemptuous voices. The unrelenting presence of these negative messages can do more damage than the parent him- or herself. Therefore, you need to interrupt these voices in the act of making you feel bad so that you can separate your self-worth from their critical evaluations. The goal is to recognize the voice as something imported that isn’t part of your true self so that it no longer feels like a natural part of your own thinking.” — Lindsay Gibson
This book says that our present-day experiences and how we deal with the events in our lives are related to generational trauma. When we look at the formation of our own families, it is tempting to attribute complicated feelings or difficult reactive behavior among family members to life circumstances that have impacted our generation. We tend not to consider the possibility that deep emotional and behavioral ruts may exist in our families because we’re products of generations-old systems and patterns established by earlier generational experiences.
Many of the stories are anecdotal, with suggestions in reconciling with a toxic caregiver. Sometimes reconciling is not safe or recommended. Please use caution and speak to a professional.
“By developing a relationship with the painful parts of ourselves—parts we have often inherited from our family—we have an opportunity to shift them. Qualities like cruelty can become the source of our kindness; our judgments can forge the foundation of our compassion.”― Mark Wolynn
This book helps you to recapture a sense of wonder by writing & drawing with your non-dominant hand. Tapping into your childhood will help heal the Hidden Child in you and your Inner Adult Child so that you can reparent yourself. In so doing, release you from the traumas that have held you back.
“As I continued letting my right hand know what my left hand was doing (and vice versa), I could feel the split within me begin to heal. The conscious and unconscious, the rational and intuitive, the thinking and feeling sides of my inner world began to embrace each other. In times of inner conflict, I turned to this wondrous process. It always brought clarity and insight. It always left me feeling better.” ― Lucia Capacchione
This sensitive and comprehensive guide encourages survivors to transform their lives, reclaim their family relationships, and explore their sexuality. Maltz guides survivors through the healing process with groundbreaking exercises, techniques, and advice.
“By acknowledging abuse, you can recognize the experience of sexual abuse as part of your life history and can learn to use it as a source of strength. By acknowledging sexual abuse, you take back power and can begin doing something about the past. When you share the story of the abuse with others, you can do it with your chin held high. You are no longer a victim. You are a survivor, becoming a thrive.” — Wendy Maltz
Healing your trauma while also healing your inner child isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It’s intense work that can give you an emotional hangover so it’s important that you have access to professional and other support systems to be there for you when feelings become overwhelming. Doing this work is transformational and begins to give you pieces of your life back (once you start). If you’ve read something that’s not on this list, then please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.