The idea of trauma is trending. In many women’s forums and chats recently, there has been a lot of talk about overcoming childhood trauma as part of the post-divorce trauma experience.
Post-divorce trauma and childhood trauma are one of my favorite topics to discuss with women as it’s been a lot of my life’s work to learn about how to overcome this. It has been so much of my own healing process and then a gift that I am so honored to pass on to other people. It is one of the most humbling aspects of my career to sit with women in their most painful places and for them to trust me in that space, to go to the darkest, most turbulent moments of their lives and to let me carry them through that.
The aim of this article is to understand whether or not this is a part of your story and what you want to do about it.
We women always have choices and it’s a big deal to face childhood, divorce, or other traumas in our life – to understand yourself on that level – and then to become free from it.
We are unraveling one belief system and constructing a new one, so this journey can create a lot of doubt. But once you eliminate or quiet some of that doubt, you can be more aligned with your truth.
What is Attachment Trauma?
It has become a belief of mine that much of post-divorce trauma can be tied back to childhood trauma that has grown out of attachment trauma.
Attachment trauma means that we’re born into parentage that is not consistent, harmonized or reliable, or might even be abusive, and there are long-term consequences to the things we are exposed to.
This isn’t about blame, because in our journey we women have to take responsibility for the circumstances that we have been born into. We are not here to blame anybody – not your ex, your parents, or your boyfriend from ninth grade.
Let me just reinforce that: we do not talk about childhood trauma or post-divorce trauma for the purpose of wallowing in who did it. We do this for the purpose of being able to pull the threads of empowerment. It is not your fault, but it is your responsibility. And that’s why we talk about it.
When we do take responsibility, we find freedom, and we find release.
This is sometimes called ‘Shedding’ and it is where we find our stride and our power.
What is Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma is the separation (or perception of separation) between the mind, body, and spirit when something painful happens; there is a three-dimensional response to trauma.
Trauma can be an overwhelming single event or something that is so chronic that it is intrinsic to how you experience life.
When we say mind, body, and spirit, we can literally see how the brain becomes altered as a result of trauma. We now know enough in the science community through brain scans that trauma creates a structural impact and damage to the brain. And as an EMDR therapist who treats trauma, chronic childhood issues that don’t seem overtly or obviously traumatic are trickier to treat because it’s woven into almost every memory and experience or is the framework of how you believe life is (or was).
Many massage therapists, energy workers, craniosacral therapists, physical therapists, and people who do body work know that we hold emotional and mental pain in the body. A lot of physical pain that people experience is stored trauma. Have you ever been to a yoga class or had a massage and all of a sudden you just find yourself crying on your mat or on the massage table? It’s because when something gets unblocked in the body, all the feelings that were stored in that body blockage flow out.
Trauma is something so overwhelming that it creates an alteration at a cellular level in the brain, the body, and the soul. To address childhood trauma, you need to address all three dimensions.
Childhood trauma could be anything that shifted you away from who you were born to be. It altered the pure self that you came into the world as. We all have things that we have to work through, accept and shift. The best part? We are given all the tools we need to heal from these things. This is not a life sentence.
What are the Stages of Trauma?
As women, we like to label things as it helps us feel like we’re in control of them. I don’t want to get too bogged down in this question, but I will respond from my perspective as a trauma therapist, as there are some ideal ways to overcome or heal from childhood trauma.
Stage 1: Overcoming Childhood Trauma Through Awareness
Trauma occurs when we don’t have the emotional support needed to make sense of the situation.
The first stage would be to create awareness that trauma isn’t you. You are you.
Trauma is a thing that caused you to get off the path of the truest you. There needs to be recognition that the trauma happened and it created some impacts on the mind, body, and spirit, but you can still – even as an impacted woman – have the awareness that it did not wholly consume you. You can still have mastery over yourself, and you can still stabilize your emotions.
I would say that the first phase would be ideally (it’s not necessary, but ideally) to get some perspective on childhood trauma and to gain awareness that you still have the capacity to regulate your emotions. Of course, the capacity may be diminished, but you will feel more solid if you see yourself separate from the event(s) that caused your trauma. And I don’t want you to reprocess trauma and be consumed by it. I want you to capture that awareness and realize that was then, and this is now.
Stage 2: Overcoming Childhood Trauma by Reprocessing Trauma through EMDR
The second stage of overcoming trauma is the reprocessing or ‘the working’ phase for women.
In an EMDR session, we activate some of these key events, apply bilateral stimulation, and watch the movie of the trauma.
This phase is very intense, but it’s temporary and never as bad as many women think it will be.
Stage 3: Overcoming Childhood Trauma through Integration and Reorientation
The third stage would be the integration stage, which is where we have cleaned up all the trauma, reprocessed it, become desensitized to it and we have healed.
In this phase, you have been given back your mind, body, and soul.
However, there is still relearning to be done.
We discuss how trauma physically impacts the structure of the brain and presents itself as pain in the body. When we women have cleared this out of us, we need to learn how to go forward. For example, can you imagine learning to walk using only your left hand and your left foot? You have to reorient your life. You will be living in all the ways you can – through relationships, your work life, and your friendships – but with a very different availability in your mind, body, and spirit. There are a whole bunch of ‘firsts’ that come in a healing phase of trauma, as you are approaching something with your newfound full capacity available. It’s very different – your mind is quieter, and you’re more peaceful.
There are a lot of labels out there for stages of trauma. This is my lens – from my robust experience in having experienced trauma and healing from it, and then being a trauma-informed therapist.
Can trauma ever be overcome? Absolutely. I have treated the heaviest things you could possibly imagine and it’s an honor to sit in those places with my clients. We, women, can get better.
Effective Ways to Overcome Childhood Trauma
The urge to heal childhood trauma is a natural response, and there are so many people that want to hold a safe space for you. I would encourage you to find those people and the ways to heal that work for you, from EMDR therapy to journaling and EFT tapping to breathwork and yoga. You are not alone on this journey.
Overcoming Childhood Trauma through EMDR
EMDR is one of the most powerful methods against trauma, as our minds dictate our experience. Once we have more capacity over our mind, we have much more power to shift how we feel, to make better decisions, and to go seek other treatments, such as yoga.
How Do You Know if You Are Healing from Childhood Trauma?
How do women know if we’re healing from trauma? It’s a powerful question but what I say is:
You can tell you’re gaining ground.
Let’s say there was a time in my life when I was completely unconscious of the fact that I had trauma, let alone mastery over it. The beginning stage of healing from trauma is realizing that it was there, the next is stumbling across techniques that gave me some mastery over my mind, body, and spirit, and then I became hungry for solutions and got the medicine that ended up treating both the trauma from my divorce and the earlier stuff. Realizing that you are gaining ground can happen via knowledge, awareness, or mastery. If you find yourself thinking, “Well, sometimes I feel like sh*t, but I have moments of peace or joy or courage more often than I used to.” This is healing.
If you are a recovering perfectionist like me, I am way too hard on myself and I’m always trying to do everything ‘right’ and I want to be ‘good’ at healing. The fact that you still experience painful emotions is not a good measurement of whether or not you’re healing childhood trauma.
Healing is more about: Do you have more access to your personal power? Do you work toward solutions? Do you have strategies and people who are there for you? Are you more ‘yourself’ than you used to be?
That is how you know that you are headed in the right direction. It’s not all or nothing. It is a process.
When you are still affected by childhood trauma, it can look really messy. How does it look? How does a person who has experienced trauma behave? One word: Dysregulated.
What is Emotional Dysregulation, and How Can You Overcome it?
When something is regulated, it’s flowing evenly and smoothly.
Trauma makes emotions and thoughts disjointed and disrupted, and it can feel like life comes in stops and starts.
When someone has trauma, they tend to relive things over and over again. Their thoughts are on a loop or ‘fear cycle’ as trauma freezes certain aspects of how our brain functions in time, and it’s as though whatever happened in the past is happening now. A trauma ‘clue’ is when individuals experience acute anxiety and panic attacks.
The trauma is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.
When you feel stuck in this situation, how do you break this cycle? Have awareness of the tells and clues, so you understand, “Oh, I must be in a trauma cycle. What can I do about that?” And you can take action: try yoga, try journaling, and listen to a podcast that makes you feel really positive.
Can You Heal From Childhood Trauma Without Therapy?
If you’re asking, “Can you get over childhood trauma without therapy?” I would respond with, “Why would you want to?” This is an example of trauma language – are you afraid therapy costs too much or it would be too hard? What is it that you’re telling yourself about therapy?
I know that there are many paths to the truth. Can you get over trauma without therapy? Probably. Why would you want to? I don’t know. I can’t tell you exactly how to do it without therapy.
Letting Go of Trauma
A common question is: Why is it so hard to let go of trauma? As we discussed earlier, it’s because it fundamentally shifts the expression of who we are on a mind, body, and spirit level. It’s so intense that it literally changes our biology and it’s so hard because we can’t see it – it’s not like a broken bone or open heart surgery.
Trauma is finally getting to a tipping point and it’s becoming more widely accepted and understood. It’s harder to dismiss because we have the brain scans to demonstrate it. You wouldn’t expect somebody who had open heart surgery to just go to work the next day. You would perfectly understand and accept that that person needs some bed rest. It’s the same for people who are in EMDR therapy. Recovery is recovery.
Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood
What are some symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood? There are so many, but here are several common ones:
- Chronic anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Anger issues
- An urge to control perfectionism
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty quieting the mind and feeling at ease
- Pain-related health issues
- Mental looping
- Struggling to let go
- Feelings of resentment
- Disordered eating
Mental health issues can be organic – where people are born with these difficulties – but some of them are born out of chronic childhood trauma.
I spent most of my life with significant anxiety issues. I don’t think I was born with an anxiety disorder but I believe it was secondary to complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Technology has allowed us to better measure these things, to see them, to share our awareness and understanding, and then to discuss our tools about how to treat them. Think about all the seasons of trauma that came before – World War I, World War II, the Great Depression – all the effects all those events had on the generations that came before us and how they landed us where we are today.
We’ve talked so much about how to heal from childhood trauma. There are so many paths: spiritual paths, physical paths, and mental and emotional paths to healing from childhood trauma, and I believe that they’re all necessary.
Does Childhood Trauma Cause Divorce Trauma?
Trauma from your childhood can absolutely influence your relationships and be a cause for divorce. We are all vibrational beings so we all attract things to us, which is sometimes referred to as “Like calls to like.”
When someone who is traumatized is attracted to someone who is also traumatized, it’s because we are drawn to people who are vibrationally in a similar space to us.
When you catch yourself pointing your finger at your ex, understand that vibrationally, you were attracted to them at a very similar level. As much healing as your ex has to do, you have to do that healing too, which can be a hard pill to swallow.
Traumatized people have issues, and then there is doubt, insecurity, fear, and anger built into that relationship, so it’s hard for it to be sustainable.
If I claim my healing, I will feel better. If I claim my happiness and my peace and I free myself from childhood trauma, I will feel better.
However, successful marriages are made by two people who make a conscious decision to take responsibility and heal their wounds together.
It is rare for two people in a dysfunctional marriage to say, “Okay, let’s heal our trauma together.” More often than not, the relationship breaks down, and it frees up the individuals to do their trauma work (or not do their trauma work), and then attract different partners based on the vibrations.
Divorce can be the pathway to finding all of the solutions if you let it be.
How Long Does Trauma Last?
Your transformation is much more critical than whatever initiated the transformation.
Stay on the path and trust that the journey you are on is amazing – even though it’s painful sometimes. Divorce trauma lasts as long as you allow it to because you have all the power to walk that path out. You have the capacity to heal and tackle your trauma.
Have you ever heard the phrase: “What we resist, persists”?
The longer you resist healing your mind, body, and soul, the longer the trauma will be with you.
How Does Divorce Change a Woman?
A woman gets to decide how divorce changes her.
I chose to rise, I chose to transform, I chose to overcome, and I chose to become the most spectacular version of myself.
And I sit in appreciation of my ex-husband for being my partner on that path and understanding that he was a powerful, important, and a necessary part of my transformation. I am grateful to him for being there, knowing that it was all purposeful. Now, I can hold love in my heart for him as I couldn’t walk the path without him, and my journey was perfect, and I’m grateful.
Divorce will change you one way or the other. You get to decide if it changes you for the better or for the worse. You dictate the story.
You have so much power in your life, even in your brokenness.
Remember: awareness, action, awareness, action. When you have done that enough days in a row, you will look back and find yourself on top of the mountain, and you will say to yourself:
I am strong because I climbed.
I am here to help you climb and to hold space when you are climbing, and you run out of energy. I am here to believe in you when you don’t, to know what to expect in the next leg of the climb and I’m here to help you see yourself as beautifully as you are.