counseling, parenting, psychology, self-help

Adverse Childhood Events: How a Rotten Childhood Can Linger On

Happiness, trust, love, self-worth, the ability to be open and vulnerable–all can be lost through the ordeal of a bad childhood.

Often in therapy sessions, many adult patients trace their current struggles back to their childhood. Some people really struggle with moving pass their formative years if they experienced pain and adversity. Freud famously posited that our lives are pretty much determined by events in our early childhood. We all know counseling gets a bad rap for its tendency to blame parents for all the problems a person has long into adulthood.  To state the obvious– the case can be made that blaming parents for adult problems in a cop-out. It is of course easier to blame your parents than take personal responsibility. At some point, it is fair to say, whoever we are and whatever we may have experienced, we do need to let it go. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done for those who experienced childhood as unstable and uncertain.  The wounds of a rotten childhood can be all but healed. The pain of the past haunts many who walk among us.

Anger taken too far is often at the center of many therapy sessions. As a clinician I have seen people express deep-seated anger at their parents (and I am talking well into middle age). From my experience as an in home counselor for a mental health agency, which is often mandated counseling, I also got to see firsthand the impact traumatic events had on the development of children. Many children who experienced trauma during their formative years developed debilitating anger. How this anger presented varied but the impact being detrimental to a client’s mental health would always hold true. I often wondered how these experiences would impact these youngsters in their adulthood, long after I would be gone from their lives.

Growing up with unstable parents is inevitably hard. Living in an unpredictable home environment can be severely traumatizing. It is all to easy to blame one’s upbringing for the problems that follow us through life.

Parents are an easy target to dump blame on. I struggle as a clinician to pinpoint down an exact age where parents need to stop being so central to treatment–is it by college? One’s 20s? 30s? Never? There is no clear-cut answer. And while it is not beneficial to blame your parents for all your problems, there’s no doubt that parents and other caregivers are pivotal figures in a child’s development. We also can see for some people, the impact is still very much present in their adult lives. The effects of a difficult childhood can linger long after it is over.

Our early childhood experiences do shape us to a large extent. For many of us our earliest memories are positive–times filled with great love and affection from our parents or caregivers. Many of my earliest memories in life are of much affection from my parents and of me constantly asking my father, “UP” (up as in to carry me around because I loved being carried by “daddy”–probably a bit passed the age I should have been asking!) These are fond memories I hold dear and the feelings of love from that time I can still feel within me.

Children need to feel loved and valued. If they don’t, it will almost certainly impact their mental health and well-being.

Yet the sad reality is many people experience disruptive and harmful events that hinder their psychological and emotional development. Example of such events include parental divorce, death of a parent, frequently moving and switching schools, abuse (physical, mental or emotional), parental mental illness, and poverty.  Many times childhood adversities are interrelated. For instance, a parental divorce can lead to a change in socioeconomic status for many families. Research has found that people who experienced “ACEs” are at a much greater risk to develop mental health issues in adulthood include being a greater risk for suicide.

ACEs are “adverse childhood experiences” that can bring on struggles for a person in their adulthood. ACE is well-studied part of developmental psychology. Sadly people with a history of ACEs often pass on the dysfunction to the next generation. These are events beyond a young person’s control. Many times in transgenerational family therapy the counselor examines the interactions of clients across generations as a method to understand and explain current problems within the family system, as well as predicting future difficulties. A genogram can map out family relationships across the generations.

I copied and pasted below a Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire for you to take to see how many you may have experienced.

While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often …
Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?
or
Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often …
Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?
or
Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever…
Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?
or
Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

4.Did you often feel that …
No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?
or
Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
5. Did you often feel that …
You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you?
or
Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
7. Was your mother or stepmother:
Often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?
or
Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard?
or
Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
10. Did a household member go to prison?
Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
Now add up your “Yes” answers: _______ This is your ACE Score

Many people may take this questionnaire and answer one or none. Other people, regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or gender, may find themselves checking off yes to quite a few adverse childhood events.

So why does this matter?  For one, such adverse events impact the development of one’s identity which takes place across the lifespan. If you experienced the aforementioned events in childhood, most likely basic survival took over for you, which impedes the normal development of self.  Worse as a child we have no frame of reference. Thus one experiences this dysfunction as normal because the behavior of their caregivers is all they know. Often people get stunted at the age of said trauma. That is why as a therapist we may diagnose someone at being at the emotional development of a 12-year-old yet their chronological age is 45.

The task of identity development is challenging enough in and of itself when one comes from a safe, secure, upbringing. If one is struggling with the after effects of development trauma, the process will be especially difficult to master. The adult consequences of trauma are vast–often resulting in substance abuse issues, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, difficulty in personal relationships, and difficulties with maintaining employment. Often our childhood trauma impacts the way we are effectively able to parent out own children.

Furthermore, we see broken adults come from homes where abuse-physical, emotional, mental was present and are more likely to develop complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD).

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD) is characterized by difficulties with emotional regulation, consciousness and memory, self-perception, difficulties in relationships with other people, distorted perceptions, and negative effects on one’s  life.

Even if you find you have not experienced the adverse childhood events of the questionnaire, none of us grow up unscathed from pain and hardship, in whatever form it presents in your life. Learning how to deal with negative emotions and experiences are a part of growing up. You grow up every day, no matter what your age.

No matter what your past, it is NEVER too late to better your life with positive experiences and overcome the long shadow of childhood adversity. Don’t get stuck in the past which hinders your ability to live the life you want in the present. It is important to remember even in adulthood such events can be remedied. Counseling can help you to process and overcome the trauma of one’s childhood. Often we need to work through the pain in order to release it. Repressing it, denying it, or suppressing our feelings will not remedy the situation. If you are willing to put in the work, you can tap into your inner resiliency and lead a happier, healthier life.

berkeleybreathed1

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

Advertisements
counseling, forgiveness, psychology, resentment, self-help

Forgiveness is Not Reconciliation

a10

Let’s say you have been WRONGED.

By your close friend, coworker, child, parent, spouse, or WHOEVER this person may be.

You had trusted them.

You counted on them.

They let you down.

They hurt you.

Now the pain flows through your body..

You didn’t deserve this.  It wasn’t your fault.

Anger, resentment, bitterness floods your mind, body, and emotions.

Now I ask…

CAN YOU FORGIVE?

a5

Forgiveness…it is something that many of us struggle with.

It is a topic many have strong opinions on.

I believe there to be many false beliefs about what forgiveness IS and IS NOT.

a1.jpg

One common misconception is people equate forgiveness with reconciliation.

Another fallacy is people think they need an apology in order to forgive.

Other people feel they cannot forgive because they cannot forget the wrongdoing.

Some of us do not want to forgive because we do not want to let the offender off the hook.

a6

Forgiveness is often misunderstood.

We hold the mistaken assumption that forgiving someone requires that we make up with whoever it is that hurt us. This is not forgiveness.

That is reconciliation.

You can forgive someone and not reconcile with them.

a7.png

Too often we carry into our adult life the simplistic understanding of forgiveness from childhood. When we are children, we think if we forgave someone we automatically were “friends” with them again. Forgiveness meant no more “bad feelings” and the person was welcome back into our life exactly the way it was before.

Forgiveness is not that simple. It is not that black and white.

We can forgive someone and not want them back in our life. Or forgive them and not want them back in our life in the same capacity.

a11

Forgiving is NOT weakness. It takes incredible strength to let go of an injustice and allow yourself to move on.

When you forgive, it does not mean forgetting or pretending something didn’t happen.

Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing bad behavior.

Most importantly, forgiveness is NOT reconciling. 

We can forgive an offender without reestablishing the relationship.

There are people in my life I have forgiven but who are NOT a part of my life. There are people I have forgiven who ARE a part of my life but not necessarily in the same magnitude as before. Forgiveness and subsequent reconciliation are quite circumstantial. The future of the relationship depends on many moving parts. All the same, forgiveness is ALWAYS for us–it is letting go of the anger, hurt, and negative emotions that follows from being wronged or betrayed.

Resentment hurts you more than those you resent. Why would you want to give someone who wronged you that type of power over you?

a2

Holding onto resentment is a very isolating space to put yourself in. While you are focusing on the past, everyone else in the situation is moving on with their lives.

Holding onto anger and bitterness can cause problems of their own accord–for you, not the offender.

Being able to forgive is a crucial part of healing.

When you forgive, you process and work through the hurt so you do not need to carry around the pain.

Holding onto pain, anger, and hurt only causes you heartache. It does not cause pain for the person who hurt you.

Reconciliation is an interpersonal process—-you have a dialogue with the offender about what happened, discuss your perspectives, explore the feelings of hurt, listen for remorse, and start the process or reestablishing trust.

a8.jpg

Reconciliation is a collaborative process. It involves the offending party admitting they did something wrong or harmful to you, showing remorse for what was done, taking ownership of the behavior, and seeking forgiveness. You cannot reconcile with someone who cannot participate in this process.

REMEMBER: Reconciliation is not possible if YOU are NOT willing to forgive AND the other person does NOT show remorse nor want to right their wrong.

a3

As you can see forgiveness and reconciliation are related but different processes.

Forgiveness does not require the offender to do ANYTHING.

REMEMEBER: You cannot forgive someone until you process the pain caused to you. You cannot forgive until you ACCEPT and are at peace with what happened.

Forgiveness is a freeing feeling.

I forgive because I want to be forgiven. I forgive because I do not want to carry the weight of someone else’s wrongs throughout my life. Anger and resentment are too heavy of a burden to bear.

We can forgive people who we don’t see anymore. We can forgive someone who feels zero remorse and will never apologize. We can even forgive someone who is dead.

Forgiveness does not require apologies. Or the other person to be involved.

Reconciliation requires the offender to participate. Forgiveness does not.

It is easier to forgive when someone apologizes and takes responsibility for their actions. However, many people are incapable of apologizing (whether due to reasons such as pride or a pervasive personality disorder or fear of being vulnerable). What we need to realize is we do not need the offender to apologize or take responsiblity to forgive.

Now in reconciling this is a different case. It will be hard, if not impossible, to rebuild a relationship with someone who does not take responsibility for their actions and cannot apologize for doing wrong.  You may not be able to reconcile with someone if this is the case. This is also out of your control.

But you can forgive them.

Forgiveness is in your control. It requires nothing from the person who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t equal reconciliation.

For our own mental well-being, we should forgive those who transgress against us. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should welcome them back into our life.

Forgiveness is NOT letting the offender off the hook. Forgiving is unhooking us from the offender and their offenses.

Reconciliation is when you take a damaged relationship and begin the process of healing it. If done right, the relationship can be stronger than ever.

One person can forgive yet it takes two people to reconcile.

REMEMBER: Forgiveness is on me. Reconciliation is on us.

Too often we hold off on granting forgiveness until the other person apologize. Or changes. Or recognizes what they did wrong.

But people only change if they want to. You cannot force people to have empathy or feel compassion. Or respect you. Or admit they were wrong or apologize. Only they have the power to change their perspective. Often, this is not going to happen.

I have realized sometimes people are just evil and mean-spirited. And there is nothing I can do about it.

Forgiveness is an inward process for my own well-being. Reconciliation is an outward process which requires all parties to want to reconcile.

Forgiveness also helps us grow in compassion. If we are at peace with ourselves, we do not feel the need to spew venom at others or hurt other people.

Recognizing the pain and unhappiness in the people who hurt us helps us to grant forgiveness.

A strategy I give clients to ease the pain of the past is to reflect on what must have been going on from the offender’s perspective to wrong you. Happy, well-balanced people do not intentionally hurt others.

Trying to be empathetic and recognize the deep rage, fear, and unhappiness that drives others to hurt people can loosen the grip of negative emotions holding you back.

Granting forgiveness will take the weight of pain and hurt off your shoulders. It is psychologically preferable to holding a grudge because bitterness works as a mental poison to you.

You do not need to stay chained to them. Forgiveness frees you and allows you to move on.

If someone is causing you unhappiness seriously ask yourself: Does this person respect me? Do they feel empathy and compassion (for me or ANYONE for that matter)? Is this person capable of REALISTICALLY seeing themselves? Of realistically seeing others? Sadly, the answer may be no.

When we forgive, we unburden ourselves from the hold of resentment, grudges, and seeking revenge. We do this for ourselves NOT for the other person.

We do not have to like the wrongdoer or ever see them again.

Forgiveness is to free the person who hurt us from our mind, heart, and soul.

We do not allow them to take up space anymore in our life–physically or mentally.

You have been mistreated and you DESERVE peace of mind.

Forgiveness is vital to moving on. It is ALWAYS your choice…yours alone.

a4

Have you been hurt by someone you love? Have you forgiven them?

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
tamanna@anewcounselingservices.com