Since then I went on something of a healing retreat (more like a hermitage): I shut out pretty much everyone in my life and took a deep-dive into topics of healing from complex trauma.
Complex PTSD, also known as childhood PTSD, comes in many flavors. It can be generally described as one or more behaviors adapted as a response to perceived threats in the environment over an extended period of time.
Our brains are beautiful survival machines that will do whatever they can to stay safe and connected. Children growing up in dysfunctional families often pick up behaviors tailored to get their caretakers attention and support. For example, if your parents are neglectful, a strategy could be to make a lot of noise and drama when you need something.
While such behaviours were necessary for survival as kids, they no longer serve us in the adult world. Instead they become detrimental to building healthy relationships.
There was nothing particularly sinister about my childhood, except that my primary (and for a long time only) caretaker was not able to provide adequate care and support, and had serious anger management issues (but was not physically violent).
As a result, I learned to sacrifice my own needs for the sake of keeping peace. I could not show emotions because it could trigger a rage fit. The concept of self worth was entirely foreign to me until recently. I had virtually zero boundaries, and never learned to make deep relations; instead I would adapt my personality and cling on to anyone who would let me get close.
Healing from complex trauma is often described as a healing journey. Everyones journey is different, as no two people have the exact same experience. I had to go into solitude because my problems involved breaking down deeply ingrained (social) behavioral patterns. Whenever I went out in public the persona I had adapted to survive would keep showing up and reinforcing itself.
One treatment that was effective for me was to visualize "going back in time" to the age where the behavior or trauma I needed to work with started. To connect with that "inner child" through meditation or hypnosis (there are excellent resources on YouTube) and give them the support and affection they needed.
The title of this post alludes to a perceived "emotional age". I have been working largely chronologically through periods of my life, starting at infancy(!). My latest breakthrough was connecting with the careless 8-10 year old in me that learned how to lie and manipulate his way out of just about any situation. That was a difficult one, one I could not "reach" through the usual means of offering a hug, someone to talk to, or play with. What ultimately worked was to put on a cartoon show for kids and imagining I was watching with him, and he eventually "calmed down".
The last paragraph probably sounds nonsensical if you haven't done inner child work before. It's really about imagining that you are meeting with a younger version of yourself, at a particular age, and reaching out with love and empathy. Ask what they need to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel heard; to comfort them. I usually use a guided meditation to get going and have saved some of my favorites in this playlist.
Having to put on an actual cartoon and imagining that I was watching with a younger me was next-level. I wonder what teen me will need; maybe playing with cool toys and going to social events? Perhaps I'll write about that some day.
While I have deliberately and systematically gone through my life in chronological order, healing from childhood trauma is really a lifelong journey and I'll undoubtedly go "back and forth" as I discover and become aware of more parts of my "shadow", the unconscious parts driving my behavior. It can feel like peeling layers off an onion: once I have access to the feeling that drives a nervous system response, I can reach other feelings that have been masked by that particular behavior.
(side note: Troll Hunters is surprisingly good, who knew Guillermo del Toro made children friendly content! I'll probably keep watching with my 10 year old self; maybe he'll even talk to me eventually.)
I want to give a shout-out to some of the people who have inspired me on this journey (mostly through their social network feeds):
Special mentions also to Holistic Life Navigation, Jim Kwik, Teal Swan, @nytherapist, @mariaevbowler, Jessica Maguire, Xavier Dagba, David Bedrick, Kara The Playful Warrior, Patrick Teahan, Britt Piper, Dr Linnea, and many others that I don't remember off-hand. Thanks for giving me the resources and inspiration to support me on my healing journey. <3