Every person passes through the gates of childhood. All of us experienced a beginning, a long middle of one sort or another, and then an end to this block of passing time. Some people exit childhood smoothly as they graduate into a new world where their decisions are their own and there is nobody left to blame either for what goes right or for what goes wrong. Others never quite cross that bridge as we are left in an unclear place of confusion and tangled perceptions that leave us forever standing at one gate unable to enter completely through the next one.
Because the early experiences of our life build the body-brain we will spend our entire lifetime existing in, the nature and quality of those experiences affect all of us profoundly. The differences between us happen not only through our individual genetics and innate personality. Our differences are also greatly impacted by the quality of the earliest relationships that told our genetics and our personality what kind of a world it was that we were born into and hence likely to live the rest of our lifetime residing in. It was the nature of our early relationships that formed who we were as we exited — or tried to exit — the end gate of our childhood.
Those of us who were raised by people who didn’t know what they were doing — like I was — can spend the rest of our lifetime struggling to overcome the obstacles that were put in our way to living in a state of happy, calm well-being. Our ability to make wise and therefore healthy choices was hampered by the exorbitant amount of stress chemicals dumped into our growing body during our most critical stages of early development. This process of reacting to trauma in early life changes how the body-brain develops.
Humans, as members of a social species, are designed to respond on every possible level to the signals our attachment relationships to other people give us from the time we are conceived. Access to healthy human attachment relationships builds healthy (and therefore happy) people. Access to troubled, toxic and scary terrorist people gives us — in our BODY — fewer choice options throughout our lifetime.
Those of us, and we all know who we are, who were presented with stumbling blocks rather than with helpful boosts forward in our early years enter a second arena of growth that ordinary people do not. We enter another stage in our lifetime — if we are most fortunate — that is a stage of healing. Minimizing and ignoring the truth about how the most important people in our early life treated us is not helpful to our healing process. Neither is hating them. Healing is about learning, willingness to grapple with harsh realities, and about allowing the process of positive change to unfold in all possible areas of our life.
But this healing stage takes time, just as did our period of life we call our childhood. True, all adults can encounter hardships in the later stages of life. But those who were hampered by trauma and abuse in their earliest developmental stages of infancy and childhood will NEVER process future difficulties in life the same way that they would have if their childhood had not been one of ATTACK rather than one of ASSIST.
My current take on all of this is that the essential nature of who a person is actually comes out of any kind of childhood — good or bad — on equal ground — at the center of who we are.
HOW that center self (I call our soul that was called into being by God at the moment of our conception) can learn and express itself throughout a lifetime is GREATLY — and often permanently — changed through harm in childhood. Being able to distinguish the center core self from the trauma-changed-in-its-development BODY is critical to our healing and well-being if we came from an early relationship environment that hurt us greatly.
I left the gate of my first 18 years of life not a little bit hurt, but massively wounded. If I had not been so strong and tough — and so curious and willing and able to MOVE FORWARD in my life NO MATTER WHAT — I would not be alive today. Of that I am certain.
I was both lucky and blessed when I entered my adult life. But I was ALSO completely LOST! I had it to my advantage that I instinctively knew I had to learn how to play-act my way through a life that evidently was full of people. I knew NOTHING about who people were, truly. My childhood had not taught me that. In fact, it had taught me the opposite.
So more like an autistic person than an ordinary one, I learned to watch, to mimic and to pretend I was like everyone else. I didn’t know what I was missing. And it is far more comforting and comfortable for members of a social species to ‘fit in’ and be ‘the same as’ others of our species than it is to appear as a ‘different’ outsider. This is true no matter how a culture claims to value individuality and uniqueness.
But saying we are like other people does not make this sameness true. The quantum leaps in my healing in my ‘later years’ as I approach my 60th birthday happen because I am now able to stare straight into my own eyes and see how the bizarre, trauma-filled confusion of my first 18 years of life made me a very unusual person who is simply NOT like most other people and never will be.
Infant and child abuse survivors are extremely unique people! Hiding our uniqueness from ourselves and from others does not make us well — it makes us sicker. We are rare gems of all kinds of human intelligence all the way down to our molecular DNA level. We became extremely special people in order to survive the unsurvivable during the time we spent preparing for the rest of our life between the two gates of our childhood.
We have gifts ordinary people can’t imagine. Most of us don’t begin to imagine them either because we have been so misguidedly busy trying to fit in, hide our uniqueness, denying what really happened to us and how we were able to adapt ourselves to make it through horrendous infancies and childhoods not only INTACT — but also being extremely SPECIAL.
As far as I know the so-called mental health profession spends all of its time looking for what is ‘wrong’ so that early severe trauma survivors can be changed to be more and more like ‘ordinary’ people. Who among those professionals spends any serious time helping survivors examine what makes them unique and extraordinary people who endured what only a miracle of resiliency — us — could endure?
Survivors’ journey through the adult stages of their lifetime will be as unique (I am not saying harmful!) as was their journey through the first stage of life. I say it’s time to dig our own gems out of the mucky silt, wash them off and find out how they glisten! If our more ordinary non-traumatized fellow citizens then drool over our brilliance, we can show them the loving compassion that nobody — or so very few — showed us when we needed it most.
But nobody is going to find our gifts for us. That is our own task of healing.