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October 30, 2020

How Unresolved Childhood Trauma Conditions us to Ignore Emotional Abuse.


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I never wanted to be a woman trapped by her trauma. 

I have seen the devastating effects of refusing to let go of past hurts up close and personal. Having a brilliant, capable mother who was crippled by her past trauma was quite the education on who I did not want to become. 

I listened to the stories that molded her disdain for her own mother and somehow learned compassion through the challenges she endured. It’s a mind-bending game to find love and compassion for your abuser (perhaps made easier by the bond of blood).

It is not my intent to bad-mouth the woman who raised me. My only purpose in stating these things is to illustrate how her unresolved trauma bred my own. It conditioned me to welcome more broken things to cut myself on—things that hindered my ability to heal. It is a vicious cycle, you see.

I can speak glowingly about everything my mother did right because she did so many things right. But this is not really about my mother; it is about how the broken things given to us from those we love continue to manifest (unless we stop them).

I have a tired story. I married a man, happy and hopeful. It started great, I suppose, minus the red flags I chose to ignore. Tragedy befell him in the form of a horrific car accident, so his physical healing became the epicenter of our fledgling relationship. We both saw it as a “sign” that life was short—that we should lean into the love we felt for one another and get married.

But the red flags kept flagging, and I kept my head in the clouds. I kept believing that I could mend his fractured pieces with love. In the end, I poured the best of myself into a man who did next to nothing to pour into me. I lost who I was with all the compromising I did in the marriage.

Our union’s demise culminated with me walking into the master bedroom that I had so lovingly curated with beautiful, comforting things to see him sleeping peacefully next to another woman. I felt every ounce of energy roll out of me at that moment. The energy of my prayers, the energy of my love, the energy of my hope, rolled from the top of my head to my feet.

I saw the very thing that I had feared all along. This man did not love me; he did not respect me. And at that moment, I knew it had all been for naught.

I’d spent five years of my life trying to convince someone that I was worthy of their love by showing them the unconditional love I wished to receive. I thought that the scars born of my relationship with my mother were healed because I understood her, I forgave her. I thought that the scars from not having a relationship with my father were healed because I understood him and thought I’d forgiven him.

When the heartbreak began to subside, I realized I had a great deal of anger toward both of my parents. I realized how deeply I devalued myself in that marriage. I realized I had gone through all of it because of my mother’s scars, my father’s scars, and because I had not truly understood the depth of my own damage.

Their traumas created my trauma, and I made a life-altering decision that allowed that trauma to continue.

It was oddly comfortable, the dysfunction of my marriage. It was the way I learned to love—in emotional chaos.

Once the haze of my hurt thinned, I decided that I wanted off of this rollercoaster of anguish. I am no stranger to therapy, so I made sure to jump right in. I worked with a minister, professionally trained in psychology for the spiritual and mental 1-2 punch, then transitioned to a full-time therapist. It was important to me to heal what I had been through in my marriage and understand why I allowed such a relationship to continue even after I determined it to be abusive.

That journey has taken three years, and while it isn’t over, I can say that I have taken full accountability for what I allowed. I have acknowledged the failings in my forgiveness of my parents. I’ve done the difficult work of looking inward for the reasoning behind the things that I have allowed to transpire in my life. A hard truth is better than a comfortable lie. And ultimately, the responsibility of transitioning to an emotionally healthier version of me is all mine.

It has been a challenging walk, with multiple versions of myself coming and going. Those less evolved versions of me identified intimately with the pain of heartbreak. They leaned into snarky memes about cheating men and the women who enable them. They reveled in all things “self-care” and “self-love” related. They championed themselves the “winner of the breakup” because of all the places they had gone and the things they acquired in an effort to put distance between them and the ex. 

But this version of myself woke up different on the anniversary of my wedding day, eight years ago. I have spent the last three anniversary dates traveling and creating new, epic, hashtag-able memories to replace the one of a wedding that probably should never have happened. It has been healing. But I think it is the freeing that this version of me is grappling with. This year I finally felt free of the pain caused by my divorce and, in many ways, the trauma that preceded it.

I never wanted to be a woman trapped by her trauma. I have now learned that—for me to release myself from bondage—I need to continue to accept the versions of me who reveal themselves. Even as I shed the layers of scar tissue built up around who God intends for me to be.

It is a bit disorienting to separate oneself from the very thing that has defined them for so long. But it doesn’t mean it did not happen, and it doesn’t mean it was insignificant. It means that the amount of effort I have put into healing has produced a healthier, more enlightened version of myself to become acquainted with.

This version of me is new here, yet familiar in a myriad of ways. She is confidently lost, unsure of exactly where she is headed, but knows that the absolute best way is forward.

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