Scars of Childhood: Let the Pain Be Your Strength
By Caral Goh
Don’t try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it.
— Russell Baker
Growing up is never easy. The physical, emotional and psychological changes that a child must deal with as they mature are overwhelming. The process of maturation becomes far more challenging when a child witnesses or experiences violence, or is physically or emotionally neglected by their immediate family or caregiver. A child who grows up in a traumatic home environment is likely to continue to feel and show the impact of that strain, pain, and anguish as an adult.
A child growing up in a close-knit environment with supportive family members receives the love and understanding they need. Growing up in an affectionate, cohesive, and communicative home allows children to develop relationship skills and perform better academically. The sense of belonging increases their self-esteem and motivation to pursue goals. The opposite is also true. When family life is of poor quality and a child is exposed to destructive behaviors, their development is adversely affected and the consequences can be lifelong.
Family dynamics lay the foundation of a child’s behavior, personality, values, and ability to cope with emotions and relationships. It is upon this foundation that a child eventually constructs their adult life.
Unhealthy influences in childhood can result in personality extremes — being too assertive or too passive; too obliging or too rigid; too driven or excessively lackadaisical.
Some people emerge into adulthood full of negativity and anger toward parents whom they hold responsible for the way they feel and the lives they live. They fault their parents’ lack of involvement when they were growing up for their failure to do well academically. They blame their parents’ absence of encouragement when they do not excel professionally later in life. Such resentment and blame may feel justified — but they do not serve the one who harbors them.
Difficult childhood circumstances, both physical and emotional, produce lasting effects and can seriously stymie the realization of potential later in life. A child who grows up surrounded by material instability may become an obsessive overachiever who fixates on money and social prestige. Conversely, the lack of stability may prevent them from being able to do well in school and access opportunities. An overprotective parent may push a child into timidity and nervousness. The outcome of an overly busy, inattentive parent may be a child who exhibits attention-seeking behavior.
Deep wounding that occurs in childhood can be difficult to heal. For some, it defines their experience of life: Even when opportunities appear, they seek refuge in underachievement, recoil from risk, and lead a less fulfilling existence. Feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, loneliness, confusion, and anger can become permanent fixtures in the emotional landscape, and may impact every relationship the wounded person experiences.
Make Peace With the Past
No matter how difficult the past, human beings are resilient and are meant to interact with life anew in every moment. While healing deeply embedded pain is challenging in the extreme, it is possible to release the past and write a new chapter. The body and brain are capable of reversing the damage of past adversity; they are constantly renewing themselves, striving to break free from being victimized by pain.
You can reframe the past and neutralize a disturbing incident by choosing to see it in a different light. It is possible to accept and honor the feelings generated by bad experiences while seeing the ways in which hardships were opportunities to develop strength and wisdom. Living in shame is akin to cancer of the spirit. You are worthy of love and deserving of respect. Realize that difficult childhood experiences were not your fault, and make the commitment to define life on new terms.
Writing about the past can help people to let go of the pain and anger that have been festering inside. Negative feelings must be expressed to be healed. Writing positive affirmations can also help to replace self-destructive beliefs with supportive ones. Stop punishing yourself by constantly thinking “I should have…” or “If only I…” Forgive yourself and know you did the best you were capable of at the time in the given circumstances.
Practice acceptance instead of bemoaning your fate, and move on. Cultivate gratitude for the troubles; these challenges have made you a stronger person who is able to take charge of your own wellbeing.
Freedom From Blame
Difficult relationships between parents and children can be healed, even late in life. Parents need to be honest about where their actions had a negative impact, seek their child’s forgiveness, and commit to being supportive. When parents admit fault, it makes it easier for their kids to let go and move forward. However, in many cases, this admission is not possible. Ultimately, healing depends on the individual, not on anyone or anything outside of the self.
Blaming one’s parents keeps one trapped in anger, resentment, powerlessness, and bitterness. Blaming others means that the present is ruled by the past, negative cycles repeating in an endless destructive loop. Someone who is stuck in the past cannot become the person they wish to be or create the life they desire.
Realize that the immense power of your spirit transcends the challenges of life. People can recover their ability to relax and feel safe when they repeatedly have positive experiences, even minor ones. Look for the beautiful in the world. Positive interactions with friends, classmates, co-workers, or neighbors can be processed by the brain as evidence of the goodness in the world.
Let the Pain Be Your Strength
No matter whether one’s early experiences were difficult or idyllic, adulthood offers the opportunity to write one’s own new chapter of the journey called life. Letting go of the past means that the present can be lived in freedom.
There is a silver lining to negative experiences: They can often boost resilience. An ugly experience from the past can weigh a person down, but it can also make them stronger. When an individual focuses on developing their self-worth and embracing a broader perspective of life, their pain can become their strength.