opinion

It's a Choice Whether or Not to Inherit Childhood Trauma

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking.” — Eckhart Tolle
Apr 30, 2021
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It's a Choice Whether or Not to Inherit Childhood TraumaIt's a Choice Whether or Not to Inherit Childhood Trauma
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It would be great if everyone knows that our past trauma doesn't define us. The deeply distressing or disturbing experiences that took place before can be separated from one’s identity. They are not us, just a component that can be left behind.
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Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash
Psychology is quite heavily affected by the school of Sigmund Freud, which attributes almost everything to childhood experience. That’s all well and good, but remember, knowing about what happened in our childhood is only the first step. First, we have to know ourselves, then we can heal. At one point, we have to decide to take the next step — which is to heal. Especially if our parents haven’t healed or they no longer exist in our lives, dwelling on psychoanalysis will seem that we are stuck for the rest of our lives. Because we might never get the apology we deserve from them, and there might never be real closure. But does that mean we are screwed? I refuse to believe that, I believe we can transcend from suffering, even we might continue to be hurt by these people and experiences.
There are three useful steps to transcend from suffering. Understand the true function of memory, recognise the unconsciousness in others, and believe that moving on from trauma is totally plausible.
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Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash
First, understand what memory is. Memory is a cognitive tool, not for biased recollections of the past.
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Depending on if we are born optimist or pessimist, our memory is always biased. We might have rose-tinted memories of some happier times, and highlight only the bad bits on the more stressful times. One proof of this is how we feel after exams. Some people tend to walk out of exams thinking they have failed them because they focused on not knowing how to do a fraction of the questions; whilst some people will walk out feeling good about the exams, only remembering the few questions they knew how to do. The outcome of our exams is usually quite different from what we perceive it went. Memory is not for defining our past but a cognitive function for survival. One typical example is that we learn from our mistake, remembering what to avoid, in order to successfully complete a task, or avoid danger, going forward. For example, we don't need to relearn that fire can injure us every time we get near it. Knowing this is the actual function of memory, we should remember with a pinch of salt, and not overly attribute our emotions to what we remember. From a childhood trauma perspective, the author's personal experience is that she always thought she had a neglective father. This is because all she could remember was him working too hard during her childhood. But in reality, as the author's mum recalled, he has always tried to spend as much time he could whenever he was off work.
Second, recognise the intention and unconsciousness of others. “You forgive yourself by realizing that nobody can act beyond their level of consciousness.” — Echkart Tolle
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Another powerful quote from my favourite spiritual guru. When someone did something to hurt us, ranging from the stupid driver on the road to our parents, we tended to think they did it intentionally. In reality, that’s rarely the case. Some people may be selfish, some people might have bad execution skills, but they all act at their level of consciousness at that time. Through psychology, we learn concepts like co-dependence, gaslighting, shaming, etc. They are all great concepts to help us analyse and understand our situations better, but we must ask the question “so what”. Everyone, including our parents, are likely to have suffered from their own traumatic childhood experience and cultural pressures, act the way their level of awareness allows them to do it. One way to transcend from our suffering and trauma is to remember that our parents are no superman or buddha. They are just ordinary people. In fact, it’d seem like the younger generations are always more conscious than the previous generations. The narrative of the younger generations on expressing their feelings and mental health conditions, for example, are much more eloquent than the previous generations. They are more likely to communicate healthily and rationally. It’s only logical that they don’t know how to do parenting and heal themselves. Knowing their lack of consciousness can help us to forgive them. I wrote more about this in the article linked here.
And finally, one must believe that transcending trauma is plausible. As we practise choosing happiness over trauma, again and again, especially choosing to self-soothe rather than to overreact, we will learn eventually.
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Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash
Some people I know with expert Psychology knowledge is suffering more than anyone else in terms of forgiving their parents and transcending from suffering. This is sad but interesting because it shows that knowledge itself doesn’t relieve us. What we do with the knowledge does. If we believe we are screwed for life because of these reasons and traumas, then we will continue to react the same way with future triggers. The point of psychology and therapist is so that we become aware of the big picture so we don’t do the same thing as an unconscious person with future triggers. It’s a choice to not react the way we used to. From the author's own experience, it was ingrained in her memory that she had a neglective father and some other childhood trauma. She believed and confirmed with her therapist that she has developed a fear of abandonment. The author doesn't like being left alone, it’s a big trigger. So when her partner was super busy with his job, his startup and his social life, the author can feel this triggers the fear within. However, this was also the opportunity to transcend from her childhood trauma. She noticed that there's a choice: Do we react like we used to, or do we self-soothe with empirical evidence that we are loved? To transcend from childhood trauma is a tough journey. Initially, most might find that they keep failing to make the right choice - i.e. to choose happiness over fear. There could be tears of fear and vulnerability, we could act like a child because the triggers are too overwhelming. A supportive friend or partner might need to learn to soothe the triggered person. However, as we practise choosing happiness over trauma, again and again, especially choosing to self-soothe rather than to overreact, we will learn eventually.
Choose happiness over trauma. Triggers are the golden opportunities to transcend, not an excuse to remain in pain.
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Photo by Artur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash
Memory is flawed and so are our parents. Whatever trauma we have gone through, we have the power to tell ourselves that no one was trying to hurt us deliberately. If they do, they must be acting 100% out of unconsciousness of their own trauma. Like meditation, which is about how we remain in the present moment, one breathe at a time, healing from triggers is the same. We transcend from suffering one trigger at a time, and sometimes when situations are bad and stressful, we might fall back to that trigger or fear, but then next time, we learn to rise above it. The concept of mental health issue is like taking medicine to cure our illness is not the right one. Instead, we are the medicine, and we choose ourselves over our childhood trauma every single time.
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