I spent years excavating my emotional trauma. I spent years owning my anger, my hatred, my bitterness, my sadness. I spent years trying to untangle the knots of my childhood. I spent years disproportionately blaming my mother because I wasn’t able to access some really dark memories and emotions related to my father’s behaviour. I spent years being angry at my mother because I felt that she should have protected me more.
It seems to me I am now reaching another level. My terrifying fear of death triggered by the fact that I need a surgery that I dread, is stripping things down to the basics. It seems to me that I am standing in front of some cross road. The rest of my life is meant to be different. Because the truth is, that in spite of all the trauma, despite of me really not being ok for the first three decades of my life, somehow miraculously, I made it. Somehow miraculously, I made so many things happen for myself, or maybe God, or something above, made them happen for me. I nearly cracked many times but I never really cracked.
As I started recovering from my own trauma-induced madness, I started forgetting. I started forgetting and stopped being compassionate with the emotionally traumatised who now may be where I used to be only ten years ago. I stopped being compassionate with the likes of my mother and all the other people of my childhood, who did emerge from generations of trauma in a heavily traumatised country, in a country that had six years of Nazi occupation and 40 years of communism. A country that had seen way too much suffering for many people not to crack.
Emotionally and psychologically traumatised people might be hard to love. Their behaviour might be erratic, they are full of triggers and frequently, they discharge those triggers on innocent targets, maybe their children. They are riddled with demons, their souls are barricaded off by defence mechanisms that are there to prevent them from feeling their pain, their fear, their suffering. These emotions are so terrifying that they would fight to keep up those defences at all cost. But that means they are not able to come out of their shells, experience joy and connection. They are not able to heal. The world is losing so much by not having these people come out of their shells.
My biggest pain about my mother has always been the fact that underneath the difficult mask, when you take away the alcohol, the hardness, I always believed that there is an empathic and kind soul. I have seen glimpses of her, many times. But I could never make them stay. She would always sink back and the defences would be restored. It’s all a little bit like the Snow Queen fairy tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. The good person hardened by some evil spell. That evil spell is caused by trauma, multiple layers of trauma, emotional, psychological, frequently worse.
But it’s time for me to move past my bitterness. I have been the lucky one. Somehow, against all the odds, I emerged. But I have witnessed darkness, I had dealt with demons and I know their power. It feels to me that if I am to overcome my current struggle, survive and recover from my surgery, I need to start living life differently. I don’t really care about chasing next career milestones anymore. I’ve done enough. I proved to myself what I needed to prove to myself. I want to continue doing my work well but there needs to be more. There needs to be a purpose, there needs to be giving back.
I need to embrace a greater mission, ditch bitterness, ditch confrontation and think about how my experience of being in the darkness can serve those that are still in the darkness.
Confrontation, blaming and criticism never works when it comes to emotionally and psychologically traumatised people. It only hardens their defences. There is so much insecurity in them. You don’t know what ugly things they have heard. Where they made to feel ugly? Not clever enough? Unworthy? Not loved? Put down? The pain of all that still reverberates through their bodies, it drowns their souls. It’s too heavy. They might hear those hurtful words everywhere even behind well meant remarks. In fact, focus on what triggers them the most and most frequently and you might be on track to understanding their past.
Genuine empathy frequently doesn’t work either. They are not ready to accept it. They are frequently in denial of their trauma and not ready to face the pain of the experience. Maybe the pain is such that they instinctively know that they wouldn’t be able to handle it.
But there is something that I believe works. Being accepted and loved in spite of your demons and your craziness. Being loved and accepted warts and all. This, however, is difficult to do for people who still have their own triggers or are still enmeshed and have poor boundaries. Relationships of traumatised people always have skewed boundaries or no boundaries. If you are still enmeshed, you won’t be able to do that. You let yourself be drawn back in into the strange dynamic that are all trauma-based relationships. First, you need to heal yourself enough and understand yourself enough to be able to stand face to face with a raging emotionally traumatised person and know that whatever mean things they are saying to you are actually not about you. Once you are able to stand there and not let it in, not get angry, not get upset, not get defensive, you can actually start being able to help.
Now, I believe that the person who is too close to that emotionally traumatised person might not be accepted as a healing force. Someone more random, who would apply the understanding and kindness and be able to communicate criticism in an accepting and non-judgemental way, might be able to effect more change then a recently recovered relative.
That’s why we need to educate and elevate many people. We need people to understand the effects of childhood and past trauma in adults. We need to get as many people as possible to the state where they won’t be triggered by an emotionally traumatised person and they will see whatever their actions as an expression of a deep festering wound. Through acceptance with these wounds, the emotionally traumatised person can gradually heal or at least sufficiently open to healing. They don’t need more bashing. They don’t need more criticism. They cary enough. They are calling for help and for love, which they may have never experienced.
These people may not seek therapy or help. They might not be well off. Deep down they might feel scared, ashamed, unworthy. I think we need to elevate the society to the level of compassion and empathy that it will want to elevate and heal its broken and wounded. I believe this is the only way for this world to become a better place and let me be honest, I think this world is an absolutely terrifying place and anybody who doesn’t see it must be in denial.
I hope that if we eliminate trauma, we will also reduce the incidence of many physical diseases since it’s known today that severe and long term emotional distress causes the body to express all the wrong genes. The cancer in our generation might be caused by all those generations who suffered in the past. Human history is full of torture, wars, starvation and hardships. We live in a world that most of the time covers our basic needs, but our minds and bodies are still riddled with the horrors of the past. It appears to me that just as we have managed to make the world relatively materially secure, we need to make it emotionally secure too, through proper psychological education and deep understanding.
I have always wanted to talk about my childhood experiences to educate people about the less obvious signs of child abuse and child neglect but I have forgotten that there is a severely traumatised child in very many adults. In very many parents who blindly replay the vicious cycle of their own childhood, of their own youth, and we need to treat them with kindness too.