“The way we treat our children directly impacts what they believe about themselves.” – Ariadne Brill
As an adult, have you ever downplayed or denied a traumatic childhood experience because you believed it wasn’t “a big deal”? If you have, you’re not the only one. I’ve seen this play out many times in session with my adult clients. When we’re children, we inadvertently ingest and assimilate information from events that often reveal their impact later in life. Figuring out what to do with that information, or lack thereof, as adults can be challenging. It’s a complicated dance – one that requires a gentle reconciliation between past and present, child and adult.
Childhood is a time when we begin forming beliefs, gathering ideas and information, and telling our stories – all activities, for the most part, that happen automatically and without much thought – similar to involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing and blinking. It’s also a period of extreme egocentricity, as we’re learning about ourselves and ourselves within the context of the rest of the world. However, we’re so focused on the concept of “me,” that we often miss out on important information that could shape the rest of our lives. And in the absence of information, we learn to fill in the gaps.
Here’s what I mean…
When trauma like a divorce, a death, or a mental health issue occurs, the child is often left out of discussions, forced to make sense of it on their own. Or, if the situations are talked about with them, they’re typically not put into terms they can comprehend. As egocentric beings, children don’t understand that something isn’t about them because, in their minds, everything is about them! Either way you slice it, the child is ill-equipped to deal with the issue at that time, unconsciously carrying the matter with them well into adulthood…and sometimes, into counseling.
Great healing can come from understanding the stories we told ourselves as children. Though my therapeutic approach isn’t primarily rooted in scouring clients’ earlier years, I believe it’s an important place to visit, as it shapes the person I see sitting with me in my office. While in session, I gently encourage clients to challenge these leftover childhood thoughts by fact-checking them with questions like, “Did your parents really get a divorce because of you?” or “Was your grandfather’s passing truly your fault?” Through this direct, compassionate line of questioning, clients begin learning how to fill in the gaps with more accurate information, which supports them in nursing their childhood wounds – ultimately leading to a healthier, happier adult.
So, as you can see, it IS a big deal and is worth discussing. It informs us and makes us who we are today.
TAKE-AWAY: As adults, we can’t go back in time and get a “redo” of our childhood. We can, however, impact the young lives around us by talking with children, empathizing with them, listening to their feelings, and sharing our own – which also helps to decrease the size of the “hurt”. We’re able to further assist by giving children information they can digest, leaving fewer gaps to be filled in along their life’s journey.