grief

Posttraumatic Grief: Healing from Childhood Neglect (with Sarah Flynn)

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Grief from Trauma with Sarah Flynn

   We are so excited and honored to bring to you yet another meaningful guest article - this time authored by therapist Sarah Flynn (MREM, MA, RCC), and coming to you all the way from Canada!  In this, Sarah compassionately addresses the often-overlooked grief that can stem from a childhood missed out on, or lost entirely, due to ongoing trauma.  Grief is so often thought of in a much different context, yet survivors so frequently feel this deep, painful ache and/or longing that most struggle to even find words for or verbalize.  It's grief.  And, this article lovingly and thoughtfully walks you through that realization and validation.  Sarah has been a lovely and very helpful individual to get to know, and the information she brings to the trauma community is invaluable. Be sure to read more about her below and visit all the places you can find more of her work!

 

Posttraumatic Grief: Healing from Childhood Neglect

  Most people think of grief as a response to the loss of a loved one, but grief can be a response to any type of loss, including the loss of something that never was (such as a happy childhood).  This post explores the experience of grief in the present as a response to having bad experiences (from abuse, neglect, or trauma) in the past as a child.  Grief of this sort is a necessary and restorative process that permits a person to bring new life and a renewed sense of hope to childhood hardship and deprivation.  Looked at in this way grief allows us to cleanse ourselves of hurt and loss and continue to grow and to expand our sense of ourselves.

   Many people do not realize that they may be suffering in the present from having been mistreated, deprived or traumatized as a child.  Partly this is the case, because it is hard to know that something is missing if one has never had the experience of its presence.  If you did not have loving, attentive, nurturing parents who were joyful about life and about you as their child, you might not know that this is something that you lacked.  If you were emotionally abandoned or neglected, you may not know what it is like to be emotionally accompanied or cared for.

   A child’s need for love and nurturing is as essential as a plant’s need for water and sunshine.  If you did not receive love, nurturing and attention consistently in your childhood, you may be experiencing pain in the form of grief as an adult and not realize that this is why.  Many children who were mistreated were led to believe that they do not deserve to be treated with love, respect and compassion.  Allowing yourself to fully feel the pain of what you did not receive in the past allows you to empty out these old hurts and disappointments to make room for experiencing joy and the promise of each new day.  As Pete Walker puts it, “…the broken heart that has been healed through grieving is stronger and more loving than the one that has never been injured.  Every heartbreak of my life, including the brokenheartedness of my childhood, has left me a stronger, wiser and more loving person than the one I was before I grieved.”

   Often a person does not begin to grieve their childhood losses until they have reached a point in their lives where in they can emotionally afford to do so.  This may be because the person has found a therapist with whom they feel safe enough or because they find themselves with a social support system that is stable and strong enough for the first time.  The self-compassion borne out of grieving the losses of your childhood makes it clear that you did not deserve the abuse or neglect that you suffered and that you are hurting now because you were hurt then and not because you were bad then.

   If you were neglected or abused as a child your emotional or intellectual development may have been truncated.  This may be because you needed to use your energy to protect yourself rather than to grow and develop naturally emotionally and intellectually.  There may not have been opportunities for you to participate in normal, age-appropriate activities such as playing, asking hundreds of curious questions, using your imagination, experimenting with language and cause and effect, or getting to know yourself and your own emotional internal world in an intimate way.  Moreover, these losses and the feelings of grief associated with them may have been unacknowledged or even actively denied by those around you.  In some cases the lack of acknowledgement of loss can be more emotionally devastating than the loss itself.  The grief associated with unacknowledged childhood loss may be outside your awareness, but actively affecting you to this day.


 

 


    Sarah Flynn (MREM, MA, RCC) is a counsellor in private practice in Victoria, BC, Canada
who specializes in complex post traumatic stress and dissociative disorders. She has
advanced training in several trauma therapies and has been working with those who suffer
from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(CPTSD) since 2009. She offers counseling services by phone, Skype and in person. She
has several articles on dissociation and complex trauma on her website.

FIND SARAH ONLINE!

  Website  ✧              ✧  Facebook  

 

MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    You Did Not ShatterA Message for Survivors with DID

 

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A Message for Survivors on Fathers' Day

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     So, it's Fathers' Day.  And our hearts are so heavy knowing just how many of you are hurting today -- who are conflicted, unsure, angry, scared, grieving, lost, or yearning.  For many of you, it's a combination of all the above.  Fathers' Day doesn't quite seem to hold the same regality to it that Mothers' Day does - and, even societally, you're more likely to see posts of people acknowledging that they had absent or hurtful fathers.  But, just because people are slightly more aware that not everyone has a wonderful dad, it doesn't make it any less difficult. In fact, we almost feel as though Fathers' Day being knocked down a peg from the pedestal family members can be placed on, actually allows for more of us to truly feel our feelings. It's almost as if there is a greater permission to acknowledge the pain given the expectation of warmth and gushing affections is lessened. Of course, that means we're more likely to be in the pain today. So, all of us here at Beauty After Bruises want you to be able to take a time-out from your Sunday, to sit with us, and to know you're in the company of people who really really get it.

     Before we get too terribly far, we want to make sure we acknowledge that dads in general can get a bad rap. They are quickly villainized and made out to be the bad guy in all kinds of situations, often unfairly. For many of you, your dad may have even been your rock, your everything -- the only reason you're still with us today.  We are so glad that fathers like them exist and always want to lift them up in the highest regard. With that, just as we mentioned with mothers, we also know that some of you have lost this special parent - your person. So today marks a day for heart-wrenching grief - a new trauma for your already broken heart. We want to help hold that for you however possible and sympathize in your brokenness. Grief and loss are emotions that so many of you may be feeling - possibly even all of you, really - and for reasons that may not include death.  For a lot of survivors, your fathers have left, or were never there from the start. Some of you have lost your dads to addiction, mental or medical health issues, or other challenging behavior that - though he's still alive - he's no longer truly here, as himself, anymore. He's not the father you knew, nor the father you want or need right now. There's an inevitable, sometimes inescapable feeling of loss that comes with that. And, it's okay and completely normal to grieve a dad who's right there with you, but just isn't present with you. For those of you who never got to feel like you had a father - just someone to share a house with - of course you're also bound to feel as if a big part of you is missing, or as if you just don't know how you're supposed to feel. We all want to acknowledge that hurt. Many are right there with you.
     

     For every shade and color of loss and grief, whether there are tears to be had or you're all cried out: you're not alone.


"Fathers' Day....  Man.  My heart hurts most for little me - the one who had to celebrate, hand-make cards for, and love the violent, red-faced, short-tempered man who tore our family apart. It confused and hurt Little Morgan to no end."

-- Morgan, 27


     This week has seen no shortage of the anticipated emotional commercials, quirky "dad bod" advertisements, full series on popular YouTube channels centering around fatherhood, annnd of course the lengthy social media posts from friends and loved ones, reminiscing and telling tales of their amazing, hard-working, selfless fathers. Yet, here today, many of you are alone, quietly hurting. The reality for Complex PTSD and DID survivors is that it's really common for 'a dad' of someone's to have been involved in your trauma (either in big ways or small). Whether that was your own fathers; a grandfather or uncle; a teacher, coach or pastor; even a cousin or neighbor who's all grown up and now has their own kids -- knowing there's a day for them to be celebrated (specifically for caring for children) can bring with it so many unique, difficult struggles.

     It's hard to see fathers universally being revered, when a father you knew wasn't the least bit good to their own or someone else's children. For those of you who only discovered in adulthood what happened to you as a child, there can be such a visceral reaction, with emotions ten layers deep, if you ever find yourself staring at photos of them holding or hugging their own children.  ....what do you do??  Many feel fear, others just relive trauma, and so many more want to "do something", "save them" or "protect them" but are stunned frozen. Others sit with heavy, heavy guilt that they didn't say something back then, even if they didn't know at the time, retroactive guilt still sneaks in like a virus. For any of you in these positions, we want you to know we deeply empathize with all the anguish and inner-conflict wrapped up in that bundle of exasperation. You are not alone in this.  You did what you could with the information you had at the time, as well as what you believed to be safe. You are STILL doing what is right for you, safest for you, healthiest for you, and what will ensure your wellbeing. The rest can and will sort itself out in time; for now you just need to do what is best for you in this very moment.


"Every Fathers' Day I'm confronted with the reminder that he left us.  He left me and my siblings with that horrible, abusive woman. He saved himself, but didn't think twice about us."

--J.D., 36


     There are so many stories, so many walks of life and paths you could be on.  Many of you have become fathers yourselves. This may be your triumphant accomplishment, one to be so proud of yourself for! Despite all the self-doubt or questioning, through it all, you found yourself in a family, or at least raising a child of your own. This is such a hard and scary thing to do, especially if most of your examples were poor or even non-existent. For those of you worrying or wondering today if you're a good enough father to even be celebrated - or scared you won't be once you do become a dad - we want to be that vote of confidence that says, "The very fact you're concerned about this, means you're leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. We are all just trying to do the best we can with the tools we have, learn more every day, try to leave the least amount of harm behind us, and work to leave things a little better than we found them. And, if that's what you're doing, you're doing it just right!"  Yet, if you are truly concerned or know you need a little help to be able to do the best job you can, there are always resources and a helping hand available to you; never hesitate to ask.  It's one of the bravest things you can do and one that requires such personal strength - not weakness. We are one of those places you can turn, who would love to help you however possible.


"Only when I became a father did I finally see how evil mine own was. I never saw it -- never. It's hard to raise kids when you only just learned how blind you were to being treated like an dog. I'm so scared now I wouldn't recognize it if I ever did the same - but hellbent on never coming close."

-- R.W., 39


     The subject of becoming a father can actually be one filled with trauma for many other reasons in a certain group of survivors. And, we want to be sure we touch on this because we feel it's something that's missing in a lot of trauma outreach. A lot of survivors are men, and a lot of those men were made to be fathers against their will as well - just like those who became mothers unwillingly. Far too many have been trafficked, abused, manipulated, or even used for the sole purpose of bearing children. Some of you may be aware of your children, while others sit there with the tormenting question of IF you're a father, knowing all the abuse you endured and the level of probability. This is something most cannot even imagine feeling, wondering or agonizing over. In each and every one of these instances, we ache for you. Just as we do for those who have also may have children they cannot see, those whose were taken from them in messy, unfair, and even abusive divorces, and those who've even lost their beloved children. All of your pain is so real, so heavy. It is seen. It is felt. It is honored and met with such true compassion.


"Fathers' Day has so much trauma shoved into one cake I'm afraid to light the candles.  It'll either explode, or melt into a puddle with my sadness....And, I don't even know which would make the bigger mess anymore."

Caroline, 42


    No doubt, we couldn't possibly cover all the ways Fathers' Day highlight so many aches, pain and scars left by the years of childhood trauma for many survivors. There are just far too many brave and hurting souls, each with a story of their own. Like, those who've lost "a dad" in their own husband, the one who was a father to their children... Anyone who is left trying to comfort broken-hearted children today because their fathers left or hurt them deeply... All whose fathers just do not accept them for who they are, how they live, or what they know to be true about their trauma.... Every adult child who was severely let down by their dad as a kid, but are now fighting to remind themselves they do have one, and he isn't a terrible guy, but it still just doesn't feel right....  And, everyone else left so confused and torn by the role that stepdads, biological dads, adoptive dads, and countless other family dynamics play -- roles that just manage to complicate things even further. No matter what - no matter why your heart is aching or why it's just conflicted and lost today - please know that we're thinking of you and so excruciatingly aware of just how many of you are out there. We even encourage YOU to give voice to all the things we couldn't get to here. Please share with us below, in our casual little circle of healing hearts, what's on your chest today and let your experience be heard. Every story is important. And, we're all listening.

    Please know, even on these "smaller" holidays, we care very much about what you are going through and all the ways it may be affecting you. Just like we mentioned in our post on Mothers' Day - oftentimes it's the smallest holidays that can do the most damage and leave survivors feeling the most alone. So, if you are a supporter, friend or loved one - we really encourage you to at least send your loved one a thoughtful text or call them up to let them know you're thinking of 'em. Family relationships are nearly always a challenge for complex trauma survivors in one form or another - so, it can never hurt to let them know they're on your mind, even if you know very little about their history.

     And, for all of our survivors: We believe these types of holidays really need to just become days to focus on YOU. Days put in place to take extra care of yourself. To do things that you love; celebrate all the ways in which you are an honorable and loyal person; get together with friends or other great people that you call your family and are proud to know. You can even enjoy some cynical or light-hearted comedy! Liiiike, tell us your favorite "dad joke" - it's okay if it's got some dark humor to it, that's how so many of us heal! Just, above all else, please just take extra care of, and celebrate, YOU.

    We will be.

MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  
  -  Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays
 
-  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
 -  A Message of Care This Mothers' Day

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