Having an unhappy childhood can haunt you. Even if you have a happy life as an adult, and feel that you have overcome the pain you experienced growing up, certain events and encounters with others can send you right back into the time warp that was your childhood. How can you avoid doing this? There are several ways, some of which will require the help of others, such as a helping professional, while others you can do on your own. Let's look at what you can start with doing on your own first, then what signs might be that you need help.
Firstly, how can you tell that you are having problems moving on and acknowledging or dealing with the unhappy childhood that you had? Some ways you can tell this are as follows:
Ruminating, or always thinking about your past and how others let you down.
Comparing yourself to others in your family and their successes, or conversely, finding ways to also put down others you feel have not had the success that you have had yourself. At this point in life, you should be able to celebrate others’ success, and not compare yourself to others.
You react without thinking. Your reactions seem to end always in anger, or feeling “down” on yourself. To top that off, you also have to deal with the reaction of others to your actions and what you have said.
Sudden turns in mood that lean toward depression (sadness, listlessness, feeling low or no energy) and have you thinking about your past, and how you wish it were different. This is to be distinguished from other psychological conditions with mood swings, which may need medical attention.
- Idealizing the families or childhoods of others, without really knowing what they were up against (and everyone, no matter how happy their family may look from the outside, has something they were up against, some of us are just better at hiding it).
The above signs show that somehow, for whatever reason, getting behind a painful past has been something that has been very hard, if not impossible, for you to do.
What can you do to get beyond this? There are many ways to do this. Some are outlined here below. You can choose the one that most makes sense for your situation or combine a few to help you "fill in the blanks".
1. Connect With Family You Trust
Connect with those in your family that you feel you can speak to. Get their feedback on their own childhood experiences within your family. You may be surprised at the fact that others shared your own experiences, and this may help you feel less alone in dealing with and working through your own pain. Sometimes, when we go through periods of unhappiness in our lives, we do feel very alone, and many families did not encourage communication. In abusive families, an abusive parent will often isolate the family from other support systems to maintain control over the situation. Now that you are an adult, you can break that cycle of power and control by connecting with others. You may very well feel surprised that your feelings were shared, and their information with different perspectives will help "fill in the gaps" by sharing information and knowledge about your families past.
2. Try "Psychoeducation"
Whatever the issue that caused your unhappy childhood, do what they call in the field "psychoeducation" for yourself. What was your issue? Abuse in the home? Bullying at school? A physical or psychological illness that affected the family? Do some reading on the issue. Understanding is a powerful tool that will help you feel more in control and not overwhelmed by your past, and will also suggest ways to cope and possibly connect you with others affected by the same issue through organized groups, most of whom also have an online presence. Some examples include: NAMI, the North American Alliance for the Mentally Ill (www.nami.org) which is an organization which offers support for family members of those who are mentally ill. Nar-Anon and Al-Anon and other similar organizations also have online and real-time presences that can be a huge support for family members affected by substance abuse. These organizations may also offer volunteer opportunities that can also be helpful.
3. Seek Professional Help
Do not be ashamed to seek out help with a professional through counseling should your issues seem insurmountable. Those that keep their problems hidden will only find "popping up" at inopportune times when they are faced with periods that remind them of their past. An unhappy childhood does not have to hold you prisoner the rest of your life.
Some allow whom they were pigeonholed with as an identity when they were children in their family to define their entire lives. I could list here many more resources, particularly in the Internet age, of support groups, organizations, etc. that help adults who have lived through horrible circumstances be able to succeed. There are many out there and they aren't hard to find. But all it really takes is one person, one spark of confidence, and a few genuine positive remarks to give someone going through either a tormented present or thinking about their traumatic past to move ahead. Just one person to supply you with the confidence needed to move on and achieve their goals. It is like being given a thin lifeline: grab onto it, pull yourself back up on the boat and get to your destination: a happy and productive adulthood.
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