The 9-Step Plan For Healing Childhood Heartbreak, So You Can Be Happier As An Adult

Photo: Joshua Rawson-Harris | Unsplash 
Woman looking sadly out her blinds

Many of us have suffered through a negative experience or toxic relationship in our youth.

Whether your past trauma was with your father, your mother, your first love, or even a friend, these experiences can cause lasting damage and shape how you approach future relationships.

Here's the 9-step plan for healing that can help you move on 

1. Identify your values.

Now’s the time to do some inner digging. Identify and build your values to discover what’s truly important to you. When you identify and live in alignment with your values, your confidence grows because you know you are living in a way that honors who you are.

Subsequently, when you act against your values, your confidence takes a hit because you’re dishonoring who you truly are.

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2. Re-create your identity.

Identify what you want. You already know what you don’t want, so now’s the time to identify what you want. Think of the qualities of people you admire. If there are qualities they exhibit you are fond of, incorporate them into your life. Image yourself as the person you most desire to be, and then take consistent actions to be in congruence with your ideal image.

3. Take steps toward living by your new sense of self.

Once you know what sort of future you want to create for yourself, figure out how to get it. This takes planning. Author Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind. The new self is no longer a victim of the past for you now only focus on the present and future.

Make a list of the qualities you want in the person you most desire to be and be that person. Also, list your non-negotiables so you don’t fall back into old patterns. For example, “I don’t tolerate people yelling at me anymore.”



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4. Understand why we settle

One of my clients went through a string of abusive romantic relationships as an adult, so she sought my help to figure out why:

She told me, “When I was 9, I made and sold crafty things, like homemade jewelry and pottery, around the neighborhood. I was so proud of my work. The neighbors appreciated it and bought it. But one day, my furious dad came and got me and said, 'How dare you embarrass me in front of the whole neighborhood by having them think I’m not man enough to provide for my family… I have to have my little girl go out and make money for us.'"

This experience not only crushed her desire to make crafty things again but caused her to take on a sense of needless guilt, humiliation, and mistrust for the most significant male figure in her life — her father.

Because of this toxic relationship experience, she didn’t have any sense of what a healthy, loving male figure in her life would be like — which is why she settled for a history of abusive relationships as she got older.

These types of toxic relationships and negative past experiences cause you to form certain expectations of how people are and how they behave — creating roadblocks for your future happiness.

5. Break the story down

When my clients come to me with hurtful past experiences, I suggest we break their story down piece by piece. This way, they can begin to dissect the toxic relationship and separate themselves from the lies they were fed when they were younger.

Why would I ask them to revisit such painful memories? Well, when they relive these experiences in slow motion, we can pick them apart and separate the fiction imposed upon them by another, and then they can begin to see the truth of who they are.

If you have endured a toxic relationship or a hurtful experience in the past, I encourage you to take the steps to identify how you felt in the situation. Identify the fiction, the painful (and often unnecessary) thoughts you were fed that you unknowingly internalized and now allow to affect your life in the present.



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6. Ask, “How did I feel at each step of the way?”

In this case, the woman I’ve been referring to received positive feedback from her neighbors and placed value on her creations by giving her money for them. I had her analyze the scenario up until that hurtful moment. How did it feel to create the things you sold? How did it feel to have your creations validated by the neighbors who bought them? How did it feel to see their smiles and hear their praises?

Recognize your truth in the moment. That’s all you. All of that is a result of who you are and what you’ve done. Then, I had her meditate on those positive feelings to affirm these qualities of who she is.

7. Identify the fiction you were fed by another.

Think about how the other person caused you to feel — based on what they said or how they responded in your experience. If you’ve been accused of wrongdoing by someone, ask yourself how true it was that you were responsible for the other's reactions. Was it actually what you did, or was it a manifestation of how they interpreted what you did?

For the woman in my example, her father accused her of embarrassing him in front of the neighborhood by earning money and giving them the impression he was unable to provide for his family. How true was that? None whatsoever. His response to her was complete fiction. It had nothing to do with her, yet at 9 -years old she felt she had done something wrong. Otherwise, why would her father be so upset?

He was acting on impulses shaped by his relationships growing up. Hurt people, hurt people.

8. Recognize how this fictitious belief has affected your life and your choices in the present.

Once you can separate your truth from the fiction, you can start to see how the cycle of your present life choices began.

In the case of my client, the experience shaped her opinions about men. It stuck with her, becoming her “normal” since this was all she knew. Once this happens, especially at a young age, she begins to think this is how men are. Why would she expect anything different? As a result, she settles for men who treat her this way in her life now — despite this experience being nearly 15 years ago.

Once you’re able to recognize how your toxic past is affecting your future, only then can the true healing and change begin.

9. You get to decide what defines you.

When you become untangled from what others have said or done to you in the past, you have the freedom to chart your course. Quit giving the actions of others power over you. Start living your life as you define it.

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Craig Nielson is a Professional Coach, Speaker, and Educator who assists clients via his company, My Internal Image.