Just like a book has themes, so does your life — good and bad.
If you feel stuck or bored, if you want to find your purpose, if you want to be less anxious, if you struggle with boundaries, if you wonder why you can’t finish a project, much less one of your goals (lose weight, start a business, change the world), if nothing you do ever seems good enough, then I may have some answers for you.
The process is simple, but not easy. If you want to be a happier and healthier, then you must …
Heal your emotional trauma.
What Your What?
The first time I heard that, I thought, Oh, I don’t have trauma. My parents didn’t beat me.
Most people think of ‘trauma’ as a one-time event, like a car crash or rape.
Both examples are true, but there’s so much more to it than that. You can hurt someone without ever raising a finger to them.
Beneath your perfectionism and procrastination, there’s trauma.
Beneath your chronic pain, or unexplained illnesses, there’s trauma.
Beneath your inability to hold onto cash, a job, or a relationship, there’s trauma.
Beneath your anxiety and depression, there’s trauma.
You could feel loved as a child, yet still have trauma.
Depending on the degree and the frequency, there can be issues from your past to resolve. If your parents were always physically there, but not always emotionally present, that can leave scars.
If you were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’, if you weren’t allowed to voice your needs, those create unconscious patterns you carry into adulthood.
If there was emotional, physical or sexual abuse anywhere in your past, that is 100% trauma.
This isn’t woo-woo, new-agey stuff either. It’s behavioral science. How you attached to your parents or caregivers is how you expect life to treat you.
It’s Not the Blame Game
Let me be clear. We’re all adults and shouldn’t blame our current behavior on Mom or Dad, but we’re gathering data. Looking for the patterns in your life that are subconsciously showing up today and stopping you from living your life to the fullest.
No two people’s lives are alike. A set of twins can have very different childhoods under the same roof that leads one to being super successful, while the other struggles.
It Affects You Physically
Unhealed trauma drains your energy. It can be the stiffness in your neck, or why you have such horrendous cramps. Unhealed trauma might explain the strange health problems that doctors cannot seem to diagnose. Or, you’ve got a diagnosis all right, but the symptoms might improve or disappear if you dealt with the underlying issues. Research is showing more and more than the mindy and body are not two, separate entitities. It’s all one.
After our house fire in 2017, I was a mess, which is understanable since I was home alone when it happened. We’d lived there 17 years, then suddenly, never again. Still, as time went on, I knew something was still off for me. I was reacting much harder than the rest of my family.
Our fire turned out to be the biggest gift because it forced me to unpack my pain.
What this Process Showed Me
My parents told me every day of my life they loved me. They were affectionate and fun. I was told I could be anything I wanted to be. I’m a self-proclaimed Daddy’s Girl.
My father was larger-than-life. Literally. He stood 6′ 3″ and weighed almost 300 pounds. He had a big laugh and always had a crowd gathered around him everywhere we went. People loved his entertaining stories.
The darker side is my father also had BIG anger. He was moody, so my brother, sister and I learned to walk on eggshells 24/7. Mind you, I didn’t realize any of this as a kid, but that’s exactly where my hypervigilance originated.
I believe my dad thought he was Father of the Year because he didn’t beat us everyday. Apparently, my paternal grandfather was an abusive alcoholic to my dad and my grandmother (they were all estranged, so I’m not really sure. We didn’t talk about it).
In our family, I played the role of Susie Sunshine and it was my job to make my father happy. I subconsciously carried that people pleasing into adulthood from my boyfriends, to being a good little employee at all my jobs.
When I was 20, my father died of a heart attack while visiting me at college. He was alone in his hotel room when it happened. We’d just had the best evening together, when I left for a 9 pm study group, then home to my apartment for the night.
In 1987, my father died on my watch.
In 2017, we lost our home on my watch.
See the connection?
My struggles all led back to unhealed trauma.
What are Your Patterns?
What were your parents or caregivers before you were 10 years old? That’s when most of your patterns are set, but if you had a marvelous childhood, then your soccer coach molested you at 15, but nobody believed you, that’s HUGE.
Sometimes, it’s not just what happened, but what happened after what happened. Meaning, if something bad happened to you, big or small, did your parents hold space for your anger, fear or sadness? Or, did you have to act like everything was okay, stuff your feelings, or pretend it never happened.
WHO did you have to be to gain your parents’ approval? Was it even possible? Did they criticize you?
Most parents are not horrible people. They had good intentions. However, in wanting you to excel, or protecting you from failure or disappointment, they inadvertanly caused you pain. Taught you to play small, that nothing was good enough, or your voice didn’t matter.
Here’s What You Do
1. Search your early memories, for positive and negative moments.
Both are important. Your love for making mudpies as a child may be why you’re such a tremendous cook today.
The fact your mom was always drunk and often forgot to pick you up at school might explain why you feel you cannot count on anyone but yourself.
Write down anything and everything that comes to mind, even if they seem unrelated. It can be a small moment like your dad screaming at you. Or, a pivotal event like a death in the family. All these moments imprint us.
3. Which parent did you struggle with most? Who did you have to be to earn their approval?
This is where the real clues are to your blind spots and patterns. How your parents treated you is how you subconsciously expect others to treat you, how you connect to money, how you feel deep down about your hopes and dreams.
If those early bonds were inconsistent, or difficult, you’ve got some mental rewiring to do. Or, you can be strong in some areas, but struggle with others.
4. Look for patterns and start connecting the dots.
You used to love photography, but you haven’t picked up a camera in years. Go take some pictures.
Your mom was just trying to protect you when she said you wouldn’t win that contest. Instead, it made you always play small. Not risking failure, also meant foregoing many successes.
Are you anxious?
Are you a doormat with your grown kids?
Are you disastrous with money?
Do you keep picking the wrong boyfriend?
Have you gained and lost that weight countless time?
Do you sense you’re capabale of MORE, but do nothing to try?
Do you start and stop projects all the time?
Are you bored and your life has no purpose?
5. Remember, this is a process.
You probably won’t discover all your answers immediately. It took me months, maybe even a full year, when I really focused on this. I’m still unraveling other issues.
If something from the past scares you in remembering, do your best to lean into the fear and keep searching because that’s where your blind spots and patterns are. That’s where your solutions are.
You may have a three-year old managing your finances. You might be a rebellious teenager in your marriage, but an anxious nine-year old with clients.
If you have a trusted friend or family member, talk to them. Somtimes an outisder’s viewpoint like a psychologist or a life coach. And, don’t be afraid to go to therapy. It may be the best gift you can give yourself. You can’t see your own blindspots. They’re subconscious and hidden. You get triggered without even knowing it.
Be sure to talk to someone who’s qualified, and not your critical cousin who always makes you feel awful.
Want to Learn More About This?
I’m so grateful to those who read my stories. I also love the life-coach work I do because it lets me connects with other people, and makes me a better writer. The extrovert in me feels more satisfied, so I can happily go off alone and write my books.
I realize talking about ‘trauma’ is intense and not everyone wants to hear about it, so I’m not going to discuss those issues in a new forum. I’ve started a new email list to talk more about personal development and creating your ideal life.
If this speaks to you, sign up here to receive a free copy of Overcoming Wonder Woman Syndrome (if you’re a guy, just roll with it).
Be gentle with yourself, and know whatever you’ve experienced in the past, you survived it. Keep going. Keep growing.
What’s one change you liked to make in your life today? How do you think it connects to your past? Please leave a comment.
Pick up your FREE pdf of Overcoming Wonder Woman Syndrome. Read, enjoy and share with your friends.
My husband “pulled the plug” on his dad who was only 51 when he failed to wake up after heart surgery. His mom kept telling the family he was fine and only sleeping for weeks. His parents didn’t even tell the kids there was going to be a surgery until the day of!
He is still very angry about it. He claims he killed his father. No one else would step up and make the decision. He resented his mother until the day she died. When you said your father died on your watch I totally understand.
I know I have my own issues to deal with but I have not gone there yet.
This makes my heart hurt, Kelley. I didn’t even realize how much guilt I carried over my father’s death. It took me DECADES to figure that out. We’re so afraid to look at our past, but avoiding it, running from it…that’s all so much more painful. Thanks for your comment. It really spoke to me.
I am a chaotic, sporadic, inconsistent cleaner of our home, although it makes me so happy when I do manage a tidy look. I can still hear my Mom’s admonitions from childhood until the day I left home, “Make your bed, hang up your clothes, clean your room”. It never did take…
My husband, who has been, and is in, therapy helped me figure out I had very little space and few belongings that were just mine growing up. As an adult in my own space with my own stuff, I claim every inch MINE, like a dog marking his territory. My goal has been identified as becoming a cozy minimalist. Wish me luck!
You’re very self-aware, Lindy, in that you’ve determined where your clutter comes from. How nice you have such a supportive husband.
It’ll take time, but as you work towards becoming a cozy minimalist, try to get a new voice in your head. Your mother’s voice no longer serves you. Find a kinder, more supportive voice…one that allows you not just to take up space with your STUFF, but also your mere presence. You have such a tender heart, and the world needs that…both with your voice, as well as what you have to offer this world.
Does that make sense?
Does that make sense? Yes, and it made me tear up. Thanks for the virtual hug,lovely being!
Oh, good. You’re not that helpless, hopeless five-year old anymore…or whatever age you seem to be when your mom hijacks your body. It’ll take time, patience and practice, but it CAN be done. Good luck…
PS – I’m sorry I called you LINDAY earlier. I’ve since corrected it. My name has been mispronounced my whole life, so I’m super sensitive to this. Good luck.
Looking forward to the the Wonder Woman hlep. I Procrastinate/Overwhelmed (lots going on in my life right now with work and home) and will be happy to hear more tips on how to deal with my own trama I’ve pushed way down. I’ve identified a few things from my past; like why I never liked people to touch my hair — My hair has always had body/curly, BEFORE conditioner was invented or used in our home. I saw a picture of my mom holding a hair brush and my unruly hair and I was crying –guess it was because I didn’t like my hair being brushed. Flash forward to a hair dresser brushing/yanking on my hair while I was trying “sit still” for her, every time I had to go get my hair cut.)
Excellent. I’m so psyched about my Woner Woman email list. I feel 100 x more super-heroish since I stopped trying to be all things to all people, as well as dealt with my own unhealed pain. Let me know if I can help you.
Barbara E Fricks
Wow! I can relate to Lindy about chaos and clutter. I seem to thrive in it though I’m a stickler for cleanliness. I’m a huge procrastinator. I never stopped to think where these patterns came from. I do recognize that I feel comfortable in clutter and when I go into an immaculate home I’m uncomfortable. I’m sure are a number of issues we have as adults that can be attributed to our childhood! I’ve enjoyed reading “How To Get Unstuck” thus far and feel that it might just be what I need to give me a boost (or kick in the pants). Thanks for taking the time to share!
That’s interesting of your stickler for cleaniness, but also comfortable in clutter, Barbara. By chance, are you a perfectionist? No matter, don’t be afraid to explore your childhood to discover the positives and negatives of your personality. Good luck.
Thanks, as ever, Marcy xoxo
My pleasure. I so admire your courage to talk about things going on in your life. I find the more I talk about the ‘important stuff’ with SAFE people, the more I heal. xo – m3
Sorry I’m only just seeing this (must remember to turn on comment notification)! You are definitely one of my SAFE people and I literally trust you with my life. Love you xoxo
That may be one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I’m grateful I can be that safe haven for you. You’re amazing, Em. Just keep putting one tiny step foot in front of the other toward the changes you want to make. Keep going. Keep growing.
Oh, Marcy, YOU are amazing. Thank you! <3
Love the article! Motivates me to get to work on ME! Thanks!
This makes me so happy because YOU have so much to offer the world. Good luck. xo – m3
When I was 18 I was date raped, I was a virgin and that night still plays hell in my mind. I told my parents finally weeks after it happened, but they just brushed it off. I was drunk at the time I finally told them. See after that happened to started drinking and drank for 13 years straight. Every night, not a day ( okay I can count 3 days total that I never drank).
I entered treatment on September 24, 2000. In my counseling, I was able to deal with that horrible night. Looking back now as I celebrated my 19th sobriety birthday, I can see the destruction that one night did for the next 13 years of my life.
My parents were awesome parents, loved me and took great care of me, but I think they were from a generation of “We do not talk about it, we suppress it, & it will go away. I guess for them it did, but not for me until treatment.
I give all my glory and ability to deal with it and stay sober to my Savior, Jesus Christ and God.
Thanks for all you share with us to overcome our issues.
I’m so grateful for your vulnerability, Tonya. Thank you for your courage. Sadly, I know so many women who almost destroyed themsevles over sexual abuse. Then, their parents could not deal with it and made that trauma 1,000 worse by sweeping it under the rug. It absolutely explains your alcoholism. CONGRATS on so many years of sobriety. I hope you continue to grow into a happier/healthier you.
I have two major traumas that feed into my life: 1. I was bullied as a child from first grade to twelfth grade, and although there were times when parents and teachers intervened, the messages I got were: “Ignore them” and “If you fight back, you will be punished and the bullies will not be, so you just have to deal with it” and “Remember, the Lord teaches that we are to love our enemies and turn the other cheek.”
2. I was part of an abusive church in college that heaped a lot of expectations on their members and tied your spirituality directly into how well you measured up to those expectations (how many people did you invite to church in a day, how many people are you studying the Bible with, how many visitors are you having to events?)
I deal with multiple health issues (adrenal fatigue, chronic bladder pain, and sleep apnea). I also have a 20-year-old son with high-functioning autism. That sentence, alone, would be enough to pinpoint the area of my greatest stress. (He’s a good kid, very sweet, doesn’t have a mean bone in his body; but there are just times his behaviors can be very hard to deal with. He obsesses on game shows, crime shows, and medical dramas.)
We piled up debt from my attempts to go back to school; I had hoped to be able to find a way to earn money to provide for our son and not rely on a frayed safety net. That backfired because i was not able to finish. Currently, I work at home to pay back debt. I proofread legal transcripts, and i am very lucky to have work, but sometimes it is just hard. There is constantly the question, “what happens to our son when his dad and I are both gone?” We don’t have family here and while we have a supportive church, how do you go about asking people who are not family if they will help with your son?
Very recently, I started an eating plan which is a good one, but it is so.much.work. to figure out what to eat when, and neither my husband or son eat what I eat. I have also joined a gym, but it’s also very hard to get there regularly.
Last week we made some *major* changes in my church. My group of believers has tended to be very conservative about the role of women, and after a two-year study, our leadership roles are now open to women as well as men–and while there are some who agree with this change, some are apprehensive; and people outside of my particular congregation are either going to be supportive or outright accuse us of heresy.
Like you, I am a writer, and I have been working on a novel for YEARS. I’m having a horrible time being consistent in writing.
And last but not least, my house just.will.not.stay.clean no matter what sort of chore schedule I try.
I didn’t realize exactly how much was going on until I wrote it all down. This morning I sat in front of the computer because I need to proof over 200 pages by Monday. And I’m very tense and anxious because also, my son’s bedroom is next to the room I use as an office, and he frequently wants to share with me what he’s found on YouTube or whatever else he’s watching. Today is my turn to clean the bathroom.
I sometimes get small breaks, but the stress just never seems to end.
Tina – my apologies for the slow response. We left town for a funeral. You’re dealing with A LOT, so know the stress you’re feeling is not your imagination.The bullying you endured as a child made you the perfect target for that abusive church.
I love that you are taking active steps to feel better. The clean eathing and the gym. Yes, they’re hard, but if you stick with them long enough, I believe they’ll help more at home. I also think it’ll benefit you to keep exploring the damage from your bullying and no major helps from adults as child. I’ve known people whose adrenal fatigue went away after they truly healed their emotional trauma.
Thank you for sharing your struggles. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability.