Uncovering and rediscovering trauma
Adult survivors of childhood trauma could have delayed post-traumatic stress responses.
Many people say that they have developed PTSD from a childhood event after they have become adults. Many professionals also say that enduring long-term abuse or neglect when young could cause complex post-traumatic stress responses. I just want to take this moment to say that your post-traumatic stress responses are valid and real. Even if PTSD was delayed, it is still as real as it could be. Many survivors don’t even know what kind of trauma they had suffered when they were younger. Nevertheless, your trauma and your trauma stress responses are valid. Moreover, experiencing abuse or neglect during childhood can have lasting effects on the adult survivor’s physical, mental, emotional, and relational health.
I wished someone would say this for adult survivors of childhood trauma when I uncovered a series of childhood trauma being 24 years old. People were saying that the event was over. It was in the past, so why are you getting upset over it now? People also said that they didn’t understand how I could’ve remembered the event all along, and suddenly feel the post-traumatic stress 20 years later. But for me, I was getting flashbacks, and the thought of people themselves made me triggered. Night after night, I was getting re-traumatized by intrusive memories and extreme grief over the things I have lost. I desperately sought out people who have experienced the same thing as me: being immune to the traumatic event and emotions for 20 years and suddenly discovering that I was hurting all along.
And now, I know that this is a normal part of traumatic stress. Many people have experienced this delayed PTSD response. Post-traumatic stress can affect anybody at any stage of life. I’ve read in “The Courage To Heal” by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis that some adult survivors experience post-traumatic stress symptoms only after 40 or 50 years of living post-trauma.
I would have liked to know that this was a normal response to childhood trauma. I would have liked to have been reassured and validated that what I’m experiencing is a genuinely valid response to traumatic events. I would have liked to have received the support that I’ve needed all along since I was a child. My body might have kept me dissociated for 20 years or so, but my body and emotions stored the events in my very being, and I was impacted as a person, as a human being. My body storing the memory let me realize I need validation, respect, and kindness, not abuse, neglect, or trauma.
I hope that this message reaches those survivors of trauma who are experiencing severe post-traumatic symptoms. I hope you would know that you will survive this part of your life too. There is life after trauma, and you can thrive despite your trauma. You can heal. You can have post-traumatic growth. So please don’t give up on yourself and your healing. You are a beautiful human being despite the despicable things you have experienced. You can build a life of your own even if it may be complicated right now. You are loved.
TW: mentions of religious abuse and depression
Uncovering and rediscovering childhood trauma outside of a therapeutic relationship or therapy session could be re-traumatizing.
I caution against some religious practices where they exercise “inner healing work” without adequate knowledge about mental health.
I was in a religious institution for four years when I encountered this practice. I was at a retreat with many of the then-trusted people. There was a special lecture about “inner healing,” where the lecturer shared many stories about childhood abuse and its relation to one’s adult life. And then, the lecturer continued to tell the audience to pray to God to reveal traumatic memories. He said that once the memories are revealed, we will be healed. He also said the more vivid the memories, the faster the healing would be.
However, during the prayer session, what I encountered was (now I realize that it was) a series of intense flashbacks and vivid intrusive memories of childhood abuse. After the meeting, I realized I was not healed, but just traumatized. I tried to tell other leaders that I am in distress at the retreat, but they didn’t know how to deal with my intense feelings.
Days went by with me struggling, telling the leaders I wasn’t healed yet, and they were asking me why I am not healed yet. Have I prayed enough? Have I believed enough? The more I waited for healing, the more depressed I became and experienced the worst depressive episode for two consecutive years.
The moral of this story is how much inner healing work should be carried out in careful measures. And recovering repressed traumatic memories shouldn’t be done carelessly. It is not something that non-mental health practitioners can practice for fun. It almost took away my life. Be careful with processing trauma. It can be healing in a therapeutic environment, but not in others. Processing trauma is hard work. It should only be done after learning how to stabilize your emotions and when you’re in a safe place. I used to think that this was a good occasion; I learned that those events were traumatic. However, it could have been done in a safer and less traumatic manner. And I hope that this kind of re-traumatization doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Has anybody else experienced this? Feel free to leave a comment below