Adult Children (grown adults exposed to abuse as a child) often spent our entire childhoods being gaslit: being told we shouldn’t cry or be upset, that nothing was wrong, and that things didn’t happen the way we thought they did. We were coerced into doubting our memories, our intuition, our sense of right and wrong, and left frustrated, confused, and alone. Counseling may be first place we feel like someone else understood what we went through and the fact that a professional could explain that this was a thing – that the symptoms we were experiencing made sense given the context of our histories, can be so validating. The wounds of not being cared about and believed are so deep that they may never be fully healed – the goal is to manage them, not to erase them, but man does it feel good when someone finally sees our wounds are there.
It’s common for adults with trauma histories to do several things in counseling sessions. One is to minimize how bad things were or how deeply we are affected. I hear often, “I know other people have had it worse.” We don’t want to risk minimizing others’ pain. We know what it feels like to hurt and don’t want to cheat anyone else out of the depths of feeling and healing from their experiences, as if feeling our own pain somehow invalidates others. Somehow it also feels like if I admit how badly this hurt me, I must be overreacting. We think it couldn’t have been that bad. That completely makes sense when we connect it to the history of gaslighting that so many of us experienced. We were told over and over growing up that nothing was wrong when our bodies and emotions were telling us otherwise.
But we also minimize the impact of our trauma because it can be overwhelming and too close for comfort, to look at how severely we were damaged. Counseling can feel like a relief. We begin to get our stories out and off our chest, but we also dig them up and pull them out from a place we may have worked very hard to bury them.
If you look at childhood trauma from a biological standpoint, to admit to hurt and weakness when we have already been abandoned by parents, is dangerous. Our built-in safety net for handling life was taken away. If our parents aren’t there for us, who else will be? If we crumble, who will pick us up? We can’t afford to be vulnerable. Because of this, another common thing we do in counseling is tell our stories flatly, often with a smile on our faces, and then say that we’re fine. It’s because we have had to be fine. And we don’t want to be pitied. We can’t afford to be weak – and we aren’t weak.
Telling your story can be difficult, but it often leads to a reduction in shame, guilt, and other distressing feelings, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, helps us confront false beliefs we hold about ourselves and our histories, and helps us feel ownership over our past. Remember that you are in control of when, how, and what parts of your history you choose to work on in sessions.