Why I needed to stop judging myself to start healing from childhood trauma

“I see now how owning our history and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown

As I began recovering from childhood trauma a few years ago, the first thing I learned was that I needed to master the skill of self-awareness.

However, becoming aware brought with it some pretty harsh truths about who I was, what I was doing, and how I had acted because of what had happened to me.

Although I eventually found the courage to face some challenging experiences from my past, I wasn’t ready to forgive or accept myself.

As I acknowledged the impact of my past trauma and abuse on my life now, I immediately started blaming myself. It was hard to accept that I liked people’s validation and stayed in toxic relationships because I didn’t feel worthy or loveable. So I went straight to what I knew and was used to—judgment, guilt, and shame.

As Bessel van der Kolk explains in his book The Body Keeps the Score:

“While we all want to move beyond trauma, the part of our brain dedicated to ensuring our survival (deep beneath our rational brain) isn’t very good at denying it. Long after a traumatic event is over, it can reactivate at the slightest sign of danger, mobilizing dysfunctional brain circuits and releasing massive amounts of stress hormones. This leads to unpleasant emotions, intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These post-traumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Trauma survivors feel out of control and often fear they are broken to the core and beyond repair.”

Although self-awareness is the first step to fostering change in our lives, many of us reach for judgment when faced with uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our past experiences. Ironically, the lack of self-acceptance prevents us from healing and getting over what has happened to us.

Is it possible that we are sabotaging our healing by being overly hard on ourselves?

For example, victims of sexual assault are often held hostage by the shame they carry. Since it is terrifying to talk about the attack, they remain silent while secretly claiming responsibility for the abuse.

If guilt and shame are the dominant emotions we carry, how can we move toward successful recovery and accept our wounded inner child?

We do this by letting go of judgment about what happened to us, and instead of taking responsibility for the harm we suffered, we become responsible for our recovery.

I remember when I was about seven years old my father got angry because my brother and I were playing around the house and making noise. He slammed our bedroom door so hard the glass shattered. When he came towards me, face red and angry, I urinated.

Every time I looked back on this experience, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame and promised myself that I would never weaken or fear anyone.

As I got older, I embraced the survival mechanism of being a toughie. I would put on the mask of a strong woman while choking inside as I felt fragile, weak, easily offended and afraid.

However, I could not bear to face my weaknesses.

Anytime I felt sad, vulnerable, or emotional, I judged myself harshly. In a way, I became my biggest internal abuser.

After I got divorced, I was plagued with self-judgment and felt worthless for what I allowed myself to do during my marriage. Disrespect, pain, neglect and lies. How can a worthy person allow such things? I couldn’t stop judging myself.

Eventually, I began working on my guilt through writing and daily forgiveness meditations. Although I began to understand the importance of acceptance and forgiveness in my healing and recovery, I was only scratching the surface.

The real challenge came when I confronted who I was because of what had happened to me. My focus started to shift from blame to personal responsibility. While it was a healthy step forward, it was a long and daunting process. Deep in my victim mentality and filled with shame and judgment, accepting myself seemed like a dream I would never achieve.

It was hard to admit that I had stayed in a toxic relationship willingly, manipulating people with my tears, and creating chaos and drama in my closest relationships to gain attention and feel loved. However, the discomfort I felt was a sign that I was on the right track. If I was willing to keep my ego in check, I could make progress.

That’s how I overcame self-judgment and began to heal the wounds of my childhood.

1. I started to open up and tell the truth.

First I had to face how disgusted I was with myself. As I began to talk about what happened to me finding sanctuary with my therapist, coach, and close friends, judgment slipped and acceptance took over.

My favorite piece of advice from Brené Brown is to share our story with people who deserve to hear it. Whether you’re speaking to a therapist, a coach, a support group, or a very close friend or family member, make sure that person has the right to hear your deepest and most vulnerable feelings and memories.

Speaking our truth in the space of acceptance is one of the most beautiful ways to heal and process traumatic memories and experiences. Safe space and deep connections are fundamental when we heal ourselves, especially when we are hurt in interpersonal relationships.

2. I acknowledged what happened to me.

The breakthrough in my recovery came after reading a book by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry entitled What Happened to You? Suddenly so much of my behavior started to make sense.

I wasn’t the sick, disgusting, heartless person I thought I was. I was a hurt adult who failed to address my traumatic childhood experiences while acting from a place of survival and fear.

When we begin to heal ourselves and find the root causes behind our (often) unconscious and self-sabotaging behavior, we better understand who we are and move away from judgment. There is power in asking, “What happened to me?” rather than “What’s wrong with me?”

Understanding yourself from an open and compassionate place allows you to reach out for the love and acceptance your inner child craves. I don’t think we’re broken or need fixing. We are worthy and whole souls whose goal is to find our way back to ourselves and reconnect with who we are at our core.

3. I have learned to silence my inner critic.

Learning to recognize the mean little voice in my head was a challenge. My judgmental thoughts were so subtle that they passed me unconsciously.

The easiest time to recognize critical thoughts was when I was meditating. Even during meditation, I judged myself: “Sit down, make sure you focus on your breath. Oh, come on, Silvia, do better. You’re not good at meditating. Your mind just wandered off again!”

Since we have around 60,000 thoughts in a day, I have decided to focus on my feelings. By observing my emotional state, I could better discern what I was thinking and intervene to change it.

I remember one particular night when I felt very depressed and hopeless. I asked myself, “What do I think makes me feel this way?” The response I observed was, “No one is ever really going to love you.” It was the first time I decided not to believe that thought. I sat down and made a list of people who have shown me love, caring and compassion.

If you often judge yourself, you may need some practice and loving patience. However, as you work on your healing, understanding and accepting yourself is a way to say to your inner child, “I love you, I’m here for you and you’re okay.”

As I discovered the positive effects of self-acceptance on my recovery, I realized that being overly strict on myself had nothing to do with healing, it had everything to do with the trauma I had experienced.

Today I understand that the little voice in my head that gives me all the reasons for being stuck in survival mode is my inner child screaming, “Please, someone loves me.” And I’m ready to do just that.

Do you see a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it! !function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) {if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function(){n.callMethod? n.callMethod.apply(n, arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)}; if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′; n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0; t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,’script’, ‘ fbq(‘init’, ‘435247933312684’); fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);