You are worthy of love and deserving of support. You have the right to reliable information, helpful resources, and a space to become your most authentic and healthy self. Childhelp stays informed of the scientific research on the impact of childhood trauma on adult survivors as well as the techniques and tools that are most effective for survivors.
“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
– Carl Jung
Through acknowledging what has happened and exploring the ways that traumatic events have impacted you, you can begin the path to understanding your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you experience. Acknowledging and exploring traumas is difficult for many. Having a safe place to do a check in when confusion or distress arise is important. Using coping skills can help move you through the distress so you can acknowledge the impact of past experiences on your current life. Check out the Childhelp coping resources page for more guidance.
ACEs- Adverse Childhood Experiences
In 1997, the findings of a groundbreaking and important study were published. You can read more about this study here:
These findings demonstrated that negative childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect, have strong connections to concerning adult health and mental health outcomes. Using the study’s findings, researchers were able to develop a questionnaire that could help medical and mental health professionals explore a person’s past and identify actions and supports that can reduce the likelihood of severe health and mental health problems. Although your ACE score does not define who you are, knowing your “number” can help you to acknowledge your childhood experiences and find motivation for finding support to heal. You can read more about ACEs and explore your score at https://numberstory.org/.
As you become more aware of your experiences and their impact on you, creating a safety plan can help you develop a plan of action for times when you are not physically or emotionally secure. Safety plans are tools that can help reduce your risk of being harmed by identifying danger signs and steps you can take towards safety. There are several types of safety planning that might apply to your specific situation.
• If you are having thoughts or feelings about hurting yourself or ending your life, reach out to the Suicide Hotline immediately by dialing or texting 988. You can develop a safety plan for yourself at www.mysafetyplan.org.
• When you are concerned that someone is stalking you or is harming you,
www.rainn.org/articles/safety-planning can help you create your own plan.
• If you are in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship or if you are concerned about a friend or family member who may be in one, www.myplanapp.org is free and confidential.
• When you are concerned about your safety on the internet, you can find what steps to take to protect yourself at Technology Safety Plan — Safety Net Project (techsafety.org)
“You are not the darkness you endured. You are the light that refused to surrender.”
– John Mark Green
Try practicing using “I” statements to identify your feelings and how the feelings are impacting your physical and mental state. This might sound like, “I feel angry. My heart is pounding, my jaw is clenched, and I want to lash out.”
Then add on “when” to your “I” statement. This might sound like, “I feel angry. My heart is pounding, my jaw is clenched, and I want to lash out when my neighbor/friend/boss/coworker, etc. comments on my appearance.” You can replace the person and the person’s action with your specific situation.
Moving through emotions isn’t just a figure of speech. Movement, such as dance, yoga, Tai Chi, and working out allows your body to release some of the tension and pressure of built-up or suppressed emotions. These types of movements also require that you regulate your breathing, which in turn allows you to release heavy feelings and focus on the rhythm of your body’s movement. You can find ideas for breath and body work on the Childhelp grounding page.
“Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over…”
– Camille Paglia
Creating healthy boundaries and practicing them can also be an important step towards connecting to others while reducing the risk of harm to your emotional and mental well-being. Boundaries can be different depending on the person and the situation. For example, you might set a strong and unbending boundary with a person who has harmed you but a more flexible yet comfortable boundary with someone who has been a safe support for you.
Add on to your “I” statements to set a clear boundary with someone. Connect your feelings to the other person’s behavior. This might sound like, “I feel disappointed and that I can’t trust you when you tell other people about what I’m going through.” You can replace the feeling word and the person’s action with your specific situation. After connecting your feeling to the other person’s behavior, you now set the boundary by making a request of that person: “I feel disappointed and that I can’t trust you when you tell other people about what I’m going through. Please don’t discuss my personal life without my consent.” Sometimes boundaries have to get very firm when your request isn’t respected or if the person discounts your feelings. This would require that you add on what you will do if your request isn’t respected. “I feel disappointed and that I can’t trust you when you tell other people about what I’m going through. Please don’t discuss my personal life without my consent. If you continue to do so, I will no longer talk about me or my personal life with you.” Be prepared to follow through on your actions.
You can “test the waters” of trusting another person by connecting with a qualified and confidential counselor through phone or even through text and chat, which can make that connection on your terms and at your own pace. Through secure and steady practice of building connection, getting help in the form of therapy or counseling from a licensed professional might feel less intimidating.
Ways to know you are ready to connect with a licensed professional:
• You acknowledge that your life is not as fulfilling or satisfying as you want it to be
• You are committed to creating change in your feelings, thoughts, or actions
• You begin to explore your options
• You consider the time and potential financial cost
• Knowing you are ready to begin therapy or counseling doesn’t always mean you know what type of therapy would work best for you and your situation. To reference a guide and learn more about some types of therapy that work for survivors to help you in your decision, click here.
“Instead of saying, ‘I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues’ say ‘I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.”
– Horacio Jones
Part of the healing process is learning to embrace ALL of who you are and caring for the inner-child who may not have received the care that they deserved. Self-care isn’t just getting a new hairstyle or a pedicure or a new pair of shoes (although those are nice rewards to give yourself along your healing path). Self-care should be something you can do for yourself frequently and is sustainable regardless of time commitments and finances.
You can practice using boundaries to ensure that you have this time all to yourself. The easiest way to begin this is to establish the boundary before you even start. Turn your phone off or to silent and turn the screen face down. Tell anyone in your physical space that you are “unavailable” for the next 15-20 minutes. You may need to set a timer to remind you and others that you are on your own time during this interval. As these short blocks of time become habit, try expanding your time up to an hour.
As your day (or night) progresses and stressors arise, take a deep breath and remind yourself of your appointment of self-care. Having this time to look forward to, can help push you through periods of distress or unease.
Healing isn’t linear. This means that you might find that you feel like you are regressing or that your memories and feelings are getting more intense. This is a difficult, yet natural, part of the process. Remember what “sitting with your feelings” is like and practice this. With a plan for what to do when you feel like you are moving backwards and a reminder that even a couple of steps back isn’t a return to the beginning, you can stay the course. Using mindfulness will help you to return to and stay in the present when you regress. Practice the skill of being able to pay attention to where you are and what is happening in the immediate moment. Use breath work to help you calm your body and refocus your mind. Click here for additional information about the mind-body connection.
Additional resources to help you on your journey towards healing:
Disclaimer: The resources listed here are not affiliated with or specifically endorsed by Childhelp but are meant to be an example of the various options available publicly; please use your discretion to determine the resources that best meet your needs.
Additional resources to help you on your journey towards healing.
This project is supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $6 million with 100 percent funded by ACF/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACF/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit the ACF website, Administrative and National Policy Requirements.