In the past, I wrote a blog post about Healing Your Inner Child, which to this day, is still my most popular post. I think a lot of people have experienced childhood wounds and relate to the idea of wanting to go back and be a child again. That being said, I decided to make a “Part II” post where I talk about one way that a lot of people — myself included — engage in childlike play in a safe way: age regression.
As someone who experienced childhood trauma, I had to grow up fast. Even though I know I played with toys as a kid, I don’t have a lot of positive childhood memories. Since then, I’ve always been drawn to things like coloring books and dollhouses, even though I knew I had outgrown these things. Soon, I learned I wasn’t the only adult who felt this way — and that some adults were engaging in play with the things they used to love by participating in healthy, safe age regression.
What is Age Regression?
Age regression (“agere” for short) is a coping mechanism where a person mentally reverts to an earlier age (one where they felt safe) to deal with the effects of a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some people entirely regress to an earlier age, fully believing that they are that age and engaging in developmentally-appropriate behaviors for that age group. Others don’t regress completely — they may act childlike or engage in play while still acknowledging that they are no longer that age.
Whether you’re fully or partially regressed, the headspace of feeling like a child, or feeling “little,” is often called “littlespace.” A lot of people have a “regression age” that they revert to every time they’re in littlespace. For others, it’s a range of ages or a certain developmental group. You can pinpoint your little age (or ages) based on the behaviors you exhibit and the activities you enjoy during littlespace:
0-1: non-verbal, crying, kicking, sucking; not potty-trained, uses pacifier and diapers; bottle-fed only
1-3: learning to be independent, becoming verbal, fantasy play, asking questions; potty-training, may or may not use diapers/pull-ups and/or pacifier; weaning off bottle to sippy cup and baby foods & some solid foods
4–6: explorative play, developing routines, becoming more independent, imaginative play; fully potty-trained and no longer uses pacifier; switched to sippy cup or water bottle and eats solid foods
7-11: mastering skills, becoming more concerned with social experiences, starting to question beliefs, more opportunities for independence; fully potty-trained and no longer uses pacifier; switched to regular plastic cup and/or water bottle and eats solid foods
Is Agere a Kink?
One thing that’s important to acknowledge is that age regression or littlespace is NOT a kink. Some people do engage in caregiver dynamics (I do not, so I won’t speak too much about this since it’s not something I understand well), but they are NOT sexual and there is NO power dynamic. However, you can be a “little” with or without a caregiver.
When people engage in a relationship with a power dynamic, sexual or not, they may call it DDLG or CGL. These terms are considered kink/NSFW by the agere community. To be perfectly clear, we are NOT talking about kink in this blog post! I’m talking 100% about SFW agere/littlespace.
Is Age Regression Harmful?
Agere can be healthy — there’s nothing inherently wrong with it! Being in littlespace can be a healthy coping mechanism, can keep you from engaging in maladaptive coping mechanisms (like self-harm), and can help you heal your inner child. It’s even used by some therapists to help people access traumatic memories from childhood and heal from their pasts.
Regressive behavior can be simple or complex, harmful or harmless to the individual showing the behavior and to those around them. Regression becomes problematic, especially in a hospital, when it is employed to avoid difficult adult situations or stressors.
Hermioni N. Lokko, MD, MPP & Theodore A. Stern, MD (2015)
Something I want to clear up, however, is the distinction between helpful and harmful agere behaviors. While I think it’s important to acknowledge that regression itself isn’t inherently bad, there are times when being a regressor can get in the way of leading a full and healthy life. I’ll call these “healthy” and “unhealthy” regression for the purposes of this article, although it’s rarely as black-and-white as being one or the other.
As a social work student and aspiring therapist, as well as an age regressor, I would define healthy age regression as:
A conscious choice (you aren’t regressing involuntarily, which can be harmful at times)
A form of self-care (you aren’t harming yourself or creating problems in your life by regressing)
Healing to your inner child (you have to define this for yourself — to me, play is healing, but temper tantrums are not healing)
Pure regression (“impure” regression occurs when age regressors have unwanted intrusive thoughts of “adult” things, such as sexuality)
Times when age regression can be unhealthy or unhelpful include:
When you regress even though you don’t want to (involuntary regression)
When you’re using it to avoid adult situations or it gets in the way of adult responsibilities, like going to work
When you are self-destructive or harm yourself in littlespace (e.g. head banging)
When it is your ONLY coping mechanism
To summarize, age regression usually isn’t harmful. If you’re experiencing involuntary regression and it bothers you or is causing problems in your life, you should definitely speak with a mental health professional, since it can be a symptom of more serious disorders that require psychological intervention. Otherwise, if you’re consciously engaging in agere as a form of self-care or a coping strategy, there isn’t any harm in accessing your inner child, as long as you have other grown-up ways to cope, too!
How to Be Little
Tips for Healthy Age Regression
Engage in age regression in a safe place, around people who understand your behavior (or at least accept it)
If you live with others who aren’t supportive, lock your door or do it when no one is home
Set up a comfortable play area with blankets, pillows, stuffies, and fairy lights (or anything you want)
Fill up your water bottle, sippy cup, or bottle and make snacks easily available for when you want them
Take care of any “adulting” before you regress: pay bills due today, get work or homework done, etc.
Stock up on little gear, if you can afford it, like arts and crafts supplies, stuffed animals, and cute accessories
If you don’t have a lot of money, Dollar Tree and Five Below are great places to get little gear!
Activities for Age Regressors
Eating “little” snacks or meals (dinosaur nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese, fruit and veggies cut into shapes)
Sipping out of a bottle, juice box, or sippy cup (based on your “little age”)
Sucking on a pacifier, if you want to
Wearing a onesie or matching pajama set, if you want to
Watching kids’ TV shows or movies on Netflix or YouTube
Coloring a children’s coloring book or printable coloring pages with markers or crayons
Doing arts and crafts projects
Starting a “little journal” for age regression
Going to Build-a-Bear Workshop
Playing kids’ video games or phone games
Drawing with chalk
Take a bubble bath with bath toys
Print out a reward chart and use stickers to fill it in
Today’s post is a little bit different, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Something I’ve been talking about a lot with my therapist is how I learned from a young age to suppress who I really was — the things I liked to do; my sense of humor; my opinions — in order to win others’ approval.
The need to be liked is something I still struggle with, and probably always will on some level. But more and more, I am learning how to be not the best version of myself, but the truest version of myself. I have decided that 2021 will be my year of authenticity: of learning to be myself, of embracing the things that make me “weird,” of no longer hiding how I really feel.
Since I was 16, I have lived my life online. I became a blogger in high school, and my blog began to take off halfway through college. By then, I received brand sponsorships, developed friendships with other bloggers, and felt that, on some level, people were invested in my life.
Online, I presented a perfect image of myself, which involved joining a sorority full of inauthentic friendships and spending money I didn’t have on credit cards in order to keep up with appearances. Even though I was struggling, I posted as if I had it all together and was sharing advice to a previous self. But offline, I was struggling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and dysfunctional relationships.
A turning point occurred when I ended a three-year relationship with a toxic boyfriend. Around that time, I stepped away from my blog and decided to live my life offline. I spent only about a month being single, but in that time, I learned a lot. I discovered a deep yearning for belonging that led me to seek comfort from dead-end relationships with emotionally unavailable men.
Shortly after, I had a breakthrough that led me to assert my boundaries for the first time and brought me to my current partner, David. Then, I ended my relationship with my emotionally abusive father, faced my credit card debt, quit my sorority, and still managed to graduate college one year early. That year, I had far fewer people in my life, but for the first time, I could say that I was truly happy.
Even now, I sometimes feel as if I am playing a role — not by choice, but by habit. I want to be the perfect doctor’s girlfriend, the perfect dog mom, the perfect “future therapist,” the perfect influencer. But perfectionism is inherently at odds with authenticity. Every day, I have to consciously make the decision to be my truest self, not an actress playing a part in a film.
I am still on my journey toward healing from people-pleasing and inauthenticity. But since the years I spent living my life for other people, I have learned a lot about what it means (to me, at least) to be authentic. Based on those experiences, I’m sharing some tips that I hope will help you navigate your own journey.
1. Examine Your Beliefs
If you’re here, you probably feel the need to people-please, to put on a fake smile, or to play a role at least some of the time. But have you ever asked yourself why you feel that way?
To pinpoint the beliefs that make you feel like your authentic self isn’t good enough, start at the very beginning. We all receive messages in our childhood, direct or indirect, that shape the way we think about ourselves. Maybe it’s that I’m an aspiring therapist, but I truly believe that these messages are ingrained in our subconscious from a young age, and continue to shape the way we behave as adults.
Sometimes, those messages are obvious, like only receiving praise when we got an A on a test or won an award. But other times, they’re more insidious: for example, I had a narcissistic parent who used to imply that my friends were “nerds.” As a result, I learned to hide a lot of my interests that were considered “weird” at the time.
The next time you hear a critical voice in your head, it’s worth asking why you believe this thing is true instead of quietly accepting it as such. Sometimes, when we look more closely at our beliefs, we realize they aren’t rooted in the things we truly believe at all, but in the things that someone else taught us.
2. Embrace What Makes You “Weird”
As an Enneagram Type Six, it should come as no surprise that I am self-conscious about feeling “different.” Throughout college, I molded myself into the person I thought I should be in order to make people like me. I joined a sorority, started drinking, and bought a new Lilly Pulitzer wardrobe. But behind the scenes, I was struggling with my mental, physical, and financial health.
Growing up, I heard so many messages that made me feel ashamed of who I was and what I was interested in. In high school, I stopped reading manga or watching anime — hobbies I’ve since picked back up, because I genuinely enjoyed them — after learning it wasn’t cool anymore. I have always liked Harry Potter, but I learned to bury my inner Hufflepuff so others wouldn’t judge me.
So many of us struggle with the compulsive need to be liked — and trust me, I get it. Rejection is painful. However, I’ve learned that when you try to make everyone like you, you don’t make genuine connections. Meaningful friendships and romantic relationships come when you are being your true, authentic self, as people are attracted to others who are like them. People may reject or make fun of you, but at least you will have the gift of friendship, instead of the surface-level connections that are inevitable when you’re trying to be liked by everyone.
3. Follow Your Intuition
I am an INFP, so being intuitive is a part of who I am. (In case you couldn’t tell, I really like personality tests!) But I also spent so long pretending to be someone who I wasn’t that I know what it’s like to confuse what YOU like with what you think you’re SUPPOSED to like.
Trying to be liked over being authentic stifles your intuition. You learn to ignore the gut feelings that draw you toward certain people, objects, and experiences if there’s a risk that those things may create conflict or cause others to reject you. That’s why it’s critical to authenticity to get in touch with, and listen to, those gut feelings again.
Take the example of clothing shopping. When you buy clothes, are you looking for clothing that fits a certain “aesthetic?” Or are you picking up the items you are naturally drawn to and attracted to? The key to authenticity is doing less of the former and more of the latter. Listen to your gut, not to what society has to say about what you’re supposed to like.
4. Contradict Yourself
Despite what high school cafeterias may suggest, most people can’t be boiled down to a single “type.” We aren’t nerds or jocks or goths or band geeks. People are more complicated than that. Instead of trying to mold yourself into a stereotype, don’t be afraid to be your unique self! You don’t need to simplify yourself into a certain stereotype (or, these days, “aesthetic”).
We tend to do these things to make others feel more comfortable, since cognitive dissonance — the psychological term for making sense of contradictions — feels weird and, at times, wrong. But it isn’t your job to make everyone around you comfortable. If just existing as yourself makes someone uncomfortable, that’s THEIR problem — not yours!
So, where to start? To begin with, stop saying “or” and start saying “and.” You’re allowed to be soft AND tough. You’re allowed to like the color pink AND have a black belt in karate. You’re allowed to study science AND have an Etsy shop on the side. You don’t need to be girly OR strong; logical OR creative.
You’re allowed to exist as you are, even if parts of who you are seem to contract one another. As human beings, we’re tempted to make people fit neatly into boxes. But it’s okay to be messy. Embrace the parts of yourself that make you say “and.”
5. Give Yourself Permission to Change
As important as it is to accept yourself as you are, you also deserve permission to change. Growth is an inherent part of being human. We aren’t meant to stay the same our entire lives — otherwise, we wouldn’t get wrinkles or gray hair!
Sometimes, we cling to old interests because they’ve been part of our identities for so long, we don’t know what to do without them. Pursuing a career in social work, I sometimes worry if I made a mistake by abandoning marketing. I knew I wanted to study communications way back in high school, and I fear I’m not listening to my instincts by changing my mind.
But the thing is, you’re allowed to change your mind. People outgrow careers, friendships, relationships, and hobbies the same way that they outgrow their clothes or shoes. It doesn’t always feel comfortable — in fact, a friend breakup might be the worst thing I’ve ever been through — but it always happens for a reason.
And, if it helps, you can always change your mind again! Remember that girl you knew who changed her major ten times in college? Schools LET students do that — because they know that it’s in our nature to be indecisive. Just remember that, with the exception of tattoos and pregnancies, no decision is permanent. You can always pick up and move, quit your job, or learn something new.
Give yourself permission to make those mistakes. Mistakes are the business of living, after all — and if nothing else, you’ll always learn from them.
One thing I’m excited to write about more on my blog in 2021 is my journey toward becoming a trauma therapist. For anyone who wants to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW or LICSW, depending on the state you live in), graduate school is a non-negotiable part of that journey.
Do you need a Master’s degree to become a social worker? If you’re interested in macro practice — like working at a hospital or non-profit — the answer is, probably not. But if you want to become a clinical social worker, then a social work program that will prepare you for licensure is a must. Many, if not all, states include a Master’s degree in their list of requirements for licensure.
I finished my graduate school application process, including taking the GRE, at the end of November 2020. This week, I heard back from — and committed to — my top choice social work school, Boston College. It’s tied with my alma mater, Boston University, as the #10 social work school in the country. Fun fact: the two schools are fierce hockey rivals, and now I’ll have degrees from both!
Now, here’s the caveat: school rankings don’t mean much of anything. The meaning we ascribe to them is entirely personal, since sites like U.S. World Report rank based on factors that don’t have anything to do with education — like donations and new buildings. (Don’t believe me? Watch this clip from the show Adam Ruins Everything.) What was most important to me was to go somewhere that had a good clinical program, which BC does: they offer a specialized track in Clinical Practice.
That’s why the alternate title of this post is “My Tips For Getting Into Your Top Grad School.” Because I’d rather help you get into your favorite program than into a program you don’t love but which has that top 10 ranking. That being said, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way throughout the admissions process at Boston College. Here are some tips based on what I’ve learned to help you get into your top MSW program.
Tip #1: Show Off Relevant Experience
Social work programs don’t require a background in social work, but they do usually require you to have majored in the liberal arts. Your grad school applications typically ask for a resume and a personal statement of varying length. These are your opportunities to show off the places where you really shine — and that are most relevant to your future in social work.
Because I didn’t know I wanted to do social work in college, my undergraduate experiences weren’t that closely tied to my choice of graduate program. So, instead of stressing the internships I had on my resume — on the Massachusetts Coordinated Democratic Campaign in 2018, for example — I talked about my volunteer experience in mental health. I also paid $20 to get certified in administering Naloxone and another $20 to get trained in suicide prevention so I could a) learn and b) put these certificates on my resume.
You probably won’t put coursework on your resume, so your personal statement is your opportunity to talk about these. Many graduate programs specifically ask you to address relevant courses you took in college. For social work, that could mean psychology — but it could also mean any course that challenges your critical thinking and teaches you valuable skills. For example, I also talked about how I took a Statistics course and minored in Political Science, and how those helped prepare me for a graduate level program.
Even more so than your experience in social work or mental health, MSW programs are looking to see that you’re mature and capable of handling a rigorous program. They need someone who can juggle classes and fieldwork, and represent their school well at a fieldwork placement outside the school. My advice is to worry less about how impressive you are as an applicant and focus on showing them that you’re capable of succeeding now.
Tip #2: Customize Your Personal Statement
One of the most important things I did for each school that I think helped me get accepted to Boston College was to customize my personal statement to the school I was applying to. Again, many of the schools I applied to specifically asked me to address why I wanted to attend their program. However, for BC, I was especially excited to write about why I wanted to go there because of their specific Clinical Practice concentration.
Instead of copying-and-pasting the exact same personal statement for each program, I highly recommend finding at least one specific thing you like about each school and mentioning it in a short paragraph. Here’s a trick you can take directly from my applications: look into the school’s mission statement and see if you can quote it directly. Don’t plug a two-paragraph quote in, but if you can use two or three words from the school’s mission statement in your personal statement, it shows them that you did your research.
Tip #3: Take the GRE if Your GPA is Low
I had a difficult second year of college (I say second year because I graduated in three years, so I didn’t have a typical freshman-sophomore-junior-senior experience). I was struggling with my mental health, struggling with my relationship with my dad (whom I no longer talk to), and struggling to adjust to being single after a breakup. As a result, I partied too hard, caught a recurrent case of strep, and got Cs in most of my classes. This really dragged down my GPA.
At the time, I wasn’t worried about my GPA because I thought I would be done after college. I never anticipated going back to grad school because I didn’t think it was necessary for a career in communications. I still don’t, but obviously, a career change is in my future — one I never could have expected! But that put me in a bit of a pickle when I decided to apply for graduate schools. My undergraduate GPA was a 3.2, which is just over the 3.0 minimum for many graduate school programs.
While I technically passed muster, I was worried that my GPA might drag down my application. So, I made the decision to register for the GRE test. GRE scores aren’t required for most undergraduate programs unless you have a GPA below a certain threshold (usually, that threshold is 3.0 or lower). But, because I’m good at standardized tests, I knew that it would help my application to take it. If you aren’t good at standardized tests, I would look into other ways to strengthen your application.
Since I’m a good test taker, I decided to go for it. After studying for a month and a half, I got a 321 and was in the 96th percentile for verbal (the part of the test that’s more important to MSW programs), so you could say I know myself pretty well!
Tip #4: Choose Reliable Recommenders
When people give advice about recommendation letters, they tell you to pick the recommender who will write you the strongest letter of recommendation. I happen to think there’s one thing that’s more important than writing you a good letter, and that’s how reliable your recommender is.
I had three great recommendation letters from two coworkers and a professor, but my experience with recommendation letters highlighted how important it is to choose someone you can rely on, even more so than someone who likes you or whose class you got a good grade in. Unfortunately, two out of three of my letters ended up being a bit of a chase. It all worked out for me in the end, but I wish I would have taken into consideration speed when I was creating a plan for my recommendation letters.
Of course, many professors are busy, and when you’re relying on them for a recommendation, it’s impossible to avoid working with their schedule. If that’s the case for you, I recommend thinking about your recommendation letters months ahead of time. Ask them to submit your letter way before the deadline — because chances are, they’re going to submit it a little later than you ask them to.
Most schools won’t review your application at all if you don’t get the materials in on time, including recommendations, so it’s important to follow up and stay with it. I sent so many emails and Facebook messages I started to feel like a broken record, but in the end, that’s how I was able to push my recommenders to get their letters in on time.
If you have been reading Endo Strong for a long time, you know that I want to (eventually) attend graduate school for my Master’s in Social Work to become a licensed clinical social worker. I have a special interest in working with trauma survivors as a therapist, partly because of my personal experience with complex trauma.
I have always been anxious; a people-pleaser; over-achieving. I spent my childhood, adolescence, and early college years trying to win the approval of someone who always wanted me to be someone who I am not. Growing up with divorced parents, I spent my time split between a house where I felt safe but misunderstood, and a house where I felt fundamentally anxious and unstable. My parent has untreated mental illness and narcissistic traits that shaped me into someone who feels like she needs to be “fixed;” someone who is unworthy of love.
Thanks to my low self-esteem, I stayed in an abusive, manipulative relationship for three years and, because of my difficulties with emotional regulation, truly believed that I was the problem. In that relationship, I was sexually coerced, which I believe contributes to my experience with chronic pelvic pain. It was almost as if I sought out a flawed relationship because I did not believe myself deserving of better.
Both my mind and my body have been affected by trauma, to the point where I consider my traumatic past to be a core part of my identity. If we had “islands” of core character traits in real life, the way they do in the Pixar movie Inside Out, my Trauma Island would be an epic destination of Disney-sized proportions. That’s why I want to dedicate my life to helping people who have been through similar experiences recover from their trauma.
In particular, I have a special place in my heart for sufferers of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), which in many ways describes what I went through to a T. C-PTSD develops after an ongoing traumatic experience, rather than a single traumatic event like a natural disaster or military service. Many times, C-PTSD develops from childhood experiences of abuse and instability, but it can also develop from an abusive relationship in adulthood. C-PTSD shares many characteristics with PTSD, but sufferers often do not meet the full criteria for classical PTSD.
Unlike “normal” PTSD, C-PTSD is not a formal diagnosis in the DSM-V handbook that therapists use to characterize mental illnesses. Many mental healthcare providers do not recognize it at all, which is why it is crucial that more people like me enter the field. I hope that going through complex trauma myself will offer me perspective on what it means for my patients to experience ongoing trauma. In other words, I hope I am able to one day use my traumatic experiences to help others. To me, this will be the ultimate expression of post-traumatic growth.
I won’t pretend that I can teach you how to heal a lifetime of trauma in one blog post. But what I can do is offer some understanding. Perhaps you know that you suffered a difficult childhood, but don’t understand how your present day behaviors are connected to that behavior. Or, maybe you resist thinking about your past because it affects how you think and feel in the present and as a result, you feel disconnected from your mind and body. Whatever the case, this post is for you.
This post is for the high-achieving, anxious, people-pleasing woman. She was once a little girl who didn’t get the love she deserved and now, she struggles with self-confidence and emotional regulation. Today, I’m going to do my best to teach you how to give yourself the love you were once denied by others, and how to take back the present moment from a traumatic past.
What is Trauma?
We often make the mistake of defining trauma as a single, standout event that haunts a person to this day. But while things like a natural disaster, a tour in the military, or a violent sexual assault are undoubtedly traumatic, other types of trauma exist — and can be equally as, if not more haunting. There are many types of trauma, including:
Acute trauma. This is the type of trauma we often call to mind when we think of post-traumatic stress disorder: a single, devastating, often violent event, like a natural disaster, car accident, war, or rape.
Repetitive trauma.This type of trauma occurs when a person experiences multiple traumatic events, such as receiving regular chemotherapy for cancer.
Complex trauma. The trauma concerned in C-PTSD, complex trauma, results from prolonged, ongoing trauma, often of an interpersonal nature and typically occuring during childhood. Examples include domestic violence and narcissistic parental abuse.
Developmental trauma. Early-onset exposure to trauma during infancy through early childhood — including neglect, assault, witnessing violence, or coercion — comprises developmental trauma. Developmental trauma affects a person’s attachment style due to its effect on our relationships with caregivers. This can overlap with complex trauma and/or C-PTSD.
Vicarious trauma. Also known as secondary trauma, vicarious trauma affects service providers like therapists and first-responders who treat patients with trauma. They absorb some of the patient’s traumatic background, integrating it into their own functioning.
Historical trauma. This trauma is passed down across generations, resulting from large-scale group trauma experienced by family members. This type of trauma includes ancestral genocide, slavery, and colonialism. Children of Holocaust survivors, or the great-great grandchildren of former slaves, are the examples I use to frame historical trauma.
Intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma is also passed down across generations, but concerns patterns of coping developed in response to trauma, rather than the direct effects of a massive group trauma. For example, the child of a parent who has experienced an acute trauma may pick up on or have been taught some of that parent’s coping mechanisms, effectively absorbing the effects of their family member’s trauma.
Medical trauma. We don’t often think of medical treatment as traumatic in nature, but invasive, painful, or emotionally difficult hospital stays and procedures often trigger the trauma response — especially in children. While much attention is given to emergency rooms, ICUs, and operating rooms when discussing medical trauma, it’s important to acknowledge that medical trauma can occur at any level of care.
Trauma — especially acute trauma — can affect you at any stage of life, but mental healthcare providers are especially concerned with the dramatic effects that experiencing trauma during childhood can have on us as adults. A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 61 percent of adults experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACEs are linked to chronic health conditions, mental illness, and substance abuse, but can also cause subclinical problems with emotions and relationships, in adulthood.
Your “ACE score,” used to identify ACEs in the CDC’s original study, is a measure of the number of ACEs you have experienced. This score comes with limitations; it only identifies ten types of ACEs, whereas I (and many trauma therapists) believe that the definition of childhood trauma is more nuanced. However, the score has been used to predict the rates of chronic disease, depression, and suicide. An ACE score above 4 is considered high. An ACE score of 4 or more is linked to a 460 percent increase in the rate of depression and a 1,200 percent increase in the rate of suicide attempts alone. 1 in 6 adults — myself included (my ACE score is 5) — have experienced at least 4 ACEs, making the somatization and integration of trauma incredibly common.
We often instinctively know when we have experienced trauma. Our bodies hold onto those traumatic memories, experiences, and feelings, and internalize them as somatic symptoms like aches, pains, migraines, and upset stomach. Sometimes, however, memories of trauma can be buried beneath layers and layers of denial, suppression, and other coping mechanisms. Working with a therapist can help you uncover suppressed trauma — and specific therapeutic techniques have been developed to help you do just that.
Signs of C-PTSD
When adults experience a traumatic event, they are more easily able to process what they have been through. That is why C-PTSD stemming from early childhood experiences is so destructive to a child’s physical and psychological well-being. Children who experience ACEs have their development disrupted by trauma. As a result, the trauma becomes deeply interwoven into the child’s identity. They integrate their experiences into their core beliefs, and often grow up feeling unworthy and unloved.
As an adult, the signs and symptoms of trauma do not simply disappear. Because they are woven so deeply into the fiber of our being, it can be impossibly challenging to unravel our beliefs surrounding ourselves and our experiences, in order to develop an identity separate from our traumatic past. According to the organization Beauty After Bruises, patients with C-PTSD often require over ten years of therapy to heal the wounds inflicted in childhood. There is a strong physical component to psychological healing as well: studies of animals and humans with PTSD show that trauma literally changes our brains, and the way the neurochemicals in our brains respond to stress.
When I first read the challenges faced by people living with C-PTSD, I instantly resonated. I knew at my core that C-PTSD was the name for the psychological and relational difficulties I’ve faced since my late adolescence. Below, I’ll recount the signs and symptoms of C-PTSD. My advice? Pay attention to the way your body feels as you read them. Your body will communicate with you through sensations, to tell you what it has to say about C-PTSD and you.
Emotional dysregulation. Emotional regulation is one of the core skills in dialectical behavior therapy, first developed for patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It should come as no surprise, then, that patients with C-PTSD are frequently misdiagnosed with BPD. C-PTSD survivors, too, face difficulty with experiencing and managing their emotions. They may cope with uncomfortable emotions in unhealthy ways, whether by over- or underreacting. Many patients do not know how to adequately identify and name the emotions they are experiencing, or may suppress their emotions altogether, leading them to appear numb and disaffected.
Dissociation. The most extreme example of dissociation occurs in Dissociative Identity Disorder, in which patients switch between personalities, or “alters.” However, a more mild form of dissociation is often seen in PTSD and C-PTSD. Patients with C-PTSD may forget elements of their trauma; recall events in the wrong chronological order; experience intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares of their trauma; or even experience episodes of feeling wholly disconnected from their physical bodies. Many people describe this feeling as an “out-of-body” experience, as if the patient were looking down on themselves as an observer rather than being present in the moment.
Relational challenges. Challenges with interpersonal relationships emerge naturally from the developmental and psychological effects of childhood trauma. Survivors of C-PTSD may be distrustful due to an inability to depend on their caregivers as children — or, alternatively, they may be too trusting. Some C-PTSD patients are over-eager to connect with others to make up for childhood neglect, leading them to seek out and stay in unhealthy relationships, even when they become abusive or dangerous. From a partner’s perspective, it can also be difficult to understand a C-PTSD survivor’s behavior. Their emotions can come across as erratic or unstable; they may seek constant reassurance, express signs of codependency, or fundamentally doubt the relationship, harboring a deep distrust of their partner. It is critical for long-term partners of patients with C-PTSD to understand their loved one’s trauma, so they can better understand from where these “irrational” behaviors (which are, in fact, completely normal within the context of the trauma response) stem.
Misperception of the perpetrator. C-PTSD survivors may be unable to recognize the abuse they experienced at the hands of a particular person. To those on the outside, it is completely clear that this person was abusive — yet the C-PTSD patient’s perception of that person remains untouched. Gaslighting is a common behavior used by abusers to maintain control over their victims. The abuser makes the victim out to be the crazy or irrational one, until the victim begins to doubt their own perceptions of reality. As a result, the victim’s perceptions of the abuser can also become distorted. Many abusers put on a charming front to the rest of the world, and victims can sometimes remain enchanted by this public persona. Other times, victims long for emotional validation they will never receive from their abuser, so much so that they over-compensate with their achievements in an attempt to win their abuser’s approval. Others still become transfixed with bitterness or the idea of revenge. In my experience, it’s also possible to oscillate between all three of these extremes (sometimes, even in the course of a single day).
System of Meanings. Our System of Meanings is the name given by trauma therapists to our core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. People who have experienced complex trauma may learn to see the world as a cold, unjust place, in which perpetrators are never held accountable for their wrongdoings. They may doubt the motivations of others, believing that no one does anything without the expectation of something in return, or feel suspicious and distrustful of those around them. But perhaps the most harmful beliefs, and the most difficult to repair, are those that we develop about ourselves in the wake of childhood trauma. Because we were so often exposed to them, we begin to believe the criticisms of our abusers, and internalize the beliefs that we are “bad,” “lazy,” “worthless,” or “cruel.” Our self-perception becomes so distorted that we start to view ourselves as unworthy and unlovable. Many of us feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with us; that we are “broken” or need to be “fixed.” As a C-PTSD survivor, I can assure you that the only thing you need to fix about yourself, the only thing that is broken about you, is this faulty System of Meanings. Unraveling these beliefs and replacing them with better ones can take years, but it is a critical step in the process of healing from complex trauma.
How to Heal from Trauma
As humans, we aren’t necessarily born with the innate ability to be resilient. Resilience is a skill like any other, which must be developed with practice. But resilience represents only one side of healing from complex trauma: we also need to learn to honor our bodies and emotions, forgive ourself and others, and rewire our subconscious System of Meanings.
The combination of these tasks represents true healing, and it’s true healing that eventually gives way to post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth can be defined as the ability to channel previous trauma into a positive endeavor. Post-traumatic growth is exemplified by those whose trauma sparked a deep desire to help others heal from the same experiences. I once believed that it was impossible to serve as a mental healthcare provider with a history of mental illness and trauma, but I’ve never been happier than to be proven wrong the legions of mental health providers who were inspired to do their current work by their past experiences, in a stunning example of post-traumatic growth.
It’s important to recognize that post-traumatic growth does not happen overnight. It’s not as easy as simply deciding to channel your energy into something different. You cannot heal from trauma without acknowledging and moving forward from your past experiences. Try as we may to suppress our traumatic memories, the body remembers our history of trauma, even when the mind does not. Even the most fervent attempts to heal from trauma can be upended by our refusal to confront the past. When we avoid confronting previous trauma, we may experience somatic symptoms in the body — such as aches, pains, migraines, and gastrointestinal complaints — that cannot be explained by medicine, even when we have subjectively “moved on” from our trauma in the mind.
Avoidance, resistance, and stagnancy are not treatment plans. We can only heal from complex trauma with time, dedication, and commitment. In my opinion, it’s best to begin the process of healing from childhood trauma under the guidance of a licensed mental health professional. However, it’s equally as important to consider how we treat ourselves when we are outside the care of therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists. Weekly therapy sessions can help you process trauma in a safe environment, but true healing also requires a steadfast commitment to practicing self-care and self-love outside the therapist’s office.
Below, I’ve provided a preliminary list of strategies and resources to help you heal from complex trauma. Treat this toolkit as a jumping-off point for personal growth, rather than an exhaustive collection. Over time, you can add to your toolbox with strategies learned in therapy and from your own personal experience.
The Complex Trauma Toolkit
The Survivor Bill of Rights. As a human being and as a survivor of complex trauma, you possess inherent rights. Prolonged abuse purposefully strips us of these rights. Our abusers systematically use techniques designed to undermine our rights and maintain control, leaving us uncertain of our worth and dignity as human beings — even after the abuse has long since ended.
Dr. Thomas V. Maguire developed the Survivor Bill of Rights for trauma victims to help you reclaim those rights, especially in respect to the therapeutic process. As a survivor of complex trauma, your rights include your personal authority, your boundaries, your integrity of communication, and your physical and emotional safety. Some of my favorite assertions in the Bill of Rights are the rights to:
Direct your values and recovery
Seek, accept, or decline help from any sources
Be afraid, deciding for yourself when and how to confront fear
Speak about and remain silent about any topic you wish, at any time
Ask for change when your needs are not being met
Hold your therapist’s undivided loyalty in respect to any abuser
Receive treatment that is not conditional on your “good behavior” (excepting serious crime and the endangerment of yourself or others)
Understand that while you inherently possess all of these rights, not all of them may resonate with you right now — and that’s okay. For those rights that do resonate with you, it may help you to build regular reminders of those rights into your day to prompt you to recognize your value as a human being. Repeated exposure to your rights as a survivor can help you reconstruct the damaged beliefs in your self-worth resulting from your experience with complex trauma. Try setting phone reminders of your favorite rights at regular intervals throughout the day, or writing down your favorite rights on sticky notes and posting them in places where you will see them often.
Journaling. Telling your story is an essential component of healing. The practice of Narrative Therapy tells us that there is no objective reality and that all elements of your traumatic experience are valid. Through Narrative Therapy, patients learn to construct a cohesive narrative of their trauma. By re-experiencing their trauma through storytelling, patients with a history of complex trauma learn to take back control of their narrative.
You can harness the power of Narrative Therapy on your own by exploring your traumatic memories, thoughts, and feelings in a journal. Journaling can help you better process what happened, including thoughts and memories you may not be ready to share out loud with your therapist. Commit to journaling for 15-20 minutes every day and re-experiencing different elements of your traumatic past. Start with the facts of what happened, then begin to consider deeper questions like “How has this affected my relationships?” or “What core beliefs have I internalized as a result of this experience?”
Make sure to take time to self-soothe throughout the process of journaling, as reliving these events can bring up challenging thoughts and feelings that may lead to physical discomfort or difficulty regulating emotions. You should always feel free to stop the exercise and redirect your attention to something else at any time. For more guidance on journaling as a strategy for healing trauma, check out this tool for Therapeutic Journaling developed by the Veterans Health Administration.
Radical acceptance. Trauma often leads us through a minefield of emotions, ranging from anger to sadness, to guilt, to fear, to shame. Many approaches to treating trauma, and especially PTSD, encourage patients to practice gradual exposure to memories associated with their trauma (usually in a therapist’s office). During the process of exposure, patients learn to also practice radical acceptance of the thoughts, feelings, and images that arise from the memory of their previous trauma. Research shows that the practice of radical acceptance decreases uncomfortable emotions related to trauma, including guilt, shame, distress, disgust, and fear.
Radical acceptance involves complete and total awareness and acceptance of what is in your mind, body, heart, and soul in the present moment. For trauma, this means accepting what happened to us, as well as accepting ourselves as we are — learning to believe that we are enough. If you’ve ever done the “don’t think about a pink elephant” experiment in a psychology class, you know that trying to resist thoughts and feelings actually strengthens them. Radical acceptance is the opposite of resistance. For traumatic memories to become less disruptive, you must allow whatever thoughts, feelings, and images that come over you to simply be, as they are, without giving into the desire to change them, the urge to ignore them, or the imposition of self-doubt.
Difficult as it may be, radical acceptance promises the closure you need to effectively move forward in life, without letting your past disrupt your present. You can use the same principles of radical acceptance, a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skill, to cope with intrusive memories, flashbacks, and/or nightmares related to C-PTSD. According to Marsha Linehan, the developer of DBT, radical acceptance begins with observing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as an objective outsider. Once you notice you have begun to question or fight the reality of what happened to you, remind yourself that your trauma is what it is and cannot be changed.
Use accepting self-talk to encourage yourself to accept what has happened. Acknowledge that what happened to you was not your fault, while still accepting the causal factors that have shaped your present reality. Then, purposefully shift your perspective by asking yourself, “How would I think, feel, and act if I could accept what happened to me and move on from my trauma?” Vividly visualize how you would behave if you were already practicing radical acceptance, and put these behaviors into practice as if this were really the case.
Somatic experiencing. Somatic experiencing is a therapeutic technique developed by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. for releasing stored trauma in the body. Dr. Levine has famously compared the human body to a Slinky to explain our natural reaction to trauma. Traumatic events trigger our fight-or-flight response, in which the body generates tremendous amounts of energy to help us do what we must to survive. In the wild, animals release this energy by shaking their bodies from head to toe. But because this physical response is not always socially acceptable or possible to us as humans, we learn to compress this traumatic energy, like a Slinky when it is collapsed.
The problem is that holding in this level of energy requires us to expend even more energy. Our bodies respond to the high levels of energy required to suppress the trauma response by developing somatic symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, panic attacks, and more. These physical symptoms are our bodies’ way of communicating that they are burnt out and overwhelmed by the demands that trauma has placed on them. They are an expression of the thoughts and feelings our bodies harbor, due to the fact that we were unable to release them at the time of our trauma.
Dr. Levine’s theory of somatic experiencing states that we need to “discharge” the stored energy from our trauma in order to achieve physical and psychological healing. By noticing our body’s natural response to memories of trauma, we can stop trying to override the fight or flight system, and instead ride the wave of our bodily sensations to a natural resolution. When we release control of our bodily sensations and learn to become mindful observers instead, we allow ourselves to discharge stored trauma, thereby relieving physical and psychological symptoms associated with it.
Traditionally, somatic experiencing sessions are completed under the guidance of a specially trained therapist. The therapist gradually walks you through reliving your trauma, piece by piece, and observing the sensations that arise in your body as you talk about what happened. Still, you can incorporate elements of somatic experiencing into your self-care and self-soothing routines on your own as you work through trauma treatment with a mental health practitioners. Some somatic experiencing techniques and exercises to help you cope with unpleasant memories as a mindful observer include pendulation and self-hugging.
Pendulation is a key skill in somatic experiencing, and involves shifting awareness from sensations in parts of the body that feel painful or uncomfortable, and sensations in parts of the body that feel comfortable and calm. As survivors of complex trauma, we often learn to focus on what is bad, negative, or painful, losing our ability to pendulate between states of positivity and negativity; eustress and distress. Pendulation encourages us to allow both of these sensations to be present in the mind and body at the same time. The practice of pendulation helps us better integrate our trauma by recognizing both the parts of ourself that have been affected by trauma and the parts of ourself that feel whole. You can practice pendulation by closing your eyes and honing your attention on an area of your body where you feel physical discomfort. Hold your awareness here for a few breaths, then shift your awareness to a different part of the body that feels calm and pain-free. Breathe here for a few moments, then begin to practice shifting your awareness back and forth between these two areas. Notice how it feels both to honor the unpleasant sensations in your body, the somatization of your trauma, and to acknowledge the parts of your body, of your life, that are good and whole.
When’s the last time you gave yourself a hug? The sensation of self-hugging brings us back ito our bodies, allowing us to feel more grounded. This quick practice can manage symptoms of dissociation associated with trauma, helping us step back into the present moment instead of lingering in our memories of the past. Offering a hug to yourself is the fullest expression of self-love. Even when we have trouble seeing our value as victims of trauma, we still have the simple power to give ourselves physical affection; to show our bodies love and offer ourselves healing, even when we do not feel loving towards our conscious self. Wrapping your arms around your shoulders for a few moments brings you back into your body in moments when the fight or flight response is triggered by memories, nightmares, or flashbacks of trauma. Self-hugging is also a powerful way to heal your inner child, as you are able to offer yourself the love and affection you were denied during your traumatic upbringing. A self-hug is instinctive; you don’t need to do anything special, besides close your eyes and focus on both the bodily sensations and emotions that arise from the feeling of being touched with loving kindness.
Resources for Further Reading
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. THE book to read if you are interested in deeply understanding trauma and its effects on the mind, body, and spirit.
The Complex PTSD Workbook by Arielle Schwartz, Ph.D. One of the only workbooks (and, in my opinion, the best) that specifically addresses complex trauma and C-PTSD.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Brown is a psychological researcher who has spent 20 years studying shame, courage, vulnerability, and empathy. This book is not specific to trauma, but provides ten actionable guideposts for working through imperfection and building self-esteem that you may find helpful in your journey towards healing.
Author’s Note: I normally welcome open dialogue here on Endo Strong, but I have turned off comments for this post. This subject is intensely personal for me and while this post was important for me to write and share, I do not want to open myself up to further trauma at the hands of insensitive comments.
I talk about everything on my blog. It’s important to me to be open about my experiences, so as not to give the sugarcoated impression that my life as an influencer is “perfect.” But the truth is, there’s something I’ve never written about on my blog before. I’ve alluded to it, but I’ve never acknowledged the truth of it on paper (on screen?). So, here goes nothing.
I love my dad. I also haven’t spoken to my dad in two years. I get his “happy birthday” and “merry Christmas” texts, with the occasional picture of our dogs thrown in. But I never reply. I haven’t picked up the phone and talked to him in over 730 days. He wasn’t invited to my college graduation. When the day comes, he won’t be invited to my wedding, either. Someday, I will have children who will never get to know their grandfather. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t speak to him, and never plan to speak to him again. But those reasons are the one thing — the only thing — I will not talk about on this blog.
I rarely talk about what it’s like to be estranged from a parent. My closest friends know I don’t talk to my dad, but they don’t know all the reasons why. Only David, my mom, and the various therapists I’ve had over the years know the full story, with no details omitted. And it’s going to stay that way. It’s not that I’m ashamed or afraid to talk about it (although I know that choosing not to talk to a parent makes me the villain in a lot of narratives). I just don’t believe that everything belongs on the internet. Once it’s up here, you can’t erase it. I don’t talk to my dad, but I still don’t think he deserves a permanent reminder of all of the mistakes he made. Not having me in his life is reminder enough.
But while I’m not going to tell my life story and all of its gory details, I believe in breaking the silence. As an estranged daughter, it’s difficult to vocalize how it feels when other people find out that I don’t talk to my dad. The media paints people like me as selfish, naive girls who are too young to understand that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s true that I don’t have children of my own, and that I can’t understand what it’s like to make mistakes as a parent — a fact that older folks have pointed out to me time and time again. Yet I can’t begin to tell you how many people — even people my own age, people who I’m close with and know well — have told me, “I could never stop talking to a parent, no matter what they did.”
Honestly, I’m happy for those people. People who say that can’t begin to imagine a world in which their parent could do something so hurtful that they would never speak to them again. I wish that were true for me. Nobody wants to stop speaking to their parent — or worst of all, feel that they can’t talk to a parent because of something they said or did. But because most people can’t imagine that kind of life, it makes being estranged from a parent feel lonely as fuck. To those of us who don’t speak to both our parents, finding someone who understands and listens without judgment feels impossible. Thankfully, I have my mom, who went through similar experiences when she was married to my dad.
It’s difficult to find people like me online. Plenty of people who have been through what I’ve been through exist, but very few of us talk about what that experience is like. And I understand why. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to communicate such a painful experience, only to be met with anger or misunderstanding. Yet I firmly believe that when people don’t talk about what they went through, they send the message that to do so is somehow shameful or wrong.
I get that not everyone in my situation is going to want to talk about their experiences being estranged from a parent. I fully support whatever decision you choose to make. You have to protect your own mental health above all else — and if talking about what you went through doesn’t serve you, or puts you in physical danger, I don’t think you should do it. But to me, what helps the most is to turn what I went through into something useful. If even one person changes their mind because of what I have to say on the subject of estrangement, I will think of it as a job well done.
The thing is, not everyone has been through what I’ve gone through. So few of us are out there, and if none of us choose to talk about it, then no one will understand. That’s why I’m sharing the things I wish other people knew about my decision not to talk to my dad. I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation, but I do think that educating others will help people understand how to better engage with someone they know who doesn’t talk to a parent, without unintentionally doing more harm than good.
Before I get into the things I wish other people knew about my decision not to speak to a parent, however, I want to lay bare the fact that everyone’s experience with estrangement is different. By no means do I speak for an entire community of people when I share how I feel about my journey — but if even one person can relate to what I have ot say about it, it will have been worth it to speak (write?) what’s on my mind.
1. I would not have chosen this.
People like to assume that I “chose” this, as if I was looking for a reason to rid myself of all obligations to my father. If I could go back and choose my family, I would always rather have a happy, functional relationship with both of my parents. But that’s exactly the thing: we can’t choose who we are born to. That’s why the term “chosen family” exists.
It’s true that I chose, and continue to choose, not to speak to my dad. He is not a part of my “chosen family.” What isn’t true, however, is that this was my first choice. As things are, I don’t want to speak to my dad. But if there were a hypothetical scenario in which I could have chosen a parent I would have wanted to speak to, I would have taken it every time. Nobody wants to be estranged from their parent. It just got to the point where I felt I no longer had a choice.
2. A single event did not cause this.
When people find out I don’t talk to my dad, the first question is usually, “What happened?” I never answer that question honestly, because it’s never that simple of an explanation. People are looking for a neat, tidy answer that will help this strange situation make sense to them. For most people, this takes the form of some single, unforgivable event in which their parent committed something unspeakable.
In reality, a lot of people, myself included, can mark the day they stopped speaking to the parent they are estranged from — but that doesn’t mean that day is the singular reason why we no longer speak to that person. The “event” I can pinpoint isn’t a grave, grave sin that incited the choice not to speak to my dad, but the boiling point. Thousands of tiny, collective abuses bubbled over that day.
However, if I were to explain everything that led up to that point, the person listening would probably become bored or horrified by what I went through. I’m not exactly looking to draw more attention to the situation, so usually, I simplify my answer by telling people it was that one day that did it all. I may choose to explain my trauma in a way that’s easier for other people to understand, but it’s important to recognize that there’s much more to it than what I choose to share on the surface.
3. I am neither a victim nor a villain.
For some reason, people are always looking to take sides in a conflict, even when that conflict doesn’t concern them. When I tell people I don’t talk to my dad and they ask me why, I get the feeling they want an explanation so they can suss out whether I’m in the right or the wrong; whether I’m deserving of their support or not.
Some people inevitably come to the conclusion that it’s always wrong to stop speaking to a family member — “blood is thicker than water,” and all that bullshit — while others have become enraged on my behalf upon hearing the things I went through. But truthfully, I’d rather people didn’t comment altogether.
The thing is, if I’m talking to you openly about what I went through, it’s not because I’m looking for validation that what I did is right. I’m not asking you to pass judgment on my decision or take my side over my dad’s. I’m simply telling you because I trust you, and a burden shared is a burden halved.
I get tired of being made out to be the villain, but I also hate being treated like a victim. I don’t think my decision is right or wrong. I’m not saying that the fact that I did something means anyone else should do it. It is what it is, and I’d rather we didn’t analyze it further than that. That job is reserved for my therapist. Talk to me about Hamilton or something instead!
4. Respect is earned, not owed.
If there’s a commonality between all of the stories I’ve heard about children who no longer speak to their parents, including my own, it’s the role that our cultural beliefs toward elders play in justifying toxic behavior.
I would argue that most, if not all, human cultures hold the belief that elders are deserving of respect because of their lived experiences. We are meant to treat them as if their longer lives are synonymous with a deeper sense of right and wrong than ours. That’s why it’s so difficult for so many people to understand when people choose not to talk to their parents. To many people, “they’re your parents” is reason enough to maintain a relationship with someone.
In any other relationship, however, you’re expected to earn respect. Most people would not stay with an abusive spouse only because they are wearing a wedding ring. Why do we treat family differently, simply because we share their DNA? And contrary to popular belief, I don’t say that because I don’t value family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me, precisely because I choose only to keep people in my life who are deserving of my respect.
While I am grateful to my parents — both of my parents — for raising me and putting a roof over my head, I don’t believe that gratitude needs to be synonymous with a deep and pervasive sense of respect. In the wild, animals raise their young only to the point where they are old enough to survive on their own. Among other species, feeding and housing a child is treated as a duty, not an accomplishment.
As someone with a toxic parent, it’s difficult for me to understand why so many people think I am “supposed” to put up with certain behaviors as “thanks” to my parents. Thanks for what? I wonder. For not putting me out on the street as an infant? To me, conceiving a child isn’t a feat worthy of respect. The way you raise them matters much, much more than the fact that you brought their life into the world. While I understand that life is a spiritual thing for many people, my spirituality forces me to acknowledge that conceiving and having a child isn’t an accomplishment of your own. God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it — these forces came together to bring life into the world, not your sheer force of will.
When people say that you owe your parents respect because they are your parents, I can’t help but feel that they are confusing respect with love. You love your parents simply because they are your parents. You can’t help it. But love is not synonymous with respect. Love is not a choice, but respect is. Love is not earned, but respect must be. I love my dad, but that doesn’t mean that I owe him the privilege of being in my life.
5. I may be sad, but I don’t have regrets.
I mentioned previously that a lot of narratives paint me out to be the villain — the selfish, naive daughter who will inevitably come to see the error of her foolish ways. But I feel it’s important to recognize that regret and remorse are not synonyms. I regret that cutting my dad out of my life felt necessary for my physical and mental health. That does not mean that I am sorry for doing what I needed to do to protect myself.
When making a case for me speaking to my dad again, people often cite the milestones I’ll miss without a father in the picture: I won’t have a father-daughter dance at my wedding. I won’t be given away. I won’t celebrate Father’s Day until I have children of my own. And believe me, I hate that. Knowing that my dad won’t be there for all those moments that he should have been there for hurts like hell.
Yet I don’t owe anyone an apology for making that choice. If the pain of missing out on so many important milestones hurts less than the pain of continuing to live with my father in my life, that alone says enough about my decision not to speak to him. I do not feel guilty for choosing a life of happiness over a life of pain.
I like to think that everyone has their sh*t. None of us is immune to the pain that can come with life — not even children. The problem? Children aren’t old enough to fully comprend the hurt, so they internalize it in ways that affect their behavior even as adults.
If you experienced what psychologists call an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), a type of trauma particular to childhood, you may still have thoughts and behaviors that reflect that experience today. For example, a person who received lots of criticism as a child may still feel the need to minimize themselves, or make themselves small in order to avoid negative attention from others.
But how do we begin to overcome these ACEs — especially if we aren’t even aware of how they may be affecting us? Therapy is a good start, but so is something called inner child work. Inner child work is the subject of this blog post, and it states that we can reparent ourselves as adults to make up for the trauma we experienced in childhood.
Read on to the end of this post and you will get my FREE worksheet, which you can print and fill out to determine what your inner child needs and how you can reparent yourself to feel more safe and secure in your being.
As terrible as it is to have experienced some type of ACE, childhood trauma is incredibly common — and you are not alone. One survey found that 45% of adults in the United States have experienced at least one ACE.
So, what qualifies as an ACE? How do you know if you, too, experienced some type of childhood trauma that could still be affecting you today? Above all else, trauma is a subjective experience. What matters is not what happened to you, but how you perceived what happened to you.
The same experience could be perceived as traumatic by one person and not experienced as traumatic by another. However, some experiences are more likely to induce the body’s trauma response than others. Examples of these types of experiences include:
Intimate partner violence
Identifying Your Inner Child
Your inner child may look different depending on what type of trauma you experienced. Identifying what type of inner child you have may help you better understand its effects on your life.
The Abandoned Child has typically experienced either abuse or neglect — or, on a smaller scale, had divorced parents or did not receive enough attention from their parents. They may feel lonely or insecure, and/or experience a subjective feeling of abandonment.
The Playful Child is a healthy child who has not experienced trauma. However, in adulthood, we often lose sight of the Playful Child. Getting back in touch with our playful side is a healthy part of adulthood, yet something we don’t often do.
The Fearful Child may have an anxiety disorder as a result of receiving excess criticism as a child. Now, they feel uncomfortable when they are not getting constant praise or reassurance.
Because childhood trauma can be so multivaried and subtle, we may not always know when an ACE is affecting us in one of these ways. It may be helpful to you to take this wounded child questionnaire to visualize the extent to which your inner child needs to heal from traumatic events.
Reparenting Your Inner Child
In order to heal your inner child, you must begin to undo the damage your traumatic childhood did to your inner child. Experts call this reparenting, and they recommend that you don’t share this practice with your parents, since it can be unnecessarily hurtful. Instead, focus on constructive actions you can take to reparent your inner child. For example….
Start making authentic decisions that reflect who you are and who you want to be. This Values Clarification Tool can help you get in touch with what values you want to live by and start making decisions in line with those values. Plus, check out my post on setting boundaries to help you make authentic choices that work best for you and your life.
Create a safe space for yourself. This can be in your home or somewhere where you go that brings you in touch with your inner child. If you did not feel safe at home as a child, it is especially important to create a space for yourself where you can feel safe and loved. This should be a comfortable, roomy space where you can partake in self-care activities to take care of your inner child, such as journaling or mindfulness.
Practice forgiveness, not complacency. It’s not saying that you’re okay with your parents’ hurtful actions, but it’s accepting that your parents are human and make mistakes like the rest of us. You don’t need to tell your parents explicitly that you forgive them, but it may help to write it out in a journal or write a letter that you will never send.
Take part in play activities. As an adult, the need to feel or look “mature” overtakes our drive to play and be spontaneous. Determine if there are activities you used to love as a child, such as coloring or eating popsicles, that you feel comfortable taking part in. While you do so, let go of the feeling that you look silly or appear immature, and instead focus on getting in touch with your inner child and giving her the opportunity to play.
Tell your inner child what he/she needs to hear in order to feel safe. You can use affirmations like “You are safe” or “You are loved” to reassure yourself in moments where you may not feel that way. Speak as if you were speaking to a child in your life; treat yourself gently, rather than giving in to your inner critic. Transforming your self-talk is one of the first and most important steps toward healing your inner child.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small portion of any sales made through my blog. Thank you for supporting Endo Strong!
Routine is KEY when it comes to recovering from depression and anxiety! Without structure in your day, you allow your depression to let you lay in bed far longer than you should, and you give your anxiety time to run rampant.
That’s why I’m currently working on building morning and night routines that work for me. Working from home, it’s difficult for me to stick to a set schedule — but I’m challenging myself to take this time to myself morning and night, regardless of when I wake up and go to bed, to focus on self-care and healthy habits that will kick my depression and anxiety to the curb.
In this post, I’ll be sharing the habits I built into my morning and night routines to help alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as a FREE printable version so you can hold onto each of these routines if you want to try them for yourself!
My Morning Routine
You’re probably sick of hearing the benefits of meditation by now, so I’ll just list one: according to the magazine Mindful, mindful meditation relieves anxiety by helping you sit with difficult emotions without over-analyzing them. Apps like Simple Habit and Insight Timer have dozens of free meditations to help you switch off the anxious part of your brain.
You can meditate morning or night, but I like morning meditation because 1) I’m not in danger of falling asleep! and 2) it turns off that feeling of “morning anxiety” I sometimes get when I wake up. (You know, when you feel a sense of dread in the morning for no reason?) Just 5-10 minutes is enough to start feeling the benefits — so really, you have no excuse not to try it!
Why should you exercise in the morning? Because in the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy!” Once you get used to moving first thing in the morning, you’ll find that it helps you wake up and face the day with a higher mood and more positivity. (In case you’re still not convinced, check out Cosmopolitan‘s 15 reasons to exercise in the morning!)
At least 10-15 minutes of yoga each morning is a must to boost happy chemicals in my brain and combat my depression. I follow along to videos from several YouTube yogis, but Yoga With Adriene has been a longtime favorite!
If you ever experience brain fog due to depression, then you’ll understand why I swear by eating a full breakfast each and every morning. Well, okay — not every morning. I am human, after all! Point is, I’m trying to get better at eating a “real” breakfast, but when you’re in a pinch, a yogurt or a fried egg still does the trick.
Eating breakfast is almost always better than eating nothing at all, since breakfast jumpstarts our cognitive function in the morning to improve memory and concentration. When depression already impacts your concentration, the last thing you need is hunger pangs distracting you further. So, eat a balanced breakfast, darn it! I like to also enjoy my morning coffee during breakfast, as it gives me something to look forward to.
My Night Routine
Every night, I draw out my daily bullet journal spread, which includes gratitudes, to-dos and habits for the next day. I also fill in the day’s habit tracker and gratitude list before moving onto the next day. I find that sitting down and planning out my day helps me feel more organized and less anxious when I’m falling asleep. Instead of worrying about all the things I have to do the next day, I can rest easy knowing that I’ve made a list of my priorities for the next day — and that I haven’t forgotten anything.
Don’t forget to schedule positive activities into your day, too: I talk a lot about behavioral activation for depression, which is the idea that you should schedule pleasant activities that you enjoy doing to force yourself to engage in self-care. The idea is that you may not always feel motivated to start, but once you get past the initial dread, you’ll actually find yourself enjoying the activity!
I can’t prove that having a skincare routine helps with depression or anxiety, but we do know that self-care — and specifically self-soothing — does help with difficult emotions. To me, having a skincare routine is part of that self-soothing ritual. As I’m rubbing all my various lotions and potions on my face, I find myself actually slowing down and taking time to notice how I feel. It’s a quiet moment that allows me to get in touch with my emotions and focus on doing something positive to take care of myself.
If you struggle with body image issues, a skincare routine can also be beneficial — after all, it’s a way of showing your body some love. You may not love every feature on your face or body, but taking care of your skin sends a subliminal message to your brain that you’re willing to take good care of your body anyways. These small moments of self-care may not seem like much, but they have a positive ripple effect that carries through into every aspect of our lives. The more you engage in self-care, the easier it becomes, so I recommend building at least one type of self-care (whether that’s skincare or otherwise) into your nighttime routine to give yourself some much-needed TLC.
I talk a lot about journaling on this blog — because I’m obsessed with it! I’ve long believed in the power of journaling to help you get in touch with your emotions and learn more about yourself. I believe this act allows you to get to the root of why you feel anxious or why you feel depressed, which empowers you with the information you need to start making small, but positive changes in your life.
I believe in the power of journaling, but I also know how difficult it can be to start when you aren’t sure what to write. Lately, I’ve been loving guided journaling for that very reason! The exact journal I use is called Getting to Good by Elena Welsh, PhD and uses principles of CBT and psychology to guide you through journal exercises that improve your mental health on bad days. I highly recommend working through this journal if you are someone who’s new to journaling, found yourself in a journaling rut or wants to try something new in their journal routine!
Tips for Starting a New Routine
Before I share your FREE printable version of my morning and night routines, I want to take a moment to remind you that it’s always okay (and even encouraged!) to start slowly when it comes to implementing healthy habits. It’s better to focus on building one habit at a time than to try to upheave your entire morning and night routines at once.
It takes anywhere from 18 days to two months to build a habit, so it’s okay if you don’t feel settled into your new routine for awhile. If you can add just one healthy habit into your routine to help combat your anxiety and depression, you’ll be better off than not setting any goals at all. Plus, working toward a goal is a proven part of treatment for depression, so always having something to look forward to may actually help improve your mood!
One of the most debilitating things about having depression is that it robs you of a sense of purpose. I’m the kind of person who needs to be working toward something at all times to feel fulfilled — yet my depression makes me feel aimless, like I’m wading through an endless swamp with no final destination.
Depression impacts our ability to make and stick with decisions, removes the sense of pleasure from activities we used to enjoy and challenges us to find our motivation to get out of bed, let alone work toward a goal. That’s why behavioral activation is a major part of depression recovery: scheduling pleasurable activities into your day helps you rediscover that sense of purpose again.
But what about purpose on a grander scale? No one talks about how depression makes us question our life or career choices, wondering if we can trust ourselves to know what’s best for us. Or, how depression affects our decisions, leading us to stay in unhealthy relationships or at a job we hate for far too long.
Depression presents the following question: how can you find and work toward the life of your dreams when you can barely summon the will to live? I firmly believe that discovering your life path and feeling like you are consciously working toward a life you love is an essential part of recovering from depression.
Although it probably feels far-fetched right now, I believe you CAN discover your purpose when life itself feels purposeless — and here’s how to do it.
Discover Your Greatest Strengths
When we feel depressed, we often lose sight of all the wonderful things about ourselves that other people love. That’s why recognizing your strengths can help bring meaning back into your life.
To discover your greatest strengths, you have a couple of options. Firstly, you can try taking a test like the High5 Strengths Test, which will give you a list of your top five greatest strengths based on your instinctual answers. Or, if you don’t have the attention span for a long quiz, try keeping a brag book filled with all the compliments you receive throughout the course of your days.
If you’re really stuck, try asking your therapist or a loved one for help discovering your greatest strengths. Depression distorts our worldview, so sometimes, all it takes for us to see ourselves more accurately is a little shift in our perspective!
Build Meaningful Activities into Your Day
I’ve talked a lot about behavioral activation on this blog before, but never the theory behind it — which is that behavior actually precedes motivation. While you might be waiting to feel “motivated” again before getting back to your daily activities, researchers have found that small actions actually motivate us to do more.
When you’re clinically depressed, it can feel challenging to fill your days with meaningful activities when literally nothing feels meaningful. In this case, it helps to look at a list of pleasurable activities (such as this one) and circle the ones you used to enjoy, way back before you began to feel this way.
Even if the last time you remember feeling true happiness was when you were a child, ask yourself: is there something you used to do as a kid that would bring you a tiny spark of joy now — for example, coloring in a coloring book or sucking on a popsicle until your lips turn purple?
Then, print out a behavioral activation schedule (such as this one) and start to fill it in with a handful of small actions you can take to bring meaning back to your days. You might be skeptical that doing any of these things would actually bring you pleasure — especially when pleasure feels like such a foreign concept — but often, all it takes to begin feeling better is to bite the frog and take that first step, even when you don’t quite feel like it.
If You Can’t Live for Yourself, Live for Others
From Oprah Winfrey to Jim Carrey, the history books are full of people who worked their way up from humble beginnings by turning their pain into passion. Oprah was abused; Carrey was homeless — yet both went on to become wildly successful. How, exactly, did they do that, despite facing tremendous odds?
So many people find their passion by discovering an outlet for their pain. Many people diagnosed with chronic illnesses find meaning by advocating for others with their disease (like me!). Others are able to turn their pain into beautiful art through drawing, painting, dancing or songwriting — and in turn, their art brings meaning to others who might be going through the same things.
When you’re in the midst of depression, it’s difficult to imagine this devastating disease ever having a positive effect on your life. But if you are able to turn your pain into passion, if you are able to turn your heartbreak into a means of connecting with or helping others, depression can actually become one of your greatest assets. It’s about working with, not against, your depression to create something meaningful and constructive.
If you want to turn the pain of depression into a meaningful life experience, volunteering with a mental health organization is a wonderful place to start. For example, signing up for the Buddy Project takes little effort, yet can save someone’s life if you’re able to build a real connection with them over social media. Or, get yourself a BuddyBox, which costs only 12 British Pounds a month and benefits The Blurt Foundation, an organization spreading awareness of depression in the UK.
Expand Your Social Network
Above all else, depression is a disease of isolation — which makes sense! After all, social connections lend meaning to our lives. Human beings are not meant to be islands, yet today’s virtual world can feel lonelier than ever. Nowadays, we can connect with hundreds of people online every day while still feeling like we have no true friends.
One of the things that helped me most during the worst of my depression, which I’ve talked about a lot on here, was attending an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). IOPs and other support groups encourage you to be social, open up to others and make new connections with people in the same boat as you. If you’re anything like me, this probably sounds freakin’ terrifying — but you’ll never reap the benefits if you never give it a chance!
Or, if you don’t feel motivated to leave the house, try apps like Meetup, Vina or Bumble BFF, which allow you to make social connections from the safety of your couch. While a lot of these apps can result in conversations that don’t go anywhere, I still think it’s better to make connections of any kind than to isolate yourself when you’re suffering from a depressive episode.
And, if all of this feels impossible, I encourage you to consider whether social anxiety could be contributing to your depression. If social situations give you panic attacks or unreasonable levels of anxiety, including physical symptoms (i.e. shaking; sweaty palms), you might consider seeing a therapist who can help treat you for social anxiety disorder.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. My information comes from research and my experiences as a patient. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any medications you’re considering for your mental health!
I was eighteen when I started taking Lexapro for my anxiety. I still take Lexapro today, plus two more medications for my mental health. Clearly, I’m not someone who balks at the idea of medication for mental illness.
But depending on where you live or who you hang out with, you may have heard otherwise. Some people believe needing medication makes you “weak” (it doesn’t), that mental health medications aren’t safe (they are) or that taking medication will change your personality (it won’t).
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it’s my opinion that my mental health medications saved my life and gave me the boost I needed to start working on my mental health. That’s why I support movements like #WearYourMeds — and why I’m writing this post to educate you all about mental health medication. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, and you should never start a new med without talking to your doc first!)
Why People Take Medication
People take medication for mental illness for a variety of reasons. When it comes to anxiety, many people say that meds “take the edge” off just enough to allow them to use their therapy skills to calm themselves down (this was the case for me when I started Lexapro). Or, someone with depression might find that medication gives them more energy, allowing them to take part in more positive activities throughout the week (this is also the case for me and my two other medications).
Medication is often associated with severe cases of mental illness, but you don’t have to be hospitalized or incapacitated to need or want psychiatric medication. So, when should a person start to consider taking medication for their mental health? There’s no simple quiz you can take to determine if you need medication, but here are some situations where medication might be necessary:
To stabilize acute symptoms (i.e. while in the hospital, while suicidal or when having a panic attack)
To treat conditions that are resistant to other types of treatment, like talk therapy
To treat conditions where medication is the first line of treatment, such as schizophrenia
To treat patients who feel they need additional help beyond therapy
To counteract the side effects of other psychiatric medications (for example, Wellbutrin is sometimes prescribed to counteract sexual side effects of SSRIs)
Even if you have a therapist, a doctor (as in, an MD or a DO) is the only person who can prescribe medication, whether they are a psychiatrist or your primary care physician. Make a doctor’s appointment to chat if you’re curious about starting psychiatric medication — I’ll offer tips on talking to your doctor about psych meds later in this post!
Types of Psychiatric Medication
When you decide to talk to your doc about starting psychiatric medication, there are a host of different types of medications they might mention during your conversation. I recommend researching them in advance, so you’re at least aware of what the different medications are for your condition. To get you started, I talk about some of the most common types of mental health medication below:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by inhibiting, or stopping, the reuptake of serotonin by neurons, so more serotonin is available in the brain to make you feel happier and healthier. SSRIs include Lexapro (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline). They’re frequently prescribed to treat depression and anxiety.
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) work the way SSRIs do, but they block the reuptake of another chemical called norepinephrine in addition to serotonin. SNRIs include Effexor (venlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine). They’re frequently used to treat depression and anxiety.
Antipsychotics are prescribed to treat psychotic symptoms, yes — but they’re also prescribed for a host of other reasons. For example, antipsychotics are also prescribed to treat bipolar disorder, and as a supportive therapy for depression alongside traditional antidepressants (that’s why I take one!). Antipsychotics include Abilify (aripiprazole), Seroquel (quetiapine) and Risperdal (risperadone).
Other drugs used to treat mental illness include atypical antidepressants (like Wellbutrin/bupropion), BuSpar/buspirone (used to treat anxiety) and Lithobid/lithium (used to treat bipolar disorder).
Talking to Your Doctor About Medication
If you’re contemplating starting medication for a mental health concern, your first step is to make an appointment with your primary care physician or a psychiatrist. They do not have to be a specialist: as long as the clinician has a medical degree, they can prescribe psychiatric medication.
But talking to your doctor about something as sensitive as mental health medication can be scary — which is why I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you talk to your doctor about medication:
Write down what you want to say. If you’re anything like me, you might rehearse what you want to say for an hour, only to forget it the minute you get to the doctor’s office. Write down what you want to say, and especially any questions you want to ask, to prevent this effect.
Explain why you think medication is a good idea. Remain calm and rational (or as calm and rational as possible), and get specific. Explain yourself in clear, concise terms. For example, you could try saying “I’m ready to try medication for my mental illness” or “I want to know if mental health medication is an option for me.”
Communicate with your doctor. Your doctor will likely have their own opinions about what is best for you and your mental illness. Listen to them, but don’t be afraid to communicate with your doctor. If you’re confused or not feeling heard, say so. If they want to put you on a medication you don’t want to be on, say so. When we don’t communicate, we prevent ourselves from getting what we want without even giving others the chance to help. So, make sure you are open and honest with your doctor about what you want. This is YOUR health — be an active participant in it!
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive payment for any items you purchase through my blog.All opinions are still my own.
Does putting makeup on make you anxious? Whether it’s the number of products lining the shelves at Sephora or the pressure to perfect a smudge-free cat eye, wearing makeup can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth for those of us who suffer from anxiety.
But there’s good news, too: if you’re an anxious girl who loves putting on makeup, your Ulta habit might actually help your anxiety. Okay, maybe not the part where you overspend on the latest release from Tarte — but applying makeup allows you to maintain a sense of control, encourages mindfulness and even includes elements of aromatherapy.
If you’re someone who loves makeup and hates her anxiety, then this post is for you. Today I’m sharing the foolproof beauty essentials to help combat your beauty woes, so you can stop feeling sick to your stomach and start feeling in control of your daily makeup routine again.
If you think there’s too many choices….
If you’re overwhelmed by the number of products at your local beauty store (WTF is “priming milk,” anyways?!) then you’re not alone — but that doesn’t mean you need to shy away from makeup altogether! All-in-one kits and multitasking palettes allow you to purchase multiple products in one fell swoop, instead of spending hours upon hours scouring the shelves.
Or, for absolute beginners, Charlotte Tilbury’s The Sophisticate Look Setcomes with everything you need to start a makeup collection: for $230, you get an eye palette, eyeliner, mascara, blush, three lip colors and a chic bag to carry it all in.
If you’re worried about making mistakes….
What keeps you up at night when it comes to makeup? If it’s a fear of making mistakes (that everyone will see), don’t stop wearing makeup. Instead, look toward products that help make your life easier when it comes to flawlessly applying your favorite makeup.
Case in point? The beautyblender Liner Designer. At just $8, this triple-edged little guy helps you master the hardest makeup trend of all time, a.k.a. the perfect cat eye. (Plus, it comes in a cute carrying case to boot!)
And for those days when all hell breaks loose on your face, it’s nice to know you have a back-up plan. The MakeUp Eraser is a washable, reusable makeup removing cloth that lasts up to three years and removes makeup with water alone. (Yes, even your waterproof mascara!) Not to mention, it helps save the planet by getting rid of the trash that comes with disposable makeup wipes. Not bad for just $20!
If disorganization drives you crazy….
Perhaps your problem with makeup isn’t the makeup itself — it’s how to store it without it turning into a giant, jumbled mess. Don’t worry, anxious babes…. I’ve got you covered!
I love my Caboodle makeup storage case, which breaks down into so many shelves, nooks and crannies it’s absolutely insane. You can get one from Modcloth for $18 — order in-app for 25% off your first purchase!