Many, oh so many autistics experience childhood trauma. We rarely talk about it… and i think that’s a combination of it being a private affair, and that it -well- it HURTS to remember the past.
Yet sometimes it’s important to “go there”, such as when you’re with your counsellor(s), or for an illustrative point…
As it gets closer to Christmas, I am reminded ever more of things my parents said to me. Yes, the happier times…. but also the darker times too. This festive period brings up emotions… and memories. I think that is the same for most people. Holidays make us remember and reflect.
When I, probably like many of us neurodiverse folk, reflect on those things from MY childhood, on closer inspection, I see a lot of it was rather hurtful, inappropriate and ‘traumatic’. So, why go there now? Well, because I think today holds an opportunity for an illustrative point.
To hurt another is rarely an act of joy. It comes from a place of hurt.
Trauma holds teachings
Traumatic stuff in our lives sucks. But trauma is universally human. It streaks across and throughout different cultures, lifestyles, language, backgrounds. Everybody hurts, sometimes (Thanx REM). We really do – everyone has emotional pain… and everyone (even those among you who outwardly claim to have “a perfect childhood”). Trauma is painful and sad and horrible, but it also holds a space for learning.
It was not the act itself that can help you. That was a yucky thing, and I am sorry it happened to you. It is the remembering and ‘reauthoring’ of the narrative that can help you now. As an adult, we have the ability to apply critical thinking to our past pains. This is where the learning can happen.
See, hurtful things are just that: HURTFUL. They are hurtful to the person they are directed at, but also hurtful at the person doing the hurting. To hurt another is rarely an act of joy. It comes from a place of hurt.
“No-one will ever love you if…”
- An example: As a child I used to suck my thumb, have plushie toys and sleep with a blanket. I was still doing this a into my early teenage years. So, my father used to always tell me: NO-ONE WILL LOVE YOU IF YOU SUCK YOUR THUMB and NO-ONE WILL EVER LOVE YOU IF YOU CARRY AROUND CHILDISH THINGS.
No-one will love me? Ouch. Hurtful!
Now, how is it that such information passed between father and daughter could be a kind act? a loving action? a thoughtful parenting duty? Isn’t it *more likely* that my father was hurting inside himself? Isn’t it more likely that he had deep emotional pain?
Remember, to hurt others is to be hurting yourself.
If you think about the example with a critical mind, isn’t it far more possible that my father was hurting emotionally… and the essence of the attack at me (no-one will love you) (being childish) was the very thing that caused his hurt, perhaps in his childhood?
Certainly, I am not saying that childhood trauma ought be forgotten and forgiven instantly over a notion of “it wasn’t their fault because they were hurting too”, but it is something to consider. Re-assessing trauma in this way helps provide a cognitive release.
Being autistic means we tend to get stuck in these unfulfilling thought-loops, or see things completely black and white. In autistic reactionary thinking, if father (authority) thinks daughter (subordinate) is unloveable, father must be true/ good/ right, and daughter must be false/ bad/ wrong. With a critical thinking hat on, as an adult, we can see that NO, that was not what really happened here. Father may be an authority at the time, but that does not make everything he says true. Re-asses, review and release!
Looking at things this way helps shifts the problem too. It wasn’t your fault. Father may have named you, “THE UNLOVEABLE CHILD”, but that is not true. That is not real. You were never unloveable, or unable to be loved. It was them, the hurting parent.
She made it my problem, but it was not my hurt to carry.
“Don’t do that… you’re embarrassing me”
- Another example: I was the sort of child who got stuck in her own head, and because I had few friends, I used to make things up. One of my most favourite self-created games was to find a group of pavers/ tiles and imagine I was making music by standing on different paver stones. Yes, I am aware we now have arcade and computer games that do this very thing, but as a child such entertainment did not exist, and for me, at the time, it was about listening to the sounds of the pavers as I stood on them, and they would “ding” in my head, like a piano dings as you tap a key. So, I would walk between pavers in an unusual pattern, humming to myself until I found a tune of the pavers that I liked, and could make them make music. I continued to make music through imaginary games and objects until– well, I still do it now! Throughout my childhood, my mum would see me doing this with the pavers, sometimes in public and sometimes in private and say: STOP THAT IMMEDIATELY. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME and DON’T DO THAT. WHY CAN’T YOU JUST ACT NORMAL.
I am embarrassing? Ouch. Hurtful!
I am NOT normal? Cutting…. Deeply cutting….
These were things my mother continued to say to me, right up until I was an adult – and the year I decided to cut her out of my life. I was embarrassing her. My actions, to her, were embarrassing. I was not normal, and God forbid anyone found out!
Applying the cognitive gaze again (and this one is harder for me to do, so bare with me as I try this…): How is it that such information passed between mother and daughter could be a kind act? To say your child is an embarrassment; is that a loving action? A thoughtful parenting duty? Isn’t it *more likely* that my mother was hurting inside herself? Isn’t it more likely that she had deep emotional pain?
To be embarrassed is, according to the dictionary, “to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed”. How can a child make you feel that, unless you’re just not comfortable in your own skin?
Yep, I am aware, kids do the strangest things.. but they are children! Children who are growing, children who are learning, children who are experimenting with their world… As parents/ adults, we can forget we were all a child once. All children are innocent! If a child is “being embarrassing”, instead of judging that child, why not consider what the child may need? Could the child be wanting something? Could they be trying to communicate with you? Could it be that… its not about you, Mum!? Also, an autistic child is not being a bad child: they are being an autistic child.
My mother was embarrassed by me, ashamed of me — and she told me that regularly as a child and as an adult. This made me feel like I was not good enough and bad. I felt I was defective because how could it be that I was a good and right and proper child if my mother is always embarrassed by me? My mother felt I was not normal, and she was ashamed that the secret would get out! So, led by her fear and her hurt, she struck out at me. She made it my problem, but it was not my hurt to carry.
It wasn’t my fault. Mother may have named me, “THE EMBARRASSING CHILD”, but that is not true. That is not real. I was never embarrassing. It was them, the hurting parent.
Letting Go, or at least, trying to
It’s hard, that’s for sure — whether working with a therapist, or on your own, to let go of the pain, the hurt, the anger.
I learned a while back that letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. Nor does it mean that you accept what happened. Letting go is more about YOU, not about them. They were the ones who through there unresolved (held, and not let go) hurt, HURT you. They hurt you. But as you keep hold on to all the shitty memories, you’re also holding on to them hurting you over and over. They hurt you in the past, so let that go. They are not hurting you now, but as you hold so tightly to the memory of them hurting you, you’re allowing them to keep hurting you in the present.
I know, it sounds self-helpy, but hear me out– just try letting go. Just now, right now, for this tiny moment, try letting go. Take that feeling of the hurt, the feeling of the anger and pain, and breathe it out. Breathe it so far out that the hurt is across the horizon. Let it go. Sure, that trauma happened, and yeh it sucked, and yeh it wasn’t your fault… but all this hurt? Just try to let it go. Breathe it out, breathe it away from you, far away. You don’t need to carry it any more ❤