Realistic expectations after a childhood of trauma: Allowing grief and taking responsibility for what you can change

When it comes to the effects of childhood trauma, I have good news and bad news. Let’s do the bad news first.

The bad news is that if you were traumatized as a child because you didn’t get love, safe connection, nurturing, and attention, nothing else can ever take the place of what you didn’t get. No matter how much self compassion you lavish on yourself, how many thousands of hours of meditation and yoga you do, no matter how loving a spouse, friends and children you have in your life, there is absolutely nothing that will fill the void that was created by a mother, or other caretaker, who wasn’t capable of healthy attachment.

I know everything out there will tell you the opposite message. They will tell you that you can meditate, use self compassion, or the therapy choice du jour, to heal this ache in you and fill that space that was never filled. Unfortunately, they’re all wrong. You can’t fill a space that was specifically designated for a mother’s love with something you give yourself as an adult. Even if you got love from someone else and it was very healing and saved your bacon emotionally, there was still a space designated in your mind-body-spirit for love from your mother. As sad as I am to say this, I truly believe that nothing else can fill it. (If you doubt the long term effects of trauma, look at the ACE study:

Luckily, that’s not the end of the story. There are many nurturing, wonderful things that you can do for yourself to help feel more grounded, peaceful, and whole. Some will help enormously, which is why it’s good to invest your time and energy in developing self compassion, getting therapy, and creating/developing nurturing loving relationships in your life.

Why share this news with you? Because if you can reconcile yourself to the loss of something you will never have, just the way you can reconcile yourself to the death of a loved one, you can more fully enjoy your life. As long as you consciously or unconsciously seek what you didn’t get, you have less potential for joy because your obsession with what’s missing stands in the way and gobbles up tons of your energy. That’s energy that could be focused on creating the life you want.

Since I believe that there is a space in all of us that ideally is meant to be filled by a mother’s love and attention, which for many is unattainable, the real issue is how to deal with loss, especially if your mother is still living. If she were dead would you crave what you didn’t get as badly? I don’t know, but I think the loss could be assimilated differently, the way a death often is.

In America we like to think we can fix everything. We can create amazing prosthetics for people who have lost a limb but we can’t give them back the limb they lost. Perhaps, what I’m really saying here is you can create a prosthetic for what isn’t there, but it will never be the real thing. And no matter how much you love the freedom and the ease it affords you in moving through your day there’s a part of you that will always miss your real limb, or the healthy attachment you didn’t receive in your early years.

So, why go to therapy? Because therapy helps you understand yourself and develop more self compassion, while working wisely with conditions that were and are. Most of all, a good therapist will validate and support you.

This is life. We move forward despite the challenges. We do the best we can with what we have. We find love and belonging where we can. We learn to be self compassionate and compassionate with all beings. And most of all, we try to give the love we didn’t get.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang 

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Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.