It’s a classic therapy joke that everything goes back to your childhood.
In fact, many people envision therapy as an hour of sitting on the couch delving into obscure moments of their childhood. While therapy isn’t really like that (but that’s a topic for another time), things that happen in your childhood can affect your life right now in a negative way.
For example, growing up in a military family that frequently moves may have made for a lonely childhood and adolescence. As a young adult, you may find it hard to form deep friendships, because it was more challenging to make friends as a child when you’re moving every year (or multiple times a year).
Or, perhaps you grew up in a single family household where your mom struggled to make ends meet and worked long hours. As an adult, you may have negative views toward committed relationships and may feel like you can never make too much money to feel secure.
Though they may look different from person to person and may differ in severity, we’ve all been impacted by experiences from our childhoods. But how do we move forward in life without letting those struggles hold us back? How do we heal from growing up in a broken family?
First of all, you are not alone
Let me guess, your family isn’t perfect. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret: no one has a perfect family. In my work as a psychotherapist, my clients often tell me that they feel like they are the only ones who are struggling to heal from the challenges they faced growing up. They tell me that they look around and think that everyone else has a perfect life, a life free from any childhood trauma or difficulties. And believing that everyone else had a perfect childhood while yours was messy and imperfect leaves you feeling like the odd one out.
You may look at some people in your life and think, “They’ve never struggled a day in their life,” but the truth is that they actually have encountered challenges. Just like you, they just hold them inside and don’t share them with the world.
Whatever you do, don’t blame yourself for what happened to you in your childhood. As adults, it’s easy to look back on a situation and think, “If only I had done XYZ, it would have been better,” but it’s rarely helpful to think this way. It only encourages feelings of guilt and self-blame, which won’t promote healing and moving forward.
Remember, you were a child at the time and couldn’t have been expected to respond in an adult way back then. Letting go of your self-blame and guilt is an important part of moving forward from negative childhood experiences.
We all need people in our lives to whom we can go when we need advice, or even just someone to laugh with. When you come from a broken family or a difficult childhood, you may feel like you don’t have a built-in support network in your family. The people who seem like they would be the ones you could lean on aren’t able to be there for you.
But that doesn’t mean you’re alone. There’s a way for you to cultivate that support network you are seeking. Finding and holding onto good friends is the answer. While they can never replace your family, your friends can become the support network you need.
If it’s hard to move forward and heal from what you’ve experienced, a good therapist can help you start the process of healing. This can be particularly helpful if you’ve experienced trauma in your childhood. Therapy provides an environment where you feel comfortable talking about the struggles you’ve experienced in life. It’s also a process that helps you to find meaning in what you’ve experienced and in your life in general.
Many people are intimidated about starting therapy, but there’s no need to be. A therapist is trained in research-supported methods to help people work through any mental and emotional struggles they are experiencing. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have sheepishly told me they were nervous and scared about starting therapy, but once they gave it a shot, they realized how valuable an experience it is.