Part of an occasional series about phrases that this therapist finds himself repeating, often.
As a clinician in private practice, a phrase that I hear myself repeating often is “Our hurts return at different ages and stages”. This phrase generally arises in working with the parents of a child or maybe even a young adult when some early difficult event in their life seems to have returned.
We feel like we have circled all the way around to the exact same spot again.
You may feel defeated or may say, “But I thought we had beat this” or “I thought I was done with talking about this.”
But here we are … sometimes dealing with the same problematic behavior. Sometimes we are treading through the trauma again, although there is something different this time around.
We feel like we are in the same place, yet it is different, all at the same time.
Our hurts do change us. Much in the same way that a physical injury means that we have to adjust; we find a new way of moving through the world and often a change in how we view the world. The world won’t be the same again. And there is a way that this change unfolds again and again, over the lifespan.
Children go through developmental stages, with discrete tasks to work through.
Depending on when the trauma happened, there may be a great deal of self-blame associated with it. Children often see themselves as the center of the universe, therefore they often see themselves as having a major role in an event, even if the trauma was certainly not caused by them.
For instance, if the trauma is the loss of a parent, a child may have worked through the difficulty at the earlier age. But when moving into adolescence, the absence of that parent means something different to them. Even in their physical self, that child may look for their missing parent in their facial features or in the way that their body is maturing. “You look just like your mother when you …” is common for children to hear.
In addition, there is the realization that this missing parent will never watch them play soccer. The missing parent will not have a chance to criticize who they are dating. The child will not hear, “I’m proud of you” from the parent who is no longer present.
The original absence of the parent was a trauma, but the absence continues as the child moves into a new stage of their lives.
Young adults hit milestones in their lives that remind them of the original trauma.
As the child turns into an adult, there are new questions about identity and finding one’s place in the world.
For the young adult who has experienced difficult events in their life, identity questions lead them to look to how their identity has changed with respect to what has happened to them, and specifically the trauma.
Who am I now? How do I tell my story?
Another aspect of identity is about relationships. Relationship questions arise because learning to be intimate with someone (whether emotionally or sexually) may bring up some of the violations that occurred with the original trauma.
So even though they may have worked through an aspect of the trauma at the age it occurred, we should be aware that it may come around again … in a different way perhaps … in a different guise.
But … we didn’t circle around to the exact same place; it is more like a spiral.
Yes, we may finish with the trauma at that stage, but it does not mean that we don’t find it waiting for us at the next stage.
This is not necessarily a pessimistic stance. Because the spiral shape of change represents growth and development, not stasis.
Circling around and around again would be frustrating for you as a person, but also for parents who are raising children affected by trauma.
Being realistic about the nature of trauma means moving into a recurrence of symptoms with curiosity, seeing this as an opportunity for growth.
In a way, it should not be a surprise that you (or your child) encounter a different aspect of the trauma as you move into different developmental stages. But if it does feel like a shock or surprise, then simply step back, take a deep breath, and think about what you might need in that moment.
- What worked before to help you through may work again.
- The lessons you learned then may need to be adapted to a new age and stage.
- And this new older you has the opportunity to see the hurt in a different and potentially healing way.
So when you find that you are working through the hurt again, recognize that this may be another “age or stage”. There may be new meaning and potential for healing here too … if we are willing to walk through it.
Originally published on Medium.com.