Healing from Childhood Trauma: Discovering Emotional Expression and Empathy
I was six years old the first time my father hit me. I still remember the sting from the belt as it contacted my skin. I sat in my bedroom for the rest of the night and wished I could escape to another world.
Since hitting was normalized in my house, I thought everyone did it. So when a girl cut the jungle gym line at recess, I swung my arm as far back as it could go and made direct contact with her ear. Since I could not process my big emotions at such a young age, I expressed my anger the only way I knew how. My father accidentally conditioned me to believe that the only way to express anger was by being physical.
Being a child of divorce, it always felt like a treat when you finally got to switch to the house that felt like home. This was my mom’s house for me. After my incident on the playground, I was worried my mom would yell at me and place me in the corner. This was the first time I had been in big trouble, so I was expecting the worst.
Instead, she took a different approach. My mom sat me down and explained that it is okay to have big feelings, but it is never okay to hit people. We discussed all the different ways we could express anger: meditation, journaling, or engaging in breathing exercises.
That night we read Where the Wild Things Are. This was the first time I saw myself in a story. The main character, Max, realizes that he is allowed to feel all his feelings — no matter how wild. Max understands he will always have someone who loves him, even when he expresses his big feelings. My mom always reminded me that she would love me the same way Max’s mom loved him.
Even though I am an adult now, I still use the calming techniques I learned this day whenever I feel overwhelmed or upset.