By Josh Wei
When my clients and I work together to discover healing and new perspectives, we often run into the challenge of processing difficult childhood memories. Especially in the earlier stages of therapy, it can be uncomfortable to verbalize and acknowledge the hurts from our past.
The feelings have always been there, but recognizing them only seems to make things worse. We’re able to point out that certain people and events from our past have impacted us, but it then becomes unclear how we’re supposed to respond. This is where grief can be helpful during the healing process, but I also understand how grief isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when discussing childhood memories.
Isn’t grief more of a response to recent events? What does it look like to grieve the hardships of our childhood?
While grief can look different for each person, I’ve listed a few ways I have found helpful for clients healing from their childhood.
One of the values I always encourage clients to remember is to be curious about themselves. I focus on curiosity because I don’t believe you can be curious and invalidating simultaneously.
This requires a gentle approach as we revisit scary or frustrating moments from our childhood. Instead of saying, “I shouldn’t be this upset” or “It wasn’t actually a big deal,” what would it look like to name the feeling and ask ourselves why that feeling is there?
Only when we start to understand our experiences can we find the parts of ourselves that are still hurting. We tend to sweep our emotions under the rug and invalidate them in an effort to feel better, but this type of response ends up causing more harm. This can create more suffering and possibly delay the healing process as well.
When we practice curiosity, we teach our minds and bodies that we are safe to feel our emotions. Curiosity leads to the validation of our feelings, thoughts, and identities.
Empathy for Yourself
Relationships can be messy, and when our childhood memories are tied to the relationships with our family or friends, trying to find our voice can be incredibly frustrating.
Many of the clients I work with are children of immigrant parents. Often, themes of acculturation, intergenerational trauma, and guilt come up in therapy. When clients describe their experiences, I often hear, “I know my parents did their best to love and raise me, so I shouldn’t feel hurt by what I had to go through.”
Acknowledging how our parents are human and have made mistakes is vital, but making space for our feelings is just as important. Empathizing with your parents doesn’t mean you can’t empathize with yourself. Accepting our feelings doesn’t take away from the experience of others. Like any relationship with a family member or loved one, your relationship with yourself is worth caring for.
Part of the grieving process involves stepping away from the process itself. Especially when it comes to revisiting childhood memories, grieving can be hard work!
Clients often come into therapy wanting to find solutions fast, and while I appreciate the enthusiasm, grief moves at its own pace, and healing takes time.
That doesn’t mean we must constantly work on ourselves during the healing process! Taking time to not think about it can be extremely helpful as well.
What hobbies or interests did you have as a child? What are ways you can engage with those hobbies today? Treating ourselves to our childhood joys can help us find hope in healing.
Processing our childhood experiences can be complex and nuanced, and grief may only play a part in the journey. The courage and strength it takes to process and revisit past experiences shouldn’t go overlooked!
If you are navigating similar issues and would like support from a therapist, please feel free to call or email us to set up an appointment!
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