Escaping from the Cage of Childhood Trauma

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I’ve spent a lot of time trapped in my own morass of emotions. True, the traumatic things that happened in my childhood first put me in the quagmire of self-pity and fear I have lived in, but later in life I chose of my own volition to remain there. As an adult, I found myself trapped in a prison of my own making, unable to escape and indeed lacking the desire to do so.

I understand that saying that living as a person with the persona of victim isn’t good, may wrinkle a few eyebrows. I remember the since of entitlement I felt when I began to work on these issues, and how I felt the world “owed me”. I’m here now to say that those emotions are bogus and will only serve to trap a person further in the hell the trauma forced them into.

There is a quality to living in a cage that many do not comprehend. One can become so comfortable living in it, that we lose the desire to flee. There is an identity to being someone in captivity, and letting go of that identity, no matter how painful it is, takes courage. One may wonder how such misery as self-doubt, isolation and loneliness can become someone’s identity and their comfort zone. Like living in a cage, one can lose sight that there is anything else. We get used to the limitations we ourselves have set up, and fear going beyond the boundaries of our misery. Who are we without our anger and bitterness? Don’t we deserve to feel depressed and anxious?

I remember well my first years in psychotherapy. I wore the identity of a victim of childhood trauma like a crown. This self-imposed label set me apart in my mind, making me special and different from those who had not experienced the things I had when young. It made me haughty in a sort of strange way, as though I was somehow superior to others due to my traumatic past. I placed myself upon a pedestal, like a queen expecting others to kowtow to my eccentricities and bad behavior. It took a wonderful therapist and some hard introspection to find out that not only was I in this cage, but that it counterproductive to be living there. No matter how comfortable I was in my gloom, it wasn’t better than living life with purpose and acceptance.

The first step in leaving the cage of childhood trauma is to acknowledge that you are indeed enclosed in one. This takes some honest introspection. I did my self-searching with a therapist who refused to allow me to behave like a spoiled brat in her presence. More than once she pointed out to me how I was responsible for my behavior, no matter what had happened to make me upset. It was during this stage that I began to acknowledge that not all my childhood experiences were horrendous, not even with those who harmed me. There had been fun times too. This was a new thought, and it gave me strength to go forward knowing that I wasn’t some total freak who had been raised by outlandishly crazy people. In fact, I had to acknowledge that those beliefs were totally false.

The next step is to consider leaving. This step may seem obvious, but it is perhaps the hardest. One must be able to visualize what it would be like not to be closed-up in one’s own misery and what how life would be different. To progress, I had to consider looking outside my circle of injured acquaintances, to people who had not been traumatized as children. I was then able to pay attention to how they conducted their lives, and to see what they experienced that I might desire to take on as my own. I found that these folks smiled a lot and talked with energy about the small things in their lives that made them happy.  They didn’t spend large amounts of time talking about the past, but rather enjoyed conversing about their children, their pets and their social lives. It wasn’t long before I too desired to enjoy peace, laughter and companionship, things located outside my cage.

The last step was to step outside my cage and experience freedom. The fear that leaving the confines of my cage of discouragement and isolation is hard to describe. At first, I thought the anxiety would destroy me, however after I had taken my first tentative steps, I knew I would never go back. The air outside the cage, full of heartache and tears, is sweet beyond compare. The colors are brighter, the sounds are clearer, and I have been enjoying living so much more. Beyond the confines of my cage, there were relationships and plans to be made for my future. I was afraid at first of those two things, but slowly I began to relish in being able to make both.

I know I’ve been speaking in symbolic language, and it may sound like I have managed to escape my cage successfully without too many hitches. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It took me almost three decades of hard work to get where I am today, and I still run into my cage and hide sometimes. I’m still learning how to cope with life on life’s terms, but by God I’m here and I’m not going to ever allow myself to live in a prison again.

I invite all who have lived in their own cages of self-pity, self-doubt, and entitlement to come out here where the air is fresh and clean. Yes, there are traumatic events out here too. It is impossible to live life without difficulties or running into people who are disagreeable. However, I would much rather live out here in the world than to be trapped in my own misery.

 

“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky.

You may ask, “What if I fall?”

I can only answer, “Oh my darling, what if you fly?”

Erin Hanson

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