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by Andrea M. Darcy
Some of us didn’t get the pretty end of the stick when it came to our family of origin, and lived through a toxic childhood.
And here we are as adults, doing our best. Perhaps even doing a lot of therapy and self-help. But we can still feel haunted by our past, and it can be frustrating.
7 Ways to move on from a toxic childhood
We can’t ‘cure’ or ‘leave behind’ trauma, because we can’t change our past. And because it’s not a disease. It’s an integral part of who we are, and of our life experience.
We can, however, learn to navigate our trauma, to co-exist with it, and to no longer be under its power.
1. Get glaringly honest about your need to ‘leave it all behind’.
Moving on as we are truly ready too is one thing. Claiming it’s ‘time to move on’ as we want to escape our pain, or we are frustrated, or angry, or think we ‘deserve better’ and are just going to ‘be someone else’? Another thing entirely.
If we aren’t ready, if we are still mired in pain, and haven’t done any work on ourselves? Trying to push ourselves forward tends to backfire. We feel worse instead of better, or suddenly act out and sabotage something important.
What truly drives your need to put your past behind you? Shame? Fury? Rage? Overwhelm? These are invitations to do more inner work, to go deeper, not to rush away.
2. Reclaim your childhood.
When we suffer neglect, trauma, and abuse, it takes a giant brush and paints our entire childhood grey. Our mind only remembers pain and fear.
But life is always made of good and bad. It’s just that as a trauma survivor, you won’t naturally remember it all. It involves consciously deciding to sit down and excavate your past for the good bits.
- Who helped? Was there a teacher along the way who believed in you? A neighbour who gave you treats and kept an eye on you? A sibling you loved?
- What nice things happened? Do you remember any good experiences, any trips, or sunny days, adventures, even small things?
- What positive objects can you call to mind? An ice cream flavour, a t-shirt you loved, a favourite childhood smell?
Want this to really be effective? Try writing about it all. A study on what led some trauma survivors to thrive while others languished found five key trends amongst participants, with expressive writing being one of them.
3. Get the gifts a toxic childhood offers.
Yes, a traumatic childhood leaves us with negatives. We can have low self-esteem, emotional dysregulation, intimacy issues, and rage problems.
But without the childhood we lived through we wouldn’t have many things that can actually make us special and strong in the present. This can look like resilience, empathy, humour, compassion, and creative thinking.
What gift did your toxic childhood result in? Would you really want to throw that away by pretending you past never happened?
4. Forget about forgiveness.
If there is one thing that can leave us stuck on our toxic childhood it can be the belief we have to ‘forgive’ everyone involved to move on.
Forgiveness, or rather the modern Western concept of it, can be overrated and counterproductive. It generally involves inflating ourselves to the ‘good person’ seat and pushing everyone else into the ‘bad person who needs forgiveness’ seat.
From our high and mighty throne we then bestow forgiveness. But none of us are perfect, so deep down we feel the falsity of this process. Plus, this sort of forgiveness is a perfect way to hang onto anger and bitterness, which is the inevitable by product of seeing other people as ‘lesser than’ and ‘bad’.
So behind all the righteousness of our grand act of forgiveness we still feel unhappy. We are still in the victim seat.
5. Go for acceptance instead.
When we accept what happened, and who other people are, we take back a lot of energy. It’s the energy we were previously wasting on trying to understand why something did or didn’t happen, how someone could do something.
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True acceptance can feel like letting go of a very heavy burden. “I accept this happened, and that I might never understand it, and I can’t change it.”
The exchange is that we can then use all that energy to change what we can. The personal goals that will lead us to a future we want.
And sometimes acceptance just has to be an acceptance that right now we aren’t quite ready to move on. We aren’t ready to stop being angry, enraged, or sad, or feeling like a victim. These are all valid stages of healing. We are where we are on our own personal path forward, and that’s okay.
6. Get honest about your victim act and do what you can to step out of it.
Yes, you were a victim. A child has no recourse in the face of trauma. They can’t just pack a bag and leave. They are generally trapped and helpless.
The problem arises when we find ourselves adults, with the full capacity to make choices to protect and take care of ourselves, and yet we are still stuck in the victim mentality.Without realising it, we unconsciously make choices that constantly put us in harm’s way.
- We choose a job that where we are under payed, with a boss who is demanding and unkind.
- And say yes to things we don’t have time for, and end up exhausted and furious at the friends we are helping.
- We go on dates with people who are clearly, from a mile away, unhappy, unstable, or even dangerous.
- As for boundaries, we don’t set them. We hate listening to gossip but answer the phone when that gossipy friend calls, even when we are in the middle of an important piece of work.
And each time we somehow convince ourselves that there is nothing we could have done that we are simply a victim.
The victim mentality is the hardest thing to admit to during the healing journey. But the moment we get brutally honest with ourselves, and take full responsibility for our adult choices, and the life we have created? Is the moment we step into our personal power to move on.
And team of Israeli social psychologists researching the victim mindset found that having it means we are less likely to forgive, and more likely to constantly ruminate on bad things that happened to us. In other words, if you do want your life to move on from your toxic childhood, stepping out of the victim trap is essential.
7. Try therapies that actually work.
Trauma has come to the forefront in the last decade. But there are still, unfortunately, misunderstandings, and even many therapists who simply don’t have a grasp on it. Who don’t even recognise that a client is traumatised by their childhood. Who, despite best intentions, offer therapy that simply leaves a client more mired in their traumatic response, not less.
If you had a toxic childhood and are showing signs of trauma, such as signs of complex post traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD)? It’s important to find a therapist who understands navigating trauma, and a therapy that helps you stabilise before throwing you into talking about triggering things.
Short-term therapies like eye movement desensitisation and reprogramming (EMDR), brain working recursive therapy (BWRT), clinical hypnotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are all great starting points. See our article on therapies that work for trauma.
Time to take charge of your toxic childhood? We connect you with highly regarded, top London trauma specialists who can help. Or use our booking site to find UK-wide registered counsellors, hypnotherapists, and psychotherapists now.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer, with training in coaching and person centred counselling. She has navigated her way through c-PTSD and adult ADHD to create a life she loves. Follow her for useful life tips on Instagram @am_darcy