Discovering you have a severe mental health problem, such as dissociative identity disorder (DID), causes a lot of chaos in a person’s life. You feel betrayed by your own mind and often afraid of the parts of your psyche that make you who you are.
However, the fear and chaos experienced when receiving the diagnosis of DID is nothing when compared to the grieving process of a childhood devoid of joy.
Today we’re going to examine grieving over the childhood that never existed.
Why Now? Why Didn’t I remember Before?
The questions above are important ones to allow yourself to ask. After all, your life has been severely impacted by the knowledge you had suppressed for years.
The answer is simple, you have reached a point in your life where emotionally you can afford to examine what happened in your childhood.
As children, people who were abused could not allow the truth of how horrendous you were being treated. For a child to admit to themselves that the people they desperately want to take care of and love them are harming them instead is akin to emotional suicide.
Instead, multiples have found a new way to cope; dissociation. While dissociation is something everyone experiences, multiples have mastered it as a tool for survival. By pushing the knowledge of what is occurring into a different part of themselves, multiples can move forward in life without dying emotionally or physically.
The Discovery of Loss
During the first weeks of seeing a counselor, many multiples begin to understand that other people did not have chaotic and lonely childhoods. Talking about the structure and happenings in your childhood home, your therapist may have sat back in their chair in disbelief. It’s not that they don’t believe what they are hearing, but rather they are astonished at how calmly you may be relating your childhood story. They realize that you do not understand that your normal isn’t what everyone else experienced.
In fact, many people are walking about with no knowledge of what truly happened to them growing up. They have deluded themselves through dissociating the truth from themselves that they believe they had a marvelous childhood.
The symptoms that something is wrong may go unnoticed or are misunderstood, such as depression and suicidal ideation. People may believe they are weak or that they have nothing to feel badly about and that they should pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get on with life.
However, upon learning that childhood isn’t supposed to be a lonely, chaotic, and often dangerous event, many of us enter the grieving process.
What Did the Abusers Take from You?
Answering the question above is difficult because there are so many losses from childhood trauma. However, two of the most powerful losses involve trust and safety.
Trust is something a survivor does not have because the people who raised them betrayed them so many times. Not only were your caregivers abusive, but they would make promises and break them all the time. Then there is the pain of rejection. It is severely damaging to a child when their caregivers do not value them and say so either verbally, physically, or both.
These events may have left you unable to make good personal relationships and feeling no one is trustworthy in your adulthood. You may have thoughts such as, “I can’t trust anybody,” or “I can only trust myself because it is dangerous t trust.”
Feeling safe is vital for human beings to thrive. If we do not feel safe, we are constantly looking for danger, even if we are not aware, we are doing so. Survivors often live their lives hypervigilant, waiting for the danger that will not occur in their lives today.
Overcoming a lifetime of mistrust and feeling unsafe may not ever be totally overcome, but it can be lessened considerably through therapy.
What Else Was Missing from a Survivor’s Childhood?
Did you know that other children weren’t dirty and frightened all the time when you were a kid or even now as an adult?
Are you aware that the chaos, neglect, and abuse you experienced as a child aren’t what other kids in your neighborhood experienced?
Did you know that the bizarre rituals centered around sex, abuse, and fear were not the norm when you were a kid?
Many multiples are not aware that their childhoods were a chaotic mess until the memories of what happened to force their way to the surface. Not to ignite the controversy over repressed memories, but anyone who has experienced vomiting past experiences knows, repressed memories are all too horribly real.
When the horror from the past erupts into today, disbelief, anger, and grief are the natural consequences.
All children deserve to be treated with love, respect, and compassion. If you were not treated this way, then you probably were neglected, abused, or both. It is okay to allow yourself to grieve over the childhood you were not given by parents or caregivers chose to disrespect you and betray your need for love.
How to Conquer over Grieving the Childhood that Never Was
While grief is necessary and good, you don’t want to live there forever. Conquering over the pain and sorrow must end eventually, even if it takes years. Don’t be afraid the crying will never stop or the pain that accompanies remembering what happened.
You WILL stop weeping.
The pain WILL stop.
There are three important steps you must do to win over the grief that comes upon discovering that things were not happy in your childhood home.
The first step is to allow yourself to grieve. It’s okay to weep for the things you never experienced and the love you never received. It is strongly suggested, however, that you do not attempt to grieve alone. There is a huge danger in grieving in private as opposed to doing so with someone you trust such as a counselor or other mental health professional.
The pain and sorrow, when experienced alone, can lead to desperate decisions to end one’s life. Please, contact a mental health professional as soon as you realize you were treated badly in childhood. The world cannot afford to lose your voice.
Looking in the Mirror
The second step is to learn to love yourself. Many survivors shirk away from the thought of loving themselves because all their lives they have repeated the berating they experienced from abusive caregivers.
However, the ball is now in your court and you are now solely responsible for your life. You are NOT a bad person, no matter what the old tapes in your mind are telling you. You are NOT ugly, stupid, damaged, or unlovable, those were lies told to you by your caregivers.
Begin by looking in the mirror and taking a hard look at your body. Examine your body without judgment or through the lens of someone who didn’t love you and see it as it is, beautiful.
Even if your body is out of shape or covered in scars, think of them as battle scars from the fight you endured arriving at adulthood and accept yourself as you are today.
Letting Go of the Pain and Sorrow
The next and final step involves letting go of your past. No, you are not required to accomplish this step, it may take years to achieve it or perhaps the pain and sorrow will never completely die away.
It is normal and very healthy to grieve, and no one in their right mind would suggest that you simply drop your history and walk away. That is impossible, you are human, and humans have long memories.
Letting go of the pain and sorrow over your lost childhood does not belittle or invalidate what you went through. Rather, it gives your mind the peace it craves to allow you to make future plans and successfully move on without dissociating away from your emotions or memories.
What happened to you is not diminished by choosing to let go of the grief, rather it is honored because you have experienced it and have chosen to leave the past in the past.
Some Final Thoughts
Grief is completely normal. All humans grieve when they experience loss and survivors are no different. The pain you may be experiencing both emotionally and physically are real and should be validated.
Learning to trust and feel safe will take time so do not worry whether you can conquer their lack. Give yourself room and permission to grieve and to learn the lessons your caregivers did not give you.
The tears will end, you will win, it will happen. Give yourself credit because, despite horrendous maltreatment, you are here.
The future is bright for those who dare to travel down the path less taken, but the grieving process an important step toward it.
“They asked me how long it will take to get well.”
“Tell them it will take longer than what they want, but not as long as they fear.” ~ Paula McNitt, PhD
“Grief is never something you get over. You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’ve conquered that; now I’m moving on.’ It’s something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honor the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.” ~ Terri Irwin