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Will I ever really grow up?

Still struggling with childhood trauma, a letter writer feels like they are just existing.

You are not alone, says our elder. Seek out a therapist as a first step and you can break the pattern.

Q.  Dear EWC:

I’ve been struggling with childhood trauma – I guess all my adult life. I feel as if I never fully grew up and struggle to make lasting relationships. Whether it be friends, colleagues or even now in my relationship. It’s as if we are roommates and I’m mostly fine with that. I am able-bodied and I would consider myself relatively smart. This makes my depression even worse. I could be achieving so much and helping so many people. And I’m just washing away, wasting oxygen. I wouldn’t say I’m suicidal, but I do feel like my existence is for nothing. I never finish a task or project and I’ll leave friendships/relationships behind and I justify it because in my head I always think they are going to do it anyway.

A. Thank you for trusting the Elders for advice about your feelings and relationships.

Elder Shorty replies:

I am very sorry that you are feeling sad and as if you are just existing and not living your life. I am also sad to hear that you experienced childhood trauma. Our ability to form lasting and meaningful relationships as adults seems to be impacted by the types of relationships and experiences we had as children within our families and friends. Although trauma and bad things we experience in childhood leave a mark on our personalities and self-worth, we can learn to overcome the pattern of feeling not good enough or not worthy of being loved and cherished. It’s that feeling of not being worthy which leads to your defensive actions of leaving before you get hurt or disappointed. Almost all of us experience this feeling at some point in our lives, but when it becomes a frequent pattern in your relationships, I believe that it is time to step back and seek some support or help in breaking this pattern.

Acknowledging what has happened in the past and how you feel about it is a good first step toward changing your internal picture of yourself. Try to remember that as a child, it very likely wasn’t your responsibility or fault when people hurt or disappointed you – troubled people have emotional problems of their own and cope by making others hurt more than they do. I know this doesn’t erase or excuse whatever happened to you, but maybe you can think back and see how you might have been just a convenient bystander or an emotional target rather than an unlovable being.

As you noted, even being in a romantic relationship doesn’t necessarily give you the support you need to feel differently about who you are and how to achieve intimacy and total trust with another person. My suggestion to you is to seek out a therapist or a counselor who has experience with trauma and trust issues, and allow yourself to share your feelings, your past, and your challenges with them. It takes perseverance and practice to learn to redirect negative thoughts about ourselves and our feelings of worthlessness to be able to feel fully loved and respected. A trained, objective therapist could help with this learning process and support you when it becomes difficult to challenge yourself. At some point, maybe your significant other could join you so that he or she might find also learn a way to become more intimate and trusting in your relationship.

Please believe me when I say that you are important and not alone, and certainly not a waste of oxygen in our world. You touch people much more than you know because right now you don’t see what they see in you. Even if they tell you how much you mean to them, you might have a hard time accepting that until you learn to trust more and love yourself more. You can do that!  You can find a good therapist by searching the on-line Psychology Today Therapist Finder site. Psychology Today is a well-respected and awarded journal of professional psychologists and psychiatrists; they have a listing of certified and vetted therapists around the country. Or, your state health and welfare department may have a list of local certified therapists, too. If you have health insurance, your visits may be partially paid for – check your coverages.

Start as soon as you can – the rest of your life is waiting for you with deeper relationships and greater self-esteem. Doubting yourself makes taking this first action harder, but I have faith that you can do it for yourself and your future. I know you can find the best of what life can offer as you learn that people are truly ready to love you.  Best wishes to you and your journey ahead!

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