One of the heartbreaking things people experience after childhood trauma is the acknowledgment of missing childhood. Even if you haven’t experienced childhood trauma, I’m sure there are points in time when you watch children and you feel that envy. Ah, to be carefree again. To believe in magic and worlds beyond ours. To have that untainted shininess. We all look at children as having this light to them that hasn’t yet been destroyed by the world. We envy the naivety and innocence children have and sometimes wish we could return to a time when life felt that easy.
When you’ve experienced childhood trauma, that envy can pretty quickly become jealousy and grief. It is hard to picture a time when you felt so innocent and carefree. You wonder if you ever felt it or believed in magic. After childhood trauma, you have a hard time seeing yourself as a child because you had to grow up so quickly. It is painful to feel that absence of childhood. It can also be complicated to explain to people who haven’t experienced childhood trauma. It doesn’t make for the greatest dinner conversation to say something along the lines of, “I had to grow up so quickly that I can’t remember what it was like to be a child.” People may laugh and say “Me too”, but won’t actually understand it if they haven’t experienced childhood trauma.
Sometimes when we look at children and realize that we missed that experience of innocence, we want a re-do, we want to somehow harness what we missed, to recreate it somehow. The trouble is, there’s no going back, there is no erasing the trauma. No matter how much we wish or try to change our reality to mimic that childhood innocence. It is similar to a mint condition toy. We all start out in mint condition, some of us may have manufacturing defects, tears in our boxes, or insert any other thing that could go wrong in the initial manufacturing process. Some of us may make it out of the factory still in that mint condition, but then get damaged in some way on our way to the store, dented boxes, or slits from box openers.
Even with those issues, we are still in “good condition” although we may not be classified as a collectible anymore. It wasn’t even through any fault of our own, just the shitty luck of the draw. None of that matters the second the seal is broken. That is the moment when we lose the mint condition shiny status. Some of us don’t lose that until late in our childhoods, others lose it before we can even walk. Losing that mint condition status doesn’t mean we can’t be well-loved, well-kept toys. That all comes down to the adults around you and how they treat you.
You can’t control your owner (i.e., your parents or the impactful adults in your life). You could have made it out of the store in that shiny, perfect mint condition. But then you had an owner that destroyed your box and tossed it shortly after destroying it. You were stomped on, left in the rain for days, you have dirt and mud in your plastic joints that could never fully be cleaned out, and your paint has chipped from the years of hard use.
It isn’t like you can reverse the process. Even as soon as that box seal is opened, you’ve reached a point of no return, before you even knew it was the point of no return. You can still be very “valuable” despite being removed from the box. Some of us took such good care of our toys that they looked brand new still. I was not one of those kids. I was so hard on my toys that they all looked well-loved but in rough shape. Unfortunately, there’s no erasing your trauma. Once there’s damage, that damage can’t necessarily be undone.
That’s not to say that your life is forever ruined. Toys can be mended and reconstructed to the point of being almost new. You can still heal from the traumatic experiences of your childhood. You just can’t go back to a time in existence before the trauma. Holding onto that in hopes that you’ll regain your childhood sense of wonder may put barriers to your therapeutic process. Therapy will never feel like it’s doing enough because it can’t return you to that mint condition status. It can only make repairs that make you functional and significantly reduce the impacts of your traumas.
Not being able to regain your childhood innocence and light-hearted, carefree spirit that still believes in magic doesn’t mean you won’t be able to regain some of those aspects. You can still live a life after trauma where you see the goodness and hope in the world. If you choose to put in the work, you can redevelop a sense of being light-hearted and carefree. It’ll just be a wiser development of being light-hearted. You’ll be carefree in the moments that call for it. You can be playful with those around you and still live life in ways that feel childlike after experiencing what you've gone through. You can find a healthy balance to incorporate those moments and feelings of adolescence without throwing yourself entirely into them and losing the positive things that you’ve gained in adulthood.
If you resonate with these words, it may be time to consider a counselor. You may not find the right one right away, and shopping around is important, but digging deeper into your trauma and facing it is the first step toward the carefree attitude you're looking for.
If you're interested in working on your trauma on your own, you can start with the PTSD/Trauma reading list. There is also a book review from Michela Dalsing (licensed counselor) that involves a true story of childhood abuse.
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