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Oh, honey. How could you have known better?

How could you have known better?

Despite relational trauma, we often imagine we should have or could have knwoon better. But that’s just not realistic.

How could you have known better?

Oh, honey. How could you have known better?

How Could You Have Known Better?

Oh, honey, how could you have known better?

Yes, of course, it would be wonderful if you knew what you know now ten, twenty, thirty years ago. 

Imagining the roads you might have taken, the choices you might have made differently, and the different lives you could have led if you didn’t have so much dysfunction in your background…

It’s SUCH a tempting thought, isn’t it? 

To imagine a life that could have been if you hadn’t spent the first few decades in sheer survival and autopilot because your nervous system was so dysregulated and your brain architecture so negatively impacted…

Better still, it would be wonderful if what happened to you had never happened at all. 

To have grown up with good-enough guardians, hit your age-appropriate developmental milestones and wrestled with the normative angsts of childhood and adolescence…

Angsts like:

Do they like me? 

Do I like them?

Who am I apart from my parents?

What clothes symbolize who I really am?

What kind of college or university suits me best?

When should I go on birth control?

Why won’t they let me have more screen time?

Normative struggles. 

Instead of…

Which version of him will show up today?

How can I get even a little bit of her attention and energy when she’s so tired and depressed?

Will we have to move again because we didn’t make rent again this month?

What’s the truth? I can’t trust anything anyone in this house says. I feel crazy.

Is it safe to go to sleep tonight? Will he come back?

Am I too broken for anyone to love? 

I wish you had had those normative angsts versus the ones you actually had…

It makes complete and total sense that you’re upsetting and grieving all the lost time you might have spent answering the big life questions.

Who you wanted to be when you grew up.

Where you wanted to live. 

Who would have made a better life partner. 

Whether or not you wanted to become a parent and by what age. 

It would have been wonderful to arrive into early adulthood with insights into any of those issues. 

And, of course, let’s be real now, most 20-somethings struggle to answer these questions. 

But some do it with more life energy.

Less trauma to work through. 

More parental support. 

More self-esteem.

More sense of an umbrella of love and relational and financial and logistical security underneath them if they make a wrong choice.

Fewer mental health issues they need to attend to first before attempting to answer these questions.

But for you, it was different. 

You DIDN’T have that. 

You didn’t have what some of your peers did.

An easier path.

What you’re really mourning is what kind of choices and paths you would have taken if you hadn’t had to spend so much life energy simply recovering from the blur and pain of your childhood and adolescence. 

It feels as if you’ve been running a race with weights strapped to your ankles, watching others move with a freedom and lightness that seems forever out of reach, doesn’t it?

And on top of that, it often feels like you started 50 yards behind their starting line, right?

What you’re upset about now is that you didn’t even have the chance to be a normally angsty and confused teenager and 20-something. 

Instead, your confusion was compounded by so much unresolved trauma and the maladaptive beliefs and unhelpful behaviors that came from it.

Each belief and behavior fogging the clarity you might have had more of.

You’re upset because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. 

How could you? 

When the lessons of your childhood (did you even get to have a childhood?) taught you that relationships weren’t safe, to expect little, to brace for the worst, how were you supposed to make the best decisions for who you truly are at your core? 

When you had no education in the fundamentals – like what healthy, functional relationships look and feel like, that interdependence is the goal, how to feel and express your feelings, how to have boundaries, how to trust your intuition, how to ask for help and receive it, how to communicate effectively, how to care for your body and forward plan for the future – when you had no education in the fundamentals, how were you supposed to build a sound house on top of a shaky foundation?

How were you supposed to know that you needed to learn what functional boundaries are so you wouldn’t be taken advantage of in relationships through your 20’s and onwards. 

How could you have known that you might need to spend time alone before falling into a relationship just to escape the home you grew up in. 

How on earth were you supposed to know that your eating disorder was a sign that something was wrong and that therapy should have been the top goal; not getting all A’s to prove your worth.

In what Universe could you have known that what you experienced and witnessed wasn’t normal – some parents show their love in ways that feel good.

No teenager or 20-something could have known that the fear and anxiety coursing through their body isn’t motivation; it’s a reaction to their past and it’s not the best compass to make decisions from. 

Honey, how could you have known? 

How could you have plotted a different path when the maps you were given were (excuse my language) crap?

It is so, so incredibly sad that you lost so much time and didn’t have an honest chance to make those big, life-altering choices that would have landed you in SUCH a different reality today. 

The truth is, abstract losses and grief for what might have been is a profound, complex emotion and one that I know well myself. 

It’s a mourning not just for lost time, but for lost selves, for the versions of you that never had the chance to emerge. 

The CEO version of you had you dared play a bigger game and the learned skills of networking.

The actress version of you had you not felt crippled by shame and self-loathing.

The mother in her late 20’s you would have been had you had the skills to pick out a functional, healthy life partner earlier in life.

The single, child-free you you would have happily been if you hadn’t prioritized what society and others wanted over what you wanted.

The retired in her 40’s version of you that you might have been had someone explained ROTH IRA’s and compound interest to you. 

The homeowner version of you that you might have been had you not spent decades underearning because of a lack of esteem.

The creative, soulful, artistic you your heart wanted to be had you not felt compelled to give into the performative, corporate you. 

Each path not taken, each choice made under the shadow of your past, represents a divergence from the person you might have become in a different story, a story where trauma did not lay the foundation of your world.

And yet, here you are. 

Despite everything, you’re still moving, still growing. 

Don’t shake your head; it’s true if you’re hearing these words. 

People who don’t want to grow don’t seek out and then listen to words like these.

Honey, it’s important to acknowledge that healing is not a linear journey; it’s a spiral, where we revisit old wounds at increasing levels, each time with more wisdom, more strength. 

Your healing is not measured by the roads you didn’t take but by the steps you’re taking now, however faltering, infuriating, and foreign they may feel.

It’s okay to grieve for the years spent in survival mode, for the energy that went into merely getting through each day rather than thriving. 

It’s okay to feel anger, sadness, or regret for what was taken from you, for the childhood lost and the paths not taken.

AND, even as you feel that grief, lean into that sadness, I want to highlight and underscore how you kept moving forward, despite having a map, despite the cloudy lenses when your peers’ lenses might have been more clear: You. Kept. Moving. Forward.

You cobbled together a life for yourself without a safety net underneath you.

You hit some of the developmental milestones with the limited life energy you had.

You paid your bills.

You showed up to work.

You did your best to form good relationships. 

You were a responsible, good person.

You did your best.

And now you’re juggling the stuff of your cobbled together and not strategically thought out life while still trying to do your trauma recovery work.

That is HERCULEAN.

It’s amazing all that you’re holding and doing despite having had to spend so much life energy on survival.

It’s incredible that your life is as functional as it is today despite where you come from and who you’re related to.

It’s freaking marvelous that you’re showing up for life and in this decade – whatever your age is – being curious about doing the work to finally go back and repair some of the cracks in that proverbial foundation.

You are life-driven, honey.

You are hard-wired for growth.

You took all those steps and you’re here hearing me still being curious about how you can make your life better now. 

That says a lot about you and what you want for yourself.

So yes, we do indeed have to grieve all the lost time now that you see things more clearly, now that you’re more aware of what could have been if you had started this work earlier. 

We can’t skip this part. 

You have to give yourself the time and the space to be mad and sad about all the roads you didn’t take, all the versions of you that you could have been.  

How long will you feel angry, sad and mad? 

I don’t know. 

I wish I could tell you but I don’t’ have a crystal ball.

What I can tell you is this: if we don’t support you in feeling all of your feelings about how much time “you have wasted” (your words, not mine), if we don’t make space for the complex grief about the decades spent on autopilot that could have landed you in SUCH a different place, if we don’t create the space and permission for you to feel this abstract loss and all the attendant anger and sadness, you will feel these feelings for longer. 

So how do we help you feel these feelings? 

Bit by bit. 

As you think about how different your life is from your peers, you feel what comes up and share it with me or someone else you trust.

As you recall what your true passions and hopes were when you were little before everything got fogged over by shoulds, compulsions, and disorders, you feel your feelings about that lost time and those disowned parts of you.

And you keep feeling your feelings about the grief of lost time, grief about lives not lived, until those griefy feelings don’t feel so strong anymore.

And then, we take the information that comes up for you in your grieving to see if we need or want to make different decisions now.

Angry that you prioritized student government and becoming valedictorian over becoming a writer and artist? 

Let’s try and use that information now, honey.

Deeply regretting that you unconsciously chose a romantic partner who is a clone of your mother and constellates your deepest childhood wounds, let’s use that information and explore what actions – couples counseling or otherwise – you might want and need now.

Furious that you feel like you missed your window to find a healthy, functional partner and have biological children in this lifetime? 

Let’s be curious together about how we can use this information to support you now.

Deeply jealous that your peers priortized global travel in their 20’s because they had financial help, a home to go back to, and the clarity to know it would be harder with a mortgage and children, let’s use that information now to see how we can help you make some changes.

What is always true is that we can’t go back and change the past.

What’s also true is that a lost childhood is a tragedy.

But what’s also true is that now, the adult that you are today with the different awarenesses you have now, we can help you make different choices that might blaze a path that leads somewhere else in five, ten, twenty years.

All of these things are true.

I know you’re sad and mad, honey.

But honestly, how could you have known better? 

Let’s have some massive doses of compassion for the prior versions of you that were just doing your best.

And then let’s support the adult that you are today with your feelings and with this very important information that’s coming up and see what more is possible for you moving forwards.

I’m right here with you. 

We’ll figure this out together.

 

Did this parental pep talk speak to you?

Can you feel in yourself that complex mixture of grief, anger, regret and wondering for what may have been?

Would you like support moving through those big feelings and then using that information to make different choices to put you on a different path today?

If so, and if you live in either California or Florida, either myself or my talented team of relational trauma clinicians at my boutique, trauma-informed therapy center – Evergreen Counseling – can be of support to you. 

Please just book a complimentary 20-minute consult call with our center’s clinical intake director and she can match you to an relational trauma therapist on our team who is the best fit for you clinically, relationally, and logistically (and it very well may be me who is the best fit for you as a therapist!).

And if you live outside of California or Florida, please consider exploring my online course specifically designed for relational trauma recovery.

It will help you begin that work of grieving, of relearning the psychological fundamentals so that we can help you move forward on a different path.

Finally, if you’re still not sure if this content applies to you, if you’re still not sure if you come from a relational trauma history and made life choices on autopilot because of your trauma background, I would invite you to take my signature quiz – “Do I come from a relational trauma background?” 

It’s a 5-minute, 25-question quiz I created that can be incredibly illuminating and will point you in the direction of a wide variety of resources that can be of further help to you.

Plus, when you take the quiz, you’ll be added to my mailing list where you’ll receive twice-a-month letters from me sharing original, high-quality essays (with accompanying YouTube videos and audios you can stream) devoted to the topic of relational trauma recovery and where I share more about me as a person, my life, and how I’m journeying through my own relational trauma recovery journey and general adulthood. 

My newsletters are the only place where I share intimate glimpses into my life (including photos), the resources that are supporting me, the things I’ve discovered that delight me, words that are uplifting me, the practices that nourish me, etc. 

So please be sure to sign up for my mailing list whether or not you want to take the quiz as it’s the best way to be in touch with me and hear all the things I only share with my newsletter subscribers.

And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Did today’s essay resonate with you? What’s one helpful tool or thought that has helped you cope with the lost time and unconscious choices you might have made coming from a relational trauma background?

If you feel so included, please leave a message in the comments below so our community of 30,000 blog readers can benefit from your wisdom. 

You never know when you leave a comment below what stranger on the other side of the globe you might be helping.

So thank you. 

And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

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