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What Does Successful Recovery From Your Childhood Trauma Look Like?

What does successful recovery from your childhood trauma look like? | Annie, Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

“You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart is another story.” – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

What does successful recovery from your childhood trauma look like? | Annie, Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

What Does Successful Recovery From Your Childhood Trauma Look Like?

I love Kate Winslet. 

Ever since 1997 when I was fifteen years old and watching Titanic in a movie theatre for the very first time, I’ve adored her and watched nearly everything she’s been in.

But one of her movies stands out above all others for me because of how often it’s referenced in my therapy work: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

This movie is evoked when folks tell me they hope for something ala what Clementine wanted: to erase the past from their memory so that the past no longer troubles them.

It’s a kind of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fantasy. That we can just forget our past and it won’t rule us anymore. 

It is, unfortunately, not possible, but still, that’s the secret hope and hidden fantasy of so many who arrive into my offices (and the offices of my team at my trauma-informed, boutique therapy center – Evergreen Counseling) when they start trauma therapy to recover from their adverse beginnings and painful early childhoods. 

But recovery is not forgetting. It’s not amnesic. 

Successful recovery from childhood trauma is possible, though, and so today’s essay will explore what successful recovery is, is not, and paint a picture of the pathway to recovery if you yourself, like so many others, have an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fantasy when it comes to your childhood.

Also, I’d love to invite you to join me at the reMothering Summit, happening this year from December 9 -12, 2021. I’ll be speaking and presenting on the critical healing tasks those of us who identify as being un- and under-parented must confront on our healing journeys. 

The Summit is free so please, if it would feel helpful to join and gain even more tools before the holidays, I’d love to see you there. 

What does successful recovery from childhood trauma look like?

“I will not stay, not ever again – in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.” ― Glennon Doyle, Untamed

First and foremost, it’s very important to understand and acknowledge that the terms “successful” and “recovery” are subjective terms – meaning they will be unique and different for each individual.

In the same way that there are many different ways of being brave, your version of successful recovery may not look the same as mine (and vice versa). 

So, as with finding our own version of bravery, when we align our internal truths to the external circumstances in our lives, that is the way we find and define subjective successful recovery. 

No one is the expert of your experience but you and only you can define what successful recovery from your childhood trauma looks like.

But still, there are some clinical benchmarks I look for as a trauma therapist when supporting my clients to overcome their painful pasts. I’ll talk about these hallmarks more in a minute but first I want to expand on the subjective and personal importance of defining what successful recovery looks like by sharing what I think successful recovery does not look like.

Successful recovery from childhood trauma does not look like:

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.” ― Judith Lewis Herman

In my personal and professional experience, successful recovery from childhood trauma does not look like:

  • Forgetting that the past ever happened (Eternal Sunshine fantasy.).
  • Not having any feelings ever about the past or your abusers when you think about it/them.
  • Forgiving your abusers (because you’re told and pressured that you need to do so to recover – if you choose to do so of your own volition, that’s different).
  • Being “one big happy family again” so that you all can just “move on.” Your success in recovery is not dictated by whether or not you are in contact with your family of origin.
  • Dismissing and diminishing your lived experiences and attendant feelings to make other people comfortable in order to preserve relationships with them. 
  • Living a “normal” life and engaging with the world in the way you are told you should do so.
  • Never having the impulse to want to numb out, dissociate, or participate in former analgesic behaviors or substances.
  • Never not feeling depressed, anxious, sad, and angry anymore – only feeling “good and positive” and “keeping things light.”

In my experience, it’s usually abusers or people who have a lot to gain from trauma victims not feeling their feelings about events who promulgate the aforementioned beliefs. 

So if the above is what successful childhood trauma recovery does not look like, let me shed some light on what I, as a trauma clinician, think it does look like.

Successful recovery from childhood trauma does include:

“When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.” ― Glennon Doyle, Untamed

In my personal and professional experience, successful recovery from childhood trauma does include:

  • Being able to experience yourself presentified and personified (being able to acknowledge you experienced the past events while existing in the here and now, realizing the events are over). 
  • Accepting (note: accepting only means acknowledging what is) and integrating the trauma experiences to form a cohesive narrative about your past experiences, how they impacted you, and feel developmentally appropriate feelings about what happened.
  • Determining the boundaries – physical, emotional, mental, and logistical – that are best and right and true for you to help you feel safe, secure, and validated as you move through the world and move forward.
  • Feeling more choiceful about the ways you manage the symptoms of your trauma history, having a bigger toolbox to manage the triggers that may occur.
  • Feeling less disturbed, less flooded, and more emotional equanimity (over time) when presented with triggers that have historically been hard.
  • Having greater resilience when triggers occur – specifically when shame, guilt, and self-doubt arise.
  • Learning and re-learning what healthy, functional relationships look like and moving towards those. 
  • Moving towards crafting a life on the outside that matches who you are on the inside, regardless of what society and your family of origin would have preferred.
  • Increasing your capacity to feel all of your feelings and expressing them in responsible, appropriate ways.

And this list is just the tip of the iceberg.

Remember, the terms successful and recovery are subjective and the only person who can define your experience of successful recovery is you.

So to that end, I would love to hear from you in the comments below:

What is one story you were fed about what “successful recovery” would look like? And what is one way in which you personally define “successful recovery” for yourself? What one piece of advice and guidance would you give to someone who is just beginning their work to recover from adverse early beginnings?

If you feel so inclined, please leave a comment below so our community of 20,000+ blog readers can benefit from your wisdom.

If you would personally like support around this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

If you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

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

Warmly, Annie

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    • Annie says


      Thank you for your comment and for your kind words, I always appreciate hearing from a fellow therapist! I’m glad that my posts feel informative, it’s always my goal to shed light on the path toward healing. Have a wonderful week.

      Warmly, Annie

      • Anne says

        Very grateful for your words of wisdom here. I often wonder how our foresisters managed before the wisdom of Judith Herman came out. Glad to have encountered her empowerment writings I think just as i was coming into adulthood in the 1980s! Thanks for quoting her.

        • Annie says

          Hi Anne, Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the quote and were lucky enough to discover Judith Herman in the 1980’s! Her work is such a source of empowerment and I’m happy to have been able to share just a little of her wisdom. Have a wonderful week. Warmly, Annie

  1. Dotsy Jane Maher says

    THIS is the best primer on life trauma I have ever read…

    I have been reading psychology since I was VERY young, trying to find ANYTHING that could help me cope with the brutal “mother” I was dealt.

    I have suffered inspite of really trying to live relatively “normally”…but my “family” was SO difficult (some members were downright EVIL and still are) many were helpless to do anything effective…most just did not want to attempt to help for their own reasons.

    I walked away at 40 and maintained isolation but it was not enough to avoid the EXTREME wrath of the maggots or the clueless hurt of one decent brother who is SO Stockholm Syndrome with the maggots he is not safe for me to confide in.

    So I am still working on it from position of deprivation of comfort, love, support and material help healthy families have..

    and I, finally, in the last 10 years, speak openly about what abuse does to a life…without embarrassment… completely candidly telling people that early severe child abuse and neglect creates a VERY different life for those of us who crapped out on the roulette wheel of “families” of origin.

    • Annie says

      Hi Dotsy,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sharing your story with us. I’m truly sorry to hear all that you’ve been through with your family. Please know that you absolutely deserve comfort, love, and support and I’d like to encourage you to seek that support while working on processing all of your feelings around your abuse and neglect.

      If I can support you in either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – as you work toward a positive future for yourself, I’d love to see you there. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

  2. Jim says

    What I find most important about this piece is the section on what recovery from childhood trauma does NOT look like. Our culture’s obsession with “moving on” and “letting go” suggests that recovery means leaving one’s trauma entirely in the past, where it no longer has any affects. People are led to believe there’s something wrong with them if its impact lingers, as mine has, for decades. Have I “recovered” after years and years of therapy? In many ways, yes, if recovery is understood in the qualified way that Annie presents it here. But do I still confront what it did to me, how it shaped me, almost every day? I do. It’s only through a nuanced understanding of healing–a word that often oversimplifies–that we can discuss trauma with insight.

    • Annie says

      Hi Jim,

      I’m so pleased that this post resonated with you! Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughtful comment, I appreciate you sharing your insight. Sending you my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

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