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Little Girl Blue: What if you were a child robbed of your childhood?

Little Girl Blue: What if you were a child robbed of your childhood? | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

I was driving to work the other morning, winding through the East Bay hills that are blossoming and blooming right now, when Nina Simone’s Little Girl Blue came up on my playlist.

I always get goosebumps when I hear this song.

Not only because Nina Simone’s voice is gorgeous, but because the lyrics of the song are poignant, tender, and more than a little melancholy.

Little Girl Blue: What if you were a child robbed of your childhood? | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Little Girl Blue: What if you were a child robbed of your childhood?

And the lyrics remind me of my clients.

Specifically my clients who grew up in chaotic, neglectful, or outright or subtly abusive homes and who then (and even now) might self-identify as Little Girl (or Little Boy) Blue.

Clients who are now adults with degrees, good jobs, and who are living in one of the most beautiful corners of the world, but who still have a sad and tender little child inside of them because, for numerous reasons, they never got a chance to be a child in their childhood.

So today’s post is written for anyone out there who can identify with being a Little Girl (or Boy) Blue and who feels like they didn’t get a chance to actually be a child in their childhood and is currently struggling with this in their day-to-day life.

I’ll share more about what being a child robbed of a childhood can look like, and the impacts I believe this can have, and, more importantly, what we can do about it as adults now.

What stops a child from being a child in their childhood?

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

– Frederick Douglass

Being robbed of your childhood is a tragedy.

I really, truly believe this and I don’t use the word tragedy lightly.

It is every child’s innate right to have a childhood and when this is stolen from them, it’s a terrible and very sad thing.

And let me be clear: When I talk about a child being robbed or their childhood, I’m not talking about not having been able to go to Disney when all your friends got to go on summer vacation.

It can feel painful to be left out as a kid, absolutely.

And I’m not talking about your parents making you do chores and pitch out around the house when you would’ve preferred spending your time playing video games (actually, there’s some really great research out there about how being made to do chores as a kid can make you into a more happy and successful adult).

It can be frustrating and hard to not have all of your wants met as a kid, for sure.

What I mean about a child being robbed of a childhood is what happens when a child grows up in a home devoid of the love, safety, consistency, and the logistical and emotional security necessary for their overall wellbeing and proper cognitive, physical, and psychological development.

This is being robbed of childhood.

And what can contribute to this?

Unfortunately, a wide and varied variety of factors can contribute to this including:

  • Being raised in a home with a parent (or both parents) who were personality disordered, mood disordered, or addicted to substances and/or behaviors and where the child felt a lack in predictability and safety with the parents.
  • Growing up in an environment where there was food, income, or environmental instability, possibly due to impaired or challenged caregivers or due to outside environmental factors.
  • Being sexually assaulted as a child.
  • Having an experience of being a witness to violence whether at home or at school.
  • Journeying through the isolated or ongoing trauma of a school shooting, repeated in-person or cyber-bullying, living or going to school in a dangerous and potentially life threatening environment and not receiving proper support to metabolize and make sense of this trauma.
  • Living in a home where the child was over-parentified and inappropriately made to be responsible for managing the moods and chaos that the adults around them created.
  • Being raised in an environment where the child was the recipient of ongoing emotional or verbal abuse.

And these are only a few examples. There are, sadly, so many more.

Effectively, children are robbed of their childhood whenever a confluence of factors whether inside or outside their home creates a feeling of instability and insecurity and where they don’t get the time, space, and support to move through key developmental tasks and milestones that all children and adolescents are tasked with.

What do I mean by developmental tasks and milestones?

Developmental Tasks Theory is a psychological theory contributed to by many fine minds over the years but the framework I really like was developed by a very interesting guy named Robert J. Havighurst, Ph.D. who was a physicist turned experimental education researcher/professor who posited that human life falls into six major developmental stages and that each of these stages had critical biopsychosocial developmental tasks which, when successfully met and completed, built on one another for the maturation and progression of the individual.

Havighurt’s developmental task theory is as follows:

Infancy and Early Childhood (Birth till 6 years old):

  1. Learning to walk
  2. Learning to take solid foods
  3. Learning to talk
  4. Learning to control the elimination of body wastes
  5. Learning sex differences and sexual modesty
  6. Forming concepts and learning language to describe social and physical reality.
  7. Getting ready to read

Middle Childhood (6–13 years old):

  1. Learning physical skills necessary for ordinary games
  2. Building wholesome attitudes toward oneself as a growing organism
  3. Learning to get along with age-mates
  4. Learning an appropriate masculine or feminine social role
  5. Developing fundamental skills in reading, writing, and calculating
  6. Developing concepts necessary for everyday living
  7. Developing conscience, morality, and a scale of values
  8. Achieving personal independence
  9. Developing attitudes toward social groups and institutions

Developmental Tasks of Adolescence (13–18 years old):

  1. Achieving new and more mature relations with age-mates of both sexes
  2. Achieving a masculine or feminine social role
  3. Accepting one’s physique and using the body effectively
  4. Achieving emotional independence of parents and other adults
  5. Preparing for marriage and family life and preparing for an economic career
  6. Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior; developing an ideology
  7. Desiring and achieving socially responsible behavior

Developmental Tasks of Early Adulthood (19–30 years old):

  1. Selecting a mate
  2. Achieving a masculine or feminine social role
  3. Learning to live with a marriage partner
  4. Starting a family
  5. Rearing children
  6. Managing a home
  7. Getting started in an occupation
  8. Taking on civic responsibility
  9. Finding a congenial social group

Developmental Tasks of Middle Age (30–60 years old):

  1. Achieving adult civic and social responsibility
  2. Establishing and maintaining an economic standard of living
  3. Assisting teenage children to become responsible and happy adults
  4. Developing adult leisure-time activities
  5. Relating oneself to one’s spouse as a person
  6. Accepting and adjusting to the physiologic changes or middle age
  7. Adjusting to aging parents

Developmental Tasks of Later Maturity (60 years old and over):

  1. Adjusting to decreasing physical strength and health
  2. Adjusting to retirement and reduced income
  3. Adjusting to death of a spouse
  4. Establishing an explicit affiliation with one’s age group
  5. Meeting social and civil obligations
  6. Establishing satisfactory physical living arrangements

Now, imagine if you grew up with any of the above scenarios I listed earlier, scenarios that could rob you of your childhood.

If you grew up with a narcissist or sociopath who was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, raging one moment and all confusingly kind and sweet the next, or if your caregiver was an active alcoholic and domestic abuser, how much emotional energy do you think you would have available living in an environment like this to devote to “building wholesome attitudes toward oneself as a growing organism” or “developing conscience, morality, and a scale of values”?

Realistically, not much.

Your life energy would likely have mostly gone towards trying to survive and cope with the unpredictability and lack of safety in your home.

And even if you grew up where the environment was seemingly less chaotic and threatening, how well can a child and later a teen achieve “new and more mature relations with age-mates of both sexes” if this child/teen was the recipient of endless criticism and messaging that they weren’t good enough (too fat, too ugly, too loud, too much like their mother, etc.).

Would a teen really have the sound sense of self to appropriately form relationships if her self esteem was consistently chipped away at by her caregivers? Would she even be able to identify healthy and appropriate relationships then?

Not optimally, no.

The bottom line is this: If you experienced complex relational trauma, child abuse, or were otherwise robbed of your childhood’s safety, security, and appropriateness, you likely would have been preoccupied to a certain extent with surviving your day-to-day reality in whatever way you could that you may not have had the mental, emotional and even physical ability to focus on achieving these key developmental tasks and goals.

(Sidenote: this is why it’s utterly fruitless and unfair if you come from a background of childhood trauma to compare yourself to peers and their accomplishments who came from non-traumatic backgrounds.)

But/and, because successful completion and mastery of the developmental tasks in each life stage lend to achieving the tasks of the next, children who were robbed of their childhood may well feel the impacts of this well into their adulthood.

What are the impacts of a child being robbed of childhood?

“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood―establishing independence and intimacy―burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”

― Judith Lewis Herman, MD

The impacts on adults who didn’t get to be a child can be as wide and varied as the factors that contributed to their trauma in the first place.

The quote from Judith Lewis Herman, MD – a pioneer and great mind in the work of trauma recovery – sums it up: someone raised in an unsupportive environment may have challenges with the primary tasks of adulthood: independence and intimacy, both with oneself and with others.

This may look like a struggle to form and keep appropriate, healthy, and connected relationships.

Or not even having realistic expectations of what a romantic relationship can look like.

Maybe this looks like being terrified of conflict and playing the role of caretaker and having poor boundaries because advocating for yourself feels terrifying.

(Side note: If you would like to learn how to set healthy boundaries and know how to feel good no matter how hard your family is and no matter how they behave, please be sure to explore my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries.)

Or perhaps this may look like an inability to self-reflect and act with self-agency on and towards the career that you truly want.

Possibly this may look like living with an eating disorder to help cope with and numb out the intolerable feelings of fear and panic you live with.

This may look like being frozen with ambivalence about whether or not to start a family because you spent the first half of your life being made to caretake for everyone around you and you fear being trapped into doing so more.

Perhaps this looks like not even being connected to your body and your sexual identity because you were raised with shoulds and not encouraged to reflect on what and who you truly want.

Maybe this looks like having “achieved” all of the tasks that society set out in front of you – a few advanced degrees, a good job, a great paycheck – but feeling emotionally deadened and depressed on the inside at the end of the day.

Whatever and however this looks for you, what’s likely is that being robbed of a childhood may still have impacts on you, be they large or small.

I invite you to get curious about how this may show up for you by using the framework of Havighurt’s developmental tasks above.

And what do we do now if we’re an adult who was a child robbed of childhood?

“No recovery from trauma is possible without attending to issues of safety, care for the self, reparative connections to other human beings, and a renewed faith in the universe. The therapist’s job is not just to be a witness to this process but to teach the patient how.” ― Janina Fisher, Ph.D.

First, we must come to terms with the reality of our past. We must face the truth that we were a child who was robbed of a childhood.

And then, sweetheart, you have to grieve this.

Grieving something so abstract and enormous such as losing your childhood can be a lengthy, emotional, and seemingly never-ending process.

But if we don’t allow ourselves the room to feel sad about what was lost to us, we will hold back our growth.

And, while it’s true that we can never turn back time and get our actual childhood back, I believe, with some creativity, intention, and skillful support, and even while we’re still grieving our lost childhood, we can work towards any developmental tasks we may have missed, and also weave practices, behaviors and elements into our adult life that can help soothe and meet the needs of that little girl or boy blue inside of us.

What might this look like?

There are thousands of ways and while this will be highly subjective to you and your personal history.

This may look like a combination of seeking out professional support and doing some fundamental psychological work even as you effort towards crafting the work and relationships you deeply desire in the world while also giving yourself some of the tangible joys your inner child may still long for.

Some reparative experiences and possibilities may look like:

  • Getting into therapy to work on learning what appropriate and healthy relationships look like and how to seek out, nurture, and be in these kinds of relationships;
  • Creating a safe and nurturing physical environment to allow yourself to feel safety that you may never have felt before;
  • Seeking out professional support to mourn the past, learn how to process and tolerate your feelings, and address any maladaptive behaviors or patterns you developed to cope with childhood;
  • Being responsible and providing income and job stability for yourself so your nervous system can be given a chance to relax with the basic foundation of life in place;
  • Allowing yourself to question and experiment with who and how you’re sexually attracted to and perhaps letting yourself live this out more;
  • Experimenting with your dress and appearance, finding what feels authentic to you and expressing this in the world;
  • Being mindful and curious about your values system and if you’re living them out in the world and pivoting and adjusting in any ways that you may need to;
  • And it can look like tangibly giving yourself the things you longer for as a child but never got a chance to do:
    • Going to summer camp (yes, adults can go to summer camps);
    • Borrowing YA novels from the library instead of nonfiction despite “how it looks” because you simply enjoy it;
    • Carving out an afternoon on the weekend to play video games to your heart’s content;
    • Treasure-hunting on Ebay the toys your guardian may have garage sale’d because “you were too old for dolls”;
    • Creating wonderful, nourishing holiday rituals for the family that you choose to build so you can have the holidays you never had as a kid;
    • Taking that trip to Disney after all.

Really, truly, in my mind it means giving yourself the best chance possible to have a life as an adult that’s as enlivened, rich, and congruent with your soul’s longings and values as possible.

Onward.

It’s really sad that any child gets robbed of their childhood.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would protect the world’s babies, children and teens so that they have all the love, safety, security, guidance, and support they need to become whole, esteemed, and resilient adults.

But, in the absence of that magic wand, I hope that my words can help you be curious about your own experience and what it might look like to support yourself if you identify with having been robbed of a childhood, if you identify with being a Little Girl (or Boy) Blue.

And, remember, at the end of the song, Nina sings:

“Why won’t somebody send a tender blue boy to cheer up, little girl blue?”

I smile when I hear this line and think that the savior we may have longed for in our childhood or, if not a savior, simply a companion to stand with us through the pain and chaos, may not have come to us then, but we have the chance to be that proverbial companion to ourselves now as we face our past, grieve and mourn it, and move forward trying to build the most beautiful and enlivened life possible for ourselves.

So tell me in the comments:

What did this article bring up for you? What’s one way in which you can support yourself now as an adult if you were robbed of your childhood?

Leave a message in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

If you would like additional support with this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together. You can also book a complimentary consult call to explore therapy with one of my fantastic clinicians at my trauma-informed therapy center, Evergreen Counseling. 

Or 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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  1. Marija on  

    I read this text on my phone, by email and it gave me a goose bumps few time. I vividly had a vision in my mind of me growing up and never had a voice of my own, always going with the flow of other members of my family. And now, when I have 36 years I asked myself, gees, this transfered itself on many aspects of my life, starting from relationships where I followed other’s dreams and aspirations, but the most hurtful of all, at least for me is that it transfered on a professional level where I’m now wondering and have no clue what I want to do, be or pursue and feel totally lost. Like waiting for someone to tell me, as in a childhood.. So sad about this, and yet so happy that I got to see this.
    There is one particular sentence that strikes my mind and it is about our quantity of energy that went on preserving ourselves in an unhealthy environment. BOY!! That hit me hard! So true and it reflected me where my energy is going now, when I want to get my life back, and living with my parents got me flesh backs from childhood. I know it’ll be maybe long and bumpy road, but there is no other option for me and I am stepping onto it. Thank you for your deep texts, I initially found you from your text about being a Black Sheep in a family. Greetings from Serbia

    • Annie on  

      Hi Marija,

      I’m so touched that somehow you found my blog all the way in Serbia and that you reached out! I’m also moved that the idea I posted of questioning how our life energy may have gone to simply surviving and getting through childhood prompted you to reflect on how and where this energy may still be going for you in ways that don’t feel supportive.

      The healing journey can feel like a long one, but it is truly a worthy one.

      I’m sending you so much warmth from California.

      Warmly, Annie

    • Brenda on  

      Now and then I google topics when this unexplainable void inside me is most intense.
      Your article came up. I will have to save it to reread it as it usually takes several readings to grasp the information.
      I was born into a severely neglectful family. My mother was an intense Narcissist. Father Alcoholic. 7 siblings. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted starting at the age of 2, by several friends of my mother and a brother and neighbors. Physical abuse was harsh and left me with medical issues I will have for the rest of my life.
      I don’t care what your perspective is on DID, I have several altars. One who I have recently come to understand is louder than the others in one aspect.
      After years in and out of therapy I found a good therapist only to be dropped by her because the agency she works for quit counseling survivors like me.
      I am on my own. I am not worried because I am well educated and have learned a lot. I am stuck with this one issue I have no idea how to fix.
      I like this article. But people like me do not heal, we learn. I wish there were therapists available that are more educated concerning deeper issues of people like me.

      • Annie on  

        Hi Brenda,
        I’m so touched that my words found you at a time when you may have needed them most. I’m so terribly sorry that your upbringing was severely neglectful, but I am inspired by your commitment to yourself and your perseverance to learn. It is no easy task. Sending you so much care.

        Warmly, Annie

  2. Sheila Wilensky on  

    You reminded me that it hurts to not experience adolescence, to be responsible for your parents. I’m working on this Annie! At my age — I’ll be 73 on Tuesday — I realize it can take many years to deal with this loss, and to forgive.

    • Annie on  

      Sheila,

      Happy belated birthday! I don’t think the recovery, grieving, and coming to terms of having not been able to be a child or teen ever ends. But what a testament that you’ve created a big, beautiful life for yourself despite it!

      Warmly, Annie

        • Annie on  

          Hi Maria,
          Thank you so much for your kind response. I’m so touched that my writing resonated with you, and it gave you the space to reflect on how your upbringing has impacted your relationships. What I know personally and professionally is that secure relationships can be learned and earned. So please don’t give up hope! Sending you lots of care.

          Warmly, Annie

  3. Tina on  

    Hi Annie,
    This post hit home with me. I lost my mom to a sudden illness when I was a teenager. Life became very serious all of a sudden and I was told that I needed to be the “rock” for my younger siblings. Not mourning her death at that time has played a keyrole as to why I have lived with Dysthymia for many years. I entered therapy four years ago at the age of 58 and have been “cleaning out my closet” of all of the life events that I hadn’t wanted to talk about. It has been quite a rough road, but I am able to feel the emotion now and have been grieving my mom and the time I lost with her as well as the younger me. Thank you for giving us all the permission to grieve. ❤

    • Annie on  

      Oh, Tina, I’m so touched by your words and your story. It’s brave and life-affirming of you to have begun therapy when you did. It sounds like you’re getting the support you need to let that little girl inside of your finally mourn. You’re being kind to yourself when you do this! I’m sorry for the loss of your mother and how it impacted you. And I’m glad that you’re taking steps to be a good inner mother to yourself.

      I’m sending you lots of warmth on your healing journey. Warmly, Annie

  4. Melinda on  

    It felt good to read what you wrote. I’m 70 and I feel that I am worth saving even though I feel like I was both robbed of a childhood and an adulthood. Thank you for your work and some of the remedies you offer to start the rebuilding process!

    • Annie on  

      Melinda, you’re MORE than worth saving! And no matter what our age, it’s never too late to work on our past and create a more fulfilled, enlivened future for ourselves. Truly.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my words. I’m sending you so much warmth. Annie

  5. Amy Schissler on  

    I was raised in an emotionally “void” household with a a depressed unavailable angry mother, and a father who was totally non-relational and stayed away from the house as much as possible due to the state of their marriage. I had one older sister (two years older) who since I was born, and to this day, has never wanted ANYTHING to do with me, and my mother never intervened. She was cruel to me. On top of it, we relocated every four years due to my dad’s career, so whatever friendship group I managed to establish was ripped out from under me in first, sixth, and sophomore year in high school.
    I grew into a “people pleaser” compassionate person (RN)–people pleasing was one way to keep the anger level down in my house(and later home)….Had very little self esteem throughout my twenties despite top grades in college and married when I was twenty-nine…..to what? A narcissist. I am 61, and after being divorced in 2013 after a 26 year marriage, and years of blaming myself for being “screwed up”, and “not enough”, and there being something wrong with me…and not being able to get over the divorce because he was unable to tell me why he divorced me (I was the perfect “husband pleasing wife”)…until toward the end I started asking him questions that made him angry and he didn’t want to answer. He traveled and was gone most of our marriage while I raised the three children, often worked part time as well to provide health insurance that his job perhaps didn’t provide, took care of the house and finances. I finally had some major physical health issues in my late forties and early fifties, (as well as by then struggling with depression and anxiety–never a word of affirmation from him, or affection, or support–he was a workaholic and did nothing but WORK). I finally told him I couldn’t handle him traveling as much as he did and asked him why did it make him angry that I was expressing a desire to spend more time with him….I told him I’d be thrilled if he came to me and said he missed me and wanted to be with me more. He couldn’t answer that question and just got angry.
    Shortly after that the divorce happened. I spent years after that trying to think what I had done wrong (he was very charming, talented and skilled, admired and sought after especially in his work….the “fix it” guy), so it HAD to be something lacking in me….until I happened just about 8 months ago to come across an article about narcissists and I nearly fell over backwards…..he didn’t match 100% of the characteristics (who does) but enough that I could finally see that THIS WHOLE THING was not my issue, but a inability on his part to maintain a relationship. I always felt he was emotionally stunted..we could never “discuss” anything or talk about feelings…it was his way or the high way and if I had negative feelings, it was MY “problem”. I was gaslighted, demeaned, ignored. But to everyone else he was the “greatest guy”. We had a very unstable life in terms of job changes and moves (most of the work of those fell on me) and it was exhuasting and we went through times of unemployment, Stress nearly killed me in my fifties…had a major GI bleed and almost died, colon issues and almost died, both hips replaced at 55 (I’m not heavy), arthritis, cataracts….and none of this runs on my family and I was always a strong healthy person.
    After the revelation of the narcissist’s modus operandi, it was a like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could finally stop seeing myself as the problem, and stop beating myself up for the divorce after I tried EVERYTHING to please him. Now I realize there is no pleasing. There were so many narcissistic characteristics that fit him. So I am now just progressing through the process of healing from years of being accused of the one being “screwed up because of your family” and the cause of any problems, years of being unloved and unsupported and treated cruelly at times even though I NEVER criticized him or any of his choices that led to the chaos in our lives….the events were always caused (and I bought it) by the other party. I am not sure I can ever reach “well adjusted” and ever trust my ability to choose another relationship (which doesn’t look likely…where I live all the men my age that are “decent” are already married with kids and grandkids–I live in the Midwest). Now I stuggle with him finally having a well paying stable job (NOW, that we are divorced!), and he is Santa Claus to the kids and spends time with them–they live far away from me but he gets to visit them because he STILL travels all the time and manages to fit in visits to them. He always pushed me to the background, and I think my children saw this all their lives and don’t value me very much….because he didn’t. Sometimes I feel like they treat me like I’m an imbecile….but they saw me beaten down so much (but I always put on the happy face–didn’t want to be like my mother)and ignored by him, I supposed it would be hard for them to imagine a normal relationship, or see me as a full healthy person. So that is very painful….thank God, they have turned out as good people although my son struggles with depression and has more my emotional makeup and feels things very deeply. Poor guy. Dad is the hero now, and I think they have forgotten how I basically raised them alone….and they certainly don’t know (as most children don’t) all the rest of the work that went into it. They never saw a partnership. Plus Dad has an”in” for the rest of his life….he is a master carpenter/general contractor so he forever will be able to help them remodel or build their homes, and again, be the hero. Mom bakes and scrambles around and takes care of everyone, but not too many people notice that. So I am trying to come to grips with the “persona” he has created of me in their eyes and trying to come to grips that they will probably never really get it (dad is always cheery and fun and can will do anything for someone–including he’s a great cook/griller). This makes me grieve and I have no biological family to share with or grieve with so at times I feel utterly alone. I do have some wonderful girlfriends and my faith, without which I would be lost (and sometimes still am!!). I need to stop listening to the lifelong messages of worthlessness, the lack of affirmation and learn to affirm myself and let my girlfriends affirm me, try to realize that while the majority of my life was wasted in a futile painful relationship, I still have some years ahead of me and I raised good, giving children. There could be something fun out there yet! Right now I am just enjoying the peace, the lack of upheaval and emotional (non-verbal) warfare, the lack of the frantic feeling of always trying to find the right thing to say and am enjoying the level of stability I have right now…I live alone, have a part time job caring for another elderly woman. My life is pretty boring and it can get very lonely…my friends here all have kids, grandchildren etc. here and get very busy (I have no grandkids yet and if I did, they wouldn’t be here), but I try to keep myself busy.
    I am sorry this is so long but your “Little Girl Blue”, struck a chord with me…one counselor asked me to describe my childhood in a few words and I chose the words “alone and bewildered”. Still qualify for that at times! Bewildered about my marriage, but after reading how the narcissist will “love bomb” you in the beginning to suck you in (which is exactly what happened), I didn’t feel quite so stupid. I wanted to leave at about 15 years into the marriage but got pregnant with my third child (eight years after the other two), so abandoned that idea. Life just isn’t easy!
    I don’t know what you do with these but if you you read it, thank you, and it helps me to write things down and reinforce what I know to be truth now. I am sure your site is a blessing to many. And I’m trusting my name will appear nowhere on here–only a few friends and I discuss this “truth”. My ex at least does support me financially very well, which I do appreciate and he is a good person in many other ways as well. No one (well, almost no one!) is ALL bad.

  6. Jenny on  

    Just the title brought me to tears I’ve been using little girl blue but in German as a screen name since the day I got my first computer in 1998. Hit the nail on the head.

    • Annie on  

      It sounds like you can really resonate with this, Jenny. I’m sending you a big hug from sunny California and hope that you can feel it. Warmly, Annie

  7. Lindsay Flatter on  

    Thank you for this.

    I never thought about my childhood being robbed, but I did grow up with a verbally abusive mother an a passive father (who was also verbally abused by her). As I was reading this I found myself nodding in agreement and tearing up in a few spots.

    I began eating disordered behavior around the age of 11 and was in full on ED mode by high school. I was never good enough in my controlling mother’s eyes, so it was no surprise by most this happened. I left home at age 19 and moved to NYC to follow my dreams, though not soon enough in my opinion. I dreamt of running away all through my teen years. All 3 of my siblings (1 older, 2 younger) also left as as soon as they could. I loved my new found freedom in the city of dreams and opportunity. But with a lack of an appropriate childhood and teenage-hood, my anorexia spiraled out of control. By age 24 I finally hit a breaking point when I was given 2 weeks to live when I wound up suicidal and in the hospital at around 90lbs (I’m 5’10” for perspective).

    Long story short, I was able to somehow bounce back thanks to 34 days in rehab, and a phenomenal outpatient team, including a therapist that helped me begin to heal from a lifetime’s worth of trauma. (I was also sexually assaulted while living in NYC, but that’s a whole other dialogue)

    Even after all that, my mother refused to make necessary changes in herself to help me. I had to move back home for about 6 months post rehab and it almost made me relapse. She dug her heels in anytime I asked her to come to therapy with me and didn’t understand why my therapist was asking for compromises from her to help me (which, she literally told my therapist at one point that, compromise is “not getting what I want”) Thankfully my outpatient team was able to solidify subsidized housing for me because they saw my current situation as “critical” and it bumped me to the top of the waiting list. I knew I needed to get out of my parents house and It was the first time in my life I didn’t question my judgement, my gut, and it felt good to be validated by professionals.

    Fast forward to the present day, 15 years later, I somehow managed to find and marry the man of my dreams and we have a relationship I’m grateful for daily. We have 2 living children, and our firstborn passed away at 10 months old from complications from a heart condition. Though the grief ebbs and flows, i never would’ve made it through any of that without the years of therapy, and learning/knowing how to properly communicate with my partner.

    As for my mother. My father eventually divorced her after 34 years of marriage. That was her wake up call and she finally started to get help for, what I’m realizing, is some deeply buried trauma. Likely from her own verbally abusive father. I was encouraged when I was starting to see improvement in her… then she stopped therapy and is now in a toxic co-dependent relationship where She’s become a doormat. But rationalizes it as helping this person. It’s sad, but I have stopped trying to speak up about it because it only leads to defensiveness, anger, and her blaming me for not wanting her to be happy.

    I recently had to re-start therapy after resurgence of major depression this past fall. It is helping a lot and I’m working through more of the trauma as well as grief and forgiveness—which I find the forgiveness to be ongoing and the most difficult.

    Now my husband and myself, with the blessing of my therapist, are considering distancing myself from my mother as boundaries are getting more difficult to manage, visits from her toxic and exhausting, and my children are getting increasingly more uncomfortable around her as well. I’m not sure if or how that will play out, but like most things, it’s a work in progress. But I’m grateful I’m at a point in my life where getting rid of toxic people in my life isn’t just a pipe dream.

    I wanted to die when I was 24 rather than face the difficult healing that was ahead of me. While it hasn’t been easy and I’m still working through a lot, I’m so grateful I decided charge forward on that difficult road. If you’re reading this and wanting to give up, know that the hard work is totally worth it. Life is beautiful.

    (And thank you for for letting me share this, Annie. Know you are a healing light.)

    • Annie on  

      Lindsay,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s amazing to see how resilient and strong you are through your story. I hope that you’re proud of yourself every single day for the life you’ve been able to create and for all that you’ve overcome. I so appreciate your honesty and vulnerability and I’m so glad that my blog could be even a small part in your healing journey.

      With warmth, Annie

  8. Simran on  

    Dear Annie,

    This was an enlightening read, I found myself ticking all the boxes and sobbing so hard as I did. I am 22 at the moment, I moved away from home 3 years ago and seem to have locked away all the memories of my life before that time. I grew up with an alcoholic abusive father who gambled his income away, beat my mother and me. My mother was depressed and constantly consumed by her own sorrows. I had to start taking care of my younger brother when I was 5 years old and I didn’t realise till today that that changed the course of my life. I was an outcast from grade 1-12, always looking for love and support in others. Started dating very early in life, regrettable decisions. My own mother was my worst critic, giving me small portions for meals because I was getting “too fat”. It’s been a ride, a terrible one but It feels nice to be aware and initiate a change. I find myself wishing I had a childhood like other kids or like my SO. When he talks about his childhood I can’t help but feel envious and a little bitter. It’s a process truly, thank you for writing this beautiful article!

    Warmest Regards,
    Simran

    • Annie on  

      Simran, I’m very touched by your open and honest share about your childhood experience. I’m so sorry that your experience has been so extremely difficult, but your commitment to healing is really truly inspiring. It sounds like you’ve done (and are doing) wonderful work to support yourself. And I’m touched, too, that you found value in my words. I truly hope that they always feel helpful to you. Warmly, Annie

  9. Aimee on  

    Thank you for your wonderful article. I just came across it on a CPTSD page. I am in that stage of attempting to grieve, feel and accept my history. Not necessarily in that order even though it feel like it’s being done all at once. Your article was validating and feels hopeful. I will have to go back now and listen to that song a little more closely. Thank you for your time and effort you put out in the world.
    Aimee

    • Annie on  

      Hi Aimee, I’m so honored that my writing felt validating and hopeful. Please remember that’s it’s not only absolutely okay to grieve, but it’s necessary to, however the process may present itself for you. I’m sending you lots of warmth on your healing journey.
      Warmly, Annie

  10. Mo on  

    Hi Annie,

    I will try not to make this long but this resonated so deeply. I resonate music with a lot of things as well and reflect on. Life is a song. I told a few friends this and my teacher months ago, so this is confirmation finding this article today that I’m not alone.

    My siblings and I were completely robbed of our childhood no stable home life. and then my mother passed at 39 when I was 14 and my father was the cause and he threw all the responsibility on me. I’m the youngest and I was responsible for my siblings and got blamed for everything.

    I’m doing the work, it’s a process people think I had a privilege life but it was the opposite. Glad God has kept me and that I’m alive to tell my story. I realize a lot of the adapting that I’ve done since I been on my own is because of my childhood. I had to raise myself and be an adult before I even knew what that entaled.

    I allow myself to feel and get angry and grieve when need be. I don’t punish myself for feeling even though I got punished for feeling and having a mind and my own thoughts. My father always hated that I had a mind and my independence. He wanted to give us our thoughts and feelings and let that be of his own, because of his need to control and be powerful like you see a ruler in a movie. He would watch things and say that’s how I’m going to treat my family.

    When I would watch these movies, I knew where he got it from. It’s like he took on the personalities of these characters. He even had dissociative identity disorder. I found that out when I was majoring in psychology in 2005. I got so many answers to things, even with mother. That at times I had to put down the book because I was sobbing so much.

    I felt like darn, if I knew these things I could have helped but I didn’t. She trusted me so much but I couldn’t save her from him or Gods calling on her life. She suffered too much, was beaten pretty much everyday and verbally too. Her spirit and heart broke. There was no love.

    Into my late 20s and 30s and now that I’m 40 I know it’s ok for me to truly have an abundant life. I’m still finding my way. I did want a family but I took care of everyone and it’s not easy. I’m trying to own a house by next year, I’m giving myself the stability I never had. I’m not and never was waiting on anyone to give it to me.

    I started college late because I was tired of making up classes and the responsibility of everything when I was a teen. I left my father house as a teen. Because I had no life. He didn’t want to let me mainly and mother out of his site he was controlling in every way. But I fought him. You can’t control peoples every move and there’s no freedom to live.

    I’ve met men in the past who wanted to control me and baby trap me and I ended it because I knew the signs. The level of peace I have right now, it would be hard for someone to disturb this groove. But I know love exist but it needs to feed my soul because music feeds my soul.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Mo, thank you for your honesty and vulerability in sharing your story. I am so proud of you for doing the work to integrate and make sense of your past, and for honoring your feelings. You are absolutely allowed to grieve your childhood and pursue a fulfilled adulthood. I hope you have a wonderful week. Thank you for reading the post and writing in! Warmly, Annie

  11. Dakota Laurin on  

    I’m 19 in uni, taking classes but just can’t seem to care enough to make grades. Won’t write my story, no one cares, but man step dad rocked my shit a lot of times haha. I feel stuck, like I should be progressing more than this, doing more, but how do I since I never even dreamed I would make it this far? I don’t have anyone to talk with, I got friends but more surface level than anything. Why am I even bothering to type, I have been looking for answers and advice and a friend but I just can’t. Maybe looking for a club or something? I just don’t know…

    • Annie on  

      Hi Dakota, so much of what you mentioned – feeling disinterested, surface-level relationships, feeling lost because you’ve eclipsed known territory – these are signs I recall from my own journey. They’re signs, too, that it might be a good time to seek out professional support. I would invite you to explore the therapy resources at your University. If they can’t be of support, try looking for local graduate schools in your area – many of them have very low fee therapy center clinics where training therapists see folks on lower incomes (every student ever!). I hope you’ll look into these supports and please know that I’m thinking of you and wishing you my very best. Warmly, Annie

  12. Gianna on  

    Thank you so much for this. I’m 17 and until now, I never fully realized I had been robbed of my childhood. I grew up living with a psychologically ill mother who refused to get treatment, and a family who never really did anything to help me. I had to take care of her emotionally and sometimes physically, my emotions and needs were constantly neglected, and I was verbally abused and manipulated. I think I stopped feeling like a child at 8 years old. I didn’t get to worry about the same things other kids did, cause I was worrying about my mom not getting too sad and taking one too many pills. My mom constantly talked about suicide, and sometimes said things like we should commit together. I grew up too soon, and I always get this melancholic feeling when I see pictures of me as a child or just think about my childhood and the things I wish I had, the things I could’ve done, or how I wish someone was there for me. Deep inside I still feel like that hurting 8 year old, and I think that’s why I feel inadequate with other kids my age or so scared of growing up. I know that’s something that will take a long time to get over. No one in my life really gets what I’ve been through, so thank you for writing this, it made me feel understood and validated.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Gianna, thank you so much for your openness and vulnerability in sharing your experience! I’m so pleased this post could validate you even a little bit and I hope it brought even a small sense of hope and healing. Being a parentified child and growing up with a mentally ill parent is so hard. I’m glad you’re seeing your story more plainly now as this will serve you as you do your healing work and make a better adulthood for yourself. I’ll be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things. Warmly, Annie

    • Jessica on  

      I can relate too. My mother was mentally ill and talked about suicide often. She would threaten it when angry to harm me and others around her. She would cry and regress into a child like state expecting me and others to comfort her. I later learned that my mom was abused and molested as a child, along with facing effect and emotional trauma. It doesn’t excuse her failure to parent me, but shows that not healing your trauma will hurt children. I’d like to think that, if she healed her pain, she would have been a better mom. She had her “calm” moments that made me think she had potential.

      I am glad that you are piecing this all together now. You are on the right track and are ensuring a better life for yourself. *hugs*

  13. Jessica on  

    This is such a beautiful article. In my case, I struggle to say that I lost my childhood. In a sense, I still want to believe that it was good in some ways. Though I acknowledge the abuse, parentification, trauma, not being validated, lack of boundaries, etc, I also remember the fun moments. The moments in between the trauma, some of which gave me smiles and joys. However, those don’t take away the trauma that was in place. Such as being an emotional punching bag for my mom, or my dad turning a blind eye or engaging in the abuse directly. I used to give my dad a slap on the wrist since he was a victim of abuse by my mom. And while that is true, he had a choice as an adult. His failure to deal with his trauma failed me. I am currently 23 and still live at home. I do want to save money and move out so I can continue healing. I have a therapist I meet with weekly who helps me process my trauma. I want to distance myself and if needed, cut off members of my family from my life. Everyone, aunts and uncles, are all abusive and hurtful people. I also suffered trauma in the form of bullying. Physical, emotional, and exclusion. Even teachers were abusive verbally towards me. I also experienced sexual trauma online/as an adult. I realize that abuse is so common in life. I have talked to people who have had similar pasts as mine. I feel it’s important recognize abuse. To not only give yourself the love you need, but also to not pass on the cycle to others. If we can do that then we can give some hope back in the world.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Jessica, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in sharing your story. Being a parentified child and growing up with an abusive parent is so hard. I’m glad you’re seeing your story plainly and seeking out external supports.

      If you also feel that either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you processing the impacts of your childhood, I’ll look forward to seeing you inside and working with you personally. In the meantime, please take such good care of yourself, you’re so worth it. Warmly, Annie

  14. H H H on  

    I grew up with people and a culture already abusive, but the living situation made it worse. One parent was severely ill and disabled; the other dealt with this trauma via alcoholism. I was a child caregiver, responsible for dispensing meds, giving injections and providing nursing care while the other parent worked. I did laundry, cooked, cleaned, grocery shopped and ran herd on younger siblings. I was expected to meet very adult responsibilities yet received no aknowledgement, appreciation or credit for meeting them. The additional maturity meant nothing whatsoever. Our lives were rigidly controlled. We couldn’t even choose what we wanted to wear each day. Wear your blue dress, white shoes, gold hair barette.

    I was an adult for chores, infantilized in all other aspects. Discipline was harsh and swift. Often we were all punished for what only one child actually did – “Line up!”

    You are a child only in age and size – and know it.

    • Annie on  

      Hi there, thank you for sharing your experience. Being a parentified child can feel frustrating and isolating, especially if you felt infantilized in other aspects. I’m sorry you had to experience that and I’m pleased if this post validated your experience even in the slightest. I’m wishing you all my best. Warmly, Annie

  15. Daniel on  

    I’m realizing I lost some of my childhood because I was home schooled all of elementary school and the last three years of high school (and for those last three years of high school, “home school” meant “playing online games all day”). I did attend public school for 6th and 7th grade and a private high school for 9th grade (skipped 8th). Now I’m very successful, have a PhD and a dream job, beautiful wife and kids, dozens of academic publications, financially very well off. All of that 100% self-made. But all my relationships (even wife and kids) feel surface deep, like they’re painted on. The funniest thing is I still feel extremely strong connections to classmates from the 6th grade but I have trouble connecting to those people for the very obvious reason that they’re like “why is this guy from sixth grade friending me on Facebook” 🙁

    • Annie on  

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing your story with us. I’m sorry that some of those important relationships don’t feel as deep as you’d like. Our early social connections can sometimes affect how we relate to others later in life. If this is something you’d like to change, I’d encourage you to seek support in exploring what impact your childhood may be having on your current relationships.

      Please take such good care of yourself.

      Warmly, Annie

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