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When will I stop feeling sad about my childhood?

When will I stop feeling sad about my childhood? | Annie Wright, LLC | Berkeley, CA | www.anniewright.com

So lately, I’ve been hearing an increase of questions – in my clinical work, in my blog and social comments, in emails in my inbox – asking questions to the effect of: 

But when will I stop feeling sad about my childhood? 

When will it be over? When will my sadness and anger stop?

I shouldn’t still be feeling this way, should I?

I have some thoughts about questions like these and how you can best support yourself if this is your experience. 

When will I stop feeling sad about my childhood? | Annie Wright, LLC | Berkeley, CA | www.anniewright.com

When will I stop feeling sad about my childhood?

Your grief about your childhood is legitimate.

If you come from a dysfunctional family, from adverse early beginnings, if you experienced childhood abuse, neglect, relational trauma, or dysfunctional that otherwise impaired your development as a young adult and adult, I want you to consider something:

Your grief about your childhood is completely legitimate.

Sadness, anger, despair, longing, sorrow, rage, resentment… all of these are appropriate responses to the experience you had.

What do I mean by this?

All children, all babies, toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens deserve the experience of being unconditionally loved. Protected. Supported for being exactly who and how they are. 

Every child born on this planet deserves the experience of relational safety, of being honored and respected as a person, and made to feel loved and nurtured in all ways.

If you didn’t have this, if, in fact, you had something quite different and the opposite (whether this was consistently or at times), your childhood was therefore marked. Marred. And possibly lost. 

And this – the loss or rupture of your precious, irreplaceable childhood experience – is absolutely something you get to grieve.

You get to be upset that you didn’t have stable, functional, loving, devoted, and consistent caregivers.

You get to be angry that you didn’t experience a sense of safety – both in the world and in your own home.

You get to grieve and regret and wish for something different to have happened to you.

Your grief about your childhood is completely legitimate. 

It is, what I call, an abstract grief experience – sometimes less socially-legitimized than, let’s say, the actual death of a loved one – but it is still 100% legitimate and worthy of feeling your feelings about. 

So that’s the first thing I want you to understand: you absolutely get to feel the way you feel about your childhood. 

Your grief (and all its attendant complex feelings) is totally, perfectly legitimate. 

Like with real grief, it may never fully end. Not completely.

Now, you may be reading this essay thinking, “Okay, Annie, I get that I am allowed to feel how I feel about my childhood, but I still want to know when it will end. When will my sadness end? It’s so uncomfortable and inconvenient!”

First, I truly get it. 

Feeling what seems like never-ending waves of sadness or anger can be so frustrating if not downright disruptive to our daily experience, can’t it?

But I want you to consider something that may be provocative to hear: you may never fully stop feeling grief about your lost or marred childhood. 

But, that doesn’t mean your grief will always feel the way it feels now.

For example, if you’ve ever lost someone you love (and I’m so sorry if you have!), you might know that grief has stages and seasons to it. 

After the death or loss of our loved one, the grief is acute, it’s peak, it’s so sharply painful in its emotional intensity.

With time and with seemingly endless experiences of allowing ourselves to feel sad, to let our feelings roll through us, the grief in its intensity and acuity may ebb with time.

But it may never fully go away. 

You don’t forget about the spouse you lost to cancer. 

But maybe, years down the road, you feel less constantly, daily swamped with grief and loss every day. 

You can move through your life and your memory of your spouse brings up sadness and a throb of pain in your heart when your mind lands on her, but you don’t feel the acuity of your grief as intensely as you did in the early days after her loss.

But still, days like her birthday, or your wedding day, or Valentine’s day, these days may always feel harder and may evoke your grief, your reminder of the person you loved and lost.

So, too, I think that our experience of grieving our childhood exists in seasons.

There are times, particularly when we’re really just beginning our healing journeys and start to confront the reality of what happened to us and what we didn’t have, that the grief about our lost childhood may take our breath away in its intensity.

But, and I truly believe this, as you move forward in your healing journey, as you do the work to recover from the childhood you had, your grief may change. 

It may ebb, it may feel less acute. Your mind may feel less preoccupied and your heart less consumed with feelings you’d rather not feel. 

And still, too, like with the grief that comes from the death of a loved one, there may always be triggers, times when your grief gets piqued and it peaks because coming from a dysfunctional childhood is like living with a constant series of little losses.

Coming from a dysfunctional childhood involves a constant series of little losses.

I say often that coming from a dysfunctional family system is like living with a constant little series of losses. 

It’s the kind of experience where, as you move through your adult life, you’re reminded so often of the many little losses you had coming from the background you had. 

It’s the kind of loss that gets triggered when you watch your friend dance with her father during the Father-Daughter dance at her wedding, knowing you’ll never have the same thing. 

It’s the kind of sadness that comes up when you read books like Little House on The Prairie or Little Women and wish for something as wholesome as those characters experienced with their fathers, mothers, and siblings.

It’s the kind of loss that gets evoked when you watch the other family in your nanny share situation have two sets of grandparents living within hours of the young family, always able and willing to provide postpartum support and babysitting duties (and those grandparents are actually safe and trustworthy enough to leave the newborn with.) You marvel at what that might feel like. How much easier new parenting would be if you had that.

It’s the kind of loss that’s prompted when you hear that your friend was given a hundred thousand dollar gift of a down payment for his first house and your mind reels at imagining coming from a family as financially functional and stable as that, knowing you’ll have to earn every penny over many, many years to have that same thing for yourself. 

Coming from a dysfunctional family background is like living with a constant little series of losses even as an adult with childhood long behind you. 

So please, if you’re shaming yourself for still feeling your feelings about your lost or marred childhood, remember that, like with the grief over the death of a loved one, countless triggers will be woven into your adult experience that will continue to evoke this sadness for you. 

But here’s how you can care for yourself through your sadness. 

And still, even when you can understand and legitimize your grief and hold space and compassion for the many ways it gets triggered over time, it doesn’t feel easy or comfortable, does it?

While there are things I think we can do to support our healing and grieving process to help it move more swiftly and healthily through us, I do want to say this:

We can’t eliminate grief from your human experience. And we would never want to.

Your sadness, your anger, your grief, your big feelings about what you didn’t receive are not only legitimate responses to what happened to you, but they are also deeply human and very important responses. 

Your heart feels, your soul hurts. 

This is how you know you’re alive and attuned to your human experience.

Provocative though it may be to say, I actually think it’s a good thing that you feel what you feel. 

It means you are connected to your body and that you’re allowing your feelings to exist.

And, still, I know it can feel preoccupying and never-ending to deal with the ongoing grief work of childhood, so please, consider that you can support yourself to move more quickly and healthily through your experience by:

1. Actively grieve: Actively grieving means allowing the feelings to come up when and how they do and not trying to diminish or dismiss them. What we resist, persists. So the more you actually allow your feelings to be present, paradoxically, the more they will move through you and ultimately change and possibly ebb with time.

2. Actively support yourself: Actively supporting yourself means not shaming or shoulding yourself when your feelings arise, even as you allow them. Speak compassionately to yourself, remind yourself that your feelings are legitimate and that they make sense given the childhood you had. Speak to yourself as kindly as a good enough mother would speak to her child. 

3. Actively seek out others who understand: Few things are more healing and supportive than having others in our lives who truly get what we have lived through. The understanding, the mirroring, the empathy and camaraderie that can come from being validated by someone who has lived through (and still lives through) what you did and do can be enormous. You may be able to seek this understanding out in a good friend, or in a 12-step group, or with your therapist, or with cohorts of students who come from backgrounds like you gathered in a private Facebook community for peer support. Wherever you find this help, please actively try to seek it out and allow it to help your own grieving and healing process. 

I hope this essay felt helpful to you if you, like so many of us, have asked yourself the question, “When will I stop feeling sad about my childhood?”

And now I’d love to invite you to share in the comments: 

What’s one phrase you say to yourself that supports you and your feelings when you start to feel sad about your childhood?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments so our community of 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.

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. Sarah Stanley on  

    When I grieve my lost and lonely, isolated and scapegoated existence, it is rage, despair, and then numbing as the feelings exhaust me. Mine was a violent, neglectful childhood in the area of love and emotional support. I was essentially given the message that many boys receive when they show sensitivity, “Suck it up and Smile or go to your room.” Don’t talk back. You look like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack. You are not nervous, how could you be nervous? Stupid. You are a black sheep. Go to your room for the entire quarter until you bring your grades up. Why didn’t you get a full A instead of an A-. I was also often accused of having evil motives and thoughts that had never occurred to me. Taught to swim in the deep end with my dad saying swim to me and then backing up as I reached him. He thought it was funny. I was five. Five was the age I got my first beating too. A babysitter lied and said I would not go to bed when she would not let me. She actually blocked me from sleeping by not letting me go to my room and get in bed. Drunk Dad believed her and beat me that night at 11:00 PM after they got home from a night of Navy partying. I feel cruel because at age 60, two years ago, I stopped calling and cut off contact and resisted all of the golden sister’s attempts to make me toe the mark. On the other hand, I feel free to be me now. I miss the good times which were just enough to make the entire 60 years intermittent reward. They also sent me nice gifts sometimes. I don’t thank them any more and they finally stopped. One of my parents called and hung on the phone for a minute or so and then hung up without saying a word. My father told me once that would make me call. Not this time. And the guilt is with me today, along with the lump in my throat and the quivering and the tears. Am I cruel and a horrible daughter since they are in their mid-eighties? I will never know because I raised myself after I left home and all I know is that it hurts. The appearance of the perfect naval aviator and his dutiful successful daughters is marred and they blame me. Namaste’ I hope every one reading is having a better day than I.

    • Gina Puccio on  

      Sarah, my story is so incredibly similar to yours. I was never physically abused, but there were many times over the years that I wished my dad would just hit me instead of shame me and belittle me because I felt it would be easier to heal from ‘sticks and stones’ as opposed to words. Now at 51, I’m still struggling with many of the same issues. I try to think of affirmations to pull myself up by my bootstraps, sometimes it works other times their continuing criticisms send me spiraling into negative thoughts and depression. I work with my family and so our lives are very intermingled in many different ways. Finally, at 51, I’m learning (albeit slowly) to love myself and give myself grace for those more difficult days. And when I have a good day I embrace it and rejoice in it because they are few and far between. Thank you for sharing your story. ‘We’ are not alone.

      • Annie on  

        Gina, thank you so much for validating Sarah’s experience and for sharing more of your own story. It’s so powerful when we share our stories and hear other people say, “Yes, me too.” Thank you for giving Sarah and anyone else who stumbles on this comment thread that experience. Warmly, Annie

    • Maria Greene on  

      Annie, thank you for this…permission to acknowledge that what happened was not how children are meant to be raised yet I somehow survived. I have always known that survival is not enough it’s living that matters. Living with parents with mental health problems at a time before Talk Therapy was as commonplace as it is now, before SSRIs were invented made me feel different. However, when I feel sad about a specific incident from my childhood that comes to mind, I acknowledge my sadness, I remember the moment of the memory and I pray for healing from the confusion and hurt of that memory. This is a process that I repeat every time the painful memories assault me.

      • Annie on  

        Maria, I’m really touched by your comment and I’m so glad you found some permission in the essay to better validate your own experience. It sounds like you have a beautiful practice that you do when triggered and it says to me that you’re doing wonderful healing work and really showing up for yourself. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. Warmly, Annie

    • Annie on  

      Sarah, it sounds like you’ve been through a lot in life and it also sounds, too, like you’re taking care of yourself and holding the boundaries that will best serve you. I’m glad about that. I truly hope that hearing Gina (and others’ responses) on this thread feel validating to you. It sounds like many people resonate with aspects of your story. Thank you for taking the time to share so openly. Warmly, Annie

    • Bonnie on  

      Wow, what a childhood. Mine was not terrific even though I tell everyone it was good. Now at the age of 64 I am carrying lots of things I should not be carrying. Some of my childhood is now affecting my adult life. Wish I could go back and change a lot. Take care and God Bless

  2. Joe Monahan on  

    Annie
    I am so thankful for your work, and look forward to your encouragement via your emails every week. So much so at times I feel they are letters addressed straight to me. When I started my journey to become my best self, I said ” by worldly standards” I had it all. Great kids , Job, home, friends, savings etc etc. But daily I felt at a loss, empty, living in fear, scared constantly . I know now after 18 mos of trying to understand why I at minimum know it is not me (so to speak) Alcoholic father, constant yelling screaming, police at house, priests would visit to calm down household. One event stood out as I began journaling and after an online line class by Siegel and Firestone , becoming your best self I journaled a memory from age 5 where dad pulled car in garage left in run with all of us in house . The memory of mom sweeping us out and chaos that ensued surely was implanted in my DNA and out look on life . Through life I was a fighter, survived and won at all costs. In business world weirdly so I was rewarded for this, but inside I was empty , lost scared. Now I understand why I react , why so naturally I respond poorly when i feel loved one, a coworker or my children back away . My reaction is based on my childhood. I am doing better , and just the knowledge of why is the majority of the battle. I have done cognitive therapy , read 15 or more books on attachment theory , boundaries etc ( hold me tight my favorite) and enjoyed your insights and wisdom. To all, it gets better. Journaling helped me, counseling, reading and living in present moment as well. You need to to the work , talk with Annie or other cognitive therapist. In the end I was a child and did what i thought I had to do, it wasn’t wrong it was the best I could at the time. I had to learn I can’t act that way, or believe that way now at age 56. The best to all on your journeys, remember you our loved , for me it was realizing God loves me first, unconditionally . Give and accept the love to and from others and change the world one person at a time. Sincerely Joe M

    • Annie on  

      Joe, I’m very touched by your share and your story. It sounds like you’ve done (and are doing) wonderful work to support yourself and make sense of your childhood experience. I can hear so much self-compassion in your post and appreciate that you remind yourself that “In the end I was a child and did what i thought I had to do, it wasn’t wrong it was the best I could at the time.” And that now, at 56, maybe those ways of being and doing no longer serve you. I think that’s a place so many of us arrive at and I appreciate you sharing your experiences so honestly. And I’m touched, too, that you value my regular essays. I truly hope that they always feel helpful to you. Warmly, Annie

  3. Erik on  

    Often I feel like it’s not fair towards my mother to grieve my childhood emotional neglect and verbal abuse, because she had her own struggles too. I’ve got to remind myself that that is no excuse for my mother’s behavior. As I write this I recognize that this is another case of me not allowing myself to feel the way I feel. I guess it stemms from my experience how my family was not able or willing to understand and sooth me. Thank you Annie for your blog post. I really struggle with self-compassion.
    Kind regards
    Erik

    • Annie on  

      Erik, I’m really touched by your comment and I truly hope you’ll stay tuned for my next essay (coming out on Sunday the 16th) which addresses this very commonly shared issue: the struggle to hold the duality of painful and positive experiences, particularly with our mothers. I really appreciate your reflections on how and why this may feel hard for you to do. And even though you say you struggle with self-compassion, I would say that it takes a lot of self-compassion to reflect in the way you just did. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and to read the essay. Warmly, Annie

    • Bonnie on  

      I never really realized the issues especially at my age 64. All come from my childhood. My mom I love her dearly but I have still problems stemming from her. My step dad well I was always afraid of him and felt like god forbid if I do anything wrong what will happen to me when I get home from school. One time I walked in the rain for hours because I got a bad mark on my pumpkin Math paper and when I got home out came the strap and I seem to get hit a lot. I never learned how to handle things growing up. I am looking back and wish I can change things. My mom and me get along pretty good but she would be the first one to belittle me I front of someone. I always tried to do so good in everything and feel I need approval of everything with everybody. Oh my how I wish I could start over and look into the future then and corrected so much. I often get mad at myself even though sometimes I should not. I tried to be s great mom and raise my son basically on my own and now we have not talked for six months and he keeps his daughters from me. I don’t understand a lot but maybe some of my childhood rubbed off on me being a parent. I always tried to be a good parent and a good person but I must of done something wrong. Sad, I will never get to know

  4. Laura Grolla on  

    I say, “It’s ok to not be ok,” and, “I have done enough for today and I am enough.” My favorite: “In this moment I am at peace,” when I get waves of anxiety or shame. All of this soothes my body/emotion self.

    • Annie on  

      Laura, I love these phrases! It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work to know how to support yourself when you get triggered. Thank you so much for generously sharing your go-to self-soothing phrases with us.

      Warmly, Annie

  5. C on  

    Your article was just what I needed to hear tonite, as well as the comments from others. I am currently in therapy doing EMDR to deal with the trauma. One of my constant thoughts is: I am too old to be dealing with this still- I should have let it go by now. (unfortunately, friends say this to me also). I am going to take these ideas to heart and try to be kinder to myself. Thanks

    • Annie on  

      Hi Carole,

      Well, one of my big hopes is that, through the magic of the internet and Google, etc, my words will reach folks when they most need to hear them. So I’m so glad this article came to you when you needed it.

      Please, if friends or anyone else says you’re too old to still be dealing with this, ignore them. You can love them, bless them, care for them, but you don’t have to listen to their feedback. They don’t know your personal history and internal experience. They are not the expert of you. Only you are.

      I’m so glad that you’re in EMDR now and I truly hope that it feels helpful and supportive to you.

      Warmly, Annie

  6. Ami on  

    Thank you so much to all who have already shared, particularly Erik (your comment was sorely needed for me today) as well as Maria, Laura and C whose comments really resonated with my personal experience.

    For me, my phrase is “both are true”.

    It’s a fairly recent phrase for me. My childhood memories are often very conflicting, with parental figures and caregivers who did awful things but also provided for me through their own problems. A smiling face and a biting remark; shelter but no stability. That sort of thing.

    When I am conflicted on how I should feel about these contradictory memories, I simply say “both are true” and allow the conflict to exist. It’s been very helpful, and affirming to all the younger versions of myself that couldn’t work out how to feel.

    • Annie on  

      Ami, I so appreciate your share and feel like you took a peak at my next essay coming out next Sunday where I explore what’s possible when we can hold the duality of our feelings towards our caregivers. Thank you so much for sharing what supports you when you start to feel triggered. It sounds like you’re practicing being a very good inner parent to your younger self. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Warmly, Annie

  7. Jenny on  

    I say to myself: „No feeling is final“. As a now 40 year old child of an alcoholic father who committed suicide and a mother suffering from schizophrenia, it’s hard to find people with similar experiences and to not feel like an alien. At the moment I am going through another wave of grief and alienation. But “this too shall pass” (until next wave …) Thanks for your great website!

  8. Laura Osborne on  

    Thank you so much for the article. I am a recovering alcoholic. I started in AA in my early 30’s and had a good 10+ years. I don’t know when I started drinking again but I’ve been drinking for 20+ years.
    I’m now working on my 4th step (moral inventory). Realizing that so much of why I drank was from fear and anger. Then as I peeled back more of the onion I realized I’ve been afraid of everything for as long as I can remember. My mom was a narcissist and so was my grandmother who also lived with us. My father was an alcoholic and just blended in with the woodwork. Mom constantly blaming, shaming, very angry. Hard spankings with a paddle. The worst was when my twin sister would be getting her beating and she would be screaming and begging for mom to stop. My little soul could barely stand it. I don’t remember My Pain but I do remember the pain I felt for my sister.
    My mom is still alive at 96. Lives in a nursing home and I have had no contact with her for 5/6 years. Been in therapy for 8 years this time.
    I’m very thankful for my 12 step work that is allowing me to grieve my childhood again and hopefully take that child in my arms and love her a little more each day.
    When I feel depression coming over me I try to ask myself what is bothering me. And I say things like Laura it’s going to be ok. We will walk through this together. And take her hand and pray to the God of my own understanding ❤️

    • Annie on  

      Hi Laura, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and for sharing your story so generously. I’m sure many blog readers here will see themselves in what you shared. I want you to know that I’m so proud of you for getting back into therapy and for taking such good care of that little girl inside of you. I know recovery and staying sober can feel painful and isolating sometimes, but please know that you’re not alone and that you’re doing such a wonderful job. Take such good care of yourself, Laura. You’re so worth it. Warmly, Annie.

  9. Laurent on  

    Between the physical and emotional abuse, the parents fighting, being spoken to intermittently, harshly and then in the wrong language to even communicate at school, let alone make any friends has truly ruined my life. I feel like my life has been one uphill struggle playing catch up to have a social life, to meet a good life partner, be a good dad. And I haven’t succeeded, things feel ‘enough,’ my days are filled with regret as I spend them with clever, interesting funny people from nice backgrounds who don’t want to connect. School, college, uni were all lonely places, watching others speak endlessly, carefully, happily having fun whilst I struggled alone and sad. Now I take my children to parties, friends’ houses, events and it hurts so bad. I just want to scream ‘Why me!’ into a hole. I could accept it, but it leaves its mark, I am me, not blessed with instant wit and humour but constantly playing catch up. I can let the shame go, and the fawning and the constant desire to run away from home as a child, and feelings of freedom on leaving to uni. But I will always be me, I cannot change that to someone who can engage with the right kind of people.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Laurent, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in sharing your experience with us. It takes a lot of bravery to do that. I’m sorry you’ve had to navigate those tough experiences, I know that can feel painful and isolating. Please know that you’re not alone and take such good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie

  10. Rose on  

    Thank you so much for this article, I was having emotional ups and downs for weeks, and I could never figure out why, but when I stumbled onto this article, I realized I’m grieving the childhood I never had. Although I didn’t have a negative environment growing up, I was burdened by a secret at five years old that taught me I wasn’t enough as I was. I thought if people knew who I was, they wouldn’t love me anymore. I missed out on so much of just being a carefree kid without any regrets, and just having a normal life. I felt alone with my struggles and had to grow up too fast to emotionally support myself. I had to quickly understand myself, regulate my emotions, hide my reactions, and pretend to be someone I’m not because I was so ashamed of who I was. I would always ask why it had to be me that got this burden, and I’m still so angry at how much that shame took from me. I also tend to minimize my emotions, so it really helped to be validated by this article, thank you.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Rose, you’re so welcome! 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 that shame is so hard. I’ll be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things.

      And if either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you, I’ll look forward to seeing you inside and working with you personally. Take such good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie

  11. kin on  

    i tell myself “i love you. i’ll never leave you. everyone else in the whole world can leave but i got you. and god got us” whenever this work comes up i always try to envision connecting with my younger self in those memories, watching her, and i just offer that love and support that she didn’t get. i read once, that “we never realize as kids we would be the ones to come and save us” and i really feel that. thank you for this.

    • Annie on  

      Those are such beautiful affirmations, Kin. And I’m proud of you (and for all of us) for becoming the person we most needed when we were little. It’s no small feat. I’m sending you all my best. Warmly, Annie

    • Sarah on  

      Ooh,I love this so much, thaanks for sharing! “we never realize as kids we would be the ones to come and save us”.
      At 44, I am the blessed mum of a 3 years-old, that I love unconditionally. I will never go away, never make her feel that she isn’t good enough.
      My coach recommended that I put up a picture of my toddler-self on the mirror and speak to it kindly twice a day. I am completely unable to do this, even after two weeks, without bursting in tears. I just think of that innocence and the massive trucks slamming into her face when she’ll be 3, then 9, then 14, then 19. No emotional security, a mother who leaves, a father who was never available, a violent, toxic stepmother and this young woman who ends up with social services… as a mum, I can’t fathom putting my child through all of this. Why did they?
      A year ago a DNA test made me realize my biological father wasn’t who i thought it was. Now that I have just confirmed his identity (he sadly passed away several years ago), i grieve for my childhood and can’t avoid wondering what it would have been like with my real father….

  12. Julianna on  

    “It’s okay to cry and ask for help because you weren’t strong enough to do it back then, but you are stronger now” I struggled with in my childhood a lack of emotions because it was the only thing that my childhood self could think of to do to keep myself from going down the wrong path. I wasn’t ready to deal with my emotions then. I am now, but it is extremely hard because I am in the process of grieving my childhood since I am a junior in college and realizing how much I went through. I’ve been dealing with a lot of self reflection and indirectly reflecting on my childhood, and I can’t stop being sad. It doesn’t help that my sister and my mom are both still deep in their addictions and I’ve gotten no closure from that aspect of my childhood. I just thought things would be so much better at this point in my life and I am grieving the fact that it’s not. I just want my sister back and I don’t know if that will ever happen.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Julianna, thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your sister and your mom, I can imagine how painful and isolating those relationships may feel.

      Grief in any form is painful and deeply challenging. I’m so proud of you for doing the self-reflection and personal work, and I’ll be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things.

      If my forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you, 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

  13. Cayla on  

    There is a lot of things I still wish to say to my Mom who passed Jan. 2014.
    I’ve now been in my own toxic relationships I never thought I could get out of, being roped into a lease while trying to end an engagement. I hold a lot of anger towards her, because if I could do it by myself and with only a few friends’ help.. then why couldn’t she? I now understand what an abusive relationship is and that it’s not easy to walk away from. But I just wish she was here so we could talk… the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Mom wherever you are, I forgive you and love you. I’m sorry you found it hard to love yourself.. but I also hold so much anger towards you.. I can’t help but wonder how my life could have turned out if you would have made better decisions for you & your children.

    You did your best with the cards you were dealt, I’ll give you that. But now I’m 24 and stuck wondering what the h*ll I’m doing with my life and where all these emotions coming from.

    I found this page because I was sad. Why was I sad.. you may ask?

    I was sad because I can’t remember a single memory of my Mom reading me a bed time story. I remember crawling out of bed.. army crawling into her room.. waking her up so she could come lay with me… only to be screamed at by a “man” who was supposed to be a “stepfather”

    And somehow I stumbled here to a place where it feels like I am not the only one who feels this way.

    Thank you, Annie for making this page possible and many thanks to everyone who has / will comment here.

    We’re all in this together, strangers or not.

    Taking it one day at a time.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Cayla,

      Thank you so much for your comment and your vulnerability. You’re absolutely right, we’re all in this together! I know your story will touch many others who have had similar experiences. I’m sorry that your mom isn’t here for the talks you’d like to have with her. I’m proud of you for being here, for searching for help when you were sad and I urge you to reach out for more help if needed, you are so worth it.

      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 in processing the impacts of your childhood, I’d love to see you inside and work with you personally.

      In the meantime, I am sending my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

  14. Álvaro on  

    Hello,
    I’m a psychologist going through intense childhood grief. Unlike other stories, I’m not grieving how I was mistreated (despite the ignorance of my fellows about my mild autism), but rather how everything has changed and eventually faded into nothingness.

    I just had an emotional breakdown. Even after 15 years, I still can’t get over the fact we moved, and many of my loved ones are gone. The most special family members to me. Watching old videotapes today made me feel how everything has shattered into pieces one way or another.
    It’s been so painful to watch: to think about visiting all those places again with all of them gone… I can’t express with words how much I’m grieving overall. My mind seems to be tricking me again as usual.
    Regardless, I believe this sorrow and sadness is a sign that my life shall end soon, perhaps the reason of my existence has banished, and I’m just filling a space at this point. That’s how I feel, empty… like I no longer serve a purpose; especially when I remember how happy and joyful my childhood was.

    On the other hand, my depression has worsened so badly over the last few years, to the point that not even medication works anymore. It is as though this is the beginning of my end. I have enough money saved to seek the assisted suicide in Europe. After all, even if there isn’t an afterlife, my pain will end one way or another, and it’ll be forever. Hopefully, I might get the chance to reunite with my loved ones forever.
    Despite this, I can’t stop thinking about the intense pain I’ll leave behind in this world to so many people who “appreciate” me. Especially, those relatives of my close family. My mother has suffered a lot upon losing many loved ones recently, and she doesn’t deserve to go through more pain.
    Truth be told, I don’t know what to do at this point: whether finish my máster in Clinical Psychology in order to help people in my situation, or just accept the fact that my depression is terminal, and give up. There are lives that are meant to be shorter after all, and in my case, I’ve spent several years (I’m 25) going through this. I wonder why my parents decided to have me. Though I don’t blame them, because there was not such mental health awareness back in September 1995, when I was conceived. However, even though it makes me tear to write this, I believe they should’ve thought this before having children, before having me. Because mental disorders have a genetic component, it’s not welcome to give birth to a probability of a severe mental illness, that’s why mother should’ve aborted me… yet I was forced to exist without meaning it, but that’s a philosophical matter anyway.

    I’m just wondering whether my life makes any sense at this point. Almost nothing brings me pleasure anymore, and many of the loved people and experiences I had are gone.

    Please, someone help me to get out of this.
    I just want to Rest In Peace at this point.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Alvaro,

      Thank you so much for reaching out. I’m truly so sorry to hear that you are grieving and in pain. I urge you to seek support in processing everything you are dealing with and to not give up on finding the right treatment for your depression. Even if you don’t feel it right now, there is always hope. The fact that you are pursuing a degree in psychology tells me that you have a beautiful desire to help others and an empathy for those who are suffering.

      Please do reach out to mental health crisis centers in your state/country if you feel yourself having self-harming thoughts.

      Warmly, Annie

  15. C.C. on  

    This was my first stop and read about why I always cry about my past. Nothing of the above actually happened to me- parents were together while I was at home, grandparents always there, so I’m left kind of thinking my grief isn’t real grief. Have been told by a few therapists I didn’t really need therapy. I’m thinking of my grief as more of a priveledged grief but not in any sort of monetarily rich kind of way. In a white priveledge kind of way and I am even more resentful and guilty feeling due to that also. Later in life real true traumas happened (raped, robbed, car accidents) but I don’t think about those as much as my past. I moved a lot so I was never able to learn how to have relationships with anyone friendly or otherwise past half a year to a couple years. What I do know is we are all here and experiencing everything for a reason even if it shouldn’t and doesn’t make sense. We aren’t anywhere near done or over yet.

    • Annie on  

      Hi C.C.,

      Thank you for your comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t find the support you were looking for but I urge you to seek it out again if you feel if might be helpful. Your feelings are absolutely valid and you deserve to be supported while processing them. Please take such good care of yourself, you are so worth it.

      Warmly, Annie

  16. Brandon on  

    Annie, thank you for publishing this piece. My mother left me when I was one year of age. My aunt took care of me because I was premature, my twin passed during utero. My father and his sister jointly took turn in taking care of me during my formative years; until the age of six. Then my aunt took care of me permanently. My aunt was very verbally abusive at times because of the abuse she went through with her father when she was maturing. I cried after hearing from my father that i had a half-brother, that was when I was five. I cried alone in the restroom. Then subsequently I had stayed in my bedroom more often that before. I became a loner and would try too meditate. When I was eight years of age, my father took me in against my aunt’s wishes along with his then fiance. His fiance was verbally and physically abusive to me – very much so. Then, my aunt gained full custody of me. After all of that trauma, I gave up. That was at age nine. I lost my soul. Then, I was legally adopted by my aunt and her husband. After seeing my father’s ex-fiance do drugs. That was the time I said that I will never do drugs and that was my only saving grace. Now, at the age of thirty-six and with no children and living a life of difficult contemplation – I don’t know if I will ever be happy. My relationships have been affected. I am an avoidant. At twenty-two years of age, I met my biological mother for the first time. We spoke in person. It went well, but she stopped communicating with me after two weeks. As of this day I cannot figure out what I felt and what was going on in my mind in conversing with her. Here I am, I am living and continue to hope that I will turn into that butterfly and feel whole as I did before I knew of my mother and half-brother. Again, thank you for writing this piece.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Brandon,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear that you faced so much trauma from such an early age, you deserved to be loved and protected and I’m sorry that you didn’t have that from the adults around you. I’m proud of you for learning what not to do by watching your father’s ex-fiance. Please know that there is always hope for building a happy life in which you feel whole.

      I encourage you to seek support in processing all you’ve been through and if either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you as you work toward a positive future for yourself, I’d love to support you there. In the meantime, please take such good care of yourself, you are so worth it.

      Warmly, Annie

  17. cess on  

    I had the feeling of all this over and over, the more I get older the more I feel the pain. I had the feeling that I regret and I wish in my own thoughts, but I know it will never happen as I need to accept the reality and it breaks my heart. I am an only child and my parents separated when I was in grade 4. I grew up with my grandparents for 4 years in my mother’s parents 4 years with my mom and 4 years with my father’s parents. I never felt any love from anyone, my father decided to stay with us since grade 4 and had his new life with his new wife. My mom and I were not together as I am in another country and married. I am still grieving and felt lost every time whenever I am alone. It was so hard for me to forget all the memories I had and I am even seeing in my dreams sometimes and it gives me more pain whenever I am waking up.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Cess,

      Thank you for your comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your experience. I’m so sorry to hear of the difficult upbringing you had and I’m especially sorry to hear that you never felt loved. Please know that you are, and always have been, worthy of love. I urge you to seek support in healing from this pain so that you can move toward the positive future you deserve.

      If I can support your healing in either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – I’d love to work with you there as you begin your path to a brighter future. In the meantime, please take care of yourself and know that I am truly sending you my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

  18. Elizabeth B. on  

    It’s 2:41 AM as I am writing this from my parents house. I’m 23 years old and moved out for college when I was 18 and never went back. Every time I go back to visit and spend the night (it’s usually just a single night.. 2 max) I sleep on the couch because I no longer have a room. Every time I sleep on the couch I lay there restlessly till 6 am and think about every reason I hate coming back to my parents home. I hate that I don’t have a room or a bed. I hate that I don’t come home (the once a month that I do) to any home cooked meals, I hate that at 18 – 23 years old my mom doesn’t think to prepare me something to take back home to my apartment that I share with my roommate who’s parents always pack them food when they visits or how their family visits us even though we live almost an hour away. I envy that my roommates basic needs are fulfilled, especially because we are both young and financially unstable. Instead every time my mother calls I expect the call to be for her to ask for money from me.. as if I myself have enough to support myself. When I think back at my childhood I think about how I was never hugged as a child, I would wake up forced to clean the house, I was beat for not finishing my meal or for my mom not liking the way I opened my mouth to put the spoon in my mouth or getting beat because I was up late studying for an exam I had the following day in high school. My parents would pick me up from school 2 hours after dismissal in the snow when I’m standing outside in 10° weather, every time I needed something and called my mom- my calls would be ignored. I remember when I was in high school working at a store in the mall and watching a mother and daughter come out the nail salon and I had to hold back tears because I longed for something like that. My father plays victim for every reason that is wrong with our family and I for so long believed he was the victim, until I realized he is to blame for all this too. He once got drunk and upset with my mother and so he came and beat me in front of my all my friends and my friends family. I think about these things when I’m sad. And I’m sad all the time. I don’t want to be sad anymore. I’m hoping I can be financially stable enough to buy my parents a new home and to have my own room in it or maybe even just my own bed in one of my siblings rooms. Maybe then my childhood trauma will be somewhat healed.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you for your comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your story. I’m so very sorry to hear that your needs weren’t (and still aren’t) met by your parents and that you experienced abuse in your home. Your sadness is completely understandable – you deserve a bed in your family home and that home cooked meal. You are worthy of love, comfort and support.

      Please know that healing and working toward a positive future filled with all you deserve is possible. I urge you to seek support in processing your sadness – most communities offer low-cost therapy or free support groups. In the future, I’d love to work with you in either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School as you build a wonderful future.

      Until then, please take such good care of yourself, you are so worth it.

      Warmly, Annie

  19. Chris on  

    As strange as it sounds, when I tell myself “stop grieving, nobody is going to help you” I am suddenly revived with new and vibrant energy. Grieving does help but we must not cripple ourselves by it. Part of a dysfunctional childhood is learning to save yourself.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your sharing your insight and agree that it’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to become crippled by grief. I’m glad to hear that you have found self-talk that is helpful to you! Sending you my best.

      Warmly, Annie

  20. Maria on  

    I’ve been crying a lot recently, because my childhood trauma has been coming back. I have abandonment issues and have experienced loneliness my whole life, but it was really prevalent in my childhood and teen years. My father left when I was 6 months old, and my mom was busy in college, so I grew up either alone or at my mom’s parents house. My grandparents and mom never played with me a kid, I usually played alone. I have a sister, but she’s 9 years younger, so I haven’t been able to connect with her. My family never really paid attention to me either, unless I did well in school. I was usually only praised when I showed my report cards, or other academic achievements.

    Because my mom was in college, we moved every 1-3 years, so I have no idea how to make friends as a 21 year old. I hold so much anger towards my mom, because she doesn’t even use her masters anymore. She wasted my childhood. She’s the reason I don’t know how to make friends, she never paid enough attention to me to teach me or plan play dates with other kids. Because I don’t know how to make friends, I’ve felt lonely my whole life. Any friends I made in school eventually left me, I only have one friend I used to see once a month, but he moved to very far away recently. I only have my boyfriend, which I’m grateful for as he is very caring, patient and loving, but I know I can’t only rely on him for support.

    What I tell myself is that I’m allowed to have these feelings, and that I’m gonna be there for that little girl who felt she had no one. I also tell myself that even though I have anger towards my mom, she was doing it in our best interests.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Maria,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sharing. I’m truly sorry that you’ve felt so much loneliness throughout your life. I want you to know that so many others feel like you do and you are never truly alone. You deserve to feel connected and supported as you work through your feelings and I’d love to offer some resources for you to explore.

      You might enjoy my newsletter where I write extensively about relational trauma recovery and send high-quality essays out every two weeks. Are you on my mailing list yet? You can sign up directly here and/or via the quiz on my website: https://www.anniewright.com/newsletter/

      If I can support you through 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 work with you there. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

  21. Jack Dawson on  

    I was an average child, but I had loads of energy, a big imagination, and a heart full of love, wonder, and excitement. I just came home after spending the first nine years of my life living in squalor overseas. And my house had stairs! What a gift.
    But my joy and enthusiasm were seen by some as a problem, and my school recommended that I see a psychiatrist. She put me on a cocktail of neuroleptic drugs, and the side effects were so debilitating that I didn’t grow and develop as I should have.
    More and more drugs were piled on over the course of ten years, with both my parents shamelessly neglecting my health, and dismissing me as crazy when I told them I didn’t feel well. My dad especially was very abusive towards me, and he callously allowed the doctors to keep drugging me senseless.
    At 19 years old, I finally got off the drugs, but I was scarred emotionally and couldn’t confront my feelings because I was stuck with an incompetent therapist who didn’t deal with my emotional scars in a professional way, instead calling me a bad boy and constantly mocking me and threatening me with violence. He only did this because it’s what my dad was paying him to do.
    Now my dad is dead, (and I feel free because of it, I’m unashamed to say!) And I’m seeing another therapist who really gets me. The grieving process has been extremely difficult and sometimes I have fleeting thoughts of suicide. But I remind myself that it won’t fix anything and that I still have a lot to live for.
    The thing that I noticed has really been helpful is to indulge myself with the things that can mimick in adulthood the experiences from childhood I never had. (For example, I obviously am too old to join little league, but I am seriously considering joining an amateur baseball league for adults. And also riding my bicycle, watching Spongebob, etc.) It will never bring any of it back, but I think it helps fill the void to some extent.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Jack,

      Thank you for your comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your story with us. I’m sorry to hear of all you went through growing up and am so glad you’ve found a therapist who gets you. You deserve all of that childhood joy and more! Play baseball, ride your bike, watch cartoons – do whatever brings you the happiness you so richly deserve.

      If I ever want additional support, I’d love to work with you in either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

  22. Anna on  

    Thank you for this. I am a nanny to a sweet 1 year old boy. And today, seeing him playing with his parents just brought back so many hurtful memories I tried to forget. I grew up in a household with an alcoholic dad. We used to struggle so hard financially because of his addiction. Don’t get me wrong, he’s amazing and he takes care of me and my mom. But in that moment I felt so jealous. How is it that he can have two normal parents who are able to work, earn enough money to buy him everything he wants and they don’t have to worry. Im happy for them, but every time I see them play together I can’t help myself but get jealous. My parents tried their best to give me everything I needed, but I remember those times when we were struggling and my parents were fighting. It brings me so much pain thinking about how hard they had to work and the countless fights I used to witness.
    I am trying my best to be a good mom to my future children, I want to give them everything.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Anna,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sharing your story. I’m sorry that those hurtful memories are coming back. Please don’t be hard on yourself when feelings of jealousy pop up. I’d like to encourage you to seek support in exploring the feelings that are coming up. I love that you are thinking about being a good mom to your future children and know that they’ll be lucky to have you. Take such good care of yourself.

      Warmly, Annie

      • Samantha on  

        I don’t know if sharing this story will be cathartic but I think we all want to be seen at the level of our pain and accepted there.
        When I was 15, my dad told me he’d never speak to me if I didn’t apologize to my stepmom for her leaving me at the train station because I refused to participate in a bday party she threw for my sister on my bday to punish him. For the first time in my life I got the strength to say “No.” And as a result he told me that thought I was a bad influence on the other children and didn’t want me to come around anymore. I had tried my whole life to be perfect in order to get love.
        Even though this was years ago I still find myself struggling with relationships. I’ve done therapy. But it doesn’t seem to matter how much I talk about it or understand it, I feel bodily panic at times and I’m afraid to do something that will cause the person to leave. But my need for extra reassurance drives them away in the end or I end up with someone who mistreats me and struggling to leave. I wish I could stop living the past over and over again.

        • Annie on  

          Hi Samantha,

          Thank you for taking the time to comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your story. I’m sorry for the way you were treated by your dad and stepmom and for the lasting impact it has had. You deserve to be supported as you fully heal from the past.

          If I can support you through 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 work with you there. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.

          Warmly, Annie

        • Sarah on  

          Ooh I hear myself when I read you… I’ve struggled so much with self-acceptance… It’s only now that I am in a stable relationship that I feel somewhat at peace. But the feeling of abandonment if I’m not the perfect partner still lingers underneath, constantly…..

    • Shannon on  

      Annie…thank you for this article. It really touches my heart with understanding.

      Anna…thank you for sharing this. I am now a divorced parent with a 13 year old boy. My childhood was similar but I only had my mom. My dad had passed away before I was born. My mom drank and was physically and emotionally abusive. I grew up in and now live in an area surrounded by affluent people which made it difficult to find people who understand what it is like to wear your cousin shoes that were 3 sizes too big for a year because your mom didn’t buy you shoes. I am not in the same monetary bracket, but I moved back in the area so that my son could have a good education and resources to help him to be the best he can be. I remember junior high being the absolute worst experience. My mom was hateful, abusive, violent, and absent all at the same time. I was made fun of at school and any success I had was usurped by my mom praising herself for what a great job she was doing. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening for fear of being taken away. However, it was very lonely. I have done a lot of work to try to heal from these things. Christ helps me daily, but I still find that on occasion I get really sad when I see the other kids whose lives so full of fancy vacations, celebrations for birthdays, brand new toys like remote controlled hover boards, they have big families that get together, multiple houses etc. I sometimes feel bad that I cannot provide most of these things which is silly since most Americans cannot do this either. I am happy that there are kids who get to experience these things. So I come back to reality, but what is the most shocking to me is when I look at my son and I see how wonderful his middle school experience is going regardless of what I can or cannot afford (he has friends, he is excelling at sports, he enjoys going to school, he has gotten opportunities and invitations to compete in tournaments, he is playing violin and is pretty good at it, he has wonderful people around him who support him and cheer for him) I have waves of sadness for the things that I didn’t have. Don’t get me wrong I am so thankful that he is doing well and it means the world to me, but it really hits me sometimes as I remember how it was for me. It hits me sometimes like a gut punch. I always try to remember that the future hasn’t been written yet and I have choices now that I didn’t have back then. Yes it wasn’t fair, but if I can stop this cycle then I have succeeded in at least that. Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing. 🙂

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