We are not ourselves when we are responding to stress or trauma.
Yet, we often expect ourselves to react to stress and trauma in cool, calm, and collected ways.
In fact, we often seem to expect more from ourselves in times of stress and trauma than we would ever reasonably expect of anyone else.
We often hold our past selves responsible for not knowing what we didn’t know at the time.
We often hold our child selves responsible for thinking, feeling, and acting like children…when we actually WERE children.
We often look back at past relationships and call ourselves weak and stupid for staying in them.
We see how we’ve frozen up or “checked out” during periods of pain or intensity, and we are embarrassed or ashamed that we didn’t handle the situation “better.”
Nobody is at their best during times of stress and trauma.
During times of stress and trauma, there are neurological events that happen inside our bodies and brains that make it really, really hard to think straight.
During those times we are overwhelmed with a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that make it possible to either fight, flee, or freeze…and it’s really, really hard to overcome that cascade of neurotransmitters and handle things in a cool, calm, collected way.
It is not fair to look back at how we’ve reacted to pain and stress in our life, and judge ourselves harshly.
The truth is, we did what we could with the tools we had.
We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
We couldn’t do what we weren’t emotionally equipped to do.
Would it have been preferable if we did know how to get out of threatening situations back then? Of course.
But when you’re in a situation where you feel trapped, where you see literally no way out, and when TRYING to get out would probably put you in even more danger…you can’t be expected to have invented options you just didn’t have.
In order to build self-esteem now, we have to make peace with the past versions of ourselves.
It is not your fault that you were in a situation that seemed unescapable at the time.
It is not your fault that your brain switched into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
It is not your fault that you dissociated and lost time.
It is not your fault that you fell into unhealthy coping patterns when you saw no other options for managing what you were feeling— and there was no one there to teach you or model for you a different way.
And it is not your fault that you can’t change the past now.
What we need to do is meet the embarrassment and shame of our past with enormous, overwhelming compassion.
What we need to do is get on our own side, and refuse to abandon ourselves— including our past selves.
Your past self did the best they could.
Your past self got you through it.
Your past self felt very small and very alone, and had no real idea what to do with that.
But it doesn’t need to be alone any more.
You can be, now, the adult you needed then.
You can be a place of safety and stability for that past version of you.
You can develop and use the healthy, non-harmful coping mechanisms you didn’t have then.
You can choose who you have in your life, and limit your exposure to certain people and situations now, in ways you couldn’t then.
Trying to deny and disown your past self only alienates you from you.
Yes, your past self holds memories of pain and shame…but it also holds the resilience and resourcefulness that somehow got you through it.
You can make peace with you.
And you can move forward together with your past self, without shame or regret.
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