7 wise woman ways to support healing from trauma in childhood
Healing from trauma in childhood is no small feat. As girls and women, most of us face multiple messages and traumas over the years.
Like many mothers, I am deeply concerned about the environment girls are growing up in today. Media images and messaging suggest that girls must act—and look—a certain way to be accepted. The pressure to fit in or please others teaches girls that it is not safe to be too loud, too smart, too big, too much . . .
The misogyny of today’s world normalizes the objectification and over-sexualization of girls through both overt and subtle messaging. This climate of objectification contributes to both abuse and trauma for women and girls. All too often women today need to heal from trauma.
Why is it that most women today are recovering from trauma?
Statistically, in these times, 1 in 3 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Others face forms of abuse and neglect as well.
Adult women are subject to sexual traumas as well. If you need further proof:
In June 2018, the Thomson-Reuters Foundation released the results of an annual poll identifying the world’s most dangerous countries for women. The United States was the only Western nation in the top 10 and was ranked third in the category of sexual violence including rape, sexual harassment, coercion into sex and the lack of access to justice in rape cases. Four in 7 women worldwide have been victims of sexual and/or physical violence.
Of course, for women of color, racism can add additional layers to the trauma.
As is reflected by these statistics, most women today are recovering from trauma—if not still actively experiencing (or re-experiencing) it.
Over recent years, I’ve been inspired by the growing movement of women speaking out in outrage around sexual abuse, no longer willing to tolerate it in silence. As a survivor myself of childhood sexual abuse by a grown man, my young girl inside cheers every time I hear these stories of women rising up collectively to speak our truth in these courageous ways. Me too!
The increased visibility of abuse and violence against women has helped us to feel less isolated. And there’s much we can do to resource ourselves both physically and emotionally. The Wise Woman Tradition offers a multitude of ways to support healing from trauma. In short, we focus on nourishing the whole person—body, mind and soul. However, to understand the road to healing, it is helpful first to recognize some of the impacts of trauma.
Impacts of trauma in childhood
Trauma in childhood (and/or as an adult) can impact you and your life in many ways. If you’ve grown up in trauma or abuse, you may not have a reference point for what is considered “normal.’
Furthermore, as the field of complex trauma describes, if you saw no way out of that situation—as is often the case for daughters subject to abuse and neglect—the experiences have long-term impacts on your identity, personality, brain and neurological development. The personality is literally formed within the container of that trauma.
Tragically, this generally includes the development of old painful false belief systems about yourself, relationships, and the world—which can undermine your emotional and physical health.
The effects of trauma reverberate for many years (even decades) and can be long-lasting, especially if you are unaware of the roots. To name just a few, impacts may include:
Physical impacts of stress and fatigue
Today, adrenal stress and fatigue are gaining recognition in both natural and modern medicine. Adrenal stress shows up in a myriad of ways—from anxiety and sleep disturbances to exhaustion and thyroid complications. And, yes, it is women who are most often affected!
The women’s herbal community has recognized the need to look at the underlying root causes that contribute to these adrenal issues in the first place.
The fact that adrenal issues have become epidemic for women is no coincidence, nor is it just an individual problem. It is a reflection of the impact on women’s health from the societal dynamics of patriarchy. This includes traumatic experiences in childhood—or as an adult—which continue to be all too common for women and girls.
When sharing your experience of trauma or abuse, your story may have been criticized, minimized or disbelieved. You may have been shamed or blamed. You may have experienced retribution for speaking up. Each time this happened, it reinforced the message to stay silent. Over time you may have decided to stop speaking up altogether and give into the blame, internalizing it.
This is a natural response to trauma—in order to cope, your brain minimizes your experiences and your feelings. You may even develop false core beliefs that something is wrong with you or that you are not worthy of a healthy relationship.
Relational confusion and difficult relationships
One of the common and lasting psychological impacts of complex trauma is in the area of relationships. Those false belief systems borne out of trauma can impact your choices throughout your life, including undervaluing yourself in your relationship choices. You may feel drawn to relationship dynamics that are familiar, even if those dynamics are not healthy. You may believe that you deserve only scraps of love or that there is no such thing as a secure, healthy bond.
In my case, my own needs for safety and respect were unmet for so long that it took decades for me to realize what a healthy relationship looked like. A relationship based in mutuality—meeting needs for both people for safety, respect, valuing, and clarity.
Sadly this confusion about relationships is true for too many women and girls today. The impact of staying in environments or relationships in which your needs are not met can contribute to chronic stress, which is known to directly impact the adrenals and contribute to many other health issues.
Take heart, sisters! As we resource ourselves, we find that we can draw nourishment for our healing from many sources, including the Earth and nature, whole foods and medicinal herbs, caring self-reflection and emotional release.
7 ways to support your healing
The physical impacts of trauma, self-blaming, and relationship confusion compound one another so it can be confusing to know where to start to heal. Along the wise woman path, healing is a spiral and occurs in layers. Rather than trying to dive deeply all at once, take small steps in a number of different areas, and then spiral back to go a step further. The wise woman way is also a whole woman approach, addressing physical, emotional and psychological aspects of healing.
1. Sleep and rest
Rather than ignoring your body’s signals and pushing your body through the point of exhaustion (with caffeine, sugar, perfectionism, etc), allow yourself to rest. Approach sleep as medicine, as it is in your sleep that you allow your body to heal—through both physical repair, the dreamtime emotional and spirit worlds. As Susun Weed says, “Do nothing.” Sleep. Nap.
Remember that nature follows cycles from growth to rest. In the winter, allow the season to pull you inward, below the ground to your roots, just as the plants rest and regenerate over the winter and follow the natural cycles of the Earth.
2. Nourish your body
Healing takes energy so it is important to nourish your body in order to support the healing journey. In the Wise Woman Tradition, rather than seeing the body as dirty or in need of cleansing, we support the optimum functioning of the body through nourishment. This means bringing in a wide range of whole foods and medicinal herbs.
In particular, eating healthy fats (which have been so demonized by mainstream and alternative nutrition) is essential for rebuilding the nervous system, calming both body and mind, and supporting the smooth functioning of the hormonal system. So don’t be afraid to eat your organic butter and coconut oil—daily! (If you’re looking for a way to incorporate healthy fats into your life, check out my blog article on nutritious, delicious coconut oil fudge)
3. Connect with the earth
Nature is a source of infinite healing and can also help ground your energy. As children, we were naturally drawn to run barefoot—to lie in the sweet summer grass, to play amid the autumn leaves, to sit on the ground. Even just a few minutes a day of simply lying quietly in the park, in your yard or garden or in the woods benefits physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
When you feel the desire or the need to downregulate your nervous system, lie on the Earth, belly down, to receive nourishment and healing energy. Lie on your back to release and let go of tension, grief or anger—energies that may be “stuck” in your body; allow them to flow through you into the soil to be absorbed and transformed. Allow your mind and body to rest, relax and receive. Even if you can’t fully recline, simply taking off your shoes and walking for a while in the grass or sitting on a rock or log and feeling that connection is calming and restorative.
4. Reconnect with feelings and needs
Are you being “too emotional”? No. Paying attention to your own feelings and your underlying needs can help guide you back home to yourself.
Being “emotional” is a natural and healthy response to today’s realities. Your authentic feelings point you toward underlying needs that are met or unmet. The most basic human needs include safety and respect. What could be more important? And as we know from women’s natural health fields, suppressing our feelings and denying our needs impacts our health—emotionally, mentally, and physically.
The more you are aware of your feelings and needs, the more you are able to make choices that support meeting your needs, for respect and safety—as well as love, connection, integrity, authenticity, community, meaning, purpose, and contribution. If you want support reconnecting with your innate needs, feel free to grab my worksheet It’s Your Time Now!
Yes, grieve. . . it is natural and important for you to mourn. You support your physical and emotional health when you grieve losses, pain, hurts and unmet needs—both from your own girlhood, and from your experiences as an adult woman.
As our ancestor Sobonfu Somé brought forward, doing our grief work clears the way for clarity, joy and authenticity. So let the tears flow, as a natural and essential part of the spiral of life.
6. Establish healthy boundaries
Emotional safety starts by establishing healthy boundaries. This includes focusing on practices that nourish you, and moving away from addictive or difficult relationships or other activities that sap your energy.
There are many practical ways to establish our boundaries, from practicing saying no (if it’s not a clear yes, it’s a no!) to taking time alone (and unplugged!). Pause before responding to requests for your time and energy. What is your body telling you? Don’t be afraid to give yourself some space to listen to your inner wisdom. For further suggestions, feel free to take a look at my article 4 Pillars of Healing Broken Hearts.
7. Connect with sisters around trauma
There is nothing like women connecting with other women in authenticity and safety. Seek out other women and share your stories. As you listen to others, know that your experiences are not isolated or due to our personal shortcomings, but actually have systemic roots based in sexism—as well as racism, classism or any of the -isms which make up the “heteropatriarchy.”
When you experience feeling heard and accepted, you are able to move through pain and shame towards healing and embodying your full beautiful, powerful self. So trusted sister bonds, friendships, and circles are literally medicine for your mind and soul.
Conclusion on supporting your healing from trauma in childhood
If you are experiencing the impacts of abuse and trauma in childhood or as a woman, know that you are not alone. It is in these times that we are invited to look at the roots of our trauma and lean into the emotional work of recognizing and unhooking from old patterns. Go gently with yourself, and support your healing process through nourishing yourself, physically and emotionally.
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