Understanding Childhood Trauma

Woman with long dark, curly hair looking out at a river over a bridge Image : Mercedes Bleth

I never learned how to process trauma as a kid. When something bad happened I got sad, maybe cried, and pushed it down.

I was “friends” with some meaner people growing up and I wasn’t the easiest of people to be around. I was super emotional and misunderstood boundaries — not knowing when to let someone be and let them come to me to ask to hang out, ask how I am, pay me a visit, text — I always went ahead and did those things myself. I wanted, I think, to feel wanted and that put me on a course to being super clingy and, honestly, probably a little annoying.

It didn’t, however, excuse the way these “friends” treated me. I know bullying is super common amongst young people, but some of what I went through was complete harassment. I understand this now as an adult.

One time, two girls and a boy threatened to burn down my house. They physically went up to several of our classmates before grade school started for the day and gave our peers three options as to what they could do to me: 4th grade Becky. I don’t remember option A or option B, I only remember option C, which was something along the lines of “let Becky’s house burn” or “burn Becky’s house down”. Of course word got back to me during morning recess and I spent the first minutes of the morning sobbing in my classroom. My teacher took me to the office and I spit out what I had heard and who I believed had started it.

A week or so later I got a packet full of hand-written letters from my peers saying they were sorry and didn’t mean any harm. But they did mean harm. I stayed away from them all the way through high school, avoiding them at all costs.

What had I done to make them dislike me so much? It must’ve been my fault. I was embarrassed.

In 6th grade, a boy on my bus asked me why I always dressed and looked like a boy. He made fun of my hat. My hair. I didn’t answer and was quiet for the remainder of the bus ride, in my seat toward the back. For the rest of the school year, I would either sit toward the front or walk. A lot of the time, I walked. It’s funny because about a year later that boy and I “dated.” For a few months, we spent bus rides holding hands and giggling. I broke it off when I realized I didn’t know why we were doing this — was this what boys and girls were supposed to do when they were “dating?” Was I supposed to have feelings for this boy who had made fun of me a year before? I stopped taking the bus mid-way through 7th grade and for the entirety of 8th. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment.

Middle school was the absolute worst. I didn’t have a place. I didn’t feel welcomed. I had a new group of friends for each school year, and as the year progressed the people in the group would grow annoyed with me. They’d start talking about me behind my back and exclude me from hangouts. I would grow agitated and be mean back sometimes, try to bargain with them to tell me why I was annoying, why they didn’t like me anymore. I was lost.

These moments stain my memories and I still feel embarrassed about how I handled myself. I was sad and lonely and didn’t know how to handle it, didn’t understand what I was feeling. No one knew.

Instead of verbalizing all of this to my parents, I felt the need to bury it down and not feel it. Not feel the pain of finding out people you thought were your closest friends were actually uninterested in having you in their lives. I didn’t talk to anyone about any of it. Why? I’m still unraveling that to this day.

In 8th grade, I had a solid two or three great girl friends, but those friendships unraveled in high school and into early college years. I lost touch with the one girl friend I had always trusted and believed in. It was super hard for me to let her go, to know our relationship had turned toxic and that we both deserved better.

4th grade Becky would’ve called and texted her time and time again until she answered and said yes to talking. 6th grade Becky would have kept the friendship going and begging to see this friend.  But 19-year-old Becky was tired of trying, of not understanding her trauma.

I didn’t want to hold on to someone who didn’t give me what I wanted in a friendship. I didn’t want to place pressure on her to change. I knew it was toxic. So I let it go. This was possible because I had begun to understand myself a little more and, in all honesty, was fed up of not getting what I wanted out of my relationships.

I have strengthened and repaired relationships throughout my college years – relationships that matter. I’ve stayed close to those who know me best and have always loved me the way I love them. I’ve begun this long journey of understanding my past, the impact etched into me.

Therapy has helped me learn about myself in ways I did not know I could, did not want to. And distancing myself from these lasting, impactful moments in my life has given me the clarity I wish I’d had as a child. Perhaps at the time I didn’t know how to talk about these things, I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did, and I didn’t think it was okay. I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was in me that made me keep quiet and shove my feelings down, but I do know, that nowadays I try my hardest not to do this type of avoiding. I try my hardest not to let the pain I have pushed down in the past keep me from moving forward.

Becky Harrison, OWTL Contributor
Becky Harrison : Certified klutz, free spirited, go-get-em goof ball. Loves writing poetry and the beach. Strong believer in bucket lists.