Parenting is hard. Parenting after a painful childhood is arguably harder. Everyone wants to do things better than their parents did, right? But it’s a whole different story when what your parents did was physically, emotionally, and/or mentally harmful to you. Your childhood affects your parenting.
When it’s a pattern of dysfunction you’re trying to break free from, it’s just not that simple. Some of the experiences we have in a dysfunctional childhood haunt us well into adulthood – maybe even for the rest of our lives.
Those memories and scars affect everything from how we think about ourselves, to the routines we have, to our relationships with others, including our children.
The Sabotaging Beliefs & Behaviors We Hold Onto
It can be so difficult to recognize many of the limiting and sabotaging beliefs and behaviors you’ve got lingering in your mind. You’ve had them for so long, they’ve just become a part of you.
Maybe you don’t even know who you are without them. But yet, here you are, so you want to make a change. You know you’re not where you want to be. So it’s time to acknowledge those beliefs and behaviors that may be holding you back so that you can let them go.
Negative Thought Patterns
I remember growing up that my dad used to always call me a jacka** when I would misbehave or have an attitude about something. Even as a kid, I knew that wasn’t right.
Or how about the time I came home from preschool and proudly announced to my dad and a room full of his friends that I had a boyfriend. In my little three or four year old mind, a boy that was a friend was a boyfriend.
I didn’t know any different. They all laughed. I’m sure they honestly didn’t mean any harm by it. But to me it felt like they were laughing at me. And I carried that shame with me for a long time.
I was terrified to admit I had a crush on anyone or to tell my parents when I got my first boyfriend. I was afraid I’d be laughed at. I’d be made fun of.
Maybe you had a narcissistic parent who was constantly putting you down. Telling you how ugly or stupid or unlovable you were. Maybe they didn’t outright say it, but the way they acted made you feel like you were not worth anyone’s time or attention.
And those beliefs don’t just go away once you grow up. They embed themselves into your subconscious until you believe that’s who you are.
Lack Of Ability To Manage Your Emotions
Listen, I’m no stranger to strong emotions. I struggled with anger for years before getting help. And I don’t just mean I would get mad. This wasn’t like having a small argument and moving on. I would rage to the point of literally not being able to control my words or actions.
It’s hard to describe, but it’s like my whole inside was on fire. It would start in my head and move through my whole body. I was full of all this raging energy that was bursting at the seems to get out.
And it came out in some very ugly ways. There was screaming, violence, hurtful words…and then, once the flame burned out, all that rage faded into depression which would sometimes last for days afterwards.
I would feel like my family deserved better, my husband deserved better, the whole world would be better off if I wasn’t in it.
And I didn’t share that struggle with anyone. The only person who even remotely knew the extent of my emotional struggles was my husband – and even he didn’t know the feelings I had that I couldn’t put words to. He only experienced the consequences of those emotions.
Lack Of Ability To Tolerate Other People’s Emotions
When you can’t control your own emotions, you might also struggle with handling other people’s as well.
Have you ever been the person that just wants your kid to stop crying? Or how about the friend who wants to fix everything? Yep, that’s me. It used to be so hard for me to just sit with any type of emotion.
Whether it be my own or someone else’s, it just made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to just make everything all better. For everyone to be happy and peaceful. I didn’t have room in my brain to handle any more hard stuff.
When you’re the parent who says, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” Or you desire to say something, anything, to make our friend feel better in their time of need even though you know nothing you say or do will fix what they’re going through. That’s the evidence that you struggle to tolerate other people’s emotions.
The Need To Control
When a person has a traumatic childhood, they often grow up with a desire, a need, to control everything and everyone around them. It’s a defense mechanism.
If you can control your environment, your relationships, your life, then you can mitigate any harm that might come your way. You’re a lot less likely to get hurt when you’re the one in control.
But in real life this often plays out in ways that are more damaging than letting go of that control. We hurt the people we care the most about and push them away. We lose friends, partners, maybe even jobs. Our circumstances suffer because of our need to control.
Lack Of Trust
Sometimes one of the most devastating affects childhood trauma has on a person is the complete inability to trust. You’ve been hurt and so you build these big, thick, impenetrable walls around yourself that no one can ever break through.
You don’t dare let yourself be totally vulnerable in even your most intimate relationship. And it is unbearably lonely most of the time, yet you can’t seem to change.
The people in your life who have hurt you made you believe you’re so unworthy and so unlovable and so damaged that if anyone ever truly knew you – inside and out – they wouldn’t want you.
And that’s terrifying. So you suck it up and tolerate shallow relationships you can count on rather than risk being alone forever if you let anyone in.
How Your Childhood Affects Your Parenting
I don’t have to tell you that all of these sabotaging behaviors have an overall negative affect on your family – including your kids. That’s probably why you’re here.
You’re ready to change because you want to break that cycle and keep your kids from the same trauma you experienced. I know, because that’s how I feel too.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for the strength and courage my troubled past has given me. But if I had a choice, I think I would have made a different one.
When you let these sabotaging beliefs and behaviors take over your life, you’re perpetuating a cycle of trauma. And I know that’s not what any of us want.
Our kids are sponges. Whether we want them to or intend for them to or not, they pick up on our habits, good and bad, and often mimic them. We begin to see smaller versions of ourselves, the good, the bad, and the ugly, running around in our home. And we think, “I just want to make their lives better than mine was.”
You don’t want your little loves to grow up believing they are stupid or ugly or not good enough. You don’t want them to struggle to relate to people because they can’t control their own emotions or tolerate other people’s emotions.
You want them to build strong and healthy relationships rather than be closed off and lonely because they have a hard time trusting.
But if you never learn to make those changes in your own life, there’s a pretty good chance that your kids will carry on the same struggles you have.
There is good news though. It is possible to break the cycle of trauma in your family. You don’t have to let your experiences in life define who you are, how you live, or who your children will become!
10 Steps To Stop The Sabotage
So now that we’ve talked about the ways your childhood trauma is sabotaging your life and parenting, lets jump right in and start making some positive changes!
These are the 10 exact steps I took to begin breaking the cycle of trauma in my life and becoming a better parent (disclaimer: I never claim to have it all figured out because I’m still on the journey, but I’ll always share the things I learn along the way!)
Acknowledgement of a problem is essential to moving past it. It’s a fact. Until you acknowledge the pain or trauma in your past and come to terms with it and the damage it has caused you’ll never be able to move forward.
This part can be really difficult. In recognizing and acknowledging the pain from your past, you may have to face some demons you had long buried. And it can be painful having to relive all of that pain and trauma. But it’s necessary in order to work through it.
Take Ownership Of Your Struggles
It’s important to note that you are not responsible for any actions taken against you that caused pain or trauma. You are, however, responsible for your own actions, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions.
Even though others have hurt you, you don’t get a free pass. Have you heard the saying, “Hurt people hurt people?” It’s true. But by acknowledging your power over your own life (instead of blaming all the bad things on those who hurt you), you give yourself the freedom to change it.
Find A Mentor
One of the best things I ever did was open up about my struggles to someone I trusted and who could give me guidance. Find someone in your life who is already the kind of person you want to be.
Build a relationship with that person, get to know them, and then learn how to be more like them. This isn’t about personal gain though. Don’t focus on what a person has or their life accomplishments so much as their character.
You need to emulate someone who is what you want to be, not who has what you want to have.
Never underestimate the power of being grateful. Start by writing down 20 things you are grateful for in your life. It can be as simple as having a home to live in, a comfy pillow to sleep on, or even your favorite sweatshirt.
Or maybe you want to go a bit deeper and think about relationships and experiences you’re grateful for. If you’ve never done this before (or even if you have) it might be harder than it sounds!
Make gratitude a daily habit by spending five minutes each morning or evening writing down something else you’re grateful for. The repeated action of forcing yourself to think about reasons to be grateful will fill your mind with more positive thoughts over time, eventually pushing out all the negativity.
For many of us, just making some positive changes in our lives, while good for us, may not be enough. You may find that counseling, therapy, or even a recovery group are necessary for you to move forward in your healing journey and to become a better parent to your children.
It’s ok to need help, so don’t be ashamed to seek it. I was for a long time, but once I swallowed my pride and found the help I needed my life became so much better!
Getting involved in your community in some way can help you build positive relationships and overcome isolation that may be at play in your life.
Join a church, help with a community outreach, begin running your own recovery or support group, help with a ministry, join a mom’s group, or any number of other things!
The possibilities are endless. Find a way to get connected and help others. The joy of giving can be surprisingly helpful in overcoming your own struggles.
Practice Self Care
As hard as it seems sometimes, taking good care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health is essential for breaking patterns of dysfunction, trauma, and negative thought and behavior patterns.
It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or elaborate. Just making sure you get a shower every day or taking 30 minutes to unwind before bed can be enough to make a huge positive impact on your daily life.
You don’t know what you don’t know. In order to change your life, you first must learn a different way of living. Spend time with people you look up to. Read articles online or pick up a book. Do research.
Figure out what your biggest struggle is right now and find out what others say about how to change it. There is no shortage of information available today!
Just be sure you’re getting your info from credible and positive sources (you don’t want to take advice from people still living in dysfunction).
Accountability means finding a person or a group who will help you meet your goals and stay on track by encouraging you, offering support, and calling you out when you need it.
There are plenty of places to find accountability. I recommend starting with real life relationships over online for the simple fact that you’re more likely to stay in touch and keep moving forward with a real person that you actually see and talk to versus a picture on a screen.
However, there are some great online accountability groups too, so that is an option if you want extra accountability!
Give Yourself Grace
Change is hard. It takes time and is often painful. None of us is perfect and changing your beliefs and behaviors is going to be tough. But becoming the awesome mom you were meant to be is a noble and worthy goal.
There will be days you struggle and there will be days you totally crush it. You might even find you fall back into old patterns sometimes. That’s why it’s essential to have a good support system and to give yourself grace. Always seek progress over perfection.
Breaking free of the dysfunctional patterns from your childhood is no easy task. It takes courage, determination, strength, and lots of support. But the alternative is to continue in the same broken cycles in your own life and the life of your children.
Acknowledging your past and taking ownership of your present will bring positive change to your future. You don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the past. You and your family are worth the effort it takes to be the one who says, “It stops here.”