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My childhood was normal + fine so I shouldn't feel like something's wrong with me

I hear this all the time and have 2 things to say right out of the gate.

"normal" and "shouldn't"


Our childhood is always our "normal." It's all we know.

"It's normal that people don't have time for me and I spend lots of time alone"

"It's normal that I have to take care of others because the people around me are anxious."

"It's normal that I have to take charge because no one else will."

It's our default; our baseline; our "this is the way it is." It's what we base our normal off of for the rest of our lives.

The "normal" we pick up in childhood is implicit, unspoken and often unconscious, not explicit. As a result it is incredibly hard to put words to.

The stories I've heard people refer to as "normal" are wild. They FEEL true to this day, as adults.

  • I'm too much for anyone to handle.

  • I'm the one who must sacrifice my love of X to support the people closest to me.

  • relationships hurt.

  • I'm not allowed to ask for good pay for my work.

  • creative pursuits are shameful.

  • explosive anger is a sign that I'm passionate.

  • I won't succeed.

  • I have to work hard to be loved and maintain relationships.

Yes, it's your "normal." But what if your normal is hurting you?

I shouldn't feel so... (but you do...)

A classic.

You've heard your friends say this.

You've said this.

Emotional logic is not cognitive logic. You feel what you feel. Period. There is no cognitive reasoning or analyzing that is going to change that. If I feel a great amount of sadness, and tell myself that there's not anything in my life to be that sad about, it's a mute point. I feel it. And I have two options, feel it, or try to de-press it (= depression).

And in emotional logic we have to understand that emotions "time travel." Just because we're feeling something now doesn't mean there are circumstances that warrant the full force of our emotion. This isn't discounting the emotion, which is real, but is calling into question some of the story making we do to try to make sense of our emotions. (ie. I feel like making him suffer for all of eternity because he didn't text me back/drop something off/say the right thing at the right time.)

So how do we reconcile the fact that we come from families that loved us, or appeared "normal," and yet we feel so weird/heavy/depressed/anxious/crazy/like something's wrong.

Well, there are a few thoughts that often come up...

  1. The culture we live in is broken. I remember growing up being taught that somehow North America was blessed because we had food on the table. Yes, of course, we need food and I'm grateful, but an industrial society and capitalist agenda lead to disconnected and stressed lives which wreak havoc on our nervous system. Along with that, Canada is a growing country and the dislocation that happens as people leave their homes to come live in Canada, some not so long ago, is significant. Greater still was the massive displacement and genocide of the First Nations of these lands. All of this leads up to the fact that many humans living on this "blessed" continent actually live with a significant amount of trauma in their nervous system. (See "The Globalization of Addiction" by Bruce Alexander)

  2. love vs. attunement. Attunement is how we are able to FEEL the love of our caregivers or friends. Someone can love us to the moon and back, but if they aren't attuned, if they don't "get us," we will not feel loved and our nervous system will not learn to regulate. We will feel "anxious" and "depressed" and "heavy." Imagine the romantic relationships, or the parent-child relationships, that you see around you. Some have a quality of warmth and connection, others, even though you know they "love" each other, are missing that "attuned" quality.

  3. we inherit our nervous system. Our parents/caregivers may have done a very very good job under the circumstances they were in, however, if they are already carrying around anxiety/depression/disregulation in their nervous systems, based on where they were coming from, they will pass it to us. Our nervous systems use their nervous systems as a blueprint. We copy information on regulation/connection/belonging/boundaries from them. No shame, no blame, we're all in this together, but recognizing how this may have affected you (despite your caregivers best attempts) is key to starting to shift, or at the very least place in context, some of the sensations we experience.

  4. The absence of something is harder to understand than the presence of something. If our parents hit us, it is said that this is easier to process later on in therapy than the moments they didn't show up. It's hard to name something that wasn't there, because, well, it wasn't there. The subtle absence of attention, affection, acceptance, allowance and appreciation is hard to recognize.

  5. It's subtle. The ways that we are hurt are subtle. Consider the last thing that hurt in textlandia. Or the time you weren't sure about the look in someone's eyes, or the way your partner subtly disengages when you talk about how sad you are. These are the things that hurt us. The big T trauma, yes, is a bigger story, but often it's built on all the subtle disconnection. Along with this, someone who does something that results in big T trauma is probably not adept at the small acts of showing up and building trust. Kids interpret things differently. Eg. Leaving without a proper goodbye could be felt as abandonment. Feeling angry and not having your parent acknowledge and allow it could be stored as "there's something wrong with me." Not having enough attuned (meaning warm and easy) physical affection could be understood as "I'm not lovable."

  6. Things are stored till they're restored. "I'm over it, I've forgiven them," is the line I hear all the time. True, I say, I'm sure the "cognitive you" decided to forgive them, but it doesn't necessarily know how to talk to your body, the part of you that feels like something's wrong or weird or off, and your body, your nervous system, holds this stuff till it's processed (felt in the presence of another, acknowledged, nourished, released...).

So yes, your childhood was "normal," and we're not out to spread shame + blame.

And no, you're not crazy for feeling how you do.

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