The writer Tom Robbins once said that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. It seems an odd phrase, since an unhappy or traumatic childhood always stays with us, whether consciously or otherwise. Those who are not self-aware sometimes repeat abusive behaviour with their own children, and those who are more introspective either veer to the opposite extremes (an authoritarian childhood leading to permissive parenting for example), or spend a lifetime trying to rid themselves of feelings of worthlessness.
These traumas place tremendous stress on our minds and bodies. Children exposed to marital stress have a greater risk of psychological and health problems. Those exposed to abuse or negligence from, for example, a narcissistic mother or a violent-tempered father bear the marks of these experiences in their cellular memories and, epigenetics is showing us, in their genes. The interaction between stressful social situations and the body’s stress response plays a role in the choice of later relationships and has been linked to a greater risk of early death. However, Linda Martinez-Lewi Ph.D, a clinical expert on the narcissistic personality says, “Some children of narcissistic mothers not only survive to tell the true tale of their lives but they heal and evolve and create. I have found that these adult children are among some of the most empathic human beings I have ever encountered. “
Rethinking the past is a powerful tool. This is not denial, it is taking control. It is finding the positive in what seems unredeemably negative. It is gaining mastery over bad memories and ensuring optimum planning for the future. We do not deny what happened, we use it for our own triumph. It is sneaky, cunning and brilliant and because it happens in the privacy of our own minds, it harms no one. It is nobody’s business but our own. More, it is the sign of genius.
Every time we recall an outrage done to us, let us also remember the occasional good times. It may be a moment of laughter (abusive parents are often funny and entertaining. They live on the edge and have a quirky view of the world), a time when our parent or carer achieved something that made us proud; it may be the fact we gained access to experiences (foreign trips, meeting their acquaintances) we would not normally have had in an average family. It may even just be the times we were away from them and had great fun at school, or with a romantic partner, or when we did something in secret that made us feel strong and independent, and that there was hope.
If the person who caused the pain is still around to inflict more damage, we need to establish new ground rules. The choice is : illness or change, self-protection or giving in to fear. If we can’t do it alone, cognitive behavioural therapy teaches how to manage demands and extreme reactions from close relatives. It teaches conflict management and useful strategies for reducing the likelihood of illness.
The body has an incredible capacity to repair DNA damage. Therapy and thought control change the way we think about our past, and meditation helps repair DNA. An enzyme called DNA ligase IV uses overhanging pieces of DNA adjacent to the break to join and fill in the ends. DNA repair is not a fantasy (see The Inner Cavern).
Who are we serving by going through life feeling damaged? What is the point? Maybe we didn’t get what we wanted, but no one gets everything and anyway, we chose this childhood as a challenge, as the chance to shine in our own thriller. Why not instead focus on a truth that serves us? Our set point is that of an eternal being in control of our own story.
We have nothing to lose in letting go of a past where we were the victim, except misery, being right, blaming others and feeling like a loser. We are not at the mercy of the past, we can rewrite it through a happy filter, seeing difficult moments as crucial experiences that made us what we are today. Let us be the stars in our own adventure movies. By rewriting the past we gain happiness, joy, freedom and the power to create the present. We also repair the cellular memory, wipe away the damage to our bodies and expunge the seeds of disease lying in ambush for our later years.