Childhood Trauma and the Struggle for Liberation

(Image: Antonia Darder)Click to view full-size in a new window. (Image: Antonia Darder)As a child my life was one of constant trauma. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, prone to rage, physical violence, self-hate, and alcoholism – a horrible combination. It was not easy to be the eldest child in my family. I was made responsible for things that were far beyond my years. The level oftrauma I experienced could only be described as growing up in a war zone. My sister and I never knew when or where the attacks upon our small bodies would be launched. Generally, these came daily and without much provocation. My mother was deeply irrational when she was angry or inebriated (which was a lot of the time). As her children, my younger sister and I had to learn to duck the constant missiles of her rage and abuse – physical, emotional, and psychological. So much so, that it has taken me many, many years of personal struggle, therapy, and both political and spiritual formation to pick up the pieces of my shattered and painful early life.

My sister and I took different venues for surviving the abuse. She became the “non-achieving” resistant child and I the constantly achieving and appeasing child. Neither venue was better than the other, beyond the exterior appearance. We were both left so incredibly damaged emotionally that we could never find the way to establish a lasting intimate relationship. It is truly a sad state of affairs. Moreover, no matter how hard we tried, we passed on many of our complexes and anxieties to our children, who have also had to struggle in their own ways. Hence, childhood trauma is definitely a phenomenon of generational transmission, even when the physical and emotional abuse is stopped; in that it leaves us emotionally scarred and without the healthy coping mechanisms to live without constant social anxiety.

If this were not enough, for poor women of color, the psychological abuse persists in a myriad of ways, reinscribing our abuse over and over again, making it difficult to completely heal. It takes tremendous courage to own the neediness and insecurity that ravaging abusive parents bestow upon us, particularly in a “just get over it!” society that is not kind to the psychologically and spiritually wounded. The consequence is that, if we do not receive the love and attention necessary as young children, we continue to struggle in adulthood terribly to garner mental, physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and spiritual health or simply to establish a stable footing in our life. Depending on our particular dispositions, we may focus on achieving in order to feel loved to the point of disaster; or we might simply withdraw from life to protect ourselves; or we may constantly fight with others to free ourselves of the internal chains; or practice escapism in a million different ways.

Hence, the saddest part of childhood trauma is that it is not only about childhood. It torments us until our death, if we do not face the trauma, over and over again, until at last we can discover the beauty and brilliance within our own soul. And this, of course, is easier said than done, in that we live in a world where most people are internally reeling from daily authoritarian assaults from societal institutions, but often unconscious of the our psychological torment or the violence that is perpetrated upon others with our self-righteousness and narcissistic machinations. I write all this, not as an indictment of any individual – not even my mother, who was probably an incredible example of the impact of colonialism, racism, sexism, and poverty upon its subjects – but rather in a sincere effort to continue radically challenging myself, and the world, toward greater personal and societal liberation.

More importantly, these are not the words of apologia or of a person stuck in victimhood – although a victim I, and many others, have been, in many instances. Rather these are the honest words of a woman who realizes that radical politics must also be coupled with radical responsibility for our lives and a willingness to name the pain and move beyond the ugly complexes, fears, and insecurities that destroy our intimate relationships and keep us alienated and isolated in an internal prison of shame and self-hate – where we are never good enough! Such are the struggles of many adults who were deeply traumatized in childhood – begging of us to also think more seriously about how we parent our children and the legacies that we will leave behind for them.

Thus, whether in the inner or the outer world, the painful struggle for liberation continues and many of us are, in fact, engaged in a similar struggle. What all this reminds us is that never can political struggle be simply seen as a material societal endeavor. It must also be recognized as a deep politicalstruggle for social consciousness that must begin at the very source of our existence. Only in this way, can we bring both political honesty and human compassion to bear on the injustices that exist in the world.