From Why Did God Give Us Emotions?
This chapter [Chapter 11] mentioned that a taboo emotion often arises from childhood events which made the emotions dangerous or unacceptable. Because the events associated with taboo emotions are painful, they are also often suppressed. Because of this, it is a common experience to recall painful childhood events when taboo emotions are first experienced consciously. As you take time to reexperience these childhood events and emotions and reinterpret them from an adult perspective, they cease to be a threat. Once you have done this, the taboo emotions will be triggered less often by present situations that resemble the past in some way.
If this seems too overwhelming because you experienced severe abuse or trauma, seek help. However, many people find the following guidelines work well for the typical types of painful events we all experienced as children.
Give yourself time to explore painful memories that surface
When dealing with painful memories from childhood, you need to give yourself time and privacy so you can work through them fully. If you are in a situation, such as at work, where you are unable to explore the memory that surfaced, tell yourself a statement such as the following:
This is just a memory from the past. I am an adult now. It cannot harm me or control me. I will deal with it later. Right now I need to focus on the task at hand.
After this reminder to yourself, find something to do that will distract you from the memory and the emotions associated with it. Be sure to then revisit this memory later when you have time to work through it. Do not continue to ignore and suppress a memory that continues to resurface. If it is surfacing, it is time to deal with it. If you don’t, it will continue to resurface and cause problems, usually at inconvenient times. It is wiser to deal with it at a time and place of your choosing.
Remind yourself of three truths about painful childhood events.
As you recall the memory, remind yourself of the following three truths:
- This event is in the past. It is no longer part of the present.
- These circumstances will never happen again. Be specific as to why this is true. For example, it may be that the people involved in the experience are dead or no longer part of your life.
- Things are different now. You are now an adult and have choices along with the ability to protect yourself that you didn’t have as a child. Be specific: “As an adult I can say ‘no’,” “I can walk away,” or “I can get help and protect myself.”
Reinterpret the memory from an adult perspective
The beliefs and thoughts associated with painful childhood memories were those of a child. Ask yourself, “How does Jesus see this event?” Then remind yourself of this answer as you again consider the events that you remember. If you are dealing with very painful memories, it is often helpful to write out a statement about the events you recalled. Here is an example of a statement Kara developed in response to memories she had of being left alone.
I used to think that I was left alone because there was something wrong with me—that I was unlovable. This is a lie. I was left alone because my mom was a drug addict who was unable to care for a child. This is not what God wanted. God’s plan was to have loving parents love and protect their children. Because I live in a broken world where there is evil, I was mistreated as a child. It was never my fault. God loves me. He showed it by sending Jesus to die for me (John 3:16). He shows it now by bringing people into my life who love me. Praise God that He is helping me see the tremendous love that He has for me and the tremendous value that He places on me (1 John 3:1; Romans 8:38–39).
If at any time you encounter emotions or memories that seem overwhelming seek help. Find people God can use to help carry your burden (Galatians 6:2) and assist you in your healing.