CHILDHOOD TRAUMA – THE INVISIBLE TYPE, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Often, childhood isn’t all that dramatic. No beatings, no sexual abuse, and no drunken binges with screaming and knife throwing. It’s quietly and confusingly more like a Chinese water torture — an intermittant trickle of devaluing words, missed chances to validate and unrecognized pleas for help. To others your life may look great, but not to you. Your pain is palpable, even though the cause is subtle and invisible.

You suspect that something’s wrong, but just can’t figure it out. You don’t know why you don’t love your parents like you’re supposed to. You don’t know why you’re miserable.

“What’s wrong with me?” you think. “Everyone else likes them. I’m a terrible person to feel this way.”

Then in 7th grade or 8th grade or college, you get depressed. You think, maybe I just need some Prozac. A pill should fix me. So arrangements are made and you see a psychiatrist or therapist. Hopefully, the doctor understands that in this case, pills aren’t the answer. He sees it as a chance to examine your life and really help you to get better. So with trepidation and more than a few misgivings you begin psychotherapy.

To use poetic license and a time travelers magic, I’ll quickly move therapy right along. You shed your guilt, become aware of your rage, and your depression begins to lift. It’s like bursting out of a quicksand pool and finally being able to spread the wings you never knew you had.

You can leave your troubled family on the ground below as you discover a world filled with adventure and new ideas. They may remain locked in their rigid, unchangeable world, but that doesn’t mean that you’re duty bound to continue to share that world. You can try to help them, but they have to be willing. As you’ve learned, it’s not easy to examine life from a foreign vantage point. Your family may be too damaged to change. But you’re not. You’ll never be the same again!

Do you believe that childhood trauma can be overcome? What started your healing process? What happened to your family when you changed?

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A patient, a bright college-graduate who was just beginning psychotherapy for depression and anxiety, dreamt that he was traveling deep in the ocean in a submarine. There was a light on the front of the submarine, but it was still too dark to see what was ahead.

The patient said, “The dream makes no sense. I was never in a submarine. Where could it be going?”

“Any ideas? The psychiatrist asked.


“Any thoughts about submarines or trips?”

“Not really. Except that in the dream I was pretty nervous.”

“About what?”

“Just nervous…”

After a few more non-productive attempts at getting his new patient to explore the meaning of the dream, the psychiatrist commented, “It seems like you’re fearful of the upcoming journey.”

“What journey? I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

“I’m referring to the journey into your own mind.”

The young man just stared at the psychiatrist and shook his head in awe. “It’s so obvious, now that you said it. Why couldn’t I see it?”

“That’s what our journey’s all about. For you to see what’s hidden within you, and for you to use that information to feel better.”

Dreams range from the amazing to the mundane. They can help uncover years of repressed rage and love; or just be a simple memory of what happened the previous day. The mysteries hidden within the mind are accessible through the process of psychotherapy and self-examination.

For a writer, dreams can be the direction that will lead a novelist to spend years writing a novel that no one but himself might read. Yes, the wish for wealth and greatness may be there, but to spend so much time on an endeavor so fraught with failure has to be driven by the deepest of passions. A passion so deep that even a submarine might not reach it. And maybe it shouldn’t be reached.  Just the magic of creativity is often enough.

The magic of the dream is that it touches our core, tantalizes our psyche, but keeps us safe. It is our mind’s way of dealing out information in a way that we can handle, gently and carefully. On the other hand, nightmares never feel gentle or safe. But sometimes we might need a two-by-four to wake us up and do what we need to do to improve our lives.

Please leave whatever comments cross your mind.

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