When you lose a parent as a child, the rest of the family has to stick together. You have to look out for each other and you can’t really ask for your wants and needs when it’s so hard just to survive. Helping others gives you self-worth because that’s just how the family gets by. But that emotional survival strategy is a crutch that only takes you so far.
That child grows up, of course, with all that childhood baggage in tow.
As I got older, each relationship fell apart for the same reasons. I felt like no one cared about me because they never gave me what I never asked for, and I had no self-worth without solving other people’s problems. It took years to figure out that being useful was not the same as being loving, and others couldn’t love me if I never expressed what my own needs were.
Many other crutches borne out of childhood trauma can hold us back as adults, too. Maybe you grew up with a parent with borderline personality disorder – someone with highly volatile emotions characterized by rage, shame, and abandonment. You had to walk on eggshells to prevent them from exploding, but that emotional survival strategy works very poorly as an adult. Your adult life ends up a marathon of eggshells protecting other people’s feelings, and you struggle to feel or express your own emotions because you were never allowed to while growing up.
If these stories of childhood trauma are relatable, please understand this clearly: You needed these survival strategies to get through childhood. You didn’t get to choose your childhood. But you got through it – you can make your own choices now and it’s time to put down your old crutches.
Think of someone with a splinter in their finger but they don’t know it’s there. They would go around feeling pain every time they touched something. They would assume everything causes pain; they would assume the problem came from outside of them. They might try going to a different place or getting into different relationships, but they always feel the same pain.
If you notice yourself getting hurt by everything you touch, it’s probably not the things you touch that are hurting you. The splinter will always be with you, and so will the pain, until you get out the tweezers and extract the true source of the pain inside of you.
How clearly do you see your own root causes and childhood baggage? How much pain follows you around wherever you go, and how much have you blamed the outside world for the pain you feel? How many uncomfortable questions or old pains do you refuse to look at or heal? This emotional survival strategy only works for so long, if it even really works at all.
I know you don’t want to look for your splinter. I know it hurts to dig in there with the tweezers. I know it’s easier to think the problem is outside of us. But this won’t stop hurting until you address the root cause: your childhood trauma.
When you find your splinter, you need to identify where your childhood crutches are failing you. You’ve outgrown them by now, so you can’t use them anymore. The good news is, you won’t need the crutches once you’ve dealt with the splinter. I promise life gets so much better once old wounds finally heal – let’s get out the tweezers.
If this post resonated with you, then you might benefit from the book Letting Go of Shame by Patricia and Ronald Potter-Efron. This is a self-paced therapy workbook that uses exercises and questions to help you zero in on which crutches are holding you back. This helped me a lot because my crutches had become a big part of my identity, and I didn’t know where they stopped and the rest of me started. Therapy helped me a ton, and I highly recommend it, but this workbook is a cheaper and more accessible place to start for many (and it can help you find where the splinter is so a therapist can remove it faster if you do seek one).