When I read this by Gabor Maté it rang true. What is also true is that we are no longer alone, helpless, and without support. We are adults now. We can stop shaming and judgment. We can be there for ourselves!

By the time that the event happened,
the child already knew that they were
alone, helpless, and without support.

Coping with Childhood Trauma, Gabor Maté

“When you know a child is going through a traumatic experience, how can you help them come to terms with it in a healthy way? Keep in mind, trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you. What happens inside you is a constriction. So the question is, how do you keep that child from being constricted from their experience? How do you keep them from being limited by it? The trauma is that the child has to keep it in. The trauma is that there is nobody to listen to them. Nobody to validate their feelings. That’s why they shut down. That’s why they constrict. If they had someone to talk to, who heard and validated their feelings, they would not have been traumatized.

So the trauma itself is an adaptation, it’s a restriction, it’s a response to a lack of support. Which also means, that by the time the traumatic event happened, they were already traumatized. The traumatic event was not the primary trauma. The primary trauma was that the child was isolated in the world and couldn’t talk to anybody. But that happened before the traumatic event started. By the time that the event happened, the child already knew that they were alone, helpless, and without support. So they had to keep it in, push it down.

The child needs someone to express their feelings to, and to have their feelings mirrored back to them. Then they won’t be traumatized. That’s the presence of what is called the ’empathetic witness’. The “empathetic witness” is Alice Miller’s phrase. It’s not necessarily somebody who can change the child’s situation, but somebody that can mirror, validate, and accept that child’s feelings and emotions. That’s how you protect people.”

It’s never too late to become the empathetic witness for someone else’s or your own inner child.



Are you having trouble finding compassion for yourself? Try this companion practice

Empathetic Witnessing
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