Healing From Childhood Trauma | Making Friends with Your Defenses

Gina Rolkowski shares how to heal childhood trauma by understanding the needs behind the defenses that protected you. The image shows a long blond hair braid hanging out of the window of an old brick tower.

 If there was a way to help you in healing from childhood trauma that didn’t involve making friends with your defenses, I’d be the first to offer it to you!  Initially, recognizing my defenses was very difficult, but I realized that the first key to my overcoming abuse was to acknowledge them.  Because if I didn’t, I knew they were going to continue to get in the way of my healing.

I gotta be honest…I absolutely hated my defenses. Ugg! I just loathed myself for using them. I felt ashamed and embarrassed of them.  Nonetheless, I defended them to the death.  This allowed me to pretend they weren’t a part of me.  As far as I was concerned, I could know them but if someone else had the nerve to point them out… Watch out!  Every bone in my body stood up to fight to pretend they weren’t there.

How to Start Healing From Childhood Trauma…Hating What Needs Healing

Even though I hated using them, I didn’t know what else to do.  I only knew that I would regret using those defenses and that it felt like my life depended on refusing to allow anyone to even mention them.

When I finally learned that these defenses kept me safe and helped me survive during all the years I was being traumatized and abused, my posture towards them changed.  They didn’t feel so embarrassing to admit to any longer because I understood that they were really my heroes.

Unfortunately, I also learned that these very same behaviors that kept me safe were also the one now keeping me stuck and disconnected.  How about that?

As helpful and necessary as they were then, was also as equally hurtful as they were now. 

Why is this so?  Because these defenses work in unsafe life-threatening circumstances and now that the abuse has stopped, the circumstances have changed.  It’s like using a huge chainsaw to cut down a towering tree in the forest.  Then using that same chainsaw to cut the baked chicken on your dinner plate.  See?

Not too helpful in that situation.

Healing Childhood Trauma: The Challenge Is Threefold

The challenge this presents for overcoming abuse and discovering joy is that these defenses most likely are the only tools you know or have.  So, the issue in moving from surviving childhood trauma to thriving after it, is threefold.

  • Recognize your defenses (notice I did not say like them 😉 just acknowledge them
  • Befriend them by learning what need they meet
  • Learn new healthy ways of meeting those needs so you can start thriving not just surviving 
Sue Monk Kidd a world renown author, writes openly about her own defenses in her best-selling book When the Heart Waits.  She calls them her “false selves.” Furthermore, she names them with titles and describes their needs and behaviors.  I love how she names her defenses because this concretizes them and makes them more personal and therefore, relatable. :o)

For example, she created:

  • Little Girl with a Curl
  • Tinsel Star
  • Rapunzel
  • Little Red Hen
  • Tin Woodman
  • Chicken Little

My False Self/Defense

For the purposes of this blog, I am going to share with you Rapunzel, who is one of these “false selves’/defenses to which I related and subsequently befriended.  Which, in turn helped me realize the need she was filling and how to meet that need more effectively.

First requirement: Recognize Defensive Behavior

I would date (and I use the term loosely here) anyone who paid me any attention, despite knowing deep down I was settling.  However, at that time (unconsciously) to me a little of what I perceived as love felt better than none at all.  Sadly, repeating this pattern only reinforced my deep despair and continued abandonment. 

Second Requirement: Befriend Them By Learning What Need They Seek To Fill

For so long I wanted my Daddy, Mommy, husband, or someone else to come fix me.  I felt trapped in the tower of pain, shame, fear, low self-esteem and self-loathing.  I sought out others to love and rescue me only to be let down repeatedly.

Third Requirement: Learn New Healthy Ways Of Getting Needs Met  

I realized that what I needed was unconditional love.  Additionally, I also needed to know I had the power to open the tower door myself even if it meant a difficult, dirty and tiring journey.  It would be more than worth it to get outside of the dark tower and live in freedom and fresh air!  The abuse was not my fault but the healing was my responsibility.  When I tapped into God’s love for me, I was able to get the need of unconditional love met and also got to know my capability as a child of God.

I started realizing that if I was God’s child, then there was no way I was incapable or unworthy.  So, armed with God’s love as my new healthy go-to, I started doing what I could to escape the tower of survival even though I felt scared.  

As Sue Monk puts it so eloquently, “I mustn’t solely rely on others to heal me; I have to do it myself with God’s grace and Presence.  I needed to embrace myself, knowing sometimes God’s arms were my arms.  I needed to seek help but I also needed to bend down and untie my own ankles.  That was Rapunzel’s task.”

When I saw that the defenses I had used had deep personal needs within them, I finally felt like I understood the “how” to heal from childhood trauma.  Not only that, but I could see my behaviors/defenses with compassion rather than shame.  Understanding the why behind defenses normalizes them.  This, in turn, paves the way to have those needs met safely and lovingly.  Thus, thriving not surviving!

Healing From Childhood Trauma-Defenses: Friends Not Foes

When it comes to how to heal from childhood trauma, you can see the importance of recognizing your defenses.  Not acknowledged, they’re bound to be repeated.  While this recognition plays such a huge role in overcoming trauma, I don’t want to diminish how scary this can feel to do.  Making space to see these false selves requires vulnerability.  And vulnerability will absolutely feel scary at first.  But it will be soooooo worth it!  And it will get easier.  ;o)

Vulnerability can feel like you are in the middle of the battlefield alone with armies on both sides heading straight towards you.  As a result, you pick up the old defenses and put on the “false self.”  Fortunately, turning towards God you can now realize you are not alone and you are not in a war zone.  This leaning on God, will not only significantly reduce the anxiety and fear keeping you stuck but it will make vulnerability a bit more palpable. Thus, helping you let down the old defense and then… watch out world! You’ve opened the door from surviving to thriving and you are on your way to living that peaceful, playful, and purposeful life you desire and deserve.

2 comments to " Healing From Childhood Trauma | Making Friends with Your Defenses "

  • Marcia De Souza

    For many years I questioned God why He allowed my dad to beat and molest my sisters and I growing up. One day I went on a mission trip to Brazil and after I shared my testimony a young girl came up to me sobbing and hugged me. She thanked me because she thought she was all alone. That very moment I knew my “why” was “what for”! How can you help someone if you’ve never been in their shoes?
    Today this young girl is married with two beautiful children in a loving home, serving God.
    Forgiveness was the first step of healing for me!
    God bless,

    • Marcia,

      What a powerful story you shared here. :o) Thank you for trusting your history with me. Wondering “why…” so many times we do wonder why God allows pain in our lives. But you hit the nail on the head. We can’t help others if we haven’t been in their shoes. No doubt it’s a tough “shoe” to wear but how wonderful to be able to see someone else’s pain and help them heal. Thank you for sharing! ~Gina

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