We cannot completely remove the scars of our childhood. Whether we like it or not, our early years significantly shape who we are for the rest of our lives. But finding strength and positives in our trauma can help us begin healing.
We can think about what our experiences have given us and learn to see them through a grateful lens. This can be very difficult and it’s not something everyone can do. But if you can, it’s a big sign that you’re healing.
I believe finding strength in our trauma is one of the hardest stages of recovery. It means reframing your past abuse into something a bit more positive. Please realize that this does NOT mean that you’re grateful for the abuse or the bad things that happened to you.
The purpose of this post is not to deny or dismiss all the damaging long-lasting effects that abuse has on us. Instead, it’s to celebrate your strength and resilience despite the abuse you faced. In other words, this post is to celebrate you.
This post will discuss post-traumatic growth and provide a list of strengths you may have gained from the experiences you had. The strengths mentioned in this post are what many survivors of childhood abuse claimed they’ve gained because of the abuse they faced.
Of course, abuse is nothing to celebrate. It’s awful and it shouldn’t happen to anyone. But it happens. As victims, there’s nothing we can do about it other than accept it and try to reframe how we see it so we can feel better and move forward. And this is what I want this post to be about.
Not everyone can (at least, not yet) search for and/or identify something positive in their negative experiences. However, for some people, doing this significantly helps in healing. It helps them see that at least something positive came from a horrible experience. And that’s valid. But if it isn’t something that you feel will help you, that’s valid, too.
I detest toxic positivity so I try my best not to go there. But finding something positive in your negative experiences isn’t toxic. You are not denying or dismissing the bad things that happened to you. You are not ignoring your needs and feelings. You’re only trying to notice the positives so you can feel a little better and move forward.
Nonetheless, if the notion of finding gratitude, strength, or positives from your traumatic experiences is outrageous, offensive, or triggering to you, then please, do not read this post.
However, if you are ready to take this step, aren’t completely turned off by the idea, or it’s something you’re already doing, please continue.
What is Post-Traumatic Growth?
Recognizing the positives that came out of something negative doesn’t mean what happened to you was okay. Again, it is not okay. But it does help a lot in healing. This is known as post-traumatic growth – a positive change experienced as a result of a major life crisis or traumatic event.
Post-traumatic growth does not deny distress. Instead, it demonstrates that adversity and trauma can unintentionally create positive changes.
Also, it can co-exist with post-traumatic stress disorder. So just because you can see the positives to a situation doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Nothing is black-and-white.
In terms of childhood abuse, coping mechanisms you used as a way to protect yourself when you were younger might’ve manifested into strengths that can benefit you today.
A prime example of an individual finding strength in their trauma is Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah suffered abuse at the hands of her grandmother and other people throughout her childhood. Many of her past experiences were recounted in her and Dr. Perry’s book, What Happened to You. She transformed her painful experiences into something that could help others. And she remains one of the most influential and successful people in the world today.
All of this might make it seem like you need to be strong to heal. But you don’t need to be because you already ARE. It might not feel like it, but you’re here and you’re trying.
And remember, different people have different strengths. Just because you don’t have a specific strength doesn’t mean you’re weak or anything like that. Besides, it also depends on where in the healing journey you are. You’ll discover and gain more strengths as you continue this journey.
Finding Strength in Our Childhood Trauma
Many abused victims believe they deserved their abuse. They think they’re not worthy, strong, or good enough.
Finding strength in your trauma is the chance to take back control of that narrative your abusive parents fed you. This is the chance to recognize that you ARE worthy, you ARE strong, and you ARE good enough despite what you went through.
Your parents might’ve taken a lot away from you but they can’t take that away, too.
Before you continue, please note that I am not dismissing any struggles you currently have. Having any of the strengths listed here does not mean that you aren’t struggling.
Not everything on this list might be considered a strength to you. Some of them could even be seen as a weakness. Either way, it’s okay. The point isn’t to check off everything on this list. The point is to notice that there are strengths within you, whether they emerged from the trauma you experienced or during the healing process.
So here are some possible strengths that might’ve emerged because of the abuse you faced. Many of these strengths are mentioned by other survivors of child abuse.
Realize that this list is not exhaustive. You likely have a lot of strengths that manifested because of your experiences that aren’t covered here. And I hope you can recognize them, too.
Strengths You May Have As A Result of Your Experiences
You have the wisdom to help others
Your experience provided you with insight that can help other people. Perhaps you have some tricks up your sleeve to deal with certain difficulties.
Due to your experience with abuse, you may be better equipped to recognize and deal with abuse. You can use that knowledge to help others, especially children, who are in similar circumstances.
This is one of the reasons I decided to start this blog. I wanted a way to turn my negative experiences into something positive and hopeful for myself and others.
You are empathetic, kind, & compassionate
I always try my best to be polite, kind, and friendly because I don’t want anyone to ever feel like I did growing up, or even now. I also try to approach everyone that way with the belief that everyone is fighting their own battles.
Being kind to someone can be the highlight of their day. Because for those who have shown me kindness before, they were the highlight of mine.
As a survivor of child abuse, you may try your best to put other people’s perspectives or feelings into consideration. You may also go out of your way to be respectful and kind because that’s how you would like to be treated.
You are observant and good at reading people
When a child is under constant pressure to make sure they won’t say or do the wrong thing, they’re forced to constantly read how their parents are feeling so they can prepare themselves.
You may have become incredibly observant because you had to read your parents’ every move to prepare for possible danger.
This ability can help you in your current relationships or a job where attention to detail and/or dealing with people is important. You might pick up on small things that other people might not notice like how someone’s feeling or what their next move is.
You are emotionally intelligent
Many individuals mentioned that coping mechanisms they developed as a result of their abuse helped them become more emotionally intelligent.
This connects back to empathy, compassion, and being good at reading people.
And having a higher EQ means you’re likely better at social interactions and forming meaningful relationships.
You are grateful
Having unloving parents growing up, I became truly grateful when anyone shows me any sign of kindness, consideration, or thought.
Because of my trauma, I learned to be grateful for everything good I have going for me. It helped me learn to appreciate the blessings and people I have in my life. And because of this gratitude, I try my best not to take things for granted – big or small.
Ushi – my younger sibling whom I recently got guardianship of – expresses a lot of gratitude at only 12 years old. She shows a lot of appreciation for me as a parent and doesn’t take the little things I do for her for granted.
Gratitude is also a big part of post-traumatic growth. Many people who have been through trauma can reframe their outlook because the trauma itself puts everything into perspective.
Having something difficult happen to you can make you start appreciating the good things in life and start taking fewer things for granted.
You are good at noticing red flags and abusive tactics
Like many other survivors, your past abuse may have given you a better intuition and radar on noticing red flags, abusive tactics, and/or abusive people.
Many abusers can be extremely good at hiding their true nature. But if you had abusive parents who did exactly that, you may be skilled at picking up subtle signs of toxicity someone might display. Or you can see right through their facade.
This strength allows you to better avoid such people or better protect yourself when you come across them. It’s also helpful to help protect your loved ones that might encounter these people.
Being able to recognize toxic behavior or patterns in someone that isn’t abusive can also help you call them out on it.
It also means that you might be able to notice it within yourself to ensure you won’t become abusive like your parents.
You are able to remain calm in tense situations
This is probably one of the most common strengths I see mentioned by survivors.
There are many situations where things will be out of your control, which is something you’re probably used to growing up.
Because of that, you might be able to remain outwardly calm under tense or stressful situations. You might figure, “This was nothing like what I was used to”.
Having this ability allows you to carefully and objectively analyze and process the situation despite the chaos and confusion that might be happening.
During moments like that, you might be the voice of reason people turn to. You might also have a better chance at defusing the situation.
You can control your emotions
Your parents likely had trouble controlling their emotions, which could’ve led to emotional outbursts or acts of aggression that might’ve been taken out on you.
Witnessing that might have made you realize that you never want to be like that. So you might have strived to better manage your emotions. You might’ve also told yourself to never take your anger out on anyone that doesn’t deserve it.
You are resilient
Your past abuse might have made you more resilient at dealing with certain things that come up because you’ve been through worse.
Dealing with daily stressors might be no big deal because it doesn’t compare to what you’ve been through as a child.
You are good at contingency planning
Another common strength I see mentioned by many survivors is their ability to plan for the worst. This applies to major threatening situations and everyday hassles.
When we constantly live in danger, we become a little better at planning for ways to dodge or prepare for that danger.
You might have developed an ability to plan for all the uncertainty that lies ahead due to your abusive parents’ unpredictability. That way, you have a better chance of dealing with and, hopefully, resolving whatever difficult situation arises.
You are independent and self-reliant
It’s unfortunate that you probably had to learn to be an adult at a young age. But because of that, you may be very independent and self-reliant.
You likely learned at a young age that your parents aren’t there to help or support you. So you learned to do it yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be able to rely on people sometimes, especially when you’re in a relationship.
However, knowing that you can always rely on yourself can be freeing. In a way, you know that you don’t need anybody.
You stand up for others
I am often a shy person that never speaks up. But when I see other people getting mistreated, a switch goes off in my head. I would end up standing up or defending the person.
Standing up for others is also a common strength mentioned by various abuse survivors.
They claimed they didn’t have anyone standing up for them back then, so they try to be that person for someone else now.
You are able to validate others
Another common strength I’ve seen mentioned is the ability to validate others and make them feel good.
Having dealt with abusive parents, you’re likely used to being invalidated. And you know the toll it takes on your self-esteem and self-worth.
So now, not only do you know what not to say to hurt others, but you may also know exactly the right thing to say.
You can adjust your expressions, tones, and mannerisms
A lot of communication is expressed non-verbally through facial expressions, vocal tones, and mannerisms.
Having grown up with an abusive mother, I’m really sensitive to those things because I had to learn how to read them to gauge whether I should guard myself or relax.
Because of that, I think I’ve developed an ability to adjust my own facial expressions and vocal tones so I don’t accidentally scare or hurt others, especially those who are traumatized like me.
As a parent to my siblings who’s been through abuse, I think this has been helpful. I consider it a strength because it grants me the ability to be more sensitive and mindful about how I’m acting towards others.
You are good at communicating
You might have had parents who purposely took your words out of context, misunderstood you on purpose, or put words in your mouth. As a result, you might’ve learned how to explain or communicate things more effectively and clearly.
While good communication might’ve been for naught with them, it benefits your other relationships and social interactions.
You value your relationships
When you grew up with unloving and unsupportive parents, anyone you come across who shows you any type of affection, care, kindness, or support is someone you truly value.
Because of that, you are likely able to make lasting, meaningful relationships. It also means that you are a loyal person that others can depend on.
You take responsibility for your actions
One common trait amongst abusers is their inability to take responsibility or be accountable for their behavior. Most, if not all, rarely own up to their own toxic and abusive behavior.
Because of this, you may be able to see where you’re wrong or make a mistake. You told yourself to never end up like the abuser. You’re also able to apologize or make something right when you’re in the wrong, something many abusers can’t or won’t do.
You trust your instinct
While this is more so an effect of healing from abuse, some abuse survivors claimed they learned to trust their gut more. They also claimed that their instinct has usually turned out right.
So when you have an uneasy feeling about someone or something, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, chances are, it’s your body/mind trying to warn you about something.
Rather than second-guess and doubt yourself as your parents did, you may learn to trust yourself instead.
You can be politically correct in conversations
If you had an emotionally abusive parent, everything you said was likely used against you. They might’ve made fun of your opinions, perspectives, or beliefs.
Because of that, you might’ve learned to speak without giving your opinions or anything about yourself.
Basically, you learned how to speak politically, which can be beneficial nowadays, especially online when anything you say can be used against you.
However, this is only a strength if you use it to your advantage. It’s important to still be open, honest, and true to yourself when talking to people you’re close to.
You are a good parent
Many abused children actually become great parents once they grow up and have their own kids. They claim that their parents taught them what not to do and strive to never make their parents’ mistakes.
If you started healing, you’re likely aware of how your experiences with abuse could affect the way you parent your children. So you may remain proactive in managing your symptoms to assure you won’t pass on the cycle of abuse to your children.
You likely strive to give your kids what you missed out on growing up. And you know to give your children the love, support, and space they need to grow and thrive.
You are not quick to judge others
We don’t know anyone’s history. Most, if not all, people struggle with something.
Being not quick to judge others stems from empathy. But many abuse survivors, including myself, noted that we aren’t quick to judge others because we, ourselves, don’t want to be judged.
The reasons behind someone’s attitude or behavior are oftentimes more than the fact that they’re just a bad person.
I’ve been judged and ostracized at different points in my life because I was standoffish or too emotional. But I was those things because of what I was struggling with at the time. Once I got comfortable with people, I was more open, silly, and expressive.
You are patient
Patience is kind of a given when you have abusive parents. And that can be beneficial when it comes to your job, interacting with others, and parenting.
Being patient also means being able to resist the temptation of an immediate reward. This is also known as delayed gratification.
It also means that you can withstand some discomfort or wait for the sake of a better reward or a long-term goal. In a way, this shows that you’re willing to work towards your goals despite the hardships because you believe it’ll pay off.
While instant gratification isn’t inherently a bad thing, it can be a sign of a lack of self-control. It’s also where a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms stem from.
One study, known as the Marshmallow Test, found that children who chose to wait for a better reward rather than a less good immediate one, did better on their SATs, were healthier as they got older, and coped better with stress.
You are open-minded
Similar to being empathetic, you may be more open-minded to other people’s perspectives, cultures, beliefs, and opinions.
Your parents might have shamed you for who you are or what you like. So you told yourself to never judge or shame others for their beliefs or opinions (unless it’s harmful to others).
This can open you up to new, meaningful relationships and experiences.
You have high standards
If you’re like me, you might try to do your best in everything.
Having high standards for yourself or others isn’t a bad thing. It simply means you won’t settle for anything mediocre or subpar. In other words, it means you know you deserve more than that.
It’s not healthy to have impossible standards. But having high standards – your standards – on relationships, career, health, life, and how you treat yourself is a strength.
You have a good memory
Another strength I was surprised to see that I didn’t think about before was a good memory.
You may have a good memory or learned memorizing techniques as a way to protect yourself from the gaslighting you might’ve endured.
While a good memory might’ve manifested as a way to protect your sanity, it can benefit you academically and professionally.
You can put on a facade
Like me, you might be used to putting on a cheerful facade in front of others, either to hide the fact that you’re hurting inside and/or to avoid possible punishment from your parents.
While being able to put on a facade can be considered a negative effect of the abuse, there are instances where it can be seen as a strength.
Of course, it’s ideal to be genuine with who you are and what you’re feeling. But that’s not appropriate in every situation.
If you’re at work or with your children, you would want to maintain that facade until you’re at a more appropriate time and place to express yourself and your emotions.
Being able to keep a facade during stressful times can also be an amazing skill for certain careers.
You are creative
Some people claimed that their helplessness growing up turned them towards fantasies. They mentioned that this fostered their creativity and imagination.
Other than the arts and creative careers, creativity can also be useful in everyday situations.
For example, being able to come up with different solutions and approaches to a problem is a skill many children with abusive parents had to develop. It’s also a form of creativity.
You know how to save money
One strength I was surprised to see mentioned by a couple of people was the ability to save money.
Many people mentioned that their abusive parents weren’t great with their money. As a result, they struggled financially and blamed it or took it out on their children.
You may have learned how to save money and manage your finances to either escape your parents and/or become self-sufficient.
You know you can’t rely on them for anything. So learning this skill was something you needed to build your life on your own.
You strive to be a better person
My past experiences make me want to be a better partner, parent, and overall better person. It motivates me to go out of my way to make sure my family feels loved and that everyone I come across is met with kindness and respect.
You may strive to be better than your abusive parent. You know how it’s like being abused so you never want to treat someone else that way.
Check out The Strength in Our Scars - a reminder that no matter what you're going through or where you are on your healing journey - you are strong.
In the end, the abuse we faced leaves so many more negative effects than whatever strengths we gain from it. And a lot of victims acknowledge that.
Of course, many of us would give up these perceived strengths if it means not having to deal with the consequences of childhood abuse for the rest of our lives. But unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. So we might as well count whatever blessings we can from the mess we were left with.
Everything – good or bad – shapes us into who we are today. And that’s not something within our control. What’s done is done. All we can change now is our mindset and what we can do about it.
We were hurt and we’re still hurting. But this is even more reason to think about the strengths we gained from the experience. We need some kind of win. We need to remind ourselves that there are positives in life and us.
Besides, if you can find strength in your trauma, you can overcome and survive almost anything. And remember, these are YOUR strengths. All that credit is for YOU.
Your journey might’ve been full of pain and hardship. But it was also full of transformation, strength, growth, and resilience.
And if you have trouble finding the positives in your experiences, that’s okay. Don’t force it. You don’t have to make something out of your trauma.
No one should be ashamed if they can’t put a positive spin on something that’s inherently awful. No one should feel like they need to fight themselves to find something good from their bad experiences.
However, do remember that it may take time to be able to find it. It took a lot of time for me and it takes time for many others. But the more time it has been since the trauma, the easier it tends to be.
And if and when you do find the strength in your trauma, use it in your favor. Remind yourself that this is all because of you. YOU made it possible.
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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with a physically and emotionally abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.
I am always trying to better learn, understand, and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this healing journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda, a place where others who faced childhood abuse can hopefully find support, resources, and motivation to begin healing.
A lot of time and effort is put into this blog – for me and for you. If you enjoy my content or find it helpful, please consider sharing and/or making a donation. Thank you!