How to Process Childhood Trauma

How to Process Trauma | Hopeful Panda

Childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects on people, shaping their well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life. So it’s essential to learn how to process that trauma in order to heal.

Back before I started my “healing journey”, I was almost always on edge, angry, and resentful of anything and everything.

Any little thing can tick me off. I hated everything, I hated everyone, I hated life, and most of all, I hated myself.

Deep down, I knew that anger was just depression. But even deeper down, that depression and everything I thought I felt towards everything was just unresolved trauma.

Once I started processing my trauma, there was a newfound clarity.

I’m still affected by the abuse I experienced. But I have a better understanding of how it affects me and why.

Now, I have the will and hope to try to heal and finally live life how I want to. I finally realized that being miserable before was not because something was inherently wrong with me. It was trauma.

This post will discuss what trauma processing means, why it’s important, and how to process that trauma.

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What Does Processing Trauma Mean?

Processing trauma refers to the psychological and emotional work you go through to acknowledge, understand, integrate, and begin healing from the trauma you experienced.

Frankly, I think it might be the most difficult part of healing. But please don’t let that stop you from going through with this.

It is essential for your healing AND your well-being.

While you’re processing your trauma, it might feel like you’re reliving your past abuse. But there’s no need to relive it. Just try to look back and remember it.

Healing involves exploring all the different aspects of who you are. It involves figuring out what part of who you are is a result of the abuse you faced.

And remember, this process will be difficult, complex, and messy. There is no “right” way to go about it. It all depends on you.

Why Is It Important to Process Trauma?

Unprocessed trauma can have a wide range of effects on your daily life.

For instance, people who didn’t process their trauma struggle with healthily and properly labeling, expressing, and managing their emotions.

It can also lead to the development of avoidance behaviors, physical health issues, cognitive problems, and an overall negative impact on your well-being.

Again, processing trauma is an essential step towards healing, growth, and reclaiming your life.

You need to face the truth about your past and your pain. Being in denial, bottling it up, and suppressing it only hurts you, even if it may not seem like it.

How to Process Your Childhood Trauma

Processing past abuse is a difficult and complex journey. It involves several aspects.

And while processing trauma is something you can technically do alone, I suggest reaching out to a mental health professional to help you with this process.

Acknowledge the abuse

To be able to “process” anything, you need to acknowledge that it happened and that it affected you.

I know it’s extremely difficult, but it’s important to remember that this process is not about reliving every word or treatment you endured.

Instead, it’s more so about remembering, in general, how you were treated and how it made you feel.

For instance, instead of recounting the specific insults that were thrown at you, remember instead that you were harshly criticized and that it made you feel bad about yourself.

You can get into specifics about how you feel. But try not to get into specifics about what was done or said to you because it can possibly re-traumatize you.

Reflect and explore

A huge part of processing trauma is to reflect and explore your past experiences and yourself based on those experiences.

Once you acknowledge that trauma happened and that it had an impact on you, you can start reflecting on and exploring that trauma.

Below are some questions that can help you reflect and explore. And again, this is not about reliving your trauma, just simply remembering it.

Many experts recommend writing as a way to heal and a way to get to the root of your childhood trauma. So I recommend answering these questions through writing to get all your thoughts out. Try not to censor yourself or worry about how it sounds. Just let it flow.

  • How would you describe your childhood? Which experiences seem to stand out?
  • How have your experiences shaped your beliefs about yourself, others, and the world? How did they shape your choices and life today?
  • What emotions do you associate with the abuse you experienced? How do these emotions currently manifest in your life?
  • In what ways has the abuse impacted your relationships and your ability to trust?
  • How have you coped with the effects of the abuse throughout your life? Have they been helpful or harmful?
  • What negative beliefs do you hold about yourself as a result of the abuse? How do they affect your self-esteem and sense of self-worth?
  • What patterns or behaviors from your childhood do you see yourself repeating in your current life? How are they related to the abuse?

Please approach these questions at a pace and depth that is comfortable for you.

If at any point you feel overwhelmed, take a break. Remember, you can take as long as you need during this process. There’s no need to rush it. And please let yourself feel any feelings that arise as you go through this.

Related: 150+ Journal Prompts for Mental Health and Healing

Let yourself grieve

Karyl McBride, the author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough, called processing trauma a grieving process.

Grieve for the little you that didn’t get to exist because your parents took that away from you. Grieve for the parent you never had and never will have.

The grieving process is a natural response to a loss. In this case, it’s the loss of childhood or the parent you didn’t get.

It’s a complex and individualized process that can involve a range of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

The Grieving Process

Note that not everyone will experience the grieving process in the same intensity or order. Grief is unique to everyone. There is no “right” way to grieve.

The grieving process typically involves the following stages:

  1. Denial: You may have difficulty accepting that you experienced a traumatic and abusive childhood. You may have difficulty believing that your parents hurt you.
  2. Anger: You may feel angry about missing out on a proper childhood and loving parents that you should’ve gotten. You may be angry at your parents for taking that from you or for not loving you properly.
  3. Bargaining: You may rationalize that maybe your childhood wasn’t that bad. Or that maybe it was your fault for not being a better kid. Or you believe or hope that your parents might change for the better.
  4. Depression: As reality sets in that you missed out on a childhood and loving parents growing up, you may feel overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, and despair.
  5. Acceptance: You begin to come to terms with reality and start to find ways to move forward. You may still feel sadness or pain, but you’re able to integrate that reality into your life and adjust to the new reality. You accept that your parents won’t change. You accept that abuse happened. And you accept that you can’t change the past. But you can change the future.

As you go through this grieving process, please give yourself the time and space you need to grieve in your own way and seek support from others if needed.

Feel your feelings

As McBride said, “You cannot heal what you cannot feel.” So to heal, you need to get in touch with your emotions.

As you process your trauma, you’d likely feel many different emotions, especially anger and sadness.

You may feel angry at your parents or even at yourself for “letting” them abuse you. And you may feel sadness or grief for missing out on the parents, love, and childhood you deserved.

It’s normal and even healthy to feel sad or angry. Don’t push away the feelings. Work with them.

Try not to rationalize the pain like “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I don’t have it that bad”. Try not to let other people do that either. It will not help.

Instead, release whatever it is you need to release and continue until you begin to feel relief.

Try to find healthy coping skills to deal with any uncomfortable emotions. And if at any point it’s too overwhelming, find healthy ways to distract yourself.

Processing trauma will be painful. But it’s necessary because it lets you deal with your feelings. If you don’t, it’ll remain a part of you forever and manifest itself in negative ways.

This may be difficult because, throughout your life, you were taught to suppress your emotions. You may feel weird or uneasy about giving yourself emotional attention.

But you no longer have to pretend that you’re fine when you aren’t.

Being able to stay with difficult feelings and listen to what they’re trying to tell you is healing. And remember, this doesn’t have to happen all at once. Do it as many times as you need until you feel better.

Don’t beat yourself up

While you’re processing your trauma, you’ll be prone to negative self-talk like “I was so stupid”, “How can I let them do that to me?”, or “Maybe I deserved it.” And this self-talk can lead to a downward spiral.

Unfortunately, that’s what abuse does to you. It makes you second-guess and hate yourself.

The first thing to combat that spiral is to catch yourself when you’re doing it. Once you do, try to stop yourself and use a healthy distraction to get your mind off of it.

It might also be helpful to realize that the spiral and feeling miserable is the intention of your abusive parent. Remind yourself that the abuse isn’t your fault, and that feeling bad isn’t either.

Challenge negative beliefs

Many people who’ve experienced abuse may have negative beliefs about themselves or the world around them.

Try to become aware of the beliefs you have that may have resulted from your upbringing.

Maybe you think you’re unworthy. Maybe you think the world is a dangerous place. Or perhaps you believe that you have to “honor” your parents despite how they treat you.

Once you’ve identified some of your beliefs, examine the evidence supporting or contradicting these beliefs. Think about times when the belief didn’t seem true or the opposite belief was more accurate.

For instance, you ARE worthy. Just because you feel unworthy doesn’t mean you are. Besides, you see yourself through a biased lens that’s been tinted by your parents. So no offense, but you’re not the most reliable judge of your own character.

Try to consider different perspectives and possibilities to develop a more realistic and balanced mindset. Try to recognize how your perspective and mindset might be clouded by your experiences.

Integrate the trauma into your life

Processing trauma involves understanding the abuse you faced. When you understand what happened and how it affected you, you can separate the effects from who you are.

But at the same time, processing trauma also means learning to live with the trauma and integrate it into your existing life. Because whether you like it or not, the trauma is a part of you.

Rather than suppressing and avoiding it, accepting that it happened to you and learning to live with it is ultimately better for you.

Integrating trauma means finding a way to include your experiences of trauma into your overall life narrative in a way that allows you to heal, grow, and move forward.

It involves acknowledging and accepting the impact that trauma has had on your life, while also finding ways to create a meaningful and fulfilling present and future.

Related: Finding Strength in Our Childhood Trauma

But it’s important to know that that doesn’t mean that your trauma defines you.

Your experiences and trauma are just one part of your history that shaped who you are. In the end, YOU are not what happened to you but how you choose to handle it.

Seek support

Processing trauma is not something you have to do alone. And I stress time and time again how valuable social support is.

Don’t be scared to seek support from a trusted friend, family member, or professional. Even online strangers who’ve been through or are going through something similar to you can help validate your experiences and feelings.

The people in my life have played a vital role in helping me process my trauma and move forward.

Practice self-care and self-compassion

Self-care and self-compassion are CRUCIAL for your healing journey, especially so while you work on processing your trauma.

Please try to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and psychologically during this process.

You missed out on the kindness, compassion, support, and patience you deserved as a child. So now, try to make it up for yourself as you heal.

If you have trouble with this, try to imagine you’re interacting with your younger self, also known as your inner child. Imagine it’s your younger self going through all of this.

Try to treat your current self how you would treat your childhood self.

How to Process Trauma | Hopeful Panda


Before I processed my trauma, I thought being miserable was all I can ever feel and all life can ever be. But as I started processing my trauma, I started understanding why I was miserable all the time.

Eventually, I learned that being miserable isn’t all there is to life.

Sure, I still feel miserable sometimes. But I have hope that things will get better because it already has. And I couldn’t have reached this point if not for the hard work of processing my trauma.

But in the end, please remember that processing your trauma is itself a difficult and complex back-and-forth process that takes time, patience, and most importantly, self-compassion.

There’s no “right”, easy, or orderly way to do it.

So please be patient and gentle to yourself as you go through this. Don’t push yourself too hard. And go about this at your pace and in a way that works for you.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an 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 understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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