ABC Bookstore Blog Post
2nd July 2020
The circle of life, and the value of stories: The silent witness of early childhood trauma
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling: Copyright (c) Jim Byrne 2020
I believe that each of us is a silent witness of our early childhood experiences. We do not know what happened to us unless and until somebody helps us to make a story or stories out of our raw experiences.
You may have noticed this phenomenon: Sometimes in a cop show, or murder mystery, on TV, there’s a witness who knows something which is relevant to solving the crime or mystery. But this witness is unaware that they have witnessed something which is very important, which could be helpful in solving the case.
I believe each of us is like that witness. Let me explain:
Recently I’ve been reading three books that deal with complex, post-traumatic stress disorder:
Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.
Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.
And Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving.
One of the things that struck me about all three books is that each of the authors have to tell a personal story to illustrate the journey that got them to study trauma. There is nothing impersonal about their expertise; and their personal stories underpin their professional practices.
Many years ago, I had a set of serendipitous experiences which unearthed some strange stories from my own ‘internal silent witness’. The first happened in Bangladesh in 1977. Up to that point, nobody had ever expressed any curiosity about my life. And I had – consequently – no story about life, which I could know and share with the world.
I met Carla in Bangladesh, and she was intensely curious about my life, and especially my childhood. I told her some bits and pieces from the very edges of my conscious awareness, and she was appalled at how painful my childhood had been – how physically and emotionally I’d been abused. I was amazed at the emotions that came up them: the painful memories that welled back. What I had taken to be ‘normal life’ turned out to be quite brutally unusual – or at least not how children should be raised, by parents who love their children, and want them to be happy.
Two years later, back in the UK, I met Renata (my wonderful wife of 34 years), and she was studying various disciplines, including Gestalt therapy. As a result, she was able to help me to explore my childhood some more. Out of my conversations with Renata, I got a lot of little stories about my weird childhood: some funny; some saddening; and some angering.
Over time, two major stories emerged: My Story of Origins (as a country boy in a city school, who failed to make a single friend in ten years of schooling). And My Story of Relationship (especially my insecure attachment to my cruel mother). Both of these stories now appear in a forthcoming book, which you can read about here: Recovery from Childhood Trauma: How I healed my heart and mind – and how you can heal yourself.
Later, I expanded those two stories to include a good deal of my journey from birth to eventual relationship happiness. And I have written that bizarre journey up in a two-volume, fictionalized autobiographical story, which you can read about here: Freud, Mammy and Me: The roots and branches of a simple country boy. Volume 1 of the fictionalized autobiography of Daniel O’Beeve
And, at the moment, I am rewriting another of my books, which is designed as a self-help guide for individuals who want to work on their childhood trauma. You can read some information about that book here: Transforming Traumatic Dragons: How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach
Without the curiosity of Carla and Renata, all of my unknown stories would still be festering inside of my neurotic, subconscious mind-brain-body; instead of having been externalized, ventilated, and healed.
What kinds of stories does your Silent Witness have in raw, gut-feeling form, which could benefit from being written up, or talked out?
What happened to you that needs to be aired and witnessed by a caring other?
That’s all for today.
Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, Authorship Coach and Trauma Therapist