7 habits of people who’ve healed from a tumultuous family past

Marshall Mathers—the world knows him as Eminem—had a difficult childhood that was filled with trauma

His father wasn’t in his life and he has said that his mother suffers from Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome. He also moved around a lot so there was hardly any lasting stability in his life. 

Last year, the rapper appeared on Shade 45’s Sway In The Morning and he shared a number of stories where he was bullied and assaulted as a child and teenager. Some stories even ended up being the basis for songs such as Brain Damage

Eminem expressed that writing and rapping about his struggles—such as addiction and mental health—had a very healing effect on him.

“I think that one of the great things about rap music is that you can put so much of your life in it,” he said. “It’s therapeutic and that’s how it’s always been for me.”

People who have overcome childhood trauma are more intentionally about incorporating the following habits into their lives. 

1) They want to talk about what happened as a way to process it 

The fact that you’re willing to talk about your past trauma and family dynamic so that you can process it, and make sense of it is an excellent sign that you’re healing or ready to heal. 

The thing about trauma is that it doesn’t make sense, says Ellen Hendriksen, PhD. “It’s a mess of emotions and reactions and questions. It’s unspeakable—more of a roar than words.”

So being able to turn what’s unspeakable into language is necessary and vital to make sense of the trauma, Hendriksen says.

“Talking to your therapist, trusted friends or family, or interestingly, your journal, is a great place to start and continue your processing. Sometimes having your pen do the talking is the most powerful way to harness your voice.”

2) They actually allow themselves to feel any emotions that come up

Being in a place where you don’t want to deny your feelings about your trauma and familial past means that you want to validate what you feel and what you went through. 

That is a really good thing and it means that you’re healing. Even if you struggle with this from time to time, remind yourself that it’s safe to feel, says the team at Living Better Lives NWA.

They say that one way to do this is by using “I” statements such as “I feel _____ (insert the emotion you’re feeling),” and that it’s okay to feel that emotion: “I am allowed to feel _____.”

Another way to validate how you feel is to write the emotion you’re experiencing in a letter.

Writing out your emotions can feel like a release and it can be very therapeutic. 

3) They feel safe in their body 

Feeling a sense of safety is the foundation of all types of healing, says the team at Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group. “You can’t do the other types of healing without feeling safe first,”they say. 

“When you feel consistently safe in your body more frequently, that is a very clear sign that you are healing from trauma.”

There’s a good chance that your body might still be experiencing pain or discomfort as a result of past trauma and it’s only natural to have a strong urge to avoid those feelings, adds Gwen Blumberg Islam, LSW from High Focus Treatment Centers

“However, because trauma has occurred in the body, it also plays a critical role in healing in a variety of ways,” she says. 

Blumberg Islam says that your body can actually be your ally during trauma recovery. 

One way is to understand your body’s response to traumatic experiences. 

“The more you know about why your body and brain respond the way they do to traumatic experiences and reminders, the better your ability to navigate them. It is important for you and your supporters to recognize that your fear response is no more of a conscious choice than it is to jump when startled,” she says. 

Grounding yourself with your five senses is important as is the ability to unfreeze whenever you’re experiencing flashbacks and dissociation. 

“Focusing on intense situations (like holding an ice cube) can help when you are frozen, overwhelmed, or disconnected,” says Blumberg Islam.

“You can also try stomping or clapping and focusing on the sensation in your hands and feet. After you stop clapping or stomping, continue to focus on just the physical feeling for as long as the tingling sensation continues.”

Connecting with a safe person or pet can help you feel safe and be a regular form of self-care. Just like eating healthy meals and being in nature, for example. Even soothing baths and showers can help with anxiety and overwhelm. 

The point is you take active steps and have a strategy in place to self-soothe and feel safe. 

4) They are able to self-regulate whenever they feel triggered

grew up in emotionally absent parents 7 habits of people who’ve healed from a tumultuous family past 

Self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down, says Steven Stosny, PhD

The first step in the journey towards self-regulation is acknowledging and recognizing the presence of trauma, says the teams at Medium

“When individuals endure years of traumatic experiences, their bodies and minds become conditioned to a state of constant stress and hypervigilance. However, the human spirit is incredibly resilient, and given the right conditions, it has the innate ability to self-regulate and heal.”

Self-regulation can involve practices such as mindfulness, breath work, and body-centered therapies. “These techniques promote self-awareness, grounding, and the development of healthy coping mechanisms.”

These can also include yoga and meditation. 

Self-compassion is key to self-regulation. 

5) They allow themselves to grieve what they deserved but didn’t get 

Mourning a lost childhood is a common abstract loss, says Annie Wright, LMFT

“Validating intangible, abstract losses and allowing ourselves to grieve them can support trauma recovery.”

Wright says that as a trauma specialist, she sees many people disregard and invalidate their grief by believing grieving is only “allowed” or “reserved” for death—and not for a lost childhood. 

“You get to grieve the parenting you didn’t receive,” she says. “I truly believe that we get to grieve abstract losses as much as tangible losses, and that when we do, we can support our healing and recovery.”

6) They respect themselves by establishing and maintaining boundaries 

In 2020, Grammy Award-winning musical artist Mariah Carey released her memoir entitled, The Meaning of Mariah Carey

In the book, the singer delves into her up-and-down relationship between herself and her mother, Patricia. Carey talked about her “trauma and deep sadness”.

“Our relationship is anything but simple,” she says. She said that “after many difficult interactions” including her mother asking for money and favors, that she sought therapy to help her “reframe” her relationship with her mother and the rest of her family. 

“I had to stop making myself available to be hurt by them,” she wrote. “It has been helpful. I have no doubt it is emotionally and physically safer for me not to have any contact with my [siblings].”

Carey shared that the situation with her mother is more complicated. “I have reserved some room in my heart and life to hold her—but with boundaries,” she said. 

“Creating boundaries with the woman who gave birth to me is not easy—it is a work in progress.”

7) They aren’t afraid to ask for help and support whenever they need it 

A sign that you’re healing from a tumultuous family past and lingering trauma is that you are able to reach out for support and ask for help rather than self-isolate.

“You slowly allow more people into your emotional inner life and your walls start coming down,” says Canh Tran from Liberation Healing Seattle

You also start to ask for your needs and wants instead of focusing on other people’s needs and desires. “Perhaps you share more vulnerable parts of yourself with others [or] you might allow others to see you cry, frustrated, sad, grieving, and helpless,” she says. 

In other words, you’re humanizing yourself.

“You [also] begin to shift the core belief of self-reliance into interdependence, community, and connection. [You realize that] it’s nice to spend time with certain people rather than being alone all the time.”

Remember: Healing and recovery are never “one and done”

Therapists say that recovery from trauma can take a lot of time—not to mention a lot of work.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s not possible or that it’s not reachable. It’s a slow and steady process so have patience with yourself

Self-compassion is of paramount importance. 

And be proud of yourself for doing the work and investing in you. 

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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