"The overarching learning curve of my healing journey – "Expect the unexpected." Learning about myself has literally felt like I’m meeting and getting to know someone I’ve never met before."
CW: This interview contains some discussions about suicide and suicidal ideations that may be triggering to some readers.
Lucy King is a childhood trauma survivor, mother, teacher, and blogger. The birth of her first child 8 years ago became a catalyst for Lucy’s personal healing journey as she recognized the ways in which having her own children triggered her unhealed wounds and how those wounds impact her ability to meet her children’s emotional needs. Lucy openly shares details of her therapy sessions and processing on her blog and Instagram page as she continues her deep attachment work with her third therapist. Her writing has inspired many followers to begin their own therapeutic journey or to deepen their current work by braving more challenging topics in sessions due to her own uncensored authenticity. Lucy discusses how her personal experiences with childhood emotional abuse and neglect motivated a strong desire to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma and the ways in which she uses her adverse childhood experiences to inform her practice both as a parent and as a trauma-informed primary school teacher.
SWY: Starts With Youth believes that there is value in the ability to share one’s story and build a community. Would you be able to tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with childhood abuse and trauma?
LK: From the outside, we were the perfect family. No one knew what life was like behind closed doors. Sadly as I write those words I can see I’ve repeated that aspect of my trauma all through my life by hiding the truth of my childhood and my healing journey from most of the world. I’m in my mid-thirties, I’m a mother and teacher and wife and I started therapy 7 years ago. I can count on one hand the number of people in my life who know the last part of that sentence. I blog about my recovery from childhood trauma anonymously. I hope that one day I will feel brave enough to be open with everyone in my life but I’m not there yet. I would tell every survivor that the shame is not theirs to carry, however I still hold onto a lot of the shame that was passed on to me. This journey is ongoing and progress is not linear. I am the result of generations of trauma that was passed down through both sides of my family. Familiar stories of our family history hold tales of wars, alcoholism, breakdowns, infidelity, prescription drug abuse, ‘untreated personality disorders’ (though I hate that term), sexual assaults… all behind the closed doors of very well spoken ‘middle class’ families. I have made a commitment to my children to break the chain, to limit the trauma they inherit.
My experience as a child was that I had no identity that wasn’t defined by how I could serve my parents. I was the product of an affair and as a result of my accidental conception, my parents decided to stay together then held me responsible for their unhappiness. Due to my parents’ own unhealed wounds, they were inconsistent, unreliable, selfish, narcissistic, emotionally volatile, and emotionally detached. I was emotionally abused by my mother daily and occasionally physically hurt by them both. My father was emotionally distant. They were both unable to meet my emotional needs. I was called names, humiliated, shamed. I was to blame for everything that went wrong in the family. For those of you familiar with narcissistic abuse terminology, I relate to the role of scapegoat. My parents found it difficult to settle into their roles as adults and we moved around the country numerous times as they both attempted to ‘find themselves’ and find secure jobs. We lived just above the poverty line and constantly on the outskirts of community. I struggled to make friends and retreated to my very vivid inner world as a way of coping. There were often explosive fights that I was dragged into and then would be forced into the role of a marriage counsellor. I was parentified by both parents and made responsible for their emotional wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of my younger brother. In my mid-teens, my parents finally separated and my mother had a series of toxic relationships that brought more chaos into my family home. I never felt safe or nurtured. I mostly felt like an unwanted burden.
SWY: What effect do these experiences have on you today? Physically, mentally, emotionally, or in any other way?
LK: In my teens and early twenties, I struggled with a range of reactive coping strategies. I self-harmed, drank, got high, and took risks. I didn’t value my life and was desperate to find a way to numb the emotional pain I was enduring. I attempted to end my life. I moved out of the ‘family home’ at 17 and moved in with my now-husband. Life became more stable, I started university and began to explore self-help books. I was still plagued by dissociation, disordered eating, deep depressive episodes, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviours, and chronic low self-esteem. I struggled with emotional and physical intimacy. I still struggle with perfectionism; I have a phobia that I will damage my children. I have panic and anxiety attacks, I experience emotional flashbacks, and during difficult periods, I suffer from intense nightmares. I struggle with toxic shame and low self-worth, I relate to disorganized/avoidant attachment patterns, so emotionally intimate relationships are very difficult for me. I overthink and analyze everything so I become mentally exhausted easily, which negatively impacts my ability to concentrate on work and other things. I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I am hypervigilant in relationships, and I struggle with asserting boundaries. Many of these things have become more manageable or have healed since starting therapy but quite a few of the issues I’ve listed are ongoing.
SWY: What are some methods you have found to be particularly effective in coping with trauma?
LK: My number one catalyst in my healing journey is therapy! I recognize that therapy is a privilege that not everyone has access to, it hasn’t been easy for me to get what I need and I felt badly let down by the limited support available for survivors of childhood trauma on the NHS here in the UK. We need far more than the 6 to 8 counselling sessions offered. I have paid for private therapy since I started in 2013. This hasn’t been easy and has at times been a difficult commitment to make financially. There were periods where I got into debt paying for my sessions. We forfeited new cars, holidays, other indulgences that our peers enjoyed because we always said my healing and my mental health was an investment for the whole family and a priority above other expenditures. It’s important to note that there are volunteer groups and many therapists offer sliding scales, so I’d encourage those who need support to not let financial constraints limit your access to therapy. It has been the single biggest vehicle for my healing and after a decade of attempting to heal through self-help books and motivational films, I can say with complete conviction that I could not have done this by myself.
My first therapist was a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. He helped me work on the symptoms of my trauma, he educated me on what was happening in my mind and body, and he introduced me to mindfulness and compassion-based work. After three years working with him, I had my second child and took a year break from therapy. I then worked with my second therapist who’s modality was Transactional Analysis. She observed my tendency to intellectualize and worked on connecting me to my inner child, my feelings (that thing I was completely numb to all my life). We did an enormous amount of work together working twice a week for nearly two and a half years and the progress I made especially in the last year has been incredible. She taught me how to let love in and was the single most influential person in my life. That work has sadly come to an abrupt end as she’s had to close her practice due to illness, which has been a huge loss for me. I am currently in the very early stages of working with my third therapist who is a person-centered therapist. We are currently working on my grief around the loss of my much-loved therapist and the attachment pain that’s bringing up. I could talk at length about my experiences with therapy (as I do on my blog)… one key thing I’ve learned is that the relationship is the most important and most healing part of the whole process. Followed closely behind by the need for the therapist to be trauma-informed and in my opinion, they should be in their own therapy along with receiving regular supervision.
As I experienced developmental/attachment trauma from having caregivers who could not attune to me and did not have the capacity to meet my needs, I have struggled with feeling, tolerating, and regulating my emotions. It has been vital for me to work with a practitioner who understands this and has provided the safe, nurturing relationship within which I can learn how to co-regulate. The end goal of course is to be a self-regulating, self-sustaining person and the only way to reach that goal is to turn towards the pain and face it within a secure relationship.
"The end goal of course is to be a self-regulating, self-sustaining person and the only way to reach that goal is to turn towards the pain and face it within a secure relationship."
Other methods I’ve found useful in my recovery from childhood trauma are –
Reading and researching - You are the expert of your experience but don’t rely on a professional to know everything about the psychological side of things. Knowledge is power. Learn about adverse childhood experiences, generational trauma, the mother wound, coping strategies, defense mechanisms, the nervous system, fight/flight response, somatic expressions of trauma, attachment theories, working with parts… the list is endless. Absorb as much information as you can so that you can cognitively understand what you went through and how much you make sense considering what you experienced. You are also in a far better position to know what you need when you understand what you’re experiencing.
Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga - I would consider myself in my infancy with these practices (though I have been using guided meditations for years) and I struggle to consistently turn to these methods in times of heightened stress. They do help me a lot though and I see them having a massively positive impact in the wider community of survivors. Reparenting yourself through fostering good sleep habits, regular movement, mindful eating, and learning about healthy boundaries all contribute to the healing process.
There are hundreds of amazing pages on Instagram. Search tags that relate to your particular trauma to find the support that relates to your needs. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you could create a separate account that’s anonymous so you can comment and interact on the pages without fear of someone in your family seeing. Keywords like ‘adult child of narcissist’, ‘recovery from childhood trauma’, ‘polyvagal theory’, ‘healing the inner child’ are really useful. I’ve spent hours and hours delving into anything from blogs and websites to samples of books available on amazon and psychological journals/papers for practitioners.
Finally, find a community of people who ‘get it’. Whether it’s group therapy, support groups online, friends. Blogging and Instagram have been a saviour for me in finding a group of amazing, inspirational survivors and therapists (many of which are wounded healers themselves) who are a constant source of experience, knowledge, guidance, and support for me. It is an incredible validation and affirming experience to be able to talk to people who have walked a similar path to you and helps to break down the belief that you’re alone in your experience.
SWY: Is there anything you have learned that surprised you or was unexpected throughout your healing process?
LK: Yeah, so many things. The overarching learning curve of my healing journey – "Expect the unexpected." Learning about myself has literally felt like I’m meeting and getting to know someone I’ve never met before. Also, it takes time. You need to go slow and respect the pace of the most scared and vulnerable side of yourself… no one is moving forwards until the least trusting part of yourself feels safe. As my last therapist would say (when talking of my frightened inner child), ‘baby steps, think of how far she’s come and how small her feet are’. If like me, you’ve spent your life numb and detached then it’s going to feel a lot worse before anything gets better because these very painful, suppressed, young feelings will emerge and demand to be felt. People will attempt to remind you of your strength by saying things like, ‘you survived the trauma so you can survive the recovery’ but in my opinion, this is not how it feels. Often times through the trauma we dissociate and could in fact have been numb to it our whole childhoods. In complete contrast through the healing journey, we need to feel it all for the first time and it feels annihilating. But it is true that we are stronger than we think and we are all capable of healing. Lastly, one of the most surprising things for my most wounded parts is that healing within a relationship is powerful and life-changing. Attachment therapy relies on a very close and deep attachment between the therapist and client.
SWY: As a survivor of enduring childhood abuse, what would you say to others who may be currently living through similar experiences that you have had?
LK: For any children or young adults who may be reading this… What is happening to you is not your fault. No matter what anyone has told you. It is NEVER the child’s fault. You didn’t make this happen, you are not to blame and the shame you’re experiencing is not yours to carry. If you are a child and you are currently living through abuse or neglect I want you to know that you deserve to be loved and to be safe. You might never have spoken about what’s happening to you but one day you will meet someone who you know in your gut can be trusted with your story and they will help you. I would encourage you to try to get help and don’t ever stop trying. You are worth fighting for and there may be times when you feel like you’re the only one fighting for you but you have a whole community of survivors (including me) walking in front, beside, and behind you cheering you on. Never give up! I first went to my family doctor to talk about my feelings and my self-harm when I was fourteen years old and he told me I was selfish and attention-seeking. He also told me that if I wanted to kill myself, I was ‘cutting the wrong way’. Sadly you may be confronted by these types of people as you attempt to reach out but I want you to remember that they are the problem, not you. Keep trying to find someone who is trauma-informed, emotionally awakened, compassionate and kind.
"No matter what anyone has told you. It is NEVER the child’s fault. You didn’t make this happen, you are not to blame and the shame you’re experiencing is not yours to carry."
For any adults who are struggling with the impact of their traumatic childhood and haven’t yet taken the first step, I want you to know that it may seem impossible but you will heal. You might feel that ‘it wasn’t that bad’ but the things you’re struggling with in your daily life are telling you otherwise. Trust your body, it remembers what you may have forgotten. Often childhood abuse and neglect are so insidious and covert that we don’t even really know if it happened the way we remember. We are gaslit and invalidated so much that we question our own feelings, opinions and memories. Trust that if any of what I have written resonates with you then you were not loved the way you deserved and you do deserve to heal. I attempted suicide three times since my teen years and there have been numerous other moments where I believed there was no hope for a better future. I want you to know that it is possible. It is ongoing, hard work but you deserve to be liberated from this pain you are carrying inside you. I will be in some form of therapy my whole life, I consider it my life’s work and I hope that the legacy of my commitment to my healing is the positive impact it will have on my children and other people I form close relationships with. They talk about the ripple effect in therapy, the impact of the work you do on yourself reaches far wider than we’ll ever know. If I can do it, you can do it.
SWY: You mentioned that you are a primary school teacher - What do you think schools are doing right and wrong in terms of educating children about abuse and trauma?
LK: Here in Scotland, we are working hard at becoming more trauma-informed within the education system. Over the past few years, many of our professional development opportunities have been about trauma and adverse childhood experiences. We have been spoken to by young adults sharing their experiences and letting us know what went right for them in school and what went wrong. We are also far more informed in terms of the support in the wider community and other associations relating to supporting our vulnerable children. There is definitely still a lot more that could be done and it’s hard to convert certain people who believe that they were treated a certain way when they were kids and they turned out alright… certain people find it very difficult to question and change their beliefs. But the clear message we have been receiving from the top is that all behaviour is communication, and it is our job as the adults to support the child any way they need. This is a very different message to the one being pushed when I was a child. It’s slow progress but I think we’re going in the right direction.
SWY: Has teaching had any benefits to you in terms of being able to heal from your experiences?
LK: If I’m honest, through the hardest struggles in my healing journey, I’ve questioned whether becoming a teacher was the right thing to do or not. It is a highly stressful, demanding job and the day to day responsibilities feel relentless and never-ending. I recall my last therapist told me it made perfect sense that I went into teaching even though it was never on my ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ list as a child. She pointed out that it has given me the structure and boundaries and discipline I craved growing up. The child within who still needs safety and security feels comfortable in this stable job.
Teaching has also given me a platform for me to ignite change. Both parenting and teaching have been the sources of my most powerful triggers. They challenge me to directly face my trauma on a daily basis. I’ve learned that we can’t and in fact, shouldn’t avoid our triggers. They are our greatest teachers. They show us where the pain is and where the healing needs to be focused. Many therapy sessions have centered on working through triggers that occurred in the classroom or in my current family home. I see the world through the eyes of the children in front of me but I also see it through the eyes of my inner child. Often the injustices I faced growing up feel powerfully present when I am providing love, nurturing, and support to the children in my care. I am two parts in those moments; the wise adult self who deeply cares about and has the capacity to love these children and the wounded child inside who is grieving her lost childhood and all these moments of love and nurturing she didn’t freely receive. I am still learning how to comfort and love myself the way I always needed.
Parenting and teaching have illuminated the power adults have and what a great responsibility it is to use that power for good. I started teacher training 18 years ago and became a parent 8 years ago. Over that time I have approached my role as a teacher and parent with the same passionate thirst for knowledge and growth as I did my therapeutic journey. I have read and researched childhood development, attachment theories, respectful parenting, restorative discipline… the list is endless. I became a teacher because my experience at school was almost as lonely and unsettling as my experience at home… I wanted to make a difference, even just to one child. I’ve learned that through doing this, I’ve been able to work on myself. My inner child is given permission to awaken and takes great joy in designing fun and exciting child-led learning experiences. I have not forgotten what it feels like to be a child.