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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

The Two Realities of Childhood Relational Trauma: A Personal Story



Growing up in a household with parental narcissism and marital discord, I felt like I vacillated between two vastly different life realities. One reality where I was that curious, playful child who enjoyed exploring the woods next to his house, danced and sang in the middle school musical, and became editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. The other reality—one unseen by most others outside of my immediate family—was where I played peacekeeper between my arguing parents, was surrogate partner to my depressed and lonely mother, and was criticized, ignored, or invalidated by my narcissistic father. As an adolescent, I remember trying to mitigate the dissonance between both realities with justifications like:


“Anxiety attacks run in the family.”

“So what if dad always works late. He doesn’t spend time with me when he’s here anyway.”

“It’s my job to stand up for mom. Who’s going to do it if I don’t?”


These justifications were a way to distance my feelings and detach from the trauma around me. An easy escape to a reality where everything appeared fine on the surface. I am grateful that detachment allowed me to soak in the moments of boyhood that were worthwhile. At the same time, it fragmented my sense of self resulting in chronic hypervigilance, confusion, and insecurity. Through my own healing journey as an adult survivor of childhood relational trauma, I have slowly but surely fostered a connection with the younger inner versions of myself who remained fragmented long after we were grown and out of that childhood home. I’ve helped my inner child, inner teenager, and inner young adult realize that they no longer needed to compartmentalize their experiences to stay safe, sane, and attached. My adult self is more than capable of bearing witness to and honoring the fullness of my childhood experience with unconditional love and compassion. Together we have begun to weave both realities of our lived experience into one cohesive narrative that I consider MY authentic truth.


As survivors, we have many great qualities that were shamed, exploited, or left unacknowledged. We were forced to disown pieces of ourselves to stay safe and connected to our caregivers. Overwhelming feelings were suppressed to avoid harm, manifested as somatic anxiety, or magnified in a last-ditch effort to receive support. As adults we can neither erase our experiences of childhood trauma, nor can we paint over them with false murals of attachment security. What we can do is recover their shades of color that too existed in a seemingly black and white reality. Let’s help that child within reclaim their sense of self and shed light on the complexity of their lived experience.  

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