Emptying the Soul's Garbage Can:

Why I Write About My Childhood Experiences

by Sieglinde Alexander

When we -- the abused children -- begin dealing with our childhood traumas, we often have the need to express these repressed early feelings. I have found that writing is one way to express feelings while seeking answers to how our personalities were influenced by our past. I regard writing as another natural self-analytical process to access our repressed trauma. For me, the tool of writing has become one significant way to find my identity and with it, the lost self-worth which had been destroyed by early childhood abuse. In this process of regressive writing, I have had an opportunity to uncover my original needs from which I had been deprived of since birth and early childhood. Many of my early needs had never been met and the additional violence I later experienced became the foundations for my emotional disorder. The first step to heal my repressed trauma began with the words which describe what I was feeling. While some people have a chance to be supported by an empathetic and aware psychologist or therapist, many of us, like me, cannot afford one.

When I began confronting my horrific childhood, I discovered that writing had a beneficial and long-lasting effect not only is giving me more information about what had happened to me, but also helped lead me toward emotional healing. In addition, I could look back and see the progress I had made since 1993, re-reading the records of my first confrontations with the past. With every written page, I relived the reality of my past and came closer to my identity - to my real self. Writing also opened-up a well-hidden door to self-honesty and with it came the irrevocable reality of my past. I also was more able to be in control of my behaviors. I did not have to submit to the demands and expectations of others which was what my childhood environment had demanded. I realized that I was not being judged or ridiculed and could determine how honest I would be with myself. It was important that I had the right to decide whether or not anyone would read about my deepest pain. This was the most necessary insurance I had to have to remain in the feelings and maintain the strength to continue my self-exploration. My adult life reactions were the direct reflection of the imprinted violence I had had during childhood. The planted shame and feelings of guilt forced me into denial and hindered me from talking about the truth of my childhood for 42 years. Those feelings had also stifled any hope of emotional healing.

While I was in a deep depression, no one would listen to me, not even my husband. No one understood my fears or had any answers. Some turned away, saying, “Forget about the past and face the reality of the present.” Suppressing my emotions and memory was exactly what I had done all my adult life, but neither my friends, nor my husband could understood that. I no longer had any control over the descending, painful emotions and memories and was so driven by symptoms that I began to write about what no one wanted to hear. I also needed self-acknowledgement so I began writing aimlessly, without editing or concern about who might read it. In three months I had filled more than 400 pages in a composition book. Gradually, the overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt gradually lost their impact on me. The writing had been the first step in a very long healing process. Later, when I made a complete revision of all my writings, I noticed a spontaneous scribble on the edge of one page. "I must empty my Soul's Garbage Can."

My written confrontation with the past had created horrifying flashback memories and I had I wondered how I would be able to continue to function and fulfill the daily demands of my life. These questions were answered later when I discovered that my identity was altered very early in life on by the inflicted traumas.

It became clear to me that my writing was not only a spontaneous, emotional expression; it also was an entry to involuntary and surprising regressions to my childhood. I could understand that these regressions revealed both the emotional stage and chronological age of the child, which comprised my early conscious awareness. In some sections of my writings was the expression of a confused teen, both uncoordinated and overwhelmed by daily stress. As incomplete flashback pictures of the trauma appeared to me, so too were the fragmented sentences I wrote. While in some sentences, my overwhelming helplessness became clear. I recognized in other lines a strong defense. As the need continued to express myself, I was able to recognize the defense of a child against unfair and hurtful demands.

The further back in time I regressed, the closer I came to the earliest trauma. I recognized the limited vocabulary of a very young child using mainly nouns with distorted sentences. In a closer look, the seemingly confused writing leads me to an answer to a question I wondered about for years. The misspelled words and confused grammar, I used at times, triggered flashbacks. I saw my fifth grade teacher ridiculing me: “Are you daydreaming again, Sieglinde?” I was not daydreaming. My mind was dominated by pain-filled memories of the night before, when I was raped by my older brother who was seven years my senior. I could not suppress the freshly experienced trauma from the night before. The older I become, the better suppression worked, given that there was no new abuse. As a consequence I could not concentrate during the most crucial times while we were being taught German grammar. The effect came later and I was ashamed all my life because I struggled with correct German grammar. Now, I asked myself, why should I have been blamed for a bad school performance when I was mostly unconscious? Many parents ridiculed their child for not concentrating in school. Yet many of these parents had actually created, the cause of the distraction by their child.

My writing was the key to my self-analysis. Finally, I had the answer to why I always needed total silence to concentrate as a child and later as an adult. The lack of concentration was do to the early pressure to perform in spite of the trauma. This disability has fallowed me from childhood to adulthood until I addressed the traumatic evince itself. Later, I discovered the gap between emotional and technical writing. As soon as one's memory moves closer to a trauma, writing becomes as fragmented as the pictures of the appearing memory. Driven by emotional pain, the right hemisphere becomes dominant and hinders the fluent communication between the left side of the brain. In my case, it did not matter if I wrote in German or English. To express the memory of a severe trauma I had to rewrite the sentence many times later and many more corrections needed to be made. Often, I felt like a little child who could not find the words to express what was felt. I came to the conclusion that it was the trauma which hindered me from learning because of my problem with concentration.

When I write about the same trauma, I am not only back in time but find myself using the same restricted vocabulary. The more I wrote about the memory of abuse, the less the impact of the trauma presents itself, reducing the grip of right hemisphere dominance. To my surprise this writing expressed not only the trauma of the past, it also reflected my present emotional stage; the proof that repressed trauma remains alive and affects the adult, no matter how much we try to repress the inflicted harm of the past. Some healing progress was clearly noticed as my writing became more expressive and grammatically more accessible.

Logical thinking (left hemisphere) is the side of the brain a human develops last. Unfortunately our existence depends on logic, even though we are born with a fully developed right (emotional) side of the brain. We know from birth how to express pain, joy and pleasure, and could do so later if abuse had not destroyed this natural survival instinct. It is a very common belief that everything can be solved by logic. If so, why can we not rationalize and explain away the mental pain.

What good would it do, if we could live completely with the logical left side of the brain? There would be no mental pain, but neither would there be any emotions. I believe it is the good fortune of the human species to be able to use both sides of our brains successfully (both logical and emotional). However, severe early abuse, in any form, destroys this balance and we will, sooner or later, develop symptoms.

When my left and right hemisphere finally found a way to communicate between themselves, I found the answers, explanations and my own solutions on how to deal with my private childhood holocaust. I finally understood my emotions and it became very clear to me that there is no logical solution for an emotional disorder. It is the trauma itself that has to be confronted in order to find its origin and give it a chance to become un-stuck.

Today I believe that the effect of early childhood trauma has three major components, which should be addressed in our healing journey:

  •   First, we need the awareness if we have been traumatized and by what or whom.
  •   Second, we must regress to face the original trauma once more, in order to release the blockage which originally repressed the trauma.
  •   Finally, the healing process can begin by feeling and releasing the pain.
After having experienced the steps, the trauma in question, for me, usually becomes less dominant and I am able to explain and express my feelings related to the trauma, and begin to I know who I am and start to understand the origins of my personality.

Getting Started: The Benefits of Stream-of-Consciousness Writing

Writing about our own mental pain brings answers which sooner or later will be understood by us. This is because we are using our emotional language, not influenced or dictated by anything other than our emotions.

If we look closely at what we have written during an emotional upheaval, we will learn what we were deprived of. The deprivation of my needs in early childhood influenced my adult life in a destructive way. Recovering the knowledge of what we were deprived, is the beginning and our healing can then be directed accordingly. Our body and mind intuitively know what needs to be done. Hidden deep in our writing is the real us, and we will have a chance to know our "real self" to know about our values, needs and strengths and thereby discover our self-worth.

As an individual, I was able to decide what was good for me. In spite of some psychologist’s claims that we do not need to confront our past, I know I could have not healed my emotional wounds without becoming aware of their origins. My writings were not only a tool to express my feelings, but were used as a foundation for selecting a psychotherapist and dismissing the one who did not understand my therapeutic needs. I used my writing as a guideline in therapy sessions instead of being pressured or directed by a therapists who supposedly knew what I had needed.

© 2004 Sieglinde W. Alexander

The author is the founder of the organization
"Adults Abused as Children Worldwide."
The website of AAaC may be accessed at

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