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Childhood Suffering and the Promise of Freedom

Can you imagine feeling grateful for childhood adversity?

Though such sentiment would once have seemed absurd to me, it’s now an established feature of my life. This striking shift in outlook prompts me to start a new blog.

More than five years ago I launched an online journal called WillSpirit that helped me explore the many problems I faced: professional failings, psychiatric diagnoses, addictive tendencies, stormy relationships, spiritual malaise, and so on. From the beginning I knew my root problem was childhood trauma, but it didn’t seem like there was much to be done about that. So I concentrated on pulling out all the tendrils of dysfunction that sprang from the single taproot. As a result, my topics tended to be diverse and erratic, and this lack of focus continued even after John Grohol, Psy.D., was kind enough to lend me a more visible venue here on PsychCentral, which we called Guideposts to Happiness.

Now, however, I’m much clearer about methods for directly addressing that nuclear injury of formative hardship. What’s more, childhood adversity no longer seems like a purely negative fact of my life. Instead, I can see that early bereavement, abuse, and neglect prepared me for a vast expansion of heart. It took decades for my understanding to mature, but having survived so much, I no longer feel driven by fear. Having lost so much, I no longer feel offended by loss.  The emotional shredding of earlier years opened me, because it confronted me with the fragility and unreliability of all we hold dear. And once I quit expecting the external world to satisfy my hunger for security and affection, I discovered within my own living heart all the safety and tenderness I will ever need.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating painful childhoods as prescriptions for adult happiness. They are anything but. Still, if we rise into adulthood with such legacies, we can learn to leverage them to our advantage. What we can find, as those who have suffered have ever found, is that the wounding life inflicts can be a great teacher, a great liberator.

When I announce gratitude for childhood adversity, I am acknowledging that what makes my life satisfying now (personal development and insight into the human experience) grew out of the traumatic events of my earliest years. I can believe this and still recognize that my adulthood would have been more joyful and productive had my upbringing been less punishing.

And to be honest, my demons still ensnare me. At times I feel exhausted and discouraged, or even depressed. But the frequency and severity of my despair have lessened, and–most important–it’s now clear to me that moods come but they also go. This makes my occasional deflations much easier to bear. It creates a separation, you might say, between my soul and my suffering. Further, it is now easier for me to appreciate how frustration and sorrow rise and fall in every life, so I am not alone in hardship no matter how lonely I feel. These broadenings of perspective make it possible for me to embrace living without yearning for a different experience, not even when times are hard.

You might say that those of us raised badly have been entrusted with a dangerous but precious gift. On  the one hand, if childhood wounds are left unmanaged, we suffer problems such as alienation, low self-esteem, addictions, poor health, or even early death (topics I will be discussing in future posts). On the other, if we learn from the difficulties, we can reach levels of acceptance and clarity less available to those from more supportive homes, those who weren’t forced–as youngsters–to confront the awesome vulnerability of human life.

I am calling this new site Peace, Love and Childhood Adversity because in my experience the latter has led to the former. Armed with the realization that deficits bequeathed by early turmoil can transform into benefits, I intend to explore the issues faced–to varying degrees–by all who grew up in dysfunctional homes. Obviously, this includes a substantial fraction of the population, since our competitive, dislocating, and honesty-averse culture makes it challenging for families to provide truly supportive environments. Many are able to do a “good enough” job, but many aren’t. I hope the essays in this new venue will inspire a few of the injured multitude to transcend their painful pasts.

The writing won’t offer direct advice so much as example. I won’t tell others how to proceed beyond obvious prescriptions like: “get all the help you can find.” What I will do is relate illustrative stories from my own trajectory that highlight the inevitable trials, the potential rewards, and how the proper tools and attitudes can shape the first into the second.

I welcome all fellow-travelers. Whether you are attempting to find ease after an unsupportive upbringing or want to help others from such backgrounds, I appreciate your readership and, especially, any comments you care to share.

Childhood Suffering and the Promise of Freedom

Will Meecham, MD, MA

In late 2014, Will Meecham, MD, MA, launched to combine clear explanations of biology with meditations on Life.

Before he felt ready to start, Will needed to overcome a highly traumatic upbringing. In young adulthood he coped with his past by over-achieving, completing years of higher education in ecology, biophysics, neuroscience, and medicine. But in mid-life, when neck disease ended his career as an oculoplastic surgeon, he was forced to confront vulnerabilities such as low self-esteem, high reactivity, interpersonal conflict, dissociation, and an unstable sense of identity, all of which are common problems for those who suffered hardship early in life.

After years of inner work, he grew more stable, grounded, and secure. Along the way, he discovered that his lifelong love of biology helped him find meaning and purpose in Life. He now works to encourage greater appreciation, gratitude, and compassion for the human body.

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APA Reference
Meecham, W. (2014). Childhood Suffering and the Promise of Freedom. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 23 Jul 2014
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