Common Reasons Why We Deny Our Trauma History

Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS

Messages such as “Honor your parents” and “Love is unconditional” contribute to messages that force survivors to deny their reality. Reading and self-educating are steps toward healing and empowering oneself to overcome one’s history. While conversations around trauma are becoming more normalized, we still have a long way to go toward healing.

Coming forward about our trauma history is not easy. And, for many survivors, there will be roadblocks along the way—from societal and cultural messages telling us to honor our parents to victim-shaming messages, to our own internal shame that comes through when we think about our history.

There’s a lot of guilt in society that comes from having anger or pain toward a parent. We are taught from a young age “Well, they’re your parent”; it’s not OK to be angry with them. This guilt over acknowledging and discussing trauma history often contributes to the ongoing cycle of family trauma “Family traumas tend to be passed down and reenacted between parent and child creating generations of emotional suffering and immaturity until someone in the family finally stops and consciously processes their painful feelings” (Gibson, 2015).

Common Messages

But coming forward is not easy. Here are some of the most common cultural and societal messages survivors are up against throughout their process of becoming aware:

Honor thy father and thy mother: This is a common religious teaching for many faiths, and it can be harmful for children who grew up in families where their parents behaved in traumatic or abusive ways because it sends the message that they should excuse or ignore the behavior. This has hurt many of my clients of faith who feel guilty or worry they are going against their faith by speaking out against their history of abuse or trauma.

All parents love their children: Unfortunately, this is just not true. It is most likely true in most cases, and for most of you reading this, I like to believe that it is true for you. I believe that most parents do the best they can with what they know. But the reality is that there are some parents who do not love their children—many times they are incapable. As a social worker, I see the effects of this daily, and it is heartbreaking. And when we make blanket statements such as these to survivors, it can be harmful as it denies the reality that many experience.

A parent’s love is unconditional. Family will always accept you: This is simply not true in many dysfunctional families. So many survivors of dysfunctional or abusive families were abandoned, kicked out of their childhood home, or tossed aside due to behaviors that their parents or caregivers deemed unworthy of love and support, such as pregnancy or substance use. Similarly, many of my LGBTQ clients learn quickly that their parent’s love is certainly conditional.

You can always go back home: This is unfair to tell children that they will always be welcome to return home when it is simply not true. These statements further gaslight the experiences of children and trauma survivors.

Your parents do ___ for your own good: This can be true if we are talking about a parent who is working long hours, takes a job out of state, or does something else for the betterment of the family or lifestyle. But this is very dismissive to tell a child that their family kicked them out, or did something else harmful, for their own good.

Stop and Acknowledge

If you find yourself engaging in any of these messages toward yourself or others, stop and acknowledge this. Anger or pain toward a parent is often met with societal guilt-tripping, and survivors unintentionally perpetuate this message. Adults tell children from a young age, “They’re your parent,” which makes it not OK to be angry with them, but this sends the wrong message.

Not only is it OK, but it is also healthy to acknowledge these unhealthy messages and recognize the pain they reinforce. It does not mean you have to stay in it forever or even act on it. But acknowledging it allows you to work through it, so that way you can move on in a healthy way. It might be helpful to imagine that, had this post (or similar ones) been available when your caregivers were your age, perhaps they may have benefited from it for their own healing, thus preventing—or at least slowing—the cycle of family trauma.

If you feel that your trauma history is impacting your mental health, your relationships, or your ability to recognize toxic or unhealthy situations, it might be beneficial to talk with a therapist who understands family trauma.


Gibson, L.C. (2015). Adult children of emotionally immature parents: How to heal from distant, rejecting, or self-involved parents. Oakland: New Harbinger. Pp. 136

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