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Gifting Yourself Peace after Childhood Adversity: After Painful Memories Are Confronted, Healing Continues


          Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D. Psychology Today blog post, December 6, 2023

This post is part of a series on adverse childhood experiences. Read the other parts here.

We now so well understand how toxic stress in the first eighteen years of life can wound the heart. Gratefully, we are now clearer on pathways for adults to restore wholeness and the peace and joy that’s been lost.

Let’s assume you’ve already found considerable relief in acknowledging your hurts and applying some combination of self- or professionally-managed skills (Schiraldi 2021)—yet you find that some pain still remains. This is not unusual. This article discusses ways to address some common sticking points in the recovery process. The goal is to turn painful experience to heartfelt peace—greater wisdom, compassion, and joy. This is a goal we all share.

The Forgiving Heart

It’s one thing to intellectually know that releasing lingering bitterness and resentment toward those who’ve hurt you is choosing to drop a heavy load. It’s quite another thing to forgive from the heart. You might try this.

  • Your tough times have taught you that people in great pain are usually not at their best. They often behave quite unkindly. This happened to you. It hurt. Your hurts matter. As best as you can, contemplate that your offenders were in great pain; no one showed them how to heal. As best you can, let empathy and wisdom replace toxic bitterness so you can return to your true loving, peaceful nature.
  • Many find that making a list of all the people who have hurt you is helpful. Name each offender. Recall how their mistreatment hurt you. Rank them in order, from most hurtful to least.
  • Perhaps starting with the least offensive hurt, consider from your heart the hurts your offender might have been suffering from, even if you don’t know the details. Take your time until you feel empathy and compassion for this person. Then wish the person well. Repeat this for each person on the list.
  • Give yourself permission to break unhealthy connections to each offense and each offender. Acknowledge that we all are imperfect; we all do things that make ourselves and others unhappy. Feel sadness rather than hate for offenders who are unhappy. Give them no more power to destroy your peace. Then just “let it all go.”
  • Be satisfied with each attempt, knowing that forgiving is a process. Ultimately, in practicing forgiveness, we are actually learning to become more compassionate toward others (and eventually ourselves).

The Kind Heart

Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote: “My own heart let me more have pity on; let me live to my sad self hereafter kind.”  How curious it is that we see children as full of potential and look so kindly on their stumbling attempts to grow, while being so unkind to ourselves.

Each and every person is fallible, This means we are imperfect, incompletely developed, and prone to err. How you respond to your fallibility will largely determine your inner peace. You can learn to come to peace with your fallibility and to be kind to your imperfect self. Childhood adversities provide ample opportunity to cultivate a kind heart.

Has abuse, neglect, or other childhood adversities imprinted a sense of being inadequate, weak, broken, or worthless? Do you feel like you don’t matter or deserve to be happy, and that you’ll never feel whole?

Perhaps around others you feel like an imposter, trying to appear competent while inwardly doubting yourself and fearing that you’ll be exposed for being weak. You might mask your sense of inadequacy by overachieving and presenting a façade of confidence. However, the feeling of not being enough persists no matter how often you succeed.

John Eldredge (2021) writes that his father’s alcoholism left him feeling orphaned and inadequate: “I realized I was so furious about feeling all alone in a world that constantly demanded more of me than I felt able to give.” To survive, he too put on the imposter’s mask, until he learned a kinder way to cope with his sense of inadequacy. These steps might help you along the path to being kind to yourself:

  1. Realize that it is perfectly normal to feel inadequate, especially as you are facing new challenges or are around people who seem to have it all together. It’s fair to say that everyone feels this way at times.
  2. Realize that feeling inadequate, lacking in confidence, is not the same as actually being Rather than thinking of yourself as inadequate, just think of yourself as being inexperienced, still learning the ropes of life, still discovering your strengths; still learning the art of being kind to yourself.
  3. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t depend on others to validate you. Instead, recognize your character strengths. Name them. You might think, “I possess a unique blend of strengths that I will use to lift myself and others. I’m a source for good.”
  4. Kindly and with good humor admit your shortcomings, as you trust that you will improve over time. Loving kindness is a much better motivator than self-condemnation.

The Calm Heart

Part of the imposter syndrome is worrying about what others are thinking about you—until you realize that they’re not! They are more likely worrying about their own imperfections. Focus on doing your heartfelt best, and then accept the outcome. You’re unlikely to be judged harshly—by others or yourself— if you are earnestly trying your best. If others judge you, that’s too bad, but certainly not a catastrophe.

The Purposeful Heart

What instrument does your heart play? Life is full of suffering that can seem insurmountable. But you can chart a purposeful path that is more powerful than suffering. Meaning and purpose give you’re a reason to persist through suffering. You might commit to a full life that lifts yourself and others: Find a cause that makes the world a better place. Beautify your community or home. Grow inner strengths that are valued around the world, such as altruism and integrity. Build relationships that benefit you and others.

The Compassionate Heart

Mother Teresa said, “When we are judging we are not loving.” Many people harshly judge their mistakes and feel guilt long after they have changed course. Guilt teaches us to change behaviors that betray our best self. After guilt has led to constructive change, it has done its job. Let it go. Imagine an ocean separating you from your regrettable behaviors and the resulting guilt. Replace that guilt with healing love, gratitude for lessons learned, and confidence in your ability to improve.

No experiences need be wasted. Even painful ones can work to our good if they lead to a softer, more peaceful heart.


Schiraldi, G. R. (2021). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook: Heal the Hidden Wounds from Childhood Affecting Your Adult Mental and Physical Health. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Eldredge, J. (2021). Wild at Heart. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.

About the Author

Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD, has served on the stress management faculties at The Pentagon, the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, and the University of Maryland, where he received the Outstanding Teacher Award in addition to other teaching/service awards. His fourteen books on stress-related topics have been translated into seventeen languages, and include The Adverse Childhood Experiences Recovery Workbook, The Self-Esteem Workbook. The Resilience Workbook, and The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook. The founder of Resilience Training International (, he has trained laypersons, emergency responders, and clinicians around the world on the diverse aspects of stress, trauma, and resilience.

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Title image photo credit: Ridofranz/istockphoto


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