Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Was Your Childhood Normal?

Many Wounded Adults are in Denial

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/normal.htm

  Updated  12-29-2014

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      This article is one of a series on identifying and reducing psychological wounds from early-childhood trauma. It assumes you're familiar with...

      This article proposes that "normal childhood" can mean "healthy" or "dysfunctional" (unhealthy and traumatic). Many psychologically-wounded adults don't recognize which "normal" applies to them, so they don't see that they were traumatized. Their unawareness and protective denial puts them at risk of wounding their own vulnerable kids..

      This brief YouTube clip introduces what you'll find in this article:

 What's the Problem?

      Reflect for a moment. Would you say you had a normal childhood? Were you a normal child? Was your childhood family normal? After answering those questions, pause and identify what your criteria for judging normalcy are and where you got the criteria i.e. who taught you what "normal" was/is in each case?

      A casual answer might be - "I had parents, a home, friends, went to school - so yeah, my childhood was normal." Many authors writing about the effects of being raised in a low-nurturance  ("dysfunctional") family propose that before personal recovery, typical adults "don't know what normal is." What they mean is, such men and women don't know how high-nurturance ("functional") families behave and feel, so they assume that parental abandonment, neglect, and abuse are "normal."  

      This means that before personal awareness and recovery, many early-trauma survivors believe they're "OK" instead of recognizing the toxic effects. of their psychological wounds. They also are apt to stay entangled in a dysfunctional family system which amplifies their wounds and puts their own kids at risk of inheriting toxic wounds + unawareness.

      Could this be true of you and/or someone important to you? How can you find out?

What Does Normal Mean?

       If 8 out of 10 people have brown hair, then "normal hair color" is "brown." If 70% of families have two parents and at least one child, then nuclear families with only one adult and/or no children are "abnormal." Note that this description makes no judgment about "good or bad" hair color or families.

Childhood "Normalcy" and "Happiness"

      The real question for all adults (you) - specially parents - to ponder is not "Were my childhood and birth-family normal, it is "Were they ''wholistically healthy''?  That leads to the ultimate question: "Did I get my developmental and special needs met well enough often enough during my childhood? Most people don't have enough awareness to ask that question, and/or they lack enough knowledge to answer it accurately. So they don't think about it, or casually answer "sure" - when the reality is "I don't know," or "no."

      To experience this, pause, reflect, and write down what your developmental (vs. survival) needs were as a child - i.e. identify what you needed to learn from your caregivers to become an independent young adult. Then compare your list with this summary, and see what you learn:

_  I could name all of my developmental needs

_  I could name over half of my needs

_  I could only name a few of my needs  

      If you were raised in an absent-parent home because of parental death or divorce, now try listing the special adjustment needs that you required adult help to fill. Then compare your list to this one and see what you learn:

_  I could name all of my special adjustment needs

_  I could name over half of my needs

_  I could only name a few of my needs  

      How do you think most women and men would do with this exercise? My experience as a veteran family therapist is - few typical adults can name over half of their childhood needs. That means they don't know enough to judge whether their birth-family was "functional" (vs. "normal").

      Besides unawareness, a second factor that makes it hard for average Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) to know how well their childhood needs were met is the common psychological wound of reality distortion. This manifests as "forgetting" large parts of a painful childhood, and/or recalling childhood as "good" when in fact it was often traumatic and painful. 

      A third factor was first publically identified by addiction-recovery pioneer Dr, Claudia Black in her important 1982 book It Will Never Happen to Me (revised in 2002), She observed that typical kids of addicted parents (i.e. GWCs) were taught "Don't talk (about your trauma and our family dysfunction)", "Don't trust (anyone to really care about you).", and "Don't feel (your needs)." My 36-years' clinical experience with over 1,000 troubled adults and growing up in an addicted family has solidly confirmed her observation.

      For these reasons, many busy adults think "my childhood was 'average' or 'pretty normal' without realizing that normal may mean "I was traumatized and inherited psychological wounds and ignorance from my wounded ancestors."

      Before personal recovery, typical GWCs may also (want to) think "My childhood was happy enough," without recognizing the psychological trauma and pain they unconsciously endured. "Happiness" is the temporary state of having "enough" of your current psychological and physical needs met for the time being. That's not true of average kids in low-nurturance homes and families.

Early-family Normalcy

      The factors above also tend to distort adults' perception of their childhood family's "normalcy" (functionality). People who were raised in a low-nurturance family may believe it was "normal" because they never experienced living in a high-nurturance environment.

      For example, kids whose parents never hugged, encouraged, played with, and praised them or said "I love you" will not miss the bonding, warmth, security, and love that Grown Nurtured Children (GNCs) routinely feel. They also may not know how to spontaneously feel and give these treasures to any kids of their own. There are exceptions.  

      To see if you may have an idealized (distorted) view of your early-family's nurturance level, invest some undistracted time in filling out this worksheet proposing common traits of a high-nurturance family. How many of these traits describe your childhood home/s and family? Would any siblings and relatives who knew you growing up agree? Would the adults who raised you?

       Premise: my clinical study and experience suggests that most or all personal and social problems are caused by [psychological wounds + unawareness] inherited from wounded, unaware ancestors. If this is true, then in America (and other countries?)...

  • "normal" (i.e. over half of typical) families raising kids are significantly dysfunctional - i.e. they don't fill their members' needs very well;

  • "normal" parents are psychologically-wounded and unaware, and they don't (want to) know this and what it means;

  • a "normal" childhood is one of unrecognized or discounted trauma, psychological wounding, and poorly-filled developmental and special needs;

  • a "normal child" is one who instinctively develops some degree of personality fragmenting and false selves in order to survive caregiver abuse, abandonment, and neglect; and..

  • high-nurturance (functional) families and wholistically-healthy childhoods are abnormal in this country now, tho few people understand or admit that.

      What are you thinking and feeling now? Who's doing your thinking - your true Self or ''someone else''?

      Reflect for a moment. Now would you say you had a normal childhood? Were you a normal child? Was your childhood family normal?


      If you believe your childhood and birth family were "normal," that may mean...

  • you have been psychologically wounded and often controlled by well-intentioned false selves, and

  • you don't know that or what "being wounded" means.

      If you're caring for minor kids, it may also mean...

  • your co-parenting partner/s may be wounded too, and...

  • you may be unintentionally passing on [wounds + unawareness] to your dependent kids.

      Another implication of the above: if key people in your life (e.g. parents, siblings, your mate, and close friends) claim their childhoods were "normal," they may not know that inherited wounds and unawareness are promoting personal and relationship problems, and harming any dependent kids. We Grown Wounded Children are unconsciously attracted to each other socially and romantically, and often have significant relationship and parenting problems.


      Whether you feel your childhood adults and years were normal or not, I invite you to...

  • learn how psychological wounds and unawareness get passed down the generations;

  • learn about Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) and what psychological wounding means; Then...

  • assess yourself and key people in your life for psychological wounds - specially if you have - or may have - kids.

  • If you feel you're wounded (have a disabled true Self), commit to studying Lesson 1 here and freeing your true Self to guide you.


  • If any key people in your life may be GWCs, (a) consider alerting them to this article without feeling responsible for their decision, and (b) review these options for relating to wounded people. 

      If false selves control you, those protective subselves may cause thoughts like...

"Well. OK, I'll do this later (or 'soon')"

"I don't need to do this - I know I'm not 'wounded'"

"This is too much work / complicated / intellectual."

"I don't do stuff like this."

        If you're guided by your true Self, you may think something like...

"I want to learn more about this, so I'll start studying these resources today.

      Your resident true Self would say something like "For my sake and my kids' sakes, I'm going to follow these suggestions now.


      Many people believe their childhood years and birth family were "normal" without examining what "normal" means. From 36 years' study and research, this article proposes that in modern America, normal childhood means "traumatized by psychologically- wounded and unaware adults." The article proposes three reasons many survivors of early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse are unaware of their trauma and of the wounds and unawareness they inherited.

      The article links to worksheets to help readers better understand...

  • how well their childhood developmental and special needs were filled, and

  • how many traits of high-nurturance families their early home and family had.

      The article closes with specific suggestions and resource links, whether you feel your childhood was normal or not. 

  Learn something about yourself with this one-question anonymous poll..  

          Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self or ''someone else''?

      This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful    

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