There are millions of us who experienced childhood trauma through a parent leaving, witnessing arguing and fighting, being neglected or mistreated or worse
Victims of childhood trauma were once little humans who felt that we were unloved, unwanted, bad or worthless because of what we saw, heard and felt. When you feel that way, you behave in one of two ways—you either do all you can to live up to those words (in other words, you behave very badly), or you do all you can to earn love, belonging and worthiness (in other words, you behave very well).
We either go through life doing things we know we shouldn't do (and living with the guilt and self loathing that accompanies that lifestyle), or we go through life working hard to please people in order to get them to love us. There is a third way, a better way, to live.
The best way to live is to know that we're valuable and worthy of love. From this belief in ourselves, we can courageously step out to try new things, to take calculated risks, and to create truly successful lives. (Real success is defined in terms of a balance of healthy relationships, peace, joy, financial provision and a sense of wellness.) We can only get there with the help of others.
Two of my rescuers
As I write this, I’m on my way to the funeral of the man who believed in me before I believed in myself. Corky Kindsvater was a foster and adoptive parent to many, and although he was never technically my foster father, he was the closest thing to a father I’ve known. He and his wife of 65 years didn’t need a court order to love the people within their influence. If you were fortunate enough to cross paths with Corky or Gayle Kindsvater, you were loved. Their love radiated out like sunshine on everyone within their reach.
Corky helped me understand that bad relationships harm, but healthy relationships heal, so keeping up the strong walls of defense that I had built to protect myself were only keeping me from receiving the love that would heal me. That’s when I began to slightly lower the very strong walls that I had built up to keep others from getting close enough to hurt me again.
This is how good rescuers see victims of childhood trauma
Corky and Gayle never got offended over ugly words spoken to them or over favorite things that were intentionally broken. They weren't concerned about stains from spilled kool-aid, scratches on furniture, or any of the other things that the wounded children in their care said or did. They considered people far more important than any material possessions.
Corky and Gayle believed that every bad behavior is a comment or a question, and that those comments and questions are always, “you don’t love me,” and "will anyone ever love me?” So regardless of what a kid said or did, Corky and Gayle looked beyond the words and behaviors and responded to the comment or question they believed was being communicated by the behavior. Their response was always, "We love you. Jesus loves you. You are awesome and you are lovable."
Here's an example
One day a kid took a big glass jar of mayonnaise out of the fridge and intentionally threw it on the kitchen floor as hard as he could. Mayo and glass were everywhere. Corky and Gayle needed that mayo for the sandwiches they prepared for lunches. They were barely able to pay the bills and couldn't afford to waste anything. I thought the kid would be disciplined with a firmly voiced conversation about not breaking things, how broken glass was dangerous and how someone could get hurt cleaning it up, and about how they didn't have money to waste by destroying perfectly good food. But none of that happened. Corky's response was to take the kid out for a burger and shake.
Whaaaaat? As Corky told me the story, I couldn't help but interrupt with, "COOOOOORKY, WHY DO YOU REWARD BAD BEHAVIOR?!? Isn't the kid going to just do that over and over again to get his reward of getting to go out for a burger and shake? Won't he think he's really pulling one over on you to get to go out?" Corky just smiled and slightly shook his head indicating that I just didn't get it.
“Never give a child what he or she deserves if what is deserved is less than what he or she needs.” —H.H. "Corky" Kindsvater, MSW
Corky explained that taking the kid out of the present situation and environment helped to dial down the tension and strong emotions that had preceded and provoked the bad behavior. He told me that having the opportunity to talk to the kid in a public restaurant over a burger normalized the conversation so that the child who had exhibited such strong angry behavior wouldn't feel fearful or punished by going to the office or being sent to his room. The child would feel seen and heard and would have the comfortable space and the relaxed time to share what really was bothering him.
"But don't kids take advantage of your approach and intentionally do things that they know are wrong just so that they'll get a trip to the burger joint?" Corky patiently explained that a kid might get a couple of trips for burgers before their behavior improves, but that the opportunities presented for him to hear from and to speak to kids in a place where they are calm enough to really hear what he has to say in a time that immediately follows the episode is priceless.
He said that a trip to the burger joint did more good for the kid than months of traditional therapy in the office because the kid was more relaxed and the kid felt accepted and special, and therefore would open up far more than at an appointment in an office that felt formal and forced. In that setting with those feelings, Corky was able to communicate to kids that there are no "bad kids," there are just bad behaviors. He told kids that they didn't have to behave well in order to be loved, because they were already loved and therefore should behave well.
Corky and Gayle's loving lessons weren't limited to the young people in their care. Corky taught me, his insurance agent (at the time) that it was OK to be me—in fact, I was better than OK. He taught me that I was strong, smart, capable, bold, resourceful and resilient. One day he said, "why don't you open your own insurance agency?" I did just that! I chased my dream and lived it because Corky gave me the courage to do it. Whatever good I’ve been able to do in my life is to his credit.
Who believes in you?
Who believed in you? Did you have a family member, foster parent, pastor, mentor, teacher, coach, neighbor or friend who genuinely cared about you? If you have had someone in your life who believed in you, please share your story in the comments section to encourage other survivors that finding their person or people is possible.
If you haven’t yet had that person in your life, find someone who thinks your awesome, lower your walls, and believe them when they tell you that you can fly.
Rhonda Sciortino was a ward of the court for the first 16 years of her life. She mined the lessons out of a very painful childhood, and used those things (character traits and learned abilities) to create personal and professional success. To help other survivors of childhood trauma, Rhonda founded Successful Survivors Foundation. Her big, hairy, audacious goal is for everyone to love the people within their influence. She launched the Love Is Action Community Initiative to provide a blueprint for changing communities through loving kindness. Her blog, podcast, books, videos, events and online courses are all designed to help others find their purpose and and to live with joy.
Those of us who have survived childhood trauma are exceptionally vulnerable to getting caught up in relationships with this type of person because we are so eager to be wanted and to belong and to be accepted. Toxic people dole out acceptance when they want something, and they withhold it to get the survivor within their influence to perform...something like a dog performing for a treat. It's a toxic cycle, and it's no way to live....https://www.rhonda.org/post/rescuers-and-the-rescued
Some people change your life so profoundly that the results are miraculous. Here's a story of a man who changed mine and countless others. https://www.rhonda.org/post/miracle-workers-among-us
We successful survivors of hard times are comfortable in our own skin. We know who we are and we’re OK with ourselves, flaws and all. We know our worth and value—whether anyone else sees it or not. https://www.successfulsurvivors.org/post/how-can-you-tell-the-difference-between-a-victim-and-a-successful-survivor
Millions of people fail to reach their full potential. They feel “stuck” in unhappy relationships or they struggle on the job and financially. Some have experienced so much adversity that they’ve lost hope of improving their situations. Many want to improve their lives, but simply do not know how. Successful Survivors is an “easy read” that provides compelling, relatable stories that emphasize the eight key elements of strength and character that anyone can use to overcome adversity and create personal and professional success.
Kindness, mercy, love. We need these values more than ever, and what's most important is putting these into action. Love is Action takes this simple concept and puts it in a powerful and inspiration little book. Love is Action shows that unconditional love is more than words. Full of practical wisdom and tips, Love is Action provides everything one needs to live a life of joy through intentional acts of kindness, generosity, and love. More than a book, Love is Action is an initiative for all of humanity.