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Past trauma: ‘For a long time, I truly thought I was the problem and hated myself’

Until recently, Bronagh Loughlin’s life was defined by the trauma of her teenage years. Now, having made peace with her past, she feels liberated

Bronagh Loughlin: 'What I’ve come to realise is, I can’t change the past but it is in my power to heal from it and not allow the things that happened to me to define me.'

Until pretty recently, I was still holding a lot of my past trauma very close. What I mean by that is I was allowing these past experiences to determine my life. The majority of traumatic experiences I have encountered occurred during my teenage years and I was still allowing these experiences to impact how I went about my day-to-day life in adulthood.

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I shut myself off from people, developed a close-knit circle of people I knew I could trust and never really ventured outside of the lines. Approaching the age of 17, I went into myself and stopped engaging. My excuses for not doing certain things in my 20s were based on evidence from my teenage years when my mind had the heaviest toll on my life.

I dealt with home-related issues but also intense bullying for almost all of my secondary school experience. Going to college in Dublin marked a new beginning, but I remained cautious and apprehensive, still using past evidence to prove why I shouldn’t get involved in certain things, even if it was all I wanted to do.

When I was approached about going on a night out, all I could think back to was times when I went out in my hometown only to have people making fun of me in front of me, yelling slurs and humiliating me. The decision-making process for doing something or not doing it was largely negative. I only thought of all the things that could go wrong but never pondered if things went right.


Additionally, when new exciting opportunities were presented to me that meant going outside my comfort zone, I often shied away because I internalised a lot of those slurs and genuinely believed I wasn’t good enough.

For a long time, when I was immersed in these experiences, I truly thought I was the problem and hated myself.

However, over time and as I got a bit older, I realised that the faults really lay with the people who had treated me poorly. Despite understanding all of this, I still didn’t fully make peace with the past and still allowed these situations to control how I lived my life. The idea of me living a truly happy and healed life was very difficult for me to imagine.

That is, until recently, when I finally released myself from it and it has left me feeling completely liberated and free. It took me so long to allow myself to make peace with my past and it’s definitely not uncommon for those suffering from mental health issues to hold what happened to them very close, despite how painful that might be.

It’s entirely normal for us to analyse our past and hold it close; we’re trying to make sense of what happened to us and prevent similar traumatic experiences from occurring

I was afraid that by making peace with it, I would become passive or that I was excusing everything that had happened or minimising my trauma. As humans, we’re very much driven by our fear and pain and, because of this, I struggled to imagine myself existing free and happy.

Although these experiences certainly left scars, they offered some important lessons.

I worried that to truly move forward meant these experiences didn’t matter, that I would allow people to mistreat me again and not look after myself appropriately. The reality of the situation was I made peace with my past but I didn’t forget it. I stopped allowing it to make my decisions for me and control my life but I kept its important lessons in mind.

This practice hasn’t erased the difficult things that happened to me. I released the heavy attachments I had to these thoughts. Although I still recount the memories on occasion, I no longer react at the same level of intensity that I used to. I can identify them as uncomfortable and traumatic but they do not dominate my mind nor control my actions.

I’ve stopped going into experiences with a list of negative experiences to determine why I’m too sensitive to the situation. It feels like I’m no longer carrying a heavy weight and I can move forward with much more ease now compared with before when it truly weighed me down and held me back.

Carrying this heavy weight of the past around with me felt like much of my energy was being consumed regularly. It felt as though I had to constantly suppress and fight my emotions on a daily basis and that I was constantly having an inner battle in my mind. In fact, my mind felt so suffocating because of how contrasting it could be.

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I was a new me but maintained the treatment my past self received and gave it back to myself. Despite my worry that making peace with the past would let people off the hook, it turned out to be the best form of self-care. For some reason, it always felt like a cold thing to do but to my surprise, it has allowed me to gain clarity and develop a deeper love for myself.

I’m happily moving through life without a mind so consumed with wanting to gain control. I still keep my guard up for the same or similar experiences because I’m only human but I have the confidence now to challenge mistreatment instead of running or freezing from it. This process of recognising what has happened but not making it a decider of how I live my life or my limits has allowed me to reclaim my power.

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It’s entirely normal for us to analyse our past and hold it close; we’re trying to make sense of what happened to us and prevent similar traumatic experiences from occurring. Likewise, it may seem like the worst nightmare to do what I’ve done, as giving up control is very scary when you have been wounded and it can feel as though you’re consciously allowing yourself to be vulnerable again.

What I’ve come to realise is, I can’t change the past but it is in my power to heal from it and not allow the things that happened to me to define me.