How to Check your Self Worth in Two Minutes: Complex Trauma, Safety, and Radical Empathy

Complex trauma has earned its name for being just that: layered, invasive helplessness. It can feel like too much weight to bear or to survive. See if this helps: picture an ant carrying an elephant uphill. This type of struggle is so much a part of you that you may not remember a time when it didn’t exist. Complex trauma is born in your early childhood, sometimes infancy, and has shaped the way you see the world, the way you see love, the way you see…

The idea of recovering from complex trauma can feel like you are asking yourself to change everything you think you know about life, encompassing a whole new belief system without being taught anything new. It’s important to understand that if you are suffering with complex trauma, you have never developed a feeling of true safety. A person suffering from complex trauma has trouble believing that people — sometimes including themselves — are generally good, and that the universe is on their side.

Those who carry complex trauma have no baseline for safety, let alone self-kindness. Ironically, learning self-kindness, or radical empathy for one’s self, is the way to find safety. Safety is merely a concept for those in complex trauma. Again, picture the ant carrying an elephant uphill. In this scenario, the ant’s most urgent problem is surviving and not getting squished.

Now think about what you feel like when you’re squished. Compassion towards yourself isn’t the first thing that comes up. “I can’t breathe, I can’t move, I need help” are your loudest thoughts, not “I need to love myself right now, empathy is what I’m missing.”

Complex trauma is aptly named because it is so layered. When you are feeling squished, your goal is to become unsquished. Anything less than this feels like a waste of time.  Kindness is far from your awareness. Anxiety and self-loathing take over.

So, what is the first step in healing? Consciously or unconsciously, knowingly or unknowingly, accept that you have been harmed emotionally and claim the reality that you deserve better. Your belief in your capacity to feel good must be developed. All of us have the capacity to feel our full range of emotions. There are no exceptions to this. Let me yell this at you lovingly: ALL OF US means YOU, too. As humans, we are wired through our neuro-pathways to feel emotions. Your walk into a life you want begins with the understanding that you feel what you believe. You deserve to feel happiness. Now, let’s work on believing that.

You belong. It is impossible to command yourself to chill out without kindness. So, here is where radical empathy comes in. Make this your new mantra: I am worthy. I belong.

Radical empathy REQUIRES kindness to the self, an inner softness that speaks to the space between cells. Science has shown us that the seemingly empty space between our cells is not empty space at all; it has a purpose. It is through this space that your own energy becomes a bridge connecting your neuro-pathways. As you treat yourself with radical empathy, your belief system also changes, creating physical change within you.

If radical empathy is a struggle for you, envision the cutest baby you have ever seen in your life (make it up if you can’t envision one, puppies are cute) and imagine yourself holding it. Know that this innocent baby needs your kindness to live. Only you know the words that this baby desperately needs. Let yourself hear those words. Those are the words you are starved for; they are the words that you’ve never heard, but wish you had. This is radical empathy. Radical empathy is how you talk to yourself, how you love yourself when you don’t feel lovable.

The goal is to teach yourself that every part of who you are has worth beyond your current understanding and is needed for your physical, mental, and spiritual health.

To learn more please visit Jean Wolfe Powers, MA, LMFT | Therapist & Life Coach.