How I Used Reading to Cope with Trauma
For most of my childhood, I used reading to cope with trauma. This might not sound like a bad thing, and it wasn’t entirely, but it came with a couple of big problems. Coping mechanisms develop as a way for us to protect ourselves, to survive despite threats to our wellbeing or identity. However, these coping mechanisms can get in the way of real connection.
Reading to Cope with Trauma: The Good and the Bad
As a child, I was living in an environment where I was consistently invalidated, gaslighted, and belittled, and as a result, I developed a lot of coping mechanisms to protect me from feeling the crushing weight of all that emotional pain. Some of my biggest coping mechanisms as a child were maladaptive daydreaming, emotional hypervigilance, and reading. I know, reading sounds like a good thing, and in many ways it was. All of these coping mechanisms were good to some extent, because they protected me.
In my daydream world, I could save the day. I had agency and people cared about me the way I needed them to. Being hypervigilant of others’ emotions helped keep me out of trouble, or at least see trouble coming. And reading gave me an escape, allowed me to enter another world where I didn’t even exist, let alone all my problems. It was amazing.
But it also numbed me to my real life. That was its purpose, really, and even though it was a good thing in some ways, it was very bad in others. It numbed me to the pain of the constant invalidation, but it also numbed me to friendship and fun. I struggled to connect to real people the way I could connect to characters, and I often felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my life. Like if someone wrote a book about me, it would be incredibly boring.
Why I Don’t Need Reading to Cope with Trauma Anymore
I read constantly growing up, but once I left my childhood environment, the books went away. I thought it was because I was in college and doing so much other reading for my classes, but looking back, I don’t think that was it. I think once I was out of that bad environment, I no longer needed books as an escape.
Reading started as a very good way to give my brain a break from the constant small traumas in my daily life, but it was no longer necessary to protect myself once I was in a better environment. In many ways, this was a blessing. I made some very good friends in college, in no small part because my nose wasn’t always in a book. I made time to talk to people, to connect with them, and that was wonderful.
But sometimes part of me really misses how I used to be able to lose myself in a story all day, every day. I miss that immersion, and I miss my identity as a bookworm. However, I also know that my real identity was a trauma victim, and the books were merely a symptom. Slowly, I’m actually starting to read again, for fun this time rather than for survival.
What about you? Did you read voraciously as a child, and looking back, you can see it was in response to trauma? Do you miss the constant reading now, or are you still a big reader? Let me know in the comments below.