My Healing Journey After Childhood Abuse (Includes Extensive Resource List)

Nearly 40 years ago at ~4 years old.

[***NOTE: IF YOU ARE VISITING TIM.BLOG/TRAUMA FOR THE RESOURCE LIST, PLEASE CLICK HERE OR SCROLL DOWN***]

[A transcript of this episode can be found at this link.]

For me, this is the most important podcast episode I’ve ever published.

In it, I describe the most life-shaping, certainly the most difficult, and certainly the most transformative journey of my 43 years on this planet. I’ve never shared it before.

My dance partner and safety net in this conversation is my friend Debbie Millman (@debbiemillman). She has been named one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company, and she is the host of Design Matters—a great show and one of the world’s longest running podcasts. She is also Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts and Editorial Director of Print magazine, and she has worked on design strategy for some of the world’s largest brands.

But I didn’t ask Debbie to join me because of her bio. I asked Debbie because she’s a close confidante, she’s an excellent interviewer, and she’s been an incredible support for me in the last few years, including late-night emergency phone calls. Last but not least, she and I have experienced similar trauma but have taken two very different paths to healing using very different tools. So, you get a two-for-one deal in this conversation.

#464: Tim Ferriss — My Healing Journey After Childhood Abuse
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The transcript for this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

***

All resources mentioned in this episode—and many more—are listed below. If you have tips, advice, or resources that have helped you, please share in the comments. We will moderate to eliminate any bad actors, snark, or other nonsense.

And if you remember only one thing, remember this: there is light on the other side. I wouldn’t have believed this even five years ago, but I now consider myself living proof that deep, lasting change is possible. Don’t give up. You are never alone, and it is never hopeless. I’m right there alongside you, as are millions of others.

Much love to you and yours, 

Tim 

P.S. Disclaimer: Debbie and I are not doctors or therapists, and we don’t play them on the internet. This episode and blog post are for informational purposes only, and nothing is intended as professional or medical advice in any capacity. Please be smart and be safe.


LIST OF RESOURCES

CLICK ANY LINK TO JUMP TO THAT SECTION, OR SCROLL DOWN FOR ALL:

DOCUMENTARIES
BOOKS AND SUGGESTED READING
MORE EXTENSIVE BOOK LIST FROM DEBBIE MILLMAN
RESOURCES, ORGANIZATIONS, AND TOOLS
MOST MENTIONED PODCAST EPISODES
LIST OF RELATED PODCAST EPISODES

DOCUMENTARIES

BOOKS AND SUGGESTED READING

MORE EXTENSIVE BOOK LIST FROM DEBBIE MILLMAN

Please note that there is some natural overlap with the above list.

Self-help (the books that helped me in my twenties):

Newer book about rape culture: 

Particularly good memoirs, all of which are about sexual abuse and/or rape:

Novel or Semi-Autobiographical about sexual abuse and/or rape:

RESOURCES, ORGANIZATIONS, AND TOOLS

MOST MENTIONED PODCAST EPISODES

LIST OF RELATED PODCAST EPISODES

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Debbie Millman:

Website | Design Matters Podcast | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

SHOW NOTES

  • Despite enormous discomfort, here’s why this is a conversation better put in motion sooner rather than later. [04:42]
  • From amnesia to hypermnesia—how I began to remember what I’d long forced myself to forget. [09:45]
  • Where my first 10-day Vipassana silent retreat took me, and why I’m grateful Jack Kornfield was there to ensure I made it back. [11:54]
  • Taking note of behaviors that seemed strange and inexplicable out of context but make perfect sense when memories of the pain and trauma they’re meant to alleviate resurface. [14:23]
  • Excuses I made to put off this conversation and the realization—whether through breakdown or breakthrough—that choosing not to deal with my trauma was just dealing with it poorly. [17:10]
  • A concerning symptom of delving deeper into the trauma of sexual abuse that I hadn’t expected to experience and some wise words a fellow trauma survivor had to say about the evolutionary miracle of dissociation. [18:14]
  • How common is sexual abuse, and why has it been so difficult for victims in our society to seek the help they need to heal? [21:59]
  • Debbie shares the extent of her own trauma that was imposed upon her beginning at age nine and how she’s tried to cope with it from then to now. [24:44]
  • What is the Joyful Heart Foundation, and how is it working to eradicate the rape kit backlog that keeps victims from getting justice and allows offenders to walk free? [28:38]
  • How disclosing her experience to this show’s audience changed Debbie’s life, and what she discovered in the aftermath of telling the truth. [30:32]
  • Reiterating the importance of having a guide who can help you through the rough parts of an immersive experience that might dredge up darkness you’re not ready to face. [37:45]
  • Trauma toolkit resources I’ve found particularly helpful. [39:03]
  • How heart rate variability (HRV) training has been useful in treating my cardiac hyper-responsiveness to daily stressors. In other words, it’s allowing me to better control my physiology in order to change my psychology. [43:32]
  • While skeptical of Enneagram personality typing, I do think it may be useful in certain circumstances. [46:03]
  • Why ayahuasca might be an overkill treatment for trauma in many cases, and what might prove to be better alternatives for most—provided they’re legal where you live. [47:06]
  • What does Debbie recommend to people who are trying to work through their trauma perhaps for the very first time? Where should they begin? [50:22]
  • What did Debbie’s very first talk therapy sessions look like compared to what they look like now, and what’s the one stipulation she has for them to be truly effective—even during the COVID-19 pandemic? [54:39]
  • While antidepressants may be helpful for many people, here are some of their potential drawbacks and dangers that patients considering their use should be aware of. [59:34]
  • What we, according to Stan Grof, are really trying to kill when we contemplate suicide and how a chance delivery was instrumental in preventing my own suicide. [1:05:38]
  • Trauma toolkit resources that Debbie has found particularly helpful. [1:09:29]
  • What I discovered while seeking an answer to the one question that truly matters, as conveyed by mindfulness teacher Tara Brach: what are you unwilling to feel? [1:14:39]
  • How who we are today can be better equipped to help heal the wounds of—and nurture—who we were yesterday. [1:20:48]
  • You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. Aim for the work that will allow you to retire at the end of the day with, as Debbie says, one notch more hope than shame. [1:25:53]
  • Why the seemingly perpetual act of recovery isn’t incompleteness—it’s connection. [1:27:47]
  • How reading the stories of other trauma survivors and learning what they did to incorporate that trauma into their own lives has helped Debbie. [1:32:30]
  • Why Debbie is hopeful that trauma survivors in our society will increasingly build and adopt the tools required to shift the shame of their experiences where it belongs but also advocate creating a new vocabulary that replaces words like “victim” and “survivor” with terms that don’t paint people who have endured trauma as other. [1:33:37]
  • Debbie and I share thoughts on tracking and confronting our perpetrators—which today has become as effortless as a Google search. Is there anything to be gained from seeking such contact? Can true forgiveness prevail over our desire for vengeance—and if so, should it? [1:34:39]
  • Is forgiveness more than just letting go of anger? How do you know where the line is between useful anger and anger that just consumes you? What can you do to reexamine how you process and utilize that anger in a way that’s constructive rather than destructive? [1:44:00]
  • Beyond the expression of anger, how has childhood trauma contributed to our other signature behaviors? What have we used to keep us “safe” from what we’ve been unwilling to feel? [1:56:19]
  • Another point in favor of having other people looped in on what you’re going through to act as a support system and, in turn, being available to support others who need you to be part of that system for them. [1:59:02]
  • When nearly 75 percent of a dozen male friends I’ve talked to about this have relayed their own stories of sexual abuse, is it time for a #HeToo movement? How can we most supportively respond to women or men who choose to share their experiences with us? Here’s how Jack Kornfield responded when I told him about mine. [1:59:22]
  • How has understanding and integrating my own trauma changed me and my perspective on life to this point? [2:06:45]
  • What do I hope listeners take away from this conversation? [2:13:07]
  • Parting thoughts and much gratitude to Debbie for having this conversation—and many other late-night conversations like it—with me. [2:15:28]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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342 Replies to “My Healing Journey After Childhood Abuse (Includes Extensive Resource List)”

  1. Hey, I happened to listen to this right after it came out. I’ve been a follower of your work for a decade now and it’s really influenced a lot of my life decisions. Just wanted to throw a supportive virtual hug out there to you. You’re not alone and you didn’t deserve that. Thanks so much for sharing your story so publicly. I really think it will help a lot of people.

  2. Tim, I know you won’t read this but I’ll write it anyway. A truly courageous and inspirational podcast. The extent to which my own journey parallels yours is eerie but that’s also because you’ve largely inspired mine. Your podcast with Gabor Mate was a game changer but it took the second listen a year ago for the process to begin and then came the books of Alice Miller, Mate, van der Kolk, Peter Levine…It’s incredible how quickly things can turn around, albeit with an element of ‘three steps forward, two steps back’.

    One way we differ is I never found a counsellor who could validate my feelings / experiences in the way Jack Kornfield (and Debbie) did yours. The chasm between the authors above and all the therapists I’ve encountered is tragic – they always set me back tremendously. Fortunately, it turns out you can read a few books by truly accomplished people and transform your experience of life beyond recognition. It’s a cruel paradox that you have to find yourself before you realise how lost you’ve been your entire life. But better late than never!

    Another way we differ is in having friends to talk to about subjects like this. What I wouldn’t give to have some genuine friends, male and female, to have authentic conversations with over subjects like this. And how to even find any in a world where everyone wears a mask? And I don’t mean the Covid ones : ).

    Thanks, Tim, for helping light the way as I found my way back to myself. And good luck to everyone seeking to do the same.

  3. Because Of this podcast I started to follow a few child sexual abuse charities and initiatives. I don’t have a personal experience but I am happy that this inspired me to help , in a concrete way .

  4. Wow. Thanks for having the courage to share that Tim, it’s straight from the heart and refreshing to hear you talk about such a personal subject with such feeling and understanding. To heal the complexities of such a trauma (which I also have) I discovered and have had massive success with a natural Meditation practice developed by a guy from Australia.
    My best tool by far was sitting on numerous (I’ve been on about 20 over the last 15 years ) long silent meditation retreats for 21 days where you get the chance to heal so deeply that nothing else I tried ( and there were many other things I tried before this) came close to the efficacy of this particular type of retreat. This was mainly due to the said guy’s approach. It’s like vipassana on steroids but at the same time gentle and relieving.
    The guy has also now just developed an app http://www.undoapp.com which is awesome but doesn’t come close to attending his retreat and getting the support from him directly. His website for the retreats is http://www.quietretreats.co
    I hope this helps you go further with your healing I really empathise with you, it’s a tough road to travel but at the same time the most rewarding and fulfilling thing one can do if they find the right support to move you through the trauma and heal it completely. When I found the tool that worked my never ending search to heal myself (aka “what is wrong with me?”)was satisfied and my search ended. This “what is wrong with me” search is in itself quite an aggressive unstoppable drive that is only satiated when you actually find the needed and correct help.
    Awesome job can’t wait for the follow up podcast.

  5. Listening to this episode was like stepping on a land mine. I’m gutted. Years of intensive therapy and I am only nominally better while simultaneously not having a single friend that has stood by me or is capable of anything other than awkward, canned dude support.

    I’m fucking 50 years old and all of this shit is torching what remains of my life. Exercise, meditation, EMDR, Neurofeedback etc help, but I can’t seem to get to a place where there is any traction and living something that resembles a life worth living.

    I’m glad you and your friend have each other and have managed to be successful enough to afford therapy and done it. I feel like I’ve gone balls out and most of what I have to show for it is deeply wounding social isolation, tens of thousands of dollars of debt and a trend line that is pitched fucking down. I’ll keep swimming but it feels a lot like that scene in Titanic with the ship far off in the distance, surrounded by the icy blackness of North Atlantic water and fridged night air with tiny ineffectual flares signaling to no one at all that the ship is going down.

    * As an aside please tell Jack Kornfield
    that his books and guided meditations have helped another blue collar man from yet another fucked up family from Boston quite a lot.

    Thanks Tim for being vulnerable to a wide audience because obviously they’re are more of us than most people think and men are not socialized to show weakness and are often punished severely when they do.

    Kevin

    1. Hey Kevin. Hope you see this mate. Just read your message after checking back in on this page. I’m replying to your post because I see a few of similarities in our experience – isolation / withdrawal / putting out distress signals to people around us but getting no response because people are generally hopeless at responding to trauma – including counsellors unfortunately…

      I also wanted to let you know there’s a way out of how you’re feeling. I’m only a few years younger than you. I felt like this my whole life and, exactly a year ago, I found my way out. Or found my way back to myself, as I describe it. I’ve never felt lonely or depressed since and I’m even looking forward to connecting with other people (when that’s possible again!). I actually feel like I’m exploding out of myself at the minute – like the big bang – from nothing to everything. I want to do everything, meet new people and make up for lost time. And if that was available to me, I’m pretty sure it’s available to you.

      Like you, I tried various things for years – yoga / meditation / breathing exercises / counselling / ayahuasca / exercise / different diets / feeding my brain with podcasts, ‘inspiring quotes’, etc. But nothing has a lasting effect if you don’t have any connection to yourself – you just feel stuck or like you’re butting against the inner walls of yourself.

      What happened to me happened almost unexpectedly. I re-listened to Tim’s podcast with Gabor Mate. Gabor mentioned the Alice Miller book ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’ (read the 1995 revision!) so I read it. It had a profound impact on me, so I read her book The Body Never Lies – and that was incredible too. I actually read 10 of her books in a fortnight. I devoured them with the fervour of a child looking for treasure. And I found it. And the treasure was myself – my true self with the vitality we have as infants.

      Then I cried, properly, for the first time in my adult life. And something major happened in my head (chemically / physically – and I’ve never taken pills) that I can’t really put into words but how I’d like to have seen an fMRI scan! It felts like something fused back together and I experienced an endorphin/chemical high that lasted weeks. I thought there was something wrong with me. But there wasn’t, there was something very right. And my life has been on the up ever since. Covid has been disastrous for me financially. Previously, this would have put me through the floor for months or more. Now, that’s not even possible for me.

      What did it (or continues to do it) for me was reading books on the subject of trauma: Alice Miller, Gabor Mate, Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Laurence Heller, Stephen Porges… These are veritable experts on the tragically under-recognised subject of trauma. They give a vocabulary (both verbal and non-verbal) to your internal experience, help you to put yourself and your life back together and allow you to move from being stuck in the more primitive layers of our brain and nervous system to re-accessing our human social engagement system that makes us feel alive and seek connection. Knowledge is power and being empowered is the opposite of being traumatised. If you’re anything like me, nothing will level your sh*t up like reading these books, I promise.

      Your Titanic analogy is interesting to me. When the Titanic sank, 75% of female passengers were saved and only 20% of males. Why? ‘Women and children first’. The rule at the lifeboats and, unfortunately, throughout the whole fabric of society. In the UK today, males account for 97% of workplace deaths (and hence witness most death and horrific injuries), a similar or higher proportion of military deaths (and hence injuries / PTSD), 95% of the prison population, over 80% of the homeless, 75% of suicides and the biggest killer of males aged 16-45 is suicide. So, men are expected to accept most societal trauma in the workplace and theatre of war and the essence of trauma is loss of connection to yourself and other people, which includes asking for help. And because traumatised people ‘act in’ rather than acting out, and trauma is tragically under-recognised – they don’t get help.

      This means it’s time we started looking out for each other and that’s why I’m writing this for you and anyone else reading. I can’t throw you a life raft. I’m just shining a torch back from where I’ve got to so you can hopefully find (or read!) your own way out. A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the sense of vitality and optimism I have now was available, but it is. You can’t fake it, and you’ll know when you’ve made it – trust me. I hope you read this and I sincerely hope you get there. Keep going mate.

      Best

      Richard

  6. Tim, Thank you with all of my heart. Thank you for your courage and for your insight into surviving childhood trauma and hardship at large. I’m a 31 year old attorney for a big tech company now, but I grew up very poor and survived severe physical and emotional trauma as a child and a as teen. I sadly have no relationship with my parents or family for this reason and yoga/mediation/constant learning have changed my life. You and I share incredibly similar life views in many ways, but this was the most impactful of your episodes for me. Hearing the vulnerability through the quivering of your voice and your honesty made me feel whole. It’s so difficult being fully transparent. You’ve given me so much strength, and I’m so proud of you. Just thank you. You have no idea how many lives you’ve touched or the impact you’ve provided. Please keep up being you.

  7. Hey Tim. Some very informed and reputable people seem to say that all this repressed memorys therapy it’s a scam and that may be done with bad faith.

    Rolf Degen @DegenRolf was tweeting about it and I remembered this episode.

    Here is some of it.
    Psychologists have debated the wisdom of recovering traumatic memories in therapy that were previously unknown to the client, with some concerns over accuracy and memory distortions. The current study surveyed a sample of 576 undergraduates in the south of the United States. Of 188 who reported attending therapy or counselling, 8% reported coming to remember memories of abuse, without any prior recollection of that abuse before therapy. Of those who reported recovered memories, 60% cut off contact with some of their family. Within those who received therapy, those who had a therapist discuss the possibility of repressed memory were 28.6 times more likely to report recovered memories, compared to those who received therapy without such discussion. These findings mirror a previous survey of US adults and suggest attempts to recover repressed memories in therapy may continue in the forthcoming generation of adults.

    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0033294120971756

    It seemed to me something that you should be aware of.

  8. I thank you both, Tim and Debbie, for talking about that part of us who have been traumatized, that we don’t want to visit. It is the equivalent of the dark basement or attic we have decided is not part of the house. Where is the line between vengeance and justice or not even justice but stopping someone who participated or even orchestrated an act of trauma and abused their power, and protecting others from people who have no moral compass. When do we act to help put a stop to people who can continue to perpetrate trauma and abuse?

  9. Thank you for this podcast segment.
    I have conflicts with the recommendation of conventional psych-meds. I believe they inhibit and mask the consciousness that needs to be free to allow all emotional energies to rise to the surface for healing.
    Thank you for the Groff explanation of suicide 106:00 to 109:30.
    My healing began through a combination of spontaneous events starting with EMDR therapy in 2014 which triggered a deep, long term opening into expanded consciousness (mystical experience). This began a journey over the next 6 years which led to the complete end of pharmaceutical anti-depressants, spontaneous restructuring of my psyche that included: sematic experiencing work, holotropic breathwork, ayahuasca experiences, psilocybin, and personal experiences that integrated in parallel with these methods. There is an autonomous movement that began during the healing process and carries me. It’s working in everyone. It’s the spiritual aspect of personal healing that excludes the ego. I’m still healing but the groundwork has been established. Thank you again for the podcast.

  10. Tim and Debbie, thanks so much for having the courage to heal and furthermore the courage to share the personal experience, strength and hope from your journies in such a sensitive yet stalwart fashion. I am supportive of both the paths traveled by you, and I believe for the early stages of work in discovery that leads to recovery, the experiential modes that change the physiology can kick start one out of the depths. I learned in the 1980’s from a jungian psychologist, also deeply steeped in 12 step work, named Dr Pat Allen of Newport Beach–“it is quicker to act your way in to a new way of thinking than it is to think your way in to a new way of acting.” I am especially grateful for your comprehensive resource library of links, and all the modalities you two mentioned. Tim asked us to add our effective resources. Here are mine–find a therapist who specializes in using EMDR (a rapid eye movement;) work with a functional medicine neurologist who treats people living with trauma by focusing on re-wiring the brain to change its functional responses, particularly working with the upper mid brain/reptilian brain where the fear and anxiety and hyper vigilance reside ( Dr. Titus Chiu works with patients online from anywhere and has a lot of videos on youtube;) praciticing DIY techniques you mentioned like meditation, breathingand adding to them EFT/Tapping (emotional freedom technique); and, when you are ready to consider giving yourself permission to move on by forgiving yourself and others, grab on to the Radical Forgiveness worksheets from Colin Tipping, author of books with radical forgiveness in the titles.) more on PSYCHEDELICS in a second post from me

  11. This is part two of a long comment from Peggy Shinn on psychedeilc medicine.

    Tim has in recent years’ podcasts mentioned his interest in supporting pharmacological use of psychedelics and reported here that he financially supports the research at John’s Hopkins and Imperial College. For those who may have interest in the history of the pioneer researcher who paved the way for these institutions and others to get government approval for their research, you might check out Dr. Rick Strassman of University of New Mexico, whose DMT research work there (based on grants and government permission) was done in the late 1980’s/90’s, I believe. This research work with live human volunteers is chronicled in Strassman’s book “DMT The Spirit Molecule,” and the Documentary of the same name on youtube, provided impetus to MAPS to push forward with the government for these current rounds of research by the institutions Tim named. I found a relatively recent interview with him on a podcast called Green Rush. Strassman reports on this new research and how he sees the future of phsychedelic medicine in this podcast.
    . http://greenrushpodcast.net/2019/12/05/dr-rick-strassman-clinical-associate-professor-of-psychiatry-at-the-university-of-new-mexico-school-of-medicine/