Danielle Bernock helps people overcome childhood trauma

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When Danielle Bernock turned 50 in 2009, she struggled with the idea of crossing that milestone mark. But, it wasn’t the first time she was aware of how emotions connect to age.

“Everyone has a certain number which hits them in a weird way,” said Danielle. “I cried when I turned 20 because I was no longer a teenager.

“Both my husband and I really struggled with turning 50. Our family surrounded us and encouraged us, but it was like a little black cloud hanging over our heads,” she explained. “It is really interesting to look back upon and think about. Because, when I turned 40, it wasn’t like that. My son threw me a surprise party.”

As Danielle shared her experience, she revealed her inability to fully appreciate and recognize the good in the situation due to her trauma, and that made her sad.

“I was blind to so much of the good I received because of the pain and trauma responses,” she explained.

When Danielle turned 30, it was a big year for her; one she celebrated with great joy. That year she legally changed her first name and so much more about her life. In an entertaining article about herself, Danielle teased she had entered a witness protection program.

“When i turned 30, and changed my first name, that was a huge pivot point in my life,” she explained.

Danielle said the name she was given at birth had been used against her by a bully. The situation devastated her life, yet she never told anyone.

“I never shared how hurt I was ,” she added. “That’s what kids do. They hide their pain and blame themselves for feeling that way.”

Danielle’s secret finally emerged over the course of time while rebuilding a relationship with her mother. She was dealing with her trauma as best as she knew. As her mother listened to Danielle recall the story of being bullied, her mother wept, and Danielle was shocked.

Trauma is a long, messy journey

Today, Danielle helps guide people through their trauma, rather than pretend it never happened.

“Trauma isn’t nice and neat, but you can mitigate the difficulties of it with proper tools and support,” she explained.

Part of Danielle’s trauma stemmed from emotional neglect and the lack of nurturing she really needed as a child.

“I am a highly-sensitive person who needs more nurturing than ‘the average bear,’ as they say, but I didn’t get it,” she explained. “My own parents suffered from trauma themselves, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

“Children really don’t have the capability to understand how trauma makes people react the way they do,” she added. “Because of the trauma they experienced, my parents were emotionally unavailable, stoic and authoritarian.

“That was often the way people were back in that era, so I don’t have any animosity toward my parents,” said Danielle. “The more you can understand what’s behind trauma, the more you can give compassion to other people.

“However, just because your parents didn’t mean to hurt you when you were growing up doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt,” she stressed. “We don’t have to throw our parents under the bus. They were doing the best they could based on their own understanding. But, you still need to identify the truth.”

In preparing to turn 60, Danielle focused on not repeating her bad attitude when she turned 50.

“I’m going to celebrate turning 60!” she declared. “We went on a family vacation and my kids did some wonderful things for me. Because you never know whether you will celebrate another birthday, you really need to take the time to enjoy those milestones.”

Prior to turning 60, Danielle had another big pivot. At the age of 55, she published her first book while going through counseling. That’s where she uncovered much more trauma than she knew was in her life.

An epidemic of trauma

Very few people can look back on their childhood without some type of regret. But, Danielle said childhood trauma has become an epidemic in the world today.

“Many people continue to suffer from the trauma they experienced as kids because they never grieved about it,” she explained. “They tell themselves what they experienced wasn’t that bad.

“In truth, people don’t really know what trauma is and how it impacted their lives.” she added. “They chalk it up to this, that or the other thing. In reality, if they took time to examine the root of their problem, they could get rid of the baggage that came with their negative response.”

The statistics are staggering.

  • In the United states, statistics show 75% of people have suffered trauma.
  • About 85% of people worldwide struggle with self-esteem.
  • Five million children every year go through a traumatic event.
  • One in three people will suffer trauma before the age of 18.

“The second leading cause of death for children between 10 and 14 is suicide,” said Danielle. “So trauma is really quite prevalent. However, awareness of what it is and having the courage to do something about it are truly lacking today.”

There are many kinds of childhood trauma, Danielle explained, including:

  • Childhood emotional neglect
  • Medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS)
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACES)
  • Significant emotional events (SEE)
  • Vicarious trauma, through someone else’s trauma
  • Complex trauma, from multiple things at various times
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a singular occurrence that had long-lasting effect

“Sustained grief is also a type of trauma. For example, losing a parent to death or divorce will cause grief in addition to other types of trauma,” said Danielle.

“The best way to look at the impact of trauma is to try imagining untangling Christmas lights,” she explained. “Trauma can be so tightly woven in a person’s life that it needs to be slowly untangled and dealt with over time.”

The trauma of divorce

Perhaps the most common problem impacting children today is divorce. A family breaking apart can be hard enough on a child, and then amplified when two broken families are merged together in step relationships.

“Many parents tell themselves their children are young enough that they’ll just get over the trauma of divorce,” said Danielle. “But that’s not true at all. Divorce shakes the foundation of childhood in very traumatic ways.

“You can heal from it, if you deal with it. But you need the self-awareness to call out the experience for what it was and the impact it had on your life,” she explained.

Danielle developed a process called SELF to help people deal with the effects of trauma. It stands for:

  • See by becoming aware of what is on the surface.
  • Expose what the underlying cause may be.
  • Love yourself enough to have courage to take action in order to get…
  • Free, and take steps to ensure you remain that way.

“It’s a cycle you have to go through over and over again,” said Danielle. “It’s like peeling an onion as you go through multiple layers. It’s not a one-and-done process.”

Divorce is often called the “silent trauma” because parents will ignore how the situation is affecting their child, she added.

“When families break apart, many times children are told they should be happy for their parents because mom or dad are in a better situation,” said Danielle. “Children want to be happy for their parents, but they also have a right to be sad, upset and angry over having their own lives ripped apart.

“It may be better for the couple that they got divorced, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t tear their child’s heart out in the process,” she added.

Seek professional help for trauma

Most people can start the process of recovering from childhood trauma on their own. However, it is advisable to get professional help to guide them through hard feelings and situations that have likely been suppressed for years.

“Most people suffering from childhood trauma also experience unfounded shame,” said Danielle. “I call it unfounded because it does not belong there.

“Shame is one of the first things that shows up after or during a traumatic experience. But, to get rid of that shame will change your life forever,” she added.

Unfortunately, it is often feelings of shame which prevent people from seeking help they desperately need. They are often afraid of being judged for what happened, or accused of playing a role in that situation.

“To recover from shame, start by reading a book, listening to podcasts or taking on online course to prime the pump,” said Danielle. “That will help build courage to seek a therapist or coach.

“Coaches are forward-focused in helping people take the necessary steps to move forward,” she said. “But, if you really need to dig into the past, then therapists are skilled at looking behind you.”

Group therapy can be very productive in overcoming feelings of shame or traumatic experiences. But, it often takes time for people to build up a level of comfort about sharing dark, hidden and unpleasant parts of their lives with others.

“I have been in groups and read lots and lots of books about trauma,” said Danielle. “There is a time for every stage of the recovery process. So, be kind to yourself by doing something to address the trauma you experienced.”

Generational trauma

It is very easy for trauma to be passed down from generation to generation, especially if the older person never dealt with the situation, Danielle explained.

“There are three ways trauma can be generational. The first is in the moment as it happens,” she added. “Domestic abuse, or exposure to domestic abuse, is an example. It may occur when a child is hurt by a parent physically or sexually abusing them, or even witnessing one parent beating another.

“In those situations, the child could grow up and repeat the abuse themselves,” she said. “As a result, the trauma is handed down from generation to generation.”

Generational trauma can also take place when a person who experienced abuse pledges he or she will never do that type of behavior, but never takes time to deal with the trauma they experienced.

“As a result, the parent sort of leaks all over their kids, even though they do not engage in the same behavior,” said Danielle. “So, their kids get a better childhood. But, they still had to suffer from the side effects experienced by their parents, who bled all over them because of their unhealed wounds.”

The third form of generational trauma takes place genetically because the body keeps the score.

Being unable to define what trauma is and what it is not can lead to a misunderstanding which amplifies the problem.

“Trauma is not what happened to you. It is not the experience you went through. That is called a trauma exposure,” she explained. “Two people can go through the same thing. One can come out just fine, and one can come out with trauma.”

Trauma is the wound left behind on the inside of a human being.

“Trauma is personal. It’s how we process everything we are going through,” Danielle explained. “It’s more than just our emotional make up, mental makeup, and our personality. It also involves what happened to us during the years, months or moments leading up to the experience.

“We are a compilation of all our experiences. The sad truth is that if adults don’t deal with their own childhood trauma, then there is a very good chance they will pass it down to their own kids, in their DNA,” she added.

Photo of a girl pleading to stop the trauma being inflicted upon her.

Trauma becomes a part of you

Trauma is such a shock to your system that it literally becomes part of you. In fact, Danielle said brain scans can actually detect the presence of trauma.

“Trauma physically alters the brain. You can heal from it by addressing issues related to what happened,” said Danielle. “Treatment helps alter the chemical makeup of your brain to create a healed place so you are not passing the trauma on to others.

“It’s not like you forget what happened and disassociate from the memory so you don’t remember it in the first place,” she explained. “Healing your trauma doesn’t make you forget it, but it does take away trauma’s power so you regain power over your life. With help, the trauma is left powerless so that you have a new life where you are in control.”

Memories of the trauma are very likely to come back in the form of triggers, she said. Any of the senses can work to trigger a bad memory. It could be the way something smells, a sound that you hear or even walking into a house.

“You can reframe triggers so when you encounter them, you can control your reaction,” said Danielle. “I teach people how to do that in my first book.

“God taught me how to do it. Reframing triggers doesn’t require science or medicine,” she added. “You learn to do something else instead by preparing for a trigger on the front end. So, when a trigger comes up, you are ready for it with a different response. Instead of falling into the abyss of pain, you do something else instead.”

Symptoms of childhood trauma

There are many ways trauma can impact a child, but the most obvious is when their personality changes.

“There is not a standard reaction to trauma,” said Danielle. “One child might act out to be the center of attention by getting in trouble all the time. Another child might go silent and become a wallflower who just fades into the background and wants to be invisible.

“One way to detect a child experiencing trauma is to notice a sudden change of behavior,” she added. “For example, the child who always answered questions in class suddenly doesn’t speak up any more. Or the child who was always a rule follower starts getting in trouble all the time.”

Grandparents can play a role in helping to identify the symptoms of childhood trauma, especially when they notice big changes in a grandchild over a relatively short period of time. Yet, it’s important to not confuse natural changes, like puberty, with changes that occur as a result of trauma.

“The reaction to trauma is not the same from person to person. That’s why I’m so thankful for all the different coaches and therapists who are helping parents through a divorce,” said Danielle. “If you are going through a divorce, please get help because you are hurting, too. With help, you can be a better parent yourself.

“Be sure to get help for your child, whether it is a counselor at school, a therapist, coach or pastor,” she explained. “Americans often think they shouldn’t get help – or even need it – because they need to be independent. But, please, don’t let that stop you. The need for independence can be a side effect of trauma. You need encouragement, too.”

The baggage of trauma

When people don’t deal with childhood trauma, they will almost always bring it into adulthood. In fact, people don’t generally “get over” childhood trauma without intentional effort.

“It’s more frequent than not for people in their 50s to start dealing with childhood trauma because their lives have slowed down enough that they have time to address it,” said Danielle. “Many times, adults use activity to numb the pain of childhood trauma, whether it is raising kids or attending sporting events.

“When people get into their 50s and 60s, and they have less activity, they can start to feel things they haven’t felt in a very long time,” she explained. “It is quite common for people in that age group to sense they may have an unresolved issue.”

Mitigating trauma

One of the best things that can help mitigate trauma, or make it less, is to be surrounded with love.

“Love heals. Love is much more than a four-letter word people throw around. Love is a very powerful force God has given us,” said Danielle. “Grandparents can play a very big role in helping their grandchildren with trauma.

“They can let the children know they are loved, have value and their voice matters,” she explained. “Grandparents do that by intently listening to the children, giving them space when desired, asking questions when appropriate, and being available when grandchildren are ready to talk.

“Kids are so busy today that it can often be difficult for grandparents to play a big role,” said Danielle. “But when grandparents put forth an effort, then kids know someone loves them and cares about their well-being.”

For example, Danielle wears a burgundy-colored bracelet, and she gave one to her grandson to convey a feeling of solidarity after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

“As my grandson has been undergoing chemotherapy, I surround him with as much love as I know how,” said Danielle. “I see him almost every week, and text him from time-to-time just to check in to see how he is feeling. He knows I love him, care about him and am concerned about how he’s feeling as well as all he’s going through.

Danielle selected burgundy for the bracelet for a specific reason.

“To me, it’s the color of blood. My grandson is dealing with a blood disease, and we’re related by blood,” she explained. “It’s also a reminder the blood of Jesus is what heals us and saves us.”

It’s very helpful for grandparents to zero in on their individual grandchildren’s unique love languages. That can include quality time, words of encouragement, gifts, physical affection, and acts of service.

“Figure out how they best receive love in ways that let them know you care about them,” she said.

Use technology to close the distance

Many grandparents are separated by distance from their children and grandchildren. Fortunately, technology closes that gap, especially when it comes to video conferencing.

“I was Skyping with my children and grandchildren before Zoom was popular,” said Danielle. “I would just sit next to them and play a game or interact with one another.

“I would also Skype with my daughter in the middle of the night when she was unsure what to do as a new mother,” she added. “Today, grandparents have access to Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet and other video sharing services. There are many different ways to stay in contact with family wherever they are in the world.”

When her grandchildren were young, Danielle also bought books which allowed her to record herself reading a story to them.

“They could hold the book in their lap and press a button to hear my voice,” she explained. “There are a ton of ways today for grandparents to bridge the miles with their children and grandchildren.”

Emerging With Wings

After getting help for her own childhood trauma, Danielle wrote a book to help others through the healing process. It is titled “Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals.”

Image of the cover to "Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals."

“I put myself into counseling just to write the book because I knew I was going to be revisiting things in my life that were very painful,” said Danielle. “I am very glad I did because I thought I had already healed all my trauma, but discovered I was harboring some deep wounds.

“My book has 16 chapters, and my counselor helped me uncover what became the second half of the book,” she explained. “It was eye-opening for me to realize there was still so much more that needed to be healed.

“The process was therapeutic because, as I was writing the book and putting it out for people to read, I was learning the material myself,” said Danielle.

The vulnerability she expressed when writing the book resonated with many people who found Danielle to be authentic in describing how she was hurt and what she did to move forward from the experience.

“The responses I received from the book really became my passion,” she explained. “People texted me, sent emails and left reviews that really warmed my heart.”

The book is already 10 years old, but one quote is still found all over the internet:

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated, the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.”

“I get choked up every time I read it,” said Danielle. “You have to enter your own pain. You need to validate that you didn’t deserve that.”

Speaking and coaching

In addition to writing her book, Danielle also started speaking to others about trauma and the impact it can have. But, even when she started public speaking, she wasn’t ready yet to share her story.

“You need to speak from your scars, not your wounds,” she explained. “You need to be healed enough that you can help people. Otherwise, if you start to share your trauma, and you become triggered, then you’re not helping the audience as you sort of melt down.

“I still remember the trauma and can talk about it today, but it doesn’t send me anywhere,” she added.

Once healed, Danielle was in a good position to help put others on the path to recovery as well. Her coaching started with a blog she wrote, but eventually Danielle realized she needed to do more to share her wisdom with others.

“Blogging was a safe way to start. Like I said before, if you’re not ready to see a therapist, then buy a book – buy my book,” she said with a laugh.

“That’s how I really got into writing. I started producing content for my blog, then became a Tribe Writer and posted content on a platform called Medium,” she explained. “Then I started freelance writing for other publications.

“Even though I was putting my words out there, which is scary to put in print form, it’s still safer than talking to people face-to-face,” said Danielle.

That’s good advice to remember for people beginning to recover from trauma. Start a journal and get all the thoughts out of your head and on to paper.

Danielle also joined a group called Igniting Souls, which was designed to help writers publish their books, develop a platform and turn it into a business.

“A key thing I learned was to show up, filled up,” she explained. “A lot of people will show up at conferences and only take from others. They will pass out business cards to everyone in hopes others will buy their services.

“But, when you show up, filled up, that means you are showing up to give and to serve others. You ask how you can add value,” Danielle added.

“Little by little, that’s how we grow permanently by taking small steps,” said Danielle. “If we try to grow too fast, then we get stretch marks and sometimes things break. Approaching it little-by-little allows us to remain grounded and establish better roots.”

Other books

Danielle has written several other books since releasing “Emerging With Wings.” She wrote “Love’s Manifesto” and turned it into an audiobook which she gives away along with other free resources on her website at www.daniellebernock.com.

She wrote a short story titled, “A Bird Named Payn,” which addresses the complex emotions encountered when dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease.

“I released ‘Because You Matter‘ right before the pandemic,” she explained. “It is a self-help book to show people how to get their lives back when they’ve been through something hard.”

Image of the book cover for "Because You Matter."

The subtitle is “How to Take Ownership of Your Life so You can Really Live.” In the book, Danielle interviewed 10 people, both men and women, who were older and younger, and of different races or faith backgrounds.

“Each one of the people I interviewed had been through a different traumatic experience,” she explained. “Their stories are told between chapters to help readers take ownership of their lives.

“People might not relate to my trauma, but they could relate to Randy, who lost his best friend during a carjacking,” she said. “Or, perhaps, they experienced birth trauma, like Naomi, or lost everything in a house fire, like Sylvia.

“The goal was to show people that they mattered, and are worth putting in the effort it will take to heal from their trauma,” said Danielle. “What you are going through matters. How you feel matters. And your recovery matters.”

Her most recent book was co-written with her 12-year-old grandson, Gideon. Titled “Taco ‘Bout Your Value: Fun To Feed Your Self-Esteem,” it is an activity book designed to help bolster the self-worth of kids 10-14, the age group experiencing a higher-than-expected suicide rate.

“We try to help kids become stronger on the inside, even when the world tries to beat them up on the outside,” said Danielle. “It includes coloring pages, stories, mazes, word-search games and more.

“My grandson created all the characters in it. Gary is the taco and Mr. Squibbles is a cat burrito who didn’t think he had any value until he met Gary,” she explained. “Gary infuses value into other characters he meets.

“As the world changes, people receive their help in different ways. I just love showing up and sharing in whatever way I can to help them,” said Danielle.

Online resources

Danielle developed several courses to help people, especially to overcome wounds which keep them bound to the past. They include:

  • A Seven-Day Challenge to Love Yourself
  • How to Stop Rejecting Yourself – an online course with four lessons designed to be repeated to drive self-rejection out of you.
  • Heal Your Childhood Self – an online course which takes people through a process to see where they may have been hurt by trauma which they’ve kept hidden for years.
  • Victorious Souls Podcast, which ran for three seasons before ending Dec. 31, 2023. People can still access all 365 episodes on Danielle’s website.
  • YouTube channel containing more than 570 short videos and longer interviews.

“I produce a lot of free content because people need to consume that first before they can really delve into healing,” she explained. “The free stuff enables people to discover whether they like me, trust me and relate to me. If people discover they do, then there is an opportunity to hire me to be a coach or to invite me to speak at a conference.”

For more information

People can connect with Danielle in several ways: