As a relational trauma recovery specialist, I firmly believe that actively seeking out and moving towards fun and play is an integral part of our healing work.
Because play and fun help create that sense of vitality and enlivenment that can so often help us feel as though we’re actually living, versus just treading water through our days.
Seeking out play and fun is, in my personal and professional experience, our natural state that we have as children, but when we go through traumatic early experiences, this normal and natural impulse may be impeded by how we self-organize to cope with that trauma.
So then, part of supporting ourselves as adults as we seek to heal and overcome our adverse beginnings is to recognize and undo any mental and behavioral conditioning that’s impeding that natural impulse inside of us.
Again, this is all with the end goal of helping ourselves feel as vital and enlivened as possible as adults, despite our adverse early beginnings.
But what even feels like fun and play?
But what exactly is “fun and play”?
What feels like fun and play to you?
This seemingly easy question can feel hard, murky, if not downright impossible to answer when you come from a relational trauma background.
Again, many of us, when coming from adverse early beginnings, may have been robbed of our childhood in some ways and found that natural impulse to move towards play and fun got obscured by other ways we had to be (or imagined we had to be) in order to preserve our sense of belonging and safety with our families and communities of origin.
We may have shortchanged and devalued play and fun over other choices that kept us safe or that numbered or lessened the amount of suffering we felt back then.
So many of us arrive into adulthood and into relational trauma recovery work feeling blank when someone asks us, “What does fun and play feel like to you?”
And so, first, before offering up a wider definition of what fun and play mean, I want to first normalize and validate how hard it can feel to answer this question if you, like me, come from a relational trauma background.
I want to acknowledge too, that, even if you don’t come from a relational trauma background, it can still feel incredibly hard (if not impossible) to answer this question as an adult navigating this exhausting, demanding world.
Recognizing this question can be hard to answer, I want to offer up a more expansive definition of what fun and play can look like to help you brainstorm your own ideas about this.
A more expansive definition of fun and play
First, as you think about what fun and play look like to you, I want you to consider that play and fun are subjective,
This means what feels like play and fun to you will be unique and not necessarily what play and fun may look like to me.
Next, I want you to consider that play and fun are ever-changing,
What feels like fun and play to you at one point in your life may very well not feel like fun and play at another time.
Next, I want you to consider that play and fun don’t have to be a standalone, single-focus event (like a hobby or a single activity we do at one time).
Instead, I think play and fun can involve stacking functions.
Stacking functions is a term borrowed from the permaculture movement to describe how you can combine and plan elements together to yield the highest output.
While this is primarily used to describe plotting and planning with food forests and gardens, I think of it in terms of the question, “And how can I combine fun and play into obligatory responsibilities I hold anyway?”
In this way, I’m doing something that needs to get done but also incorporating elements of fun and play into it.
And finally, the last element of a more expansive definition of fun and play that I’d like you to consider is this: Fun and play can happen in small nibbles versus big, grandiose movements.
So now, a more expansive definition of fun and play and sitting with that fun and play is subjective, ever-changing, totally permissible if it comes with stacking functions and if it happens in small nibbles, I’ll ask you again:
What do fun and play look like to you and how much are you building this into your daily life?
If you’re still struggling to answer this question, here are some further prompts for you to consider:
- What evokes delight, aliveness, joy, happiness, or even contentment for you?
- Can you see any of these things as potential sources of fun and play?
- Ask, what used to light you up? What did you love as a kid and teen?
- If you can’t remember, who can you ask who might remember instead? What do childhood pictures show you about what it seems like you used to enjoy?
- If you still have no clue, could you treat yourself like you would your beloved child and consider exposing yourself to a wide range of potential interests and hobbies so you can get to know what evokes positive feelings in you now as an adult.
- If you do know what fun and play look like for you, what would it take to weave this into your daily life more?
- What is stopping you from doing this? What stories do you have about the value of fun and play that might be limiting how much you let yourself have this?
And if you—like so many of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds—struggle with answering this question, please consider reaching out to a trauma-informed therapist here on Psychology Today who can support you.