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‘Game of Thrones’ Star Maisie Williams Perfectly Explains the Effects of Childhood Trauma

Maisie, you are amazing!

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in 'Game of Thrones'.

Everyone knows Maisie Williams as her fictional counterpart Arya Stark from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Arya (and Williams) were children when the series began. The story arc for Arya took from her home at Winterfell to losing almost everything important to her, until ultimately becoming a fierce warrior. She is strong, heroic, and beloved by fans. This week, Williams revealed her personal journey was not all that different from the character that made her famous.

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On the podcast The Diary of a CEO, Williams spoke for the first time about the childhood trauma she experienced from her father. She didn’t go into detail about what occurred, but she spoke about her trauma in the aftermath of what she endured. Her vulnerability and insight touched on what many survivors of child abuse can relate to.

Ask the right questions

Maisie Williams The Diary of a CEO podcast
(The Diary of a CEO)

Before this interview with Steven Bartlett, Williams had kept her childhood private. When she was around four months old, Williams’s mother left, while she remained with her father. Williams recalled, from a young age, not “feeling normal.” She would watch other children play and wonder why she couldn’t feel the unencumbered joy that her peers obviously felt. Instead of feeling light and free, as most children do, she always felt a sense of “impending doom” even in moments of play.

It wasn’t until she was around the age of eight that a teacher pulled her aside at school and asked her the “right questions.” Even though Williams felt wrong, as a child she had no way of knowing why she felt that way or where the cause stemmed from. Many children who have abusive parents think that is just how parents are and don’t raise the issue when other adults are near.

After that one conversation with the teacher, Williams went to live with her mother, and the abuse ended. When children have abusive parents, they often suffer in silence and need help to articulate what they are going through. For Williams, it started with someone asking why she never eats breakfast before school. It is so important that adults who are around young children watch for signs of abuse and know what questions to ask. This is especially important in a post-COVID-19 lockdown world, where children have been isolated from most of society for the past two years.

Effects of trauma don’t just evaporate

After Williams’s contact with her father ended, she thought life would just get better on its own. Many people, including survivors of abuse, think that once the trauma ends, then they will just magically heal and feel like a normal person. Williams discovered that sadly isn’t the case. Without proper therapy, the damage done to young children will follow them well into adulthood. She recalled trying out for the role of Arya Stark at 12 and watching the other girls auditioning with so much joy about them, whereas she felt pain and nameless deep emotions.

Into her twenties, Williams struggled with the same feeling of “impending doom” she felt as a child. Anxiety and self-hate followed her no matter how successful she became. She said she often felt to blame for things that were completely out of her control, and she has only learned recently to try to let it go. When you have an abusive parent, you tend to hyper-focus on your place in the world. Since you are told from a young age that you are to blame for everything and a harsh punishment will follow, you internalize it. Having heard it for so long, it must be true that you are a terrible person and deserve to be treated like it.

She also pointed out how difficult romantic relationships have been for her. At the first sign of conflict or pain, she would end relationships and hide behind the emotional wall she had built. So many children (myself included) build these walls and steer clear of any strong emotions because they already feel everything so deeply. It wasn’t until her current boyfriend’s patience and kindness convinced her to lower her defenses that she actually formed a healthy relationship. Through therapy, acting, meditation, and yoga, Williams started the healing process. It may take some time for Williams to feel right, but her bravery to open up made many others not feel so alone with their struggles.

(featured image: HBO)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.

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