What is Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma is defined as an event that causes distress and fear in a child. Without help, this can lead to mental health problems later in life. For example, a child who witnesses a serious car crash may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Triggers such as seeing the scene of the crash could cause them to relive their own traumatic event.
Childhood trauma can be psychological or physical. It can include verbal abuse, ridicule, intimidation, being humiliated in public, being threatened with violence, or actual violence against a parent or caregiver. Even if the perpetrator of this behavior is not a family member, it is still considered childhood trauma.
Physical trauma can include injuries inflicted by adults, neglect, or illness.
Early adverse childhood experiences can make people more vulnerable to later emotional pain and mental disorders. This is because the brain is developing rapidly in early childhood. A child whose development has been affected by traumatic experiences may have an impaired ability to deal with stress. They may be prone to mood swings, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental disorders.
The trauma that people feel when they are children can stay with them. It can make them feel ashamed and guilty even though it wasn’t their fault. They may not be able to relate to other people. This makes it hard for them to control their feelings (such as anger, anxiety, or personality disorders). They may also have a hard time controlling how they react to things that happen in their lives.
This article explains some of the possible physical and psychological effects of childhood trauma.
Childhood Adversity can follow you into Adulthood
Types of Childhood Trauma That can affect your life – Psychological Effects
Unresolved Childhood trauma has recently gained widespread attention due to the significant role it plays in mental health issues. A history of traumatic experiences, particularly interpersonal ones, is associated with an increased risk for many psychiatric disorders.
This may be particularly true for post-traumatic stress disorder, which is one of the most common mental health problems found in adults.
PTSD has been linked to the development of certain anxiety disorders, severe depression, and drug dependence. One of the best resources to understand complex PTSD is a book written by Pete Walker.>>> You can get it here!!
According to some studies, over half of the individuals who had experienced a traumatic event will develop some sort of mental health problem over the course of their lifetime.
The most common psychiatric disorder associated with a history of complex trauma is Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Not only does this disorder involve re-experiencing the original event, but it also includes avoidance and numbing symptoms that may be misdiagnosed as depression.
In children, PTSD has been associated with disruptive behavior disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. These disorders are often treated with harsh discipline, which can worsen PTSD symptoms in children.
Child maltreatment is also found to increase the risk of developing PTSD later in life by increasing the number of adverse experiences an individual has during childhood.
Childhood Emotional Trauma
According to the McGill University research group, Childhood Emotional Maltreatment is “an act of omission or commission that denies a child the emotional nurturing necessary for their psychological growth.“
This can take many different forms, including causing children to feel worthless, unloved, unwanted, and/or inconsequential with statements like “you are bad” or “you are ugly”.
Forms of emotional abuse can include verbal attacks, withholding approval, ignoring a child’s presence, refusing to set limits with appropriate consequences, and public humiliation.
This form of trauma is often minimized by society because it is not physical in nature. Because acts of emotional abuse are relatively subtle compared to other forms of childhood trauma, many parents are not even aware of how their behavior can affect a childhood experience negatively.
It is important for those working with children to be mindful of the possibility of emotional maltreatment and its potentially harmful effects.
Emotional abuse in childhood has been linked with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.
Early Life Trauma Type
Many young children are traumatized by the events of their early lives. Some of these traumas include loss of parents/caregivers, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and bullying.
Children may suffer more than one type of trauma. Each type presents its own trajectory.
Childhood Sexual Abuse
This form of trauma is especially difficult to deal with because it often involves an adverse childhood experience that is kept secret. Sexual abuse can occur in many different forms. It might take the form of sexual contact, exposure to inappropriate sexual behaviors, or even witnessing sexual acts between adults.
Child victims of sexual abuse may be afraid to tell anyone about what has happened to them as they then carry this unresolved trauma.
They may have been threatened with violence if they disclose the sexual acts. These children are often confused by what has occurred, especially when the abuser is a family member or trusted adult. Sexually abused children are at greater risk of abusing drugs and alcohol in adolescence, as well as experiencing other psycho-social issues, such as depression or anxiety disorder in adulthood.
In many cases, individuals who were physically abused as children continue to suffer from the negative effects of the trauma well into adulthood. Physical abuse can cause a variety of psycho-social problems later in life.
While not all children who experience physical abuse develop psychological difficulties, it is often a major factor in adult psychopathology. Victims of physical abuse may have more psychosomatic complaints as children, become involved with criminal activities, or suffer from anxiety and depression later in life.
Children who are neglected are often severely malnourished, and lacking the basic social skills necessary for healthy development. Children who are severely neglected may even be abandoned by their parents at an early age. These children often suffer from nutritional deficiencies that lead to poor health.
They may not get the nurturance they need, which leads to issues regarding self-esteem and a lack of trust in others. As adults, these children are more likely to suffer from social anxiety and insecurity, as well as having problems with personal relationships all stemming from trauma.
Many children are bullied by their peers. They may be intimidated, made fun of, or not included in activities because they are physically smaller than other children. Bullying can lead to feelings of isolation and rejection, which leaves them vulnerable to depression and anger-related problems later in life.
There is no doubt that childhood trauma has a significant impact on the lives of children and adolescents. Early life experiences can affect children not only psychologically, but also physically. The more severe the trauma, the greater the negative effects on a child’s development.
Signs of Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma not only leaves scars on young children but also has lasting effects throughout a person’s life. As a result of an early traumatic experience, victims can develop an array of mental health disorders. In some cases, psychological disorders may not appear until years after the initial trauma takes place.
In diagnosing childhood traumas, psychologists look for certain signs that could point to major emotional disturbances later in life. For example, if a person has post-traumatic stress, they may find themselves struggling to cope with everyday life. As a result, sufferers of this condition may have trouble attending school or holding down a job.
Similarly, when someone is exposed to traumatic events in childhood, it can leave them feeling helpless and powerless. This sense of insecurity can last throughout a person’s life and give rise to feelings of anxiety or inferiority. In severe cases, childhood traumas can result in individuals developing phobias, general anxiety disorders, panic attacks, mood swings, and depression.
Life-Altering Effects of Childhood Trauma
In some cases, early traumatic experiences have lasting effects on children well into adulthood. For many victims, the psychological scars last long after the experience has taken place.
For example, studies show that children who are exposed to violence or neglect may suffer from lifelong problems with attention and self-regulation. Other studies indicate that adults who were traumatized as kids struggle more with feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, not being good enough, and unlovable, more than those who did not have a traumatic childhood.
Many victims of early childhood trauma go on to develop depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues later in life. This risk is even greater for those who experience multiple forms of childhood maltreatment during their youth. As a result, psychologists recommend screening children suffering from certain types of trauma for mental health disorders.
Childhood Trauma in Adults
Childhood trauma can play out in many ways throughout adulthood. It can lead to mental illness, psycho-social problems, criminal behavior, drug addiction, and alcoholism. In today’s society, we have seen an epidemic of personality disorders as well which can lay dormant until adulthood, all stemming from childhood trauma and abuse.
The Mental Health Center in Denver, Colorado reports that: “more than half of all adults report some form of childhood trauma and/or abuse. The more types of trauma experienced during your childhood, the greater the risk of developing serious psychiatric problems.
There are four main trauma types that involve childhood trauma: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical neglect. These traumas can have lasting effects on adulthood. Physical abuse causes aggressive behavior in adults who have experienced it.
According to the book Childhood Trauma Remembered, “physical abuse may lead to an inability to trust others”. The abused child grows up feeling untrusting of others and may look for partners who are abusive.
Many times individuals do not remember past injuries but are aware that they are somehow compelled to repeat these behaviors and create similar situations to what they experienced as children. According to the book, “emotional abuse has been linked with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicide”.
It can also lead some individuals to substance abuse in their adulthood. For example, alcoholics often convince themselves that others are responsible for their addiction because it lets them off the hook for their own behaviors. All of this is to avoid facing the deep unworthiness they feel.
Sexual abuse in children can lead to sexual dysfunction later in life or sexual promiscuity. “More than half of all eating disorders are associated with some form of childhood trauma, often including physical and/or sexual abuse.
Relationship issues arise from unmet emotional needs from childhood trauma. Many times people who grow up with trauma may not know what they need or want because they did not experience “good enough” nurturing in their childhood. Emotional Trauma from childhood can turn into “co-dependency” in adult relationships.
What Does Co-Dependency Look Like?
In what ways can a person be codependent in relationships?
Codependency is a psychological state where a person may be reliant on or are reliant on the relationship to feel worthy. Putting oneself last and being overly preoccupied with the needs of others are two examples.
Codependents often find themselves in relationships where their own needs are not being met, and yet they continue to invest in a relationship in which those needs go unmet. Codependents tend to attract dependent partners into their lives.
They cling to relationships because of fear of being alone, or fear of depending on themselves, but this attachment causes them to lose their sense of self-worth and identity while simultaneously decreasing their ability to form healthy relationships.
They often find themselves in relationships with addicts, narcissists, or other people who need the care of others. The exact nature of codependency varies depending on which source one consults.
The medical profession does not consider codependency diagnosable. However, it is a common concept in popular culture, it carries a heavy stigma and it all has roots tied to childhood trauma.
How Can We Heal Our Childhood Trauma?
Everything begins with self-awareness and first realizing that life may be responding to you based on the trauma you are carrying. You can’t change your past but you can change how that trauma has impacted you. You can change how the rest of your life will play out!
Many recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a solution along with EMDR therapy which has proven to be effective in releasing long-held emotions, subconscious blocks, and limiting beliefs.”
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a collection of proprietary protocols that incorporates components from several different therapeutic techniques. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.
It’s used to resolve the emotional impact of disturbing memories including phobias, panic attacks, troubling memories, obsessive thoughts, post-traumatic stress, and other upsetting memories.
“Many people with historical trauma such as accidents, military combat, natural disasters, personal assaults such as rape or mugging, medical procedures such as surgery, physical abuse, and childhood neglect develop what is known as a post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can occur at any age but is usually diagnosed in early adulthood. Symptoms of PTSD can include:
• Flashbacks or intrusive images that take you back to the event
• Bad dreams, night terrors, and other sleep problems
• Emotional numbness and feeling of detached
• Angry outbursts, irritability, or startling easily
Trauma-informed approach Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
Is a specialized type of cognitive-behavioral therapy developed to treat children and adults who have experienced early childhood trauma? TF-CBT aims to reduce symptoms related to traumatic experiences by bringing memories of the past into the open so that they can be processed and resolved.
The primary goal is not to eliminate all memories, but rather to help children/adults regain control over their emotions so that they can feel better and move forward with their lives.
Trauma Treatment begins with the creation of a safe, supportive relationship between therapist/coach and child/adult that allows them to tell their stories or draw pictures about what happened during their childhood trauma.
Patients/Clients are then asked to express how certain memories make them feel so that they learn to recognize when they are feeling distressed or upset by certain memories.
This is called affective expression. Using this new awareness, they then learn techniques to reduce negative emotions and relax when they begin to feel panicked, sad, or angry.
Treatment aims to help children/adults with childhood trauma:
• Identify the thoughts and beliefs that keep them feeling unsafe and out of control
• Feel more comfortable with normal life experiences and manage everyday stressors
• Regain a sense of control over their lives through the use of relaxation techniques
• Gain new coping skills for dealing with distressing emotions and memories
There are a number of treatments that have been found effective in working with children/adults who have experienced childhood trauma.
Another alternative is learning how to Re-Parent yourself.
Re-parenting is the most direct and profound tool for healing childhood pain. When we become parents, we feel unconditional love toward our children. We would do anything to protect them and meet their needs. Re-parenting is the process of giving yourself that same unconditional love and acceptance that we give to our children.
You begin to parent yourself the way you would have needed from your parent, you learn to be aware of your emotional needs and how to fulfill them. You become your own safe haven. And return you begin to heal and from there the trajectory of all things in your life begin to reshape in a new direction. You become your own person, you have risen from the ashes.
It is never too late to get help. Even if it’s been a long time, you can still get help for the things that have happened to you. Recognizing what is within us and how our experiences have shaped our lives is very powerful in our ability to change our lives. We all have to hope that what we went through is not who we are, and with help, you can create a new future.
At the end of the day, it’s not about how much suffering you’ve endured or how many people have harmed us but rather about your ability to heal and improve yourself as a person and those around you.