Ask a crowded room for the definition of “childhood trauma” and the answers that come back are likely to vary dramatically. That’s because childhood trauma is not necessarily just an isolated or singular physical event.
It is often times a prolonged series of subtle psychological incidents. Left untreated, childhood trauma can affect a person’s physical and mental health for the rest of their life.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) says that when a child experiences or witnesses an event that makes them feel threatened, they are being traumatized, meaning they are subjected to a lasting or continual state of shock.
The various types of childhood trauma can range from childhood neglect to sexual assault, bullying to domestic violence, painful medical procedures to the loss of a loved one, war trauma to natural disasters, homelessness to chronic poverty and so much more.
7 Ways Survivors of Childhood Trauma are Impacted as Adults
1. Mental Health Issues
Surviving childhood trauma leaves emotional and mental scars that often translate to battles with chronic depression as an adult, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Without confronting the trauma through therapy, the symptoms of these disorders have the ability to wreak havoc on a person’s personal and professional life, as well as their physical health.
2. Substance Use Disorders (SUD)
Research has found that there are “strong links between childhood traumatization and substance use disorders or addiction.”
In many cases, people begin self-medicating with alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism without even being aware that it may be a result of the trauma they experienced as a child.
3. Dual Diagnosis Disorders
A dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder is the presence of a substance use disorder combined with mental health issues, such as PTSD, depression and anxiety.
Each disorder can have a negative impact, or even amplify the symptoms of the other, and unless both disorders are treated simultaneously, it’s difficult for many people to recover.
4. Poor Sense of Self-Worth
Trauma can strip people of confidence, especially children. A lifelong lack of confidence can lead to a person believing they are not worthy of stable relationships, good health or a successful career.
An unhealthy lack of self-worth can translate to a life filled with feelings of isolation, loneliness, and general sense of despair.
Survivors of childhood trauma who have not learned how to cope with triggers that bring back the memories of their trauma are sometimes unable to stop reliving the horror of their experiences.
Flashbacks to childhood trauma are like reliving the event over and over, which can be absolutely crippling.
6. Heightened Response to Stress
While some survivors might not struggle with flashbacks, they may have unusual responses to stressful situations, such as difficulty relaxing, an aversion to loud noises, or being jittery or jumpy in some social situations.
Stress is a normal human response experienced by everyone in certain situations, but for survivors of childhood traumatic events, it can be much more pronounced and sometimes debilitating.
7. A Loss of Self
The effects of childhood trauma on the vulnerable, underdeveloped mind can lead to an adult who struggles with a sense of identity or feelings that they need to be different people in different settings. Some might even believe that they don’t have a real sense of who they are.
This can make it extremely difficult for a person to maintain healthy relationships, keep a job for a considerable amount of time, or even know what it is that will satisfy nagging feelings of insecurity.
Trauma Counseling and Trauma Recovery
Overcoming a traumatic event at any age is difficult, but childhood traumatic events can be overwhelming and especially challenging. Seeking trauma counseling is an important step that is necessary for recovery.
There are many types of trauma therapy treatment modalities available to suit the individual needs of each person. It’s necessary to find a therapist or treatment facility that provides a comfortable fit from an emotional and experiential standpoint.
If a substance use disorder is present, seeking help from a reputable dual diagnosis treatment center is highly recommended because they have the expertise to deal with both issues at the same time.
Without confronting the addiction and mental health aspects together, successful recovery will prove to be a challenge.
Getting started is the hardest part of trauma counseling, because many people feel a strong sense of vulnerability discussing their past. Others might be unaware of their personal issues because they have mentally blocked out the traumatic events.
It’s crucial to be open and honest during therapy, and rely on the support and guidance of the therapist.
Over time, it will become easier to confront the past traumatic events, experience them from a new perspective, and openly share thoughts, emotions, and feelings with another person.
This is all part of post-traumatic growth, and the goal is not only to heal, but also to thrive in recovery. Knowing this is possible should be a positive reinforcement for everyone who is a survivor of childhood trauma to seek treatment as an adult.