What is Childhood Trauma?
“Childhood trauma refers to an event, a situation or an environment experienced by a child.”
Since the world started opening up about mental health more and more people are turning to therapy for support. Generally when you experience some form of ‘stuckness’ in your life - either in your career, your relationships, finance or passions seeing a professional is a good place to start. And if I had a dime for every time someone said ‘I went to therapy but stopped shortly after because she kept rooting around in my childhood. My childhood was fine, I just wanted some solutions to help me cope better’, I’d be one loaded MF.
Some of the tell tale symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood include:
Chronic depression and/or anxiety
Mood swings and/or a tendency to overreact
Trouble managing stress
A core belief that the world is a dangerous place
Feelings of loneliness and isolation
Difficulty maintaining lasting and satisfying relationships
A feeling of numbness, like you are observing life from above
Insomnia or difficulties with sleep
Difficulty with concentration
Unexplained aches, pains or chronic fatigue
Easily startled and often edgy
Substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, overeating) and/or addictive behaviours
But it’s true, almost always stuckness is rooted in childhood trauma of sorts. Now the word trauma may seem a bit dramatic, childhood trauma even more so but it’s not nearly as dramatic sounding as it is traumatic for the kid who experiences it. Childhood trauma refers to an event, a situation or an environment experienced by a child that leaves them (as a child and as an adult) feeling vulnerable and unable to count on anyone to keep them safe.
It comes in many shapes and sizes including physical, environmental and emotional all of which have the capacity to hold great power over a child.
Physical trauma includes anything from physical abuse, sexual abuse, the loss of a loved one, changing schools, moving country, living with parents who are always fighting, not getting proper attention from a loved one, being constantly put down by a parent or being bullied in school.
The idea that a child won’t be affected by what they experience even if they do not understand it is incorrect. Even if a child doesn’t comprehend exactly what is happening, they can understand danger and discord. This is what causes trauma. And not only that, research shows that infants are affected by trauma around them too, so if one of their parents are suffering the child will absorb this trauma too. The fact that a child can’t comprehend it or reason it in their own mind means that they tend to be more affected by trauma than adults as they can sense danger but not ‘explain’ it to themselves like an adult, meaning they feel more terrified and vulnerable.
“Traumatic experiences also have a stronger impact on children when you take into account that children’s brains are still developing and thus more vulnerable than those of adults. Trauma has been found to affect the growth of the brain cortex, which then affects learning, behaviour, and health, including things like memory, attention span, and the capacity to regulate emotions and handle stress.”
And not everyone reacts to trauma in the same way. Some people remember all details of what happened, many blank everything entirely from their mind and lose all memory of the experience. Some people develop symptoms from childhood onwards, and others have no symptoms of trauma but then suddenly, as an adult, something triggers them. This could be a stressful new job, a new relationship, or another life trauma like a bereavement or breakup.
If you suffered from childhood trauma, it’s common to suffer from anxiety and depression as an adult until you seek help to uncover and process your experience. Other common mental health problems include addictive behaviour, self-harm, repressed anger or anger management issues, and eating disorders. Sexual abuse in particular has been connected to the development of borderline personality disorder.
Some people who experienced childhood trauma also exhibit symptoms of PTSD. Sometimes these symptoms can manifest long after the trauma, although some victims of childhood trauma seem to spend their entire lives with the symptoms of emotional shock. If you think you may have suffered childhood trauma in some capacity it’s advised you speak to a trained professional. Know that it is not your fault. What occurred was way out of your control and it is unfortunate.
What is within in your control now is your ability to take steps to help yourself. The effects of childhood trauma are not known to magically resolve with time or age, but they do respond positively to focussed attention and support. With the right help and support you can identify the trauma and begin to process it so that you can let go of the unhealthy behavioural patterns that no longer serve you.
About The Author
Siobhan is a Trainee Psychotherapist, Mental Health Advocate and Editor of crakd. She’s also embroiled in an intense love affair with eclectic interiors and colourful food.
Follow Siobhan on Instagram @siobhan_scan