Warning: This blog post may contain sensitive information to some readers, such as topics in physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. It is not intended to diagnose or serve as a solution to dealing with the effects of childhood trauma. Please view this as informational, and reach out to a mental health professional if you are in need of help.
Childhood trauma refers to an event witnessed or experienced during childhood (under 18) that threatened the physical or emotional safety of the child. Throughout our youth, we develop attachment bonds to those close to us and, in return, expect them to keep us safe. When this integrity of compromised by an experience, children may experience strong physical and emotional reactions that can persist into adulthood.
Prolonged trauma, as in an event that occurs multiple times or a string of occurrences over time, can cause child traumatic stress. Without any mental health intervention, brain development can be affected, making way for unhealthy coping skills, delays, and issues with learning.
Trauma is relative.
As you read the rest of this blog, it’s important to remember that trauma is different for everyone. The experience and response combine age, type of event, stage of development, how often the event occurred, and how people surrounding the child responded.
For that reason, something that is considered traumatic for one person may not be for another. That is okay. By understanding childhood trauma, you can be one step closer to healing your inner child.
From 1995 to 1997, a study conducted at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California gathered information from over 17,000 adults about their childhood and experiences. The research wanted to discover a correlation between childhood trauma and the likelihood of long-term effects. It’s called the ACE-Kaiser Study, which stands for adverse childhood experiences.
The following bullet points show the categories for which the study gathered the information, identified as “adverse childhood experiences,”:
(Find the complete list on the CDC’s website)
The study found that ACE (adverse childhood experiences) scores were common across all populations. Nearly two-thirds of participants had at least one ACE, while more than one in five (over 20%) reported over three ACE’s.
Certain populations were more likely to experience ACE’s, depending on social and economic conditions.
Lastly, the study did find a relationship between the amount of ACE’s and poor health and wellbeing outcomes in adulthood. The more childhood trauma one has experienced, the more likely they will experience prolonged effects into adulthood, such as mental illness, disease, and illness.
In addition to the social and economic factors that can put a child at risk for adverse childhood experiences, here are other factors that play a significant role in how severe the trauma is to the child:
The effects of childhood trauma and traumatic stress can appear in many different forms as an adult. It affects a child’s sense of self, creating an unstable self-image. Remember that this is not an exhaustive list, and someone who’s experienced trauma might not have all of these symptoms. Additionally, trauma may not be the only contributing factor.
One of the main ways the lingering effects of childhood trauma surface in adulthood is through relationships, often romantic, although friend, family, and work relationships can also be affected. Recognizing potential symptoms can help you facilitate healthy relationships moving forward.
Unfortunately, the lingering effects of trauma work their way into adulthood even if you’ve received therapy or felt as though the issue is resolved. Since our brains are still developing throughout childhood, trauma can directly impact further development, carrying negative symptoms throughout a lifespan.
Trauma impacts our body’s natural stress response, and triggers can easily send a central nervous system into its fight, flight, or freeze response. These triggers are amplified by common mental health diagnoses for victims of childhood trauma such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicide, personality disorders, and substance abuse. Prolonged stress to the body in return lowers the immune system and can put adults at risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic pain, and other health problems.
These symptoms, just like trauma itself, are relative to each individual’s experience. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body and mind and make a note of anything that does not feel right.
The process of healing from childhood trauma can be a daunting task. It’s important to know that you are validated in your experience of the event and that you are not alone.
No child is at fault for the trauma they’ve encountered, so giving yourself the necessary grace and patience to heal is of the utmost importance. However, this healing process is not linear and takes dedication to uncover the underlying cause.
A therapist, social worker, or psychologist is trained to help you work through these difficult symptoms and heal from them. Different types of therapy have been clinically shown to help survivors of childhood abuse and trauma positively.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): A form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It involves trauma processing and skill development to address triggers and learn coping skills.
Somatic therapy focuses on healing the mind-body connection by learning how emotions physically impact our bodies. A therapist will aid in the development of body awareness and identifying triggers.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR uses eye movements to re-map traumatic memories. This is a type of somatic therapy.
Art therapy provides an outlet for those suffering that does not include words. This is a common intervention for children but has been shown to positively impact adults as well.
Prolonged exposure therapy (PE): A long-term therapy option for trauma survivors that works to overcome avoidance.
Note: There are many types of therapeutic practices that have been shown to positively impact those experiencing the negative effects of childhood trauma. It is best to speak with a mental health professional to determine which type of therapy best suits your needs.
If you have experienced childhood trauma or child traumatic stress, know that you do not have to go through the healing journey alone. If you’re in need of a therapist in Danville or Bloomsburg, PA, or at one of our convenient 15 locations across Eastern PA, Dr. John G. Kuna & Associates has a team of trained professionals who can help you. Contact our office to schedule an appointment today.