Memories from childhood can affect people strongly as adults. Many people have fond childhood memories that they never forget. Unfortunately, the ability to be shaped early in childhood can also result in bad memories and experiences sticking with people and causing trauma later in life. Childhood trauma can lead to a number of issues with adults, including mental health disorders and substance abuse. People who experience childhood trauma may need treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and trauma in order to lead a normal life as adults.
What Is Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma is defined by the USA National Institute of Mental Health as a distressful or painful experience as a child that results in lasting effects on mental and physical health. These experiences of trauma can take many forms and may include abuse and neglect. Trauma often comes from unstable environments and a lack of support as well.
How Does Childhood Abuse Cause Trauma?
It’s important for kids to get support from those around them, including their families and other close people. Betrayal of this support can cause lasting trauma. Abuse can take the form of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. All can lead to serious consequences as adults for the children who experience them.
Immediate Environment Trauma
A child’s immediate environment contributes strongly to their emotional development. An example of an immediate environment is the child’s household and the places they go regularly, such as another family member’s house or school. If any of these places are unstable or distressing, the child is liable to absorb that stress, which can create trauma. Some examples of unstable environments include the following:
• Substance abuse by parents or other family members
• Violence between parents
• Mentally ill family members
• Stressful environments such as a lot of yelling and arguing
Other sources of emotional trauma can include parents separating or when a member of the household is sent to prison.
Trauma From Neglect
Childhood trauma doesn’t always stem from abuse or unstable environments. It can also come from simple neglect. This can take many forms, including the child’s parents not being home often. It can also be more extreme, such as the parents not taking care of the child’s basic needs.
Childhood Trauma Symptoms
PTSD is one of the long-term effects that childhood trauma may lead to. However, PTSD can manifest in various ways. It’s also true that not all experiences of trauma leads to problems when children become adults. Sometimes they’re able to make a full recovery. Nevertheless, it’s more common than you might think for trauma in childhood to lead to PTSD. Children who are strongly affected by traumatic experiences may become distrustful and anti-social.
A common symptom from trauma is when the child experiences the event over and over again in their minds. This might cause them to avoid certain triggers that make the event appear in their minds. Children may develop a hyper-awareness of avoiding anything similar to the initial event that caused the trauma. Some other common symptoms of childhood trauma include the following:
• Fear and anxiety
• Aggressive or violent behavior
• Low self-esteem
• Appetite changes
• Lack of focus
• Worrying often
• Decreased physical health
How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?
A large amount of brain development happens during childhood. In order for this to happen in a healthy way, the child needs a stable environment with plenty of support from those around them. When a child’s brain is denied these things, the result may be felt as trauma with repercussions continuing through the child’s life as an adult.
There are various ways that childhood trauma can affect the brain. Some children may have issues with learning and memory as well as poor social skills. They may also have trouble controlling their impulses and regulating their behavior. Both can lead to more severe behavior problems later.
Adults living with childhood trauma may have issues with prioritizing and planning as well as an inclination towards procrastination.
Such symptoms aren’t necessarily concrete proof of childhood trauma. An accurate diagnosis can only be made by a professional trauma specialist who carefully examines the person and their history.
Effects of Childhood Trauma In Adults
Trauma causes people to develop certain coping strategies to deal with it. These mechanisms can help them escape from stress, but they can also result in some harmful side-effects. Take a look at the following four coping strategies that people with early trauma often use:
People with trauma may feel like the world is dangerous to them and thus retreat into themselves. They are often withdrawn around others, and they don’t trust easily. Emotional detachment helps them block feelings of fear and anger. They also use it to cope with future disappointments.
Early trauma and abuse may cause some people to believe they deserved the way they were treated. They may often think and speak negatively about themselves and the world around them.
This happens when a person has a lot of anger inside them, but they seek to suppress it. Instead, the anger comes out in passive forms rather than confrontational forms.
Having a false self
When people don’t get the support and care they need as a child, they might modify their behavior to fit what they think their parents or peers want. However, changing your behavior to fit someone else’s ideal means losing some of yourself in the process. Embodying a false self can be stressful in daily life as well.
The coping strategies in this list usually only yield temporary relief from triggers and stressful feelings. But they ultimately do not heal the underlying problem. In fact, they work as a way to hide the existence of the problem. These mental strategies can also complicate a person’s ability to interact with others and function normally in daily life.
Sometimes long-term efforts to cope with trauma in unhealthy ways can also lead people to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Trauma in childhood is a common element in people who struggle with addiction and substance abuse.
Treating Experiences of Trauma in Childhood
Treating trauma through psychotherapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can be effective in changing a person’s perspective and reducing the effects of negative thoughts. Through continuous repetition, the person becomes less affected by triggers that remind them of their previous trauma. A trauma specialist can diagnose a person through an extensive interview to identify the core issues that caused the trauma. They then assess current symptoms and proceed with an appropriate level of treatment.
Common types of psychotherapy to treat trauma include the following:
If you or a loved one is struggling from trauma experienced during childhood, then Dr. Howard Samuels’ therapy in Los Angeles can help. Dr. Samuels provides a wide range of treatments and therapies for those seeking healing from mental health problems or substance abuse. Reach out today to find out more.