Experiencing childhood trauma has effects that last far beyond a singular traumatic event. When children experience trauma in early childhood, the effects of that trauma can last for years after the trauma has occurred. In severe cases, the effects of childhood trauma can last for the rest of their adult lives.
When this is the case, many people wonder how to cope with the lifetime effects of childhood trauma as an adult. In this article, we discuss symptoms of childhood trauma in adults, the effects of early childhood trauma, and strategies for overcoming childhood trauma as an adult. Let's start by defining early childhood trauma.
Early Child Trauma and Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in Adults
Early childhood trauma involves traumatic experiences that occur in a child's life when they are between the ages of 0-6. According to mental health researchers, the earlier in their lives that a child experiences trauma, the longer-lasting the effects are likely to be. Examples of childhood trauma include being a witness to or victim of domestic violence, family violence, neighborhood violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, natural disasters, or war.
Symptoms of childhood trauma in adults are affected by early exposure. Earlier exposure to traumatic events in childhood can affect childhood brain development. These effects may not show up until later in life. When the symptoms of childhood trauma do show up in adulthood, they often show up in the form of developmental disorders or mental health disorders. The damaging and traumatic effects of experiencing childhood trauma last a lifetime.
Traumatic events experienced at an early age can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that affects millions of Americans annually. This anxiety disorder normally develops in response to being a part of witnessing a highly traumatic event. Examples of events that can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder are war, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and natural disaster events.
People who experience more than one trauma in their lifetime often end up experiencing a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder called C-PTSD. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a more severe form of post-traumatic stress that happens as a result of compounding traumas. The situation with complex post-traumatic stress is the same in that, the earlier in childhood that people are exposed to these compounding traumas, the more severe their symptoms are likely to be in adulthood. Adults who have been recently diagnosed with this new form of post-traumatic stress disorder are likely to be screened for childhood trauma during their initial consultation with mental health care providers.
Other common symptoms of childhood trauma in adults include the development of substance abuse and alcohol addiction issues that often coincide with a mental health diagnosis. When people get treatment for childhood trauma that have compounding issues like alcohol addiction or substance abuse, they have to get treatment for all of the issues concurrently. For example, a person who is in therapy for childhood trauma who is also an alcoholic will be required to attend additional therapy sessions and participate in programs for alcohol treatment at the same time.
When you visit a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional for assessment and screening, you'll be presented with a series of questionnaires, including a Childhood trauma questionnaire that asks questions about your childhood experiences to determine if you're potentially suffering from the effects of traumatic childhood events.
Overcoming Childhood Trauma
The first step to overcoming early childhood trauma is to recognize that the issue you're suffering from is not only a mental health issue but also a medical issue. Trauma has a lasting effect on the body and mind that can leave deep emotional wounds that begin to manifest in the body as chronic aches, pains, and other somatic symptoms.
Begin by acknowledging the effects that childhood trauma has had on you. Once you realize that you have been affected by childhood trauma, the next step is to reach out for support from a licensed professional. If you're not sure where to start, you can request a child trauma questionnaire to screen for a childhood diagnosis. Don't blame yourself. You didn't have any choice of over your circumstances as a child, and you didn't ask to be traumatized.
Early childhood trauma can interrupt brain development, which can lead to other physical health symptoms in the body. As more research is done on the effects of mental illness on the body, mental health care, and medical health providers are starting to work in tandem to develop a complete holistic solution for patients and clients that treat both the body and the mind.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the methods of treatment that today's behavioral health professionals use for helping clients overcome mental health trauma. Trauma-informed therapy helps people who have experienced traumatic events in their lives to find understanding, relief, and new ways to cope.
One of the main components of overcoming the effects of childhood trauma is to be honest with yourself about the process. Being honest with yourself as you begin the process of healing means understanding that you may have a long road to walk and committing yourself to the process anyway.
Getting therapy and medication management allows for mental health clients to improve the quality of their lives and requires a daily commitment to the process. Committing to the process means attending all scheduled therapy sessions, taking all prescribed medications, and incorporating new coping strategies and skills into everyday life.
Get Therapy Online
Online therapy options are available for adult childhood trauma victims who are still experiencing the negative effects of early childhood trauma later in life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and other forms of psychotherapy are available online 24-hours a day. Clients who choose to get therapy online get access to thousands of licensed and board-certified therapists that have thousands of hours of hands-on clinical experience.
These certified mental health experts can guide clients down a path to wellness by helping them to realize where they have been making critical mistakes that have had a negative impact on their lives. Licensed mental health professionals provide real-life strategies and solutions that mental health clients can learn from and apply to their everyday lives to create more positive outcomes.
When you get therapy using leading online therapy providers like BetterHelp.com - you gain access to therapy options that include face-to-face video chat, secure online chat room access, SMS messaging therapy, and phone or audio therapy by phone. Your online therapist will ask you questions as an in-office therapist would. During your session you and your therapist will discuss how your treatment plan is going and how taking part in therapy is helping you make better decisions in your life.
Benefits Of Online Therapy
One of the main benefits of getting online therapy is that you begin to recognize that you're not the only one that suffers from childhood trauma and mental health issues. There are more than 40 million Americans in the US that have mental illness each year. The top mental health disorder reported is anxiety followed by depression and eating disorders.
Taking part in therapy online gives people access to real support services that can provide coping skills and strategies for improving the quality of their lives. Online therapy clients learn better communication skills that help them have better relationships with others. Another benefit of getting therapy online is that clients learn to recognize situations, and what triggers you.
Learning to recognize your mental health-related and emotional triggers can help you develop better coping mechanisms and responses that produce more positive outcomes in your life. Over time you'll begin to feel better as you become more in control of your emotions can deal with things that have triggered you in the past with a new perspective. Cognitive-behavioral based therapies like exposure therapy (ERP) help mental health sufferers to change maladaptive beliefs by using gradual exposure to lessen the effect.
The goal of therapy is to help mental health sufferers learn how to cope with symptoms of mental illness that may affect them for the rest of their lives.
Now that you understand the effects of childhood trauma on adult mental health, you can make more informed decisions when deciding to seek therapy and support. Over 43 million Americans annually suffer from symptoms of mental illness and related substance abuse. Many of these people have experienced early childhood trauma that aggravates their condition.
Help is available for childhood trauma victims through offline options like public health departments, private practice offices. Online therapy options are affordable and available 24-hours a day, seven days a week if you're ready to get started healing the wounds of childhood trauma, schedule an appointment with a licensed BetterHelp therapist today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the long-term effects of childhood trauma?
The long-term effects of childhood trauma caused by traumatic events in one’s childhood, such as witnessing domestic violence, family violence, sexual abuse, war, or natural disasters, includes an increased risk for PTSD, increased risk of alcohol and substance abuse disorders, depression, and anxiety.
How does childhood trauma affect relationships?
Adults will often mimic the same behaviors experienced in their childhood. Traumatic experiences in one’s childhood, such as witnessing a traumatic event, experiencing medical trauma, or childhood abuse, can cause long term effects that carry over into adulthood. Child trauma can cause three different types of unhealthy attachment behaviors in adults.The first type of attachment behavior is Dismissive-avoidant Attachment, where the individual prioritizes independence and is uncomfortable being openly vulnerable with their emotions. They may even deny themselves the need for intimate relationships. Dismissive-avoidant Attachment in adults is usually the byproduct of adverse childhood experiences where the individual pulled away emotionally as a child as a means of avoiding feelings of rejection from their caregivers. Fearful-avoidant Attachment in adults, which stems from an individual experiencing childhood abuse, is another form of unhealthy relational attachment. In this case, the individual longs for intimate relationships but fears being hurt or rejected, causing them to avoid offering emotional availabilityto others. Anxious-preoccupied Attachment can occur in individuals whose experiences in childhood with their caregivers were hot or cold. Their caregivers were at times nurturing and caring, while other times were rejecting or emotionally detached. This can cause the adult individual to need constant validation in their intimate relationships and become clingy with their significant other.
Source: Pinetree Institute
Does childhood trauma cause personality disorders in adults?
Yes, they can. Adverse childhood experiences in traumatized children can cause personality disorders in the adult individual. There is a link between the number and type of child trauma and the development of personality disorders. Individuals with borderline personality disorder have high rates of traumatic experiences in childhood, specifically childhood sexual trauma. Even verbal abuse has been shown to have long term effects on a child that makes them three times as likely to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, or paranoid personality disorders in adulthood.
How do you know if you have repressed childhood trauma?
There are signs you have repressed child trauma from adverse childhood experiences, including a strong reaction to people who exhibit behaviors that call to mind past negative experiences. Trauma and PTSD often go hand in hand, and another sign you have repressed child trauma is experiencing extreme anxiety when triggered by a specific place or situation. Even sights, sounds, or smells associated with a traumatic event can trigger anxiety. Childhood adversity can also cause an adult individual to struggle with mood regulation when repressing childhood trauma. Little things can cause an outburst of anger and the inability to control one’s emotions. A fear of being abandoned is also a sign of repressed childhood trauma. Traumatized children, in some cases, have encountered abandonment by their caregiver, causing them to fear abandonment as an adult.
What are three lasting effects of trauma on children's brains?
Effects of child trauma on children’s brains include attachment issues such as relational difficulties, boundary issues, and social isolation. Experienced trauma can also cause emotional regulation problems. The child can experience difficulty identifying or labeling feelings and communicating their needs. Behavioral control is also an effect of trauma on a child’s brain, causing difficulty controlling impulses, aggression, and disrupted sleeping and eating patterns.
What happens if childhood trauma is not resolved?
Trauma in childhood can cause long-lasting problems in an adult individual when the experienced trauma has not been resolved. Attachment issues, anxiety, feelings of shame or guilt, emotional instability, and more can all emerge from unresolved childhood adversity. Trauma and PTSD are inexorably linked in adult individuals with unresolved childhood trauma, as well.
What does childhood trauma look like in adults?
Effects of child trauma in adults show up in three kinds of symptoms: emotional, physical, and behavioral. Emotional symptoms include anger, anxiety, emotional outbursts, and unresponsiveness. Physical symptoms include shakiness, poor concentration, lethargy, and trouble sleeping. Behavioral symptoms include isolation, impulsiveness, eating disorders, and disorientation.
How do you comfort someone with childhood trauma?
You can comfort someone who has experienced trauma in childhood in a variety of ways. It is important to understand in comforting someone who encountered traumatic childhood experiences that you cannot “cure” them. You should also never take things personally when comforting someone with childhood trauma, and always respect their boundaries. Supporting them during the course of their treatment and keeping open communication are wonderful ways to comfort them, as well. Let them know you’re “safe” and are always here for them when needed.
How can you tell if someone has had trauma?
Everyone deals with trauma differently, and childhood experiences are not one in the same. A traumatic event stemming from one’s childhood could have been caused by medical trauma, child abuse, or the witnessing of domestic violence, among other causes. Because of this, there isn’t an absolute identifier of someone who has had trauma other than them specifically telling you as much. However, there are some signs trauma is a possibility. Trauma and PTSD are heavily linked, so one sign of trauma is PTSD. Anxiety and feelings of sadness, disconnectedness, emotional outbursts, lethargy, and more are potential indicators someone has had childhood experiences that caused trauma.