Childhood is meant to be a beautiful experience. It is meant to be the most memorable and best years of one’s life.
However, the reality is far from this idealistic picture. Childhood for most children is less than perfect. However, some kids have it much worse than others.
Violence, abuse of all kinds, exploitation, neglect, and assault are some of the adult-inflicted childhood traumas. The death of a loved one, accidents, and illnesses are the unavoidable traumas some children have to endure.
Often adults think that children who undergo these traumatic events are so young that it won’t affect them or they won’t remember them when they grow up. This is not true in most cases. These ordeals create deep wounds in the minds of children and the scars remain with them even in adulthood.
Children who have had less than perfect childhood continue to display symptoms of the trauma even after they turn adults. Physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of childhood trauma in adults are sometimes not easy to detect or diagnose.
This article explores the topic of adults living with childhood trauma. You will find here a list of the signs of childhood trau
What Causes Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma is adverse and harmful experiences children go through because of the callous attitude of their caregivers. Some of them are inflicted by the caregivers themselves, while for others they remain mute spectators. However, not all childhood traumas can be attributed to the ineptitude of caregivers.
Some of the events that can be classified as traumatic for a child are:
- Abuse – physical, emotional, and sexual
- Sexual exploitation
- Intense bullying
- Domestic violence
- Witnessing violence at school and community
- Death of a loved one
- Life-threatening accidents
- Fatal or near-fatal illnesses
- Natural disasters
- War or refugee experiences
How Adult Childhood Trauma Affects Mental Health and Relationships?
When a child goes through a traumatic experience, it undermines their self-belief, self-worth, and confidence. It will rob them of their sense of self and destroy their stability in life.
It would be wishful thinking to think that these wounds will vanish as time passes. As they grow up into adults, these scars continue to remain with them and the memories of the traumatic experience will continue to haunt them in some way or the other.
As adults, they may experience a sense of guilt, shame, disconnection with family and friends, and inability to form healthy relationships. Having trouble controlling emotions, angry outbursts, and incidents of high levels of anxiety and depression are all attributed to childhood trauma.
The manifestation of childhood trauma in adults depends on the kind of trauma endured and who they consider responsible for it. Abuse, especially sexual abuse and emotional abuse by a caregiver can have serious repercussions, while neglect and failure on the part of caregivers to ensure their safety may not have as much impact. Again, it differs from person to person.
Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Trauma in adults
The effects of childhood trauma are diverse depending on the traumatic event, the child, and the role of the caregiver in it all. As a child, they may develop their own coping mechanisms as a means of survival and to get through the day-to-day functions.
Children may display signs of social withdrawal, experience mood swings, show violent behavior or mask their emotions and feelings. In case of no intervention in the early years, these behavioral traits will continue into adulthood. In adults, these symptoms may manifest with more severity and can turn more potent.
Here are some of the common childhood trauma symptoms in adults.
1. Physical symptoms:
- Lack of focus
- Low energy levels
- Disturbed sleep and nightmares
- Falling sick too often
2. Emotional symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Anxiety and depression
- Anger and violence
- Disinterest and insensitiveness
- Emotional outbursts
3. Behavioral symptoms:
- Eating disorders
- Compulsions of different kinds
- Unsocial or antisocial behavior
- Callous and stubborn attitude
- Impulsiveness and disorientation
Childhood trauma in adults is most evident in their lack of ability to form relationships. Different types of adult attachment disorders are a result of trauma experienced in their childhood. All the negative attachment styles are linked to undergoing traumatic experiences as a child.
4. Fearful-avoidant attachment:
A child experiencing neglect and abuse may develop this as an adult. They may continue to have fear for intimate, close relationships. As an adult, they have a hard time sharing emotions and trusting others. They often feel disconnected from their partner.
5. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment:
This results when a child’s need is ignored or rejected by the caregiver. When they grow up, they become overly independent as a means to protect themselves from similar situations. Again, this can be a barrier in forming intimate relationships as an adult.
6. Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment:
When the caregiver is inconsistent in providing emotional security to the child, it can lead to anxiety. At times the child is smothered in love and attention, and at other times, they are left to fend for themselves. This can make a child needy and clingy. They look for approval and validation in their relationships. This tendency of insecurity will continue into their adulthood.
Childhood trauma therapy for adults
Childhood trauma is not only devastating for a child but it can continue to haunt them even as an adult. Therapy is highly successful in eliminating the aftereffects of childhood trauma.
The most effective and common childhood trauma therapies for adults are:
1. Cognitive Processing Trauma Therapy (CPT)
A variation of cognitive behavioral therapy, CPT is used primarily for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 12-session treatment schedule is effective for channeling emotions and thoughts in the right direction. This is followed by trauma processing and skill development to recognize and deal with wayward thought processes as a result of trauma.
CPT has been proven to be effective for war veterans, victims of sexual assault, and abused and traumatized children. CPT can help in redefining, reanalyzing, and explaining the traumatic event to alleviate the feeling of guilt for the victim.
2. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)
Again, another variation of cognitive behavioral therapy, TF-CBT is a kind of psychotherapy using an evidence-based model incorporating trauma-sensitive interventions. It uses cognitive behavioral techniques and humanistic principles, relying on the participation of the family in the treatment process.
TF-CBT has proven to be highly effective for the treatment of childhood trauma in young children, teenagers, and adolescents. A typical treatment schedule is 12-15 sessions.
3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a kind of psychotherapy that involves recalling memories of traumatic events together with rhythmic eye movement. Repetitive eye movements are believed to be effective in rearranging memories from a trauma.
Spread across eight phases including history, preparation, evaluation, and treatment, EMDR typically requires 6-12 sessions. This is considered highly useful in addressing unprocessed traumatic memories
4. Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)
NET is used in treating complex and multiple traumatic events. This is a personalized intervention focusing on implanting trauma exposure into the context of life’s events called a timeline. The timeline continues to remain with the patient even after the therapy sessions are over.
In NET, the patient’s life is unfolded in chronological order and the events of their lives are put into context at positive and negative points in the timeline. This is a short-term therapy involving 4-10 sessions.
5. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)
Also known as flooding, PE is a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy involving exposing the patient to traumatic memories to help them acknowledge and accept those troubling events. Trust is a vital factor in the success of this therapy.
PE is highly effective with patients suffering from PTSD and related anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. A typical treatment schedule is spread over 3-4 months.
6. Play therapy
This is an effective way to address the effects of trauma through play. This is aimed at very young children in the age group of 3-10 years. During the session, the therapist understands the effects of trauma by observing the child at play. Children are helped to develop coping strategies to address the traumatic situation.
7. Art therapy
This encourages healing childhood trauma in children by engaging them in artistic expressions like drawing, painting, coloring, and sculpture making. This therapy session offers children an outlet for their troubling thoughts and emotions without the use of words. A skilled therapist can use these sessions to instill self-awareness, self-esteem, and insight. This can be used to improve resilience and reduce stress and inner conflicts.
Dealing with a traumatized child is not an easy task. Healing the wounds of the trauma is difficult and daunting. However, these specialized therapies are highly effective in alleviating the effects of such troubling events.
Of all the therapies available to treat chronically depressed patients with childhood trauma, EMDR is considered a breakthrough, especially to treat PTSD. instead of forcing the patients to confront and relive their traumatic events, it concentrates on the emotions involved and their aftereffects.
With such effective treatments and therapies available, there is no reason for patients to continue their suffering. They too can put their past behind and lead a normal life.