The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Mental Health
Do you feel like you've been through something that others just don't understand? That maybe, your experiences were a little too much for a child to handle? If so, you might be wondering if you experienced childhood trauma.
Understanding childhood trauma gives us a unique perspective on mental health. Learning how it affects our nervous system and how you respond to stressors can be the key to unlock the door to your healing path.
People who grew up in an environment of childhood abuse or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) often develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and eating disorders.
They may also have problems with memory, focus, and decision-making.
Childhood Trauma: What Is It?
Psychiatrist Bruce Perry, Ph.D., defines childhood trauma as "any experience that a child will not be able to put into words and describe in a socially acceptable fashion." Childhood abuse can take the form of neglect, sexual assault, physical abuse, emotional abuse (including verbal attacks), and bullying, to name a few. Experiencing trauma can cause the nervous system to perceive danger, even when there is no danger present. When you have this faulty perception you can be triggered by something even without your knowledge and it effects how you think, feel and act as you go through life.
How Subtle Can Childhood Trauma be?
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are childhood traumas that can be subtle because these childhood traumas may not involve obvious physical contact. ACEs include neglect, parental discord, exposure to domestic violence, caretaker mental illness, and substance abuse.
Traumatic childhood experiences can also be experienced as a family unit. For example, childhood trauma can occur in the form of frequent moves and changes in schools, siblings fighting, parents drinking too much alcohol or being absent from home for various reasons.
What Makes Childhood Trauma Worse?
What happens in childhood doesn't always stay in childhood.
Childhood traumas need to be considered as part of someone's life story because it can become worse when it is carried into adulthood.
Trauma that remain unresolved are carried forward and influence the ability of an adult to have strong and lasting relationships. It may also impact developmental processes and interfere with the ability to make sense of past events. Some adults who experienced childhood trauma have difficulties paying attention, focusing and remembering. The inability to remember those experiences may hinder the process to resolve childhood traumas.
What Are The Signs?
Here are five signs that childhood trauma may have an adverse effect on a person's mental health in adulthood. These signs alone may not cause mental illness but need to be addressed to not travel with you.
1. Having a childhood diagnosis of ADHD, learning disabilities or autism.
People with childhood trauma often experience brain regions that are smaller compared to those with none. It has also been linked to problems with self-regulation. This can manifest as impulsive behavior, such as acting out in school or at home, or engaging in risky behaviors.
2. You are experiencing ongoing anxiety as an adult that did not start during childhood.
Anxiety disorders can develop after childhood adversity, especially if these experiences are not resolved. Early childhood anxiety can be associated with having grown up in a dysfunctional family environment. As an adult, these individuals may overreact to stressful situations and become more fearful of the possibility of future negative events occurring.
If you experienced trauma as a child, it's likely that you've never learned how to regulate your emotions properly. This can lead to outbursts of anger, sadness, or anxiety.
3. You are more prone to be involved with high-risk activities in your adult life.
With unresolved childhood trauma into adulthood you are more likely to pick up habits that are a risk to your body, mind and spirit. Smoking, abusing substances, promiscuity and self-harm can be common, trying to numb the pain but spiral out of control.
4. You are not be able to build healthy relationships as an adult.
Many individuals who experienced childhood trauma have difficulties paying attention, focusing and remembering. You tend to keep to yourself and have trouble trusting others.
This inhibits the ability to connect with others in adulthood and creates social anxiety when someone may try to get close to you.
5. You are more prone to developing physical health issues as an adult.
High stress as a child can have effects on the development of the immune system and increase the risk for chronic abdominal pain, migraines and other serious illnesses later in life.
Overcoming childhood experiences involves learning how to adapt and respond to childhood events that make it difficult to cope. Over time, this can have a lingering impact on the development of childhood memories.
Healing Childhood Trauma
When you are able to identify and are aware of your past trauma seeking help with a trauma informed therapist can start you on your path to healing.
Therapy for Trauma can be very effective. Trauma informed therapists, can seek to treat the WHOLE person, including understanding what has happened to them (or is still happening to them), and not just their present day symptoms and behaviors.
The following are some results from Trauma therapy:
No longer getting triggered when reminded of the trauma(s)
No more intrusive thoughts
Resolution of chronic pain
Increased meditative state
Being able to think of the memory without feeling like you're reliving it
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one of the most effective treatments to utilize to treat childhood trauma. With national success rates up to 90%, studies show that EMDR can achieve the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.
EMDR works very well for individuals who have tried therapy before but continue to feel stuck and unable to move forward.
Psychotherapy can help an adult find meaning in their past events, even if they appear meaningless. Diving inward and working through those traumatic experiences can help to get on the path to trauma recovery.
If you or someone you know experienced childhood trauma and it has remained unresolved, reach out for help. Healing is possible at any age!
Trauma, Anxiety & EMDR Therapy for Children, Teens & Adults in Westchester, NY
Do you want to begin your Trauma Healing Treatment?
Want to know more about EMDR Therapy or start tracking your own progress?
Buy your copy of The EMDR Therapy Progress Journal today (written by our own Dana Carretta-Stein) and make more effective progress toward your goals with EMDR Therapy!