Childhood is one of the most important stages in any person’s development. During childhood, we are first introduced to important life skills such as language, self-control, and critical thinking. We learn how to form connections with others by interacting with our environment. A secure childhood contributes a great deal to learning healthy standards of responsibility, educational achievement, and self-discovery.
When traumatic experiences occur during childhood, a child’s sense of security becomes tainted. These experiences play a significant role in a child’s ability to identify and react to threatening stimuli, especially in regards to protecting themselves as they age. Unresolved traumatic experiences from childhood tend to persist well into adult life. Is your childhood trauma still affecting you?
What Defines a Traumatic Event?
The most important thing to understand about trauma is that trauma is subjective. Trauma can define any event that is experienced as dangerous, frightening, or that poses a threat to one’s mental or physical well-being. Many people also experience trauma through being a witness to someone else experiencing threat or harm.
Here are some common examples of trauma that may occur during childhood:
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Physical or emotional neglect
- Experiencing poverty or other financial instability
- Witnessing substance use disorders and addiction
- Sudden or unexpected loss of a loss one
- Experiencing intense or severe bullying
- Experiencing a natural disaster
- Witnessing or experiencing a severe illness
- Separation from a parent, including situations of custody battles
- Family dysfunction
What Is Significant About Childhood Trauma?
Traumatic experiences tend to be accompanied by strong, unpleasant emotions. Especially at young ages, children may feel helpless, fearful, or terrorized from experiencing or witnessing trauma. Traumatic reactions may look different for everyone, but typically include:
- Intense emotional pain
- Issues with self-regulation
- Loss of self
- Increased anxiety
- Increased violence, aggression, or hostility
- Academic problems
- Difficulty with sleeping and eating
- Behavioral alterations
- Problems with relating to others
- Substance use
When childhood trauma goes untreated, initial reactions may persist into habitual behavior when individuals who have experienced trauma are reminded of their past experiences or experience another instance of trauma. Repeated exposure to traumatic events can increase both physical and mental health issues, as well as increase susceptibility to developing long-term behavioral problems.
We all experience trauma at some point in our lives, with many of us experiencing multiple instances of what we define to be trauma. With that being said, when a child experiences trauma and associated stress, they are likely to experience significant long-term effects. An unstable or traumatic childhood contributes not only to a lack of security, but also contributes to a loss of self.
Identifying and Recognizing Childhood Trauma
Although trauma is in the past, traumatic experiences will continue to affect you until you reflect and address your current habitual responses to fear, anxiety, and other distressing behaviors. There are many different thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that can help you to identify whether or not you have unresolved childhood trauma. The most important thing to acknowledge is that reflecting on the past can foster new insight and perspective to any given situation, even if it is not associated with trauma.
Some of us have deep-rooted or repressed trauma, meaning that we do not even remember the traumatic experiences that affected us while we are young. Even if or when you are unable to remember a traumatic event, that does not mean that it won’t continue to affect you. Whether or not you recognize that you are living with the emotional and/or psychological consequences of a traumatic childhood event, there is help and hope available to you.
How to Work Through Childhood Trauma
If you feel mentally and physically safe to do so, you can engage in reflection on your own with some helpful tips. If you do not feel safe, contact a mental health professional to help with support and guidance as you tackle some of your mental and emotional pain from the past. Here are some ways to help you reflect and acknowledge significant experiences from your childhood:
- Recognize your trauma for what it is. Acknowledge the consequences that your specific trauma contributed to your life experience. Pretending it did not happen, or acting like it did not affect you, will only make it more difficult to heal.
- Identify what particular behavior or thought patterns you have today that are unhealthy or distressing. Consider what parallels you can make to give reasoning behind your current irrational or unhealthy patterns to your traumatic experience(s) from your past.
- Seek support. Many trauma survivors experience intentional isolation and withdrawal from social experiences, although this only worsens distress. Continue to make connections with others and seek support in your relationships by normalizing talking about traumatic experiences.
- Be patient with yourself and others. Acknowledge that everyone seems to experience trauma, as trauma contributes a great deal to how we act and react to anxiety, stress, and threats as we age. We must learn to reflect on our unconditioned responses to anxiety and trauma so that we can respond better for ourselves and others in the future.
Childhood is one of the most crucial times of development in our lives. We learn many life important life skills like critical thinking and communication, and are taught how to deal with threatening stimuli. When traumatic events occur during childhood, a child’s sense of self and security is tainted. The effects from childhood trauma are persistent, and can continue long into adulthood if not resolved and treated. West Coast Recovery Centers understands that even the most suppressed instances of trauma can have long-lasting negative effects on quality of life and daily functioning. We offer treatment services not only for substance use and addiction, but offer treatment services for mental health distress. Our staff is empowered by our client’s courage and willingness to work through their trauma and persevere beyond it. For more information about the different trauma therapies we offer, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509. Help is a call away.