Childhood Trauma May Have Lasting Effects
Childhood trauma refers to an event (or events) in a person’s life between the ages of 0 and 18 that is frightening, dangerous, and/or life-threatening. This trauma may involve the child directly or occur indirectly, in the home and/or community, and includes, but is not limited to, the following:
– Parental neglect/alienation, which may include physical and/or emotional neglect
– Physical abuse
– Emotional abuse
– Sexual abuse
– Living in abject poverty
– Mental illness in the household
– Violence in the home and/or community
– Parental separation or divorce
– Losing a parent due to substance abuse, incarceration, illness, or suicide.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) states, “Child traumatic stress occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or traumatic situations that overwhelm their ability to cope.” The toxic stress of trauma can negatively affect a child’s brain development, immune system, and stress-response system, which can, in turn, affect their attention, ability to process information, make prudent decisions, and ability to learn. Many children who grow up with toxic stress live in an ever-present state of anxiety. Many have feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, a lack of control, and intense fear that they are going to die. When this happens, in the absence of trauma-focused therapy, the residual effects of trauma may linger long into adulthood and manifest in a number of ways.
Studies have repeatedly found that the greater number of traumas to which a child has been exposed, the greater the risk for developing physical and mental health problems throughout their lifespan. They may have poor academic and/or work performance, which may lead to unstable employment histories and, therefore, financial struggles. They are also more prone to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, chronic illness, and thoughts of suicide than their counterparts who have not experienced such trauma. When a child grows up feeling unsafe, their view of the world around them continually changes for the worse, and that outlook travels with them throughout their adult life. Like toxic leaves growing from an unsteady tree rooted in toxic soil, these individuals often unwittingly pass on the toxic stress of their childhood trauma to their own children, and the cycle continues.
Oftentimes, adult survivors of childhood trauma may not remember some or all of their painful upbringing. Nonetheless, they possess the resultant lack of trust in others and have difficulty forming healthy, stable relationships, which may lead to an avoidance of intimacy altogether or, worse, a greater risk for intimate partner violence. They frequently live their lives shrouded in a vague sense of shame, like something is wrong with them, fundamentally flawed, as if they are not “as good as” other people or “good enough” in general, never knowing what it is that is “wrong” with them but feeling certain that something is, indeed, wrong. For those able and willing to hold a mirror up to these falsehoods and gather the fortitude to endure guided introspection, trauma-focused therapy is often the key that opens the door to a past worth facing and a life worth living with vigor and vitality.
If we can view our life as a tree, our community and family make up the soil in which we are planted; our upbringing forms the roots which hold us firmly in place, allowing us to flourish; the branches are the many directions in which life takes us, and the leaves are both the manifestations/indications of our inner health and the means by which we grow healthy and strong. With trauma-focused therapy, we focus on the root of the issue, working our way out of the soil, up the tree, across each limb, and eventually through the many (oftentimes twisted and unhealthy) leaves. Once the trauma is addressed, and the roots replanted in richer, healthier soil, our leaves will grow more vibrant than ever imagined and continue to feed the tree with light and self-love.
It is possible to be liberated from a tormenting past and live a peaceful, enjoyable life, free of the pain of a traumatic upbringing. A mental health therapist can help process all kinds of childhood trauma so you are able to move forward and live the life you have always deserved. Trauma-focused therapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, acceptance and commitment therapy, somatic therapies, psychodynamic therapies as well as other modalities such as yoga and meditation.
No one needs to suffer from the negative effects of childhood trauma for the remainder of their life. Reach out to a mental health counselor to experience the freedom you deserve.