Some of us leave childhood abuse in the past. Some of us don't.
When we think of childhood trauma, we usually think of the most obvious examples: abuse, abandonment, neglect. These are all harsh things to endure as a child, and they all affect us as we grow up. But there’s another kind of trauma that often goes unnoticed and untreated—one that can lead to a lot of pain in our adult lives.
What is childhood trauma?
Childhood trauma is any event or circumstance that causes unduly high amounts of stress in your life. These can be things like divorce, loss, frequent moves, or even just being an extremely sensitive child. They might not seem like much at first—after all, so many kids go through these things—but they actually can have a lasting effect on you as an adult.
How does it affect us as adults?
The effects of childhood trauma might not be apparent at first glance. Many of us are able to function just fine despite having endured some sort of emotional hardship during our childhood. But what happens when the pressure gets too high? What if something happens that triggers those old feelings of fear or insecurity? Often, this comes out in our relationships with others and ourselves—and can even ruin almost everything you try to build.
For so many of us, the effects linger long after we’ve grown up and moved out of our childhood homes. An abusive father can leave his daughter feeling unworthy, incapable, and undeserving of love. A mother who constantly tells her daughter that she’s fat can contribute to a lifetime of insecurity and self-criticism. The negative messages we receive as children can stick with us for a lifetime—but they don’t have to. By identifying these messages as lies, we can work to replace them with the truth about who we are and what we’re worth.
Our parents were tasked with teaching us all about life, but often they did not know how to do it themselves. Many parents project their own unmet needs onto their children, or communicate their own frustrations through anger and abuse. As kids, this is confusing and painful for us—we aren’t capable of understanding how to navigate situations that aren’t fair, or why people we love act in ways that hurt us. We feel the pain acutely, but lack the ability to understand its source or how to make sense of it.
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You can’t escape your past. You can try, you can run as far away as you want and start fresh, but your past will always be right behind you. Your past will follow you to the ends of the earth, and it will cling to you like a barnacle on a ship’s hull. And it will remain there until you face it head-on and deal with it.
But how do you know when trauma has stuck to you like that barnacle? How do you know when your past is holding onto you too tightly?
When we’re children, we don’t have the language or the tools necessary to process what happened to us. We don’t know what happened, we don’t understand why it’s wrong, and we definitely don’t know how to talk about it. So what happens when something traumatic happens to us during our childhood?
We carry that trauma with us for the rest of our lives—until we learn to recognize that trauma, confront it, and work through it.
Recognizing childhood trauma is all about getting in touch with your feelings, connecting with your past, and finding out what’s still bothering you all these years later.
Acknowledgement is the first step.
We all have our traumas, and the scariest thing about them is how they can continue to affect us long after the event or situation has passed. Childhood trauma is especially tough because it’s so formative—it can affect how we see ourselves, how we relate to others and even how we see the world around us. If you’re still feeling the effects of a childhood trauma, it’s important to know that you’re not alone in your struggle. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help yourself heal from these childhood wounds.
Acknowledge and embrace your feelings
Many of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to ignore our bad feelings. We’ve been taught to push away pain and discomfort in all forms, but ultimately, ignoring our emotions does more harm than good. The first step toward healing is acknowledging that you’re in pain. Make space for your emotions by letting yourself cry when you feel sad or angry—or even just frustrated with yourself for being sad or angry! This may seem counterintuitive, but allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling at any given moment will actually decrease its power over you and help restore balance to your life.
Symptoms of childhood trauma.
Maybe you’re not sure whether you were traumatized as a child. If it’s hard to tell, that’s not unusual—especially if it happened a long time ago. But there are some (very common) symptoms of childhood trauma that can make your adult life challenging.
1. The way you relate to other people: Childhood trauma can make it hard to trust other people and form close relationships because, as a child, you had your trust betrayed or your needs went unmet by people who should have taken care of you.
2. Your self-esteem: If your caregivers made you feel unloved or worthless in childhood, that belief can stick with you even into adulthood. You might have trouble believing in yourself and doing things that would help you grow because, deep down, you think you don’t deserve to be happy or successful.
3. Your ability to regulate emotions: When children are traumatized, their ability to regulate their emotions is interrupted—and this can last into adulthood, leaving them overwhelmed and unable to cope with difficult emotions without turning to unhealthy habits like substance abuse or self-harm.
Childhood trauma is a serious issue that affects millions of adults today—and the good news is that there are ways out of it and tools for coping like – Therapy.
All you need to do is take charge.
The trauma of your childhood may not seem like a big deal now. But it can very much still be impacting you in the present day.
You know how you always feel like there’s a giant hole in your soul that you don’t know how to fill? How you can’t understand why you never feel as happy as other people, even when it seems like everything is going great? Or how you find yourself feeling angry at the drop of a hat, and then spiraling off into self-hatred when you realize that even the smallest thing has made you lose your temper?
Well, those feelings of emptiness and anger are very likely rooted in the pain of your childhood. It doesn’t matter if your parents were abusive, neglectful, or just plain uninvolved; if they didn’t give you the emotional support you needed to grow up well-adjusted, that lack of support is going to have a serious impact on your life as an adult—and it may already be causing some serious problems for you.
Your childhood experiences are like a computer program that runs automatically in the background of your mind. And just like with any computer program, these patterns can be updated and changed—but it takes time and effort.
Trauma is not the end. Getting Help is the beginning.
If you’re like most people, you probably think that the trauma of your childhood is something you can put behind you and move on with your life. But according to recent studies, past trauma can influence more than just how you feel about your parents: it can affect almost every area of your life.
Research published in [Medical Journal Name] suggests that childhood trauma can influence everything from a person’s ability to form meaningful relationships to his or her body weight.
Adult survivors of childhood trauma are more likely to struggle with unhealthy habits and addictive behaviors like smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and soda, and eating sugary foods. They often find themselves stuck in cycles of binge-eating and weight loss, or rely on drugs or alcohol to help them “unwind” after a long day at work.
While this correlation does not necessarily mean that people who were injured in some way during their youth are doomed to a life of unhealthy habits and relationship problems, it does suggest that there is a strong link between the two. In other words: if you experienced a traumatic event in your childhood, it may be helpful for you to take an honest look at how it has impacted your life today—and what steps you can take to live the best possible version of yourself now.
Taking care of yourself.
Childhood trauma of all kinds can have lasting effects into adulthood, including serious mental health issues. Parents who have experienced trauma in childhood are also more likely to neglect and abuse their children.
Childhood trauma affects every aspect of a person’s life. Trauma in adults is far too prevalent, and it is impossible to treat unless people are aware that it occurs and understand that it has affected their lives.
Child abuse must end, and one way to stop it is to encourage those who were abused in childhood to seek help.
Parents should be taught not only how to care for the child, but how to recognize the signs of possible abuse on their child as well.
Everyone deserves an opportunity at a healthy future, but this will only occur when people learn more about childhood trauma in adults.