20 May How Unresolved Childhood Trauma Follows Us Into Adulthood
Have you ever been told “the past is the past” or “stop blaming mom and dad (others) for your problems”?
If we could do this, we would. Childhood trauma has lasting effects both emotionally and physically that can remain with us well into adulthood until we process what happened to us. While traumatic childhood events are part of our story, they do not have to define us. And they are not our destiny. Working through what happened to us will release the grip of the events. You will feel relief both physically and emotionally. This leads to improvements in our relationships with others, effectiveness at work, finding purpose and our overall well being.
Types of Childhood Trauma
- Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, a parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated)
- Death of a loved one
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Physical abuse or neglect
- Separation from a parent or caregiver
- Sexual abuse
- Stress caused by poverty
- Sudden and/or serious medical condition
- Violence (at home, at school, or in the surrounding community)
Emotional symptoms can range from depression, hypervigilance, anxiety, fear, anger, feelings of abandonment, and grief – and many others.
One of the lasting effects of emotional responses to trauma is negative self-beliefs, or what we call “stuck points”. These beliefs and stuck points can alter our views about ourselves, others, and the world around us. It is important to remember that these beliefs about ourselves are “learned” though the traumatic experiences, and actually are not true. We have to consider the source of all information, and if the source of our information is an abusive parent or natural disaster, that source is unreliable.
Some examples of negative self-beliefs that can arise from childhood trauma are:
- I don’t have what it takes to get past this
- I am worthless
- Relationships are dangerous
- I will not be listened to or acknowledged
- Love will go away
- I am a weak person
- I am not loveable
- I cannot be assertive without danger
- People will not like me as I am
- I don’t deserve to be happy
- I will inevitably be rejected
- People will betray me
- I can’t succeed
- I don’t deserve to be loved
- I cannot be myself, or I’ll be rejected
- I can’t trust anyone
- I am not enough
- It is not safe to express my feelings
- I am always in danger
- I have to make others happy to be happ
- I don’t have much to give
- Anything less than perfection is failure
- If I show vulnerability, I will be in danger
- I am not attractive enough
- I will never be safe
When we continue to carry unprocessed childhood trauma, we store this information in both our brains and our bodies. Perhaps you tense up when reminded of the distressing experience. Other physical symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, disrupted sleep, poor eating habits, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems and heart disease. Over time, these can lead to life-long health implications.
Other physical issues can be in the form of maladaptive coping strategies – aka, ineffective ways of numbing our past. Examples of this can come in the form of substance use, overspending and eating disorders
Long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences: What is your ACEs Score?
ACEs stands for “Adverse Childhood experiences” Your ACEs score is based on the number of following experiences that have happened to you. If you have experienced any of the following on the list, give yourself a score of “1” for each experience on this list. Tally the number and this equals your ACEs score Anything 4 and above is considered severe.
Before your 18th birthday:
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
- Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you been sexually touched on your body? Or attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
- Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
- Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Or your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
- Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
- Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? Were you often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? Were you ever threatened with a gun or knife by an adult?
- Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
- Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
- Did a household member go to prison?
The following video further describes how childhood trauma affects our health well into adulthood:
Where Healing Begins
The first thing to remember is what happened to you as a child is not your fault. Trauma is a part of our story, but not who we are. What happened to us does not have to continue to distress us by causing a physical or emotional reaction. These effects can be neutralized and healed. Working with a trauma-informed therapist is the first step to healing. There are many trauma therapies available to assist you in your journey. A therapist trained in trauma-informed care can help you uncover the real you.