banner image

The Aftermath of Childhood Trauma

Last week we looked at what exactly is trauma and how do we know if our brain perceived an experience as traumatic or not? This week we are going to look at how adults with unresolved childhood trauma are typically affected. When I meet with clients I assess a variety of aspects of their lives. One of the areas we spend a great deal of time on is childhood. A lot of people are resistant to exploring their childhood as they feel the past is in the past and they can’t change it now. However, those early childhood relationships and experiences form the basis for how we view ourselves, others, and the world around us. Therefore, we will continue to repeat the same patterns in our lives if we cannot first figure out where they came from. For example, if a client grew up with parents that were loving and supportive, this person most likely holds a positive view of themselves, has a variety of social relationships, and probably believes that the world isn’t such a bad place. We can easily speculate what has assisted client number one in living such a positive life. Alternatively, if we take another example in which a client’s parents were unsupportive, unloving, or even abusive, they may appear as the exact opposite of client number one. While client number one probably wants to rant and rave about their childhood, it is not uncommon for people similar to client number two to be very quick to minimize their childhood experiences. This minimization typically is vocalized as: - “What I went through wasn’t that bad” -“Others had it way worse” -“It wasn’t really abuse so it wasn’t traumatizing” So, the question then becomes, why the minimization? Why are we so afraid to admit what happened to us as children? Children of trauma possess an amazing amount of resilience. The foundation of this resiliency is comprised of coping mechanisms that child utilized to survive those traumatic experiences. Minimization is often at the top of the list of coping mechanisms and learned at an early age. After all, it is clearly much too painful for a child to recognize that someone they love so dearly is capable of doing such harm to them. In the end, it’s much easier to just pretend that certain things are not happening. In adulthood, it typically does not become any easier to recognize what happened during childhood. When we are forced to recognize that those who were supposed to love and care for us the most put us in harms way or caused us unbearable pain, it begins to create a great sense of unease. This unease is typically verbalized by adult clients as: -“How can I continue to be in a relationship with someone who did this to me/let this happen to me?” “How can I ever trust anyone if my own family did this to me?” -“If I came from people who did this to me, how can I ever stand a chance of being a normal person?” Some may be sitting here reading this and wondering, “what good is it going to do to be angry at my family and blame them? They did the best they could.” While many parents and family members ultimately do the best that they can, that does not negate our experiences. Until we can at least begin to recognize that what happened to us was less than ideal, the emotional aspects of ourselves which we refuse to acknowledge will attempt to get our attention in a variety of ways. This may present mentally or physically as: -impulsivity -aggression -drug or alcohol use -fear of abandonment -relationship conflict -anxiety -depression -isolation -suicidality -digestive issues -chronic pain -headaches -panic attacks -insomnia -hypervigilance When we look at this extensive list of symptoms, is it any wonder why people who suffer from unresolved childhood trauma may feel like every day is a struggle? The good news is that it does not have to be this way forever. Once these individuals develop that awareness that something is not right in their lives, or maybe what they experienced during childhood was not okay, they have taken a small step towards recovering from childhood trauma. Stay tuned for next week when we discuss what childhood trauma recovery therapy looks like.