Understanding Childhood Trauma And How It Impacts Adulthood
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is defined as: “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”
However, what qualifies as trauma is an opinion that can change over time. A positive way to objectively define childhood trauma is by the way it has affected an individual over the course of time. For example, an individual could choke on a fish bone as a child and, in later years, may develop a dislike of fish. This conditioning to a stimulus was proven in the baby Albert experiment, a famous psychology experiment conducted by behaviorist John B. Watson and graduate student Rosalie Rayner, more on that here.
In general, the experiment proved that children could be conditioned to fear certain harmless stimuli when paired with something startling or scary. In addition, this proved that trauma might differ from child to child, something that might be traumatic to some and not traumatic to others. Not all people will respond the same way. Some may break down, while others may be more resilient and rise above.
Although parents work hard to keep children safe, dangerous situations may still occur. This danger can come from an external event (such as a natural disaster, car accident, school shooting, or community violence) or from within the family, such as domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or the unexpected death of a loved one.
What Experiences Might Be Traumatic?
- Physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and neglect (including trafficking)
- Natural and technological disasters or terrorism
- Family or community violence
- Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
- Substance use disorder (personal or familial)
- Refugee and war experiences (including torture)
- Serious accidents or life-threatening illness
- Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss, or injury)
Symptoms Of Childhood Trauma In Adulthood
Children who suffer from trauma often develop these types of symptoms when reminded of the initial traumatic event. Traumatic reactions can include an intense and ongoing emotional response, depressive symptoms or anxiety, behavioral changes, difficulties with self-regulation and self-control, detachment and/or problems relating to others or forming attachments, regression or loss of previously acquired skills, lack of attention and academic difficulties, nightmares, difficulty sleeping and eating, and physical symptoms, such as aches and pains. Older children may use drugs or alcohol, behave in risky ways, or engage in unhealthy sexual activity.
Although many adults may experience reactions to stress from time to time, when a child is experiencing traumatic stress, these reactions interfere with the child’s daily life and ability to function and interact with others. At no age are children immune to the effects of traumatic experiences. Even infants and toddlers can experience traumatic stress. The way that traumatic stress manifests will vary from child to child and will depend on the child’s age and developmental level.
Later Effects Of Childhood Trauma
Research has proven that various childhood traumas resulting from emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and physical neglect are significant predictors for a number of long-term diseases, as well as alcohol and nicotine use disorders. These chronic diseases include and are not limited to hypertension, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, allergies, eczema, asthma, ulcers, thyroid disease, migraines, back pain, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
How To Deal With Childhood Trauma
It has been proven that adults who have a history of childhood trauma experience symptom improvement after a combination treatment of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. The results of a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry suggest that, contrary to current theory, these common treatments for major depressive disorder and other mental health issues are effective for patients with childhood trauma.
New Era Rehabilitation Center specializes in treating adults who have experienced childhood trauma and are suffering from various disorders as a result. Our experienced collaborative clinical team takes great care to design unique and individualized treatment programs that are geared toward the needs of each unique client. With over 20 years of experience in the mental health and rehabilitation space, New Era Rehabilitation Center has developed a proven track record of assisting clients in their healing and transformation journeys.