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Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, and no matter how big or small, it can easily threaten physical, emotional, or intimate security. Childhood trauma, in particular, can have prolonged effects on physical health and may even lead to the development of several mental health disorders, including addictions.

Undergoing one or more traumatic experiences during childhood may leave scars on the minds that fail to leave so easily. Such trauma often follows people for the rest of their lives, affecting their behaviours, emotional responses, and thought processes. If you have been struggling with the lingering effects of childhood trauma, it is crucial to undergo a trauma-focused treatment program at once to begin recovery.

Children, especially those at a very young age, are not equipped to deal with intense forms of trauma. Their mental and emotional states are still in the developmental phase, so when they encounter a traumatic event, it changes the way their brain functions. The type of trauma determines how it affects a child and their life. Some common childhood trauma examples include:

  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Sexual, psychological, or physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Bullying

In many cases, the traumas that children undergo do not occur as a single event, and they may continue to endure it for several years before they finally escape. Unfortunately, until then, the experience is most likely to have left a permanent mark on their developing brain, the effects of which continue for decades until treatment is sought.

Most children are not good at understanding or sharing the emotions they feel after encountering a traumatic event. Consequently, their parents or loved ones may notice unexpected changes in them. These changes may occur at three different levels explained below.

Physical Changes

When a child encounters a traumatic event, it impairs their physical development. The stress that comes with the trauma may negatively affect their central nervous system regulation and immune development, making it harder for them to achieve their true potential.

Evidence investigating the consequences of childhood trauma indicates that such children are more likely to encounter certain chronic diseases later in life. These chronic diseases may include stroke, diabetes, asthma, and coronary heart disease. In addition, repeated exposure to childhood trauma also puts one at a high risk of pulmonary diseases and even cancer.

Mental Health Changes

Childhood trauma is capable of negatively impacting mental health as well. Some psychological effects may manifest as emotional distress, anger control issues, depression, and psychotic episodes. Some children who experience more complex forms of trauma may develop dissociation, a phenomenon that mentally separates them from any experience. They may routinely imagine themselves leaving their physical bodies and watching them from somewhere else or developing memory gaps.

 The prevalence of suicide attempts in childhood trauma survivors is also extremely high.

Relational Changes

The relationships a child shares with their parents, grandparents, or primary caregivers are critical for their physical and emotional health. The attachment these children develop with their guardians is what helps them learn how to trust others, manage emotions, and interact with the world around them.

When such children undergo a trauma that shatters their trust in their caregivers, they may perceive the world around them as a scary place with dangerous people in it. This concept makes it difficult for them to establish relationships, even in their adult lives. They may struggle with romantic relationships and have less satisfying marriages even when they are still in the newlywed phase.

One of the many signs of repressed childhood trauma in adults is the presence of a co-existing mental health disorder. Some of these mental health disorders that may commonly occur as a consequence of experiencing trauma in childhood include:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health disorder due to witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. A child unable to cope with the trauma often adopts a survival mode and stays there until he reaches childhood. Such children commonly develop multiple physical, relational, and emotional symptoms of PTSD.

Acute stress disorder

Acute stress disorder is quite similar to PTSD, with the only difference being that the former symptoms usually manifest within the initial 30 days of trauma. Also considered a prolonged state of shock, the disorder may exhibit a depressed mood or nervousness following a traumatic trigger.

Alcohol or drug addiction

Addiction is one of the most apparent indications of the connection between childhood trauma and mental health issues. Substance abuse may hit an individual as early as adolescence and possibly continues into adulthood. If not treated, the addiction tends to worsen with each year, and the trauma survivors use it to cope with the emotional pain associated with their childhood.

Reactive attachment disorder

Children who develop reactive attachment disorder cannot show any emotional responses in circumstances where being emotional is expected. They appear to care very little about general things in life and have no underlying emotional triggers.

In the 1990s, experts identified ten of the most traumatic experiences or events likely to trigger childhood trauma in individuals. The consequences of these events are devastating and, in the absence of suitable trauma therapy, could negatively impact the sufferer throughout their life. These traumatic events include:

  1. Growing up in a home where one or both parents or caregivers go to prison
  2. Growing up with a guardian or parent who chronically abuses alcohol or drugs
  3. Spending childhood with a parent diagnosed with a mental health illness, such as depression or schizophrenia
  4. Experiencing emotional abuse from parents. This can be of any type, such as unavailability of parents due to long working hours or living with parents who routinely demean or verbally abuse you
  5. Witnessing the mother being emotionally and physically abused by their partner
  6. Growing up with physical neglect, i.e., not being provided for in terms of clothes and food
  7. Living with emotional neglect, for example, parents fail to respond to or notice your feelings
  8. Losing a parent or a primary caregiver due to divorce, abandonment or death
  9. Experiencing sexual abuse from parents, other children, family members, or anyone else in a position of power or authority
  10. Experiencing physical abuse, either by parents who may use it to discipline you or by any other authoritative figure outside

A lot of children experience repeated instances of many of the above examples. However, remember that the list is not exhaustive and does not include many potential causes, such as experiencing natural disasters during childhood.

Childhood trauma can happen in different ways, and the symptoms it produces may vary from person to person. Hence, it is vital to undergo a careful screening by a mental health professional. The expert can prescribe an individual treatment plan tailored to your needs through this screening. The treatment plan to successfully manage childhood trauma symptoms includes:

Trauma-Focused Therapy

These therapies help individuals manage the mental illness caused by childhood traumas through different steps. Clients can learn more about their trauma, understand what triggers it, and learn healthy coping mechanisms to reduce its symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT empower patients by helping them learn how to process and cope with their early childhood trauma healthily. To establish this goal, a therapist works closely with clients to retrain their thinking patterns.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR) Therapy

EMDR is particularly beneficial for those who have been through some kind of trauma in childhood or adult life. It helps patients process the distressing memories associated with a childhood trauma by changing how their brain stores them. Qualified therapists make use of directed eye movements to unlock damaging behavioural and emotional patterns and replace them with healthier ones.

Family Education and Therapy

This type of therapy involves the trauma survivor’s family members and close friends to educate them about their loved one’s struggles. Additionally, some rehabs allow them to actively participate in recovery therapies and help them learn how to best support the trauma survivor.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Holistic and alternative therapies are commonly offered in many rehabs offering childhood trauma treatment. These techniques include meditation, exercise, yoga, equine therapy, acupuncture and more.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to any sort of trauma in childhood and is now struggling to live their lives due to its lingering effects, it’s time to get help now. Join a suitable rehab centre catering to childhood trauma survivors to begin your recovery today.

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