You cannot change yesterday but you can change tomorrow.
When it comes to childhood trauma the first thing you need to understand is that it did not start with you. Don’t blame yourself for the things you could not control. Instead, understand yourself so you can learn to control what you can, tomorrow.
The right place to start is to understand what childhood trauma is.
What is Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma is defined as a violent, scary, abusive or life-threatening event that a child experiences, also referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). It includes different forms of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect and instability in the home.
These events leave long-lasting psychological, physiological and sociological effects that have long impacts on health, unsocial behaviours, sleep disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Childhood disorders can start as early as in the womb. Children whose mothers experienced high levels of stress or a traumatic event during pregnancy are likely to have mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Some examples of traumatic events include but are not limited to:
Physical, sexual and emotional abuse
Violence in the home or community
Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
Substance abuse by self or a close relation
Terrorism and Natural Disasters
War and Refugee experiences
Instability in the home ( moving houses frequently)
Life-threatening accidents or illness
Childhood Trauma Impacts the Body and Brain
You might be wondering why something you experienced as a child seems to keep hunting you as an adult. It happened long ago and you have come to terms with your experience. Or you even went for therapy so why are you still having triggers?
This is because childhood trauma leaves more than emotional scars, it leaves psychological scars too.
Childhood is the brain’s initial formative years when parts of the brain that shape the child’s behaviour, control over their emotions and body develop. The development of these parts of the brain is influenced significantly by relationships. This is why children need care, attention and love from adults who value them to stimulate their growth. The lack, therefore, results in coping mechanisms as these parts of the brain rewire after prolonged exposure to frequent, strong, toxic stress.
This results in hypervigilance and changes in the way the child perceives positive social cues. The brain rewiring this way is an adaptation feature that might help the child during those traumatic events but not very much with everyday interactions.
Impacts of Childhood Trauma
Long after this traumatic experience, you find yourself repeating the scenes over and over again in your mind as a child and even as an adult. So you try to avoid anything that could lead to it recurring by being hypervigilant. Hypervigilance then becomes your natural way of human interactions but may seem abnormal with everyday interactions.
Children who experience childhood trauma may later in life develop:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Anger Control issues
Develop new fears
Loss of interest in normal activities
Somatic effects ( headaches and stomachaches)
Physical Health Impacts like Asthma, Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, Stroke
Increased risk of self-harm
Lack of impulse control
Trouble problem-solving or reasoning
Unresolved childhood trauma can result in reactions that create new stressful events. So as children grow their reactions as a result of childhood trauma sever their relationships and make them lose opportunities that should help them grow. This ‘Social Thinning’ can increase the risks of mental health problems in the future.
Overcoming childhood trauma requires us to see beyond the emotional outburst and reactions and to consider that it might be beyond what is happening at the moment. This will help you to manage everyday stresses and prevent problems from recurring.
Here are ways to help children who have experienced trauma
Reassure them about their safety
Talk to them in ways that boost their self worth
Be truthful to them
Encourage them to talk about their feelings
Stick to a daily routine
Be patient with them
Healing from childhood trauma as an adult takes time to learn and unlearn the reasoning you built as a child.
Here are ways you can heal your childhood trauma
Join a support group
Spend more time with family and friends who are supportive and less time with those who aren’t
Have a daily routine
Engage in programs that develop your self worth
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Get physically active
Unique Get Together Society offers a safe space in their Trauma Therapy Program. Specializing in complex trauma, anxiety, depression, life/career coaching, substance misuse, healthy relationships, emotional support and inter-generational effects. We will look at healthy coping mechanisms that suit you personally to help you build a better life!
By: Keklevi Ansah