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Experts commonly term children as highly resilient as they can easily bounce back from just about any situation. However, specific traumatic experiences in childhood can lead to severe and potentially long-lasting effects that stretch into adulthood if left unresolved. Known as childhood trauma, the phenomenon is real and can result from anything that triggers feelings of helplessness in a child while disrupting their sense of security and safety. Be it physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, bullying in school, or a serious illness, multiple factors contribute to the development of childhood trauma. Fortunately, help is available for people who wish to move past their traumatic memories and restart a happy life.

Deal With Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma refers to the painful memories triggered by any situation in which a child perceives themselves as in a dangerous, frightening, or overwhelming position. Traumatic events can make children scared and helpless in a way that goes far beyond their emotional and mental processing. These situations can either occur in the form of one-off events, like injuries or natural disasters, or continue to occur from repeated incidences of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. All these events bring on the symptoms of psychological and emotional trauma in children that continue to haunt them well into their adult lives.

Childhood trauma can look different for different people; however, some core events seem to trigger it the most. Depending on these events, the following types of childhood trauma are most important to remember:

Physical abuse

As one of the most common examples of childhood trauma, physical abuse occurs when someone, usually an authoritative figure like a parent or teacher, uses their authority to injure you physically. Injuries may include cuts, scratches, bruises, broken bones, and burns.

Physical neglect

This type of childhood trauma stems from a failure of the caregiver to give you the physical resources you need to survive, such as clothing and food.

Emotional abuse

While many do not consider emotional manipulation abuse, the truth is they are a common trigger of childhood trauma. When someone intentionally tries to injure your dignity or emotional integrity, it easily falls into abuse. Emotional abuse can occur in the form of shaming, threatening, and scapegoating.

Sexual abuse

As one of the most common and equally damaging types of abuse, sexual abuse continues to affect millions of young boys and girls worldwide. This involves sexual exploitation, usually by a close family member or friend, which can lead to the destruction of their emotional stability, loss of confidence, and poor self-esteem, the effects of which continue to linger into adult life.

Loss of a caregiver

Losing a caregiver or parent can be devastating for any child. Even though a child may hardly be old enough to remember it, this type of bereavement can have far-reaching effects.

Emotional neglect

Emotional neglect is difficult to spot and the hardest to realize and move past as adults. If your caregiver has failed to form a nurturing connection with you, it comes under emotional neglect.

Natural disasters

Living through natural disasters can be painful for anyone, but such incidences can particularly affect young, developing children. Hurricanes, floods, and fires can induce trauma in different and unexpected ways, the effects of which can continue to affect children even if they reach adulthood.

Fortunately, experiencing a painful event does not always lead to the development of childhood trauma. Multiple factors contribute to its symptoms, including a child’s history of trauma and the protective factors available to them. Some of these factors are explained below:

The severity of the event

This includes:

  • How serious was a perpetuating event?
  • How bad was the child or someone they loved hurt?
  • Were there police involved
  • Was the child separated from their parents or caregivers?
  • Did a family member or friend die
  • Did the child undergo an interview by a police officer, counselor, or principal?

Proximity to the event

The following questions assess a child’s proximity to an event:

  • Was the child a witness to the traumatic event?
  • Did they experience it themselves or see it happening to someone else?
  • Did they watch the event on television?
  • Did they hear of the event from a loved one?

Caregivers’ reactions

This includes the following questions:

  • Did the child’s caregiver believe that they were telling the truth?
  • Did they take their concern seriously?
  • How did the caregivers respond to the child, and how did they cope with the traumatic event themselves?

Prior history of trauma

  • Has the child been exposed to any traumatic events in the past?
  • If yes, how many and what was the intensity or severity of those events, and how did the child cope with them?

Family and community factors

  • Was the child’s family supportive of their trauma-related struggles?
  • Was the child under any cultural pressure to hide their traumatic experiences or feelings related to them?

Different people can have different responses to childhood trauma. Some of the most common responses include:

Passive-aggressive behavior

Adult survivors of childhood trauma typically deal with anger issues they do not know how to manage. Instead of confronting their painful emotions honestly, such people tend to bury them and resort to passive-aggressive behavior that forces them to isolate and destroy all-important relationships with others. Such people commonly strike out with sarcasm and later call it a mistake or joke. They are not comfortable enough to show their anger as they cannot estimate the consequences of doing it. So they try acting out passive-aggressively instead to protect themselves in a self-defeating way.

Attachment disorders

Children who acquire childhood trauma between the age of six months to three years are particularly vulnerable to difficulties forming healthy attachments with others. Referred to as reactive attachment disorder, it can affect their ability to establish adequate social relationships.

Lowered cognitive ability

When children regularly experience neglect or abuse, they often end up developing cognitive problems. These include memory, concentration problems, and poor verbal skills.

Altered states of consciousness

If childhood trauma continues to happen over the years, it may force children to enter a dissociative state. Since children cannot recognize different states of consciousness, they cannot stop themselves from slipping into them. These altered states force them to lose touch with their authentic selves and feel distant from things that bring value to their lives. Even after many years, such people continue relying on these delusional states to survive tough times.

Poor behavioral control

Many people with a history of childhood trauma become impulsive adults. Such people have a hard time controlling their behavior and do whatever they feel like as they have never learned to do otherwise. Some people adopt these behaviors as a way to gain the attention they never received in their childhood.

It is certainly not easy to face the pain experienced due to childhood trauma, but doing so is necessary to initiate recovery and healing. Someone who has been avoiding their pain and memories frequently experiences flashbacks or nightmares due to unresolved trauma. They may even experience panic attacks or develop depression as they cannot let go of the traumatic events they experienced as a child. Irrespective of the age at which you acquired these traumatic experiences, they can have a lasting impact on you.

Treatment for childhood trauma becomes critical if its associated memories start interfering with your daily functioning. You may notice experiencing unwanted emotional responses, such as frequently lashing out at your loved ones without knowing why. As you dig deeper, you will discover that your childhood wounds still continue to affect you and recognize that you are only rehashing your psychological trauma as an adult.

Unfortunately, the emotional trauma in childhood and the wounds related to it will not begin to heal unless you start openly addressing them. You likely feel guilt or shame because of what happened to you in the past, but remind yourself that these feelings are completely natural. However, they are not in any way going to help you move past the traumatic event. If anything, this shame and guilt only make people rely on unhealthy coping methods, such as substance abuse.

For effectively healing from the wounds you acquired in childhood, it is important to face your past and manage the stress they are causing. Remember that you do not have to go through the recovery process alone, as plenty of resources are available to help. One of the best ways to start addressing childhood trauma is by seeking therapy. Working with a trauma specialist who appreciates the essence of positive psychology can be extremely helpful. Whether online or in person, therapists can help counsel you and support you toward healing. They typically rely on trauma-informed care to handle child neglect and abuse victims. As soon as you connect with a therapist, they will most likely conduct a trauma assessment to confirm the extent and severity of your underlying issue and screen you for other psychiatric illnesses, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Depending on these screening results, they may discuss different therapy options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which exclusively focuses on healing by helping victims recognize and eradicate all damaging behaviors stemming from childhood trauma.

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