Some people get to grow up, others have to settle for survival. Childhood trauma looks different for everyone, whether it’s the result of childhood emotional neglect, abuse, exposure to bullying, or even the result of serious illness or hospitalization. These experiences damage our sense of security and safety in the world. They leave a mark, changing our behaviors. Think of those behaviors as scars we carry with us into adulthood.
In many cases, those behaviors help children survive difficult situations. As adults, they can hold us back. In order to heal those wounds, we have to understand what they look like.
There is a correlation between people who experience childhood trauma, and those who exhibit risk-seeking behaviors as adults. Survivors of childhood trauma are often sensitive to stress triggers, making them more likely to seek out relief in the form of drugs, alcohol, or similar outlets. In this way, it’s possible to view this pursuit of risky behavior as a form of self-medication. Whether it’s engaging in sexually promiscuous behaviors, addiction to video games, or an eating disorder, the result is the same.
Many people who experience childhood trauma are more prone to chronic illness as adults. These illnesses range from obesity to heart disease and stroke. It’s possible this is due to the impact of stress on the body over time, or due to self-medication through risky or unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, drinking excessively, or poor diet & lack of exercise.
When children grow up in neglectful or abusive homes, the discomfort they experienced in their relationships with their caregivers as children carries over into their romantic, platonic, and professional relationships as adults.
There are four basic attachment styles:
Children who experience uncertainty, abandonment, or neglect often grow up to feel insecure about themselves and their relationships. A need to please their caregiver or parent turns into self-sacrifice, low self-esteem, and a desperate need for reassurance.
An avoidant attachment style often develops in response to neglect, rejection, or abuse. After learning their emotions and needs won’t be met with support, they turn inward and shut themselves off to deeper emotional connection.
This attachment style develops after childhood exposure to abuse and neglect. It’s characterized by a combination of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles. A deep desire for connection is matched with a fear of intimacy and abandonment. While they want to love and be loved, they fear being hurt, betrayed, or discarded.
A secure attachment style is one in which an individual is able to trust others, and feel secure in their relationships. It’s signified by ease with independence. People with a secure attachment style are not worried their partner might abandon them; they are comfortable whether they are with someone or alone. In this way, people with secure attachment styles are more likely to have healthy, stable, interdependent relationships.
People who experience childhood trauma often have anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles. Understanding your attachment style will help you identify the roots of conflict in your relationships.
There are a number of less obvious ways childhood trauma impacts adults. Trauma can have a permanent impact on the brain, leading to hypervigilance, elevated stress levels, depression, anxiety, and more. Survivors of childhood trauma often ‘lock’ into a stress response. This affects the way memories form, and how they respond to stressful situations.
More people than you might realize struggle to deal with scars left by their childhood trauma. You might feel like your childhood trauma makes you broken, but you’re not! By working with a =therapist to process and understand your trauma, you can re-establish the sense of security, safety, and self-worth you lost as a child. A key part of healing childhood trauma is learning to give to yourself instead of everyone else. I would love to accompany you on your journey with trauma therapy, contact me soon.