Childhood trauma not only impacts the person in their early years, but it continues to impact them into adulthood. The focus of this blog is to explore the effects of childhood trauma on adults.
Childhood trauma is a common problem that affects many people in Canada. Indigineous people, older adults, folks in the LGTBQIA+ community and immigrants are more likely to have experienced trauma in childhood. Statistically, 3 out of every 10 Canadians over the age of 15 has experieced physcial or sexual abuse before the age of 15.
This is significant because trauma in childhood can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as their ability to form healthy relationships. The long-term effects of childhood trauma can be devastating, leading to a wide range of mental and physical health problems that can affect a person’s quality of life for years to come.
For individuals who have experienced childhood trauma, the effects can be especially challenging to overcome. Many people struggle with trust issues, intimacy issues, and difficulty forming close relationships. They may also experience chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, and may be at increased risk for mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Childhood Trauma Affects People in Adulthood
Here are some of the most notable effects of childhood trauma in adulthood;
1) Forming Healthy Bonds and Relationship
Childhood trauma can have a significant impact on adult in love relationship and on attachment styles. Secure attachment is characterized by a sense of safety, trust, and comfort in relationships. However, childhood trauma can contribute to developing insecure attachment styles; anxious or avoidant or disorganized attachment. Research suggests that our early experiences with our caregivers shape our attachment styles and strategies. Often people who have experienced childhood trauma engage in behaviours from one of the 3 forms of insecure attachment styles.
In adulthood, anxious attachment patterns can play out in romantic relationships, leading to difficulty forming secure and healthy attachments. Anxious attachment in romantic relationships is characterized by a strong need for intimacy and fear of rejection, abandonment, and separation. Individuals with anxious attachment tend to rely heavily on their partners for emotional support and reassurance, and may become highly distressed when their partner is not available or responsive to them. They may also struggle with jealousy and clinginess, and often experience feelings of insecurity and doubt in their relationships. They may become overly dependent on their partners for emotional support.
On the other hand, adults who have experienced childhood trauma may also exhibit avoidant attachment, characterized by a tendency to withdraw from relationships and to avoid emotional intimacy. These individuals may struggle with trusting others and may feel uncomfortable with vulnerability and emotional closeness.
Avoidant attachment is typically formed in childhood through experiences of neglect or emotional unavailability from caregivers, or through traumatic experiences such as abandonment or loss. In adulthood, these attachment patterns can continue to play out in romantic relationships, leading to difficulty forming secure and healthy attachments.
Avoidant attachment in relationships is characterized by a tendency to avoid closeness and emotional intimacy with a romantic partner. Individuals with avoidant attachment may feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness, may have difficulty expressing their feelings or needs, and may prioritize their independence and self-sufficiency over their relationship. Avoidant attachment can make it difficult to form deep, meaningful connections with romantic partners, and can lead to a sense of emotional distance or disconnection in relationships.
Someone who grows up in an environment where their caregiver, who is meant to nurture and protect them, is also a source of fear can develop an fearful/avoidant or disorganized attachment style. Disorganized attachment perhaps less often spoken about than secure, anxious or avoidant, but it equally important type of attachment to be aware of.
This style of attachment behaviours can develop in response to experiences of trauma or abuse in childhood. Disorganized attachment is characterized by a lack of clear patterns of behavior in relationships, as individuals with disorganized attachment may display both avoidant and anxious behaviors in relationships. They may also exhibit erratic or unpredictable behavior, and may struggle with self-regulation and emotional expression. People with a disorganized attachment style still want (and I would argue, need, since we are wired biologically for connection) to have someone to be close emotionally, however they struggle to to ever let their guard down and be truly vulnerable with their partner.
It’s important to note that the impact of childhood trauma on attachment styles is not universal, and individuals may develop different attachment styles depending on a variety of factors, including their experiences after childhood and their personality traits. It’s also important to remember that insecure attachment styles are not a life sentence, and it is possible to develop more secure attachment patterns in adulthood through therapy or other forms of personal growth and self-awareness.
2) Challenges with Parenting
Individuals who have experienced trauma may face unique challenges when it comes to parenting. This can show up in many different ways, but a few examples of the impact of childhood trauma on parenting include;
1. Difficulty regulating emotions: Trauma can make it difficult for individuals to regulate their own emotions, which can impact their ability to respond calmly and effectively to their children’s emotional needs. If somone is cut off from their own emotions it can also be very difficult to attune to someone else and according to relationship expert Dr. Erin Leonard, attunement and empathy are what helps children to trust and open up to their parents.
2. Re-experiencing trauma: Trauma can cause individuals to re-experience traumatic events or have flashbacks during moments of intense emotions with their own children which can make it difficult to be fully present with their children. Perhaps loud noises, like a child banging a toy on the floor or an infant’s prolonged crying can be distressing to a nervous system that has experienced trauma. This can lead to the parent reacting from being triggered rather than a more mindful parenting response.
3. Negative self-image: Trauma can impact a person’s self-esteem and self-image, which can make it difficult to feel confident in their ability to parent effectively. The Postitive Parenting Project explains that when parents have high self-esteem, they tend to be more optimistic and to transmit that positive mindset to our children. These parents have more likely been raised in an environment of praise and warnth and it tends to feel more natural for them to offer the same positive reinforcement to their children. Conversly, people who grew up in homes that were high in criticism may be more likely to point out to children what they have done wrong or how they could have done better or forget to celebrate their successes.
It’s important to remember that people who have experienced trauma can still be effective and loving parents. Being aware of our past and the potential impact that it may have is part of developing self awareness and can be what motivates people to learn new skills and strategies and to heal their past trauma.
3) Developing Health Conditions
Have you ever heard of an ACE score? Your ACE score tallies the number of adverse events you experienced in your life before the age of 18. Take the quiz here. In fact, an NIH study found that found that adults who had experienced 4 or more ACEs showed a 12 times higher prevalence of health risks such as alcoholism, drug use, depression, and suicide attempts.
The link between experiencing adverse childhood events and chronic disease is also becoming increasingly clear. For every increase in the ACE score of 1 point, risk for developing an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and many others goes up by 20%.
An ACE score of only 2 increases the chances of being hospitalized for an autoimmune disease by 70 to 80%.
For this reason it is very helpful to work with a holistic mental health practitioner who is able to help you explore the physical and mental health aspects of having experienced adverse early live events.
4) People Pleasing and Lack of Boundaries
Because as humans we are biologically driven to form an attachment with a caregiver, even when they also a source of critical, shaming, neglectful, or abusive behaviour, children learn to adapt to their circumstances. This can often present as people pleasing, perfectionism and appeasing that has roots in childhood which carries into adulthood and relationships.
This behaviour is often described as the fawn response. This term was coined by licensed psychotherapist Pete Walker, MA in his book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”
which describes a way of responding to a threat by trying to ‘disarm it’ becoming more appealing to the threat. Dr. Arielle Schwartz noted that In many cases, children will then turn their negative feelings toward themselves. As a result, the anger fuels self-criticism, self-loathing, or self-harming behaviors. In adulthood, this process can evolve into depression or somatic symptoms of pain or illness.
Getting the Help You Need to Move Through the Trauma
The impact of childhood trauma on adults can be profound and long-lasting. Trauma can shape our beliefs, behaviors, and relationships in ways that can be difficult to overcome without proper support and intervention. However, it’s important to remember that healing and recovery are possible. By recognizing the ways in which trauma has impacted our lives, seeking out professional help, and building supportive relationships, we can begin to address the underlying issues and work towards healing and growth. It’s important to approach the healing process with patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to confront difficult emotions and memories. With time and effort, it is possible to overcome the effects of childhood trauma and move towards a more fulfilling and empowered life. Remember, it’s never too late to seek out help and begin the journey towards healing.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by childhood trauma, know that help is available. At Restore Renew Revive counseling & couples therapy, we specialize in providing supportive, compassionate therapy services to help individuals and couples heal from trauma and overcome life’s challenges. Marcy is trained to use evidence-based techniques to help clients build resilience, work through difficult emotions, and develop the skills they need to live their best lives. To learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment, please call us at 902-702-7722 or visit our website at https://www.restorecounselling.ca
Don’t wait to take the first step towards healing – reach out to us today.