The Effects of Childhood Trauma

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | August 27, 2021

When we think of childhood, we typically associate feelings of security, love, optimism, and joy. Feeling protected and cared for during our childhood not only allows us to develop a secure sense of self but also healthy relationships later in life. Unfortunately, not everyone grows up feeling this way. Even if you had a generally happy childhood, you may have experienced events that made you feel unsafe, scared, or alone.

What is Childhood Trauma?

We define trauma as being emotionally overwhelmed. Trauma during childhood is defined as any experience that made you feel like the world is not a safe place.

Childhood trauma can take many forms including physical or sexual abuse, verbal put-downs and criticisms, emotional abuse, growing up in a home with threats and violence, or witnessing a traumatic event.

Childhood trauma can also take more subtle forms such as:

  • Growing up too fast; premature independence and self-sufficiency
  • Not having enough limits or being overindulged
  • Feeling rejected for who you are; not feeling heard or seen
  • Lack of emotional support or nurturing
  • Suffering emotional invalidation
  • Inordinately high expectations placed on you
  • Being caught in win-or-lose scenarios
  • Experiencing distortion or dismissal of your reality and your distress minimized

You may have experienced childhood trauma if you didn’t receive the kind of care and attention growing up that you needed, if you didn’t feel validated and acknowledged, didn’t feel protected or safe, or if you felt alone and on your own. All children need nurturing, guidance, and limits.

Your Parents Are Not All Bad

If you identify with these experiences, you might feel guilty or that you betray your parents by regarding your childhood in this way. You can probably recall many fond memories from your youth that made you feel loved and cared for. Nothing is neither all good nor all bad, with most things falling somewhere between these extremes. Your parents, no doubt, did the best they could with the skills and resources available to them. Understanding your childhood accurately — meaning acknowledging your parents’ limitations — helps you and doesn’t hurt them. It does that because your thoughts about your parents are private and do not need to be shared.

The objective is seeing your childhood more accurately to gain confidence in knowing the truth of your own story.

Effects of Childhood Trauma

The effects of childhood trauma are many, and they are nuanced depending on the type of trauma and the child themselves. The following are examples of how childhood traumatic experiences can impact you today.

  • Abuse of drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy coping strategies
  • All-or-nothing thinking
  • Being judgmental of others
  • Cutting people off and quick to devalue others
  • Difficulty asking for help
  • Difficulty empathizing with others
  • Difficulty in close relationships
  • Difficulty with cognitive flexibility
  • Emotional loneliness
  • Extreme discomfort or avoidance of emotion
  • Feeling overlooked or unseen
  • Feelings of not fitting in and not belonging
  • Feelings of shame, not “good enough”
  • Feeling responsible for others’ happiness or doing most of the emotional work in relationships
  • Impatience and impulsivity
  • Interpersonal strain and conflict
  • Low self-confidence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Neglecting your own needs, problems with self-care
  • Pervasive feelings of guilt
  • Problems with boundaries
  • Prone to verbal or physical outbursts
  • Self-criticism and self-judgment
  • Strong emotion states that are difficult to soothe
  • Tendency to emotionally bully others or attempts to control the behavior of others

If these experiences are familiar, you are not “crazy” and there isn’t anything “wrong with you.” These are understandable reactions considering what you’ve been through.

Road to Recovery

If you feel the effects of childhood trauma, know that you are not alone. A valid reason exists for what you are experiencing. And, there isn’t anything wrong with you. Seeking support from a trauma specialist will help you learn healthy coping skills to address difficult emotions, to feel more confident, and to improve the quality of your relationships.

An important component of therapy to heal from childhood trauma includes grieving for the things you missed in childhood. Learning to make peace with your imperfect childhood imparts the opportunity to build a newer, stronger foundation for life with purpose and meaning. Many people find therapy transformative as they deepen intimacy with others while learning to trust themselves and feel safe in the world again.

If your journey just began on recognizing the effects of your childhood trauma, the strategies below will prime you for recovery:

Healing Happens

Nobody has a perfect childhood, but know that healing does happen. With the support and guidance of a trained and professional San Diego Psychologist you will learn strategies to better understand your past and develop skills to navigate the future. Many different methods address childhood trauma. Talk to your therapist about which trauma approach works best for you and what you should expect during the process.

Taking the first step isn’t always easy, and being a beginner is hard. It takes tremendous strength and courage to reach out to a therapist for the first time. At Therapy Changes, we honor that courage and will treat you with the respect and care that you deserve.



Image: ianzmackie on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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