Childhood trauma can take many forms. Sometimes traumatic experiences are obvious, like the absence of basic needs, or sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. However, there are less obvious traumatic childhood events, such as neglect, parentification, emotionally unavailable parents, a chaotic home life, experiencing a learning disability, or undergoing a significant loss early in life.
Often, this kind of early trauma means a child’s needs aren’t attended to, ignored, or combated against. The child likely feels emotionally isolated, socially anxious, less confident than their peers, and lonely. They might feel devalued and have a negative self-image. These issues usually go unresolved and continue through adulthood.
If you experienced childhood trauma, you might find that your coping mechanisms aren’t working the way you want them to. A big part of childhood trauma is that we adapt to our own inappropriate emotional responses that can affect our adult relationships. This can cause someone to become overly anxious, be hypervigilant, constantly second-guess themselves, have low self-esteem, and over-respond to emotional distress.
In adult interpersonal relationships, these can all lead to communication barriers. Perhaps you feel your life is becoming unmanageable in a variety of ways. Many people who experienced childhood trauma are also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults.
The process of healing can seem overwhelming and complicated at first. Perhaps you don’t know where to begin. Here are a few guidelines for beginning to find help.
Was it trauma?
First, ask yourself: “Is what I experienced actually trauma?” Because each person’s lived experience is unique, it can be difficult to draw hard lines between the normal and abnormal. Also, children have a limited capacity for understanding what happens to them.
This is especially true if the traumatic experience happens with a trusted adult. If you suspect that what happened to you is indeed trauma, you should begin to deconstruct this with a licensed therapist.
Get honest and begin accepting.
This is the point at which you can begin to be honest with yourself. Even though it’s painful, facing your difficult memories and relationships is a crucial step in your healing journey. Start thinking about how these childhood events might be directly affecting your adult life. It’s okay if you feel conflicted about your memories.
Often, experiences aren’t black and white. You might have a mix of positive and negative emotions. You might also feel guilt or shame for thinking badly about your parents or other close family members. Remember that a child never deserves any level of abuse that happens to them.
Behavioral therapy can help.
After this radical honesty and reckoning with your experiences, you can begin to focus on healing. Look for a therapist who specializes in trauma-informed care. Research the different types of behavioral therapies that you think might help you best address your unique situation.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are all trauma-based therapies. Through different techniques, a therapist will guide you through a formal reprocessing of your traumatic event and help you reframe your negative emotions associated with it.
When to seek treatment.
Only you can know for sure whether you need to speak to a professional. If you feel your adult interpersonal relationships are suffering, your emotional responses are out of your control, or you have unmanageable anxiety, it might be best to seek help. Healing from childhood trauma is no easy task, and you should be patient with yourself as you begin your journey.