Childhood Trauma - Is This Your Issue?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Do you suffer from mental health issues? But tell yourself it can’t be childhood related as your parents are ‘good people’ and your childhood was ‘normal’?

Myths about childhood trauma

Trauma doesn’t just mean you experienced a tragic event, or were physically hurt. Many kinds of childhood trauma are psychological or emotional.

And what your adult brain has decided about your childhood is irrelevant. Childhood trauma cannot be changed by what you think now, or what seems ‘logic’ to you.

Childhood trauma is not even about what ‘really’ happened, it is experiential. It is about what your child mind perceived as happening. That is what will affect your patterns of thinking and behaviour well into adulthood, not someone else’s explanation and perspective of ‘what really happened’.

What counts as childhood trauma?

Well-known forms of childhood trauma include:

Other forms of childhood trauma are environmental, such as:

  • growing up in poverty
  • living in a war zone
  • a parent or sibiling who is ill
  • being seriously ill yourself as a child
  • a caretaker who is a drunk or an addict
  • witnessing family or community violence
  • parents who constantly fight
  • abruptly or constantly moving or changing schools.

And then there is emotional and psychological trauma:

  • a parent or caregiver who constantly criticised and/or shamed you
  • a sibling or caretaker who bullied you
  • an adult or older child forcing you to hear or see things of a sexual nature
  • being bullied at school or a humiliating school experience
  • abandonment by a parent or loved one
  • not getting enough attention from your parents
  • being manipulated by parents and caretakers to gain their ‘love’
  • a parent who depended on you to take care of them emotionally.

But aren’t children resilient?

If you had a few solid years of good parenting in a safe environment, you might be more resilient to a later trauma than a child who didn’t. And two children can experience the same truama, with one growing up with more mental health issues than the other. We all have different personalities.

But saying trauma is okay as children are resilient is a dangerous generalisation, and a terrifying way to undermine the very real long-term affects of trauma.

A child’s brain is still growing, and is more vulnerable to trauma than an adult brain. Research shows that trauma directly affects the growth of things like the cortex, which affects behaviour and learning.

And of course children do not have the same options for dealing with stressors that adults do. They can’t walk out the door and rent their own apartment, or turn to a wise friend.

Yes, children can ‘forget’ trauma. But evidence of the trauma will plague their adult years via psychological and behavioural issues.

Symptoms of childhood trauma

Not sure if what your experienced as a child does or doesn’t count as childhood trauma?

Consider some of the general mental health issues that childhood trauma contributes too:

Childhood trauma is also connected to mental health disorders like the following:

  • ADHD
  • anxiety disorder
  • avoidant personality disorder
  • borderline personality disorder
  • eating disorders
  • post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I think I experienced childhood trauma. What do I do?

Yes, self help is a good start. And there are useful forums online so that you can get informed and talk to others who know what you went through.

But childhood trauma runs deep. Getting to the roots can release long repressed emotions and memories that can be really overwhelming. And turning to friends and family can cause problems if they are in any way implicated in the trauma.

So of all psychological issues, this is one it's essential to have support with, particularly if you suspect you suffered abuse. Working with an experienced counsellor or psychotherapist is highly recommended. At the very least, if you decide to deal with childhood trauma, see if you can find a support group near you.

Are you ready to face childhood trauma and stop it controlling your life? Find a therapist with our easy booking tool and be talking to someone this week.

Need a Therapy Session ASAP?

Here's who's next available...

See other available therapists ›
Are you a therapist?
Apply to be on the platform  ›