Childhood trauma can be defined as any disturbing or distressing experience that occurs before the age of 18 and negatively impacts a child’s sense of safety and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, childhood trauma is quite common – research indicates that two-thirds of adults report experiencing at least one traumatic childhood event.
The good news is that healing from childhood trauma is possible with the right support and techniques.
This article will explore the signs of childhood trauma, why it’s so important to heal it, and provide techniques and treatments to overcome trauma and thrive in adulthood.
Recognizing the Signs of Childhood Trauma
There are many ways that unresolved childhood trauma can show up in adulthood:
- Difficulty with relationships and intimacy – Those who experienced insecure attachments as children may struggle to develop close bonds as adults. There is often distrust and difficulty being vulnerable.
- Problems with boundaries – Victims of abuse or trauma may allow others to take advantage of them or disregard their needs. Or they may become controlling. Healthy boundaries were not modeled.
- Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem – Trauma damages a person’s self-worth and ability to regulate emotions, leading to mental health issues.
- Anger issues – Anger is a common response to childhood pain. This can show up as aggression or rage.
- Difficulty coping with stress – The nervous system remains on high alert after trauma. This makes it hard to cope with everyday stressors.
- Avoidance of thinking about or discussing childhood – Blocking out painful memories is a natural coping mechanism but prevents healing.
- Struggles with addictions – Alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, and other addictions are an attempt to numb the pain of trauma.
- Somatic symptoms like chronic pain or illness – When trauma isn’t resolved psychologically, the body holds onto it physically.
If several of these signs ring true for you, it may indicate that unhealed childhood trauma is affecting you. Be compassionate with yourself and know that healing is possible.
Why It’s Important to Heal Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma doesn’t just fade away on its own. Without processing and making meaning from the memories, trauma continues to live in the nervous system and wreak havoc.
Here’s why it is so important to actively pursue healing:
- Trauma doesn’t just go away, it needs to be processed – The difficult feelings and memories must be addressed in order to heal. Pretending everything is fine won’t make trauma disappear.
- Unresolved trauma leads to struggles in adulthood – From mental illness to relationship issues, trauma that is not worked through surfaces via symptoms. Healing trauma can improve mental health.
- Healing trauma improves mental health and relationships – Studies show that resolving PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and trauma leads to better mood, interpersonal relating, and overall wellbeing.
- Breaks the cycle for the next generation – Without healing, trauma is often unintentionally passed down in families through parenting styles. Healing yourself helps your loved ones.
Prioritizing healing from past trauma should not be viewed as self-indulgent. It is an important act of self care with benefits that ripple outward to those around you.
Therapeutic Techniques to Heal Trauma
Many different therapeutic approaches can be helpful in overcoming childhood trauma. Here are some of the most effective modalities:
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) utilizes bilateral stimulation like eye movements or taps to process traumatic memories and reduce their negative charge over time.
Studies show EMDR can quickly and effectively decrease PTSD and trauma symptoms.
Inner Child Work
Inner child work involves getting in touch with the wounded parts of yourself that are “stuck” in the past due to childhood trauma.
By providing comfort, understanding, and meeting the unmet needs of the inner child through visualization, letter writing, or parts dialogues, healing can occur.
Somatic experiencing focuses on how trauma gets locked in the body on a physical level. By bringing awareness to bodily sensations and releasing pent-up energies through tremors, breathing, and movement, old trauma can be dislodged from the nervous system.
In parts work, the fragmented aspects of self that developed as a coping mechanism after trauma are identified. These protective parts are educated on the present reality that the trauma has passed.
This allows the parts to become more unified and integrate for improved functioning.
There are many approaches that can be combined for a holistic trauma treatment plan that addresses mind, body, and spirit. Finding the right provider is key.
Treatments for Overcoming Childhood Trauma
Here are some of the most effective evidence-based treatments for resolving childhood PTSD and trauma:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) – CPT is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy focused on identifying stuck points or inaccurate beliefs related to the trauma. This allows more balanced thinking to occur.
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) – TF-CBT aims to process traumatic memories while learning coping skills. Psychoeducation, relaxation techniques, exposure therapy, and parent involvement can be components.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – As described above, EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation to reprocess traumatic memories that are stored in an unhelpful way. EMDR effectively reduces PTSD symptoms.
- Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) – NET helps create a chronological narrative of the trauma. This activates habituation to the traumatic memories so they are less triggering.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy – This exposes the individual to traumatic memories through imagination, writing, or visits to the trauma site. It activates the brain’s capacity to rewire disturbing memories.
A practitioner versed in these approaches can help you determine which treatment, or combination, is right for your specific trauma history.
Lifestyle Changes That Support Healing
While therapy is crucial, there are many daily lifestyle habits that can accelerate the trauma recovery process:
- Getting enough sleep – Sleep is when processing and consolidation of memories occurs. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.
- Eating a healthy diet – A diet high in lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and omega-3s supports mental health and resilience. Limit inflammatory foods like sugar, saturated fats, and processed carbs.
- Exercising regularly – Aerobic exercise releases feel-good endorphins and dopamine. It also discharges trapped nervous system energy.
- Trying yoga or meditation – Mind-body practices increase relaxation, lower stress hormones, and promote trauma healing according to research.
- Spending time in nature – Nature has restorative and regulating effects on the nervous system that complement trauma therapy.
- Joining a support group – Connecting with others who understand your struggle provides validation and prevents isolation.
- Reading books about healing trauma – Reading stories of recovery instills hope and provides a knowledge base.
- Limiting alcohol and drugs – While tempting to numb the pain, substance abuse exacerbates trauma symptoms and should be avoided.
- Making time for enjoyable activities – Joy was often missing in early life. Pursuing hobbies, creativity, and recreation is an act of self care.
Integrating these lifestyle habits creates an environment primed for trauma healing and recovery.
When to Seek Professional Help
It’s common to feel ashamed about childhood trauma, but please don’t let that stop you from getting assistance. Here are some indicators it is time to actively seek help:
- If trauma symptoms like flashbacks, panic attacks, or self-harming behaviors are interfering with your daily functioning and quality of life.
- If you have tried to work through trauma on your own but don’t feel you have made significant progress.
- If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm related to childhood trauma.
You deserve support and compassion. A trained trauma specialist can guide you safely through the healing process so you can reclaim your wellbeing.
Finding the Right Trauma Therapist
Not every therapist or counselor has the proper training to assist with trauma processing. Look for these markers of an effective trauma therapist:
- They have advanced certification or education specifically focused on trauma, PTSD, or EMDR.
- They utilize evidence-based approaches like CBT, EMDR, or somatic experiencing.
- They have experience working with childhood trauma survivors.
- They make you feel heard, understood, and provide emotional safety. Trust your gut.
Don’t feel limited to just one modality – a combination of therapies is usually beneficial. The most important thing is finding a provider you feel comfortable opening up to.
Healing Is a Journey
Processing childhood trauma takes time, courage, and active participation. Healing is truly a journey with many ups and downs, steps forward and setbacks. Here are a few principles to remember:
- Be patient and kind with yourself – There is no timeline and no such thing as “not healing fast enough.” Each journey is unique.
- There will be ups and downs – Some days you may feel hopeful, other days stuck. This is normal given how difficult trauma work is. Celebrate small wins.
- Give yourself time to process difficult emotions – Repressed emotions will surface. Allow yourself to fully feel them knowing you are now safe.
- Remember healing is possible at any age! – The brain has neuroplasticity meaning new neural pathways can form. It’s never too late to heal.
You may feel broken or damaged from childhood trauma, but you are so much more than your past. With commitment to the process, you can overcome trauma and transform your life in beautiful ways.
FAQ About Healing Childhood Trauma
How do I know if I have childhood trauma?
Look for the common signs like relationship struggles, mental health issues, addictions, chronic pain or illness. But only you can determine if trauma occurred and how it is still impacting you based on your symptoms, emotions, and life challenges.
What if I can’t remember my childhood trauma?
The mind sometimes blocks out traumatic memories as a protective mechanism. However, the body stores the trauma physically. Pay attention to any symptoms like anxiety, depression, dissociation, chronic tightness or pain. Trust the messages your body is giving you.
How long does it take to heal childhood trauma?
It really depends on the individual situation including the type and frequency of trauma. Be patient with yourself and expect ups and downs rather than a linear progression. Consistency with treatment and lifestyle changes is key. For many, it is an ongoing process.
Can I heal trauma on my own?
Self-help techniques like journaling, meditation, and reading books can certainly help. But for best results, especially with moderate to severe trauma, seeking out an experienced professional is advised. Don’t hesitate to get support.
What happens if I don’t heal my trauma?
Unresolved trauma often gets worse over time and leads to more severe mental and physical health struggles. Prioritize your healing journey to prevent ongoing damage to your wellbeing and relationships.