How Childhood Trauma Affects Us as Adults
How Childhood Trauma Affects Us As AdultsChildhood. The very word draws up images of innocence, joy, optimism and wonder. Childhood is a time of security - being protected and loved. Having stability in knowing you are protected by your family allows you to form solid and safe relationships later in life. This is the ideal definition and experience of childhood. However, the reality of many children experiences and the effect on the rest of their lives is in stark contrast to this idealized expectation. Childhood trauma can take many forms
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Witnessing a traumatic event
- Having a severe illness requiring surgery and hospitalization
- Witnessing domestic violence
- Experiencing intense bullying
- Even extreme situations like refugee trauma and experiencing a large-scale natural disaster.
Trauma's Effect on Stability, Guilt and ShameChildhood trauma chips away at a child’s stability and sense of self, undermining self-worth and often staying with the child into adulthood. This trauma can also impact a person into adulthood as they experience feelings of shame and guilt, feeling disconnected and unable to relate to others, trouble controlling emotions, heightened anxiety and depression, anger. Let’s take the case of complex trauma that occurs directly to the child and disrupts their sense of safety and stability. If a child is abused emotionally, physically or sexually, by someone close to them, often a caregiver, it can condition the way the child forms attachments later in life. They may start to see protectors and caretakers through a different filter, no longer trusting those individuals to keep them safe or even “care about them.” Once a child’s sense of identity is fractured, it takes years of work to rebuild those broken pieces and have them regain trust.
Adult Attachment DisordersIn the case of a child experiencing caretaker or parent abuse, a number of adult attachment disorders can occur. These can include:
- Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment: This form of attachment results when the caregiver ignores or rejects a child’s need. When that child becomes an adult, they may choose to be ultra-independent in order to protect themselves from being rejected again.
- Fearful-Avoidant Attachment. When a child experiences and is exposed to abuse and neglect it is natural for some to fear intimacy and close relationships. Now in adulthood, those with fearful avoidant attachment are often distrustful and have a difficult time sharing emotions and may seem disconnected from their partner.
- Anxious-Preoccupied Attachment: This adult may seem clingy or needy and will often require repeated validation in relationships. They will never entirely feel secure, stemming from a childhood with parents who were not consistent in the emotional security they provide. Loving the child and then rejecting them repeatedly causes the child to continuously question their place and require ongoing validation.