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5 Ways Childhood Trauma Affects Adulthood

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 78 percent of children reported more than one traumatic experience before five years of age.

Developmental trauma is more common than one may think and can easily lead to problems later on in adulthood.

Emotional regulation, consciousness, and memory, distorted perceptions of perpetrators of abuse, difficulties in relationships, low self-esteem, and a weak outlook on life are all known factors in adulthood that occur from childhood trauma.

Early trauma in childhood changes the developing brain because an environment characterized by abuse and neglect, for example, causes different adaptations of brain circuitry than an environment of safety, security, and love, and the earlier the distress, on average, the more profound the effects in adulthood.

Whether the trauma was physical abuse, emotional abuse such as neglect, or verbal abuse, the long-term effects of childhood trauma, especially if left untreated, can wreak havoc in adulthood.

The following are examples of adverse childhood experiences and stressful experiences that can lead to long-term effects in adulthood.

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Substance misuse within the household
  • Mental illness within the household
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarceration of a household member
  • Sudden death in the family
  • Caring for someone with a chronic or debilitating illness

1) Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

Childhood trauma has been strongly linked to depression, substance use disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders that are present in adulthood.

Individuals who were abused in childhood and who did not seek the proper treatment are more likely to struggle with conflict resolution and have poor stress management skills in adulthood.

As a result, they are more likely to use food, drugs, or alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with any underlying internal conflicts and to also deal with any depression or anxiety that may have developed from their past trauma.

2) Attraction to Unhealthy Relationships

It is common for adults who experienced trauma in childhood to be attractive to unhealthy individuals, emotionally unavailable people, or abusive people as these individuals fit their trauma identity, which can often lead to a new cycle of trauma and past abusive memories and feelings.

Many of these individuals are aware of their past and know what they need and want, but they still choose to connect with others which can lead them down the wrong path due to their unconscious influences from their childhood.

Often, traumatic feelings are familiar, and many will choose abusive relationships, regardless if they are aware that these are not the right choices.

3) Loss of Childhood Memories

Individuals who had a traumatic childhood will often not be able to remember large portions of these years.

This is known as blocking, a common defense mechanism that occurs when individuals do not recognize or cannot accept past events or reality as a way to avoid painful feelings or memories.

They may remember vivid memories or events without any context and, as a result, may feel as though their childhood was stolen, which can lead to problems with self-identity in adulthood.

The loss of childhood memories can lead to identity and self-esteem problems in adulthood.

4) Avoidance of Relationships

Individuals who experienced negative developmental experiences in childhood may lack social skills and the desire for closeness in adulthood.

As a result, many adults may avoid closeness with others and prefer to isolate themselves, which can rob them of healthy interpersonal relationships and communication skills.

These individuals may feel as though they are too flawed or damaged to be involved in relationships with others.

Missing out on social interactions, intimate relationships, communication skills, and conflict resolution skills can impair development later on in life and can lead to feelings of unworthiness and self-condemnation.

This is different than having an introverted personality as introverts refuel their energy stores when being alone but still seek social interaction and intimate relationships.

5) Chronic Illness

Traumatic memories and experiences can burrow deep down into the body, contributing to chronic stress, which can harm physical health.

Past traumatic experiences can increase cortisone and norepinephrine in the body, which can, over the long term, lead to obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and increase the risk for certain cancers.

Not to mention, the effects that alcohol and drugs can have on the body as many individuals turn to these substances as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with their trauma.
Seeking Help

Seeking Help

Childhood trauma, whether it was intentional or unintentional, can have lasting effects on every aspect of adulthood. Seeking treatment is never too late.

It would be ideal for individuals to undergo therapy in childhood or adolescence; however, seeking professional treatment in adulthood can help prevent some of these long-term adverse effects.

Akua is here to help. If you are struggling with the after-effects of trauma, it is essential to know that you are not alone, and you must understand that there is a valid reason for what you are currently experiencing.

Acknowledging that you are a victim and taking control of your life is the first step in seeking treatment for your past trauma.

Seeking therapy and guidance from a mental health professional can help you work through your current emotions and help you adopt healthy coping skills to navigate through any existing or future stressors that appear in your life that may or not be related to your past childhood trauma.

Akua Mind and Body specializes in mental health treatment for individuals who are struggling.

Whether it’s residential treatment or an outpatient program, our clinicians can help determine the plan that’s best for you.

Call us anytime to speak with an admissions counselor, we are available 24/7.

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