For some, childhood evokes images of joy and innocence. For others childhood trauma has created memories of fear and insecurity.
You don’t have to experience physical abuse to know childhood trauma. Maybe you were ignored or made to feel like you don’t matter. Maybe you witnessed something a child should never see.
As children, we never blamed our parents for their shortcomings. We blamed ourselves, assuming our parents treated us as unlovable because were were unworthy of love.
As a result, we focused on trying to win that love, or coping with our pain in maladaptive ways. We never felt good enough, so we internalized our shame as an intense inner critic, perfectionist, or worse.
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Here are 5 ways childhood trauma impacts us as adults and what we can do about it.
1. Poor sense of self
Childhood trauma affects your sense of self. If your parents failed to help you understand yourself, you will literally have trouble knowing who you are.
That’s why children who are neglected and abused say they feel like they don’t exist. This leads to the emptiness and isolation common among childhood trauma survivors.
Without a strong sense of self, it’s difficult to connect with other people and develop the healthy relationships we all crave.
2. Attachment issues
Childhood trauma can create insecure attachment styles which negatively impact our ability to have healthy relationships.
If your parents dismissed your feelings, you will likely develop an avoidant attachment style. You’ve been primed to believe emotions should be avoided at all cost.If your parents dismissed your feelings, you will likely develop an avoidant attachment style. You've been primed to believe emotions should be avoided at all cost. Click To Tweet
Such self-preservation compromises your ability to share an emotional connection with others.
If your parents cared for you inconsistently, you may develop an anxious attachment style. This creates clinginess and insecurity with your future partners that often drives them away.
If your parent scared you rather than comforted you, you may develop a disorganized attachment style. You fear getting close to someone though you desperately want to experience that intimacy.
3. Health problems from childhood trauma
Childhood trauma makes us more likely to engage in risky behavior such as smoking and unprotected sex which lead to health issues later on.
The way our bodies carry trauma results in chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. We live with stress and anxiety as a daily burden.
4. Hypervigilance as a result of childhood trauma
You are constantly on the lookout for signs of danger. You rarely feel relaxed and find it difficult if not impossible to trust people.
Hypervigilance creates tension in the body and an inability to honestly share your thoughts and feelings for fear of rejection.
You look for clues such as facial expressions that indicate people are displeased with you. While it’s normal to notice social cues, you are consumed with them and read neutral signs as negative.
This perceived disapproval can paralyze you and leads to social anxiety and avoidance of human interaction, furthering the isolation and shame.
You may avoid situations unless you’re sure you will be liked and accepted. For this reason, you are susceptible to cults and other nefarious groups or people. Their initial love-bombing gives you a false sense of security.
5. Unhealthy coping mechanisms
To escape your prison of discomfort, you might begin using drugs or alcohol to help you relax. What starts as a drink to unwind leads to dependency or even addiction.
That’s because you need the outside stimulant to feel normal. Without it, you cannot escape the torment of your shame, inner critic, and self-loathing.
Coping mechanisms include behaviors such as shopping, gambling, eating too much or too little, over-exercising, or jumping into sex too soon after meeting someone.
How to overcome childhood trauma
Learning to parent yourself is the best way to overcome the effects of childhood trauma. That means replacing the inner critic with compassionate self-talk.
Self care and self-discipline are both necessary aspects of reparenting yourself. You give yourself the nurturing you missed. But also establish healthy routines necessary for success.Self care and self-discipline are both necessary aspects of reparenting yourself. You give yourself the nurturing you missed. But also establish healthy routines necessary for success. Click To Tweet
Reparenting yourself includes setting healthy boundaries. That means saying no to things and people that harm you. Spend time instead getting to know your likes and dislikes, which may be new for you.
Journal your feelings to help process emotions you’ve been stuffing inside. I do a daily practice of writing all my fears and resentments, then asking God to release me from them.
If acknowledging your feelings makes you anxious, take up mindful meditation. Breathe deeply and pay attention to your breath or to an object in the room.
Finally, reach out to others for support. Depending on your situation, this might be a therapist, a trusted friend, or a support group.
For me, reading has been far less expensive, even free thanks to the library, and more effective than therapy in helping me overcome childhood trauma.
I recommend books such as Complex PTSD by Pete Walker and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.