Childhood Trauma in Adulthood
As adults we are often unable to process childhood trauma and do not understand the impact it can have on us as adults. Sometimes, we may experience feelings and reactions that are more childlike than adult. For example, we may not be able to speak up at a work team meeting when we have something valuable to contribute because we feel that our suggestions may be stupid. This fear may have unknowingly come from a childhood situation where a teacher may have criticised you openly in class about not knowing the answer.
Childhood trauma is “defined” by mental health workers as either emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or neglect. However, there are many causes of childhood trauma that can cause unpleasant feelings or reactions in adulthood such as witnessing a traumatic event, a serious illness, witnessing domestic violence or severe bullying at school. Sometimes it may be obvious and at other times not.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that in Australia (excluding NSW), 26,400 children aged 0-12 had one or more child protection notifications sustained (www.AIHW.gov.au) during 2017-2018. Childhood abuse and neglect is when the parent, caregiver or significant other in a position of responsibility, trust or power fails to protect a child from physical or mental harm. It is important to recognise that abuse and neglect impact the developmental process of a child in ways that permeate throughout adulthood. Some of these affects can be:
- Limited social skills
- Inadequate school performance
- Increased risk of criminal offending
- Poor physical health
- High risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicide, addictions, and co-dependency issues.
Survivors of childhood trauma may have difficulties regulating their emotions and trusting others, causing relationship problems. Feelings of low self-esteem are not uncommon. Your inner voice may be telling you that you are not worthy of being cared for or protected. The effects of childhood trauma in adulthood are numerous and may also manifest in addictions, eating disorders, mental health problems or chronic illness.
This negative belief system may be kept alive in your adult life as you experience mood problems or withdrawal from others in order to protect yourself. You may have learnt to minimise your experience by telling yourself to “just get on with it” – because in your mind, other adult survivors of childhood abuse seem able to cope and move on.
The truth is that not everyone who has experienced childhood trauma develops problems later in life. Good experiences and other influences can build resilience in some. For example, a child may have disclosed their abuse to someone else and have been believed, supported, cared for, and not blamed. For others, they may have felt alone, not believed, ignored, unworthy and perhaps even shamed or blamed for the abuse. This may have been all you have known. Is it any wonder you feel this way? The important thing to remember is that you are not at fault and are worthy of love and compassion.
Counselling can help you to soothe that inner voice by working through the effects of childhood trauma. It is my hope that, by giving you a safe space to be listened to and validated, you will be able to overcome any fear of trusting. Childhood abuse can be overcome. You can learn to develop intimate relationships. Your inner voice can become one of positivity, nurturance, and good guidance. The future is not helpless or hopeless.
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