The majority of individuals who seek psychiatric help as adults have a history of childhood trauma (e.g. Jacobson and Richardson; Briere and Zaidi, 1989; Draijer, 1989). Of course, many of those who suffered damaging and dysfunctional childhoods never come to the attention of psychiatric services and are therefore left to cope with related emotional and behavioral difficulties without professional support (indeed, many individuals who fall into this category may be completely oblivious to the link between their adult problems and their early life experiences).
Those individuals who do seek professional help may present with a wide-ranging and eclectic array of symptoms including depression, insomnia, anxiety (both general and phobic), somatization, paranoia, psychosis, dissociation, problems controlling anger and rage, problems relating to sexuality, and sexual function, suicidal ideation, addictions (e.g. to drugs and alcohol) and self-harm (e.g Browne and Finkelhor, 1986; Bryer et al.; Briere, 1988). However, as readers of this website will discover, even such an extensive list as this is far from complete. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, for example, found that, additionally, the more adverse childhood experiences that an individual had suffered the more likely s/he is, as an adult, to contract liver disease/cancer/heart disease, smoke, perpetrate domestic violence and suffer rape (again, this is an incomplete list of the study’s findings).
There also now exists overwhelming evidence that childhood trauma is linked to borderline personality disorder (BPD) and PTSD/Complex PTSD amongst other disorders.
This site examines the link between childhood trauma and its potentially devastating psychological (and, indeed, physical) consequences in adulthood as well as routes to recovery (i.e. therapies and self-help) and the possibility of posttraumatic growth.
Different Ways In Which Childhood Trauma Can Affect Us
Severe and protracted, interpersonal childhood trauma affects different people in different ways depending on many factors such as our age at the time of the trauma/s, our social support system, our genetic and biological predispositions, and many other factors. Notwithstanding this, however, there are several areas of our lives that, are commonly affected by severe, interpersonal, traumatic experiences in general and, below, I give twelve of the main examples.
Of course, not everyone will experience all of them and different people will experience them in varying combinations and in varying degrees of intensity and chronicity. Furthermore, some will experience significant symptoms not included on this list.
- The brain (including its physical development, functionality, interconnections, and speed of aging).
- Physical health and the immune system.
- Emotional control and emotional expression.
- Regulation of the arousal system
- Nightmares and flashbacks and intrusive thoughts
- Self-esteem, self-concept, and sense of identity
- Relationships, attachment styles, and social interaction
- Cognitive and executive function (controlled by the brain’s frontal lobes) e.g concentration/attention, mentalization, and memory
- Expectations in life, beliefs, assumptions about people and the world, meaning-making, sense-making, schemas, the stories/narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves and others
- Sensory processing and sensory regulation
- Sense of trust, sense of safety (physical, emotional, relational, moral, ideological, and cultural), sense of betrayal
- Survival responses e.g hyperarousal, hypoarousal, dissociation, avoidance, emotional numbness, hypervigilance
The most well-known study on the effects of childhood trauma is called The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study.
The study found that those who experience significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of:
- alcoholism/addiction to narcotics
- attempted suicide
- stress relating to inadequate finances
- significantly impaired work performance
- promiscuity/risky sex
- nicotine addiction
- adolescent/unplanned pregnancy
- significantly impaired academic attainment
- significantly impaired physical health including lung disease, heart disease, and liver disease
- And, as we saw above, and as you will continue to discover if you explore this website, the above list is far from exhaustive.
What Types Of Childhood Trauma Did The ACE Study Focus Upon?
The ACE study focused on the following types of childhood trauma :
- Abuse (emotional, sexual, or physical)
- Living in a household within which a family member who was an alcoholic or drug addict
- Living in a household within which the mother was physically abused
- Parental divorce/separation
- Neglect (emotional or physical)
- Living in a household in which a family member went to prison
- Living in a household within which a family member suffered from mental illness
N.B. The study found that the more of these adverse childhood experiences the child suffered, and the more intense and long-lasting they were, the greater the child’s risk of developing the problems listed above.
This website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, takes the ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACE) STUDY as its starting point and, if you choose to explore it, you can find a wealth of information about :
- Why some are more resilient to the effects of childhood trauma than others
- How childhood trauma can actually damage the brain’s physical development
- Therapies and self-help techniques that can help us overcome the adverse effects of childhood trauma, including any damage our developing brains, have incurred whilst we were growing up
- The relationship between childhood trauma and borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- The relationship between childhood trauma and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD)
- Posttraumatic growth: how, if we can overcome the negative effects of our childhood trauma, we may end up better people than we would have been had we never experienced our adverse childhood experiences in the first place…and much more.
David Hosier MSc holds two degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) and a post-graduate diploma in education (all three qualifications are in psychology). He also holds UK QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). He has worked as a teacher, lecturer, and researcher. His own experiences of severe childhood trauma and its emotional fallout motivated him to set up this website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, for which he exclusively writes articles.
He has published several books including The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder, The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed).
He was educated at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College where he developed his interest in childhood experiences leading to psychopathology and wrote his thesis on the effects of childhood depression on academic performance.
This site endeavors to take a scientific approach to the understanding of childhood trauma and related issues and is not about making value judgments. It has been created for educational purposes only.