Posted on February 18, 2020
Childhood trauma doesn't necessarily stop hurting in adulthood. Learn more about childhood trauma symptoms that tend to show up in adults.
Many of us have fond childhood memories, but nothing is as picture-perfect as old photo albums depict. Families are complicated but, sometimes rough patches or flaws can escalate into the trauma that reveals itself in childhood, and impact a person through adulthood.
Children are more conscious than they are often given credit for, making meaning out of events they witness by constructing their internal map of how to interpret the world as a way to cope with difficult, hard to understand situations. But, if they don’t figure out how to alter this map as they grow older, it can damage their ability to function as healthy adults and will exhibit those childhood trauma symptoms into adulthood.
How can you detect signs of childhood trauma in adults and how can a therapist matching service help?
What is Trauma?
Trauma is defined as an extremely stressful or disturbing event that’s left a person feeling helpless and emotionally out of control. Psychological trauma of any kind can result in upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away.
Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter a person's sense of security. A traumatic event often involves a threat to life or safety, but it can be any situation that leaves someone feeling overwhelmed or isolated, even without physical harm. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine a traumatic event, but rather the subjective emotional experience of the event itself.
Some causes of emotional and psychological trauma are isolated incidents like accidents, injuries, or a violent attack, especially if any of these things happened in childhood. The trauma could also be due to ongoing stressors such as living in an unsafe neighborhood, battling a life-threatening illness, bullying, domestic violence, or early childhood trauma like neglect. There are also causes that are often overlooked because they don’t seem as severe, such as a romantic breakup, surgery, a disappointing experience, or a humiliating moment. Loving a trauma survivor can be taxing, but if you can better understand how childhood trauma impacts adults, it can make empathizing with them a lot easier.
Whether you witnessed or experienced any traumatic childhood experience, a traumatizing environment will likely trigger signs of childhood trauma in an adult. Symptoms of trauma present themselves differently in individuals, but while there are many aftereffects of childhood emotional trauma, here are some ways it can impact adults.
The False Self
When people carry childhood emotional wounds with them into adulthood, a result can be the creation of a false self. This happens when a child doesn't feel loved or cared for as they are. Instead, they focus on trying to become the child that will be loved and cared for by their parents. Burying these feelings of not being enough can become a barrier to getting actual needs met, and ends up with the traumatized person creating a false self –– a persona that is presented to the world, but not reflective of the true self.
When a person buries emotions, they lose touch with who they really are and become terrified that allowing the mask to drop means they'll no longer be cared for, loved, or accepted. The best way to discover if a false self is a sign of childhood trauma for you is to research trauma focused therapy services. Finding a therapist who specializes in childhood emotional trauma will help you reconnect with your feelings and express your emotions.
Portraying The Victim
How a person thinks and believes will drive their self-talk, which can either empower or disempower. Negative self-talk can contribute to feeling a loss of control or like a victim. People who have signs of a traumatic childhood will think of themselves as victims because they were victimized as children, even if they are no longer in that situation as adults.
Everyone has the power to choose how they think about their life. Though we have little to no control over our environments and our lives as children, adulthood is different. But, it can be difficult to shift that perception and self-talk away from losing control as a child to taking control as an adult. It can be helpful for adults who experienced adverse childhood experiences to regain control by creating a new narrative as a survivor and not a victim.
Children who grow up in households where there is an unhealthy expression of anger, tend to exhibit those same unhealthy expressions as an adult or, instead, grow up thinking that being angry is an unacceptable feeling. Having witnessed violent anger as a child, an adult who had adverse childhood experiences might avoid anger at all costs by suppressing it. Conversely, if a person grows up in a family where violence isn’t expressed at all, they might also be inclined to suppress angry feelings.
What happens if someone can't express anger? The anger doesn’t naturally go away. In fact, they probably still feel angry. Anger is a natural, healthy emotion, but instead of finding the resolution that comes with acknowledging anger and resolving what triggered it, a person just remains angry. This can evolve in passive-aggressive behavior. Trauma-focused therapy can have positive, long-term effects to help childhood trauma symptoms such as this.
Many adults who have experienced early childhood trauma grow to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Living with complex PTSD can have many adverse long-term effects and take a significant toll on mental health. Signs and symptoms of complex PTSD include intense emotional flashbacks which, can trigger depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, and anger management problems. If these signs and symptoms seem familiar, it's important to seek out treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.