<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=741292666218767&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1 https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=741292666218767&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1 ">
Back to Stronger Minds

Understanding childhood trauma and how it may impact you as an adult

Featured Image

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling in relationships, it could be connected to childhood trauma and early life experiences. 

There are many types of childhood trauma. Some of the most common ones include physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, growing up with a parent/caregiver who has a substance abuse issue, witnessing domestic violence, living with a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, family separation, experiencing racism, bullying, and losing a caregiver. 

What does childhood trauma mean for adult relationships?
Childhood trauma can affect how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world. When our experiences in early life were filled with interpersonal relationships that were abusive, neglectful, or consistently unreliable, we may come to learn
(whether implicitly or explicitly) that we aren’t good enough, that others can’t be trusted, or that the world is fundamentally a dangerous, or unsafe place for us.

As adults, we may cope with all the pain and suffering that we have endured by approaching relationships with others in ways that prevent or minimize the risk of being hurt again. Emotionally, we may experience ourselves as being reactive or numb. Behaviourally, we may avoid having intimate relationships or act as if we do not need others in our life. We may also cling on tightly to others and struggle to meet our own needs and self-soothe when in distress. 

Why is there such a big impact on my adult life?
Naturally, these instinctual protective strategies that we developed as children can cause a lot of problems for us later in life. Many of the rules and beliefs that we developed as children to cope with our difficult realities may be keeping us stuck in unhelpful patterns of relating to ourselves and others in the present.

It can be helpful and empowering for us as adults to bring awareness to and challenge some of those rules and beliefs that might be getting in the way of living the types of lives that we wish to live.   

One of the most (if not the most) wonderful experiences we can have as human beings is the experience of feeling safely connected, understood, and loved. When opportunities for connection and attunement are missing or have been missing for a long time, we carry the distress in our nervous system, which is connected to our whole body and brain. This may manifest as an internal experience of being chronically disconnected from others and in a constant state of mobilization (arguing, fighting, wanting to escape) or complete shutdown (being withdrawn and disengaged in the world).

Understanding how our childhood trauma or early life experiences impacted our development isn't easy. It's definitely worth it though. It can help us cultivate more compassion for ourselves and others as well as approach our human connections with more curiosity, openness, patience and humility.

How should I think about the impact of my childhood experiences?
It is really important to keep in mind that our attachment patterns and physiological states are nothing to be ashamed of as they don’t happen voluntarily. They are neither good nor bad. They are natural responses to very difficult and traumatic life experiences. Our life’s history is encoded in our brain and bodies. We don’t need to look too far to understand what led us to this moment.

If you seek to understand yourself better, I encourage you to experiment with different approaches to healing the imprints of trauma. For some people, a top-down approach might be effective. In this type of approach, the focus would be on understanding and changing how you’ve made sense of your trauma or early life experiences, what lessons or rules you learned in order to survive.

For others, a bottom-up approach that focuses on bringing awareness to the automatic responses of the body might be easier to access and work with. This means figuring out how you respond physically and emotionally to different situations or triggers and re-learning how to be with those experiences in your body.

Regardless of the approach you choose to explore, it is possible to change, heal, and thrive in the world. The key to your success is to believe that you can change and grow. 

If you're struggling in relationships, MindBeacon is here to help with a variety of supports available in our Virtual Mental Health Therapy Clinic. If you are part of our Workplace Mental Health Program, please visit your company page for access to services covered by your workplace.

"Start by accepting the increased uncertainty..."

Your space for strengthening your mental health

Get fresh content delivered to my inbox every month:

Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.