Was my childhood traumatic?
Many people ask themselves this question over the course of their lives, and it can be a real puzzle to try and sort out. Most people’s knee-jerk response is to assume that as long as they weren’t beaten or overtly abused, the answer is no. However, in many cases, the answer is actually a lot more complicated.
What Causes Childhood Trauma?
First, let’s clear up something about trauma. While things like physical or sexual abuse are obviously sources of major childhood trauma, they’re far from the only ones. Did you know that according to the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, something as simple as having divorced parents or feeling consistently ignored and unloved by the adults in your life could be considered a source of trauma?
The truth is that the topic of trauma, especially childhood trauma, is incredibly complex, and every child responds differently to situations that are dangerous, stressful, toxic, or in some way unhealthy. You might even notice this in your own family, where some of your siblings seem completely unbothered by the events of your upbringing whereas you have a lot of questions and unhappiness about them. Taking the ACE quiz might be a good place for you to start in determining if some of the things that happened when you were a kid might have caused you trauma.
What are the Effects of Childhood Trauma?
The effects of a traumatic childhood can have a ripple effect throughout a person’s entire life, keeping them from thriving in many key areas, even in physical health. It can be difficult for people with childhood trauma to form and maintain healthy relationships, both romantic and platonic. They may have trouble managing their emotions, have difficulty with their cognition (like thinking clearly and logically solving problems), and may have an increased risk of developing health problems like autoimmune diseases, pulmonary or cardiovascular conditions, and in some cases even cancer. It’s also common for them to suffer from issues like low self esteem and be more susceptible to high risk behaviors like smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or engaging in unsafe sex.
What are the Signs?
Sometimes childhood trauma can be glaringly obvious, but often it’s hard to identify. These are some of the most common signs, and if you find yourself experiencing a lot of these things with no other explanation, it might be worth considering that childhood trauma could be the culprit.
You Struggle to Manage Your Emotions
Healthy emotional regulation is a sign that mentally speaking, a person is healthy and well-adjusted. If you struggle with this, whether it be low self esteem, depression, overwhelming shame and guilt, uncontrollable anger, or any other extreme emotions that you find regularly hard to deal with, it may be a sign of trauma.
You Self Isolate or End Up in Many Toxic Relationships
Many adults who grew up in dysfunctional, chaotic, neglectful, or abusive homes struggle to create and maintain healthy relationships. You may find that you actively pull away from any closeness with people, or you may swing in the other direction and seek out closeness with anyone you can, which can lead to you getting into a lot of relationships that sour or turn toxic with people who are mean, self-absorbed, or narcissistic.
You Rely on Escapism
Everyone enjoys a little escapism now and then, but if you feel like you can’t do anything unless you’re constantly tapping out of your life, it might be a sign of past trauma. This can be anything from constantly reading or consuming TV shows and movies to disassociating or trying to find any way to numb the experience of your life.
You Worry Constantly
A little worry or anxiety during stressful times is normal, but if constantly fretting about anything and everything is your regular baseline, that’s not necessarily healthy and could be a sign of a traumatic past.
You Just Keep Coming Back to It
It may be a little subjective, but it is still a good indicator that there might be something more to the situation if you just keep coming back around to the question of whether or not you have childhood trauma. The fact is that most people with healthy childhoods will come across the possibility of it just the same as you do, but will quickly and confidently judge that they had healthy and loving upbringings and move on. If you find that you can’t move on, it might be a sign that something more is going on.
How Do I Overcome This?
The first step to overcoming childhood trauma is one you’ve already taken by reading this: admitting that you have trauma to overcome. This is one of the hardest parts of the process, and you should be proud of yourself for overcoming this hurdle! The next step is to get in touch with a therapist or other mental health professional who can help guide you through the process of unpacking and healing from your trauma. Lots of therapists practice “trauma-informed” therapy, which might be a good option for you to look into.
Whether you always knew that your childhood was less than perfect or you’re just coming to the realization that it wasn’t as rosy as you always thought, coping with childhood trauma is one of the hardest things that someone can do, but it’s worth every ounce of work you put in to heal from it. Trauma in your past can resonate through every part of your life causing difficulties that you don’t need, and by facing and working through, you can come to a much better, happier, and healthier place.