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  • Writer's picture Heidi Ashley

Did YOU experience childhood trauma?

Updated: May 5


A neglected child, childhood trauma

Childhood trauma has a habit of hiding itself behind other issues. It isn’t uncommon to find it sitting under depression or anxiety. It can also show up as intense emotions, numbness, complex relationships and in how you feel about yourself.

 

Sometimes, a reason why therapy haven’t been more effective is because childhood trauma hasn’t been explored. The work stayed too close to the surface. It focused on symptoms, not the trauma underneath.

 

Children can be resilient. They don’t need a perfect childhood. But we all needed care that met our core needs, at least most of the time. These are needs like feeling safe and loved, knowing that we matter, and having a responsive caregiver who can also set healthy limits with us. Those ingredients are enough for children to grow into adults who can take care of themselves, be authentic and connected to others, and get their healthy needs met throughout their lives.

 

But when core needs regularly go unmet, children come to harm. A child might grow up feeling unsafe or uncared for. Other children are left alone too much or realise that their parent isn’t coping. All sorts of things can rock a child’s sense of safety:

 

● Physical, sexual or emotional abuse

● Physical or emotional neglect (childhood emotional neglect or CEN)

● Separation or loss

● Accumulating negative experiences in daily life (childhood adverse events)

● Overhearing intense arguments between parents

● Witnessing violence

● Parental substance use or serious mental health problems  

● Being humiliated, rejected or bullied

● Moving house or school often (having to start over and fit in)

● Social stressors like poverty and racism

 

Experiences like these can overwhelm children with feelings of helplessness, fear and loss. They interfere with development and make a child feel that they have no safety or control in their lives. That is childhood trauma. 


Experiencing childhood trauma can lead to complex posttraumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). This concept has been around since the pioneering work of psychiatrist Judith Herman in the 90s. It recently entered ICD-11 as a diagnosable condition. The criteria are based on clinical observations that suggest that people who were exposed to prolonged traumas (like child abuse) can develop complex responses. These are broader than those typically seen in PTSD because they also affect emotion regulation, self-identity, and relationships.


We bring the impacts of childhood trauma into adulthood as a combination of what we went through plus the ways we adapted to survive these experiences. Finding ways to cope gets us through a traumatic childhood. But ways of coping that worked for a child create difficulties in adulthood. They stop healthy needs being met. Things like spacing out, pushing others away, keeping busy, or overachieving helped you survive a traumatic childhood but become problems in adulthood if we keep on doing them because we haven’t yet learned healthier ways to cope.  

 

Childhood trauma can contribute to:

● Chronic feelings of anxiety, low mood or shame

● Substance use or eating problems

● Complicated, stressful, unhappy, lonely relationships

● Feeling unworthy or not good enough

● Feeling alone

● Turbulence (or stalling) in your career  

● A feeling that life is empty and unsatisfying

 

It’s not unusual for people who’ve gone through childhood trauma to feel wary and mistrustful. Other people feel ashamed to acknowledge how it felt to be unloved. Still others may not fully recognise the links between how they feel now and what happened to them as children.

 

undergoing scheme therapy for childhood trauma

Psychological therapy can help you understand and recover from childhood trauma. Therapy can help you reflect on the meanings you made of how you were treated, like “It was my fault” or “I feel broken”. I use schema therapy because it clearly spells out the mechanisms by which childhood trauma continues to affect adults. It provides lots of effective ways for a therapist to help you. And it is such an optimistic, validating, compassionate model. I really love sharing it with clients.  


Therapy to address childhood trauma can help you to:

  • Improve your mood

  • reduce anxiety and shame

  • build a deeper understanding of your experiences

  • establish more connected relationships

  • set and protect healthy boundaries

  • build a sense of control and choice

  • reduce self-sabotage and unhealthy behaviours

 

Wouldn’t you like to feel these things? Is it time to reach for the things that were always your birthright? Use my “contact me” form or simply email me to arrange a call to see if I might be able to help you change your life.



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