One of the biggest predictors of adult onset mental health disorders is whether someone had experienced trauma in childhood. Children who experience physical or sexual abuse, neglect, sudden loss of a loved one, or domestic abuse can be carry permanent psychological scars from these devastating events or situations. Children simply do not have the coping skills or emotional resilience to overcome certain traumatic circumstances, which becomes apparent in adulthood.
The symptoms of childhood trauma in adults can manifest in a variety of ways, such as a mental health disorder, interpersonal problems, or general instability. Low self-esteem, neediness, trust issues, social problems, passivity, or overly controlling natures are some of the common traits seen in adults who had experienced trauma as children. Often, however, it isn’t until the adult is in therapy that the connection is made between their current issues and their history of childhood trauma.
How Trauma Affects Children
Children who are exposed to trauma, either personally experiencing it or witnessing a traumatic event, may experience profound effects throughout their lifetime. Depending on which developmental stage the trauma occurs, emotional effects can very. This is because of brain development at a given age, which impacts the ability to reason or process the event. Childhood trauma may include:
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
- Domestic abuse
- Natural disasters
- Serious car accident
- Sudden death of a loved one
- Serious medical illness or injury
- Experiencing school violence
By the nature of being a child, totally dependent on others, significant stressful events leave the child feeling that their life is threatened or out of control. As a result the brain registers these feelings of fear or abandonment by producing fear-related hormones, such as cortisol, which can become a survival mechanism. This perpetual state of upheaval or fear can result in engrained disorders in emotional, cognitive, and behavioral functioning that will seep into adulthood. If there is a co-occurring attachment disorder the situation is further complicated.
How Childhood Trauma Impacts Adult Mental Health
The symptoms of childhood trauma in adults can manifest in many different ways. Depending on the personality of the individual and which coping mechanisms are utilized, the symptoms can be as diverse as an ultra domineering control freak to passive victimhood.
A consistent thread that runs through adults who experienced childhood trauma is a tendency to compensate for the deep emotional scars in dysfunctional ways. These might include:
Passive-aggression: The suppressing of emotions, especially of anger, is common in adults of childhood trauma. Underlying anger that remains unexpressed can result in an inability to express feelings honestly or authentically, resulting in backhanded forms of aggression or anger toward a significant other, friends, or coworkers.
Victimhood: Having been victimized as children, in the case of childhood neglect or abuse, may result in “stuck” beliefs that once a victim always a victim. This can lead to adult behaviors that are based on negative self-talk and a sense of victimhood that keeps one from taking control over one’s life.
Presenting a False Self: One coping mechanism for those who experience symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood is to hide one’s true self and replacing it with a false self that they believe is more acceptable. Burying emotions and pretending the trauma never happened is the way they perceive themselves to have value, versus allowing the true self to emerge, which is feared may lead to rejection.
Treatment for Mental Health Disorders Associated With Childhood Trauma
Depression is common in adults with a history of childhood trauma. Unresolved emotional pain and latent fear can result in a depressive disorder. Treatment for depression involves a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants, as well as holistic activities that also help process pain.
Children who were abused or traumatized develop symptoms such as hyper-arousal of emotions, being easily startled, mood swings, and excessive fears, all hallmarks of anxiety disorder. Anxiety is treated with psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety medications and/or antidepressants, and relaxation techniques.
Post-traumatic stress disorder results from a traumatic event that has not resolved itself. The individual becomes stuck in the memories, flashbacks, or triggers of the event which can significantly impair daily functioning and damage relationships. PTSD can be treated through various exposure therapies, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and medication.
Adults who harbor deep-seated pain from childhood are prone to using substances to help them cope with the resulting issues that arise in adulthood. Drug and alcohol addiction is treated by detoxification, rehabilitation, and various continuing care strategies that further reinforce sobriety.
Residential Treatment for Latent Trauma Disorder
In some cases, individuals seeking help for a mental health condition that resulted from childhood trauma may find outpatient psychological services inadequate for their needs. When outpatient mental health services have not resulted in better functioning or reduction of symptoms, a residential mental health program may offer the appropriate level of care. Residential programs allow for a much more focused and individualized treatment protocol, and having 24-hour support along with the absence of stressor or triggers is beneficial to the adult seeking help.
In a residential mental health setting, the individual will be immersed in a variety of therapeutic activities that work in an integrated fashion. Medications are reviewed and modified if necessary, and assorted experiential activities further augment the traditional therapies being used. With this comprehensive approach to treatment, the adult who has a history of childhood trauma has an enhanced opportunity for healing and personal growth.
The Treatment Specialist Provides Information and Guidance for Trauma Disorders
The Treatment Specialist is a team of mental health professionals who provide free expert information and data regarding mental health and substance use disorders. When experiencing the symptoms of childhood trauma in adults it is often misunderstood as to what has led to the symptoms. The Treatment Specialist can guide you with important information about the common mental health disorders suffered by adults with a history of childhood trauma, as well as treatment options. For free assistance regarding a mental health disorder, please reach out to The Treatment Specialist today at