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What Are the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma?

Tiny little boy hiding on the stairs looking very sad and alone

Almost everyone experiences trauma throughout their lives. But what are the long-term effects of childhood trauma? Do these events cause a ripple effect throughout our lives?

The short answer is “yes.” There are many adverse long-term effects of childhood trauma that stay with people throughout their lives. For some, the consequences are more severe than for others. The best thing you can do is try and process your trauma with help and support from a professional.

Understanding the long-term impacts of your trauma also can help you turn things around. 

The Long-Term Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences: Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma is just as it sounds. It’s traumatic events that happen before you become an adult. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) come in many forms and look different from person to person. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60% of adults have experienced at least one ACE, while 16% have dealt with four or more ACEs. The more ACEs you’ve experienced, the more their effects can add up over time.  ACEs fall into four main categories.

Four main categories of ACEs:

  1. Abuse: Abuse includes physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse. 
  2. Neglect: This category consists of physical and emotional neglect.
  3. Household Challenges: A child may experience various challenges in the home. This category consists of:
    • Parent divorce, separation, death, or abandonment
    • Poverty or homelessness
    • Bearing witness to physical or emotional abuse
    • Substance abuse or mental illness within the family or home
    • Serious accidents or illness of a loved one
    • The death of a pet or loved one
  4. Community Incidents: Things that happen within the community that impact a child include natural disasters, terrorism, community violence, school violence, or social rejection.

These experiences are challenging for a fully developed adult mind to process. They’re even more challenging for a child to cope with. Experiencing ACEs can put you at an elevated risk of a substance use disorder, health issues, and mental health struggles, even through adulthood.

Does Everyone Have Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Trauma?

Not everyone who experiences childhood trauma has long-term consequences. Many circumstances influence how traumatic an event may be on you and your ability to cope with it.

Five major influences in childhood trauma:

  1. How Serious Was the Event? Severity is subjective, but it matters. Were you seriously physically hurt? Was your life in danger? Did you lose a loved one? Depending on your developmental stage and the traumatic event’s impact on your daily life, the effects could vary.
  2. How Close was the Trauma to You? Trauma can impact people who aren’t even close to us. Often, the closer you are, the more significant the impact the trauma has. Whether you were a victim, witness, or it was something that you learned about determines how severe an effect the trauma has on you.
  3. How Did Your Caregivers React to the Trauma? Feeling understood by your parents or caregivers facilitates a relationship of attunement and trust. Attunement can help you feel accepted, loved, and better prepared to cope with trauma. For those who did not grow up feeling understood by their guardians, this lack of attention can amplify childhood trauma.
  4. Was There Previous Trauma? People experience many types of trauma throughout their lives. Suppose you already had a history of traumatic events occurring in your home or life. In that case, it could amplify the impact that the trauma has on you.
  5. Was There Support or Backlash from Your Community? Our communities and social identities impact us in countless ways. Whether that is your race, ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic status, those around you respond differently to traumatic events. Having a supportive community can positively impact a child and reduce the long-term risks of childhood trauma.

Little girl being pulled in two directions by her parents going through a divorce

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma?

In the moment of trauma and immediately after, your brain and body undergo neurochemical and biological reactions. Your body attempts to return to a state of calm and cope with the situation. But, these adverse experiences often cause a ripple effect throughout your life. 

Health Risks Associated with Childhood Trauma

When you experience a traumatic event, an avalanche of activity happens in your body and mind. The sudden burst of stress hormones in your body that cause you to go into fight-or-flight mode can stay with you, wreaking havoc on your physical health. People who experience childhood trauma are at a higher risk of developing:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Addiction

Emotional Risks Associated with Childhood Trauma

The emotional and psychological damage that childhood trauma can cause may be some of the most detrimental long-term effects. Unable to cope with the stress of the situation, you may feel the traumatic impact for many years to come. You may even suffer from memory loss caused by childhood trauma.

Emotional concerns associated with childhood trauma include:

  • Anger and aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of trust
  • Low self-esteem
  • Changes in appetite
  • Development of new fears
  • Increased thoughts about safety or death
  • Loss of interest in otherwise fun activities
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Suicidal ideation

Environmental Risks Associated with Childhood Trauma

Your mental health and physical well-being also can cause further damage to your intimate life and career path. Emotional volatility due to childhood trauma can cause problems, even in adult relationships. 

Environmental risks associated with childhood trauma include:

  • Poor job performance
  • Relationship challenges with partners and friends
  • Difficulty maintaining routines or accomplishing daily tasks
  • Poor academic performance

Healing the Effects of Childhood Trauma at Integrative Life Center

Like any other type of trauma, ACEs shape how you view the world. Trauma also impacts how you interact with others, including a therapist. Healing from childhood trauma requires treatment, but a trauma-informed approach is essential.

Trauma-informed therapy shifts the focus from your current set of circumstances to, “What happened to you?” Whatever the trauma’s effect on you, your therapist will devise a plan to help you recover. Throughout the process, your therapist will actively avoid re-traumatizing you.

“Treating childhood trauma requires a collaboration between the client and therapist,” said Carmen Dominguez, Executive Clinical Director at Integrative Life Center. “Our aim is direct clients on the path of establishing safety, dignity, and connection.”

Your therapist will work to build a trusting relationship with you. Establishing a safe partnership frees you to explore your traumatic experience and how it resulted in problematic behaviors. Then, you can understand the reasoning for your behaviors. 

“We want to inspire clients to get curious about what is behind some of their self-defeating patterns,” Carmen said. “We care deeply about addressing our clients’ whole being.”

Healing Requires a Holistic Approach 

“Helping people understand how the body, mind, and spirit are impacted due to unprocessed trauma is also key to their healing,” according to Carmen. 

Since childhood trauma impacts every aspect of your personhood, so should effective therapy. 

No two people are the same. Trauma-informed therapists honor your agency, working with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses every aspect of you.

Evidence-Based Treatments

Through therapy, you can overcome childhood trauma. Here are some evidence-based treatments that can help you improve your overall quality of life:

ILC knows that holistic healing requires a tailored approach. In addition to some of our traditional therapies, we also offer a number of experiential therapies to widen the scope of your treatment. These therapies include:

We use experiential therapies with evidence-based treatments to help you live the most fulfilling life possible. Our programs aid in self-discovery through strengthening your inner wisdom and restoring the balance between your mind, body, and spirit.

Is It Possible to Overcome Childhood Trauma?

The long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences are challenging. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. A therapist helps you recognize, address, and heal your past experiences.  

At Integrative Life Center, we offer trauma-informed therapy in Nashville to help you overcome your childhood trauma and live a full life. It’s never too late to work through your childhood trauma. Every day of your life has value, as does every step of your recovery. If you’re ready to take your life back, contact us today

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