A person’s development is a multi-faceted, complex process that is influenced by a variety of factors. Throughout one’s life, they come to experience numerous things that actively shape their worldview and relationships with others. The human experience is unique and can affect an individual in both positive and negative ways. Through personal choice or no fault of one’s own, people can suffer immense pain that lingers within them for years to come. Such personal, intense suffering can be psychologically identified as trauma. It is especially impactful when faced in childhood, as the person’s view of the world is still in development. Severe trauma can stem from abuse, neglect, or general failure to meet the needs of a child by their peers, parents, and relatives. A person can be aware of having been subject to abuse, or disregard how it can affect them in the future. Its effects are not always immediately apparent and can influence a grown-up individual’s life in a major way. This paper will analyze the topic of childhood abuse, defining its meaning.
What Is Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma is, evidently, the trauma a person suffers during their childhood. The word trauma in this context is used to describe a negative event that overwhelms one’s coping abilities (“Childhood Trauma,” International Society). Trauma can be caused by a variety of internal and external occurrences. A large number of harmful events are bound to happen in a child’s life, with many of them affecting an individual on a personal level. The infliction of harm on an individual with limited means of resistance can often have an effect both mentally and physically (“Childhood Trauma,” International Society). Natural catastrophes and disasters, for example, can instill fear into a child, as well as instances of death or loss in the family (“Trauma Types”). An event has the biggest traumatic effect when it is personal and intentional to the victim.
In this regard, bullying or being exposed to violence in the community is one of the most widespread causes of childhood trauma. Bullying can often occur with the adults in charge not exercising proper supervision and management, making a child helpless in the face of harm (“Trauma Types”). Another personal source of childhood trauma is physical and sexual abuse. As a rule, parent figures are supposed to protect and take care of their offspring, offering support and managing their daily needs. However, in some cases, parents are unable to do so, through ignorance, general disregard for the safety of a child, or outright malice. In this situation children have no surefire way to stop their caretakers or protect themselves, being severely traumatized by the actions of their guardians. The abuse can take form of either physical or mental violence, verbal or sexual abuse.
Effects of Childhood Trauma
A child’s suffering from abuse is never only physical, and many types of trauma impact one’s behaviors and emotional responses. Oftentimes, children can have difficulties with understanding, identifying, and managing their emotions in a healthy way (Peterson, “About Child Trauma”). A child’s ability to express emotion may be constricted, creating a limitation on possible feelings. This can stunt a person’s mental growth considerably, depending on the severity of the problem. Alternatively, a child may be unable to control their emotional reaction, being prone to violent outbursts or depressive episodes. The response in this regard can be unpredictable, often ignited by being reminded of a certain traumatic experience. Extreme tendencies can have an impact on a child’s capacity to learn and form relationships with other people.
In school, for example, a traumatized child will have greater difficulty completing tasks and interacting with their peers. In this regard, trauma also impacts the processes of learning and thinking. A traumatized child can be unable to plan into the future, acquire new skills and information, or think calmly in normal circumstances. Prolonged suffering during childhood can also make a person sheltered and guarded, unable to trust anyone but themselves with their worries. In extreme cases, an individual may experience dissociation, that is a detachment from any situation at hand. The practice is formed as an involuntary protection mechanism against stress, making the person feel like the experience they are having is either unreal or someone else’s. Dissociation can severely limit a child’s ability to participate in their own lives and interact with other people.
In regards to interpersonal relationships, trauma can prevent people from forming bonds and establishing contact with other individuals. During development, a child learns to trust and depend on their caregivers, giving them a basis for learning how to interact with different people. The child’s relationship with their guardians teaches them about the safety of the world and the ability to rely on others. In the case of the parents being abusive though, a child can learn not to trust anyone with their well-being and happiness, isolating them from individuals and the larger community (Peterson, “Effects”). The majority of children that suffered at the hands of their parents have great difficulty forming an attachment to a caregiver. The inability to connect with people manifests in an inability to express or control one’s emotions, or display appropriate reactions to certain events. The problem can persist going into adulthood, stopping the person from having healthy romantic or familial relationships, as well as relations with the figures of authority over one’s self.
In the discussion about the effects of childhood abuse, the physical side can often be overlooked. A person’s immune and stress response systems develop as a result of changing external circumstances. In the case of a person experiencing severe stress on a constant basis, these parts of the body may develop incorrectly. The response system can then incorrectly respond to minuscule threats with the same reaction a dangerous situation would merit (“Impacts of Childhood Trauma”). The reaction can manifest in an increased heart rate, troubled breathing, or other extreme responses to stress. In general, under- or overreaction is often present in victims of childhood abuse. Exposure to heightened levels of stress can also make a person develop persistent headaches or chronic pains. A study on the subject stresses that childhood trauma has an immensely negative effect on cognitive and brain development, with only a small percent of individuals being able to put it behind them (De Bellis and Zisk). The emotional and physical pain people experience wears down their bodies and makes living that much harder.
Healing Childhood Trauma
Mending one’s physical health and psyche is an arduous and long-lasting process. Many of the effects of childhood trauma are not immediately apparent to an individual, only starting to affect them later in life. In many cases, even when a person realizes the need for assistance, they are unable to get it, either because of their status as a minor or financial difficulty. As childhood trauma can affect a person’s development and the speed at which they acquire new skills, one can be unable to take proper action in getting the help they need. The support of loved ones is crucial in this process, but many suffering adults have no one to rely on.
Techniques like reflection, self-care, and meditation offer limited support in the face of a complex issue. A person can attempt to better their well-being themselves, but without input from a professional, these kinds of practice are largely ineffective. Visiting a doctor, a phycologist, or a therapist are the few ways an individual can cure their childhood trauma (Johnson). Such action, however, takes a large portion of money a person at risk may not even have. Furthermore, paying a visit to a therapist is an emotionally difficult thing to accomplish, as opening up to another person is one of the greatest hurdles a victim of childhood abuse may face (“Childhood Trauma”, Bridges to Recovery). The need to be vulnerable and to articulate one’s feelings in an understandable manner creates a barrier for many people needing to get the help they deserve.
In conclusion, childhood trauma has an immense effect on all areas of human experience. Emerging as a result of negative events and neglect from the figures of authority, such trauma is overly detrimental to the health, well-being, and development of a person. An affected child can become withdrawn and detached from reality, unable to connect with either their peers or caregivers. The inability to form strong relationships cuts the child off from existing support systems and stunts social development. In terms of emotion, a traumatized child can fail to manage, express, or understand their feelings correctly. This can lead to sudden outbursts of emotion or inappropriate reactions to certain events. In some cases, trauma can interrupt a child’s defense mechanisms, making them open to harmful influences and more trauma. The process of healing from trauma is long, and without the help of a professional, a person can have trouble reconciling with their feelings. Overall, trauma is harmful to individuals and the people holding them dear, limiting one’s capacity to take part in social situations and lead a happy, fulfilling life.
“Childhood Trauma.” Bridges to Recovery, 2020. Web.
“Childhood Trauma.” International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 2020. Web.
“Impacts of Childhood Trauma and Abuse.” Blue Knot Foundation, 2020. Web.
“Trauma Types.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2018, Web.
De Bellis, Michael D., and Abigail Zisk. “The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, vol. 23, no. 2, 2014, pp. 185–222.
Johnson, E. B. “Healing from Childhood Trauma: It’s Not Impossible. It’s Just Hard.” Medium, 2019, Web.
Peterson, Sarah. “About Child Trauma.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2018, Web.
Peterson, Sarah. “Effects.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2018, Web.