Blog Mental Health Trauma How to Cope with Childhood Trauma as an Adult

How to Cope with Childhood Trauma as an Adult

According to the American Psychological Association, the definition of trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event such as an accident, rape, or natural disaster (21). It is a deeply distressing experience that disturbs a person’s sense of safety and security.

When a child feels intense fear, dread, or unsafe, their world can shatter into a million pieces. Their sense of safety in themselves, their family, and the world is replaced by fear and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, even seemingly small traumas can have a lasting impact on a child’s mental and emotional well-being.

If this trauma is not addressed, it can manifest later in life as worry, distress, or emotional disorders. As an adult, these unresolved childhood traumas can create a maze of emotional barriers that hinder personal growth and relationship building (1).

Knowing how and when to embark on the journey of healing is crucial to reclaim a life that is filled with peace, joy, and fulfillment.

How Do I Know What My Childhood Trauma Is?

Knowing what your childhood trauma is can be challenging, particularly if you have repressed memories or experience vague feelings of unease. However, there are a few signs that may indicate a traumatic experience in your past.

Some signs of childhood trauma in adulthood include (1) (7):

  1. Constantly feeling on edge and easily triggered: If you find yourself reacting strongly to certain situations or constantly feeling as if you’re in danger, this could be a sign of unresolved childhood trauma.
  2. Difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships: Trauma can impact a person’s ability to trust others and form meaningful connections, which makes it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.
  3. Self-destructive behaviors: Engaging in harmful behaviors such as alcohol and substance abuse, or risky activities can be a way of coping with trauma (18).
  4. Difficulty regulating emotions: Trauma can make it challenging to manage and express emotions in a healthy way, which can lead to mood swings or outbursts.

If you have any of these symptoms, it may be an indication that you have experienced childhood trauma.

Now, getting to the bottom of what that trauma is can be a complex process, and we recommend seeking professional help in such situations. If you have any mental health condition, please consult a mental health specialist.

See also
Efficient Methods to Address Childhood Trauma 

However, a good place to start is to reflect on your childhood and any significant events or relationships that may have had a lasting impact on you.

One thing a therapist can recommend you to do is journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you uncover buried memories and emotions that relate to your childhood experiences..

Running a never-ending rat race, shoving trauma further and further away, falling into self-harming thought patterns, living life that’s eclipsed by constant anxiety and fear – this is what an average person goes through every day. Not addressing it will only pull you deeper into a downward spiral. BetterMe: Meditation & Sleep app will help you gain a new perspective on life and help you regain that long-lost internal balance!

Why Is Childhood Trauma So Hard to Cope with?

Childhood trauma is often difficult to manage because it happened during a critical developmental stage in your life. 

In most cases, the traumatic memories are distorted and an individual may experience intrusive thoughts thus making it difficult to discern what happened then versus what is happening now. As a result, you are only left with the symptoms but without a clear reason why they happen (23). 

As children, we were still learning how to navigate the world and form our sense of self. We were also entirely reliant on our caregiver’s ability to meet our needs and provide safety and comfort. When this doesn’t happen, the brain’s survival and defense mechanisms kick in. 

Trauma disrupts the body’s internal safety, leading to distorted views of yourself and the world around you (23). It can also impact brain development, which can make it difficult to regulate emotions and form healthy relationships (10).

In addition, trauma can be deeply ingrained in the subconscious, which makes it difficult to recognize and address. It takes immense courage and vulnerability to face these traumas head-on and work through them.

Does Childhood Trauma Ever Leave?

As much as we would like to believe otherwise, childhood trauma never truly goes away. It becomes a part of our story and shapes who we are. However, with proper support and healing, it is possible to move beyond the pain and learn how to manage its effects. 

See also
What Childhood Trauma Do I Have?

What’s most important, it is possible to restore that sense of internal safety that was lost during the traumatic event (3). 

Healing isn’t about forgetting the past, it’s about learning how to live with it.

How to Deal with Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

Coping with childhood trauma as an adult involves reliving, processing, and reframing the traumatic experience. It also includes bodywork and finding a sense of safety in the body. It is not an easy journey, but it is possible if you have the right tools and support.

Therapy is one of the most effective ways to heal from childhood trauma. A trained therapist can guide you through the healing process and equip you with the coping mechanisms you need to manage any lingering effects of trauma.

We recommend seeking professional help because childhood trauma is often deeply ingrained in the unconscious and requires expert guidance to navigate through it.

In therapy, you may explore techniques such as:

  • Somatic Experiencingis a body-based therapeutic approach that helps the client track the sensations left in the body as a result of trauma (17). 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach helps identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors that often occur with mental health issues (4, 5).
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This technique uses rapid eye movements to process memories of trauma and reduce their emotional impact (20).
  • Mindfulness-based practices: These techniques help increase awareness of the present moment, reduce worry and distress, and manage difficult emotions related to trauma (12).
  • The Neuroaffective Relational Model (NARM): This is another trauma-informed method that works with symptoms of complex trauma. It addresses relational difficulties, emotional dysregulation, and the guilt and shame resulting from trauma (24). 

How to Cope with Childhood Trauma Without Therapy

Healing childhood trauma without therapy as an adult involves reliving, processing, and reframing the traumatic experience, as with therapy. 

However, it could be a long, challenging, and risky journey as you navigate through unresolved emotions and memories on your own. Working with a trained professional is the recommended way to go. 

See also
The Effects of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood: Understanding the Long-Term Consequences

Reframing, Starting with Small Steps

Reframing involves looking at your experiences from a different perspective and acknowledging how they have shaped you (14). Starting with a smaller traumatic event and reframing it can help you build the courage to tackle bigger traumas.

Here’s a process to try:

  1. Identify a traumatic experience from your childhood that you feel comfortable exploring.
  2. Write down the details of this event, including how it made you feel and the impact it had on your life.
  3. Acknowledge that the trauma was not your fault and that it does not define who you are as a person.
  4. Consider how this experience shaped you and any positive traits or strengths that have emerged from it.
  5. Replace any negative self-talk with more compassionate and empowering thoughts.
  6. Now, try to look at the situation from an outsider’s point of view or from the perspective of an adult with more knowledge and understanding.
  7. Write down any new insights or perspectives that come up for you.
  8. Finally, let go of any guilt or shame that is associated with the event and focus on how you have grown from it.

Read more: What Childhood Trauma Do I Have?

Reconnect with Your Inner Child

Childhood trauma can cause you to disconnect from your inner child and the joy and innocence that are associated with it. Reconnecting with your inner child can help bring healing and a sense of playfulness back into your life (11).

Here are some ways to reconnect:

  • Engage in activities you enjoyed as a child, such as drawing, playing pretend, or singing.
  • Write a letter to your younger self, acknowledging your pain and offering words of love and encouragement.
  • Practice self-care and self-compassion by treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would show a child.
  • Spend time in nature and embrace the wonder and curiosity of a child’s perspective.

Returning to your childhood self and offering love, understanding, and support can be a powerful form of healing. Remember to be patient and gentle with yourself as you navigate this process.

See also
How To Deal With Childhood Trauma as an Adult

Our Somatic Yoga guide is a helpful resource for creating a self-care practice incorporating mind-body healing techniques.

Seek Connection and Support

Trauma survivors tend to withdraw from others as a way of protecting themselves from further pain. However, seeking connection and support can be essential for healing childhood trauma.

Among the stages of healing from childhood trauma, connecting with others is often that which is the most challenging. It requires vulnerability and trust, but it can also result in immense healing and growth.

You can start by confiding in a trusted friend or loved one about your experiences and seek their support and understanding. You may also consider joining a trauma survivor support group where you can connect with others who have had similar experiences.

Improve Your Physical Health

The body often takes the brunt of emotional distress, as trauma can manifest in physical symptoms (2) (13) (16).

Taking care of your physical health can play a crucial role in healing from childhood trauma. You’ll be better able to tackle the emotional work if your body is in a healthier state.

Some ways to prioritize physical health include (8):

  • Eating a balanced and nourishing diet
  • Avoiding substance use or abuse
  • Engaging in regular exercise and movement
  • Getting enough sleep and rest
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or yoga

In our 28-day Somatic Exercise for Trauma Relief guide, we provide gentle and accessible exercises to help you reconnect with your body and release any tension or trauma that is stored within it.

Incorporate a Relaxation Practice in Your Routine 

Trauma is very stressful for the body. (23). It is imperative, as part of your trauma-healing process, to intentionally learn to relax and unplug from stress. However, this may feel very difficult at first, since the body learns to be in a state of fight and flight to survive during childhood. 

Find a relaxation practice that you enjoy doing and you can realistically include in your daily routine. Maybe it’s yoga, dancing, tapping, massage, or anything that puts your body in a rest state. 

Take It a Day at a Time

Healing from childhood trauma as an adult is a non-linear process. Some days, you may feel as if you’re making significant progress, whereas other days may be quite challenging. It’s important to remember to take it one day at a time and be gentle with yourself through the ups and downs.

See also
Do I Have Childhood Trauma?

Celebrate any small victories, seek support when you need it, and remember that you’re not defined by your trauma. There is hope and healing on the other side of pain.

BetterMe: Meditation & Sleep app can help you transmute stress into serenity, pull you up from the doldrums, free your mind from the cares and worries of the world, quell racing thoughts and infuse you with tranquility! Start using it now and change your life!

How to Cope with Childhood Trauma Spiritually

The spiritual approach to healing childhood trauma involves reframing the experience through a spiritual lens and tapping into your inner strength and resilience. Some ways you can incorporate spirituality in your healing journey include:

  • Engage in mindfulness or meditation practices that focus on connecting with the present moment and the deeper self.
  • Seek guidance from a spiritual leader or teacher who can offer support and tools for processing trauma.
  • Turn to spiritual texts or teachings that provide comfort, hope, and understanding.
  • Embrace the idea of forgiveness, both for yourself and others involved in the trauma.

Remember that spirituality is a personal journey and there is no right or wrong way to incorporate it as part of your healing process. What is most important is finding what works for you and brings you peace and healing.

Our Somatic Meditation guide is a helpful resource for incorporating both somatic and spiritual practices to support healing from childhood trauma.

The Bottom Line

Healing from childhood trauma is a complex and often challenging process, but it is possible. It takes courage, self-compassion, and support to navigate through the pain and come out on the other side with strength and resilience. It’s important to remember to be patient and gentle with yourself as you explore different methods of healing and always seek help when you need it.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES

  1. Childhood Interpersonal Trauma and its Repercussions in Adulthood: An Analysis of Psychological and Interpersonal Sequelae (2016, intechopen.com)
  2. Childhood Maltreatment and its Role in the Development of Pain and Psychopathology (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. Clinical Issues Across Services – Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. Cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: a review (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Deconstructing the Gestalt: Mechanisms of Fear, Threat, and Trauma Memory Encoding (2019, sciencedirect.com)
  7. Effects | The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (n.d., nctsn.org)
  8. Emotional Wellness Toolkit | National Institutes of Health (NIH) (2022, nih.gov)
  9. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy (2017, apa.org)
  10. Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence Prevention|Injury Center (2023, cdc.gov)
  11. Healing the Child Within (2011, mindful.org)
  12. Mindfulness and Behavior Change : Harvard Review of Psychiatry (2020, journals.lww.com)
  13. Pain and Trauma: The Role of Criterion A Trauma and Stressful Life Events in the Pain and PTSD Relationship (2021, sciencedirect.com)
  14. Positive Reframing and Examining the Evidence | Stress & Development Lab (n.d., harvard.edu)
  15. Retrospective reports of childhood trauma in adults with ADHD (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  16. Somatic and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Children and Adolescents in France | Pediatrics (2024, jamanetwork.com)
  17. Somatic Experiencing – effectiveness and key-factors of a body-oriented therapy (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  18. The impact of childhood trauma on children’s wellbeing and adult behavior (2022, sciencedirect.com)
  19. The Impacts of Childhood Trauma on Psychosocial Features in a Chinese Sample of Young Adults (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  20. The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms Stemming from Adverse Life Experiences (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  21. Trauma (n.d., apa.org)
  22. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Traumatized Children and Families (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  23. Understanding the Impact of Trauma – Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  24. What is NARM? (n.d., narmtraining.com)
150 million people
have chosen BetterMe

It’s changing my life

Customer
As someone who is unsettled and hard to concentrate or stay calm, I tried meditation dozens of time but I needed guidance. This app helped me, with my childhood trauma, insecurities, relationship with myself and others. I feel guided, understood, relieved.

Amazing helpful

Alex P.
This app has been so amazing helpful in starting(and continuing) the healing journey from childhood trauma. I have had this app for less than a week and it's brought me to extreme gratitude & understanding, it's helping me.

Helped me turn my life around

John C.
Helped me turn my life around at the lowest point! Well done to the creators of this app - made me feel supported and inspired to start to care about my fitness and mental health! Great job!