Blog Mental Health Trauma Unresolved Childhood Trauma: Understanding Its Impact on Adult Well-being

Unresolved Childhood Trauma: Understanding Its Impact on Adult Well-being

Unresolved childhood trauma in adults can cast a long shadow, affecting various aspects of your life. These lingering emotional wounds, which stem from experiences such as abuse, neglect, or loss during formative years, can profoundly shape your worldview and behavior. Unresolved childhood trauma in adults can make it difficult for you to build healthy relationships, regulate your emotions, and deal with day-to-day stressors

If untreated, this kind of trauma can manifest as depression, anxiety, or self-destructive behaviors. However, acknowledging and dealing with this trauma through counseling, support systems, and self-awareness can promote healing and open the door to a more contented and well-adjusted adulthood.

Do I Have Childhood Trauma?

Recognizing signs of childhood trauma involves acknowledging patterns of avoidance, emotional numbness, or persistent feelings of worthlessness. (13) Seeking support from therapists or support groups can provide clarity and guidance to help you understand and address childhood trauma.

What Are the 8 Causes of Childhood Traumas?

Understanding the spectrum of childhood traumas is essential in recognizing the profound impact they have on the lives of individuals. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study identified eight primary categories of childhood traumas, each of which is capable of leaving lasting emotional and psychological scars and causing unresolved childhood trauma symptoms. (3)

  1. Physical Abuse: This includes any intentional physical harm a caregiver or other authority person inflicts on a child. It can involve more serious kinds of violence, such as punching, kicking, or hitting, which can lead to bruises, broken bones, or other injuries.
  2. Emotional Abuse: Behaviors that diminish a child’s sense of self-worth, including unceasing criticism, mockery, or rejection, are considered emotional abuse. Intimidation, threats, and the withholding of love and affection can also be included, and they can leave a person emotionally scarred for a long time and make it difficult for them to build strong relationships.
  3. Sexual Abuse: Any undesired sexual conduct imposed on a child, such as rape, molestation, or exploitation, is considered sexual abuse. The trauma that results from such experiences can cause severe emotional and psychological pain that lasts into adulthood, regardless of whether the child knows the perpetrator or not. (16)
  4. Physical Neglect: When parents or other caretakers overlook a child’s fundamental needs such as clothing, food, shelter, medical attention, or supervision, this is considered to be physical neglect. The child’s health and well-being may be compromised as a result of hunger, untreated medical issues, or exposure to hazardous situations.
  5. Emotional Neglect: When a caregiver fails to provide a child with the emotional support, warmth, and care they require to satisfy their developmental needs, it is referred to as emotional neglect. Children who experience this kind of neglect may feel invisible, undesired, or unloved, which can negatively affect their self-worth and emotional control.
  6. Witnessing Domestic Violence: Although they aren’t direct victims, children who witness domestic violence between family members or caregivers suffer severe psychological damage. This exposure to violence can cause worry, fear, and a feeling of powerlessness that can lead to mental and behavioral issues in childhood and beyond.
  7. Parental Separation or Divorce: Children who undergo parental separation or divorce may suffer from trauma, feeling confused, insecure, and abandoned. Children’s mental health, academic performance, and relationships with parents can all be negatively impacted in the long term by changes in living arrangements and disruptions to family dynamics.
  8. Having a Family Member with Mental Illness or Substance Abuse: Growing up in a household where a family member suffers from mental illness or addiction can expose children to erratic and disorderly situations. Together with a higher chance of mental health problems or dangerous behavior, this instability can cause feelings of guilt, humiliation, and loneliness. (14)
See also
How to Cope with Childhood Trauma as an Adult

unresolved childhood trauma  

What Are the 4 Types of Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma can be broadly categorized into four main types. (6) Here are some examples of unresolved trauma: 

  1. Physical Trauma: This includes any physical abuse or neglect that results in physical injury to a child. It can include actions such as striking, kicking, burning, and other violent behaviors that cause bodily pain or injury.
  2. Emotional Trauma: The term “emotional trauma” describes psychological injuries to a child’s mental health, often resulting from verbal abuse, emotional neglect, or exposure to distressing situations such as domestic abuse. It may have a lasting impact on the child’s ability to control their emotions, form healthy relationships with others, and their regard for themselves.
  3. Sexual Trauma: When a child is exposed to unwanted sexual activity or is exploited for sexual purposes, sexual trauma occurs. This encompasses actions that can have a significant negative influence on a child’s sense of safety, trust, and sexuality, such as molestation, rape, incest, or exposure to pornography.
  4. Neglect: When caretakers neglect to provide a child with the necessities of life such as food, clothes, housing, medical attention, education, or emotional support, it is considered neglect. It may be emotional, such as a lack of love or attention, or physical, such as insufficient nutrition or inadequate supervision. This can result in emotional problems, poor physical health, and developmental delays. (5)
See also
Do I Have Childhood Trauma?

These four types of childhood trauma can have significant and lasting effects on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, which can influence their development and functioning throughout their lives. Recognizing and addressing this will teach you how to heal unresolved childhood trauma. 

What Does Unhealed Childhood Trauma Look Like in Adults?

Unresolved childhood trauma in adults can deeply influence their lives, shaping behaviors, emotions, and relationships. Understanding the signs and effects of such trauma is essential for healing and growth. 

Unhealed childhood trauma often manifests in various ways, including persistent anxiety, depression, and other potential mental health difficulties. (9) Individuals may struggle with forming and maintaining relationships, experience recurring nightmares or flashbacks, and exhibit behaviors such as emotional outbursts or self-harm. Chronic health issues and substance abuse can also be indicative of unresolved trauma.

What Are the 17 Symptoms of Complex PTSD?

Understanding the symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood is essential for recognizing and addressing the profound impact early life experiences have on mental health and well-being. These symptoms, which are often rooted in past traumatic events, can manifest in various ways and significantly affect an individual’s emotional, psychological, and relational functioning throughout adulthood. 

See also
Efficient Methods to Address Childhood Trauma 

Let’s take a closer look at what PTSD and C-PTSD are. 

PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. The condition disrupts the body’s normal stress response, leading to a heightened state of psychological arousal, even in the absence of immediate danger. 

C-PTSD

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced prolonged or repeated trauma over an extended period. While symptoms can vary widely among individuals, here are 17 symptoms commonly associated with C-PTSD: (17)

  1. Emotional Dysregulation: Inability to control your emotions, which can result in strong, erratic emotions such as grief, anxiety, or rage.
  2. Difficulty with Relationships: Difficulties creating and sustaining good relationships as a result of problems with trust, abandonment anxiety, or setting boundaries.
  3. Negative Self-Perception: Feelings of self-blame, worthlessness, humiliation, or guilt that linger due to traumatic events in the past.
  4. Distorted Self-Image: A warped sense of identity that is frequently brought on by previous trauma and results in feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy.
  5. Memory Disturbances: Having difficulties recalling specifics of unpleasant previous experiences, or having intrusive memories or flashbacks.
  6. Hyperarousal: Persistently high levels of alertness or vigilance, which can cause hypervigilance, irritation, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  7. Hypervigilance: Maintaining a constant state of heightened alertness for prospective threats or danger, even in non-threatening circumstances.
  8. Avoidance: Avoiding situations, people, or places that trigger memories of traumatic events in the past, which can cause social disengagement or isolation.
  9. Difficulty Trusting Others: A pervasive suspicion of others due to abuse or betrayals in the past, particularly by family, friends, and authority figures.
  10. Sense of Helplessness: Feeling helpless or powerless in the face of hardship, often as a result of painful events in the past over which you had little or no control.
  11. Recurrent Nightmares or Insomnia: Experiencing frequent nightmares related to past traumatic events or difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  12. Disassociation: Moments of detachment from reality, also known as dissociation, in which the person experiences a sense of disconnection from their thoughts, feelings, or environment.
  13. Emotional Numbing: Using emotional detachment or numbness as a coping mechanism after previous trauma.
  14. Self-Destructive Behavior: Self-destructive habits such as drug addiction, careless driving, or self-harm as a coping mechanism for intense feelings or numbness.
  15. Difficulty Concentrating: An inability to concentrate or focus on work due to distracting memories, thoughts, or feelings of sorrow.
  16. Chronic Physical Symptoms: Having persistent physical symptoms, such as stomach problems, migraines, or chronic pain, that often have no apparent medical explanation.
  17. Feelings of Alienation: Feeling cut off from people or the outside world, as if painful experiences in the past have made you feel different or unfit.
See also
How To Deal With Childhood Trauma as an Adult

It’s important to note that individuals with C-PTSD may not experience all of these symptoms, and the severity can vary greatly from person to person. (18) Seeking professional help from a therapist with experience in trauma treatment is essential for the management of symptoms and the promotion of healing and recovery.

unresolved childhood trauma  

Does Childhood Trauma Ever Go Away?

Although childhood trauma can have long-lasting repercussions, you can learn to manage its effects and lead a fulfilling life with the right support and interventions. Even if the memories of traumatic events never completely go away, healing and resilience-building initiatives may help the accompanying discomfort and symptoms gradually go away. (8)

Here are some ways to deal with childhood trauma: 

  1. Seek Professional Help: It’s essential to seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has had trauma treatment training. To successfully address specific trauma symptoms, a therapist may provide specialized interventions such as trauma-focused therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Process Traumatic Memories: Therapy offers a secure setting for examining and processing painful experiences and feelings. Individuals can progressively make meaning of their experiences, create coping mechanisms, and reframe unfavorable ideas related to the trauma through a variety of therapy approaches. (2)
  • Address Core Beliefs and Coping Patterns: Core ideas about yourself, other people, and the world are often shaped by trauma. In order to promote more adaptive thought patterns and behaviors, therapy may help people recognize and challenge dysfunctional ideas and coping mechanisms that have been formed in reaction to trauma.
  • Work on Emotional Regulation: Healing from childhood trauma requires learning useful coping mechanisms for strong emotions and triggers. Individuals can learn to control their emotions and become less reactive by practicing mindfulness, grounding exercises, and relaxation techniques.
  1. Build Supportive Relationships: Building strong bonds with your loved ones can be a great way to get the emotional support and validation you need. It may help build a sense of community and lessen feelings of shame and loneliness by sharing experiences with like-minded people.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Stress management and emotional regulation can be achieved by making self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and creative outlets a priority. Taking care of yourself on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level is essential for fostering resilience and general well-being. (10)
See also
What Childhood Trauma Do I Have?

It’s important to recognize that healing from childhood trauma is a gradual and ongoing process. While the effects may still linger, people can learn to effectively manage them and lead meaningful lives. With patience, self-compassion, and dedication to their healing journey, many people find significant improvements in their well-being and quality of life over time.

unresolved childhood trauma  

FAQs

  • What are the 7 domains of complex trauma?

The seven domains of complex trauma encompass various aspects of an individual’s life that are affected by traumatic experiences: (1)

  1. Affect Regulation: The ability to control and regulate emotions falls within this realm. Complex trauma often results in dysregulation of emotions, mood swings, and increased reactivity as it makes controlling strong emotions more difficult.
  2. Attachment and Relationships: The development and maintenance of healthy attachments and positive relationships may be hampered by complex trauma. Due to previous relational traumas, people may struggle with trust, intimacy, boundaries, and interpersonal bonds.
  3. Biological Dysregulation: The physiological systems of the body are impacted by complex trauma, which can result in dysregulation of the immune system, neurobiology, and stress reactions. Sleep issues, long-term health issues, and changes in the way the nervous system functions are all potential signs of this dysregulation (15).
  4. Cognition and Perception: Trauma affects perception and cognitive functions, which can result in maladaptive thought patterns, poor self-perceptions, and difficulties understanding yourself and the outside world. Cognitive biases, emotions of worthlessness, and self-blame can occur.
  5. Self-Concept: Complex trauma can interfere with the formation of a cohesive sense of self, which can lead to identity uncertainty, low self-esteem, and fragmentation of the self-concept. People could have difficulties with self-worth, self-acceptance, and having a consistent sense of who they are.
  6. Regulation of Behaviour: Trauma affects behavioral regulation, which can lead to maladaptive coping strategies, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviors, and difficulties setting and achieving goals. Individuals may engage in substance abuse, self-harm, or risky behaviors as a means of coping with distressing emotions.
  7. System of Meaning: Complex trauma challenges your beliefs, values, and existential meaning, which can lead to existential crises, spiritual struggles, and a sense of disconnection from yourself and others. Individuals may grapple with questions of purpose, meaninglessness, and the nature of suffering.

Trauma can be dealt with by developing and building up emotional intelligence. Examples of emotional intelligence include the ability to accurately perceive and understand your own emotions and those of others, effectively manage and regulate emotions, demonstrate empathy and compassion toward others, communicate assertively and empathetically, navigate social situations with ease, resolve conflicts constructively, and demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity. (7) Emotional intelligence allows individuals to build strong relationships, make sound decisions, and thrive in various personal and professional settings.

  • What is fawning behavior?

One coping strategy that is often seen after trauma, particularly in the context of interpersonal relationships, is fawning behavior. This entails getting along with others, trying to win them over, and avoiding disagreement or confrontation at all costs. Fawning individuals often put the wants and needs of other people ahead of their own, sometimes at the expense of their own well-being. (11

This pattern of behavior, which can manifest as excessive agreeableness, people-pleasing tendencies, and difficulties setting boundaries, may be the result of a deep-seated fear of rejection, abandonment, or criticism. When someone has suffered trauma or was raised in an environment where their emotional needs were not sufficiently satisfied, they may resort to fawning behavior as a survival tactic.

  • Is being quiet a trauma response?

Yes, being quiet can sometimes be a trauma response. In situations of trauma, individuals may exhibit a variety of responses, including fight, flight, freeze, or fawning. Being quiet or withdrawn can be a manifestation of the freeze response, where individuals may become immobilized or shut down emotionally as a way of coping with overwhelming or threatening situations. This response can serve as a protective mechanism to avoid further harm or perceived danger. 

In addition, being quiet may also be a result of hypervigilance or heightened arousal, where individuals may feel too overwhelmed or on edge to engage in conversation or social interaction. (4) It’s important to recognize that responses to trauma can vary significantly among individuals and may evolve over time, and seeking support from a qualified mental health professional can be beneficial for understanding and addressing these responses.

The Bottom Line 

Unresolved childhood trauma refers to emotional pain that results from distressing childhood experiences that have been inadequately addressed or healed. These traumas can stem from a variety of causal factors, such as abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence. There are many types of trauma, each of which affects individuals differently, but commonly results in significant repercussions in adult life. 

Adults may experience issues with relationships, mental health disorders, and difficulties managing stress and their emotions. Understanding and addressing these unresolved traumas is essential for healing and improving quality of life, and the importance of recognizing and treating these issues early on cannot be understated.

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. 7 Domains of Complex Trauma (Bright Futures)
  2. 7 Ways to Heal Your Childhood Trauma (Casa Palmera, 2009)
  3. Adverse childhood experiences (2020, journals.sagepub.com) 
  4. Chapter 3: Understanding the Impact of Trauma (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Consequences of Neglect (developingchild.harvard.edu)
  6. Does Childhood Trauma Ever Go Away? (Integrative Life Center, 2021)
  7. Emotional Intelligence: How We Perceive, Evaluate, Express, and Control Emotions (Very Well Mind, 2024)
  8. Five Forms of Childhood Trauma: Relationships With Aggressive Behavior in Adulthood (National Library of Medicine)
  9. Healing Childhood Trauma in Adults (highlandspringsclinic.org, 2018)
  10. How to Develop and Practice Self-Regulation (2023, verwellmind.com)
  11. Is Fawning a Trauma Response? What You Need to Know (Charlie Health, 2023)
  12. Manifestations of Childhood Trauma in Adults (Seattle Anxiety, 2022)
  13. Signs of Childhood Trauma in Adults (Very Well Mind, 2023)
  14. The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children (National Library of Medicine)
  15.  The neurobiological profile of traumatized adolescents (2023, sciencedirect.com) 
  16. What Are The 13 Types Of Childhood Trauma And Why You Should Know It (Roots, 2023)
  17. What Are the 17 Symptoms of Complex PTSD? (Medicine Health, 2017)
  18. What Is Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)? (Hanley Foundation)
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