Childhood Trauma

Updated: July 23, 2022

You might have experienced events in childhood that were disturbing and deeply distressing, causing you to feel helpless and unsafe.  These events can be traumatic, impacting a person’s sense of self and their ability to experience a full range of emotions.  This trauma may remain unprocessed, impacting adult life.  But there are ways to work through childhood trauma.

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What Is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma refers to an event or events experienced during the earlier years of life, which according to the National Institute of Mental Health are “…emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”


Whether you are reading this in relation to yourself, or because you are worried about your child, it is important to realise there are ways to reduce the impact of potential or actual trauma.  It is common for children to experience things that will be difficult, for example, being in a car accident, or witnessing their parents arguing.


And adversity is helpful for a child’s developmental process, because it teaches them how to make sense of, work through, and learn to tolerate and manage difficulties, even tragedies.


However when children are repeatedly exposed to difficulties, it can impact  their overall wellbeing.  They may experience a pronounced sense of loss and fear which makes them feel helpless and unsafe.  When these feelings become intense they keep the child ‘stuck’ by hindering physical, social, emotional, or intellectual development – because of childhood trauma.


When childhood trauma goes unaddressed, it does not go away.  It can surface in ways that impact a person’s quality of life and even life expectancy.  But with the right support, you , or your child can become less vulnerable to actual or potential trauma, by learning to identify and understand trauma reactions, and learning ways to support your recovery.

What Are The Symptoms?

Life Difficulties

Adults who carry unprocessed childhood trauma may be ‘stuck’ in life.  They are more likely to struggle with maintaining employment, or have a reliance on substances to cope.  But this strategy is actually an attempt at avoiding trauma and pain and keeps them stuck.

Mental Health Problems

When someone has experienced childhood trauma, they may develop ongoing and intense emotional problems.  These can manifest as depressive episodes, anxiety, eating disorders, behavioural issues, trouble self-regulating, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some cases.

Physical Health Problems

Research shows that individuals who have survived childhood trauma are more vulnerable to long-term health problems like diabetes or heart disease.  They are also more likely to die at an earlier than average age.

Relationship Problems

People may experience difficulty relating to others, and forming and maintaining meaningful attachments, including with their own children.  This is because of the difficulties they experienced as a child.  For example, learning early on that they could not trust close others (like their parents) to help them feel safe.

Traumatic Stress Responses

The stress that comes from trauma can manifest many kinds of responses.  Children or adults may experience attention issues, academic or work difficulties, sleep problems and nightmares, eating problems, and physical symptoms, such as tension, aches and pains.  Older children and adults may use substances as a way of coping, or behave in ways that are risky, for example, having unprotected sex.


What Causes Childhood Trauma?

There are many possible adverse situations that can lead to trauma in childhood.  Trauma may or may not develop after these events because it depends on a number of factors, such as developmental stage, family situation, and how difficulties are handled.

Some common events that can cause childhood trauma include a chaotic or dysfunctional homelife.  This might mean frequent arguing between parents, domestic violence, infidelity, having a parent who is experiencing mental health problems, substance abuse, or has been taken away (due to incarceration for example).
Tragedies like the loss of an attachment figure can also result in trauma.  This might be through death, or separation with the loved one.  Acute event like accidents can also be a source of trauma.  Or societal events like war, terrorism, or riots.

Neglect and abuse (for example sexual or violent) are common causes of trauma in children.  Abuse and neglect can be emotional, or physical in nature.

Other factors include a sudden or serious physical health problem experienced by the child or someone in the family, bullying (including cyberbullying during childhood), and poverty due to the stress caused.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

Because trauma is experienced differently for everyone, and each of us will have our own response to it, the first thing we at Phinity would wish to do is understand your particular symptoms, and learn if you have a diagnosis of any kind.  We would also wish to support your needs, and so our thorough psychological assessment would attempt to understand what these might be, and keep aligned with them as and when they may change.

Our approach is relational, this means no matter which form of therapy we use, we will focus on building a helpful therapeutic relationship, because the research says that this can be just as, if not more important that the approach we use.

When selecting an approach; we will recommend some useful options based on our initial discussion.  And because everyone is different, the type of therapy that resonates with you may also be different.  So although there are some therapies designed for trauma specifically, this does not mean you are restricted to these.  We would like to work with you, using an approach that speaks to you, for maximum benefit.

Whatever that might be, we will provide a unique and safe space to explore what you have been through, its impact on your life, and how you are feeling.  As well as where you go from here – this might entail tools and techniques, resolution and processing, or both.  Please see below for some useful approaches.

What Causes Childhood Trauma?How Phinity Therapy Can Help


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  • Peterson, S. (2018, January 30). Overview. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
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