What Is Childhood Trauma and How to Heal From It

Learning how to heal from childhood trauma is essential for leading a happier, more resilient life in adulthood.

Childhood experiences have a profound impact on how you see the world as an adult. If your sense of safety and security is disrupted as a child, it can leave lasting effects on your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Learning how to heal from childhood trauma is essential for leading a happier, more resilient life in adulthood.

Healing from childhood trauma is possible through acceptance, patience, and support. Let’s take a closer look at childhood trauma, including its causes, impacts, and most importantly, how to heal from it.

What Is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma occurs when a child experiences or is exposed to frightening, distressing, or harmful events that make them feel unsafe and unable to cope. Often, childhood trauma stems from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which are potentially traumatic events or situations that occur between the ages of 1 to 17. 

One in three Canadians has experienced ACEs. Commonly recognized ACEs include abuse; neglect; growing up in a harmful or violent environment; and substance use, addiction, or mental health problems in the home. 

What Causes Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma, or ACEs, can be a result of a single event, such as a serious injury, or be brought on by repeated exposure to traumatic experiences, such as chronic neglect. In some instances, the child is directly exposed to trauma. However, childhood trauma can also occur through witnessing trauma, or it can be passed down through intergenerational trauma.

Some potential causes of childhood trauma include:

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • An unstable, unsafe, or neglectful environment
  • Separation from or loss of caregivers/loved ones
  • Bullying or school violence
  • Serious or life-threatening illness
  • Natural disaster
  • Systemic and institutional racism
  • War, terrorism, or civil unrest

When a distressing experience occurs, the impact it has on a child varies. It depends on factors like the severity and duration of the trauma, the child’s proximity to the event, their developmental stage, and their individual circumstances. Not all children develop lasting trauma from adverse experiences. However, for others, traumatic events in childhood can seep into adulthood and cause a range of challenges.

The Effects of Childhood Trauma

Traumatic experiences in your formative years can influence your behaviours, emotions, mental and physical health, and relationships. The impact of childhood trauma can be subtle or obvious. Some people may not even realize that past experiences could be holding them back in their present life. With the help of a mental health professional, you can better understand how your childhood experiences are affecting your adult life.

These are a few of the ways childhood trauma can shape your adult life: 

Physical Health

Childhood trauma has been linked to numerous physical health problems. Experiencing a higher number of ACEs can increase your risk of developing chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Mental Health

People who experience childhood trauma may develop serious mental health conditions in adulthood, including depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anger issues.

Relationships

Childhood experiences often impact how you bond with and trust others. Traumatic experiences as a child may lead you to develop an insecure attachment style later in life. It can affect your ability to form strong, healthy relationships and may increase your susceptibility to developing trauma-bond relationships

Other Impacts

Unresolved childhood trauma has the potential to affect every part of your life. This could include an increased risk of substance use disorder, low self-esteem, difficulties with emotional regulation, hypervigilance, and cognitive issues.

How to Heal From Childhood Trauma

It affects every person differently, but learning how to heal childhood trauma is entirely possible with the right strategies and support. It is never too late to learn how to manage the impact of childhood trauma and begin your healing journey. These are a few of the strategies that can help in your path toward overcoming it.

Acknowledge Your Trauma

The first crucial step towards healing from childhood trauma is recognizing your trauma and accepting that you are not to blame. When you minimize childhood trauma or pretend it didn’t happen, it becomes much more difficult to understand your trauma and move forward. It is important, to be honest with yourself about how events from your past may impact your present life.

Form Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Try to let go of bad habits, particularly ones that you may be using to avoid or minimize the pain of your trauma. This could include substance use or social isolation. Instead, focus on creating a healthy routine that prioritizes rest, nutrition, physical activity, and self-care. Leading a healthy lifestyle can help you feel more balanced and capable of handling stressful situations. 

Be Kind to Yourself

When you go through a traumatic experience as a child, you may develop certain unhealthy emotions, patterns of behaviour, or defence mechanisms. As you challenge yourself to let go of these habits and heal from childhood trauma, be kind and patient with yourself. 

Celebrate your progress and victories, no matter how small they may seem. Healing childhood trauma doesn’t happen overnight. Take the time you need to properly process your trauma and create meaningful change in your life.

Seek Support

Leaning on trusted friends and family for emotional support and understanding can make a big difference in your healing process. Discussing your feelings can help you feel less alone, and spending time with loved ones can help you better manage the effects of childhood trauma. If you are not yet comfortable talking to family or friends, you can explore online communities or support groups for childhood trauma survivors.

Connect with a Therapist

It can be extremely helpful to work with a trauma-informed therapist to learn how to heal childhood trauma. Mental health professionals provide guidance, expertise, and a safe space for you to navigate your healing journey. A therapist can work with you to identify triggers, form healthy coping strategies, and ultimately learn how to heal from your childhood trauma and lead a healthier, happier life in adulthood.

Learn How to Heal Childhood Trauma with Phare Counselling

There is no one answer to the question, ‘How to heal from childhood trauma?’ Everyone has unique experiences and circumstances, so receiving personalized support and treatment is key for effective healing.

If you are ready to take the next step in your healing journey, Phare Counselling’s trauma counsellors can help you understand the impact of your childhood experiences on your current life. Our compassionate counsellors are dedicated to creating a safe therapeutic space for you to explore, process, and heal past trauma. Match with one of our registered trauma counsellors today.

Author Bio:

Wendy Chan is a writer and editor who is passionate about health, wellness, and self-care. She has worked in marketing and communications for nearly a decade, creating educational content for brands and companies across Canada. Since 2020, she has been a writer and researcher for Phare Counselling.

Wendy specializes in authoring informative and accessible content on mental health, wellbeing, higher education, and technology. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. You can find her in Vancouver or Toronto, depending on the weather.

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