Childhood trauma has a lasting impact on the lives of many. Childhood experiences shape who we become as adults, and sometimes, the scars left behind by childhood trauma can manifest in unexpected ways.
Childhood trauma can occur through exposure to traumatic events such as natural disasters or violence; however, childhood trauma is most often associated with physical and/or sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, as well as with abandonment and neglect.
In this article, we'll explore some of the symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood, focusing on the impact on self-esteem, relationships, mental health, physical wellbeing, and feelings of loneliness or isolation.
1. Issues With Self-Esteem
If you’ve experienced childhood trauma, you may find it challenging to value yourself, appreciate your worth, or believe in your own capabilities.
Low self-esteem is a common outcome of childhood trauma and often accompanies critical self-talk. When we grow up in an environment that undermines our sense of self-worth, it can stick with us, haunting our thoughts and affecting our self-perception.
Additionally, a lack of self-esteem can prevent us from asking for comfort or support, perpetuating the feelings of loneliness or isolation as we’ll discuss later.
Survivors of childhood trauma may find themselves second-guessing their abilities, feeling undeserving of success, or constantly seeking validation from others.
Healing from childhood trauma means embracing your inherent worth and rediscovering your authentic self. This often means challenging core beliefs centering around being unlovable, and instead embracing that you are worthy, capable, and deserving of love and happiness.
2. Challenges Navigating Relationships
Another symptom that often results from childhood trauma is recurring patterns in adult relationships of struggling to trust others or to form deep, intimate connections.
Childhood trauma can profoundly impact our ability to build and maintain healthy, secure, and stable relationships. Because attachment is often disrupted in childhood trauma, as adults, we may experience trust issues, fear of abandonment, and difficulty expressing emotions.
We may set boundaries that are either too rigid or too loose, or try to meet the needs of others while ignoring our own needs. We may have avoidant or anxious tendencies in relationships, including in relationships with family, friends, or in our jobs.
By recognizing these patterns, we take a first step towards empowering ourselves to break free from the chains of our past.
Seek support, whether from loved ones, professional therapists, or support groups, to help navigate the complexities of relationships and foster healthier connections that enrich your life.
While cultivating self-soothing skills is important, we also need co-regulation from others for our overall wellbeing. We need opportunities to experience secure attachments in our lives.
3. Impact on Mental Health
Childhood trauma often leaves a lasting imprint on our mental wellbeing. Stressful experiences we faced in our early years change our bodily wiring and can contribute to the development of ongoing anxiety and low mood.
Some individuals who have experienced childhood trauma may turn to unhelpful coping mechanisms as ways to distract from inner pain as adults such as substance use, self-harm, or disordered eating.
It's essential to remember that seeking professional help for your mental health is not a sign of weakness, but a courageous step toward healing. Therapy, self-help tools, medication, and a strong support system can all play vital roles in managing and overcoming the challenges that arise from childhood trauma.
4. Strains on Physical Health
Individuals who have experienced childhood abuse often find themselves wondering why they’re experiencing unexplained physical symptoms or struggling with chronic health issues.
The link between childhood trauma and physical health concerns is a complex one. Research suggests that traumatic experiences can have long-term effects on our physical wellbeing, manifesting in ways such as chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, or other somatic symptoms.
Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma may also experience physical health problems such as digestive and sleep issues.
Headaches are also commonly reported physical health issues of those who have experienced childhood trauma.
To prioritize your physical health, it's crucial to practice self-care. Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, or mindful movement. Healing from childhood trauma encompasses both the mind and the body and often involves learning to listen to your body and its cues.
5. Feelings of Loneliness or Isolation
"Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives." – Bessel van der Kolk
Struggling with chronic feelings of loneliness or isolation is also common for individuals who’ve experienced childhood trauma.
Because of the way childhood trauma can result in disconnection from self and from others, these feelings may arise even when in a relationship or even in social settings. Stephen Porges, the creator of Polyvagal Theory, has actually described trauma as a chronic disruption of connectedness.
Cultivating both social support and social connection is important in healing from childhood trauma. A part of healing is often finding ways to savor solitude while also having outlets for safe connection to others. Be patient with yourself as you take steps to repair your sense of connectedness to yourself, to others, and to the world around you.
Childhood trauma is an important topic to shed light on because we may not always realize the ongoing impact of our early experiences on our adult lives. Understanding the effects of childhood trauma can be a catalyst for healing and growth.
If you resonate with any of the symptoms of childhood trauma in adulthood we discussed – low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, mental health challenges, physical health issues, or chronic feelings of loneliness or isolation – seeking support is key.
Trauma-Informed Self-Guided Support for Mental Health
Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.
If you’re interested in a trauma-informed self-guided program, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit.
About AmandaAmanda is an LPC-S in Texas and has been practicing since 2013.
Amanda specializes in working with trauma, including acute, chronic, and complex, as well as anxiety and eating disorders and provides therapy to adult individuals in-person in Dallas and online throughout the state of Texas.
Amanda is a Co-Founder of Crescent Counseling.